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Jesus, and not from the art of classic Greece, or the passion of barbarian Germany. He lived, as he once said to his friend Claudius, only to sing the song of God. The execution of this pious work he had designed to defer until he had reached his thirtieth year; .but impatient frenzy prevailed, and he commenced "The Messiah" in his youth. The subject of this epic hymn is passion, instead of action, and herein lies its greatest fault. Even the hero is represented as suffering, rather than doing; and all the persons introduced into the poem express their feelings, instead of showing us their acts. These feelings, too, all run into ecstasies; the poem is full of raptures, visions, laments, hallelujahs, and tears. Written under the influence of strong religious emotion, and being, in fact, a record of the poet's spiritual experience, it can be perused only in a similar state of pious exaltation. But as this cannot be a permanent state of mind, the author's attempt at continual pathos and sublimity has necessarily made the entire work a succession of magnificent failures. The men and women of "The Messiah" are either angels or devils; the angels themselves, without characteristic attributes, are vague and empty forms, shadows, nothings. How unlike the fair humanities of Milton's heaven! In the case of the Saviour, too,—so unlike the beautiful and natural anthropomorphism of the Scriptures, the majesty of the God entirely overshadows the mild virtues and affectionate sympathies of the man. Thus the beauty of materiality is completely spiritualized away in Klopstock, as facts are all sublimated into sentiments.
"The Messiah " was originally received in Germany with the greatest enthusiasm, and brought many a pious soul to its Nunc dimittas. It comprehended all the culture, and surpassed by far the expectations, of the times. But posterity pronounces it, as a work of art, to be too musical in its character, too personal, too pathetical, and too sublime. Men attribute to it, as the noblest poem Germany had then produced, great historical, but less æsthetical value. In fine, they revere the poet, but do not read him.
The religious spirit of Klopstock, who exerted a great influence on the succeeding literature of his country, was reproduced in the early writings of Christopher Martin Wieland. When but thirteen years of age, Wieland began to plan epics; at school, he vexed his nights with pious and
penitential tears. When he began to write for the public, his pages glowed with faith in virtue; he admired the simplicity of Xenophon, and studied the wisdom of Socrates with the eyes of Plato, and not, as in later times, with those of Aristippus. He hated the frivolity of the French, and bent with devout veneration over the solemnities of Young. He composed an Anti-Ovid, and the Emotions of a Christian, in which piety was surrounded with those graces that he afterwards caused to wait on pleasure. He celebrated in pastorals the innocence of an idyllic life, believed in the past existence of an age of gold, when purity was protected by fig-leaves, condemned the Anacreontic poets who sung the charms of Venus, and anathematized the poetry of the imitators of Ovid, as the wine of devils, by which thoughtless souls were intoxicated to their own destruction.
The piety of Wieland passed away with his youth; and the author of "Agathon" fell for ever from the heaven of the seraphic poets. This work, as well as several others on Grecian themes, was written in the spirit of the Aristippian philosophy. The perfumed air of the isles of Greece blows over their pages. Still, as there was nothing wanting, save the electric spark of genius, to reduce to fusion the poetical materials in Wieland's mind, in order to make him a true poet; so was there nothing lacking in his delineations of Grecian life and manners, to render them truly antique, except the old Greek feeling itself. His Graces are not the same beauteous virgins that waited on the footsteps. of Aphrodite, and danced in the presence of Jove. They are affected, instead of being ingenuous; and have modern coquetry, in the place of antique innocence.
In his attempt to reproduce the spirit of the Middle Ages, Wieland was more successful, as the task was much more congenial to his temperament. "Gandelin," and his other tales and fables in imitation of the literature of chivalry, possess all the graces of fancy and sentiment which embellish the writings of the Minnesingers. They transport us back to the romantic times, when the squire was proud to follow his knight, when the peasant fought unto death beneath the banner of his chieftain, and the chieftain beneath the eye of his prince. "Oberon," founded on the old romance of Huon de Bordeaux, is, in fact, almost the only work which made, and still preserves, the name of Wieland popular. It
does not, however, rank with the highest kind of poetry. Its object is merely the entertainment of the reader; and success in this species of composition requires no higher gifts than those of poetic recital.
Wieland received from Aristippus the principle, that wisdom consists in holding the golden mean between all extremes; but unfortunately, he did not always follow it in practice. The society in which he lived was in a state of transition, like that through which the individual sometimes passes from childhood to manhood, a state of doubt, selfdeception, and frequent change. He occupied a position midway between the pastoral innocence and golden youth of Klopstock's time, and the enlightened, philosophic culture of Schiller's and Goethe's. We find him, at one time, writing out his religious experience, and, at another, studying French poetry and composing in the style of Voltaire; now attempting to revive the romantic spirit of the Middle Ages, and now to reanimate the antique genius of classic Greece; now designing to portray in a romance the school of Socrates, and then to write a history of the German Empire. Sometimes, he allowed himself to sport with the most sacred mysteries of religion, and then again he endeavoured to lay the foundations of a purer and higher morality, by teaching the inseparableness of wisdom and virtue. He held, that the object of poetry and art was, to produce the beautiful, not the useful, or the pleasurable; and yet was ever employing them to invest virtue with graceful attractions, and to enrich life with elevated pleasures. He led a high ideal life, while he was at the same time polluting his pages with wanton descriptions of vice. Living in the bosom of his family, on a dozen acres, he was also a citizen of the world; was both poet and critic; a novelist to-day, and a philosopher to-morrow. Such a career precluded him, of course, from effecting much in the higher walks of art, and prevented his exerting any thing more than a transient influence upon the character of his countrymen.
