This is a translation of one of the most valuable records in the history of literature. The correspondence between Goethe and Schiller is of a rare value. Two men met, if not of perfectly congenial natures and equal powers, yet so far balanced that each could appreciate the others great gifts and help to unfold them. And these two men were of that condensed power, that essence of the faculties of millions that made them representatives of what is most important in human nature; kings and lords over their own age and that which is to follow.
In such a correspondence, slight remarks are keys which open long suits of the chambers of history, and transient collisions of character are laden with the electricity of a thousand hearts.
The profound esteem and affectionate reverence evidenced by Schiller to his friend are the best reply to the weak attempts continually made, especially in this country, to exalt Schiller at the expense of Goethe; Goethe, on the other hand, shows the warmest, but, at the same time, the most discriminating appreciation of Schiller. Friendly, as the oak grows up beside the pine, they addressed their heads to the same heavens, and gladdened by their beauty the same field of earth. Nor could any fowl of the air, who ever really found a home in the branches of the one, be so superficial as to croak disparagement of the other. They were men who practised and taught other modes of criticism than by invidious comparisons.
As a precise and profound picture of a noble relation, this correspondence is of the highest value, apart from all other sources of interest. There is nothing finer extant, unless it be in the correspondence of the same Goethe with his friend Zelter. This is, to ourselves, still more interesting, and we are very familiar with the contents of those six thick German volumes. They may never find a translator; the task being one of such labor, and Zelter’s part so full of local and personal particulars, which have now lost their interest, except as pictures of the time and place. But, were they known, they would put an end at once to the absurd supposition that a man of genius can fail to have a heart. The mass of men are ever ready to infer that those most richly endowed with intellect cannot, also, have heart. They little know what a fire it takes to raise all that fuel in pure flame to upper air.
The connection between Goethe and Schiller was that of co-workers; their intercourse related to literary production, and gives us more the hieroglyphics which symbolize an inner life, than that inner life itself. But Zelter and Goethe met more simply, man to man, soul to soul. Zelter, the master mason, and the music-master, was by his occupations brought nearer common existence than Goethe the Poet, Goethe the Minister, at the same time they kept his mind alive, though more unconsciously than consciously to the ideal meaning of daily realities. He had the same horizon as the great thinker, though he rather enjoyed than speculated upon what lay within its range. His liberal nature offered no obstruction to the great intellect, his genial spirits enlivened, his human trust gladdened it. Goethe enjoyed, both in the Duke of Weimar and in Zelter, friends who prized him, not for his genius only, but for his entire self, who understood, who sympathized with Nature as she worked in him. How rare this happiness to the common man; how much more so the man of genius! Goethe prized it at its due rate. Zelter he never forgot! he delighted in all that related to Zelter. Zelter ever fresh and young; the great burly man, with healthy common nature, the exquisite affections, and the quick thoughts that never stopped to bake and brew but sparkled out in song or in fun. Zelter who ardently loved, but never wearied, never intruded on him. Might genius always have such a green sunny field of earth to bask in; it would not cry out so much for some “piece of heaven fallen upon the earth.”
