TC TO GOETHE; 23 May 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300523-TC-G-01; CL 5:103-107.
TC TO GOETHE
Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 23d May, 1830—
The Weimar Letter,1 now as ever the most welcome that could arrive here, reached us, in due course, some two weeks ago. We rejoice to learn that you are still well and busy, still gratified with our love for you, and still sending over the Ocean a kind thought to us in our remote home. This fair relation and intercourse with what we have most cause to venerate on Earth seems one of the strangest things in our Life, which however is all built on Wonder: Ce quej'admire le plus c'est de ME VOIR ICI [What astonishes me most is to SEE MYSELF HERE].
I know not whether I should mention the sort of hope which has again arisen of our even seeing you in person, one day: that long-cherished project of a visit to Germany now assumes some faint shape of possibility; in which pilgrimage Weimar, the grand Sanctuary, without which indeed Deutschland were but as other Lands to us, would nowise be forgotten. But it is better to check such Day-dreams than encourage them; the impediments and counter-chances are so many, as Time, which brings Roses,2 brings also far other products. Happy it is, meanwhile, that whether we ever meet in the body or not, we have already met you in spirit, which union can never be parted, or made of no effect. Here, in our mountain solitude, you are often an inmate with us; and can whisper wise lessons and pleasant tales in the ear of the Lady herself. She spends many an evening with you, and has done all winter, greatly to her satisfaction. One of her last performances was the Deutschen Ausgewanderten,3 and that glorious Mährchen a True Universe of Imagination; in regard to the manifold, inexhaustible significance of which, for the female eye guessed a significance under it, was oftener applied to for exposition than I could give it; and at last, to quiet importunities, was obliged to promise that I would some day write a Commentary on it, as on one of the deepest most poetical things even Goethe had ever written.4
Nay, looking abroad, I can farther reflect with pleasure that thousands of my countrymen, who had need enough of such an acquaintance, are now also beginning to know you: of late years, the voice of Dulness, which was once loud enough on this matter, has been growing feebler and feebler; so that now, so far as I hear, it is altogether silent, and quite a new tone has succeeded it. On the whole, Britain and Germany will not always remain strangers; but rather like two Sisters that have been long divided by distance and evil tongues, will meet lovingly together, and find that they are near of kin.
Since you are friendly enough to offer me help and countenance in my endeavours that way, let me lose no time in profiting thereby. In regard to that History of German Literature, I need not say, for it is plain by itself, that no word of yours, can be other than valuable. Doubtless it were a high favour, could you impart to me any summary of that great object, in the structure and historical sequence and coherence it has with you: your views, whether from my point of vision or not, whether contradictory of mine, or confirmatory, could not fail to be instructive. For your guidance in this charitable service, perhaps my best method will be to explain, as clearly as I can here, what plan my Book specially follows, so far as it is yet written, or decidedly shaped in my thoughts:
Volume First, which was finished and sent to press a few days ago, opens with some considerations on the great and growing importance of Literature; the value of Literary commerce with other nations; therefore of Literary Histories, which forward this: then some sketch of the method to be followed in a Literary History of Germany, where so much is yet altogether unknown to us, and only some approximation to a History is possible for the present. Next comes a chapter on the old Germans of Tacitus, the Northern Immigrations (Völkerwanderung), and the primitive national character of this Poeple [sic]; the chief features of which are valour (Tapferkeit) and meditative Depth; not forgetting, at the same time, our own Saxon origin, and claims, by general brotherhood and in virtue of so many Hengists and Alfreds, to a share in that praise. Then something of the German Traditions; of their Language, as the most indestructible of Traditions, whereby Ulfila and his Bible5 come to be mentioned: farther of their ancient Superstitions, and still existing Volksmährchen, with a little specimen of these. Then of long-written Traditions; of the Heldenbuch and Nibelungen Lied, with their old environment of Fiction, looked at only from afar: especially a long chapter on the Nibelungen, already an object of curiosity here. The last Chapter is entitled The Minnesingers, and looks back briefly to the time of Charlemagne, and forward to that of Rodolf von Hapsburg; endeavouring to delineate the chivalrous spirit of the Swabian Era; and to show that here really was a Poetic Period, tho' a feeble, simple and young one; man being now for the first time inspired with an Infinite Idea, having now for the first time seen that he was a Man.— This is all I have yet brought to paper, and I fear it is worth little.
Next follows what I might denominate a Didactic Period, wherein figure Hugo von Trimberg,6 the author of Reineke Fuchs, and Sebastian Brandt: it reaches its culmination, and rises to a poetical degree, under Luther and Hutten; then again sinks, so far as Literature is concerned, into Theological disputation, or mere Grammatical and superficial refinement, thro' many a Thomasius and Gottsched,7 down to utter Unbelief and Sensualism, when Poetry, except in accidental tones, foreign in that age, has died away, and become impossible. Of such accidental appearances, I might reckon Opitz and his School the principal; in whose poetry, however, I can find little inspiration; at best some parallel to that of our own Pope; as Hoffmannswaldau8 and Lohenstein,9 perhaps with far less talent, resemble our Dryden. How this is to be grouped into masses, and presented in full light, I do not yet see clearly: however I must force it all into the Second Volume, and leaving Bodmer10 and Breitinger11 to fight out their quarrel with Altvater Gottsched as they may, be prepared to begin my Third Volume with Lessing and Wieland.
Lessing I could fancy as standing between two Periods; an earnest Sceptic, struggling to work himself into the region of spiritual Truth, and often, from some Pisg[ah] height, obtaining brave glimpses of that Promised Land. Wieland, with many a Hagedorn, Rabener, Gellert, cooperate, each in their degree;12 and so the march proceeds: till under you and Schiller, I should say, a Third grand Period had evolved itself, as yet fairly developed in no other Literature, but full of the richest prospects for all. Namely a period of new Spirituality and Belief, in the midst of old Doubt and Denial; as it were, a new revelation of Nature, and the Freedom and Infinitude of Man, wherein Reverence is again rendered compatible with Knowledge, and Art and Religion are one. This is the Era which chiefly concerns us of England, as of other nations; the rest being chiefly remembrance, but this still present with us. How I am to bring it out will require all consideration. Tho' the most familiar to me of any other department, I can yet see only that it will fill my last Two Volumes, and to good purpose if I can handle it well; but the divisions, and subordination and coordination of such a multiplicity of objects: the Sorrows of Werther with the Kraftmänner [Power-men], the Critical Philosophy, the Xenien and what not, will occasion no little difficulty; or rather, in the long run, I shall be obliged to stop where means fail, and so to leave much unrepresented, and the rest combined in what order it can get into.
By this long description you will see how matters stand with me, and where a helpful word would most profit. Innumerable questions I could ask; for example, about the Xenienkrieg,13 and your Nicolais14 and other Utilitarians with their fortune among you; which sect, tho' under a British shape is at this day boisterous enough here; whose downfal[l], sure to come by and by, it were pleasant to prophecy. But perhaps some outline of your own general Scheme of German Literary History, and the succession of its epochs, would in the limits we are here confined to, prove most available. It is almost shameful to occupy your time with poor work of mine: otherwise, as I said, no word that you could speak on this matter could be useless.
We expect, not without impatience, that promised Packet, in which so many interesting matters, and kind memorials, are to lie for us. My Wife unites with me in friendliest wishes to you and yours. May the Summer, which is now, after the wild snow-months, opening its blossoms even in these mountains, find you happy, and leave you happy! Friends you will have in many Countries and in many centuries: few men have been permitted to finish such a Task as yours. Believe me ever,
Affectionately your Scholar & Servant,