The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. IX

Part 6 out of 13

had already burst into flame.

The wind grew stronger and stronger. Most of the inhabitants, with the
exception of the children and decrepit old people, were more than four
miles away at the kermess. Had the necessary men been on the spot the
miserable fire apparatus could have offered only a vain resistance to
the league of the two dread elements. Since the summer had been
unusually dry, even water was lacking.

Distress, danger, confusion, increased every minute. A little boy ran
about crying, "O God, O God, my little sister!" And when he was asked,
"Where is your sister?" he repeated his horrifying cry, as though,
incapable of every intelligent thought, he had not understood the

One old woman had to be forcibly dragged from her house. "My hen," she
moaned, "my poor little hen!" And indeed it was touching to see how the
little creature fluttered terrified from one corner to the other in the
suffocating smoke, and yet, because in better days it was probably
accustomed not to cross the threshold, it would not allow itself to be
driven through the open door into the air, even by its mistress.

Anna, weeping, screaming, beating her breast, and then again laughing,
rushed into every kind of danger with the reckless daring of despair.
She rescued, extinguished, and was an object at once of surprise,
admiration, and uncanny mystery to all the others. At last they
despaired of being able even to arrest the fire, which, continuing to
spread, threatened to reduce the whole village to ashes. It was then
that they saw her sink down on her knees in a burning house and gaze up
to Heaven, wringing her hands.

The pastor called out, "For God's sake, rescue the heroic girl, the
roof is falling in!" Anna, still on her knees, hearing his words,
stuck out her tongue at him with a gesture of violent abhorrence, and
laughed crazily. At this moment Frederick appeared. Hardly had he
perceived the terrible danger in which she was placed than, growing
deathly pale, he rushed toward the house which seemed about to
collapse. She, however, noticing him at once, sprang up terrified and
cried, "Don't, Frederick, don't; I, I am guilty, there--there." She
pointed with her hand to the place where the castle lay, and, in order
to make any rescue impossible, hurried up the already burning ladder,
which led to the garret of the house. The ladder, too far consumed by
the fire, broke under her, and at the same moment the roof fell in,
forming a wall of flame. They heard one more piercing cry; then there
was silence.

Baron Eichenthal arrived. As soon as Frederick caught sight of him he
rushed up to him and before the Baron could defend himself kicked him in
the abdomen, so that he fell over backward to the ground; then Frederick
quietly gave himself up to the peasants, who at the order of the justice
of the peace were trying to overpower him.

When the Baron learned next morning what had happened to Anna, he
ordered them to search for her bones among the ashes and to bury them in
the potter's field. This was done.

KLEIST (1835)


Not only in the history of the world but in the history of literature as
well, we meet with strange aberrations on the part of entire epochs in
their estimate of individual men, rightly or wrongly raised above their
environment. Exactly what the age happens to demand, what fits in with
its restless activity, that is what it rewards and values. We cannot
deny, indeed, that every generation has the right to require the poet,
as well as its other sons, to consult its needs so far as possible. But
it is seldom satisfied with this; he must confer his benefits in the
most agreeable way, and whether or not he is weak enough to humor it in
this, determines, as a rule, whether it will take him fondly in its
arms, or will crush him. These reflections were recently aroused in me
when a volume of Heinrich von Kleist's writings came into my possession
together with a volume of Theodor Koerner's works, and I trust that the
Scientific Society will not consider them too unimportant to be
developed in some detail.

In the two poets named we see two remarkable examples of the
above-mentioned aberration of an entire epoch. While the first of the
two, Heinrich von Kleist, possesses all the qualities that go to make up
the great poet and at the same time the true German, the other, Theodor
Koerner, has only enthusiasm for those qualities; but while Kleist
refuses to forget his own dignity in the interests of the times, and
finally strives to unite these interests with the highest mission of
art, Koerner prefers to throw himself submissively into the vortex. For
this reason Kleist was maligned, ignored, and misjudged during his
lifetime, scorned at his death, and forgotten by immediate posterity,
whereas Koerner was enthusiastically received and applauded, and when he
descended into his early grave, was mourned by the whole world. I would
gladly pass by his grave in silence, and leave him the laurels which he
purchased with his death; but I see no reason why he should swell the
number of our fathers' sins, and should neglect an act of justice, which
will, in any case, be performed some day by our grandchildren, and then
perhaps with a smile of pity for us.

Before we go farther it will be necessary to establish, so far as
possible, certain conceptions of art in general, and of the branches of
art cultivated by Koerner and Kleist. I purposely say "so far as
possible;" for it would not be easy to expound a complete conception of
art before one set forth a complete conception of the human soul, of
which art might be called the most comprehensive phenomenon. We must
therefore infer this conception from the effects of art, so far as they
appear; but as these effects are infinite the conception may be
something very different from a barrier erected for the purpose of a
mere provisional designation, which ceases to exist the moment that it
pleases genius to overstep it. We find this possibility confirmed when
we examine how the conception in question has changed in German
literature alone, during the various epochs of its relatively short

In the day of Gessner, Bodmer, and the like, who saw a muse in every
sheep and every herdsman, the imitation of nature was the gospel in
which every one believed. This, at best, meant nothing at all, and
closely analyzed, it is half nonsensical, in so far as this definition
presupposes art to be something that exists outside the domain of
nature. But man belongs within the domain of nature; he must be
included within this domain, and at most can complete or enlarge it;
and for this reason alone art can never imitate a whole of which it is
a part.

Hereupon men went a step farther, and defined art as "imitation of the
beautiful." We should have less cause to object to this definition if
the question on which everything depends in this case had not been left
unanswered; if they had not left undecided what it was they meant by
"imitation of the beautiful." They were indeed very soon ready with an
explanation, calling that "beautiful" which reveals an agreeable unity
in variety. Unfortunately they could not prevail upon themselves to
grant the proposition: "All is beautiful or nothing," which follows
immediately from the first; for they had overlooked the fact that the
word "agreeable" was superfluous, since every unity, because it gives a
clear impression and permits us to look into the unviolated order of
nature, appeals to us "agreeably"--I must use this word because it
expresses _the least badly_ the feeling which I would describe. Now,
however, in spite of all reluctance, they had to acknowledge that in the
domain of art there were many phenomena in which no such narrow-minded
imitation of the beautiful, as was demanded, could be shown to exist,
but which nevertheless could not be denied recognition. It was truly
remarkable how they tried to find an escape from this dilemma. They
admitted that ugliness could sometimes form an ingredient in a work of
art, by which means it became possible for the artist to arouse certain
mixed sensations in default of purely agreeable sensations. Mark well,
"in default of purely agreeable sensations!" As though the incapacity or
the momentary embarrassment of the artist, and the inadequacy of a
chosen subject, could do away with a law of art once recognized as
supreme. It is just as though the political law-giver should modify the
prohibition of stealing by the clause: "if, namely, thou canst earn
something in an honest manner." Striking it is, that even Lessing should
cling to such definitions and employ all his ingenuity to prove their
tenableness. It goes to show that the taste of a nation never--as may
very well be imagined--precedes the genius, but always limps along
behind him. Still more striking it is that they could feel the
inadequacy of the accepted definition, that they could come so near to
the real remedy, and yet could overlook it. It seems to me, namely, that
everything could have been adjusted, if they had made the same demands
on the artist's work that they made on the subject chosen by him. This
is so plain that it needs no demonstration.

If I should be asked to state my conception of art--it is understood
that here, as elsewhere, that only the art of poetry is in question--I
would base it on the unconditional freedom of the artist, and say: Art
should seize upon life in all its various forms, and represent it. It is
obvious that this cannot be accomplished by mere copying. The artist
must afford life something more than a morgue, where it is prepared for
burial. We wish to see the point from which life starts and the one
where it loses itself, as a single wave, in the great sea of infinite,
effect. That this effect is a twofold one, and that it can turn inward
as well as outward, is of course self-evident. For the rest--be it said
incidentally--here is the point from which a parallel can be drawn
between the phenomena of real life and those of life embodied in art.

I will now review the separate branches of art at which Koerner and
Kleist have tried their hand. We find that they are lyric poetry, drama,
and narrative. All three have to do with the representation of life, and
if a division can be made it can only be based upon the various ways in
which life is wont to manifest itself. Life manifests itself either as a
reaction upon outward impressions, or lacking these, directly from
within. When it works directly from within, we usually designate the
form under which it appears as feeling. Feeling is the element of lyric
poetry; the art of limiting and representing it makes the lyric poet.
Let no one object that there are feelings enough which arise in
consequence of outward impressions, and that these too have been
expressed sufficiently often by the poets; I am very much inclined to
distinguish between the results of these impressions and the feelings
which well up from the depths of the soul in consecrated moments; and in
any case, these alone are a worthy subject for the lyric poet; for only
in them does the whole man actually live, they only are the product of
his whole being. I hate examples because they are either make-shifts or
will-o'-the-wisps, but here I must add that in Uhland's song, "A short
while hence I dreamed," I find such a feeling expressed.

The drama represents the thought which seeks to become a deed through
action or suffering. The narrative is really not a pure form, but a
combination of the lyric and dramatic elements,--a combination which
differs from the drama in that it develops the outer life from the
inner, whereas in the drama the inner proceeds from the outer.

Let us now examine what Theodor Koerner and Heinrich von Kleist have
accomplished, in the first place, as lyric poets. Kleist (unhappily) has
left us very little in this field, Koerner (again unhappily) all the
more. Koerner's war-songs have, in this stage of our investigation, the
precedence over his other lyric productions, for two reasons: in the
first place, they found the largest public and earned for their author,
beside the royalties, the title of a German Tyrtaeus; and in the second
place, Theodor Koerner's soul was most ardently engrossed with the
supposed and the real sufferings of his time, with the dignity and the
misfortune of his people, and with the necessity and sacredness of the
war. Let no one scent any bombast in all this, but, on the contrary, let
him admire my cleverness in condensing into three lines, everything that
Theodor Koerner expressed in a whole volume, in _Lyre and Sword_! If,
therefore, his war-songs are bad, we shall be justified in concluding
that we need expect still less from his other poems, in which he is
concerned with sentiments which certainly affected him more slightly
than those which placed the sword in his hand. I turn over the index of
his war-songs, and find _Call to the German Nation, Before the Battle,
Germany_,--in short, titles that all point to material very often
handled, and therefore grown trivial. I do not, indeed, immediately
conclude therefrom that the poems are trivial, but I have the right to
conclude that the man who attempts such worn out subjects must be either
a very great or a very small poet. May I be permitted to analyze one of
these poems? I will choose, as the most significant, the well known
_Battle Song of the Confederation_. In this poem the poet has striven
to collect everything that could serve to make the soldiers who were to
take part in the battle of Danneberg more indifferent to the bullets. I
should not, however, have liked to advise the commanding general
actually to use it for this purpose. Mr. Koerner quite forgets with what
sort of people he is dealing when, in the third strophe, he expects the
soldiers to let themselves be slaughtered for German art and German
song. This is more than a joke, for I have the right to demand that a
_Battle-Song_ of the Confederation shall be comprehensible and
intelligible to all who are to take part in the battle; and art and song
are, in any case, not important enough to be named together with the
causes that made the fighting of a battle necessary, together with the
enslavement of a people; quite apart from the fact that both, art and
song, belong to those national treasures which are most secure in the
time of hostile invasion. But in order not to give my logic a bad
reputation, I will begin at the beginning. Mr. Koerner not only began
there but even ended there--this in parenthesis. The first strophe aims
to give the picture of a battle; but it is fortunate that we already
know, from the superscription, with what battle we are concerned; we
should scarcely find it out from this first strophe, which finishes, but
does not complete the picture. In the second strophe we learn rather
more; we learn that the beloved German oak is broken, that the
language--thank God, not the women--has been violated, and we find it
quite natural that revenge should blaze up at last, even though we
cannot escape a slight feeling of surprise that dishonor, shame and such
like, already lay _behind_ those heroes, and therefore had been endured.
We have already tasted of the sweets of the third strophe; in spite of
this, we see there is a great deal still remaining in this strophe, a
happy hope, a golden future, a whole heaven, etc., etc.--it must be the
fault of my eyes that, notwithstanding, I can see nothing at all in it.
In the fourth strophe courage comes along on regular seven league boots,
and I wish the critic had as much reason to be satisfied with its
contents, as had the Fatherland, to which a splendid vow is sworn
therein. The fifth strophe contains a real human sentiment; it might
exclaim with Falstaff, "Heaven send me better company!" In the sixth
strophe we learn that the poet was not blustering in the fourth strophe,
but that the fighting is really going to begin: at the same time it
contains the principal beauty of the song, namely the end. Now, I ask,
apart from the school-boyish, crude composition of the poem, which
throws suspicion merely on the taste, not precisely on the power, of a
poet--where is even the faintest tinge of poetry? And the muse was a

