« ZurückWeiter »
patriotic feelings, which make us entertain his works with satisfaction and delight. His descriptive poem, "Sieg des Liebesgottes" (the Conquest of Cupid), has been always looked upon as something peculiarly happy and clever. Two odes by Uz, severally entitled, "Das bedrangte Deutschland" and "An die Deutschen," are, certainly, among the most successful efforts of his ethical pen.
In that memorable and glorious epoch, when Frederick the Great ascended the Prussian throne, there was born, in the good city of Quedlinburg, a poet of a most original cast, who, surpassing in eloquence and in acumen all the bards, epic-writers, and master-spirits of foregoing times, had also sufficient genius to set rythmical fashions, altogether new and unessayed, while he wrote in a most unwonted foundry of words, and incited intellectual endeavour to grasp at the highest topics that can, by any possibility, fall within the contemplation of the human mind. Need we say that we mean here that leading genius,
FRIEDFJCH GOTTLIEB KLOPSTOCK (1724-1803) who was born the 2nd of July 1724. His father was a "Kommissionsrath." After young Klopstock came of age, he entered upon the study of theology at Jena (1745), and it was here, it is said, that he conceived the grand idea of glorifying our Saviour, in a poem of suitable argument and tone. Accordingly, he left Jena for Leipzic, where we find him making one in the metrical confederation organized by Zacharia, Rabener, and the two Schlegels,—all of whom we have already reviewed. Here he laid the foundation-stone of his high-reaching sacred epic design—(it is worthy of
y 32 KLOPSTOCK.
observation, that the first master-piece of modern German literature was a religious one),—the first three cantos of his "Messiad" appearing in 1748, in a Bremish periodical. They were received with enthusiasm. Klopstock's "Messias" appears, indeed, to be the very baptism of our national poetry,—the greatest and worthiest of our men of letters attending as scholarly sponsors around the consecrating-font of this new and beautiful style.*
Klopstock was the literary exponent of his day: the creator of an illustrious work, which stands as "a burning and a shining light" at the head of the sacred poetry of that period. But before considering this magnificent production somewhat more at large, we must be permitted to digress shortly into some interesting particulars of its author's life. Our poet, at the outset of his career, had no means of triumphing over the obstacle of narrow circumstances; but a great admirer of poetry, Count Bernstorf, made himself acquainted with the "Messiad," and hearing of Klopstock's poor estate, recommended him very strongly to the notice of the king Frederick V, who forthwith granted him an annual pension of four hundred dollars. His latter days were passed at Hamburg, where he died, when holding the office of councellor of legation, on the 14th of March, 1803. The funeral obsequies of the author of the "Messias" might justly rank amongst the most splendid pageants of the kind, that have ever been awarded to any poet of our fatherland. The German nation, the standard of whose literature he had so undeniably raised, and raising, had adorned it with the beauty of holiness, mourned, in Klopstock's demise, the loss of one of the most pious, the most humble-minded, and the most gifted of her virtuous children. Amidst all that fascinates, while it solemns the mind, all that might hallow the outer token,
* Gelzer. Die deutsche poetische Literatur seit Klopstock und Lessing. 1840.
arrest the public sympathy, foreshadow the unspoken sorrow, and insinuate the solicitudes of affection, Klopstock's coffin, draperied with laurel wreaths, and crowned with a copy of his own "Messias," was slowly borne towards its last sad resting-place. In the little village of Ottenseu, near Hamburg, unpretending enough on the page of history, yet memorable ever after from this one circumstance, amidst the chaunting of that most beautiful and touching of his own hymns, beginning:
"Auferstehen, ja auferstehen wirst du,
Klopstock's mortal remains were slowly lowered into the flower-fraught grave,—to sleep the Christian's long, though guarded sleep, by the side of his affectionate helpmate Meta, upon whose bosom, in life, he had so loved to lie.*
To return to his cardinal and mighty poem. Merely from his salient genius, his unimpeachable character, his zeal in the cause of religion, and the pure and noble quality of his mind, we may easily recognize in Klopstock the poet who hymned the reverential stanzas of the " Messiad."f This illustrious epic, winning our attention by the richness of fancy, as well as the tenderness of feeling, and the fine, manly thoughts with which it abounds, is also a work pervaded by those tropes, choice ornaments, and elegant allusions, which fall more generally within the province of classic verse.
