Modern Literary Life 1: Karl Gutzkow as Dramatist; 2 Modern Polemics - Frederick Engels

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Modern Literary Life by Frederick Engels

Works of Frederick Engels, 1840

Modern Literary Life [56]

Written: in March 1840

First published: in the Mitternachtzeitung für Leser Nos. 51-54, March 1840, and Nos. 83-87, May 1840

Signed: Friedrich Oswald


Karl Gutzkow As Dramatist

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 51, March 26,1840

One would have thought that after Gutzkow’s well-known article in the Jahrbuch der Literatur [57] his opponents would feel moved to equally noble revenge; with the possible exception of Kühne, who was really dismissed too superficially here also. But one little knows the egoism of our literature if one expects any such thing. It was most significant that the Telegraph in its literary share-list took each writer’s evaluation of himself as the price at par. So it was predictable that Gutzkow’s latest writings would receive no special welcome from this quarter.

Nevertheless there are those among our critics who pride themselves on their impartiality to Gutzkow, and others who admit to a decided predilection for his literary work. The latter spoke very highly of his Richard Savage [58] the Savage which Gutzkow wrote in feverish haste in twelve days, while his Saul, [59] where one can see with how much love the poet worked on it, how carefully he nurtured it, they dismiss with a few words of half-hearted recognition. At the very time when Savage was making its fortune on every stage and all the journals were filled with reviews, those to whom knowledge of this play was denied should have been prompted to trace Gutzkow’s dramatic talent in Saul, which was available to them in print. But how few journals gave even a superficial criticism of this tragedy! One really does not know what to think of our literary life if one compares this neglect with the discussions aroused by Beck’s Fahrender Poet, a poem which is surely farther from classicism than Gutzkow’s Saul!

But before discussing this play we must consider the two dramatic studies in the Skizzenbuch [60] The first act of Marino Falieri, an unfinished tragedy, shows how well Gutzkow can fashion and shape each single act by itself, how skilfully he can handle the dialogue and endow it with refinement, grace and Wit. But there is not enough action, one can relate the content in three words, and so on the stage it would bore even those who can appreciate the beauties of the execution. Any improvement, it is true, would be difficult since the action is so constructed that to move anything from the second act to the first would only do harm elsewhere. But here the true dramatist proves his worth, and if Gutzkow is one, as I am convinced he is, he will solve the problem satisfactorily in the tragedy as a whole which he has promised to and will, we hope, soon complete.

Hamlet in Wittenberg already gives us the outline of a whole. Gutzkow has done well to give only the outlines here, since the most successful part, the scene in which Ophelia appears, would offend if depicted in greater detail. I find it inexplicable, however, that in order to introduce doubt, that German element, into Hamlet’s heart, Gutzkow should bring him together with Faust. There is no need whatever to bring this trait into Hamlet’s soul from without, since it is already there, and is inborn in him. Otherwise Shakespeare also would have especially motivated it. Gutzkow here refers to Börne, but it is precisely Börne who not only demonstrates the split in Hamlet but also establishes the unity of his character [L. Börne, Hamlet, von Shakespeare]. And by what agency does Gutzkow introduce these elements into Hamlet’s mind? Perhaps through the curse which Faust pronounces on the young Dane? Such deus-ex-machina effects would make all dramatic poetry impossible. Through Faust’s conversations with Mephistopheles which Hamlet overhears? If so, firstly, the curse would lose its significance, and, secondly, the thread leading from this character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is often so fine as to be lost to sight, and, thirdly, could Hamlet speak so casually of other things immediately afterwards? It is different with the appearance of Ophelia. Here Gutzkow has seen through Shakespeare, or if not that, has supplemented him. It is a case of Columbus and the egg, after the critics have argued about it for two hundred years a solution is given here which is as original as it is poetical and probably the only possible one. The execution of the scene is also masterly. Those who were not convinced by a certain scene in Wally [61] that Gutzkow also has imagination and is not coldly matter-of-fact, can learn it here. The tender, poetic bloom on the delicate figure of Ophelia is more than one is entitled to expect from mere outlines. — The verses spoken by Mephistopheles are totally unsuccessful. It would require a second Goethe to reproduce the language of Goethe’s Faust, the melody that rings in the seeming doggerel; in anybody else’s hands these light verses would become wooden and ponderous. On the interpretation of the principle of evil I will not argue with Gutzkow here.

Now we come to our main work, König Saul. Gutzkow has been upbraided for having his Savage preceded by a number of trumpet blasts and fanfares in the Telegraph, although all the fuss is about two or three short notices; it does not occur to anybody that others have had their works welcomed by paid musicians; but because it is Gutzkow, who has told someone a home truth and perhaps done someone else a slight injustice, it is made out to be a great crime. With König Saul there is no room for such reproaches; it came into the world unannounced either by notices below the line or excerpts in the Telegraph. There is the same modesty in the drama itself; no spectacular effects with thunder and lightning rise like volcanic islands from a sea of watery dialogue, no pompous monologues are intoned whose inspired or moving rhetoric has to conceal a number of dramatic blunders; everything develops calmly and organically, and a conscious, poetic force leads the action safely to its conclusion. And will our critics read such a work once and then write an article whose bright, flowery flourishes show from what thin, sandy soil they sprout? I regard as a great merit of König Saul the fact that its beauties are not on the surface, that one must look for them, that after a single reading one may well throw the book contemptuously into a corner. Let an educated man forget how famous Sophocles is and then let him choose between Antigone and Saul; I am convinced that after a single reading he would find both works equally bad. By that I do not, of course, mean to say that Saul can be compared to the greatest poetic work of the greatest Greek; I only wish to indicate the degree of perverseness with which frivolous superficiality can judge. It was entertaining to see how certain sworn enemies of the author now suddenly believed themselves to have won an enormous triumph, how jubilantly they pointed to Saul as a monument to all Gutzkow’s hollowness and lack of poetry, how they did not know what to make of Samuel and pretended it was always being said of him “I don’t know if he is alive or dead”. It was amusing how beautifully they unconsciously revealed their boundless superficiality. But Gutzkow may be reassured; it happened thus to the prophets who came before him, and in the end his Saul will be among the prophets. Thus they despised Ludwig Uhland’s plays until Wienbarg opened their eyes [62]Precisely Uhland’s plays have much in common with Saul in the modest simplicity of their dress.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 52, March 27, 1840

