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To the eyes of the thinker, these men of genius occupy thrones in the ideal.
To the individual works that those men have left us, must be added various vast collective works, the Vedas, the Râmayana, the Mahâbhârata, the Edda, the Niebelungen, the Heldenbuch, the Romancero.
Some of these works are revealed and sacred. Unknown assistance is marked on them. The poems of India in particular have the ominous fulness of the possible imagined by insanity, or related by dreams. Those works seem to have been composed in common with beings to whom our world is no longer accustomed. Legendary horror covers these epic poems. These books have not been composed by man alone; the Ash-Nagar inscription says it. Djinns have alighted upon them; polypterian magi have thought over them; the texts have been aided by demi-demons; the elephant, which India calls the sage, has been consulted. Thence a majesty almost horrible. The great enigmas are in these poems. They are full of mysterious Asia. Their prominent parts have the supernatural and hideous outline of chaos. They are a mass in the horizon like the Himalayas. The distance of the manners, beliefs, ideas, actions, persons, is extraordinary. One reads these poems with that wondering stoop of the head which is induced by the profound distance that there is between the book and the reader. This Holy Writ of Asia has evidently been yet more difficult to reduce and put into shape than our own. It is in every part refractory to unity. In vain have the Brahmins, like our priess, erased and interpolated. Zoroaster is there; Ized Serosch is there. The Echem of the Mazdæan traditions appears under the name of Siva; Manicheism is discernible between Brahma and Buddha. All kinds of traces blend, cross, and recross each other in these poems. One m ay see in them the mysterious tramp of a crowd of minds who have worked at them in the mist of ages. Here the measureless toe of the giant; there the claw of the chimera. Those poems are the pyramid of a vanished colony of ants.
The Niebelungen, another pyramid of another ant-hill, has the same greatness. What the dives have done there, the elves have done here. These powerful epic legends, the testaments of ages, tattooings marked by races on history, have no other unity than the very unity of the people. The collective and the successive, combining together, are one. Turba fit mens.
These recitals are mists, and wonderful flashes of light traverse them. As to the Romancero, which creates the Cid after Achilles, and the chivalric after the heroic, it is the Iliad of many lost Homers. Count Julian, King Roderigo, Cava, Bernard del Carpio, the bastard Mudarra, Nuño Salido, the Seven Infantes of Lara, the Connétable Alvar de Luna, -- no Oriental or Hellenic type surpasses these figures. The horse of Campeador is equal to the dog of Ulysses. Between Priam and Lear you must place Don Arias, the old man of Zamora's tower, sacrificing his seven sons to his duty, and tearing them from his heart one after another. here is grandeur in that. In presence of these sublimities the reader undergoes a sort of insolation.
These works are anonymous, and owing to the great reason of the homo sum while admiring them, while holding them as the summit of art, we prefer to them the acknowledged works. With equal beauty, the Râmayana touches us less than Shakespeare. The "I" of a man is more vast and profound even than the "I" of a people.
However, these composite myriologies, the great testament of India particularly, with a coat of poetry rather than real poems, expression at the same time sideral and bestial of humanities passed away, derive from their very deformity an indescribable supernatural air. The "I" multiple expressed by those myriologies makes them the polypi of poetry,-- vague and wonderful enormities. The strange joinings of the antediluvian rough outline seem visible there as in the ichtyosaurus or in the pterodactyl. Any one of these black chefs-d'œuvre with several heads makes on the horizon of art the silhouette of a hydra.
The Greek genius is not deceived by them, and abhors them. Apollo would attack them. The Romancero excepted, beyond and above all these collective and anonymous productions, there are men to represent peoples. These men we have just named. They give to nations and periods the human face. They are in art the incarnations of Greece, of Arabia, of India, of Pagan Rome, of Christian Italy, of Spain, of France, of England. As for Germany, the matrix, like Asia, of races, hordes, and nations she is represented in art by a sublime man, equal, although in a different category, to all those that we have characterized above. That man is Beethoven. Beethoven is the German soul.
What a shadow this Germany! She is the India of the West. She holds everything. There is no formation more colossal. In the sacred mist where the German spirit breathes, Isidro de Seville places theology; Albert the Great, scholasticism; Raban Maur, the science of language; Trithemius, astrology; Ottnit, chivalry; Reuchlin, vast curiousity; Tutilo, universality; Stadianus, method; Luther, inquiry; Albert Dürer, art; Leibnitz, science; Puffendorf, law; Kant, philosophy; Fichte, metaphysics; Winckelmann, archæology; Herder, æsthetics; the Vossiuses, of whom one, Gerard John, was of the Palatinate, learning; Euler, the spirit of integration; Humboldt, the spirit of discovery; Nieburh, history; Gottfried of Strasburg, fable; Hoffman, dreams; Hegel, doubt; Ancillon, obedience; Werner, fatalism; Schiller, enthusiasm; Goethe, indifference; Arminius, liberty.
Kepler gives Germany the heavenly bodies.