We have finished, then, with the poetic part of this poem; it now
remains to investigate in how far it is a real German product, that is
to say, such an one as could have been produced only on German soil by a
German. Every one will find that it might very easily have been written
by some person from the Sultan's seraglio, and used by any people who
found themselves in a like situation. Even the French, although it is
directed against them, could gain inspiration from it, if their good
taste did not preserve them from doing so. Let no one throw the German
oaks (strophe four) in my way; I must stumble along over whole oak

Let us now compare with Koerner's _Battle-Song of the Confederation_,
Kleist's poem _To Germany_, as I believe it is called. I am glad that I
am not able to characterize the separate strophes of _this_ poem; they
are, what the divisions of a poem should be, nothing, when they are
detached from the whole. "Germans," exclaims the poet--"Your forests
have long been cleared, serpents and foxes ye have destroyed, only the
Frenchman I still see slinking!" This is a folk song; the vast, the
great, is associated with the simplest and most familiar objects, and
the figures chosen are not only beautiful, but at the same time

I will pass on to consider the achievements of Koerner and Heinrich von
Kleist in the field of the drama. In this both have been very active,
but in order to avoid boredom for a time at least, I shall begin with
the analysis of a piece by Kleist, choosing first a tragedy, his _Prince
of Homburg_ which, to be sure, is entitled simply "a drama" by its
author. I do not know whether he did this because of the circumstances
that the Prince, as the hero of the piece, happily escapes with his
life, or, what is more likely, in order to humor the public, who think
the tragic can only exist where there are rivers of blood; neither will
I censure it, but only call attention to the fact that in my opinion
that which makes a tragedy lies only in the _struggle_ of the
individual, never in the outcome of this struggle. The outcome is in the
hands of the gods, says an old proverb, well then, acts of the gods--as
events may very well be called which are the effects of fate--can never
be anything else for the dramatic poet than what curtain and wings are
for the stage; they limit without completing. I defined drama, above, as
a representation of the thought which seeks to become a deed through
action or suffering. What this thought may be like--upon that very
little depends; but that it really should be there, that it should fill
the entire man, so much, of a surety, is necessary. What is, then, the
thought that, in the play under discussion, fills the soul of the Prince
oL Homburg, the chief hero? We find it expressed in scene two of the
second act, in the place where the Prince says to Kottwitz, who reminds
him, the man thirsting for deeds, of the Elector's orders:

"Orders? Eh, Kottwitz, do you ride so slow?
Have you not heard the orders of your heart?"

The thought is this: strength stands above the law, and courage
recognizes no other barrier but itself. Kleist, in the fifth scene of
the first act, with which the fifth scene of the fifth act corresponds,
_appears_ to have taken pains to set up as the lever of the piece, not
so much this thought as rather a mere accident, namely the inattention
of the Prince when the plan of battle was being dictated, but it is
really only in appearance. For though he makes Hohenzollern, properly
enough, lay great stress on this circumstance, that signifies little;
only if the Prince himself--a thing which never happens--had laid stress
upon it, could it have had an influence on the economy of the piece. Let
us proceed to a more detailed development of the tragedy.

The historical part of it is based on the famous battle which the
Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg fought against the Swedes at
Fehrbellin. The story of the play is briefly as follows: The Prince of
Homburg, to whom has been confided the commandment of the cavalry of the
Mark of Brandenburg, arbitrarily disobeys the orders given him, and
advances too soon. He wins the battle, but is placed on trial before a
court martial by Frederick William and condemned to death for

And truly--I should add, if I did not know that poetic enthusiasm is
very ridiculous in a criticism--the action is brought before us with
such power that this tragedy may very well be compared to a German oak,
on which every branch flourishes luxuriantly, and whose summit is nearer
to heaven than to earth. The whole play contains nothing but characters,
not a single puppet--which can seldom be said of the work of even the
greatest master--and I regret that I can develop in detail only the
character of the Prince of Homburg, and, for the others, can merely
touch upon those sides which come into contact with him.

I am not inclined, like Zimmermann, to see in the first scene simply an
endeavor on the part of the poet to provide a mystic background for his
picture. I do not see why a young man, who happens to be afflicted with
the sleep-walking malady, should not walk in his sleep even on the night
before a battle, and why a young hero who has long been nursing the most
high-flown thoughts concerning glory and immortality, should not, on
such a night, make himself an oak-wreath. In the day time, to be sure,
an occupation of that sort would not look very well, but night is the
realm of phantasy and the wreath is the emblem of glory. Then, too, I
find that this first scene--the naturalness of which I hope I have
proved--is of deep significance for the play. In order to explain
psychologically the Prince's headstrong disobedience of the Elector's
express order, a great excitement of mind was needed. Now I really do
not know where Kleist could better have derived this than precisely from
a half-waking dream, in which the Prince supposedly received in advance
all that constituted the highest goal of his hopes, and which should
have been the most valued fruit of his endeavors--the making of the
wreath points to this, and the fourth scene of the first act confirms
it. The absent-mindedness which this dream causes in the Prince in the
fifth scene, and particularly the monologue with which the first act
closes, prove that I am not mistaken in my opinion concerning the
significance which the poet placed upon the scene in question.

In the second act we must first notice the second scene. In this the
real action begins and ends. That which precedes and that which follows
are connected with it like cause and effect. The Prince wrests the
victory from the enemy, and earns for himself death. Then the eighth
scene of this act is of the greatest importance; in it the Prince
declares his love to Princess Nathalie of Orange. I am minded to count
this scene among the most important dramatic achievements ever
accomplished by the greatest poets of Germany. Let us picture the
exposition that introduces it. A rumor has been spread abroad that the
Elector has fallen in the battle. The Electress, with her ladies, is a
prey to the greatest anxiety. Homburg arrives and confirms the rumor.
Nathalie says:[6]

"Who now will lead us in this terrible war
And keep these Swedes in subjugation?--

THE PRINCE of HOMBURG (_taking her hand_).

I, lady, take upon myself your cause!
The Elector hoped, before the year turned tide,
To see the Marches free. So be it! I
Executor will be on that last will.

My cousin, dearest cousin!

What holds the future now in store for you?

Oh, I am orphaned now a second time.

Oh, friend, sweet friend, were this dark hour not given
To grief, to be its own, thus would I speak:
Oh, twine your branches here about this breast!

My dear, good cousin!

Will you, will you?"

I believe that during this love-scene, lovers will not be the only ones
to find amusement, though this is the case as a rule. The tenth scene of
this act is the turning point of the play. The Prince hastens to the
Elector with the conquered flags, rejoicing in the victory and in the
certitude that the latter still lives. The Elector commands that his
sword be taken from him and orders a court martial to be convoked. Let
us not overlook what this scene is in itself, through the contrasts
presented. It is moreover the chief argument for the correctness of the
opinion I have already expressed concerning the idea of the play. For
the Prince is far from being sensible of the fault committed, and when
Hohenzollern says to him,

"The ordinance demands obedience," he replies bitterly: "So--so,
so, so!"

And later:

"My cousin Frederick hopes to play the Brutus--
By God, in me he shall not find a son
Who shall revere him 'neath the hangman's axe!" etc.

He cannot as yet be just to the Elector, because he is still too
indulgent to himself.

In the first scene of the third act he has come a step nearer the truth.
He calls himself a plant which has burst into bloom too swiftly and
opulently. But he still says,

"Come, was it such a capital offense,
Two little seconds ere the order said,
To have laid low the stoutness of the Swede?"

The dignity of the code of war, upon which the Elector's mode of action
is based, still lies too remote from his comprehension; therefore he is
persuaded that:

"Ere, at a kerchief's fall, he yields this heart,
That loves him truly, to the muskets' fire,
Ere that, I say, he'll lay his own breast bare
And spill his own blood, drop by drop, in dust."

And when Hohenzollern lets fall a word about the mission of the Swedish
ambassador to ask for the hand of the Princess of Orange, the Prince is
even inclined to think _unworthily_ of the Elector. He is capable of
believing that the Elector will let him die because the Princess has be
trothed herself to him. This is genuinely psychological, and here, where
Homburg's character begins to appear in a dubious light, is actually the
real touch-stone of it. That he loves and admires the Elector, he has
already proved, that he has taken great trouble to find a reason for the
latter's conduct that is not unworthy of him, is self-evident; for the
human heart knows no greater pain than to have given admiration where it
should have bestowed contempt. When, therefore, the Prince nevertheless
believes that his betrothal to Nathalie has provoked the Elector's
severity, he shows thereby that he has absolutely no comprehension of
the dignity and necessity of the code of war, that consequently his
violation of the ordinance could not have been caused by boyish
petulancy, but by a grievous error, which, as an error, could be
forgiven in a man. But for that very reason it is not inconsistent with
his heroic character for him to exclaim "Oh, friend! Then help me! Save
me! I am lost!" For a man shows himself as such when he gives up for
lost a possession which is lost, not when he, like a madman, renounces
everything for the sake of making fine phrases: and the Prince only does
his duty when he tries in whatever way he can, to rescue his life from
the despotic will of an individual. In the fifth scene, where he
implores the Electress to intercede for him, he says:

"You would not speak thus, mother mine, if death
Had ever terribly encompassed you
As it doth me. With potencies of heaven,
You and my lady, these who serve you, all
The world that rings me round, seem blest to save
The very stable-boy, the meanest, least,
That tends your horses, pleading I could hang
About his neck crying: Oh, save me, thou!"

Even that is, in my opinion, fine and human, for it is the first
ebullition of emotion; and when is the feeling of painful loss ever
separated from the lively desire to preserve the endangered possession?
I do not make this statement because I believe I am saying something
new, but because I think it is something old which has not been
sufficiently taken to heart. For the rest, this fifth scene is very
beautiful and produces a deep effect. Who does not feel annihilated
with the Prince when he exclaims:

"Since I beheld my grave, life, life, I want,
And do not ask if it be kept with honor."

And farther on,

"And tell him this, forget it not, that I
Desire Nathalie no more, for her
All tenderness within my heart is quenched."

And how wonderful, how splendid does Nathalie appear in her calm
nobility! How absolutely true to nature it is that her strength first
begins gently and noiselessly to unfold its wings when the man, whom she
had looked upon as her ideal, from whom she had expected all things, has
succumbed. And how genuinely womanly are the words with which she
attempts to raise him up once more:

"Return, young hero, to your prison walls,
And, on your passage, imperturbably
Regard once more the grave they dug for you.
It is not gloomier, nor more wide at all
Than those the battle showed a thousand times!"

But poetic beauty is like the fragrance of flowers--it cannot be
described, but only perceived.