Another reason why superficiality could dismiss Saul so easily lies in the peculiar conception of historical fiction. With historical works which are as well known as the first book of Samuel and regarded in so many and various ways, everyone has his own peculiar standpoint which he wishes to see recognised or heeded at least to some extent in the case of a poetic adaptation. One reader is for Saul, another for David, a third for Samuel; and everybody, however solemn his assurances that he is willing to let the poet have his views, is nevertheless piqued if his own are not respected. But Gutzkow has done well here to leave the common highway where even the most ordinary cart finds a rut. I would like to see the man who would undertake to create a purely historical Saul in a tragedy. I cannot be satisfied with the attempts hitherto made to place the story of Saul on a purely historical basis. Historical criticism of Old Testament scripture has not yet got beyond the bounds of old-fashioned rationalism. A Strauss would still have much to do here if he wanted to separate strictly and clearly what is myth, what is history, and what is interpolated by the priests. Furthermore, have not a thousand failures shown that the Orient as such is an infertile ground for drama? And where in the story is that higher power which emerges victorious when the individuals who have outlived themselves break down? Surely not David? He remains as before amenable to the influence of the priests and is a poetic hero at most in the unhistorical light in which the Bible presents him. Consequently Gutzkow has not only taken advantage here of the right belonging to every poet, he has also removed the obstacles standing in the way of a poetic presentation. How then would a purely historical Saul appear in all the trappings of his time and nationality? Imagine him speaking in Hebrew parallelisms, all his ideas relating to Jehovah and all his images to the Hebrew cult; imagine the historical David speaking in the language of the psalms — to imagine an historical Samuel is altogether impossible — and then ask yourselves whether such figures would be even tolerable in drama? Here the categories of period and nationality had to be removed, here the outlines of the characters as they appear in biblical history and in previous criticism had to undergo many very necessary changes; indeed, a great deal here which historically was known to them only as notions or at most as vague representations had to be developed into clear concepts. Thus the poet had the perfect right, for example, to assume that his characters were familiar with the concept of the church. — And one cannot but heartily applaud Gutzkow when one observes how he solved his problem here. The threads from which he wove his characters are all to be found, however entangled, in his source; many had to be pulled out and thrown away, but only the most biased criticism can charge him with having interwoven anything alien, except in the scene with the Philistines.

Grouped in the centre of the drama. are three characters by whose original portrayal alone Gutzkow made his material truly tragic. Here he shows a genuinely poetic view of history; no one will ever be able to convince me that a “coldly matter-of-fact” person “a debater”, would be capable of selecting from a confused tale precisely that which would produce the greatest tragic effect. These three characters are Saul, Samuel and David. Saul concludes one period of Hebrew history,, the age of the judges, the age of heroic legend; Saul is the last Israelite Nibelung whose generation of heroes has left him behind in an age he does not understand and which does not understand him. Saul is an epigone whose sword was originally destined to gleam through the mist of the age of myth but whose misfortune it was to have lived to see the age of advancing culture, an epoch which is ‘alien to him, which covers his sword with rust, and which he therefore seeks to drive back. He is otherwise a noble person to whom no human feeling is alien, but he does not recognise love when he encounters it in the apparel of the new age. He sees this new age and its manifestations as the work of the priests, whereas the priests only prepare it, are only tools in the hands of history from whose hierarchical seed sprouts an unsuspected plant; he fights the new epoch, but it prevails over him. It gains giant strength overnight and smashes the great, noble Saul together with all who oppose it.

Samuel stands at the transition to culture; here as always the priests, as the privileged possessors of education, prepare the state of culture among primitive peoples, but education penetrates to the people, and the priests must resort to other weapons if they want to preserve their influence on the people. Samuel is a genuine priest whose holy of holies is the hierarchy; he firmly believes in his divine mission, and is convinced that if the rule of the priests is overthrown Jehovah’s wrath will descend on the people. To his horror he sees that the people already know too much when they demand a king; he sees that moral power, the imposing frock of the priest, no longer suffices with the people; he must resort to the weapons of cleverness and unwittingly becomes a Jesuit. But the very crooked ways he now pursues are doubly hateful to the king who could never be the priests’ friend, and in the struggle Saul’s eyes soon become as sharp for priestly tricks as they are blind to the signs of the times.

The third element, which emerges victorious from this struggle, the representative of a new historical epoch in which Judaism attains a new stage of consciousness, is David, equal to Saul in his humanity, and far exceeding him in his understanding of the age. At first he appears as Samuel’s pupil, barely having left school; but his reason has not so bowed itself before authority as to lose its resilience; it springs up and restores his independence to him. Samuel’s personality ma still impress him, but his intellect always comes to his aid, his poetic imagination rebuilds the new Jerusalem for him as often as Samuel destroys it with the lightning of his anathemas. Saul cannot become reconciled with him since both are pursuing opposite aims, and when he says that he hates only what priestly deceit has put into David’s soul, he is again confusing the effects of priestly lust for power with the signs of the new age. Thus David develops before our eyes from a foolish boy to the bearer of an epoch, and so the seeming contradictions in his portrayal vanish.

