Interrelationship between German and English literature in the 18th century



In Germany the literary climate had been much the same as in England. French Classicism, that from the time of the Restoration had so profoundly affected English literature, had taken root even more firmly in Germany.

Johann Jacob Boomer and his follower Heinrich Myller, sounded a vigorous protest against the literary domination of France, and by the publication of the Nibelungelied, stirred the imagination of their countrymen to refashion a national literature, and turned their thoughts in the direction of greater freedom, greater spontaneity, a richer play of fancy.

The increasing interest in things medieval is clearly noticeable that showed unmistakably the flow of the Romantic tide; most significant sign of all, the sudden absorbing interest in the Shakespearean drama. Wieland's work as translator was followed by the more famous Tieck- Schlegel translations (1797-1813), but it was Wie-land who first interested Goethe in Shakespeare, and Herder who brought the magic of mediaeval folk-song into his life. Meanwhile Leasing, about 1767, had tried to show the greater affinity between Sophocles and Shakespeare than between Sophocles and the French classical dramatists.

Taylor is an important connecting link between German and English Romanticism. By his translations and literary criticism he did much to make German literature known in England.

One distinctive feature of German romantic literature lay in its multitude of fictions in verse and prose, dealing with ancient magic and sorceries.

Just as Goethe's Goetz gave an impulse to Scott, so did his Sorrows of Weather colour the work of Romantic More powerfully still did Kant influence the English Romantic movement on its intellectual side. Passing through the prismatic imagination of Coleridge, it served as a transcendental beacon to fire English religious thought, and to its inspiration both the High and Broad Church movements owe philosophic obligations.

Finally so far as German Romanticism in English literature is concerned, came that vigorous interpreter-Thomas Cariyle.

Thus in reviewing the main current of the German influence in Britain, we have seen that England, through her Shakespeare, first carried the sacred fire of Romanticism to Germany. It is quite clear that the earlier phases of our Romanticism were quite independent. Percy's Reliques Macpherson's Ossian, Walpole's Romances, owed nothing to our Continental neighbours.

Only in the later years of the century did Germany repay her debt to England, and she did soon distinct occasions. William Taylor, Scott, and Monk Lewis are the earlier borrowers from Germany. The second stage opens with Coleridge, and is rounded off by Carlyle.

With the differences between English and German Romanticism we are scarcely concerned in this necessarily brief sketch, but this much may be said: German Romanticism was more philosophic and critical, more coherent in its body of writing; it was not merely an exuberant outpouring of the artistic imagination, as with Scott, Coleridge, and Shelley, but a creed, and a religion.

The Romantic Movement in France followed the political Revolution, and was considerably later, therefore, than either the English or the German. While it owed something to both Scott and Byron and Goethe, its own reaction upon other countries was slight, and its influence upon English literature is confined to a few Victorian writers like Swinburne. But the social and political upheaval in France, did play a considerable share in influencing the course of English Roma"

It is possible to distinguish three phases of the French Revolution, each of which affected English Romanticism (1) The Doctrinaire phase-the age the Rousseau; (2) the Political phase the age of Robespierre and Danton; (3) the Military phase-the age of Napoleon.

In Germany, Romanticism has a special political significance. It denoted not merely the breakdown of the long-lived Classicism, but the starting into self-conscious life of National feeling. In addition to this it fell in with a conservative and reactionary spirit, such as certainly marked no other romantic movement. Many German romantic writers joined the Roman Catholic Church, carrying their mediaeval enthusiasm to a logical conclusion.

It was otherwise in Britain. On certain sides it took the radical impress of the French Revolution, and where it was unaffected by the Revolution, political views and literary ideals were wholly disconnected. No attempt was made to harmonies them. Scott, the most successful medievalist, remained a Protestant, and despite his keen democratic sympathies as a novelist, maintained to the last a stiff and unyielding Tropism; while Byron, the most radical and revolutionary in some ways of our poets, was a warm admirer of the Eighteenth Century School of verse.