German Culture in America, 1600-1900: Philosophical and Literary Influences

German Culture in America, 1600-1900: Philosophical and Literary Influences

German Culture in America, 1600-1900: Philosophical and Literary Influences

German Culture in America, 1600-1900: Philosophical and Literary Influences

Excerpt

A patent and irremediable fault of this book (and most books of its kind) is that its very nature makes it one-sided, or at least makes it appear one-sided. While I have tried to appraise German philosophical, educational, and literary influences in America against influences in these areas from other countries, I seldom found it possible to present any detailed comparative analysis, but had to content myself with what I consider a fair statement of the extent of Germanic influence. There will be time enough for a final synthesis and evaluation of the foreign versus the native elements in American culture once all the foreign impacts have been assessed. Findings in these and other spheres of comparative cultural relations will inevitably modify my conclusions and put them in a perspective now impossible. It is much to be desired that investigations in parallel areas may be pushed vigorously for, as I see it, the study of literary culture in the United States has reached a point beyond which it cannot proceed effectively unless and until the several foreign accretions are segregated from one another and from the native ingredients and all of them are appraised in terms of each other and the final product.

A second fault is that while I constantly employ the terms German and American, I have not found it possible anywhere precisely to define those terms, or even to distinguish between what might be termed German Geist and American spirit. All formulations of Nationalgeist that I attempted turned out to be so vague as to be meaningless or so narrow as to be useless or so comprehensive as to be self-contradictory. In the end I came up with little more than such obvious distinctions as can be made in terms of persons, themes, ideas, forms--in terms of time and place. I can only hope that the cumulative evidence presented in the following pages of how a Kant inspired an Emerson to establish a Prima Philosophia in Boston, or the German tale influenced the American short story, or Faust supplied motifs for The Golden Legend will speak for itself and be interesting and illuminating in both directions. The time to answer the larger, more difficult questions regarding how German culture as a whole modified the course of American culture as a whole is not yet; at all events, it is not for me.

In the interest of economy, the manuscript of this book was subjected to two drastic condensations and complete rewrittings by which its length was reduced from 2,800 to 1,800 to 1,000 typewritten pages. In the process three chapters were eliminated altogether: (1) German educational influences, (2) German-American radicalism in the Midwest, and (3) German- American writings (in German) in the United States. A goodly amount of material was transferred from the text to footnotes, and much more was omitted altogether. Documentation not absolutely essential was deleted. At several points in the text notably in the chapter on Emerson, I have indicated that I shall be happy to supply . . .

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