In order not to interrupt the development of these three characters, I have deliberately passed over a question raised by all critics who took the trouble to read Saul once, the question of whether Samuel appears as a living person in the witches’ scene and at the end or whether his ghost delivers the speeches there recorded. Let us suppose that no easy or thoroughly satisfactory answer is to be found in Saul; would that be such a great fault? I think not — take him for what you like, and if you feel inclined start boring discussions about it; after all one finds the same thing in Shakespeare’s Hamlet whose madness all the critics and commentators have discussed for the past two hundred years “three long and three broad and altogether polygonally” [A quotation from Wienbarg’s article “Ludwig Uhland, als Dramatiker"] and from all angles. Gutzkow has not made the problem so very difficult, however. He has long known how ridiculous ghosts are in broad daylight, how mal à propos the Black Knight appears in Die Jungfrau von Orleans [Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Act III, Scene 9] and that all ghostly apparitions would be quite out of place in Saul. In the witches’ scene especially the mask is easy to see through, even if the old high priest had not appeared earlier in a similar manner, before there was any talk of Samuel’s death.

Of the play’s remaining characters the best drawn is Abner, who devotes himself to Saul with utter conviction and due to perfect compatibility of temperament and in whom the warrior and enemy of the priests has relegated the man wholly into the background. Least successful, by contrast, are Jonathan and Michal. Jonathan indulges throughout in phrases about friendship, and insists on his love for David without, however, proving it in anything but words; he dissolves completely in the friendship for David, thereby losing all manliness and strength. His butter-like softness cannot properly be called character. Gutzkow was confused here as to what he should do with Jonathan. In any case he is superfluous like this. Michal is kept quite vague ani is characterised to some extent only by her love for David. How very unsuccessful these two figures are can best be seen in the scene where they converse about David. What is said there about love and friendship lacks all the striking sharpness, all the wealth of thought, to which we are accustomed in Gutzkow. Mere phrases which are neither quite true nor quite false, nothing remarkable, nothing significant. — Zeruiah is a Judith; I don’t know whether it was Gutzkow or Kühne who once said that Judith, like every woman who transcends the limits of her sex, must die after her deed if she does not want to appear unattractive; Zeruiah also dies accordingly. — In itself the characterisation of the Philistine princes is excellent and rich in entertaining features, but whether it fits into the play is a question still to be settled.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 53, March 30, 1840

I trust I shall be excused for not giving a consecutive analysis of the dramatic action; only one point must be emphasised here, namely, the exposition. This is excellent and contains features in which Gutzkow’s great dramatic talent is unmistakable. Wholly in keeping with Gutzkow’s quick, impetuous manner, the mass of the people appears only in short scenes. There is something awkward about large crowd scenes; if one is not a Shakespeare or a Goethe they easily become trivial and insignificant. By contrast, a few words spoken by a couple of warriors or other men from the crowd are often very effective and achieve perfectly their aim of sketching public opinion; moreover, they can appear much more frequently without being conspicuous and tiresome. So much for the first and fourth scenes of the first act. The second and third scenes contain Saul’s monologue and his conversation with Samuel, which are the finest and most poetic passages of the play. The classically restrained passion of the dialogue is characteristic of the spirit in which the whole play is written. After the general state of the action has been rapidly outlined in these scenes, we are introduced to more specific matters in the fifth scene between Jonathan and David. This scene suffers somewhat from a confusion of thought; several times one loses sight of the dialectical thread — without any doubt the result of the unsuccessful drawing of Jonathan right from the start. The final scene in the act is masterly, however. We are already familiar to some extent with the chief characters, and here they are brought together; David and Saul meet with the serious intention of being reconciled. Her e the poet had to develop their different natures, show their incompatibility and bring about the inevitable conflict instead of the intended reconciliation. And this task, which only the most lively awareness, the most acute delineation of the characters, the surest look into the human soul can deal with satisfactorily, is solved here unsurpassably; the transitions in Saul’s mind from one extreme to the other are so true psychologically, so finely motivated, that I must judge this scene the best in the whole play, in spite of the unfortunate episode with the son-in-law.

In the second act, the scene with the Philistines is striking, or, to use Kühne’s expression, “freshly piquant”, but I doubt whether its rich wit suffices to secure it a place in the tragedy. When Gutzkow lifted his Saul above the concepts of his age and ascribed to him a consciousness which he did not have, that can be justified; however, this scene introduces a purely modern concept, and David is standing on German soil here. That is damaging, at least for the tragedy. Comic scenes could still occur, but they would have to be of ‘a different kind. The comic element in tragedy is not there, as superficial criticism says, for the sake of variation or contrast, but rather to give a more faithful picture of life, which is a mixture of jest and earnest. But I doubt if Shakespeare would have been satisfied with such reasons. In real life does not the most moving tragedy invariably appear m comic dress? I will only remind you of the character who, though he appears in a novel as he must, is yet the most tragic I know, Don Quixote. What is more tragic than a man who from sheer love of humanity and misunderstood by his own age falls into the most comic follies? Still more tragic is Blasedow, a Don Quixote of the future, whose consciousness is more heightened than that of his model. Incidentally, I must here defend Blasedow against the otherwise penetrating criticism in the Rheinisches Jahrbuch which charges Gutzkow with having treated a tragic idea comically. [63] Blasedow had to he treated comically, like Don Quixote. If he is treated seriously, he becomes a prophet of world-weariness, a quite ordinary one, torn by emotion; remove the foil of comedy from the novel, and you have one of those formless, unsatisfactory works with which modern literature began. No, Blasedow is the first sure sign that Young Literature has left behind the period, necessary though it was, of wretchedness, of the Wallys and of the Nächte “written in red life”. — The truly comic in tragedy is to be found in the fool in King Lear or the grave-digger scenes in Hamlet.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 54, March 31, 1840

