The German Classics is the first work issued by The German Publication Society in pursuance of a comprehensive plan to open to the English-speaking people of the world the treasures of German thought and achievement in Literature, Art and Science.
In the production of this monumental work the thanks and appreciation of the Publishers are especially due to Hugo Reisinger, Esq., whose loyal support and constant encouragement have made possible its publication.
By Richard M. Meyer, Ph.D. Professor of German Literature, University of Berlin.
Men formerly pictured the origin and development of a literature as an order less play of incalculable forces; out of a seething chaos forms more or less definite arose, and then, one day, behold! the literary earth was there, with sun and moon, water and mountains, animals and men. This conception was intimately connected with that of the origin of individual literary compositions. These likewise—since the new “theory of genius,” spreading from England, had gained recognition throughout the whole of Europe, especially in those countries speaking the Germanic languages—were imagined to be a mere succession of inspirations and even of improvisations. This view of the subject can no longer be held either wholly or in part, though in the origin and growth of literature, as in every other origin and development, much manifestly remains that is still incomprehensible and incalculable. But even as regards the individual literary work, writers themselves—as latterly Richard Dehmel—have laid almost too strong an emphasis on the element of conscious deliberation. And concerning the whole literary product of an individual, which seems to offer the most instructive analogies to the literary achievement of a people, we received a short time ago a remarkable opinion from Carl Spitteler. He asserts that he is guided in his choice of definite styles and definite forms by an absolutely clear purpose; that he has, for example, essayed every kind of metre which could possibly be suited to his “cosmic” epic, or that he has written a novelette solely in order to have once written a novelette. Although in these confessions, as well as in Edgar Allen Poe’s celebrated Poet’s Art, self-delusion and pleasure in the paradoxical may very likely be mingled, it still remains true that such dicta as these point to certain peculiarities in the development of literatures. Experiments with all kinds of forms, imitation of certain literary genres without intrinsic necessity, and deliberate selection of new species, play a larger part in the history of modern German literature than people for a long time wished to admit. It is true, however, that all this experimenting, imitating, and speculating, in the end serves a higher necessity, as well in the poet of genius as in a great literature.