Gerard Groot, the founder of the Fratres Communis Vitæ, brings his first attempt at fraternity in the fourteenth century. Whatever may have been her infatuation for the indifference of Goethe, do not consider her impersonal, that Germany. She is a nation, and one of the most generous; for it is for her that Rücert, the military poet, forges the "geharnischte Sonnett," and she shudders when Körner hurls at her the Song of the Sword. She is the German fatherland, the great beloved land, Teutonia mater. Galgacus was to the Germans what Caractacus was to the Britons.
Germany has everything in herself and at home. She shares Charlemagne with France and Shakespeare with England; for the Saxon element is mingled with the British element. She has an Olympus,-- the Valhalla. She must have her own style of writing. Ulfilas, Bishop of Mœsia, composes it for her, and the Gothic mode of caligraphy will henceforth keep its ground along with the writing of Arabia. The capital letter of a missal strives to outdo in fancy the signature of a caliph. Like China, Germany has invented printing. Her Burgraves (this remark has been already made1) are to us what the Titans are to Æschylus. To the temple of Tanfana, destroyed by Germanicus, she caused the cathedral of Cologne to succeed. She is the grandmother of our history, the gradam of our legends. From all parts,--from the Rhine to the Danube, from the Rauhe-Alp, from the ancient Sylva Gabresa, from the Lorraine on the Moselle, and from the riparian Lorraine by the Wigalois and the Wigamur, with Henry the Fowler, with Samo, King of the Vends, with the chronicler of Thuringia, Rothe, with the chronicler of Alsace, Twinger, with the chronicler of Limbourg, Gansbein, with all these ancient popular songsters, Jean Folz, Jean Viol, Muscatblüt, with the minnesingers, those rhapsodists,-- the tale, that form of dream, reaches her, and enters into her genius. At the same time, idioms are flowing from her. From her fissures rush, to the north, the Danish and Swedish, to the west, the Dutch and Flemish. The German idiom passes the Channel and becomes the English language. In the order of intellectual facts, the German genius has other fronteirs besides Germany. Such people resists Germany and yields to Germanism. The German spirit assimilates to itself the Greeks by Müller, the Servians by Gerhard, the Russians by Goëtre, the Magyars by Mailath. When Kepler, in the presences of Rudolph II, was preparing the Rudolphian Tables, it was with the aid of Tycho-Brahé. German affinities go far. Without any alteration in the local and national autonomies, it is with the great Germanic centre that the Scandinavian spirit in Oehlenschläger, and the Batavian spirit in Vondel, is connected. Poland unites herself to it, with all her glory, from Copernicus to Kosciusko, from Sobieski to Mickiewicz. Germany is the well of nations. They pass out of her like rivers; she receives them as a sea.
It seems as though one heard through all Europe the wonderful murmur of the Hercynian forest. The German nature, profound and subtle, distinct from European nature, but in harmony with it, volatilizes and floats above nations. The German mind is misty, luminous, scattered. It is a kind of immense soul-cloud, with stars. Perhaps the highest expression of Germany can only be given by music. Music, by its very want of precision, which in this special case is a quality, goes where the German soul proceeds.
If the German spirit has as much density as expansionl,-- that is to say, as much will as power,-- she could at a given moment, lift up and save the human race. Such as she is, she is subllime.
In poetry she has not said her last word. At this hour, the symptoms are excellent. Since the jubilee of the noble Schiller, particularly, there has been an awakening, and a generous awakening. The great definitive poet of Germany will be necessarily a poet of humanity, of enthusiasm, and of liberty. Perchance, and some signs give token of it, we may soon see him arise from the young group of contemporary German writers.
Music, we beg indulgence for this word, is the vapour of art. It is to poetry what revery is to thought, what the fluid is to the liquid, what the ocean of clouds is to the ocean of waves. If another description is required, it is the indefinite of this infinite. The same insufflation pushes it, carries it, raises it, upsets it, fills it with trouble and light and with an ineffable sound, saturates it with electricity and causes it to give suddenly discharges of thunder.
Music is the Verb of Germany. The German race, so much curbed as a people, so emancipated as thinkers, sing with a sombre love. To sing resembles a freeing from bondage. Music expresses that which cannot be said, and on which it is impossible to be silent. Therefore is Germany all music until she becomes all liberty. Luther's choral is somewhat a Marseillaise. Everywhere singing clubs and singing tables. In Swabia every year the fête of song, on the banks of the Neckar, in the plains of Enslingen. The Liedermusik, of which Schubert's "Le Roi des Aulnes" is the chef d'œuvre, is part of German life. Song is for Germany a breathing. It is by singing that she respires and conspires. The note being the syllable of a kind of undefined universal language, Germany's grand communication with the human race is made through harmony,--and admirable commencement to unity. It is by the clouds that the rains which fertilize the earth ascend from the sea; it is by music that the ideas which go deep into souls pass out of Germany.
Therefore we may say that Germany's greatest poets are her musicians, of which wonderful family Beethoven is the head.
Homer is the great Pelasgian; Æschylus, the great Hellene; Isaiah, the great Hebrew; Juvenal, the great Roman; Dante, the great Italian; Shakespeare, the great Englishman; Beethoven, the great German.
1. Preface of the Burgraves, 1843.
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