“—When the storm wind O’erthrows the oak and rages ’mongst the pines, It leaves unharmed the tender floweret, Its thunders change to gentle whisp’ring zephyrs And shall I wilder be than the wild storm? Shall I destroy life’s loveliest vernal wreath? In cruelty the boisterous elements Surpassing, shall I break this floweret To touch which destiny’s hand has yet not dared?”
I ask you is it possible to surpass such trivial nonsense?
I shall say no more concerning Koerner’s individual scenes. This is not committing an injustice; for it is absolutely unimportant, so far as our investigation is concerned, whether and in how far Koerner had the ability to construct a tragedy, since this faculty—as Goethe’s example shows us—has nothing to do with poetry in itself. There is no need for us to draw the parallel between the Prince of Homburg and Zriny; it is quite evident. One reproach, however, which might be made by an attentive reader, I must anticipate: namely, I might be asked why I have subjected the two principal characters of Koerner’s tragedy to a regular police examination, and, instead of accepting them in their totality, have required them to render account in how far they were heroes, commanders, tyrants, etc. But since they are, like all creations of mere talent, nothing but arrows which are shot from a certain bow-string toward a certain target, it follows that they can only be judged by the deflections from their course. Herein—be it remarked incidentally—lies the difference, often perceived but seldom explained, between the characters portrayed by Schiller and those portrayed by Goethe. Schiller’s characters—to use a play on words which for once expresses the truth—are beautiful because they are self-contained; Goethe’s characters because they are unrestrained. Schiller delineates the man who is complete in his own strength, and, a man of iron, is tried by circumstances; for this reason Schiller was great only in the historical drama. Goethe delineates the endless creations of the moment, the eternal modifications of the man caused by every step that he takes; this is the token by which we may recognize genius, and it seems to me that I have discovered it also in Heinrich von Kleist.
At this moment, when I would pass on to review the achievements of Koerner and Kleist in the field of comedy, I remember that I was not sufficiently definite, above, when developing my conception of the drama. I should have added that I cannot, strictly speaking, count comedy as a form of drama, but must include it in the category of dialogue narrative. If one recalls to mind the purpose of high-class comedy—“to describe individual ages and classes,” one must admit that I am entitled to do so. I must remark in advance that neither Koerner nor Kleist has done anything for high-class comedy. But Kleist in his Broken Pitcher has drawn a comic character-picture which is so full of life that it reminds us of Shakespeare,