Nathalie's character is rounded off in the first scene of the fourth act
when she begs the Elector to liberate Homburg. She could have borne the
death of the Prince, but this timorous misrepresentation of himself she
cannot bear:

"I never guessed a man could sink so low
Whom history applauded as her hero.
For look--I am a woman and I shrink
From the mere worm that draws too near my foot;
But so undone, so void of all control,
So unheroic quite, though lion-like
Death fiercely came, he should not find me thus!
Oh, what is human greatness, human fame!"

It is then that the Elector decides to make the Prince himself the judge
of his offense, and writes him the following letter:

"My Prince of Homburg, when I made you prisoner
Because of your too premature attack,
I thought that I was doing what was right--
No more; and reckoned on your acquiescence.
If you believe that I have been unjust,
Tell me I beg you in a word or two,
And forthwith I will send you back your sword."

He gives this letter to Nathalie for her to deliver to the Prince. I
must set down the words with which she receives the letter:

"I do not know and do not seek to know
What woke your favor, liege, so suddenly.
But truly this, I feel this in my heart,
You would not make ignoble sport of me.
The letter hold whate'er it may--I trust
That it hold pardon--and I thank you for it!"

Many another writer would have believed it was not enough for Nathalie
to prove herself a heroine, but that she must stride onward with seven
league boots and become an Amazon as well. Kleist, however, had looked
deeply into feminine nature, he knew that woman's greatness only blooms
above the abyss, and that she loses her wings the moment that earth
again offers her a spot where she can safely and firmly tread. Nathalie
sighs only once: "Oh what is human greatness, human fame!" But she
rejoices when she has the saving letter of the Elector in her
possession, and, without troubling herself further about its contents,
she hastens, enraptured, to the Prince of Homburg.

The Prince receives the letter. He reads it aloud while Nathalie
listens. She grows pale; for she feels what a man must do who is called
upon to be his own judge. Nevertheless she urges the Prince to write the
words which the Elector requires; she snatches the letter from the
Prince's hand; when he hesitates, she reminds him of the open grave he
has already seen. But neither is the Prince any longer in doubt
concerning the significance of the moment, concerning the Elector,
concerning his own guilt. He says,

"I will not face the man who faces me
So nobly, with a knave's ignoble front!
Guilt, heavy guilt, upon my conscience weighs,
I fully do confess--"

He writes this to the Elector, and Nathalie embraces him exclaiming:

"And though twelve bullets made
You dust this instant, I could not resist
Caroling, sobbing, crying: 'Thus you please me!'"

I would gladly follow the great poet through the fifth act also, but it
is not indispensable for the analysis of the play, as the _denouement_
is easy to foresee--namely that the Prince, after already suffering one
death through the relinquishment of that idea which has been the guiding
principle of his life hitherto, is spared a second death. Finally I must
add that I have not chosen the _Prince of Homburg_ as the subject of my
criticism because this tragedy is the most successful of all Kleist's
plays, but merely because it offers the best opportunity for drawing a
comparison between the dramatic achievements of Kleist and those of
Koerner. And now, courage. We must start in with Koerner and we will
choose that one of his products which is universally declared the
greatest, his _Zriny_.

In discussing the _Prince of Homburg_ I could limit myself to a general
outline, as it is not possible that any one who reads the play could
ever have the least doubt whether the characters are correctly drawn. We
have not such an easy task with Koerner's _Zriny_, but rather must take
the opposite way. In order not to overpass the limits of this essay,
however, we will pay less attention to the play as a totality, which,
indeed, can occupy our attention only if the first investigation prove
favorable to the author.

The idea which kindles Zriny's enthusiasm is unconditional obedience to
Emperor and Fatherland. It must be admitted that it is an idea which may
have arisen in many a human breast in the year 1566, and which certainly
animated the heroic Zriny. It is not sufficient, however, for the
dramatic poet to give utterance to what fills the soul of his hero, for
that falls to the lot of history to perform. While the historian looks
upon every individual as a bomb, whose course and effect he must
calculate, but with whose origin he is but slightly concerned, it is the
affair of the dramatic poet--who, if he recognizes his high mission,
strives to complete history--to show how the character whom he has
chosen as a subject for treatment has become what he is. We find this,
for example, in Shakespeare, to go back to the Bible of the playwright.
Every passion which he describes we see as roots and tree at one and the
same time. Theodor Koerner simplified the matter, he only shows us the
flame; whence it comes he leaves in doubt, and therefore has himself to
thank if we are undecided whether his heroes are pursuing
will-o'-the-wisps, or--to use his favorite metaphor--stars. I need not
call attention to the fact that this way is by far the easier.

The plot of this play is sufficiently well known. I will
therefore turn immediately to a closer examination of the
several characters. Honor to whom honor is due; let Sultan
Soliman advance. I will not pause at the first scene in
which he appears, although even there he reveals damnable
weaknesses. After all a Turk may be forgiven for losing
his temper because his physician-in-ordinary does not know
how long he will live. In the second scene Koerner has tried
to outline the hero who demands Vienna for his funeral
torch. He has not succeeded as well as he might.

"Karl, Karl!"--cries Soliman in his beard--"If only thou
Thy Europe now would lie here at my feet"

Painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld_]

Every other hero would have considered that in which Soliman beheld the
curse of his life to be the greatest favor fortune could have shown him.
I do not expect much from the hound--this parable is very well suited to
the Turks--who only fights with little yelping dogs. How far Mr. Koerner
has succeeded in spreading the oriental coloring over his picture is
shown very plainly in the fourth scene, where Soliman receives his
generals with the words:

"I greet you all, supporters of my throne,
Most welcome comrades of my victories,
I greet you all."

Seldom has the sun shone upon a politer Turk than this Soliman, who, to
be sure, afterward throws around not only his oaths but his dagger. That
it is no merit of Koerner if we behold in his Soliman a hero and a Turk,
must be evident to every one; but let us now examine whether he has
succeeded any better in representing the commander-in-chief and the
tyrant. We find both in the third scene of the third act. Mehmed reports
to the Sultan that the assault has been repulsed.

"A curse upon thee!"

answers the latter; then he inquires who gave the order for the retreat;
Mehmed answers that he did; the Janizaries had been slaughtered by the
thousands, but in vain, the army was exhausted, and it had been
impossible to wrest the victory from the enemy; he intended, however, to
bombard the castle the next night and was persuaded that the walls must
give way. Soliman flies into a passion:

"But I from them will wrest it (the victory namely), must
wrest it!"

In very truth an excellent commander-in-chief, who is not to be
persuaded by reasons such as Mehmed advanced, and who differs from a
child who is denied his will only in that he bellows where the child
screams. But--perhaps we have the tyrant before us where I thought I
perceived the nullity of the commander-in-chief. Let us read on:


"Remember Malta!


Death and Hell! Ali!
Remind me not of Malta, if thy head
Is dear to thee. More I endure from thee
Than does befit the great lord Soliman!"

Really the beginning promises well.


"My life is in thy hands, my Emperor!


Since thou dost know that, yet didst freely speak
Thy heart's thought to me, I'll forgive thee.
For I love truth which knows no fear of death.
In token then of my imperial grace,
Thy council shall prevail; I'll not attack!"

I think we do not need to tremble before a tyrant whose fury could be
appeased by Ali's paltry words. "My life is in thy hands, my Emperor!"
which must have been said to him often enough before. Let no one
reproach me if, henceforth, I keep silence on the subject of Soliman.
Offenses of this kind are not mere blunders, they are the sign of
complete incompetency on the part of the poet, and solely out of
curiosity, not because it is necessary to demonstrate my argument, I
shall continue to analyze Zriny, Helena, and the other marionettes.

Zriny is an abortive copy of Wallenstein; his originality consists in
doing _for_ the Emperor, what the latter does _against_ him. Juranitsch
is Max Piccolomini the second, but has the misfortune to stand as far
_below_ the first as other people who also happened to be seconds, as
for example, Frederick the Second, Joseph the Second, etc., stood
_above_ their namesakes. In general, _Zriny_ has made it clear to me
that Koerner, had he lived, would, without any doubt, have become a
second Schiller, namely, by completely absorbing the first. The
plagiarisms which the noble young man has indulged in, in this tragedy,
as regards the disposition of the scenes as well as in whole individual
speeches and sentences, surpass all belief. I shall perhaps point out
some of these in the course of my investigation of the characters.

But before I investigate the claims to heroism of Koerner's Zriny may I
be allowed to determine what are the qualities absolutely indispensable
for a hero. I will not place my demands very high, but circumspection
and firmness I may at least be allowed to require, besides mere courage.
Also a certain amount of modesty would not become him ill, perhaps we
may even demand this of the hero of a drama; for the dramatic poet must
not indeed in any sense idealize, but he should render only the
genuinely human, not the purely accidental, which, because accidental,
is rare. For an individual to be at the same time a hero and a braggart
is, however, quite accidental, and the result merely of a deficient or a
perverted education. If one wishes to find firmness in the fact that a
man knows in advance what he wants, that he forms his decision before he
is acquainted with the controlling circumstances, then certainly this
quality cannot be denied our Zriny.

"His loyalty no nobler guerdon asks
Than to seek death, a joyful sacrifice,
For his own folk and his undying faith."

But it seems to me that a desperate resolution is only justifiable when
it can no longer be avoided; whoever takes one before that, is cowardly
rather than brave; for he has not the strength to make the sacrifice at
the proper moment; therefore he tries, beforehand, to reason himself
into being courageous. When Zriny, however, speaks the words quoted, he
has already in his possession the letter of the Emperor, informing him
that he need hope for no relief; but he cannot know yet how long Soliman
will continue to assault Szigeth, and there is likewise no need to
inspire his companions with courage by these words, in which he boasts
of his own courage, for they were every one of them heroes. I fail,
therefore, to find in his braggadocio the firmness that is worthy of a
great man, and this is a fault which I may be permitted to charge to Mr.
Koerner's account; for he intended it to form part of his Zriny's
character. The dear man has an even smaller share of circumspection:
read but the sixth scene of the second act where he ponders the
question, what he shall do with his wife and child. Truly, when he
decides to leave them in the fortress, so that the garrison shall not
lose courage, I cannot suppress the thought that the daughter has
already had an illegitimate child and the wife has been a heroine in the
wrong place; for if he had considered them worth a straw, he could not,
for such a reason, have exposed them to such a danger. And is that a
courageous garrison which is calm because it believes itself to be still
safe? And shall its eyes never be opened simply because it sees that the
danger is shared for a while by the wife and child of the
commander--for whom, as Zriny himself remarks, there are secret passages
which can be used in case of necessity. Mr. Zriny did not consider all
this; his circumspection, therefore, is surely not very great. Just one
sample of the noble simplicity and modesty of this hero:

"Thou knowest me, Maximilian,
I thank thee for thy high imperial trust,
Thou knowest Zriny, thou dost not mistake."

It is nauseating to continue, I have the impression at this moment that
I am trying to prove that a soap-bubble is really only a soap-bubble.
Just one word more about Helena. The tender child, who faints away at
the end of the first act when Juranitsch takes leave of her to go into
battle, has made such progress in bravery in the seventh scene of the
second act, that she exclaims:

"Yes, father, father, send us not from thee!"

and at the conclusion of the fourth (indeed it is time, for in the next
act the piece comes to an end) she even says:

"Yes, let us die! What care we for the sun!"

Spare your sympathy, reader or spectator; you must not think that you
have to do with men who care anything for their lives, and who therefore
are making a sacrifice--no indeed! They have nothing in common with such
a weakling as you.

I hope I shall not be accused of hastiness--I must hurry on to the end,
for there are just as many absurdities in _Zriny_ as there are
verses--if from all this I draw the conclusion that Theodor Koerner had
not the slightest talent for the drama. I promised, a while ago, to
specify some plagiarisms from Schiller, but I may safely refer to the
whole book. Instead I will make a few more remarks on the death-scene of
Helena, scene six, act five.

