A Half-Century of Greatness: The Creative Imagination of Europe, 1848-1884

By Frederic Ewen; Jeffrey Wollock | Go to book overview

Part Four
Swan Song and Elegy
Germany and the Poets

What a shame that we Germans have disowned the flower
of the century, with its noblest names, that we have not
only attacked and buried the vanquished and the per-
ished, but have also sought to deliver them over to laugh-
ter and contempt. We, who began with the year 1870,
called the great thoughts of freedom and brotherhood
either ridiculous or criminal, and while we excited our-
selves over success or money, or—if idealistic—over some
literary movement, we derided or flew into a passion at
those who had bled on the barricades. We once were the
possessor of a heroic youth, which was prepared to die
for its gods, and did indeed die. And our generation not
only imprisoned, martyrized, and killed them, we dis-
honored their memory, and dragged their shades in the
mire. In our minds, there existed no virtue but to secure
our possessions and do homage to the powers that be.

—Ricarda Huch, Bakunin, 1923

Courage yet, my brother or my sister!

Keep on—Liberty is to be subserv'd whatever occurs;

There is nothing that is quell'd by one or two failures, or
any number of failures,

Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or
by any unfaithfulness,

Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon,
penal statutes.

What we believe in waits latent forever through all the
continents,

Invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and
light, is positive and composed, knows no discour-
agement,

Waiting patiently, waiting its time….

—Walt Whitman, “To a Foil'd European Revolutionnaire”

Rarely had the Zeitgeist—the Spirit of the Age—revealed such coherence of feeling and thought, such a sense of participation in momentous historical experiences. That

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