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“In statutes one, and one in medicine,
Was raised alott, and made the guest of heaven.” The beginning is the most easily appreciated by the vulgar; the end is the least popular, because it is the most original and marvellous. The “Inferno” is sculpture; the “Purgatorio," painting; the “ Paradiso," music. The scene rises from contending passions, through purifying penance, to perfected love. An excited multitude, gazing, wander with him through the first; a smaller and quieter throng accompany him over the second; a select, ever-lessening number follow him up the third; and at last he is left on the summit, alone, rapt in the beatific vision.
There is something sublime in the present fame of Dante, which, after being long limited to a narrow aristocracy of mind, is now broadening towards popularity. Surely such an outburst of glory never before enveloped the memory of a man as that which from all over the educated world, at a sig. nal, recently streamed around the name of Dante on the sixth centennial of his birth. That anniversary broke on beautiful Florence in a heavenly day of May. The throne of Victor Emanuel was there, girt with the proud and joyous troops of the liberation of Italy. So much had been done towards realizing the prayer of the exiled prophet and seer for a free and united country. From out the depth of six centuries the pulse of the mighty Ghibelline throbbed in the wrist of Garibaldi. Music, speech, song, and spectacle were wrought to their most brilliant efforts. The banners of all the Italian cities, each followed by an exulting host of its sons, swept along. The old banner of free Venice, now enslaved, the winged Lion of St. Mark, - borne by a single figure, and draped in black, wherever it passed awoke indescribable sensations, shown alike in the wildest applause and in tears of agony and
the smiting of breasts. And when all the processions coalesced in the square, in front of that reverend church of Santa Croce so richly choked with the dust of royal men, as the colossal statue of Dante was unveiled for the first time in its grand and snowy beauty, it seemed as though the poet himself from his long sleep among the dead had started into marble life, and was about to electrify that expanse of bowed heads and beating hearts by striking his harp and raising his voice with the words of his own thrilling ode:
“My native Land, Land of triumphant fame, *
Art. IV.- RÜCKERT.
Gedichte von Friedrich Rückert. Mit dem Bildniss und Facsimile des
Verfassers. Neue Auflage. Frankfurt am Main : J. D. Sauer
länder's Verlag. 1847. Die Weisheit des Brahmanen. Ein Lehrgedicht in Bruchstücken.
Von FRIEDRICH RÜCKERT. Dritte Auflage. Leipzig: Weid
mann'sche Buchhandlung. 1851. Die Verwandlungen des Abu Seid von Serug oder die Makamen des
Hariri von Friedrich Rückert. Dritte Auflage. [2 vols.) Stuttgart und Tübingen. J. G. Cotta'scher Verlag. 1844.
In introducing the “Oestliche Rosen” of Rückert to his countrymen, Goethe takes occasion to remark upon the poetic epochs which have succeeded one another in their literary history, - upon the melancholy tone which runs through German verse from Hölty to Schulze, and upon the heroic spirit of the old warrior Hermann, which, aroused again by Klopstock, inspired at length the victorious song of Körner; and finally, when the last great struggle with the French was over, how the war-wasted mind of Germany found refreshment, if not a refuge from the scenes of political strife, in the exuberant sensualism of the Oriental imagination.
* “O Patria degna di trionfal fama,
Alza il cor de' sommersi, il sangue accendi !”
We may not, perhaps, defend with Goethe this extreme reaction, as the result of necessary moral or asthetic causes; but it stands nevertheless as a fact in the history of German literature: and of this re-action, Friedrich Rückert was at once the most brilliant illustration and the last representative.
Of that lively Frankish race which for so many years has filled the Rhineland with the echo of its song, Rückert was born, as it were, with the lyre in his hand; and his youth, cast upon the stormiest period of modern times, answered in its aspiration to the terrible struggles it was called upon to witness. The first poet of Southern Germany to join the great chorus of the northern poets, Körner and Schenkendorf and Arndt, in their wrath against Napoleon, he enlisted early, even while his sovereign of Bavaria was on the side of the French, in this crusade of German liberalism against the Cæsarism of France. In his “Geharnischte Sonnette" you seem to hear the very rattle of the warrior's armor as he strides forth to do battle for freedom and fatherland and God. Was schmiedst du, Schmied ? “ Wir schmieden Ketten, Ketten,” brought a blush to the cheek of noble and peasant alike, and fired both with a new devotion to their country's unity and honor, so long the sport of domestic discord and a foreign foe.
