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But if the real tendency of Göthe's genius was thus thoroughly subjective or egotistical, so much the less was he a dramatist in the peculiar sense of the word. Portraiture of character, independent of self, he has really little enough. This the reader can best appreciate by reflecting how few of the secondary figures in Göthe's plays or novels he can realize to bimself, or regard with the smallest interest. The only exception of which we are aware proves the rule in the strongest possible manner. He is said to be particularly successful in the delineation of a certain class of female characters, in which he has met with many imitators; beings whose attraction lies in their simple and trustful dependence on man as a superior, - Mignon, Clara, Margaret. But the true charm of these imaginary beings lies less in themselves than in their relation to us — in the feelings of protection and supremacy to which they appeal in the flattery they administer to masculine vanity and self-glorification.
We will only add, in order to dispose of an objection to our view which might be taken, that it is by no means inconsistent with what has been already said, to recognise Göthe's great excellence in one peculiarly dramatic point, -that accuracy of keeping which represents everything as seen and felt by the party introduced, not as seen and felt by the describer. It is, in fact,'not difficult to see the real connexion between this quality and that strong personality which we have already attributed to him. It was precisely because Göthe projected so much of himself into the characters and scenes of his writings, that he made the events described develope themselves from the point of view of his own dramatis persona, never as they would be perceived by a third party observing from without. This is a point on which great objective talent - great power of picturesque description, for instance,—is apt to lead its possessor astray, unless balanced by predominant egotism. A criticism of Göthe's on a passage of Walter Scott, though it relates in terms only to a matter of pictorial effect, will illustrate our general meaning also. It relates to the scene in • Ivanhoe,'
Heimlich in mein Zimmerchen verschlossen
Lag im Mondenschein,
Und Ich dämmert ein.
An den Spieltisch hältst ?
Gegenüber stellst ?' &c. &c.
Literary Characteristics of Göthe.
where the Jew of York enters Cedric's hall. The costume of the Jew is minutely described, and, among the rest, the dress of his legs and feet. Now this, says
Now this, says Göthe, is wrong; for you are to suppose yourself in the position of Cedric and his guests : they are sitting at a table, with lights; and by persons so placed the details of the lower limbs of one who enters the room are not remarked, and, in fact, are hardly distinguishable. A similar instance of forgetfulness, more glaring because the narrative is thrown into the first person, occurs in Mazeppa.
• The sky was cold, and dull, and gray,
And a low breeze crept moaning by.' The breeze was perceptible enough to Byron's muse, no doubt; but how could it possibly be felt by a man carried through the air, at full gallop, on horseback? Similar errors, in relation to things of more importance than pictorial effect the developement of thought or passion — will constantly be found in writers of the highest order of what is commonly called dramatic power. The poet is substituted for his subject. We should be surprised at meeting with such instances in Göthe. Not only are they contrary to his careful touch, but he transforms himself, for the time, far too completely into the person whom he introduces,— whether as an agent or a mere observer, - to forget that imaginary existence which is become, for the time, his own.
In thus endeavouring to delineate some of the strongest literary
characteristics of this great writer, we are conscious of having made a long digression from our immediate purpose, which was to regard him as a social philosopher, and with reference to his moral influence on the European mind. But, in truth, the one subject bears materially and directly on the other. If we have laboured, perhaps at unnecessary length, to show that an intense and refined egotism was among the principal elements of Göthe's literary genius, it was in order to illustrate his philosophic character; with the view of showing how his very excellencies, considered from the point of view of literary art, fitted him for the distinction of being the ablest and most successful of modern teachers in the school of Epicurus. Nor were the peculiarities of his temper and habits different from what his writings would lead the reader to anticipate. His whole history shows how abundantly he practised what he preached: how Self was the single divinity worshipped by him, with a refined and chastened worship, no doubt, during his long eighty years of life and activity. • Göthe,' says Menzel, with much the same meaning as ours, VOL. XCII. NO. CLXXXV.
adhered, in his writings, to nature;. to the nearest nature; to - his own.
His own nature stood in exactest harmony with that which had become the reigning character of the modern world. • He was the clearest mirror of modern life in his own life, as
well as in his poetry. He needed only to delineate himself in • order to delineate the modern world, its turn of sentiment, its «inclinations, its worth, and its worthlessness.
The talent of outward life, the arts of convenience, ease, and refinement, daintiness of enjoyment, were his talisman in reality, 6 and, again, appeared to him the worthiest object of poetry ; • inasmuch as he only mirrored the advantages which his own • life and person represented.'