The idea of this poem was evidently suggested to Klopstock by the Holy Scriptures, where indeed he found his whole scheme unfolded. All he had to do, was to overpass, as it were, the evangelic records, so far at least, as to exhibit in his transcript a more startling consecution of events,
* Doring, Klopstock's Leben.
f The first English translation by G. Egerstorf, Esq.; the second by the Rev. Mr. Milman.
a greater diversity of characters, and complicity of situations^ as to be enabled to fashion the whole into one glorious and homogeneous epopee. England can certainly boast of a "Messiad" of another sort, yet of a poem no less sterling and valuable, in Milton's " Paradise Lost," and we are naturally led by our subject to institute a comparison between the two works. Klopstock found in Milton the way prepared and the paths made straight for the delineation (indispensable to both plots) of heaven and of hell; but the incidents attaching to his human personages, it was left for him either to invent or to alter. In these, the human parts, Klopstock's poetry displayed its highest beauties. The characters of the apostles and of the rulers of the Jewish sanhedrim, with many others, are delivered in a few pithy but masterly words. In the portraiture of the demons in hell, Klopstock has not equalled Milton, but the angels of the latter, compared with those of the former, are but meagre outlines. Should any of our readers be desirous of forming an estimate of the " Messias," we would recommend those parts in especial, wherein the distinctive quality of Klopstock's muse is evidenced with peculiar success, and where the great force of this writer is the most conspicuous. Such specimentary portions are: "The Convocation before the High Priest," in the 4th Canto; the description of the early Christians in the 10th ; the death of Mary in the 12th ; the miracle of the Kesurrection in the 14th; and the period of forty days intervening between that and the Ascension in the 19th Canto. The way in which Klopstock wrote, and what he himself thought of the " Messias," as well as the tone of mind at which he had arrived upon the completion of this wonderful performance, are all finely shown in that Ode by him entitled: "An den Erloser," which he annexed to his poems.
The cast of language in this magnificent epopee is eminently well chosen and select, and wrought up more and more to the highest point of literary finish. Our author worked at it long and assiduously; it was almost a life's labour ; and from this reason it is that we find the second part (which was not completed until 1773) more exquisite and elaborate still, in the amelioration both of diction and style. Klopstock was a devoted admirer of the German language; he wa3 not insensible of its great and manifold beauties, and was, in fact, so proud of it, that we are indebted to him for many a fine Ode, which he has written in its behalf, replete with that warmth of feeling, he ever evinced towards his mother-tongue.
Klopstock was also a sublime odiac poet, and classical therewithal, blending, in his first odes especially, the genius and habitudes of antiquity with the spirit of the modern time. In this description of literature, Klopstock is certainly without a rival; in fact, he is the greatest ode-writer that any age can show, and may be styled the Pindar of modern lyric verse. But in richness and in depth of feeling he surpasses the harmonious Theban. Klopstock is so genuinely German, so faithful, yet so profound, as, perhaps, no bard of our fatherland ever was before. Sulzer, one of the earliest of German critics, says of him with great truth: "Klopstock's serious ode, under whatever guise it may be found, is, of all orders of metrical composition, the one that admits of the most unusual inflections of phrase, the boldest tropes, and the most dazzling imagery." His odes, commencing, "Willkommen o silberner Mond," and "Am Ziiricher See," are eminently accurate portraitures of nature; but his hymn, particularized above," Auferstehn, ja auferstehn," is among the most touching and beautiful things he ever wrote. Other fine sacred pieces by him, such as his " Ach, wie hat mein Herz gerungen," " Wenn ich einst von jenem Schlummer," may also rank among the most creditable efforts of his pen.
Klopstock's " Gelehrtenrepublik," which came out in 1774, was considered by Goethe and his friends the only genuine aesthetical work extant: new ground was broken