The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 09 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 647 pages of information about The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 09.
do indeed rise at all above mediocrity.  There is, however, no very deep psychological insight needed in order to know how the whole man will be affected by an event which sweeps down upon him like a stormwind, and very ordinary talents may safely attempt tasks of this kind; just as, for example, every painter with some technical skill can represent despair, fear, terror, all those emotions, in short, which only permit of one expression; whereas a Rembrandt is required, if a gipsy encampment is to be pictured.  Kleist, therefore, set himself other tasks; he knew and had perhaps experienced in his own person, that life’s process of destruction is not a deluge but a shower, and that man is superior to every great fatality, but subject to every pettiness.  He proceeded from this theory of life, when he delineated his Michael Kohlhaas, and I maintain that in no German novel have the hideous depths of life been projected upon the surface in such vivid fashion as in this, when the theft by a squire, of two miserable horses, forms the first link in a chain, which extends upward from the horse-dealer Kohlhaas to the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and crushes a world by coiling round it.  I should like to analyze the novel more in detail, but am glad that the limits of my essay, or rather the patience of my readers and auditors, do not permit me to do so; for the members of the society will thus feel prompted the sooner to acquaint and familiarize themselves with the works of Heinrich von Kleist, if they have not already done so.

While hastening on to the close, I must, in accordance with the introduction to this essay, call attention to the fact that Kleist, no less than Koerner, did not leave unheeded the claims that his country properly made upon him in the portentous age in which he lived.  In his breast, as in that of his contemporaries, there glowed the flame of enthusiasm for the honor and freedom of his people; and the oppression that they endured, the internal and external slavery in which he beheld them sunk, placed the pistol in his hand.  I mention this because it has been imputed to the poet Koerner as a great merit that he was at the same time a martyr.  But Kleist could behold his country unworthily treated without for that reason having unworthy thoughts of the man who was treading it in the dust; he was great enough to be able to forgive Napoleon the pain which he could not endure.  He wrote no war-songs for patriotic journeymen-tailors and high-minded counter-jumpers, but he described Hermann’s Battle and the battle of Fehrbellin; he called the dead to life in order to arouse the living.


[Footnote 6:  The extracts from The Prince of Homburg are taken from Mr. Hagedorn’s translation, Volume IV of THE GERMAN CLASSICS.]


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The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 09 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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