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PREFACE

OF

THE GERMAN AUTHOR.

The delineation of the great British poet which I now publish sprung from a series of happy hours in which for many years I made Shakespeare's works a subject of continual reflection, and drew the purest enjoyment from their elucidation.

After the completion of my 'History of German Poetry,' I was desirous to return to my original work, the long-forsaken field of political history. My intention was, and it still is, to follow up the conclusion of that historical record of our literature by venturing to undertake the history of our own time, to exhibit to the German people as in a mirror the picture of the present, to hold before them their dishonour, their vocation, and their hopes, and to point out to them the very age and body' of this period, a period which more and more promises to become a great and important one, and to reward the trouble of the historical observer. Events have since corresponded to this expectation ; they hold out to the historian a still more alluring task, and at the same time open to him a more instructive school. They have drawn me also for a while from my post of observation into the whirlpool of active life, into a labyrinth from which, although appearances may contradict it, there is for the present no prospect of a satisfactory and definitive issue.

Amid these agitations of political life, and amid investigations into the base motives of the historical world, I longed for some refuge for self-collectedness and composure, and felt the necessity of raising the soul above the low ground of reality. This necessity was not to be disregarded.

The recent period of our civilisation and history affords sufficient explanation of the reason why we are wont in Germany to regard the fine arts and their productions as indispensable. The present, however, calls us, as it were, from these dear and cherished tendencies to the field of active life, which can be won by no half efforts, and which claims our united powers. Divided between these contending necessities, how may we satisfy both without doing damage to the one ?

The demands of our country, the duties of the day, and the active vocations of life are uncompromising ; these must first be satisfied, enjoyment and intellectual ease must accommodate themselves to them. But the enjoyments of the mind may themselves be of such a kind as to become a spur to our activity and efficiency of action, provided they are of a nature to keep our ideas healthy and not to over-refine the feelings, to engage the heart and imagination as well as the practical understanding, and to strengthen the will in its resolves. The works of the Muses which possess this property in a high degree are altogether few, but these few rank among the first and greatest.

In the intellectual history of England and Germany there are two men, the one born in this, the other in that land, who maintained in these later centuries the old Teutonic kindred and fellowship, the possession of whom the two nations share, and for the higher appreciation of whom they mutually strive. The similar position which they occupied among the most practical and the most eminently intellectual people places 'these mediators between two nations' prominently in that middle position where they reconcile and unite contradictory qualities; and in this union lies a sure pledge of human greatness. A similar interesting picture is perhaps not again presented by the whole mental history of humanity. These men, therefore, and their relation to these two nations, have ever given me much to think of and admire; and they are drawn closer to me at the present time, when their works are especially suitable to our peculiar condition.

England has naturalised our Handel aud numbered bim amongst her own; in lasting tradition, and amid all the corruptions of prevailing tastes, she has cherished his pure melody and gratefully preserved his memory. To him, a Luther in overflowing fulness, in strong and vehement character, in Protestant-religious depth, in wide sway over the inner world of feeling, and in wonderful power of utterance, to him must we repair if we would flee away from the errors of the musical world in a dull and distracted age; for in him alone among musicians of later date can we understand what the ancients have said of the vigorous Doric art as a moral means of culture, and of its ennobling and strengthening influence upon the character and will of man. He has been, perhaps, more justly appreciated by the English; he has remained their national favourite among musicians, although in natural and musical character no truer German could be found, and although his art is intrinsically interwoven with the history of our poetry and its highest qualities. But of this, perhaps, another time.

To the Shakespeare of England we gladly boast of having done still greater justice; certain is it that through industry and love, just as England did with our Handel, we have won the great poet for ourselves, though England has not suffered herself to be robbed of the poet in the same manner as we have been of the musician. With regard to intellectual enjoyment, which on that crossway between active and contemplative life can in itself afford us the highest satisfaction without enervating us for the duties of outward action, there is no richer source than this poet, who with the magic of imagination fascinates the enthusiastic mind of youth, and with the thoughtfulness and ripeness of his judgment offers inexhaustible food for the mature powers; who hardens and sharpens the spirit for actual and active life in its widest extent, raising it at the same time far above all barriers to the contemplation of eternal blessings; who teaches us at once to love and to disregard the world, to hold it under our control and to renounce it. With these qualities Shakespeare has robbed us of delight in much other poetry, but for all that we relinquish he indemnifies us a hundredfold. Even in our own great poets, our Goethe and Schiller, he has made us doubt; and it is well known that in a new school in Germany there prevails a belief in a future second German Shakespeare, who will found a greater dramatic art than the two poets we have named. Until he comes, until this belief has become active enough to displace Shakespeare, standing as we are on the threshold of a new political life, and needing practical mental culture, it must, at all events, be rather advantageous than the reverse to maintain and extend this tendency of the public taste, and to attempt anew to naturalise the old Shakespeare among us more and more, even at the risk of casting our own poets still further in the shade. A similar benefit would it be to our intellectual life if his famed contemporary Bacon were revived in a suitable manner, in order to counterbalance the idealistic philosophy of Germany. For both these, the poet as well as the philosopher, having looked deeply into the history and politics of their people, stand upon the level ground of reality, notwithstanding the high art of the one and the speculative notions of the other. By the healthfulness of their own mind they influence the healthfulness of others, while in their most ideal and most abstract representations they aim at a preparation for life as it is; for that life which forms the exclusive subject of all political action. Our tame poetry, sometimes romantic and fantastic, sometimes homely and domestic, and our spiritualistic philosophy failed in this; and it behoves us to consider whether such can be the school qualified to prepare us for the vocation towards which we are striving so eagerly. In England, in the land of political supremacy, it would not be acknowledged as such. For no one will be so full of delusion and folly as to think that a poet and a philosopher thus qualified have been cast by chance among a people thus conditioned ! One national spirit and the same practical hearty sense of life which has created this state and this popular freedom have also fashioned a poetry so full of life, and a philosophy so rich in experience. And the more decidedly we acquire and cultivate appreciation and delight in such productions of the mind, the more decidedly shall we ripen into a capacity for fashioning our own active life into conformity with that which these migrated forefathers have exhibited to all the world for imitation.

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