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among the giants, as told in the Prose Edda, the story is given of his attempt to lift from the earth the cat of Utgard-Loki, the king of the giants. With all his strength the mortified Thor, lifting the cat's back into an arch, can get only one of her feet from the ground. He is consoled, however, when Utgard-Loki tells him in confidence that the cat was no other than the great Midgard serpent, which encircles the whole earth. The writer is reminded of the story as he thinks of a certain ingenuous, but callow, youth who once undertook to possess himself of a knowledge of German literature, and who, after valiant wrestling, became the victim of chagrin as deep as that which befel the mighty god of the hammer. Certainly the great Midgard serpent, encircling the earth, with its tail in its mouth, is scarcely less appropriate as a symbol of German literature than as a symbol of eternity. Twelve thousand five hundred and sixteen works are said to have been published in Germany in the one year, 1876. Of the writers esteemed of sufficient significance to be noted in a thorough history of literature, the number is legion; in one such history the indices alone, containing little else than names, fill fifty-nine large, closely-printed, double-columned pages. Again, your proper German author has no respect whatever for the eyes or the power of attention of his readers ; his conscience assaults him until he gains peace by building his volumes about himself into a towering barricade. Göthe's dramatic pieces alone number more than fifty, and his work in that direction is a trifling part of what he accomplished. Jean Paul wrote between sixty and seventy books, the difficulties of whose style are so great that it has been found necessary to prepare for him a special dictionary. The selected works of Hans Sachs, the Nuremberg mastersinger, amount to more than six thousand, and are fairly corded into the vast folios in which they are preserved. Again, if we look at the size of some of the individual books, one of the works of Lohenstein, a dramatist and tale-writer of the seventeenth century, contains alone three thousand quarto pages, its synopsis requiring ninety-six.
Histories of German literature in the German language abound. Several have been translated into English ; independent histories have also been attempted by English authors. Of such accounts some are intended for scholars,-great works of reference,-others for popular reading. As regards histories of the latter kind, the present writer believes it to have been a prevailing defect that perspective has not been sufficiently considered, and that the attempt has been made to comprehend too much. The German mind has been accused, perhaps with justice, of wanting the instinct of " selection;" it has a passion for being exhaustive, and “writes a subject to its dregs," discriminating too little between the important and the valueless. By contagion the trouble has communicated itself to English writers who have considered German subjects. In the accounts of German literature may be clearly seen the defects described in the sentence from Rudolph Gottschall, which stands on the title-page of this book as a motto: "So many particulars have been put into the foreground that a clear, comprehensive view of the entire subject is almost utterly lost." Take, for instance, the excellent work of Gostwick and Harrison. It is correct and thorough; the style is not without a certain picturesque quality. It is excellent as a book of reference; but, as a whole, from its minuteness, quite unreadable. The attention utterly breaks down in the effort to retain the names of unimportant books and individuals ; one wanders bewildered in a maze of detail, and obtains no satisfactory general view.
In the present sketch of the history of German litera
ture, the writer confines himself to one field, “ Die schöne Literatur," - Belles-Lettres, Polite Literature. Even with this limitation the sea is practically boundless, and he hardly dares to claim that he has picked up even the Newtonian pebbles. During many years he has read industriously of the immense mass, and can, at any rate, assert that in the pages that follow few names are mentioned in whose case an honest attempt has not been made to reach an estimate at first hand by study of the most characteristic works. The authors mentioned are comparatively few in number. Attention is concentrated upon “ epoch-making" men and books, the effort being made to consider these with care. What is of subordinate importance has not been neglected; but the attempt has been made in every case to proportion the amount of light thrown to the significance of the figure which was to receive it.
While I am indebted to a considerable number of critics and scholars, to whom reference is made in the footnotes, I must acknowledge especial obligation to the really vast work of Heinrich Kurz,' in which a thorough critical history of German literature is combined with a full and judiciously-made anthology. Immense though the domain of German literature is, it may be almost said that Kurz, in his four compact royal octavos of nine hundred pages each, stands forth as its conqueror. To a large extent, at any rate, he is victor; the pages ranging before us with such wealth of booty, such hosts of captives included within the double columns, marshalled front and rear by his own well-ordered history and critique, that one cannot ask a more perfect subjugation. If a reader were compelled to rely solely upon the work of Kurz for his knowledge of the subject (let him first be sure of his
I Geschichte der Deutschen Literatur.
eyesight), he need not consider his information shallow. For the purpose of this book Kurz has been invaluable ; beginning, as he does, with the first fruits, and ending with the men who are making themselves known at this very hour. His estimates and discussions, — sometimes translated word for word, sometimes abridged and modified, — have often been used, as the frequent references indicate.
The writer's plan has been so far elastic that he has sometimes permitted himself an historical digression, if in that way he could obtain illustration for some point of the story he has sought to tell. The chapters contain digressions of still another kind. In a tour in Germany, in which the pilgrim followed, perhaps, no unusual track, but proceeded with the somewhat unusual purpose of visiting the spots famous through connection with great writers, much was seen possessing interest. In the idea that a grateful relief might be obtained, the accounts of books are interspersed with descriptions of the homes and haunts of the men who wrote them.
The translations which the book contains, except when it is otherwise specified, are original.