The purposes of his literary works, like the beginning and purpose of his intimacy with Elisa, are always large, comprehensive, and idealistic, but they always, even in his most important work, Merlin, dwindle to petty details of actuality. His significance for the present age does not so much rest on his objective achievement, as on some of his qualities which prevented achievement. He was perhaps the most considerable representative of the literary “Epigones” intervening between the esthetic individualistic humanism of the eighteenth, and the economic-cooeperative humanism of the nineteenth century. He, more fully perhaps than any of his contemporaries, represented the peculiar border-type of literary personality which is both compounded and torn asunder by all the principal conflicting forces of a period of historic transition. He was a victim of the manifold division of impulses, the ill-related patchwork of impressions, and the disconcerting refractions of vision, which characterized his contemporaries. It is in the fact that he united in himself the principal factors which made up the complexion of his age, to an extraordinary degree, that he has his strongest claim upon the sympathetic and studious interest of the modern age.
The principal dramatic agencies in Merlin are Satan, Klingsor, Titurel, King Artus and his Round Table, Niniana, and Merlin. In them, Immermann tried to embody the dominant moral and intellectual tendencies, as he saw them in history and his own times. Satan, the demiurgos, is to him no theological devil, but a princely character, the “Lord of Necessity,” the non-moral, irresistible, cosmic force of physical creation. He demands, expressing the faith of Young-Germany:
“O! naked bodies, insolent art,
O! wrath of heroes, and heroic voice!”
The pride of life in him and in Lucifer, who personifies the creative fire, is aroused against the narrow asceticism of orthodox Christianity, embodied in the wan and feeble Titurel. Satan decides to imitate the Lord of Christianity, by begetting upon a virgin, Candida, a son who is to save the world from the sterility of asceticism. Candida is briefly introduced, acknowledging the power of the mighty spirit and bewailing her fate in one of the finest passages in the play. Merlin is born, combining the supernatural creative powers of his father with the tenderness and sympathy of his mother. His purpose is to reconcile the true principles of primitive Christianity with the natural impulses of life. Merlin thus is opposed to his father as well as to Titurel and his dull and narrow “guild” who keep the true spirit of humanity captive. He is both anti-Satan and anti-Christ.