Here also that pitfall of the dramatist, the two last acts, has not been negotiated. by the author entirely without, damage. The fourth act contains nothing but decisions. Saul decides, Astharoth decides twice, Zeruiah decides, David decides. Then the witches’ scene which also yields only meagre results. The fifth act consists of nothing but battle and reflection. Saul reflects a little too much for a hero, David too much for a poet. One often thinks that one is hearing not a poet-hero but a poet-thinker, perhaps Theodor Mundt. In general Gutzkow has a way of making monologues less conspicuous by having them spoken in the presence of others. But since such monologues can rarely lead to decisions and are purely reflective, there are still more than enough real monologues.

The language of the play, as was to be expected of Gutzkow, is thoroughly original. We again find those images of Gutzkow’s prose which are so expressive that one is unaware of moving from simple, naked prose — into the flourishing region of the modern style, those pithy, apt expressions which frequently sound almost like proverbs. There is nothing of the lyric poet in Gutzkow, except in the lyrical moments of the action, when lyrical enthusiasm grips him unawares, and he is able to use prose, Hence the songs put into David’s mouth are either unsuccessful or insignificant. When David says to the Philistines:

I need but make you up as verses

For fun into a wreath,

[K. Gutzkow, König Saul, Act II, Scene 7]

what does it mean? — The basic thought of such a song is often very pretty, but the execution invariably miscarries. In other respects, too, one notices in the language that Gutzkow does not possess sufficient skill in writing verse, which is, of course, better than making the verses more flowing, but also more insipid, with old phrases.

Unsuccessful images have not been entirely avoided either. For example:

The anger of the priest

From whom the people first did wrest the crown

And then in whose emaciated hand

It should have been a staff.

[K. Gutzkow, König Saul, Act I, Scene 3.]

Here the crown is already an allegory for kingdom and cannot become the abstract basis for the second image of the staff. This is all the more striking as the mistake could so easily have been avoided, and proves clearly that verse still presents difficulties for Gutzkow.

Circumstances have prevented me from gaining a knowledge of Richard Savage. I admit, however, that the immoderate applause which greeted the first performances made me suspicious of the play. I recalled what had happened three years ago with Griseldis. [64] Since then enough disapproving voices have made themselves heard, the first and most thorough, as far as one can judge without knowing the play from accounts given in journals, strangely enough in a political paper, the Deutscher Courier. [65] But I can easily spare myself a criticism, for what journal has not already reviewed it? Let us wait, therefore, until it is available in print.

Werner, [66] Gutzkow’s most recent work, has received the same applause in Hamburg. To judge by its antecedents, the play is probably not only of great value in itself, but may be the first really modern tragedy. It is strange that Kühne, who has so often reviewed the modern tragedy that one might almost think he himself was writing one, has allowed himself to be forestalled by Gutzkow. Or does he not feel called upon to try his hand at drama?

However, we hope that Gutzkow, having prepared the way to the stage for the Young Literature, will continue with original, vital plays to drive shallowness and mediocrity from the usurped theatre. It cannot be done through criticism, however devastating; that we have seen. Those who pursue the same tendencies as himself will support him most strongly, and thus new hope is rising in us for the German drama and the German theatre.


Modern Polemics [67]

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 83, May 21, 1840

The Young Literature has a weapon through which it has become invincible and gathers under its banners all young talents. I mean the modern style, which in its concrete vitality, sharpness of expression, and variety of nuances offers to every young writer a bed in which the river or the stream of his genius can comfortably roll on without his originality — if he has any — being infected too strongly with alien elements, Heine’s carbonic acid or Gutzkow’s caustic lime. It is a pleasure to see how every young author seeks to adopt the modern style with its proudly soaring rockets of enthusiasm which at their highest point dissolve in a gaily coloured shower of poetical fire or burst in crackling sparks of wit. In this respect the criticisms in the Rheinisches Jahrbuch, which I mentioned earlier in my first article of this series, are of importance; they are the first sign of the effect which a new literary epoch has had on Rhenish soil, fairly alienated from German poetry. Here is the whole modern style with its light and shade, its original but apt descriptions, and its iridescent poetic spotlight.

