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To write the history of the literature of any particular people, necessarily requires a glance at that nation itself, and at the era also of its formation, out of the most barbarous state.
Its archives have to be unlocked; while the tone of thought and the complexion of feeling, evinced by a community, cannot but be accepted as the index, in some degree at least, of its measure of intellectual progress, at the same time that it leads us into the most secret fountains of natural thought, and passes under our review the earliest operations of the human understanding. The field which such an enquiry opens is very extensive; and many writers of acknowledged ability have already laid their researches before the world, in works at once voluminous and important :* the dealing, therefore, with the subject thus in extenso, we shall at once decline; and it shall suffice to our present purpose to survey the general features of the German literature, as that literature has grown up from
* Adelung (J. C.) die alteste Geschichte der Deutschen, ihre Spraehe und Literatur. 1806.
Bouterweck (F.) Geschichte der Poesie und Beredsamkeit. 12 vols. 8vo. 1819.
Eichhorn (J. G.) Geschichte der Literatur, von ihrem Ursprung bis auf die neuesteu Zeiten. 6 vols. 1828.
Gervinus, in his "Poetische National Literatur der Deutschen," a work that has been pronounced classical.
4 THE LITEBATUKE OF GERMANV.
century to century, and to allude indirectly, as we go along, to that stock and circle of polite letters, which has heen amassed in the lapse of ages, and the profit and produce of which are, in fact, the great and sterling supereminence of the present intellectual condition of the German people.
Prior to the introduction of Christianity, the Germans had jiothing worthy of the name of literature. The Goths, a nation originally of the pure Germanic origin, embraced an imperfect form of our religion; and the first monument of the Mcesogothic tongue, that has come down to us, is a part-translation of the Bible, exeouted by bishop Ulphilas (a.d-. 360-380). Only a very few literary memorials have been preserved of those times; nor is it until the rise of the Minnesanger, that we can take up the thread of the German vernacular composition with a feeling at all approaching to certainty.
A splendid epoch of belles lettres dates from the year 1138, when Conrad III, of the Hohenstauffen dynasty, ascended the throne of the German empire.
It was a practice, founded upon olden usage, for the emperor's court to retain minstrels, or wandering bards, in its pay, who performed on the guitar or the harp, and who sang, in the presence of the flower of chivalry,—before mailed knights and dames of high degree,— their Minnesang (or love song).
These musicians were, in not a few instances, men of an original genius, who were able to compose the lays they chaunted, although these metrical efforts were, more frequently, and indeed generally, the work of those distinguished poets, to whom the title of "Minnesanger" has been assigned. The sweet bards of our fatherland, HartMann Von Der Aue (Owe), 1201; Wolfram Von EschenRaoh, Heinrich Von Ofterdingen, Walther Von Der Vogelweide, Herr Otto Von Trurne, Meistf.r ConRad Von Wurtzrurg, 1276; Heinrich Frauenlor, Rudigeii Von Manesse, 1301, put forth all their talents at this period, and wrote those magnificent compositions, known to the German student by the name of " the Minnepoerns."
Deeds of high emprize speedily manifested themselves, whereunto the inventive power of authors was wont to cleave, and to magnify the same in poems. And then it was that poetical works of a high character were composed. The date of that wonderful and splendid metrical performance, known as the " Heldenbuch," was somewhere between the years 1180 and 1200. This celebrated "Heldenbuch"* (i. e. the Book of Heroes), the genuine heroic legends of our nation, embodies, in a form at once most romantic and poetical, a collection of fanciful papers by the farfamed Wolfram Von Eschenrach, Heinrich Von OfterDingen, Walther Der Vogler, and by many other writers, whose names have not come down to us. Among the noble traditionary chronicles to be found in this work, are,—" Der Heine Rosengarte," " Der gehornte Siegfried," "Godrun," etc. etc.: the last-mentioned composition v. d. Hagen styles "Die wunderbare Nebensonne der Niebelungen."
"Das Niebelungenlied,"f a contemporary of the former work, is the grandest production of the middle ages,— it is indeed popular all over the world. Its reputation is now, from the costly and splendid manner of its republication, secured upon an immoveable basis. This literary monu
* Der Helden Buch in der Ursprache herausg. von F. H. v. d. Hagen und A. Primisser. 2 vols. 1824.
t Lachmann, Der Niebelungen Not mit der Klage, und Erlaeuterungen hiezu. 1842. Ueber die urspriingliche Gestalt des Gedichts von der Niebelungen Noth. von Lachmann. 1816.
F. H. v. d. Hagen, Die Nibelungen und ihre Bedeutung. 1819.
A. Criiger, Der ITrsprung des Niebelungenliedes; oder Sage von den Volsungen und von Sigurd dem Tafnis Tbdter. 1812.