This scene is not badly constructed. I will not, indeed, examine too
closely how far love made it justifiable for a girl to ask of her lover
to kill her. For once we will take Helena's word for it that under
similar circumstances she would have done the like had Juranitsch
demanded it, and then she, as well as the poet, is held excused. We will
only listen to what Juranitsch answers when she has made her wish clear
to him. He says:

"Thee, I must kill? Thee? no, I cannot kill thee!"

This would be human, but listen to what follows:

"--When the storm wind
O'erthrows the oak and rages 'mongst the pines,
It leaves unharmed the tender floweret,
Its thunders change to gentle whisp'ring zephyrs
And shall I wilder be than the wild storm?
Shall I destroy life's loveliest vernal wreath?
In cruelty the boisterous elements
Surpassing, shall I break this floweret
To touch which destiny's hand has yet not dared?"

I ask you is it possible to surpass such trivial nonsense?

I shall say no more concerning Koerner's individual scenes. This is not
committing an injustice; for it is absolutely unimportant, so far as our
investigation is concerned, whether and in how far Koerner had the
ability to construct a tragedy, since this faculty--as Goethe's example
shows us--has nothing to do with poetry in itself. There is no need for
us to draw the parallel between the _Prince of Homburg_ and _Zriny_; it
is quite evident. One reproach, however, which might be made by an
attentive reader, I must anticipate: namely, I might be asked why I have
subjected the two principal characters of Koerner's tragedy to a regular
police examination, and, instead of accepting them in their totality,
have required them to render account in how far they were heroes,
commanders, tyrants, etc. But since they are, like all creations of mere
talent, nothing but arrows which are shot from a certain bow-string
toward a certain target, it follows that they can only be judged by the
deflections from their course. Herein--be it remarked incidentally--lies
the difference, often perceived but seldom explained, between the
characters portrayed by Schiller and those portrayed by Goethe.
Schiller's characters--to use a play on words which for once expresses
the truth--are beautiful because they are self-contained; Goethe's
characters because they are unrestrained. Schiller delineates the man
who is complete in his own strength, and, a man of iron, is tried by
circumstances; for this reason Schiller was great only in the historical
drama. Goethe delineates the endless creations of the moment, the
eternal modifications of the man caused by every step that he takes;
this is the token by which we may recognize genius, and it seems to me
that I have discovered it also in Heinrich von Kleist.

At this moment, when I would pass on to review the achievements of
Koerner and Kleist in the field of comedy, I remember that I was not
sufficiently definite, above, when developing my conception of the
drama. I should have added that I cannot, strictly speaking, count
comedy as a form of drama, but must include it in the category of
dialogue narrative. If one recalls to mind the purpose of high-class
comedy--"to describe individual ages and classes," one must admit that I
am entitled to do so. I must remark in advance that neither Koerner nor
Kleist has done anything for high-class comedy. But Kleist in his
_Broken Pitcher_ has drawn a comic character-picture which is so full of
life that it reminds us of Shakespeare, if of any one, while Koerner in
his _Nightwatchman_ has drawn nothing but a funny caricature; with the
former the character shapes the situations, whereas with the latter the
situations shape the characters, if I may use this expression. I should
be giving myself a great deal of unnecessary trouble if I should engage
in a further analysis of the two comedies which I have mentioned, since
at all events I could only adduce sundry details, and such details in
this case prove absolutely nothing; for the only safe criterion of the
truly comic is that the picture as a whole, apart from what wit has done
for it, should arouse interest as an organic adaptation of nature. With
the rascally, lustful, country judge, Adam, in the _Broken Pitcher_,
this is certainly the case; one can safely take away from him the few
witty sallies which he indulges in: but what the nightwatchman Schwalbe
would become if one attempted the same procedure with him, I should not
like to decide; probably a clown, who has been deprived of his wooden
sword and cap and bells, and whose plain, honest features show that he
has only executed such droll antics for the sake of his bread and
butter. Schwalbe is merely ridiculous, but Adam is comic; the
difference, to define it more clearly, consists in this; every
caricature, because it diverges from laws which are eternal and
necessary, without standing in eternity as a peculiarly constructed
whole, has a tinge of incongruity, consequently of ridiculousness; while
only that caricature of nature can be comic of which the divergences are
self-consistent, which shows therefore that it is founded _in itself_.
The poet should take only the comic as a subject of treatment; for he
can never lay stress upon detached separate phenomena, if he cannot
prove the connection between them and the general whole, if they do not
constitute for him a window through which he looks down into Nature's
breast. It is easy to calculate, accordingly, how high Theodor Koerner's
services to the comedy should be rated, provided he has actually
succeeded with his smaller things, _The Nightwatchman, The Green
Domino_, etc., in furnishing amusing farces. To accomplish this, nothing
was required but natural gaiety combined with a talent for
representation, and many men who were anything but poets have been
equipped with both.

It still remains for us to estimate what Koerner and Kleist have achieved
in narrative. In this field Koerner has produced such mere trifles that
it would be unjust for one to infer from them the least thing touching
his characteristics, as it probably never occurred to him to consider
himself a story-writer. Heinrich von Kleist's novels and stories, on the
other hand, belong among the best that German literature possesses.
Almost all the narratives of our writers, with the exception of a few
productions by Hoffmann and Tieck, suffer, if I may say so, from the
monstrousness of the subjects chosen, if they do indeed rise at all
above mediocrity. There is, however, no very deep psychological insight
needed in order to know how the whole man will be affected by an event
which sweeps down upon him like a stormwind, and very ordinary talents
may safely attempt tasks of this kind; just as, for example, every
painter with some technical skill can represent despair, fear, terror,
all those emotions, in short, which only permit of one expression;
whereas a Rembrandt is required, if a gipsy encampment is to be
pictured. Kleist, therefore, set himself other tasks; he knew and had
perhaps experienced in his own person, that life's process of
destruction is not a deluge but a shower, and that man is superior to
every great fatality, but subject to every pettiness. He proceeded from
this theory of life, when he delineated his _Michael Kohlhaas_, and I
maintain that in no German novel have the hideous depths of life been
projected upon the surface in such vivid fashion as in this, when the
theft by a squire, of two miserable horses, forms the first link in a
chain, which extends upward from the horse-dealer Kohlhaas to the ruler
of the Holy Roman Empire, and crushes a world by coiling round it. I
should like to analyze the novel more in detail, but am glad that the
limits of my essay, or rather the patience of my readers and auditors,
do not permit me to do so; for the members of the society will thus feel
prompted the sooner to acquaint and familiarize themselves with the
works of Heinrich von Kleist, if they have not already done so.

While hastening on to the close, I must, in accordance with the
introduction to this essay, call attention to the fact that Kleist, no
less than Koerner, did not leave unheeded the claims that his country
properly made upon him in the portentous age in which he lived. In his
breast, as in that of his contemporaries, there glowed the flame of
enthusiasm for the honor and freedom of his people; and the oppression
that they endured, the internal and external slavery in which he beheld
them sunk, placed the pistol in his hand. I mention this because it has
been imputed to the poet Koerner as a great merit that he was at the same
time a martyr. But Kleist could behold his country unworthily treated
without for that reason having unworthy thoughts of the man who was
treading it in the dust; he was great enough to be able to forgive
Napoleon the pain which he could not endure. He wrote no war-songs for
patriotic journeymen-tailors and high-minded counter-jumpers, but he
described Hermann's Battle and the battle of Fehrbellin; he called the
dead to life in order to arouse the living.


[Footnote 6: The extracts from _The Prince of Homburg_ are taken from
Mr. Hagedorn's translation, Volume IV of THE GERMAN CLASSICS.]


A REVIEW (1839)



It is probable that no German who is able to appreciate the power of the
theatre, its silent influence on the people, and the consequent reaction
on the development of dramatic talent, has looked on indifferently at
the decay and complete ruin of our stage. The drama of a nation,
conceived in a worthy sense, represents that nation in its
self-consciousness; it is the burning-mirror which receives the separate
rays of the nation's innermost being while passing history is enticing
them out of the depths, which condenses and concentrates them and thus
kindles one century by means of another, and calls to life one glorious
deed by means of another. Tragedy represents a people in its relation to
the most important problems, its own as well as those of humanity in
general. Comedy paints it in its natural aberrations and abnormalities,
in its tendencies and endeavors which are directed earthward. Both must
subsist together, in common development, and on an equal elevation, if
we are to sum up the entire life of a nation, and give a true, eternal
picture of its will-power and capacity, of its vacillations and defeats.
This is the object which dramatic literature must always keep in view if
it would be effectual. To be sure, it is possible to conceive a still
higher species of drama, a tragedy which deals with man only in the
abstract, with man in himself, in his mysterious relation to God and
Nature; a comedy which lays nationalities themselves in their coffin and
gaudily dresses up the corpse. But it is still an open question whether,
under such a general domination of the idea of humanity as is
presupposed in that case, art can continue to exist at all; and at any
rate the time of this spirit-like domination is still far off, although
literature has witnessed the production of many dramatic poems which
seem to be designed for it.

It was many years ago that Tieck, on the subject of some wretched stuff
by Clauren, made the remark that we had at last reached the cellar and
must begin to ascend again. He was right in his remark, but, unhappily,
not in the hope with which he accompanied it. Very far from hastening to
leave the cellar, we have found it very comfortable down there; we have
made ourselves at home as well as we could, and are hideously satisfied!
Instead of the heroic spirit of our past ages, Jack Pudding now staggers
out of the wings in a torn jacket and shows us what kind of humor is
engendered by stupidity and brandy, when they have a rendezvous in the
head of a porter. If Schiller and Goethe dare once to come out of their
exile, then Nestroy's plum-pudding jinnee steps in their path, and they
of course modestly give way to him. The magic worlds of Shakespeare and
Calderon are already suffocated in their birth by the head-shaking of
the stage-manager who must keep his machinery together for Raimund's
bedlam hocus-pocus. Let us be just, however, let us remember that our
theatre, in spite of the great talents which have been dedicated to it,
was not what it should have been, even in its most brilliant period, and
this perhaps not quite through its own fault. We have never had a real
comedy; farces and absurdities take its place, and the critics
themselves, if we except Schlegel, never seemed to divine that tragedy
and comedy sprout from one and the same root, and that the former
absolutely cannot unfold in all its greatness if the latter remains
behind it. Confining the conception of comedy to the narrow etymological
meaning of its name, and inferring the intrinsic impossibility of the
poem from the accidental lack of a poet, we have imagined that we could
not have a comedy, when on the contrary we, precisely, should and ought
to have the very best, for reasons which cannot be developed thus in
passing. Our tragedy, on the other hand, wished to take the second step
before the first; it was not satisfied to start out to conquer the world
from our own territory; it preferred to wander about as a homeless
vagabond among all the peoples of the earth; and only when it had fully
persuaded itself that one cannot grow fat off begged bread did it return
in shame to its mother's breast. But, in Germany, in the meantime, the
enthusiasm which can seldom or never be re-awakened had evaporated, and
when _Wallenstein_ and _William Tell_, when _Hermann's Battle_ and the
_Prince of Homburg_ appeared, the fusion of the theatre with life, which
might perhaps have still been possible at the time of _Iphigenia_, was
no longer to be thought of. People had become used to looking upon the
stage as a source of amusement, and, as a rule, whatever sinks to the
level of a pastime is forever degraded. This was the cause of all the
evil; this was the reason why for a long time dogs and monkeys,
prestidigitators and modern athletes, celebrated their triumphs where
art should have proclaimed her most profound oracles, and where a people
should have found refreshment and elevation in quiet self-enjoyment, in
the mild exertion of all their powers, and in the sensation of arousing
their most secret sympathies and antipathies.

