Nationalism and Internationalism: Essays Inscribed to Carlton J. H. Hayes

By Edward Mead Earle | Go to book overview

NATIONAL SENTIMENT IN KLOPSTOCK'S ODES AND BARDIETE

ROBERT ERGANG

IMPORTANT as the role of Johann Gottfried Herder was in the rise of German nationalism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, his was, of course, not the sole influence. The main stream of nineteenth-century German nationalism was composed of many rivulets springing from various sources. One of these sources was Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock ( 1724-1803), styled by his contemporaries "the poet of religion and the fatherland." Klopstock did not, like Herder, develop a philosophy of nationalism; nor does the quality or versatility of his mind rank with those of Herder, Schiller, or Goethe. While Herder, for example, wrote on science, philosophy, ecclesiastical and secular history, art, poetry, religion, criticism, ethnology, esthetic theory, education, literature, and language, Klopstock centered his attention on poetry. His influence was, therefore, not as profound nor as widespread as Herder's; nevertheless, he was an important factor in the development of national feeling, national pride, and national ambitions in Germany. At a time when, as Herder put it, Germany was but "a thing of the imagination," Klopstock gave evidence of a national feeling such as few writers of eighteenth-century Germany exhibited. Moreover, he aided, both by example and by urging his fellow countrymen to follow that example, in stimulating the rise of a national German literature.

Klopstock, born twenty years before Herder, was not the first writer to be conscious of the lack of a national German literature. A number of German authors and critics had previously endeavored to raise German literature to the level of those of England and France. They did not believe, however, that German writers were capable of producing original works; hence they prescribed imitation of foreign literatures as the best means of achieving the goal. For example, Gottsched, the outstanding literary critic of the first half of the eighteenth century, advocated imitation of the French. "What the Greeks," he said, "were for the Romans, the French are

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