In these circumstances we can say of our authors not only: le style c'est l'homme [G. L. Buffon], but also: le style c'est la littérature. The modern style bears the stamp of mediation, not only between the celebrities of the past, as L. Wihl recently remarked, but also between production and criticism, poetry and prose. It is Wienbarg in whom these elements interpenetrate most intimately; in Die Dramatiker der retztzeit the poet has been absorbed into the critic. The same would apply to the second volume of Kühne’s Charaktere if there were more coherence in the style. — German style has gone through its dialectical mediation process; from the naive directness of our prose there emerged the language of the intellect which culminated in the lapidary style of Goethe, and the language of the imagination and the heart, the splendour of which has been revealed to us by Jean Paul. Mediation began with Börne, but in him the intellectual element nevertheless still dominated, especially in the Briefe, while Heine helped the poetical side to come into its own. Mediation is completed in the modern style; imagination and intellect do not unconsciously flow into each other, nor do they stand in direct opposition; they are united in style, as in the human mind, and since their unification is conscious, it is also lasting and genuine. Hence I cannot admit that fortuitousness which Wihl still tends to vindicate in the modern style, and I am compelled to discern a genetic, historical development here. — The same mediation occurs in literature; there is almost no one in whom production and criticism are not combined; even among the lyric poets Creizenach has written Der schwäbische Apoll and Beck a work on Hungarian literature, [68] and the reproach that the Young Literature is getting lost in criticism has its foundation far more in the mass of critics than of criticisms. Or do not the productions of Gutzkow, Laube, Mundt and Kühne significantly outweigh their critical writings, both in quantity and quality? Thus the modern style remains a reflection of literature. There is, however, one aspect of style which is always a sure test of its essence: the polemical. With the Greeks polemic took the form of poetry, becoming plastic with Aristophanes. The Romans clad it in the gown of the hexameter which was suitable for everything, and Horace, the lyric poet, developed it likewise lyrically into satire. In the Middle Ages, when the lyric was in full flower, it passed with the Provençals into sirventes and chansons, with the Germans into the Lied. When bare intellect made itself master of poetry in the seventeenth century, the epigram of the later Roman period was sought out to serve as the form for polemical wit. The French fondness for classical imitation produced Boileau’s Horacising satires. In Germany, the previous century, which fastened on to anything until German poetry began to develop in complete independence, tried all polemical forms until Lessing’s antiquarian letters found in prose the medium which permits the freest development of polemics. Voltaire’s tactics, which deal the opponent a blow now and then, are truly French; so is the sniping war of Béranger, who in the same French manner puts everything into a chanson. But what about modern polemics?

Forgive me, dear reader, you have probably long ago guessed the aim of this diatribe; but I happen to be a German and cannot rid myself of my German nature which always starts with the egg. Now, however, I will be all the more direct; it is a question of the dissensions in modern literature, the justification of the parties and especially the dispute at the root of all the rest, the dispute between Gutzkow and Mundt, or, as the matter now stands, between Gutzkow and Kühne. This dispute has now been going on for two years in the midst of oar literary developments and could not but have upon them an influence partly favourable, partly unfavourable. Unfavourable because the smooth course of development is always disturbed when literature lets itself become the arena of personal sympathies, antipathies. and idiosyncrasies; favourable because ‘ to speak in Hegelian terms, it stepped out from the one-sidedness in which it found itself as a party, and proved its victory through its very destruction; also because, contrary to the expectations of many, the “younger generation” did not take sides, but used the opportunity to free itself from all alien influences and to devote itself to independent development. If then a few have taken sides, they prove thereby how little confidence they have in themselves and of what little consequence they are to literature.

Whether. Gutzkow picked up the first stone, whether Mundt was the first to put his hand to his left hip, may be left unexamined; suffice it that stones were thrown and swords drawn. It is only a question of the deeper causes of a war which was bound to break out sooner or later; for nobody who has watched its whole course without bias will believe that, on either side there prevailed subjective motives, spiteful envy or frivolous love of fighting. Only in Kühne’s case was personal friendship with Mundt a motive, and in itself surely no ignoble one, for accepting Gutzkow’s challenge.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 84, May 22, 1840

Gutzkow’s literary work and aspirations bear the stamp of a sharply defined individuality. Only a few of his numerous writings leave a wholly satisfying impression and yet it cannot be denied that they are among the finest products of German literature since 1830. Why is this so? I believe I see in him a dualism that has much in common with the schism in Immermann’s mind which Gutzkow himself first tore open. Gutzkow possesses the greatest power of intellect, as is recognised by all German authors of belies-lettres, of course; his judgment is never at a loss, his eye finds its bearings with wonderful facility in the most complex phenomena. Alongside this intellect there is, however, an equally powerful heat of passion which expresses itself as enthusiasm in his productions and puts his imagination in that state of, I would almost say, erection, in which alone spiritual creation is possible. His works, though they are often very protracted compositions, come into being in a flash, and if on the one hand one can see in them the enthusiasm with which they are written, on the other this haste prevents the calm working out of detail and, like Wally, they remain mere sketches. More calm prevails in the later novels, most of all in Blasedow, which is chiselled with a plasticity altogether unusual in Gutzkow up to now. His earlier figures were character drawings rather than characters, metewra [High above] hovering between heaven and earth, as Karl Grün says. Nevertheless, Gutzkow cannot prevent the enthusiasm from giving way momentarily to intellect; in this mood are written those passages of his works which produce the disagreeable impression already mentioned. it is this mood which Kühne in his insulting language called “senile shivers”. — But it is also this passionate disposition which leads Gutzkow so easily into outbursts of wrath, often about the most insignificant things, and which brings into his polemic a gushing hatred, a wild vehemence, which Gutzkow surely regrets afterwards; for he must see how unwisely he acts in moments of fury. That he does see this is proved by the well-known article in the Jahrbuch der Literatur on whose objectivity he somewhat flatters himself — he knows, then, that his polemic is not free of momentary influences. — To these two sides of his mind, whose unity Gutzkow does not yet appear to have found, there is also added a boundless feeling of independence; he cannot bear the lightest fetters, and whether they were of iron or cobweb, he would not rest until he had smashed them. When against his will he was counted as belonging to Young Germany with Heine, Wienbarg, Laube and Mundt, and when this Young Germany began to degenerate into a clique, he was overcome by a malaise which left him only after his open breach with Laube and Mundt. But effectively as this desire for independence has preserved him from alien influence, it easily becomes heightened into a rejection of everything different, a withdrawal into himself, an excess of self-reliance, and then it borders on egoism. I am far from accusing Gutzkow of consciously striving for unrestricted domination in literature, but at times he uses expressions which make it easier for his opponents to charge him with egoism. His passionate disposition alone drives him to give himself wholly as he is, and so one can discern at once the whole man in his works. — Add to these spiritual characteristics a life continually wounded over the last four years by the censor’s scissors and the restrictions imposed on his free literary development by the police, and I may hope to have sketched the main features of Gutzkow’s literary personality.

