Lowell's Debt to Goethe: A Study of Literary Influence

Lowell's Debt to Goethe: A Study of Literary Influence

Lowell's Debt to Goethe: A Study of Literary Influence

Lowell's Debt to Goethe: A Study of Literary Influence

Excerpt

Goethe was already drawing toward his seventieth year when James Russell Lowell was born. The literary world was looking with anticipation for the crown that should adorn the great German's work. At the time Lowell entered college, Goethe had died, Faust, his masterpiece, having been finished the year be ore his death; his fame as a had circled the globe. The hottest controversies on Goetheana occupied the greatest literary, critical, and philosophical brains of the world. America, gradually, fell in line and soon took an active part in the movement.

America, whose education and literature, before the American Revolution, had been those of her mother country in spirit, form, and tradition, (Emerson still said that the Allegheny ridge formed England's western boundary-line), had paid very little attention to the German literature before Madame de Staël book De l' Allemagne was translated into English in 1814, and before Carlyle published his books on German authors and German literature. Suddenly, about 1815, a considerable number of American students, young scholars, and literary tyros, especially from New England, began to flock to German centers of learning, visited the shrines of the great poets, and brought back an unusual enthusiasm for German philosophy and German literature. Outstanding among them are: Professor Moses Stuart; George Ticknor, a great advocate of the German language; Edward Everett, who reviewed Goethe Dichtung und Wahrheit, in 1817, and was later president of Harvard; George Bancroft, who had visited Goethe three times in Weimar and wrote an essay on Life and Genius of Goethe; Joseph G. Cogswell, through whose mediation Goethe presented Harvard College with thirty volumes of his own works; Alexander H. Everett, one-time editor of the North American Review; Charles T. Brooks, whose translation of the first part of Faust still rates high; George H. Calvert, who called Goethe "the richest specimen of humanity since Shakespeare"; Frederic Henry Hedge; George Ripley; Sarah Margaret Fuller, who perhaps did more than any other American writer to make Goethe known in America, and to defend her "great second schoolmaster," as she called him, against the prejudices of many other contemporaries. Besides these few, there are still others, perhaps of less importance, who contributed their share to the spread and appreciation of the German literature.

Since Lowell was surrounded by these scholars and writers who thought so much of the German literature, especially of Goethe, it is not to be wondered at that he was also carried into the current of German thought which centered just then in Goethe, and that he was dragged into the maelstrom of criticisms of Goethe and his work. As we must conclude from the numerous critical notes on the German poet--once sounding like judicious aphorisms, another time like sententious apothegms--and from the frequent, sometimes lengthy quotations . . .

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