Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][graphic]

plication of an idea, when she seizes it, in all departments of human activity which admit it. And that in which Germany most fails, and by failing in which she appears so helpless and impotent, is just the practical application of her innumerable ideas. “When Candide," says Heine himself, "came to Eldorado, he saw in the streets a number of boys who were playing with gold nuggets instead of marbles. This degree of luxury made him imagine that they must be the king's children, and he was not a little astonished when he found that in Eldorado gold nuggets are of no more value than marbles are with us, and that the schoolboys play with them. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine, a foreigner, when he came to Germany and first read German books. He was perfectly astounded at the wealth of ideas which he found in them; but he soon remarked that ideas in Germany are as plentiful as gold nuggets in Eldorado, and that those writers whom he had taken for intellectual princes, were in reality only common schoolboys.” Heine was, as he calls himself, a “Child of the French Revolution,” an “Initiator," because he vigorously assured the Germans that ideas were not counters or marbles, to be played with for their own sake; because he exhibited in literature modern ideas applied with the utmost freedom, clearness, and originality. And therefore he declared that the great task of his life had been the endeavor to establish a cordial relation between France and Germany. It is because he thus operates a junction between the French spirit, and German ideas, and German culture, that he founds something new, opens a fresh period, and deserves the attention of criticism far more than the German poets, his contemporaries, who merely continue an old period till it expires. It may be predicted that in the literature of other countries, too, the French spirit is destined to make its influence felt as an element, in alliance with the native spirit, of novelty and movement, - as it has made its influence felt in German literature; fifty years hence a critic will be demonstrating to our grandchildren how this phenomenon has come to pass.

We in England, in our great burst of literature during the first thirty years of the present century, had no manifestation of the modern spirit, as this spirit manifests itself in Goethe's

« PreviousContinue »