Wienbarg believes that a turning point has now been reached. To this
belief we owe his present literary contribution "which consists in
seeking critically to elucidate, in irregularly appearing pamphlets,
modern dramatic literature--especially book-dramas, which are rarely or
not at all seen on the stage. He is guided in his selection each time by
some dramatic-educational purpose for author and public, and continually
bears in mind an ideal centre of taste in the historic-poetic
consciousness of the nation." Such an undertaking, carried out by a man
who combines insight into the subject with the gift of presenting it as
the times require, deserves full recognition. Only that criticism which
knows how to make itself respected, can regain for the muse of the drama
her temple, the stage; this cannot be done by the muse herself, who,
every time she seeks to enter, is, with the politest of bows, shoved
into the corner again by her noble priesthood. Criticism must, in view
of the voluntary poverty of our repertory, draw attention to the
neglected riches of our dramatic literature; it must, by
characterization and analysis, act as mediator between the genius of the
poet and the talent of the actor, and it sins heavily against the
present when it turns its attention chiefly to the recent past which has
not yet been canonized. It can, as a general rule, never look back often

Wienbarg begins with Uhland. From the point of view he has chosen he was
quite right to leave unnoticed for the present Heinrich von Kleist's
magnificent _Hermann's Battle_ and _Prince of Homburg._ Of all our poets
Uhland has unearthed in the purest form the treasure of German
nationality: all the dreaming and longing, the hoping and enduring, but
also all the courage, all the strength which steps into the first rank
only in battle, not on the parade ground. One cannot blame Uhland
without blaming Germany at the same time, but one can praise Uhland
without at the same time praising Germany; for all poetry idealizes
because it frames as in a mirror, but on account of its limits it
compresses scattered details into a seemingly well ordered whole, which,
however, does not by any means exist so harmoniously in nature. Uhland's
poetry is a tear, forced from the flashing dark eye by the intolerable
pain which dilates the heart and finds no more room there; but how much
more beautiful is the pain than the wound, and how much more beautiful
is the tear than the pain! Such tears are suffocated deeds. If our
supineness and sentimentality only did not so often degrade holy water
to the base uses of ablution!

Wienbarg introduces his characterization of Uhland with some excellent
remarks. We cannot take enough to heart what he says on page 17: "Our
literature is a ghost, most of the species of poetry are spectres, and
faith or unbelief in them is called esthetics. Fresh young life is
sucked out, architectonic powers are misused in order to spiritualize
and propagate lifeless forms and satisfy the vanity of literature by
means of so-called works of art." If philosophy is destroyed by
systematizing how much more so is poetry, which can exist only so long
as it is free. The instinct to make an end of everything, and wilfully
and arbitrarily to pen up what is not confined to time and space, is the
ugliest trait in human nature. Life, in whatever phase it may be, always
has a form, though sometimes one not to be seized with hands; it is
always in fermentation, never in putrefaction; but its form is lost when
we try to bring it into harmony with the tyrannical generalities which
are bequeathed from grandfather to grandchild; then it congeals, and the
stream that might have afforded us the most delicious bath can, at the
most, be transformed into a sledge-road. Protect yourself against the
sea but do not strive to hamper and dam up its movement; if this ever
succeeded, the sea would become a swamp, and all of you--not only the
sailors--would die a miserable death. To begin with, it is a misfortune
that human society requires the form of the State, which cannot be
traced back to any primitive foundation; for the individual tendencies
and developments that are most full of genius are thus nipped in the
bud, and it is an open question whether those that remain, which to be
sure are better protected against wind and weather inside the ramparts
and walls than elsewhere, can, even when yielding their most abundant
profits, make compensation for those that are held back and crushed.
Will you go even further than necessity forces you; will you compel the
spirit, even in its most peculiar sphere, to accept a constitution under
the lamblike innocent name of esthetics? Of what advantage will it be to
you? You can then, to be sure, lawfully scold and punish; today you can
lock up a sentiment in the guardhouse for drunkenness: tomorrow you can
drag off a thought to imprisonment for offense against your sovereign
majesty; and the day after you can send a phantasy to the mad house on
account of its all too bold flight. Life is its own law and its own
rule, but you never want to adore the god until after you have crucified
him. As long as the tree is green you cut off its branches, and out of
the dried hewn-down one you make, not an axle for your mill-wheel, but
an idol.

What Wienbarg says of Uhland, the ballad-writer, is very pretty, but it
was refuted before it was even written. Uhland, the ballad-writer, is
not the dramatic poet, "broken into a thousand pieces;" the poems
appeared in 1815, the first drama in 1818. I would not advance this
superficial argument if it were not connected with an essential one. All
these full, flowing songs and romances were finished before the nobly
calm power that called them into being concentrated itself for the
creation of a dramatic work; and in truth they do not bear on their
forehead the red fever spot of aspiration groping in the dark, which
does not find what it seeks and therefore clasps in its arms the object
over which it stumbles; they breathe that smiling, lovely, self-absorbed
contentment, without which there may be intoxication, but no joy, no
life. It is true that through the songs as well as through the ballads,
the dramatic genius which was later to produce _Duke Ernest_ and _Louis
the Bavarian_ already treads softly like a sleep-walker; this it is
which gives them the firm form, the deeper meaning which is so
scandalously lacking in those good people who now and then innocently
versify a legend or some trifling emotion. But the dramatic element is,
strange as this assertion may sound, just as much an essential in
poetry--one without which poetry would crumble away into dust--as the
lyrical; from the former, poetry receives its body; from the latter, its
soul, and both are mutually dependent upon one another. Is not suffering
itself, only action turned inward!

On page twenty-one we read: "Do you know what it is that I love in
Uhland's imperfect dramas? It is the pure, vital, German-dramatic
poetry, which, piercing the tawdry veneer of culture and the
prevailingly wretched appearances of our life, strikes fire from the
bed-rock of spiritual life itself, and with its divining rod points to
the golden veins in the foundations of the national character.
German-dramatic! that is the right word! and this is saying a great
deal, for German and dramatic are contradictory terms. Just because
Uhland is so German-dramatic he might give our theatre the national
consecration which it lacks, and which alone can assure it intrinsic
worth and dignity, efficacy and stability. Goethe's _Goetz_ is not
adapted to the stage, and it will be difficult for the scissors to make
it so. Schiller's _Wallenstein_, in spite of its extensiveness, is only
a character picture; the Thirty Years' War merely peeps through shyly
now and again when the Duke's eloquence fails him, and when Max and
Thekla take a rest from their love-making. With all due respect for the
great dead, from whose laurel tree I do not intend to pluck a single
leaf, be it said that the piece has something ridiculous about it when
it is played; it is a thunderstorm during which two turtle-doves are
billing and cooing. There is some difference in _William Tell_, Bertha
and Rudenz are more modest and more sparing with their sighs, tears, and
premonitions. But the depicted situation is accidental, and under
similar circumstances is repeated everywhere, therefore one cannot judge
the Germanic nature by it--even if we include Switzerland as a
representative of this nature--any more than one can judge of a man by
the portrait which has been made of him during his illness. Neither am I
able to find the spectacle of the strength that breaks external fetters
so edifying as many others do: Why did it allow itself to be enchained?
Kleist's _Hermann's Battle_ and his _Prince of Homburg_ carry us, the
one too far back and the other too far forward. Uhland chose historic
events better than Kleist, he treated them more worthily and more nobly
than Schiller. For this reason, if for no other, he stands in the
foreground of this discussion."

In the same place the question is raised: What is the conception of
religion or fate from which our tragic drama has emanated? Wienbarg
skips over the question, or at least takes the answers to it too
lightly. Nevertheless here is the root of the whole tree. Human nature
and human destiny, these are the two riddles that the drama strives to
solve. The difference between the drama of the ancients and the drama of
the moderns lies in this: the ancients sought to illumine the labyrinths
of fate by means of the torch of poetry; we moderns try to refer human
nature, in whatever form or contortion it presents itself before us, to
certain eternal and changeless principles, as to an immovable
foundation. What to us is the means, was to them the end, and _vice

With the ancients the suffering results from the action; their tragedy
was really a triumph of instinct. The first bold lightning flash of
half-awakened consciousness illuminated the empty Olympus, and because
man found the halls of the gods deserted, he sought in his own breast a
centre for the circle of his existence. But when, revolving around
himself and thereby denying the pole of the world, he stood, in his
stubborn isolation, in the way of the great whole, the invisible
fly-wheel which drives the universe seized him with tremendous power and
flung him mockingly into an abyss. He felt that he had sinned, and
did not know in what way. He found himself justified in his earthly
relations and yet could not shake off the oppressive nightmare of a
secret monstrous guilt. Then he shudderingly divined that sin can go
further than knowledge, that in things and in events, as well as in
human thought and feeling, there lies a mysterious final something,
which, of whatever nature it may be and whatever its effect, must be
regarded as holy. Let us remember Oedipus and the way in which in this
drama one riddle is always solved by another riddle.

In the modern drama, on the contrary, the suffering as a rule first
begets action. The hero gets into the whirlpool, he does not himself
know how, but when near destruction he shows himself to be a brave,
fearless swimmer. This comes from the attempt, not so much to reconcile,
as to compare the idea of Freedom with the idea of Necessity. Modern
tragedy has, therefore, when placed beside the ancient, a sickly hue,
which is still further intensified by the circumstance that its point of
departure is the individual. I should like to have time to indicate all
the consequences of these opposite conceptions.

If I should be asked to express in brief the fundamental idea of modern
tragedy I should find it in the harsh fetters that bind the highest
nobility of human nature, in suffering and death, and in the resistance
of the world--occasioned thereby, nay presupposed as a necessity--which
the world offers to all greatness as it strives for self-realization.

Wienbarg, after his general preliminary remarks, proceeds to make an
analysis of Uhland's drama, _Louis the Bavarian._ It is excellent and
accomplishes everything that it should accomplish, by combining the
characterization of the poet with the characterization of the German
drama in its totality, of which totality the individual drama is an
organic part. Of course every reader will wish that Wienbarg had
rendered the tragedy, _Duke Ernest_, the same friendly service, of which
Uhland's dramas, in their unostentatious simplicity, stand so much in
need, if they are ever to receive the appreciation which they deserve.
Were it fitting to prolong the criticism of a criticism to such an
extent, I should myself attempt to elucidate this most German of
tragedies in all its ramifications; perhaps this will be done in another
place. We are rich and consider ourselves poor; we have the diamonds,
and there shall not be wanting people who know how to cut them. May the
second part of Wienbarg's treatise very soon appear! Many a one is now
pushing forward the hand on the horologe of time and hastening nothing
thereby but the hour of his own execution. Wienbarg is not one of these.





THE PRINCE OF HOMBURG is one of the most peculiar creations of the
German mind, for the reason that in it, through the mere horror of
death, through death's darkening shadow, has been achieved what in all
other tragedies (this work is a tragedy) is achieved only through death
itself: that is to say, the moral purification and apotheosis of the
hero. The whole drama is planned to bring about this result, and what
Tieck, in a well known passage, declares to be, the kernel of it, namely
the illustration of what subordination is, in reality is only the means
to an end. Neither do I agree with Tieck when he remarks further that
the sleep-walking scene with which the piece begins, and the final
_denouement_ connected with it add to the other merits of the drama by
lending it the charm of a pleasing and attractive fairy-tale. On the
contrary, this feature is to be censured because it is disturbing, and
if, as in _Kaethchen of Heilbronn_, it were intimately inwoven in the
organism of the work it would deprive the latter of its claim to be
considered a classic. For man must not be forced to do penance for the
mischief which the moon causes; otherwise we might be obliged to call it
a tragedy if a man, having climbed up to the apex of the roof in his
sleep, and been spied there by his sweetheart, who, in the first terror
of surprise, called his name, should fall at her feet crushed to pieces!
Happily, however, we can eliminate the whole sleep-walking episode and
the work continues to be what it is; it stands immovable on a solid
psychological foundation, and the rank weeds of Romanticism, have only
twined themselves around it like superfluous arabesques. That, indeed,
must not be understood to mean that half of the first and half of the
last act could be struck out. If such a barbaric procedure were
possible, Kleist would not be what, he is, a true poet, whom, like every
original God-given growth, one must accept as a whole or must reject as
a whole. No, we shall have to leave the Prince his garland-wreathing and
the glove which he catches as a consequence of it. But the incident is
by no means essential to the rest of the drama. The structure has,
beside these artificial supports, other very different and entirely
solid ones, and there is no need to enlarge upon the former unless one
is animated with a desire to find fault. Here we have a youth who had
the misfortune to have fortune smile upon him prematurely, and who loves
where perhaps--he has as yet no certainty of it--he should not love;
what more is needed to enable us to comprehend the arrogance displayed
in the first catastrophe and the pusillanimity in the second? Kleist has
put a set of pulleys in motion where the simplest lever would have
sufficed, but the pulleys have been connected with the lever, and the
purpose has been thoroughly accomplished, though not by the most direct,
and therefore the best means.