Menzel's splenetic tone and coarse inflation of style have detracted from the real value of his criticisms; but the justice of this sentence will scarcely admit of dispute. Not that Göthe was a selfish man in the vulgar sense. His disposition was, in the main, amiable and tolerant, and widely different in these respects from that of his French predecessors, with whom we have associated him. He was averse from giving pain, as well as peculiarly averse from encountering it himself. But all this was consistent in him, as it is in many others, with habits of mental self-indulgence carried even to the extreme. From his youth upward, he loved to live in an atmosphere of his own, and found himself most at his ease in the company of those whose position, in respect of age, talents, or sex, induced them to look up to him as a superior. He remarks, in his own memoirs, on the peculiarity which led him to surround himself with younger dependents, often to his ultimate inconvenience, as they became burdens to him, like Mignon to Wilhelm. Nor was this unconnected with a manner of affected importance and superiority which, notwithstanding his popularity, always placed a kind of barrier between him and men of his own age and social position. Kestner remarked of him when only twenty-four: Göthe is a
genius ; yet he has in his disposition a good deal which may • make him a disagreeable man. But among children and women he is always well received.' Farther acquaintance with life, and a strong determination to succeed in the world, modified to a considerable extent these peculiarities of his youth; and he was never so popular or so successful, personally, as during the years which intervened between his establishment at Weimar and his Italian journey (1775—1787). Those were happy years. Few poets have ever enjoyed so much of life. There was all the excitement of winning his way into the favour, the confidence, the intimate friendship, of the young Grand Duke and Duchess. There was the easy rivalry with
Social Position of Göthe.
the other literary heroes of the time, whom he could beat at their own weapons as an author, while in all the qualities which ensure social success he was incomparably their superior. There was the endless round of court life, as practised by the free and easy sovereigns of that day who had thrown aside German etiquette ;—the life to which Catharine now and then imperially condescended, which poor Marie Antoinette tasted with timid and stealthy delight, but in which the potentates of Weimar might revel without fear of strangling or decapitation ;hunting parties, gipsy excursions, serenades, picnics, theatricals, from January to December. There was just the show of Statebusiness for him as the Grand Duke's intimate privy councillor, which might serve either as a diversion from courtly dissipation, or an excuse for it. There was all that refinement of the social circle which Göthe prized so highly; a little, perhaps, in the spirit of a parvenu, but also with a poet's admiration for external elegance and beauty; which he carried to a strange extent, according to his disciple, Varnhagen von Ense, who remarks that in later life Göthe's principal associates were all tall and handsome men, like himself, and that he had a decided antipathy to plain people. There was, above all, full leisure for the developement of his growing genius, and his surpassing mental activity: while his bodily and mental health alike profited by the opportunity
But this enjoyment palled upon him from its very excess, and also from the want of what Byron called, something
craggy to break upon ;'--some one powerful and engrossing occupation of the mind. For his literary pursuits were up to this time singularly broken and inconsequent. When the world of Weimar was conquered — when his own position was fairly attained, and there was no longer any object to be gained by exerting himself to please others, the tendency to insulation came back upon him with redoubled force. The restraints of Weimar life, the ties of society and office, became intolerable. It was in order to get rid of them at once and definitively, that he planned and executed his Italian journey, in that strange manner which he has himself related so well; partly also (we suppose we must add, since the publication of his correspondence with Frau von Stein) to break through the trammels of one of those tender friendships, of antediluvian prolixity, in which the literati of the last century were apt to involve themselves. This journey was, in many respects, the turning point of his life. For him, as for most men, the river Lethe fowed on the other side of the Alps. He forgot his former sense and being on the farther shore. During his eighteen months in Italy, he satisfied one great want of his existence, by the acquisition of a permanent object; for it was then he conceived, or at least matured, those peculiar views of natural philosophy which occupied him so much and so happily during the remainder of his days. But how far his genius gained in its higher qualities by the change which it then underwent is a question on which critics are widely at issue. Meantime, however this may be, it is certain that the habits which he acquired tended in no degree to efface the moral weaknesses of his character. Freed from the restraints imposed on him by the usages of the Weimar literary republic, and left much to himself, or to the company of one or two artists and travellers, he relapsed into habits of self-contemplation and self-worship, until they became unconquerable. Even one of his greatest admirers, Chancellor von Müller (the author of 'Göthe in seiner prak• tischen Wirksamkeit), is forced to confess that he came back from Italy a man altered for the worse; colder, less expansive, more self-important. Nor did he ever get rid of these defects, and return to the more attractive self of his earlier days, notwithstanding the beneficial results produced on his nature for a time, as already said, by contact with that of Schiller : a nature assuredly far more generous and unworldly than Göthe's own, although the latter has chosen to say, with that singular affectation, or paradoxical turn, which so often disconcerts his readers : – Schiller had far more knowledge of the world and tact than • I had!'
On the later years of Göthe's life we confess that, for our own parts, we dwell with little pleasure. We do not complain of his biographers, when they naturally dilate on the glories of his venerable old age, — his exalted position as the living oracle of German intelligence, the honour, love, obedience, and troops of friends that waited on him to the last. All this is externally true; and yet, to us, his friends, with a few grand exceptions, seem chiefly to have belonged to the class of flatterers, Boswells, and correspondents of leading literary journals:' his oracular dignity to have degenerated into a trick of mysteriousness, involving the most trivial commonplaces in solemn affectation of importance; and the chief pleasure of his life to have lain in the conduct of semi-sentimental correspondences with women for whom he cared not an iota, but whom it was his delight to lead on, by flattering mutually their vanity and his own, until the consummation was reached of involving them in something like a romantic passion for the great unapproachable.
It is a true remark of Menzel's -- and connected with much that we have said above — that in almost all Göthe's works that