While the latter’s nature thus proves to be thoroughly original, in Mundt we find an amiable harmony of all spiritual powers, which is the first prerequisite for a humourist: a calm intellect, a good German heart, and in addition the necessary imagination. Mundt is a genuinely German character, who, however, for precisely this reason, rarely rises above the ordinary and often enough verges on the prosaic. He possesses amiability, German thoroughness, sterling honesty, but he is not a poet concerned with artistic development. Mundt’s works prior to the Madonna are insignificant; the Moderne Lebenswirren is rich in good humour and fine detail, but worthless as a work of art and tedious as a novel; in the Madonna enthusiasm for new ideas gave him an impetus which he had not known before, but again the impetus did not produce a work of art, merely a mass of good ideas and splendid images. Nevertheless, the Madonna is Mundt’s best work, for the showers of rain sent into the literary sky shortly afterwards by the German cloud-gatherer Zeus [69] cooled Mundt’s enthusiasm considerably. The modest German Hamlet strengthened his protestations of harmlessness with innocent little novels in which the ideas of the times appeared with trimmed beard and combed hair, and submitted in the frock-coat of a suppliant a most abject petition for most gracious assent. His Komödie der Neigungen did his reputation as a poet an injury which he attempted to heal with Spaziergange und Weltfahrten instead of with new, rounded poetical works. And if Mundt does not throw himself into production with his earlier enthusiasm, if instead of travel books and journalistic articles he does not give us poems, then there will soon be no more talk of Mundt the poet. one could observe a second retreat by Mundt in his style. His preference for Varnhagen, in whom he thought he had discovered Germany’s greatest master of style, led him to adopt the latter’s diplomatic turns of phrase, affected expressions and abstract flourishes; and Mundt entirely failed to see that the fundamental principle of the modern style — concrete freshness and liveliness — was thereby violated to the core.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 85, May 25, 1840

Besides these differences, the intellectual. development of the two disputants had been wholly opposed. Gutzkow manifested from the start an enthusiasm for Börne, the “modern Moses”, which still lives on in his soul as fervent adoration; Mundt sat in the secure shade thrown by the giant tree of Hegel’s system and for a time betrayed the conceit of most Hegelians; in the early yea of his literary activity the axioms of the philosophical padishah that freedom and necessity are identical and that the aspirations of the South-German liberals are one-sided, prejudiced Mundt’s political views. Gutzkow left Berlin with distaste at conditions there and acquired a predilection for South Germany in Stuttgart which never left him; Mundt felt at home in Berlin life, loved to sit at the aestheticising tea-parties and distilled from the intellectual activity of Berlin his Persönlichheiten und Zustände, [70] that literary hothouse product which suffocated all free poetic activity in him and in others. It is saddening to see how Mundt, in the second issue of Freihafen for 1838, reviewing a work by Münch, goes into raptures in his description of such a personality, raptures to which he could never be roused by a work of poetry.[71] Berlin conditions — it is as if this word were invented for Berlin — made him forget everything else and he even let himself be misled into a ridiculous contempt for the beauties of nature, such as is revealed in the Madonna.

So Gutzkow and Mundt confronted each other when the ideas of the age suddenly made their paths cross. They would soon have separated, perhaps waved greetings to each other from afar and been happy to recall their meeting, had not the setting up of Young Germany and the Roma locuta est of the most serene Federal Diet compelled them both to unite. The state of affairs was thus radically altered. Their common fate obliged Gutzkow and Mundt to give weight in their judgments of each other to considerations the observation of which was bound in the long run to become unbearable for both of them. Young Germany, or Young Literature, as it called itself after the catastrophe from above so as to sound more harmless and not to exclude others with similar aims, was near to degenerating into a clique, and that against its will. From all sides one found oneself compelled to drop opposing tendencies, to cover up weaknesses, to overstress agreement. This unnatural, forced pretence could not last long. Wienbarg, the finest figure in Young Germany, withdrew; Laube had from the start protested against the conclusions which the state permitted itself; Heine in Paris was too isolated to quicken the literature of the day with the electric sparks of his wit; Gutzkow and Mundt, by mutual agreement, as I would like to think, were frank enough to break the public peace.

Mundt polemicised little and insignificantly, but once he let himself be misled into conducting his polemic in a manner inviting the sharpest censure. At the end of the article “Görres und die katholische Weltanschauung” (Freihafen, 1838, II) he says that if German religiousness will have nothing to do with Young Germany, the movement has sufficiently shown that it contains more than enough rotten elements as far as religion is concerned. It is clear that this refers not only to Heine, who does not concern us here, but to Gutzkow. However, even if the accusations were true, Mundt should at least have enough respect for those to whom he is bound by common fate not to champion narrow-mindedness, philistinism and pietism against them! Mundt could hardly behave worse than when he says in pharisaic triumph: God, I thank thee that I am not as Heine, Laube and Gutzkow, and that in the eyes of German religiousness if not of the German Confederation, I can pass as respectable!