The action, conceived from the point of view just described, is, briefly
summed up, as follows: It is the evening, or rather the night, before
the battle of Fehrbellin. The Great Elector, surrounded by his family,
has gathered his generals about him and is making known to them, by his
field-marshal, the plan which he has devised for the battle on the
morrow. Each officer, Homburg among them, is informed what part he is to
play in the bloody work of the following day; the Prince receives the
most difficult post for one of his age and temperament, since he is to
remain outside the firing line with the cavalry which he commands during
the actual battle, and not until the victory is practically won can he
come into action; even then he is to await a definite order from the
Elector, and is merely to assist in completely routing the vanquished
enemy. Here, be it noted, his ordeal already begins. It is not an
accident that the Elector has assigned him a post which must necessarily
bring him into conflict with his passions and the demands of his blood;
the sovereign does it purposely in order that he may learn to control
both. The Prince is scarcely listening to the field-marshal when his
turn comes; he is absent-minded, for Nathalie, the Princess of Orange,
an orphan who has taken refuge at the Brandenburg Court, and whom he
secretly loves, is present, and the Electress is leaving with her and
the other ladies while his orders are being dictated. However, be
scarcely requires such pedantic instructions, for he sees in a battle
only an opportunity for personal distinction in one form or another, not
a moral task which can be properly executed only in one way.
Nevertheless, he learns from his friend Hohenzollern exactly what the
service requires of him; but of what avail is it? His friend can only
lend him his ears, not his judgment, and thus the first act ends,
conformably to this stage of his development, with a monologue, in which
we learn that he is only thinking of the laurels and the girl at whose
feet he will lay them, not of his duty and his country. Thus we see that
the sleep-walking scene, and all that is connected with it, can easily
be omitted; the exposition is complete without it, and therein lies the
actual proof of the correctness of my view of the work. A youth always
dreams of the man whom he already believes himself to be; there is
therefore no need of a double-dream. The glove might have been replaced
by a glance from the Princess, surprised unawares, followed by a sudden
blush. Was it intended for me or for you? That is enough to occupy a
youth to such an extent that he would pay no attention to Mars himself
were he to descend to earth. The battle takes place and what was to be
expected, occurs. The Prince attacks too soon, and the victory is indeed
gained, but it is not as complete a one as it would have been possible
to win. He knows very well what he is doing; it is impossible that he
should not know it, and therefore the poet might have spared himself the
carefully detailed description of his absent-mindedness in the first
act. Colonel Kottwitz, who is second in command, reminds him, with the
gruffness of an old man who might be at the same time his father and his
teacher, of the order that he should await from his sovereign, and
another officer even advises that his sword be taken from him. But he
curtly inquires of old Kottwitz whether he has not received the order
from his own heart, and he uses violence to the officer, then he dashes
away crying: "Now, gentlemen, the countersign: A knave who follows not
his general to the fight!" He arrives on the battlefield itself just at
the moment when the rumor is spreading that the Elector has fallen. He
performs marvels of valor, and we learn how much he loved his sovereign
by seeing how he avenges him. This is one of the most brilliant episodes
of the plot, and, truly, it alone is worth more than a whole catalogue
full of the ordinary dramas that one hears applauded in our theatres.
Sprinkled with blood, he hurries then into the peasant's but where the
Electress, with her court of ladies, has had to take refuge because a,
wheel of her coach broke while on the journey, and here he meets his
Nathalie. The women, who have also heard the terrible rumor, are
crushed; the Electress has fainted and the Princess, overcome by the
gravity of the situation, laments in a few simple, touching words her
complete loneliness. The Prince had not betrayed his affection for her
at the Elector's Court, but now that fortune seems to have abandoned the
fatherless and motherless girl, who was entirely dependent upon her
powerful uncle, he allows his heart to utter the first sound, and to
this sound she responds. Here we catch a gleam of his native, inborn
nobility of soul, which at the end of the whole purifying process is to
shine forth in perfect serenity, and we feel air unshakable confidence
in him. This love scene, which is brought about by death, belongs to the
highest sphere of art, and even the embarrassment which is evident in
the words exchanged between the Prince and the Princess, is warranted by
the relation in which they have hitherto stood to one another. They do
not dare to speak out plainly.

The scene is hardly over when the rumor which occasioned it is proved to
be false. The Elector lives and is already on the road to Berlin; the
battle has decided the whole war, and peace promptly follows. There is
infinite rejoicing, above all in the soul of the Prince. In the emotion
of his overflowing heart he tells the Electress his sweet secret, and
begs for her consent; she answers, "Not a suppliant on earth could I
deny today, whate'er he ask, and you, our battle-hero, least of all." He
is the happiest of mortals, and challenging "Caesar Divus" himself, as a
rival in Fortune's favor, he, with the ladies, follows his sovereign to

We must lay the proper weight upon this phase if we wish to comprehend
the further development of the tragedy. Arrived in Berlin he hurries at
once to the Elector, and places at his feet three flags captured from
the enemy. The Elector asks him sternly whether he was in command at
Fehrbellin, and when the Prince, in astonishment, replies in the
affirmative, he orders his sword to be taken from him. It had been
reported to the Elector that the Prince was wounded, and before knowing
definitely whether Homburg or Colonel Kottwitz-whom he believed to be
also capable of the deed-had led the cavalry into battle before
receiving the order, the Sovereign had declared that the commanding
officer was to be summoned before a court-martial and condemned to death
without respect of person. Now he simply carries out the sentence. The
Prince does not comprehend in the slightest; he would find it just as
natural if the trees should begin to speak and the stones to fly. He
must indeed obey, but as he gives up his sword, he declares bitterly
that if his "Cousin Frederick" wishes to play the role of Brutus, he
will not find in him a son who reveres him even under the executioner's
ax. That is all the more natural, as he is conscious of what he felt and
did on the battlefield in the moment when he received the news of the
death of his present judge. His friends try to calm him. The Elector
pays no attention to his passionate behavior, but with calm majesty
reads the inscriptions on the Swedish flags, and the Prince is led off
to prison. The noblest style is maintained throughout this scene, which
would have delighted the English of Shakespeare's day.

In the third act we find the Prince somewhat changed, but not to any
great extent. After thinking over the matter in solitude he has finally
grasped that the Elector could not allow the violation of his express
command to pass without some sort of punishment. But is it not
sufficient punishment for him to have spent some days in prison, and
does he not, moreover, deserve a reward because he entered it
voluntarily and did not strangle the jailer? Therefore he knows
positively that the first person to visit him will announce that he is
free, and when his friend Hohenzollern enters his cell, he exclaims
"Well, then, I'm free of my imprisonment." But when the latter examines
his position with very different eyes, when, by producing a series of
threatening facts each one more ominous than the other, he gradually
silences the Prince's emotion, which demonstrates exactly what the
Elector can do and what he cannot do, when he even tells him at last
that the death warrant is about to be brought for signature to the
Elector's cabinet, the Prince finally loses his foolish feeling of
security, and then of course he goes to the opposite extreme. Nay, when
the anxious Hohenzollern further informs him that the Swedish
ambassador, who has arrived on the occasion of the peace negotiations,
would ask the hand of the Princess of Orange for his master, but that
the Princess seems to have made her choice already and thus is
apparently thwarting the Elector's plan, and when he asks the Prince if
he is not in some way tangled up in all this, the latter cries out
despairingly "I am lost," and hurries off to the Electress to entreat
her to intervene in his behalf.

On the way he receives a last impressive confirmation of the seriousness
of his situation. He sees his grave being dug by torchlight. In the
apartment of the Electress now takes place the much decried scene, which
people refuse to comprehend, and therefore, of course, will not forgive
the poet for writing. The Prince, in the presence of the girl he loves,
begs for his life. He does so in the most ignominious fashion; indeed,
in order to remove what he considers one of the worst rocks of offense,
he even renounces Nathalie, while she stands by shuddering at the state
of humiliation in which she beholds her heart's ideal. Certainly that is
utterly unworthy of a hero and of a man, and we may unquestionably
depend upon it that the poet, who in the same piece created the Elector
beside the Prince, knew that as well as any of us. In fact, this scene
has no other purpose than to show us that the Prince is not yet either a
hero or a man, and that along the path he has trodden so far nobody can
become either the one or the other. Up to this time he has led a hollow,
sham existence, which could very well fill his head with giddy
intoxication, but could not put any real backbone into him. Now,
however, the true meaning of life, at least in one form, in the form of
love, has at last come close enough to him to make the continuation of
this sham existence impossible; therein lies the real import of the
scene in which he and Nathalie declare their love, the great
significance of which I pointed out above. If that had not taken place
he would probably have become a duelling-celebrity, and after the first
shock of surprise he would have been able to show the same contempt of
death as a professional fencer accustomed to the duelling-ground, who,
with perfect right, considers life--his own namely--to be a mere cipher;
he would have awaited the bullets defiantly, with his arms crossed a la
Napoleon, and the Elector would have had him shot, would indeed have
been forced to have him shot. He can no longer sink to such depths as
that now, but still less can he find the real moral strength soberly to
make up his mind to take voluntary leave of the world; for he has as yet
no feeling of completed existence and of duty performed to take away
with him; his life is still a blank. Therefore at this moment he must
act exactly as he does act; to be sure, the poet must not leave him in
this doubtful stage for any length of time; but neither, indeed, does he
do so. The Electress considers that any further step would be useless,
as she has already of her own accord done her utmost. Nathalie, however,
with death in her heart, promises to venture one last word with her
uncle for the fallen man, but bitterly advises the Prince in any case to
take another look at his grave, and to persuade himself that it is not
one whit gloomier than the battle has showed it a thousand times.

In the fourth act Nathalie keeps her promise, and the Elector sends her
with a mysterious letter to the Prince in his prison. He tells her
laconically that the Prince is saved just as surely as pardon lies in
his own wish. She brings the letter to the prisoner and he reads: "If
you believe that I have been unjust, tell me, I beg you, in a word or
two, and forthwith I will send you back your sword." Such words could be
used only by the majesty which would be revered even without a crown,
and the Prince feels it at once. "I cannot tell him that!" he cries out
when Nathalie presses him to write as the letter bids him. "What
matter?" he answers curtly, when she assures him that the regiment has
been detailed, which is to render the burial honors above his grave by
the thunder of their muskets. "I will tell him 'You did right!'" he
cries, when she continues to urge him; and he does so! He realizes that
the sovereign who summons him to judge himself, cannot have acted thus
toward him, in order to play the Brutus, or from heartless despotism. It
becomes clear to him that war, yes the State itself, rests upon the
principle of subordination, and that the commander must first perform in
his own person what he would require from his subordinates. He
determines,--and this too, be it noted, in the presence of the girl he
loves,--to make satisfaction to the offended code of war, and thus crush
again the Hydra of anarchy, which his arbitrary action, crowned with
victory though it was, might very well lead to. "And though twelve
bullets made you bite the dust this instant," cries Nathalie transported
with admiration, "I could not resist rejoicing, sobbing, crying: 'Thus
you please me.'" Truly she is right; now the man and the hero is
complete and never again in all eternity can he be seized with another
paroxysm of hollow self-glorification or of petty cowardice--which,
indeed, were intimately connected one with the other. The Prince has
become a stoutly forged link in the moral order of the universe, and the
more difficult it was for him, the more firmly he will endure. Whoever
does not find in this scene complete compensation for the preceding one
with the Electress--in which it is rooted like the flower in the black
earth; and whoever does not understand at the same time that the one was
not possible without the other, and that cause and effect cannot be
separated, to that person I must deny all capability of comprehending a
drama in its totality. The change effected by the Elector is one of the
most sublime conceptions that any literature can show, and is very far
from having an equal in our own.