But words were not all that Rückert was willing to give to his country's cause. As early as 1809, he set out from home to enter the Austrian army, but had hardly arrived in Dresden when the news of the peace which Austria had just concluded reached him; and it was only the impaired state of his health, occasioned by the severity of his studies, which prevented him from taking part in the final struggle in 1813.
Educated first in the Gymnasium of Schweinfurt (in which place he was born, in 1788), and afterwards at Jena, where he devoted himself to philology and belles lettres, he had already spent several years in restless wanderings and various occupations when the success of his poems brought him to the
VOL. LXXX. - NEW SERIES, VOL. II. NO. I.
notice of the publishing house of the Cottas in Stuttgart; and he was employed for a time by them in editing the “Morgenblatt,” an excellent journal, which, after being the organ for nearly sixty years of many of the best writers of Germany, has been suffered within the last year, almost contemporaneously with Rückert's death, to go out of existence. This was between 1815 and 1817; and, up to that time, it will be observed that the direction of his mind was mostly political. His great powers were exerted chiefly in the service of his country, in stimulating its courage and its hope while the war lasted, and in celebrating its heroes, Körner, Hofer, Schill, and the rest, when it
But how little he comprehended the political tendency of the age is evident in all his writings. His ideal was not in the future, but in the past. The inspiration of one of his best known songs, “ Barbarossa,” is the worn-out dogma of the German emperor and the German empire ; while some of his best political lyrics, the “ Oktoberfeuer" and "Frieden im Innern," show how little conscious he was, in the intellectual weakness of the Restoration, of the vitality of that germ of unity which even now threatens to assert itself, if need be, in all the horrors of revolution and of war.
In order to escape the depressing effects of the political relapse which had already begun, as well as to obtain material and leisure for the composition of the great epic he contemplated, of which the Hohenstaufens were to be the subject, he went in 1817 to Italy; and, from the moment he set his foot upon Italian soil, Rückert was a changed man. As the scenes of agitation of his former life faded from his view, his interest even in the aspirations which had consecrated them seems to have died out. From the conflict of ideas as from the tumult of the streets, he had found a refuge in the sensuous life and the æsthetic calm of Italy. While he followed southward the traces of the German emperors, the deeds of the Hohenstaufens were forgotten in the fascination of the Italian fancy as it played with the graceful metres of the Italjan verse. Ritornelli and siciliani, ottave, sestina, and assonanze repeated themselves in his German song in all the
richness of their Italian melody. Epigrams in imitation of Martial, pictures of Naples and Capri, German artist-life in Rome, and Italian love-scenes in Ariccia, displaced the thought once given to the returning soldier and the graves at Ottensen. He whose stirring war-songs had helped to rouse a sleeping people from its dreams; who had been loudest in his denunciation of the frivolity of his brother poets in composing knightly romances for the amusement of a yet more frivolous public; who himself had proclaimed an ideal of a German people, and of a German singer worthy to inspire it; whose satire might have been the most effective in the work of reform, as his tone had been boldest in the struggle of var, - this thinker and patriot and poet turned his back upon the present and the future, and, like the rhymers of the Middle Age after the fever of the Crusades was over, gave himself up to sing of nightingales and roses, of moonlight and of love.
From bis earliest years, however, Rückert had exhibited at first a certain pantheistical tendency, which showed itself in his wonderful facility in the poetic apprehension of common things, as well as of that fairy world of ghosts and water-sprites and Will-o'-the-wisps and elves, which have been usually depicted upon their human side, as it were, but which he attempted to represent in all their weird originality by the changing forms of his verse and the strangeness of his language. Yet, when he spoke of Mother Nature, it was not as the lonely Brahmin speaks of her, when, reposing in the shade of the palm-groves, he seeks to be absorbed in the All and One; but rather as the old German poet of the "Forest's green night,” when touched by the beauty of the springtime and the autumn, of the breaking day and the setting sun and the quiet even and the universal love.
For it was not till, upon his return from Italy, he tarried with Hammer-Purgstall in Vienna, that he found at last the central point of bis intellectual life in the contemplative' philosophy and the pantheistic fancies of the East; of which the simple unity as well as the subtler mysticism were so much in harmony with his early tendencies. More than that,