German Men of Letters - Vol. 1

German Men of Letters - Vol. 1

German Men of Letters - Vol. 1

German Men of Letters - Vol. 1

Excerpt

A collection of essays on the literature of a foreign country, as distinct from a history of literature, usually has some central theme to justify its existence. Writers follow up certain streams of consciousness, are attracted by particular moods which recur from time to time, or compare a literary movement with its corresponding period in the literature of other countries. The main purpose of this book is to fill existing gaps in contemporary English writing on German literature.

Interest in German life and letters has been steadily increasing since the end of the war. Knowledge of the classical poets and writers alone has become inadequate for the accurate assessment of the character of a country which baffles the student by its sphinx-like traits and the apparent inconsistency of its various moods and tempers. Goethe laid bare the conflict of the two souls which supposedly rend every German's heart. His dichotomic lines, "Himmelhoch jauchzend, zu Tode betrübt," embrace the whole range of emotions, that enigmatic variation between extremes of opinion, action and condition which has determined in the past and still determines the fate of Germany, thereby touching the heart chord of European existence. To understand the complex nature and reactions of a German, a closer and more detailed knowledge of his literature is essential. Certain questions are posed by a close inquiry into the main streams of German literature in the nineteenth century; the answers are sure to create a desire for a closer acquaintance with some poets not so well known or entirely overlooked in this country.

When faced with a selection of authors about whom relatively little has been written in English, I was surprised how limited the material is to which a student has access. The final choice of the authors presented in this book was a very personal one. When making my decision I discarded any rational method of selection but yielded to certain memories of my formative years. When Eichendorff could transport me, when Hebbel excited me beyond any previous experience, when Storm made me first aware of the sadness that is life, and Fontane's "Effi Briest" moved me to tears of pity and com-

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