The fifth act brings the necessary test. The Elector is entreated on all
sides to pardon the Prince; his family, the army, the Princess, all urge
him, indeed the latter--a fine touch--repeats the offense of her lover.
On her own authority, she calls a regiment of which she is chief, to
Fehrbellin, in order that the officers there may also sign their names
to a petition which is being circulated, and thus she could, in her
turn, actually be amenable to a court martial. The Elector allows
nothing to be wrung from him by coaxing or by bullying, but no one who
has an idea of the structure of the play need tremble any longer for the
Prince. It can already be seen that the Elector has no intention of
allowing matters to be carried to extremities from the leniency with
which he is inclined to treat old Kottwitz, who has suddenly arrived
with the cavalry, with out his knowledge and, as he believes, without
his orders. When Kottwitz presses him hard, and heatedly assures him
that at the very first opportunity he will repeat the act of the Prince,
which he once condemned but now must approve,--since for one case where
the impulse of the heart, the sudden instinct, does harm, there are ten
in which it alone can lead to the goal,--the Elector answers that lie
does not know how to convince him, but he will call an advocate who is
able to teach the old gentleman better than he can what discipline and
obedience are. Then he sends for the Prince, and the latter, solemnly
and of his own accord, declares before the entire body of generals that
he wishes by a voluntary death to glorify the code of war, which he had
criminally violated in the sight of the whole army, and that the only
favor he asks of the Elector, to whose just sentence he bows
unconditionally, is that he will not try, on behalf of the King of
Sweden, to force Nathalie's inclinations. This is granted him and he
returns to prison, which he leaves immediately after, to start, with
bandaged eyes, on the way which he perforce must think his last, and in
the moment when he expects the end he deservedly receives from the hands
of the Elector his life, his freedom, and his love.

Of course the romantic accessories of the first act have an
unsatisfactory sequel in the last, as the poet here too feels obliged
to take a roundabout road instead of the direct one. But we surely do
not need to prove thus late that the fault is quite as immaterial here
as there.

It is without doubt obvious to every one that in this drama the
evolution of an important man is presented with absolute directness, in
a way in which it is done nowhere else; that we gaze into the
characteristic medley of rough forces and wild impulses which as a rule
are the original ingredients of such a man, and that we accompany him
from the lowest stage up to the zenith, where the unrestrained roving
comet, that in its disorderliness was exposed to the danger of
self-destruction, is transformed into a clear self-dependent fixed star.
Do we need any other proof that the work is capable of producing a most
unprecedented effect? Even though it gave us nothing but the deep
psychological unfolding of this evolution, such an effect would perforce
be produced, for our dramatic authors, on general principles, seldom
give us opportunity to become acquainted with more than the outside skin
of the man, which, to be sure, is the same for Napoleon as for his most
insignificant corporal. In exceptional cases when they allow us a
glimpse into the heart and reins, they expect us to take a narrow
interest in a peculiarly organized individual, and are wanting in every
kind of background. However the psychological side in our drama is, with
extraordinary art, reduced to a mere substratum, out of which an
entirely new figure of tragedy develops, which combines in a wonderful
fashion the deepest tragic shudder with the gentle transports of a hope
that is not extinguished even in the blackest night. We are reminded of
a smiling May morning over which the first thunderstorm breaks with a
horrible crash; and that is a triumph of dramatic technique.

I would gladly examine the innumerable beauties of detail of this drama,
and in particular call attention to the central points of the plot,
abounding in the most vigorous life, into which a situation or a
character or the action itself is sometimes concentrated. But this
would lead me too far afield; moreover, since the most glaring
differences of opinion usually crop up precisely on this subject, I
could not avoid the dangerous ground on which, according to Goethe's
profound saying, the categorical imperative and the authority of the man
who pronounces it, form the last court of appeal. Or if some one, with a
liking for gaudy paint and iridescent rags, should prefer a puppet show
to the living figures of the piece, vital to their very finger tips,
but, to be sure, going about in very simple, sometimes even slovenly
garments, how could we decide the matter otherwise than in the well
known manner of Cato? The categorical imperative which occasionally
found favor with the old Romans is, however, terribly unpopular with the

One question, notwithstanding, I dare not leave unanswered, the question
of how it is possible that the Prince of Homburg, in view of its great
literary importance and its abundant vitality, could up to this time
have met with so very little success on the stage? The answer is easy.
The great public, who in general suppose the poetical to lie in that
which is opposed to real life, has a strange conception of dramatic
heroism, and the greater part of the critics who should instruct the
public unfortunately share the same opinion. Because, in most cases, the
hero is entirely finished and manufactured to the last filament when he
makes his appearance in the drama, it is taken for granted that it must
be so under all circumstances. Therefore it follows that the poet fares
badly when, instead of leaving the development exclusively to the
action, he occasionally transfers it in part to the principal character,
and thus does not arouse the sympathy which he needs for his hero until
the end of the piece, instead of doing so in the very beginning. For we
immediately take for granted, even when we already know the poet, that
he has made a mistake, that he is growing enthusiastic over something
imperfect, immature, immoral, and that he demands of us to be
enthusiastic with him. That puts us out of humor, we do not await the
end, and even when we do, and become aware of his real intention, we
only partly abandon our former prejudice. This has already been proved
on various occasions. Kleist, in his _Prince of Homburg_, moreover,
touched what in his day was a most sensitive spot--when Theodor Koerner
made his characters run a race to see who could die first. Fear of death
and a hero! That was really going too far! It was an insult to every
ensign "You ask a piece of bread and butter of me! I will not give you
that! But my life you may have with pleasure!"




At the time of my birth my father possessed a small house, with a garden
adjoining, in which stood some fruit trees; in particular one very
productive pear-tree. In the house there were three dwellings, the most
pleasant and roomy of which we occupied; its principal advantage
consisted in the fact that it was situated on the sunny side. The other
two were rented. The one opposite to us was inhabited by an old mason,
Claus Ohl, and his little stooping wife, and the third, to which a
back-entrance through the garden gave access, by the family of a day
laborer. The tenants never changed, and for us children they belonged to
the house, just like Father and Mother, from whom indeed, as regards
loving attentions bestowed upon us, they differed but little, if at all.

Our garden was surrounded by other gardens. On one side was the garden
of a jovial master-joiner who loved to tease me. Even now I cannot
understand how he could take his own life, as he did, later on. Once
when I was a very little boy I had said to him over the hedge, with a
precociously knowing look: "Neighbor, it is very cold!" and he never
grew weary of repeating this remark to me, especially in the hot summer

Next to the garden of the joiner was that of the minister. It was
inclosed by a high board fence, which prevented us children from looking
over, but not from peeping through cracks and chinks. This afforded us
infinite pleasure in the springtime when the beautiful strange flowers
which filled the garden, came up again; but we trembled lest the
minister should catch sight of us. We felt an unbounded reverence for
him, which may have been inspired by his serious, severe, sallow face
and his cold glance, as much as by his position and his functions, which
seemed to us very imposing, such as, for example, walking behind the
hearses, which always passed in front of our house. Whenever he looked
over at us, as he occasionally did, we stopped playing and crept back
into the house.

On another side an old well formed the boundary between our garden and
the next. Shaded by trees and deep, as it was, with its rickety wooden
roof covered with dark green moss, I never could look at it without a
shudder. The longish quadrangle was closed by the garden of a dairy-man
who was treated with the greatest respect by the whole neighborhood on
account of the cows which he owned--and by the courtyard of a dresser of
white leather, the most ill-humored of men. My mother always said of him
that he looked as if he had swallowed one person and was just about to
catch another by the head and take the first bite.

This was the atmosphere in which I lived as a child. It could not have
been more restricted, and yet its impressions live on to the present
day. Still the merry joiner looks at me over the hedge, the morose
minister over the board fence. Still I see the strapping, corpulent
dairy-man standing in his doorway, with his hands in his pockets, in
token that they are not empty; still I look upon the dresser of white
leather, with his bilious yellow face, to whom the mere red cheeks of a
child were an insult, and who always seemed more terrible to me when he
began to smile. Still I sit upon the little bench under the spreading
pear-tree, and while refreshing myself in its shade, wait to see if a
fruit, prematurely ripened by worm-holes, will not drop from its sun-lit
top branches; and the well, the roof of which had to be repaired every
little while, still inspires me with a feeling of dread.

the Painting by Schnorr von Carolsfeld_]


My father was of a very serious disposition in his home, outside of it
he was gay and talkative. He had acquired a reputation on account of his
talent for telling fairy-tales; many years passed, however, before we
heard them with our own ears. He could not bear to hear us laugh or make
any noise; on the other hand he was fond of singing hymns, and indeed
worldly songs as well, in the twilight of the long winter evenings, and
loved to have us join in. My mother was excessively good-hearted and
somewhat quick-tempered; the most touching kindliness shone from her
blue eyes; when she felt passionately agitated, she began to cry. I was
her favorite; my brother, two years younger than I, was my father's
favorite. The reason was that I resembled my mother, and my brother
seemed to resemble my father, though this was by no means the case, as
was proved later.

My parents lived on the best of terms with one another so long as there
was bread in the house. There were painful scenes at times when it was
lacking. This seldom occurred in summer, but often happened in winter
when work was scarce. Although these scenes never degenerated into
violence, I cannot remember the time when they were not more terrible to
me than anything else, and for that very reason I may not pass over them
in silence.

I can remember an unpleasant incident of another kind which took place
in my earliest childhood. It is the first that I recollect and it may
have happened in my third year, if not in my second. I can tell about it
without offending against the sacred memory of my parents; for whoever
sees in it anything out of the ordinary is not acquainted with the lower
classes. My father when following his trade generally had his meals
provided by the persons for whom he worked. Then we at home, like all
other families, ate our usual midday meal. Occasionally, however, he had
to furnish his own food, in return for extra wages. Then dinner was
deferred, and in order to ward off hunger a simple bread and butter
sandwich was partaken of at twelve o'clock. It was an economical
arrangement for the little household which could not afford two large
meals. On one such day my mother baked some pancakes, certainly more to
please us children than to satisfy any desire of her own. We ate them
with the utmost relish and promised not to say anything about them to
our father in the evening. When he arrived we had already gone to bed
and were sound asleep. I do not know whether he may have been accustomed
to find us still up and the contrary event made him suspect that the
rule of the household had been broken. Suffice it to say he awoke me,
petted me, took me in his arms and asked me what I had eaten.
"Pancakes," I answered, sleepily. He then proceeded to reproach my
mother with it. She had nothing to say, and placed his food before him,
throwing me a glance, however, which foretold evil to come. When we were
alone again the next day, she, to use her own expression, gave me with a
rod a forcible lesson in silence. At other times, on the contrary, she
inculcated in me the strictest love of truth. One would be inclined to
think that these contradictions might have had disastrous consequences.
It was not the case and never will be the case, for life entails many
other similar ones, and human nature can adapt itself even to them.
Certain it is that I acquired one piece of information which it is
better for a child to acquire late or not at all, namely, that at times
the father wishes one thing, and the mother another.