Mr. Calvert, the translator of these volumes, was, in early youth, received with marked distinction by Goethe, (who, holding his court as a prince, could less than any temporal prince afford to give a moment to any but the worthiest) and by him introduced to a familiar intercourse at the court of Weimar. Seeing with his own unprejudiced eyes the modern Jupiter, with a mind capable of appreciating his greatness, he feels a natural and just contempt for the assumption of ordinary minds that they can take the altitude of such an object, and class away, once for all, by their small registers, its claims to consideration. Such an attempt was made in the Phi Beta oration of Mr. Putnam, a work where well-intentioned mediocrity met with vast applause from those on the same level. Yet, while they were clapping their hands, the sun ceased not to shine, nor the grass to grow, neither the genius of Byron, Burns and Goethe to continue its irresistible work, quite independent of the loosely arranged arguments of the orator. Such hearsay opinions, such want of the carefully adjusted scales necessary even in such criticism, it was sad to see in a writer who said so much about Truth. He talked of Truth while decking his pages with the most unfounded assertions, and betraying want of any real acquaintance with the authors of whom he spoke. The influence of such a production is very transitory, but it may have survived long enough to need Mr. Calvert’s reproof. We close with that part of his preface which contains it, and furnishes beside the clue to the book. We have not examined the translation, but the well-known attainments of Mr. C. vouch for its excellence. The volume is handsomely printed, and despite all Phi Beta orations will not fail to prove itself one that “no gentlemans library can be without.”*
The translator cannot withhold a few words on the passage relating to Goethe in the Phi Beta Kappa Oration delivered at Cambridge in 1844. From its elevated birth-place that passage has flown over the whole land. On a formal public occasion a blind and most rude assault had been made on one of the mightiest of the dead, whose soul lives on the earth, and will for ages live, in the exaltation of the loftiest minds. Out of stale German gossip, out of shallow wailings of prosaic critics, shallower clamors of pseudo-patriots, uncharitable magnification of common failings, in a discourse especially designed to enforce the virtue of truth, were compounded those pages reeking with calumny against one of the foremost men of the world, and the most honored man of a people rich in virtue and in genius. Goethe is called “selfish, false,” “a bad man,” “whose name is throughout Germany almost a synonyme for dissoluteness,” “a false man,” guilty of “treachery and cold-blooded trifling with the peace and virtue of others,” one who could with “the unruffled equanimity of profound self-love calmly survey the ruin he had wrought in hearts that confided in him.” On reading such phrases coupled with the name of Goethe, indignation gives place to astonishment at beholding this monstrous brood, begotten by presumption upon a pharisaical morality.
Hard to conceive of a sound mind erring so grossly, with knowledge of the works of Goethe and harder to believe that it should dare to pronounce so sweeping a censure without wide and minute acquaintance with the chief source of evidence on the moral structure of a poet. How little outward testimony exists about Shakspeare; but whoso can read his poetry, may get a knowledge of the man surer and more absolute than could have been gotten even from the fullest contemporaneous opinions. As the tree is known by its fruit we know that the parent of Shakspearean progeny must have been a man in whom, in close alliance with a kingly intellect, dwelt, as well the virtues that ennoble, as the graces that beautify and the affections that sweeten life. Into whatever errors an ardent temperament may have drawn him, they dim not the lucent image of him fixed in our minds by study of his works; nay, we presume not to wish them uncommitted, lest an attempt to better such a bounteous gift from God should mar but by a title the original proportion of one the sum of whose life has been to the work of an immeasurable benefaction. If of Goethe we knew no more than can be learnt from his work in them there is that will convert the gall of such abusive generalities into a mere nauseating insipidity. When a bad man’s brain shall give birth to an Iphigenia, a Clara, a Mignon, a Macaria, you may pluck pomegranates from Plymouth Rock, and reap corn on the shores of the Sahara.
From the large composition of Goethe’s mind, exhibited in his poetry; from the justness and clear humanity of his nature, deducible from his other copious writings, biographies, travels, criticism, letters; from his known acts of usefulness and generosity; the inference, to a judgment of healthy wholeness, is direct, that he was habitually upright and kind, a man who could not do an injury without atoning for it, nor err without repentance. Of himself, as a writer, he somewhere says, “when I must cease to be moral I have no power more;” and if he had been one who “inwardly felicitated himself upon the rich accession to his artistic domain, furnished from sufferings he himself had wantonly caused,” palsied would have been his hand ere he had written a verse, and the spring of poetry within him,—if such can be imagined ever to have existed in a mind of this diabolical capacity,—would have shrivelled to a putrid puddle. “If this harsh judgment upon Goethe, the voice of his country is liable for it, and not I,” says the address. Shame! Shame! Were there even such a voice, what is it worth? Hundreds of thousands, aye, millions of respectable people there are in the country, who, through religious convictions proscribe the playwriter Shakspeare, and who, were they to read Collier’s life of the man, would confirm the proscription through their moral code. But what evidence were this to cite before a high literary court!
