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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

28 Goetz was an historical character


of the English and German romantic

movements. It seems a little strange that so healthy a genius as Walter Scott should have made his _debut_ in an exhibition of the horrible. Lockhart reports him, on the authority of Sir Alexander Wood, as reading his "William and Helen" over to that gentleman "in a very slow and solemn tone," and then looking at the fire in silence and presently exclaiming. "I wish to Heaven I could get a skull and two crossbones." Whereupon Sir Alexander accompanied him to the house of John Bell, surgeon, where the desired articles were obtained and mounted upon the poet's bookcase. During the next few years, Scott continued to make translations of German ballads, romances, and chivalry dramas. These remained for the present in manuscript; and some of them, indeed, such as his versions of Babo's "Otto von Wittelsbach" (1796-97) and Meier's "Wolfred von Dromberg" (1797) were never permitted to see the light. His second publication (February, 1799) was a free translation of Goethe's tragedy, "Goetz von Berlichingen mit der Eisernen Hand." The original was a most influential work in Germany. It had been already twenty-six years before the public and had produced countless imitations, with some of which Scott had been busy before he encountered this, the fountain head of the whole flood of _Ritterschauspiele_.[28] Goetz was an historical character, a robber knight of Franconia in the fifteenth century, who had championed the rights of the free knights to carry on private warfare and had
been put under the ban of the empire for engaging in feuds. "It would be difficult," wrote Carlyle, "to name two books which have exercised a deeper influence on the subsequent literature of Europe"--than "The Sorrows of Werther" and "Gotz." "The fortune of 'Berlichingen with the Iron Hand,' though less sudden"--than Werther's--"was by no means less exalted. In his own country 'Goetz,' though he now stands solitary and childless, became the parent of an innumerable progeny of chivalry plays, feudal delineations, and poetico-antiquarian performances; which, though long ago deceased, made noise enough in their day and generation; and with ourselves his influence has been perhaps still more remarkable. Sir Walter Scott's first literary enterprise was a translation of 'Goetz von Berlichingen'; and if genius could be communicated, like instruction, we might call this work of Goethe's the prime cause of 'Marmion' and 'The Lady of the Lake,' with all that has since followed from the same creative hand. . . How far 'Goetz von Berlichingen' actually affected Scott's literary destination, and whether without it the rhymed romances, and then the prose romances of the author of Waverly, would not have followed as they did, must remain a very obscure question; obscure and not important. Of the fact, however, there is no doubt, that these two tendencies, which may be named Goetzism and Wertherism, of the former of which Scott was representative with us, have made and are still in some quarters making the tour of all Europe. In Germany, too, there was this affectionate, half-regretful looking-back into the past: Germany had its buff-belted, watch-tower period in literature, and had even got done with it before Scott began."[29]

Elsewhere Carlyle protests against the common English notion that German literature dwells "with peculiar complacency among wizards and ruined towers, with mailed knights, secret tribunals, monks, specters, and banditti. . . If any man will insist on taking Heinse's 'Ardinghello' and Miller's 'Siegwart,' the works of Veit Weber the Younger, and above all the everlasting Kotzebue,[30] as his specimens of German literature, he may establish many things. Black Forests and the glories of Lubberland, sensuality and horror, the specter nun and the charmed moonshine shall not be wanting. Boisterous outlaws also, with huge whiskers and the most cat-o'-mountain aspect; tear-stained sentimentalists, the grimmest man-haters, ghosts and the like suspicious characters will be found in abundance. We are little read in this bowl-and-dagger department; but we do understand it to have been at one time rather diligently cultivated; though at present it seems to be mostly relinquished. . . What should we think of a German critic that selected his specimens of British literature from 'The Castle Specter,' Mr. Lewis' 'Monk,' or the 'Mysteries of Udolpho,' and 'Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus'?. . . 'Faust,' for instance, passes with many of us for a mere tale of sorcery and art magic. It would scarcely be more unwise to consider 'Hamlet' as depending for its main interest on the ghost that walks in it."[31]


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