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drawing, of which the general tint happens to be displeasing to the eye. When, however, we have recovered from the disagreeable impression which it conveys at first sight, and prevail upon ourselves to examine it, we may discover through its medium, a thousand excellencies of composition and execution, and by degrees the eye tolerates, nay perhaps reposes with satisfaction upon, that very hue which shocked it so much at first.
If we may judge from a partial knowledge of this literature, its characteristics seem to be, great richness of imagination, profundity of thought, and force of expression, accompanied at times however, with much obscurity of phraseology, an excessive proneness to abstruse speculation, and generally, with a vein of affected sentiment. Some of these faults may be attributed in part, to the unsettled state of the language; which is such, that every author assumes tb himself more or less, the liberty of compounding whatever words may suit his purpose; a license which, if it were continued to be granted, in any proportion to the freedom, with which it is now used, would in time, give them an idiom constituted of as many characters as that of the Chinese. We are far from meaning to insinuate, that a limited use of this freedom is not advantageous to a language, but we wish, particularly as the opportunity is here offered, to appeal against the abuse of it; the more so, as we regard it as one of the growing vices of our American literature.
The Germans have at least the excuse that their language is as yet unformed; that the great masters who have raised for them a body of literature, may be considered of authority high enough to re-model, or multiply at pleasure, the elements of it; whilst it is probable that the code of laws- they may leave on the subject, will be held sacred by succeeding generations, and the constitution of their literature (if we may so express ourselves) never be violated. But what shall we say of any set of men inheriting a rich and sonorous language, composed, it is true, of many distinct idoms, but forming a body in which the excellencies of each have been retained, and the imperfections rejected; which has been gradually refined, during a long series of years, by the classical ear and taste of men whose authority in literature is paramount, not only among the English, but throughout the world;—what excuse, we say, can those have who, inheriting a language so constituted and brought to perfection, are daring enough to violate its rules, and deform its rich and flowing periods, by the introduction of words unsanctioned by custom, and incompatible with its purity and majesty? To say the least of it, this is a miserable attempt at singularity, and we should be rather inclined to call it an arrogant design to divert, and give a new direction to the taste of the nation;—a design which can only be the result of ignorance or vanity. Let us hope, however, that this Conspiracy against our rising republic of letters, will be frustrated by the good sense of the people, and that we may one day have a body of authors who, by aiming at that excellence, of which we have models before us in every way, will re-assert our claim to respectability in literature.
But to return from this digression.—That obscurity of phraseology so very observable in German literature, is probably in part also, the result of too great a dependence, on the clearness generally arising, from a declension of the nouns of any language. This circumstance which so eminently contributes to the perspicuity of the Greek and Latin, leads by its abuse in the German, to a tedious, drawling cacophony. In the ancient languages, we find many authors remarkable for their brevity and closeness, with whom the casual suspension of the sense until the final word, tends only to vary their sentences, and adds to their elegance. But the almost invariable rule in German, of placing (both in speaking and writing) the verb towards the end of the sentence, gives the foreigner a sensation almost as disagreeable, as that of hearing a string of enigmas repeated one after the other, with the solution immediately following.
The work before us, which it is time for us to present to the notice of our readers, is from the pen of Goethe, the well known author of Charlotte and Werter. As he is generally revered in Germany as the patriarch of their literature, and as we think this last production, of the father of German sentiment, highly original, and an example of many of the defects and excellencies of the sentimental species of writing, we shall give a detailed account of its plan.
The title explains in some degree the ground-work of the novel, and the agency which the author makes use of, in order to produce his different situations. The " Wahlvenvandtschaften" is the German term employed to express that affinity, which is known in chemistry to exist between certain bodies. This the author transfers to human nature, and supposes that there exists in every person, a moral attraction for some other which, whenever the two come together, must inevitably be brought into action. The irresistible mutual impulse constitutes Love!
He exemplifies this in the persons of a rich German baron, and his lady, (Edward and Charlotte), who it would seem had made some years before, what is commonly termed a well assorted match, and who at the opening of the noivel are living together very happily on their estate in Germany. The country seat is the scene on which, the few events of the novel happen; and as it is supposed to be very extensive, its various beauties give rise to numerous descriptions of nature. These indeed constitute one of the principal merits of the work, and -we might compare them to those correct delineations of nature so often found in the painters of still life.
The worthy possessors of this beautiful seat appear every way suited to pass a life of affluence and ease together, while their tastes are apparently the same, and their principal amusement consists, in improving and ornamenting the place of their residence.—A happy equilibrium of power also in the management of the household, seems to have perfected their connubial happiness; for, at the opening of the tale, the husband has been informed that the friend of his youth, a captain in the army, had met with some domestic misfortunes, and he is desirous of offering him an asylum at his castle, but he previously thinks it necessary to consult his wife, who on her part, suggests many very sensible reasons for supposing that the harmony of their domestic arrangements, might be disturbed by the introduction of a third person, as an inmate of their mansion. She however, finally makes this concession, on condition of a similar one on his part, which is the permission to withdraw from school an orphan niece, in order that she might serve as a companion for her, during the hours which the baron would necessarily be obliged to devote to his friend.
