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lect to have experienced in the perusal of any fiction, a deeper impression of sadness, than throughout the one before us. A reader is for the moment, whatever an eloquent author chooses to make him. It is only when he has laid down the volume, and his mind is released from the fine spun web of eloquence, that he returns to his original rectitude of thought, and scans the imperfections of his author's theory. Let the predestinarian read this novel, and see what becoms of four amiable persons, merely because they surrender themselves without an effort, to what they imagine to be the inevitable decrees of fate.
We believe that there are very many middle aged men, who after having passed like Edward through the bloom of youth with an amiable wife, would be afterwards tempted to neglect her somewhat faded charms, in order to fall in love with any pretty niece whom she might introduce into their house. We believe that there are many wives who would exchange what they suppose to be the monotonous society of middle aged husbands, for that of a young officer having the attraction of novelty. But we also believe, that all this, instead of proving the force of fate, would be merely the result of disordinate passions; while on the contrary, a due submission to the laws of society and- of God, a proper sense of right and wrong, and a religious determination to pursue the one and avoid the other, will effectually combat what many please to call the irresistible decrees of destiny, and will lead the christian gently through the path of life, instead of inducing him to err, in following blindly the impulse of his passions;—by finding an excuse for weakness in fatality.
Before we bid adieu to Goethe and his novel, we should say something of the general character of the work, and of his leading merits as a writer.—From the outline which we have already given of the " Elective Affinities," our readers will perceive that it is replete with incongruities, with extravagant conceptions, and the most improbable incidents. The episodes, digressions and dissertations, form the most considerable part of the volumes, and have no immediate connexion with the principal story.—It is said to be the secret of the German compositions of this kind, that they should be in every sense poetical; that the author should gratify you with an epopee full of episodes and rich in the marvellous, under the modest title of a novel. They are at the same time made a vehicle to.exhibit his learning on all topics of cotemporary science.
Such seems to have been the plan of Goethe in this instance. Some of his superstitions are even more gross than those we have mentioned;—such, for example, as the restoration of the life of Ottilia's maid, after she had thrown herself out of a garret into the street, through sorrow for the death of her mistress, by the accidental contact of the two bodies; a miracle which makes Ottilia pass for a saint in the surrounding country, and is but the precursor of many more performed at her tomb.
We need not dwell on the immoral tendency of this novel. There is, in many parts, a total want of delicacy. Among the supernumerary actors, are a baron and a countess casual visitors at the castle, whose situation may accord with German refinement, but is not likely to conciliate universal favour.— They are represented to have been, for a long time, enamoured of each other, although married to different persons', and console themselves for the obstinacy of one of the latter in opposing a divorce, by travelling amicably together. The complexion of their discourse, and the doctrines they preach, are perfectly in unison with their easy and unprejudiced character.
In spite of the glaring defects which we have noticed, the present work is powerfully attractive, and evidently from the pencil of a master. The style is of finished excellence; remarkably pure, and as perspicuous as the subject and the German idiom will permit; the dialogue is skilfully managed, and the portraiture of manners no less interesting than accurate. Many of the author's reflections are equally profound and just. His descriptions, in which he appears to take particular delight, would be perfect, if they were not somewhat too minute. The beauties of his style and manner arise, however, chiefly from a peculiar talent of seizing, in his descriptions, with elegance and simplicity, all the little characteristic features, springing out of, and essentially belonging to, the spirit of his scene, his situation and his subject. This circumstance gives to his narrative an irresistible dramatic effect. While the physical eye sees but words, the mental gazes on a canvas, slowly drawn along;— not, indeed, on a canvas—for life itself and reality may be said to be present.
Goethe does not exactly tell you what happened;—you see it occur.—Your imagination becomes at once engaged with the actors, or the persons implicated in the denouement, and remains so rivetted, that the illusion never abates;—that you never perceive you are but reading. There are passages of Goethe, which you might peruse at sea, during n squall, almost without being sensible of your situation.—They absorb you, like a game of chess, when the board becomes intricate, or like the sight of the Falls of Niagara, which, stunning and overcoming the beholder, have to our knowledge, in more than one instance, excited a momentary desire of mingling with the roaring torrent.—And when you analyse this extraordinary effect, you find it always owing to this, that Goethe never leaves unnoticed the smallest circumstance which depicts, and rarely suffers your attention to languish, by noticing any which are irrelevant.
Goethe once, at the request of some friends, and to show the force of his talent in this respect, chose for his subject, the festivity of a carnival at Rome. His description makes a little book of itself, which, we believe, nobody ever laid down, after having taken it up, without finishing, and which leaves you in a state of Bacchanalian delirium;—in a condition of mind from which you do not, for some hours, recover. Yet there is not, in the whole picture, one word which could be left out; not a single finely-wrought sentence; not an expression betraying that the author thought of himself. He tells you simply what passes, but he tells it in such a manner, that you are all the time of the party. You feel the air in motion with the speed of the running horses:—You suffocate in the crowd pressing forward to see which wins;—the "sia amazzato" assails your ear.—You try to save your candle on one side, and meet a Cerberean mouth ready to blow it out on the other.*
But it is time for us to have done with Goethe, of whose genius we can never speak without enthusiasm, however much we may be disposed to reprobate his extravagancies, as well as those of the dangerous sect of metaphysic-sentimental and novelists in Germany, of whom he is the leader.