Gutzkow, by contrast, took real pleasure in polemics. He pulled out all the stops and followed the allegro moderate of the Literarische Elfen [72] with an allegro furioso of literary notices. He had the advantage over Mundt in that he could expose the latter’s literary whims in full focus and place them within range of the permanently loaded gun of his wit. Almost every week at least one blow against Mundt could be found in the Telegraph. He knew how to profit by the overwhelming advantage which possession of a weekly journal gives over an opponent limited to a quarterly and his own works; it is particularly remarkable that Gutzkow intensified his polemic, allowing his contempt for Mundt’s literary gifts to appear only gradually, while the latter treated Gutzkow as an inferior personality immediately after the declaration of war, without regard for such a descending climax. — The usual artifices of political journals, recommending articles of the same colour in other journals, smuggling in hidden malice under the guise of recognition and praiseworthy objectivity, etc., were carried over into the literary sphere in this polemic; whether their own articles appeared under the pseudonyms of provincial correspondents cannot, of course, be determined, since right from the start there streamed to each party a crowd of obliging, nameless assistants, who would have felt very flattered if their labours were taken for the works of their commanding generals. Marggraff attributes most of the blame for the dispute to these interlopers who with their zeal wished to buy commendatory notices below the line. [73]

Towards the end of 1838 a third fighter entered the lists, Kühne, whose armoury we must review for the moment. For a long time Mundt’s personal friend and without doubt the Gustav to whom Mundt once appeals in the Madonna, his literary character also has much in common with Mundt, although on the other hand a French element is clearly evident in him. He is linked with Mundt particularly by their common development through Hegel and the social fife of Berlin, which determined Kühne’s taste for personalities and conditions and Varnhagen von Ense, the true inventor of these literary hybrids. Kühne is also one of those who give much praise to Varnhagen’s style and overlook the fact that what is good in it is really only an imitation of Goethe.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 86, May 26, 1840

The chief foundation of Kühne’s literary stature is esprit, that French, quickly combining intellect, linked with a lively imagination. Even the extreme of this trend, the cult of the phrase, is so little alien to Kühne that, on the contrary, he has achieved a rare mastery in handling it, and one cannot read reviews such as that of the second volume of Mundt’s Spaziergänge (Elegante Zeitung, May 1838) without a certain enjoyment. Naturally, it also happens often enough that this play with phrases makes a disagreeable impression and one is reminded of a few apt words of Mephistopheles which have become commonplace. [Goethe, Faust, Erster Teil, Studierzimmer: “Mit Worten gut sich trefflich streiten mit Worten ein System bereitein... “] In a journal one may well tolerate passages interwoven with phrases in this fashion; but when in a work like the Charaktere a passage occurs which reads quite well but lacks all real content — and that is more than once the case — this shows too much levity in selection. On the other hand, his French cleverness makes Kühne one of our best journalists, and it would surely be easy for him, with greater activity, to lift the Elegante Zeitung far above its present level. But oddly enough, Kühne is far from displaying the agility of mind which alone seems to correspond to the esprit in which he recalls Laube. — Kühne displays this trans-Rhenish nature most clearly as a critic. While Gutzkow does not rest until he has got to the bottom of his subject and forms his judgment from that alone without regard to any favourable or mitigating minor considerations, Kühne places the subject in the light of a witty thought, which, it is true, consideration of the object has most often inspired. When Gutzkow is one-sided, it is because he judges without due regard of person, more by the object’s weaknesses than its virtues and demands classical creations from budding poets like Beck; when Kühne is one-sided, he endeavours to regard all aspects of his object from a single viewpoint which is neither the highest, nor the most illuminating, and excuses the playfulness of Beck’s Stille Lieder with the truly apt phrase that Beck is a lyrical musician.

In Kühne one must further distinguish two periods; the beginning of his literary career was marked by a bias towards the Hegelian doctrine and, so it seems to me, by a devotion to Mundt or a community of views with him in which independence was not always duly respected. The Quarantäne marks his first step towards emancipation from these influences; Kühne’s views did not find their full development until the literary troubles after 1836. For a comparison of Kühne’s and Gutzkow’s poetic aims two works written at the same time are available, the Quarantäne im Irrenhause and Seraphine. Both reflect the whole personality of their authors. Gutzkow portrayed the reasonable and the genial side of his character in Arthur and Edmund; Kühne, as a beginner, revealed himself fully and more artlessly in the hero of the Quarantäne, as he looks for a way out of the labyrinth of the Hegelian system. Gutzkow excels, as always, in the sharpness of his portrayal of the soul, in the psychological motivation; almost the entire novel takes place in the mind. Such an intellectual compounding of the motives from nothing but misunderstandings, however, destroys all quiet enjoyment, even of the interspersed idyllic situations, and no matter how masterly Seraphine is on the one hand, it is a failure on the other. Kühne, by contrast, bubbles over with witty reflections on Hegel, German soul-searching and Mozart’s music, with which he fills three-quarters of the book, but in the end succeeds only in boring the readers and spoiling the novel as such. Seraphine does not contain a single well-drawn character; and Gutzkow’s aim, which was to show his ability to portray female characters, is realised least of all. The women in all his novels are either trivial, like Celinde in Blasedow, devoid of real womanliness, like Wally, or unlovely through a lack of inner harmony, like Seraphine herself. He almost seems to realise this himself when he makes Michal say in Saul:

You can lay open, like the human brain,

The very heart of woman,

You can show all a woman’s heart is made of;

But that which is the spirit of fife within it

No scalpel can lay bare, nor keen comparison.

[K. Gutzkow, Köng Saul, Act III, Scene 3]

The same lack of precise characterisation is displayed in the Quarantäne. The hero is not a complete character but a personification of the transitional epoch in the present-day consciousness, who therefore lacks all individuality. The remaining characters are almost all made too indeterminate so that one cannot properly say of most of them whether they are successes or failures.