I do not remember that I really went hungry in my earliest childhood, as
I did later, but I do recollect that my mother sometimes had to content
herself with looking on while we children ate, and did so gladly,
because otherwise we could not have had our fill.


The principal charm of childhood consists in the fact that every
creature down to the household pets is friendly and kindly disposed
toward children; for out of this arises a feeling of security which
disappears with the first step out into the hostile world and never
returns. This is especially the case among the lower classes. The child
cannot play before the door without being presented with a flower by the
neighboring servant-maid who has been sent across the street to make a
purchase, or to draw water. The fruit-woman throws it a cherry or a pear
out of her basket, or a prosperous burgher perhaps even gives it a small
coin with which it can buy itself a roll. The driver cracks his whip in
passing; the musician as he goes by draws some tones from his
instrument, and whoever does none of all these things at least asks its
name and age, or smiles at it. To be sure, the child must be kept neat
and clean.

My brother and I came in for a bountiful share of this goodwill,
especially on the part of the tenants of our house, our special
neighbors who were almost as much to us as our mother and more than our
severe father. In summer they had their work and could not pay much
attention to us, but then at that season it was not necessary that they
should, as we played in the garden from early till late, from one
bed-time to the next, and the butterflies were company enough. But in
winter, in the rain and snow, when we were confined to the house, almost
everything that entertained and enlivened us came from them.

The wife of the day laborer, Meta by name, was a gigantic figure,
somewhat bent forward, with a stern Old-Testament face, of which I was
vividly reminded by Michaelangelo's Cumaean sybil in the Sistine Chapel.
She usually came over to us at twilight in the long winter evenings,
with a red cloth wound around her head, and stayed until the lights were
lit. Then she told us stories of witches and goblins, that sounded more
impressive from her lips than from any other. We heard of the Blocksberg
and the witches-Sabbath; the broomstick, so contemptible in appearance,
acquired a weird importance, and the dark hole in the chimney, which in
every house, and therefore in ours also, can be misused in such
malignant fashion by the powers of hell and their handmaids, inspired us
with dread. I can still remember perfectly the impression made upon me
by the story of the wicked miller's wife, who transformed herself at
night into a cat, and how I consoled myself with the fact that in the
end she did indeed receive due punishment for this wicked prank. The
cat, namely, when once starting out on her nightly walk, had a paw
chopped off by the miller's apprentice, who thought she looked
suspicious, and the next day the miller's wife lay in bed with a bloody
right arm minus a hand.

When the light was lit we usually went over to neighbor Ohl's, and in
his room we certainly felt more at ease than in Meta's company. Neighbor
Ohl was a man whom I have never seen cross, no matter how often he had
occasion to be so. With an empty stomach, indeed with what in his case
meant more, an empty pipe, he danced, sang, and whistled something for
us whenever we came; and in spite of his considerably reddened
nose--which, according to a tale of my mother's, I once wished for
longingly when looking up at him while being danced upon his knees--and
in spite of the felt cap tapering to a point, which he wore continually,
his always friendly, merry face still gleams before me like a star.
There had been a time when he was the only mason in the place and the
employer of from twenty to thirty journeymen, of whom many later set up
as masters and took the work away from him. At that time, so it was said
later, he could have assured himself a future free from care if he had
not visited the bowling alley too often, and loved a good glass of wine
too well. But whoever bore evil fortune as he did, could not be
reproached for careless enjoyment of the good. I cannot think of him
without emotion; how would it be possible for me to do sot He once, at
fair-time, presented my brother and me with a kettle-drum and a trumpet
which he had, with the greatest difficulty, obtained on credit from the
toy merchant, and as his poverty did not permit him to pay off the small
debt until much later, he had to submit to being dunned for it years
after, when I, already tall and knowing beyond my years, was walking at
his side. He was inexhaustible in inventing ways to amuse us, and as
with children nothing is necessary but goodwill, he never failed to do
so. It was a source of great delight to us when he took a piece of chalk
in his hand, sat himself down with us at his round table and began to
draw-mills, houses, animals, and all sorts of other things. At the same
time he cracked the merriest jokes, which still resound in my ears. Even
the chief of his pleasures was not one for him if we did not share it.
It consisted in drinking slowly a half jug of brandy, in remembrance of
better days, and in smoking a pipe at the same time, on Sunday morning
after the sermon and before dinner. We each had to have a thimble full
of this brandy or he did not enjoy it himself. The drink was certainly
not the best thing for us, but the quantity was small enough to prevent
disastrous consequences. My father, however, forbade this kind of Sunday
treat when he came to find out about it. This troubled the good old man
exceedingly, but did not prevent him, I am forced to add, from having us
drink with him again; only this took place quite secretly, and he
urgently recommended us to keep out of our father's way, so that he
should not have occasion to kiss one of us and thus discover the
transgression. It was a kiss, to wit pressed upon my father's lips, that
had betrayed the secret the first time.

Sometimes one or the other of his two unmarried brothers, who as a rule
tramped around the country and were probably good-for-nothings, would
spend the winter with him. They always found a ready welcome and
remained until the spring or hunger drove them away. He never turned
them out. Small as his piece of bread might be he gladly divided it once
again, but when he had nothing at all, then indeed he could not give
away anything. It was a regular treat for us when Uncle Hans or Johann
arrived, for they brought news of the world to our nest. They told us of
woods and their adventures in them; of robbers and murderers whom they
had escaped from with great difficulty; of the dark giblet stew which
they had eaten in lonely forest-taverns, and of men's fingers and toes
which they pretended to have found at last in the bottom of the dish.

The swaggering, parasitic brothers-in-law were extremely unwelcome to
the housewife, for she did not bear the burden of existence as
light-heartedly as her husband did, and she knew they would not leave
again so long as there was a piece of bacon hanging in the chimney; but
she contented herself with complaining in private, and at times pouring
out her heart to my mother. She, too, was fond of us children, and in
summer, as often as she could, she presented us with red and white
currants, which she, in turn, begged from a stingy friend. I, however,
avoided her too close proximity, for she made it her business to cut my
nails as often as it was necessary, and I detested this on account of
the prickly feeling in the nerve ends which it caused. She read the
Bible diligently, and long before I could read it myself I received from
her my first strong, nay terrible, impression from this gloomy book,
when she read to me out of Jeremiah the horrible passage in which the
angry prophet foretells that in the time of great distress the mothers
would slaughter their own children and eat them. I can remember yet with
what terror this passage inspired me when I heard it, perhaps because I
did not know whether it referred to the past or to the future, to
Jerusalem or to Wesselburen, and because I was myself a child and had a


In my fourth year I was sent to a primary-school. It was kept by an old
spinster, Susanna by name, of tall and masculine stature, with friendly
blue eyes, which shone forth like candles from out a pale grayish face.
We children were planted around the walls of the spacious chamber which
served as school-room, and which was rather dark. The boys were on one
side, the girls on the other; Susanna's table, piled high with school
books, stood in the middle, and she herself, a white clay pipe in her
mouth and a cup of tea before her, sat behind it in an ancestral arm
chair which inspired no little respect. Before her lay a long ruler,
which, however, was not used for drawing lines but for chastising us
when we were no longer to be held in check by frowning and clearing of
the throat. A cornucopia full of currants, destined as a reward for
extraordinary virtues, lay beside it. The raps, however, fell more
regularly than the currants; indeed, the cornucopia, sparingly as
Susanna made use of the contents, was sometimes completely empty; we
thus learned Kant's categorical imperative sufficiently early.

Children large and small were called up to the table from time to time,
the more advanced pupils for instruction in writing, the multitude to
repeat their lessons and to receive raps on the fingers with the ruler,
or currants, as the case might be. A sullen maid-servant, who even
occasionally took a hand in inflicting punishment, went up and down the
room, and was at times occupied in a most unpleasant manner with the
youngest pupils, for which reason she kept sharp watch that they should
not partake too freely of the sweet things which they brought with them.

Behind the house was a small yard, adjoining which was Susanna's little
garden. During recess we played our games in the yard; the garden was
kept locked up from us. It was full of flowers, whose fantastic shapes I
can still see swaying in the sultry summer wind. Susanna, when in a good
humor, used sometimes to pluck a few of these flowers for us, not,
however, until it was nearly time for them to fade; before that she
would not rob of a particle of their adornment the neatly laid-out,
carefully-weeded beds, between which ran footpaths that hardly seemed
wide enough for the birds to hop on. Susanna, moreover, distributed her
gifts with great partiality. The children of well-to-do parents received
the best and were allowed to give voice to their desires, which were
frequently lacking in modesty, without being reproved; the poorer had to
be satisfied with what remained, and received nothing at all if they did
not await the act of grace in silence. This was most flagrantly apparent
at Christmas time. Then a great distribution of cakes and nuts took
place, but in most faithful adherence to the words of the Gospel: "To
him who hath, shall be given." The daughters of the parish clerk, a
mightily respected person, the sons of the doctor, and so forth, were
loaded with half-dozens of cakes, with whole handkerchiefs full of nuts;
on the contrary the poor devils whose prospects for Christmas Eve,
unlike those of the rich children, were entirely dependent upon
Susanna's charitable hands, were scantily portioned off. The reason was
that Susanna counted upon return gifts, doubtless was forced to count
upon them, and could not expect any from people who even had difficulty
in getting together the school-money. I was not entirely neglected, as
Susanna received her tribute from our pear-tree regularly every autumn,
and besides, on account of my "good head," I enjoyed a sort of advantage
over many of the others. Nevertheless I too felt the difference, and in
especial had much to suffer from the maid-servant, who put a spiteful
construction upon my most innocent actions; for example, she once
interpreted the pulling out of my handkerchief as a sign that I wished
to have it filled, which drove the most burning blushes to my cheeks and
tears to my eyes. As soon as I became conscious of Susanna's partiality
and the injustice of her maid I stepped outside the magic circle of
childhood. It occurred very early.


Two incidents which took place in this school-room are still vividly
present before me. I remember, to begin with, that I received there my
first awful impression of nature and the invisible power which prophetic
man surmises behind it. The child has a period, which lasts a fairly
long time, when it believes that the whole world is subject to its
parents, at least to the father who always remains standing somewhat
mysteriously in the background, and when it would be just as likely to
beg them for good weather as for a plaything. This period naturally
comes to an end when the child, to its astonishment, undergoes the
experience that things occur which are quite as unwelcome to its parents
as a beating is to itself, and with this period disappears a great part
of the mystic spell which surrounds the sacred head of the father:
indeed not until it is past does real human independence begin. My eyes
were opened on this subject by a fearful thunderstorm, which was
accompanied by a cloud burst and hail.

It was a sultry afternoon, one of those which scorch up the earth and
roast all its creatures. We children sat around on our benches, lazy and
depressed, with our catechisms or primers. Susanna herself nodded
sleepily, and indulgently allowed to pass unnoticed the jokes and
teasing, by means of which we tried to keep ourselves awake. Not even
the flies were buzzing, except the very small ones which are always
lively, when all of a sudden the first thunderclap sounded and
reverberated, crashing and roaring, among the worm-eaten rafters of the
old, dilapidated house. In the most desperate combination, such as only
occurs during storms in the north, a clatter of hail stones now
followed, which in less than a minute demolished all the window-panes on
the windy side, and immediately after this, indeed in the midst of it,
came a downpour of rain which seemed to be the prelude of a new deluge.
We children, starting up terrified, ran about screaming and clamoring.
Susanna herself lost her head, and her maid succeeded in closing the
shutters only when there was nothing more to be saved; and there needed
only the Egyptian darkness added to the flood which had already
overtaken us, to heighten the general terror and increase the prevailing


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