Goethe is the most complete man of his time. He is the richest specimen of humanity since Shakespeare. In him the manifold capacities of our nature were centred in uncommon individual strength and rare aptness to refinement. With the spontaneous development, inherent in such fertility, was early associated a monarchical power of will over this affluence of resources. From youth to old age, his daily endeavor was to cultivate and purify his being. And thus, working his vast faculties of intellect and sympathy to the utmost, relieving the intense hours of poetic creation with scientific research, with the plastic arts, with critical elucidation, with the labors of the statesman, with the duties of theatrical director, with the pleasures of friendship and hospitality, he went on his shining way, having had already in his youth the strength and art to master the fiery passions that threatened to devour him, and to harness them to the car of Poesy, in which, another Apollo, his brow bared to the airs of Heaven, and his eye glancing towards earth, he drove triumphantly and beneficently through the seasons of manhood, shoerwing as he went the blossoms and flowers and fruits of poetry and wisdom. And yet, this man, so wondrously gifted, and so nobly using his gifts, to whom leading men throughout Europe, statesmen, artists, poets, philosophers, and thankful for their best culture, whose long life ripened in the sunshine of unbroken friendships, who was revered by the spiritual Richter, whom the fervent aspiring Schiller loved and looked up to, this man, who to his fellow men has left a bequest to which that of a hundred Girards is but as a bushel of pebbles to the Pitt diamond, has been the object of all sorts of detraction, to which in this address a new accusation has been added, Goethe being here upbraided, for the first time surely, with being—an Artist!
“He was a great, an unequalled Artist,—Artist, that is the term every where applied to him,—a term which, as applied to literary men, I am sorry to find is getting into some repute amongst us as a term of condemnation. In Europe, it is generally a term of disparagement, as indicating a writer whose inspiration passes not through the heart, and whose lofty sentiments have no home in his own soul, and no expression of life.”
This is weakly to mistake the mimicry of smooth handiwork for creation, and the cold expertness of technical practice for the magic of genius. Art cannot be without the closest union of judgment and sensibility; it implies a marriage between intellect and soul. It is the fairest offspring of the human mind. Its beginning of existence is a rising upward from the finite towards the infinite. Its life is a struggle after perfection. Its home is in the inmost chambers of the spirit, where it is apparelled by Beauty to shed radiance on the earth. Art does not merely copy nature, it coöperates with her, it interprets nature, it makes palpable her finest essence, it reveals the spiritual source of the corporeal by the perfection of its incarnations, and thus gives us reglimpses into that realm whence
Art is mental procreation, and the mind of a people can no more grow without Art than its body can without generation. It embalms the past, it beautifies the present, it facilitates and widens the future. The Artist, therefore, whose ministry is so high, deserves to be, and is, cherished and honored as the refiner, vivifier, benefactor of his country and race. For instruction on this point, the writer of the address is referred to various passages in these letters, and to the poems of Schiller, whom he bepraises with such puerile incompetence; and, for illustration, to the chief sources of glory and enduring influence among nations that have ascended to power and dignity. Without her Artists, her Dante, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Canova, what were Italy? They were, and they are, the soul of her being; they still shield from contempt her down-trodden body. The greatest man of England, Shakspeare, is the foremost Artist of the world, and it was by his “so potent art” that he lifted his native land highest among the nations, and keeps her uplifted, as by an unrusting golden chain suspended from the vaults of Heaven. Second only to him is the German, Goethe, who by his single might raised a whole great people in the scale of civilization:
Whose beautiful proportions, port serene,
Disguise more fire and strength than oft have marr’d
Less perfect natures; who, with vision keen
And culture wide, knew best how to enguard
The brain-built structure with a thoughtful art,
And unto each the fittest form impart.
BALTIMORE, January, 1845.
“Translations from the German.” New-York Daily Tribune, 14 March 1845, p. 1.