Kühne had long been challenged by Gutzkow but had replied only indirectly by praising Mundt’s merits excessively and rarely mentioning Gutzkow’s. Eventually Kühne also came out in opposition to him, at first calmly and critically rather than polemically; he called Gutzkow a debater, but would not concede to him any further literary claim; soon afterwards, however, he began his offensive in a manner which perhaps no one had expected, with the article “Gutzkows neueste Romane [74]. Here with much wit Gutzkow’s dual nature is distorted into caricature and traced in his writings, but there is also such a mass of unworthy expressions, unfounded assertions and ill-concealed innuendoes that the polemic only benefited Gutzkow. He replied with a brief reference to the Jahrbuch der Literatur for 1839 (why has that for 1840 not yet appeared?) which carried his article on the latest literary disputes. The policy of winning minds by impartiality was shrewd enough, and the restraint which this article cost Gutzkow must be recognised; if it was not entirely satisfactory and, in particular, disposed too easily of Kühne, who can surely not be denied an important influence on present-day literature or a sound talent for the historical novel, although not yet very clear in the Klosternovellen, this can gladly be overlooked until his opponents have done as well or have excelled him.

Mitternachtzeitung für gebildete Leser No. 87, May 28, 1840

This Jahrbuch der Literatur, however, bore within itself the seed of a new split, Heine’s “Schwabenspiegel”. [75] Probably only a few of those involved know what actually happened; I find it best to pass over this whole embarrassing story. Or could not Heine muster the required number of sheets again soon to bring out an uncensored volume, which would also contain the complete “Schwabenspiegel"? Then one could at least see what the Saxon censorship considered, fit to cut and whether the mutilation is indeed to be laid to the charge of any censorship authority. [76] Enough, the flames of war were fanned again. Kühne behaved unwisely by accepting the stupid article on Savage and by accompanying Dr. Wihl’s explanation (which it was surely too much to expect the Elegante to accept, rather as if Beck had sent his declaration against Gutzkow to the Telegraph) with a currish parody which the other side likewise rejected with a bark. [77] This dog-fight is the most shameful blot on all modern polemics; if our men of letters start treating each other like beasts and applying the principles of natural history in practice, German literature will soon be like a menagerie and the long-awaited Messiah of literature will fraternise with Martin and van Amburgh.

To prevent the once more slackening polemic from going to sleep, an evil spirit stirred up the dispute between Gutzkow and Beck. [78] I have already given my judgment of Beck elsewhere, but, as I willingly admit, not without bias. The retrogressive step which Beck took in Saul and in the Stille Lieder made e suspicious and unfair to the Nächte and the Fahrender Poet. I ought not to have written the article, much less sent it to the journal which printed it. I may therefore be permitted to correct my judgment to the effect that I accord recognition to Beck’s past, the Nächte and Fahrender Poet, but that it would go against my conscience as a critic if I did not describe the Stille Lieder and the first act of Saul as retrogressive. The faults of Beck’s first two works were inevitable because of his youth, nay, in the press of images and the immature impetuousness of thought one might be inclined to see a superabundance of strength, and in any case here was a talent of which one might have the highest hopes. — Instead of those flaming images, instead of that wildly excited youthful strength, there is a tiredness, a languor in the Stille Lieder, which was least to be expected of Beck, and the first act of Saul is equally feeble. But perhaps this flabbiness is only the natural, momentary consequence of that over-excitement, perhaps the following acts of Saul will make up for all the defects of the first — but Beck is a poet, and even in its most severe and just censure criticism should show a proper respect for his future creative work. Every true poet deserves such reverence; and I myself would not like to be taken for an enemy of Beck’s, since, as I readily admit, I am indebted to his poetic works for the most varied and enduring stimulation.

The dispute between Gutzkow and Beck might well have been avoided. It cannot be denied that in the exposition of his Saul Beck followed Gutzkow to some extent, unwittingly, of course, but that does not detract from his honesty, only from his originality. Instead of being indignant about it, Gutzkow should rather have felt flattered. And Beck, instead of laying stress on the originality of his characters, which no one had called in doubt, had indeed to take up the gauntlet once it was thrown down, as he in fact did, but should also have revised the act, which one trusts he will have done.

Gutzkow now adopted a hostile position to all the Leipzig men of letters and has since harried them unremittingly with literary witticisms. He sees them as a regular band of organised ruffians which harasses him and literature in every possible way; but he would truly do better to adopt a different method of attack if he does not want to give up the fight. Personal connections and their reaction on public opinion are inevitable in Leipzig literary circles. And Gutzkow should ask himself whether he has never succumbed to this sometimes unfortunately unavoidable sin; or must I remind him of certain Frankfurt acquaintances? Is it surprising if the Nordlicht, the Elegante and the Eisenbahn occasionally agree in their judgments? The description clique is quite unfitting for these circumstances.

This is how matters stand at present; Mundt has withdrawn and no longer bothers about the dispute; Kühne also is rather tired of the interminable warfare; Gutzkow is also sure to see soon that his polemic must eventually become boring to the public. They will gradually begin to challenge each other to novels and plays; they will see that a journal is not to be judged by a biting literary article, that the nation’s educated circles will award the prize to the best poet, not the most impetuous polemicist; they will get used to a calm existence side by side, and, perhaps, learn to respect each other again. Let them take Heine’s conduct as an example, who in spite of the dispute does not conceal his esteem for Gutzkow. Let them determine their relative value not by their own subjective estimation, but by the conduct of the younger people to whom literature will sooner or later belong. Let them learn from the Hallische Jahrbücher that polemic may only be directed against the children of the past, against the shadows of death. Let them consider that otherwise literary forces may arise between Hamburg and Leipzig which will overshadow their polemic fireworks. The Hegelian school, in its latest, free development, and the younger generation, as they prefer to be called, are advancing towards a unification which will have the most important influence on the development of literature. This unification has already been achieved in Moritz Carrière and Karl Grün.




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Submitted by arminius on May 1, 2015

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