By A.R. HOHLFELD, Ph.D.
Professor of German Literature, University of Wisconsin
The career of Otto Ludwig belongs to a sad period in nineteenth century literature in Germany. Sad not because of any lack of works of originality and power, but sad because of the wanton neglect with which the German public of those years treated its ablest and most forceful writers. The historian Treitschke, in an essay probably written not long after the death of Otto Ludwig, sarcastically says in direct reference to the latter’s tragic life: “No nation reads more books than ours, none buys fewer.” To be sure, Germany was then a poor country and its readers had some excuse for being economical in supplying their literary wants. But there was no excuse for the notorious narrowness of vision and judgment shown by many of the leading critics, theatres, and literary journals of that time. Writers of mediocre talent were praised to the skies. But old Grillparzer, Hebbel and Ludwig, Keller, Raabe, Storm, and others who brought a really new and vital message were left to bear the burden of neglect, if not of animosity. No wonder that in foreign lands, after the middle of the nineteenth century, contemporary German literature fell into an almost universal disrepute from which it is only slowly recovering at present. Foreign critics were justified in judging the significance of the literary output of Germany by those writers on whom the Germans themselves were placing the seal of national approval. Zschokke, Gerstaecker, Auerbach, Spielhagen, not to mention the ubiquitous Muehlbach or Marlitt or Polko—these were the names which in America, for instance, figured most prominently in the magazines between 1850 and 1880. [Illustration: OTTO LUDWIG] [Blank Page] Their works were reviewed and translated. They were considered as the representatives of Germany in the literary parliament of nations, while those of her men of letters whom we have since learned to recognize as the real forces of her mid-century literature remained unknown. Of Ludwig, who clearly belongs to this more select group, the Atlantic Monthly and the North American Review, for obvious reasons, reviewed at some length his Studies in Shakespeare; but, as far as the present writer’s knowledge goes, not one of his works was ever translated in this country until the Hereditary Forester appeared in Poet Lore only a few years ago.
Otto Ludwig was born in 1813 in Eisfeld, a small town picturesquely situated in the foothills of the southern slope of the Thuringian Forest, and his entire life was spent within the limited confines of Thuringia and Saxony. Leipzig and Dresden, not much over one hundred English miles to the northeastward of Eisfeld, were the only two larger cities with which he ever became acquainted, and, even when living there, it was characteristic of him to take refuge in some