Germany, a Companion to German Studies

By Jethro Bithell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII

GERMAN LITERATURE TO 1748

A COMMON language and literature unite the German and Austrian nations and the German Swiss. A sprinkling of German-speaking communities was once found in the Baltic States, in Yugoslavia (Gottschee), in Roumania (Transylvania), and in Russia as far as the Lower Volga, where the Germans formed a Soviet republic. A small number of Pennsylvanian 'Dutch' settlers have kept their Palatine dialect in the New World. The Netherlanders of Holland, Belgium, and the Union of South Africa, the Frisians, the Scandinavian nations, and the English, all of whom belong by their origins to the same cultural unity as the Germans, remain outside. On the territory of Germany itself are found the last relics of Frisian in marsh-girt moors of the Saterland in Oldenburg, on the islands of Heligoland, Föhr, Amrum, and Sylt, and a strip of the Slesvig coast; a network of waterways has preserved the cohesion of the Wends or Sorbs in the Spreewald, last remnant of those Slavonic peoples who once extended to the Lower Elbe, where even in the eighteenth century fishermen could talk Polabian.

Community of language masks considerable diversity of race. The Scandinavian countries, the Finnish coast, the Baltic islands, the North German plain, Friesland, Northern Holland, and the southern and eastern regions of Great Britain are inhabited predominantly by a relatively tall fair-haired, grey or blue-eyed, long-skulled population, which -- according to modern ethnologists -- includes two stocks: the one rather thick-set, square-faced, and often ash-blonde, called Falians (from Westphalia) by the Germans, and Dalians (from Dalecarlia) by the Swedes, and the other of sparer and lither build and yellow hair, the well-known Nordics. Dark, short round-heads belonging to the Alpine or 'Ostisch' race occupy the centre, and are flanked to the west by the Rhenish peoples, whose typically 'Frankish face' points to admixture with the race known as western, Atlantic, or Mediterranean, those slender dark long-heads we meet in Spain, France, and Wales. A link with south-eastern Europe is the Dinaric people of tall stature and rugged aspect, prevalent in the Tyrol and southern Bavaria.

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