The reader no doubt perceives that this friend, and niece Ottilia,are destined to disturball that harmony which seemed so happily established; and indeed no sooner are they established at the castle, than the unfortunate moral attraction begins to operate between Edward and Ottilia,—Charlotte and the captain.—In plain English, they fall in love with each other. The progress of this passion (interrupted by no event, except a visit from a German count and baroness, and the celebration of Ottilia's birth-day), occupies the whole of the first volume.
Such a state of things could not of course last long without roming to a crisis of some kind, but by means of the prudence exercised by Charlotte, (who throughout the novel, performs a secondary, but certainly the most respectable part), it is so arranged, that the friend, finding himself unable to combat the violence of his passion for the baron's wife, otherwise than by absence, leaves the castle; and the wife on her part, conscious of having performed her duty, informs her husband that she has observed his love for Otillia, whom she wishes in consequence to remove also from the castle. Edward, recalled in some measure to virtuous reflection, by this conversation, judges it to be improper that Ottilia and himself should continue under the srime roof, but at the same time generously determines, that the innocent girl should not be again thrown upon the world, through his folly. He therefore abandons his house, leaving a letter for Charlotte, in which he signifies his desire that Ottilia should remain where she was, and promises that he will not attempt to hold an intercourse with her as long as she continues under his roof, and no longer; thus securing her an asylum, by making her stay at the castle a guarantee for his future good conduct.
This tete-a-tete between a slighted wife and the object who, by robbing her of her husband's affection, had broken in upon the felicity of her life, would seem rather an awkward one; but the good disposition of the wife, aided perhaps by a consciousness of a similar weakness on her own part, and the innocence of the niece, who loves her benefactor almost without knowing it, as she blends the sensation with that of gratitude, and is ignorant of the cause of his sudden departure, reconciles them together.—Time passes imperceptibly—the improvements of the country scat continue, and occupy Ottilia's attention, while Charlotte's cares are soothed by the birth of a son, who promises to be the tie, which shall in future again unite her to her absent husband.
This child by a strange conceit, is made to resemble Ottilia about the eyes, but is like the captain in its other features, as if its formation had been influenced, by the predominant passions of the father and mother. There is a mixture of absurdity and indelicacy in this idea which disgraces the work, and which we think, can be tolerated by no nation, that has any pretensions to taste.
In the course of the second volume, the author endeavours to develope more fully, the character of his heroine Ottilia, and as, in this sedentary country life, it would have been difficult to do so by actions, he attempts to give the reader an insight into his conception of her character, by extracts from her journal. We think he could not have devised a more unfortunate method; for, in the first place, it is very unlikely that a young person whose life has been divided between a residence in a boarding school, and at her aunt's country seat, should ever imagine to write a journal; but if she did, she certainly could not fill it with detached sentences, and ideas ol such a nature, as could only result from an intimate knowledge of men and manners, and in which it is perceivable, that the melancholy impressions of declining age, prevail more than the lively illusions of youth. After all, Otillia is nothing more than a beautiful school girl, by no means likely to inspire a man "im besten mannesalter" as Edward is described to be, in the first part of the work, or to derange the whole course of a life, apparently so well settled in the enjoyment of domestic virtues.
A visit from an English lord and his friend who are on a tour through Germany, leads to an episode in a little tale, which the former relates to his fair hostess. It is told with all that grace which Goethe so eminently possesses, and is, as far as we know, original. It is intitled " The Neighbour's singular Children."
Two neighbours have each a child, a boy and a girl, who are suffered to grow up together, with the idea of being one day united in marriage. The views of the good parents are, however, frustrated by a mutual hatred which is enkindled in some of their childish sports, and which unfortunately augments with their years. They are therefore separated, and the boy enters into the army, where he advances rapidly in rank. —Meanwhile a matrimonial engagement is entered into by the young lady, who is on the point of marriage, when the youth returns on furlough to visit his parents, and mixes in the festive parties which precede the nuptials. They are both struck with their mutual improvement, and by degrees their former hatred changes into love. The vowing neighbour on his part harbours no design against the bridegroom, with whom he is on terms of friendship, but the intended bride, seeing Do means by which she can avoid the dreaded union, determines to destroy herself. This she endeavours to effect on a sailing party, when throwing a garland as a keepsake to her former en^ my, she leaps overboard. He instantaneously leaves the helm, at which he was stationed, and throws himself after her.— They are both carried a considerable way by the current, but at length he conveys her senseless to a small island, where they are received by a newly married pair who had established themselves there, and are the sole inhabitants.—By these peasants they are furnished with every thing necessary. In this delightful solitude, and while they are still bewildered with the rapidity of the succession of events, that had conducted them there, and as if by magic, changed their nuptial suits for the simple dress of peasants, they exchange vows of mutual constancy. Meanwhile the vessel, which had been in imminent daDger from having been so suddenly abandoned by