We now come to a writer in whom is to be found nothing either of the maiden sentimentality of Klopstock, or the refined, philosophic effeminacy of Wieland. Lessing was not a man to waste his nights in pietistic weeping, nor to lie down beneath Elysian skies to day-dreams of love and pleasure. His was a proud and daring spirit, endowed with
fortitude, magnanimity, and great decision. The son of an orthodox clergyman, Lessing was designed by his parents to follow the profession of divinity. But his free and wild spirit made him prefer the stage to the pulpit, and set the society of wits and players before that of pedants and theologians. At the youthful age when Klopstock read Fenelon, and Wieland was absorbed with Xenophon, the favorites of Lessing were Terence, Plautus, and Theophrastus. Impatient of the restraints of university life, believing that books would never make him wiser, and involved, moreover, in pecuniary difficulties, from his thoughtless but generous prodigality, and from the expense of learning the arts of riding, fencing, and dancing, he left his debts behind him in Leipsic, and his studies afterwards in Wittenberg, to take refuge in the society of the freethinkers of Berlin. There, having relinquished all thought of seeking his fortune either by medicine or theology, he gave vent to his struggling feelings in epigrams, and wrote the learned articles for the newspaper of Vosz. Fettered to no place and to no persons, he soon left Berlin to accompany the army to Breslau, in the capacity of secretary to Tauenzien. A professorship in Königsberg, which was some time afterwards proffered him, he declined, from unwillingness to pronounce the yearly panegyric; and indulged his imagination with the prospect of a more independent mode of life, by connecting himself with a bookseller's house in Hamburg. But he finally accepted the office of librarian at Wolfenbüttel, where he could gratify his desire to labor and put forth the force that was in him, without being a dependent on the sweet voices of the public, or a hanger-on upon any man's favor. There he generously furthered all noble undertakings within the sphere of his influence, and continued those labors for elevating the low estate of the German theatre, which long afterwards resulted so gloriously in the perfection of the national drama. At this period, a great calamity befell him in the loss of his wife and child; but he bore it with noble stoicism, though saying, that these frequent messengers of death made him anxious to follow their call.
The same spirit which characterized the life of Lessing pervaded his writings. While Klopstock described the heroic, and Wieland the weak, the works of Lessing exhibit the natural and true man. They are filled with a spiritual
freshness and healthy vigor, such as can be found in those of no other modern writer in Germany. There is no false sentiment in them, no corrupt principle. Lessing is earnest, vigorous, tolerant, truthful, progressive. He turned away from Wieland's "Agathon" with moral indignation, though highly appreciating its artistic merit; and said pedantically of Goethe's "Werter," that such an & owtos xatozn, impelling a man τὶ τολμῶν παρὰ φύσιν, would not, in the age of Socrates, have been deemed allowable even in a girl. Though a thorough German, he had more of the spirit of the old Greeks, and a clearer insight into the character of Grecian art, literature, and life, than any of his countrymen who lived before him. For nature, he possessed a simple, unsophisticated love, but not a sickly longing, such as is sometimes found in persons who are less familiar with it. In poetry, he sought for man and manly actions, not for moral precepts, or descriptive landscapes. In philosophy he believed in the Ev xai nav of Spinoza; but also in a Providence which notices the fall of the sparrow, and in all the orderings of which he manifested a truly Greek, we can hardly say Christian, acquiescence. He acknowledged no other moral law for a moral being than that which is derived from his particular nature, and which requires him to act according to his individual endowments. Truly antique was his sentiment, that one ought to be so occupied with the duties of the present life, as to have no inclination to debate the existence of another; and that, as we can await the end of a single day, so ought we to be able to await that of life; and any astrological art or religion, which could disclose to us either the near or the distant future, would not be worth the having. In the same spirit of resignation to a higher Power, he once told Jacobi, though his entire life was a rare specimen of the noblest liberty, that he wished for no freedom of will. His love of truth was surpassed by nothing but his love of the pursuit of it; and he has left on record the following sublime passage, as remarkable for its modesty. as its boldness: — " It is not the truth a man has, or thinks that he has, but the sincere pains he has applied to obtain it, that constitutes his worth. For not by the possession of truth, but by the search after it, are his powers enlarged, wherein alone his ever growing perfection doth subsist. Possession makes man quiet, indolent, and proud.