Billeder på siden


of recent growth in Germany; and that the Germans, who make no secret of their admiration of English literature, have borrowed from us the idea and plan of their periodicals; and, indeed, it must be acknowledged, that the leading German Reviews have received a decided impulse and bias from similar works in our own country. But as a class itself, this species of literature has flourished for more than half a century in Germany; and from the time of Lessing's “Dramaturgie,” which appeared in 1766, there have been very few distinguished men of letters in that country who have not contributed to one or other of the periodical publications of the day.

Madame de Staël has observed, that in Germany there are sometimes more critics than authors. If such be the case at the present moment, there can be little reason to apprehend that the art of criticism is on the decline; for there is now lying before us a catalogue of German works, published during the first six months of the year 1826, which, in a mere dry detail of titles and prices, fills two hundred pages! Be this, however, as it may, there really would appear to be something in the temper and constitution of the Germans, which peculiarly fits them for the "ungentle craft.” It is not ill-nature; nor an overweening conceit-that never-failing source of criticism in other countries; nor is it the idea, that to find fault is an indubitable proof of wisdom. It rather seems to be a disinclination to taking matters upon trust, accompanied by a spirit of research that acquires strength from exertion, and is rather allured than deterred by difficulties. The vast body of information which the German critic brings to bear upon his subject; his intimate acquaintance with the works of all ages, and in all languages, that have any relation to it; the acuteness with which he discovers points that have eluded the observation of former writers, and the unremitting industry with which he pursues them to their full developement, fill us with wonder, and lead us to imagine that criticism may perchance have some other object in view besides the gratification of spleen, enmity, or flippant levity; and that in the hands of a Niebuhr, a Savigny, or a Hugo, instead of being a bugbear to nervous authors, it may be converted into a stimulus to noble efforts.

The two principal reviews in Germany are the Hermes, and the Wienner Jahrbücher. In external form and general arrangement they have avowedly taken the Edinburgh and the Quarterly as their models; but there are various circumstances that have contributed to stamp them with an individuality of character, and to secure them from the charge of narrow, servile imitation. The political state of Germany, the frame of its society, and the habits and feelings of the people, are in themselves sufficient to produce a marked distinction between these works and their prototypes. In England the leading Reviews are the acknowledged organs of powerful political parties, exercising an arbitrary influence over public opinion, which we feel, but cannot estimate-which we may affect to disdain, but cannot shake off. Their chief aim is to disseminate the doctrines of their respective sects as widely as possible; and the interests of literature are altogether secondary to this paramount object. Such a course of proceeding is doubtless admirably calculated to give to their efforts unity of direction and purpose, and to maintain that importance and

that sway over the public mind which they have already acquired. But it is very much to be feared that the national taste is vitiated, and the national literature deteriorated, by the partiality which is the necessary result of this spirit. There is, indeed, too evident an inclination to regard the man and his political notions, to the exclusion of the author, to criticise his private thoughts instead of his published writings; and to advance or degrade him according as he has the merit of relishing his turtle at a Pitt or a Fox dinner. Another ill consequence of this system is, that whilst works of sterling excellence are left to struggle into popularity by slow and painful steps, the erude productions of some confused head and feeble pen are torn from the peaceful slumber of a well-earned oblivion, and forced upon the pnblic attention, as fit objects of admiration and applause.

The case is different in Germany. For although liberty has made, within the last few years, a most rapid progress in that country, as is abundantly manifested by many salutary alterations in its civil and judicial institutions, the press there is not entirely free; nor have the Germans yet attained that “raram temporum felicitatem” of Tacitus, “ubi sentire quæ velis, et quæ sentias dicere licet.” Political discussion being thus for the most part excluded, their periodical publications are necessarily confined to that which would appear to be their legitimate province -literature and science. It would be vain, however, to expect, that the writers in these works should be altogether indifferent to political considerations, or that they should fail to have frequent opportunities of giving some indication of their opinions upon a subject so interesting. We have therefore no difficulty in discovering the prevailing bias both of the Hermes and the Jahrbücher. The former regards the Edinburgh with an eye of affection, and is in its general tone and temper, liberal; though its character for liberality was somewhat endangered by an elaborate defence of the use of the preliminary question in criminal proceedings, which appeared in it a short time ago. The Jahrbücher, on the contrary, is rather a disciple of the Quarterly, and indeed we may very readily imagine that the Quarterly is better suited to the atmosphere of Vienna than its less obsequious rival; and that the courtly fragrance of the doctrines contained in the former must be most grateful to the nostrils of the descendant of all the Cæsars.

A second mark of distinction between the English and the German Reviews is, that the articles in the latter usually bear the signatures of their authors. This at once destroys the uniformity and integrity of the work; it becomes a mere bundle of essays, unconnected except by the thread that unites them. The German reviewer is probably alarmed, lest the merit of his own individual achievements should be completely merged in the common stock, and he should thus lose the benefit of mueh labour and watching, hurried meals, sore eyes, and a vast consumption of oil.* But he forgets that the aggregate talent of

* We were at first inclined to imagine that some police regulation interfered with the liberty of the reviewer, and constrained him to avow himself ; but this supposition is destroyed by the circumstance, that anonymous articles do occasionally appear, as for example, the article on Blackwood's Magazine, noticed at the end of this paper. In the 21st number of the Hermes there is a note of the editor, which expressly leaves it to the option of contributors whether they will sign their names, or avail themselves of the mysterious and dignified “we.”

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« ForrigeFortsæt »