A very different kind of tribute from that which we suitable to the metaphysics of the Kantean school, and to the works of imagination published by the Germans, is due to their labours in classical erudition, in antiquities, in ancient geography, and in history both profane and ecclesiastical. The cause of knowledge is infinitely indebted to them, for what they have achieved in these pursuits, even within the few years past, notwithstanding the sanguinary and troublous wars, of which their country has been the theatre during the same interval.—Their researches are no less remarkable for depth and extent, than for accuracy and method, and have been communicated to the world, in a variety of forms, admirably well calculated to facilitate the sudies of those, who may engage in the same career, and to perpetuate the fruit of their own toil, together with that of their predecessors.
Some idea may be formed of the activity of their minds, from the fact, that Germany could boast, in 1809, of no less than two hundred authors of merit in the branches of knowledge enumerated above, whose works published during the three years immediately preceding, amounted to the number of five hundred.* These are all circumstantially noticed in a French volume, which we have now in our hands, intitled " A Report made in 1809 to the third class of the' Institute of Paris, on the actual state of Ancient Literature and History in Germany."—The author of this Report, Mr. Charles Villers, is himself a man of considerable learning, and lived for several years among the Germans, in habits of close intimacy with their scholars.—In his Introduction, he discusses the causes of the peculiar character, which distinguishes the severer literature of the Germans, and of the singular zeal'and success, with which they prosecute erudite studies of every description. The subject is curious, and his observations are for the most part well-founded, and instructive. In the belief that they will prove acceptable to our readers, we shall not be deterred by their length, from inserting a translation of them, as the conclusion of this article.
"Let me be permitted," says M. de Villers, " before I enter upon my task, to state as briefly as possible, what are the local circumstances and the peculiar notions, which give a distinctive character to the erudite literature of Germany.—As long as science spoke the same language throughout Europe, as long as the Latin was the common tongue of the learned, nearly the same spirit prevailed among them, and their labours had nearly the same direction. But since the custom of writing in our vernacular idiom, has introduced itself, the European literati have by degrees ceased to form a common family, or cast.—They have become in some manner isolated in their respective countries, and have confined their views to their own countrymen, whose taste and appetite they must necessarily consult, and from whom they must experience that re-action, which always obtains between a writer, and his public.— Hence has arisen in the bosom of each nation, a particular mode of cultivating the mind; a local fashion in the study of the sciences."
"Nature, in raising an immense barrier between the nations of the continent, seems to have divided them into two distinct races, whose temperament and character differ very materially.—The first, which may be denominated the Gallic race, occupies the South and West of the great chain of the
* The following statement is made in one of the Moniteurs of 1811. "The last catalogue of the fair of Leipsick has revealed to the learned world that there are now in Germany no less than 10,243 authors, full of health and spirits, and who print at least once a year."
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Alps, and of the bason of the Rhine.—The other, the Germanic, stretches to the East and North of the same barrier. Whatever on either side, does not belong, in point of intellectual culture, to one or the other of these principal divisions, merits but little consideration."
"The Germanic race, whose geographical limits extend from the Adriatic Gulf, the Rhine, and the North Sea, as far as the German provinces of the Russian empire, and which includes Denmark and even Sweden and Hungary, has a peculiar literature common to the whole. The character of this literature partakes of that of the race, which is more sedate, more patient, more contemplative, more attached to the empire of ideas, than the Gallic character. The latter, on its part, is more lively, more inclined to adopt the empire of realities, and to look among them for objects, which it pursues with great eagerness. Both of these modes of being, have their advantages and inconveniences. This is not, however, the place to compare and weigh them. It is sufficient for me to show, what differences must ensue, in the intellectual labours of one and the other race."
"What has been already said, prepares the reader for the remark, that the German exercises, in his study of languages, in his researches into antiquity, and in his manner of treating history, an assiduity, a perseverance, a scrupulous exactitude. He attends carefully to the most minute details, convinced as he is, that every observation, however seemingly unimportant, belongs nevertheless to the ensemble of knowledge, and may even throw unexpected light upon some part or other. The value he affixes to things which may appear superfluous to others, makes him communicate readily all that he knows.—This minuteness often carried, as it is, to an excess, and fatiguing for the reader who takes but a slight interest in such close researches, has occasioned the imputation of pedantry to be attached to the labours of the erudite in general, and especially to those of the German scholars, while the latter have stigmatized works written in any other than their own way, as light and superficial."
"Besides this kind of literary conscience, and scrupulous rectitude, which distinguish the German scholar in his studies, another important circumstance is to be taken into view;—that he labours neither for a court, nor for a public fashioned after a court, who make elegance, and refined taste indispensable conditions to the success of any work of the mind. The greater part of the courts of Germany speak and read in French, and are almost strangers in their own country. The German