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FOREIGN QUARTERLY REVIEW.
FOR JANUARY, 18 38.
Art. 1.-1. Karl L. von Knebel's literais- it was impossible for the Duke of Weimar,
cher Nachlass und Briefwechsel, heraus. had he been ever so willing, to come for. gegeben von K. A Varnhagen von Ense ward to redeem his country from the just und Th. Mundt. (Posthumous Works imputation of political sloth. The whole and Correspondence of Karl L. von Kne. German nation, in truth, was in a state of bel, edited by K. A. Varnhagen von Ense public lethargy, from which alone the elecand Th. Mundt.) Leipzig. Reichenbach. tric stroke of the battle of Jena was destined 1835, 1836. 3 Bände. 8vo.
to arouse it. But the battle of Jena, though 2. Titus Lucretius Carus von der Nalur der it might arouse the young Prussians—the
Dinge, übersetzt von Karl Ludwig von sleeping Schills and Dornbergs of 1806 Knebel. 2te Auflage. (Titus Lucretius came too late to awake those who had grown Carus on the Nature of Things, translated old under the kind-cradling influences of petty by Karl Ludwig von Knebel. Second German princedom in its palmy days. The Edition.) Leipzig. Göschen. 1831. old regime was not to be revolutionized, and
the consequence was that, while the gigantic The little world of literature which, towards spirit of Mirabeau was walking abroad in the the end of the last century, established itself active bodies of a thousand French warriors, at Weimar, formed indeed a strange con- and Napoleon was seeing things at Berlin trast to the great world of action, which at that convinced his astonished sight that there the same time sent forth its giant energies was a tribe of Germans "even more stupid from Paris. Here all was motion, conten- than the Austrians," during all these Titanic tion, and combat; there all was ease, quiet. movements the Epicurean gods of Weimarness, and mirth.
As Lucretius says of the ian literature remained unmoved and un. “ natura deorum,” that it lives
moving. Goethe drew himself back with *Semota a nostris rebus sejunctaque longe,”
nice sensibility into his artistical shell, and
penned most delicate romances upon the so that intellectual nature, of which Goethe elective affinities of the moral world; while was the representative, seemed to take an the benevolent scepticism of Old Father especial delight in leaving the noisy world Wieland was modernizing Lucian, and ano. without to shift for itself, while the Weimar- ther estimable member of the same quiet ian gods were walking in sublime self-satis- / brotherhood was translating Lucretius. tion in the Epicurean gardens of poetry. The translator of Lucretius was Karl The fruitless campaign of 1792, in which Ludgwig von Knebel, a poet, a philosopher, Göethe took part, did little to disturb the un. and a major in the army-three things not clouded serenity of this repose. Matters very commonly seen united in the same insoon returned into their old state of comfort- dividual. But the Wars of Major Knebel able abstraction. While the King of Prussia (to speak the truth out) had been bloodless. was inviting the plunderings of Napoleon by Though ten years an officer in the army of the imbecile vacillation of his own counsels, the great Frederick, he had during that long VOL. XX
period seen no harder service than taking Night Thoughts-a book at that time, and his turn upon the watch at Potsdam. So far, still, very popular in Germany; and this we therefore, as actual experience of blood and mention not only as a curious fact in inter: carnage went, his soldiership fell beneath national psychology, but as an early and sure that of his own pacific friend Goethe ; for index of that deeply contemplative and reli. Göethe had seen balls fly at Verdun, and gious spirit for which he was afterwards so studied optics in the rain pools of Cham. remarkable. We say “ religious,"not having pagne. We do not say this in disparage- any reference thereby either to the Augsburg ment or ridicule of the excellent major-for Confession or the Thirty-nine Articles, but he was a peaceful man indeed, but also a merely wishing to indicate a certain piety of generous and brave man; and, during the an abstract metaphyisical kind, filling the ten years that he submitted to the mechan. whole soul and giving a color 10 the whole ism of Frederick's army, no opportunity had style of thinking, very common among the offered itself of acquiring military laurels. literary men of Germany, and which we But it is of importance to observe that, so shall see below is by no means inconsistent far as active mingling with the bustle of life wiih a strong tincture of Lucretian philoso. was concerned, Karl von Knebel formed no phy. After the first serious influences had exception to the general character of the been allowed to make their indelible impres. Weimarian circle to which he belonged. sion upon the susceptible mind of the young He was of a disposition naturally more con- Epicurean, he was sent to the University of templative than active; and having, like Halle, not to study theology and become a Goethe and Wieland, been early transplant. Jesuit missionary (fond enthusiast !) as he ed into the botanic garden of Duke Charles himself wished, but to study the law. The. Angusius, he remained during his whole life mis indeed seems to be the favorite task-misa quiet denizen of that quiet literary republic, tress with many wise parents, whom Heawhich the revolutionary storms of time beat ven has blessed with dreamy poetical sons ; and buffetted in vain.
and a pretty good corrcctress of imaginative Let us cast a glance on the outward fates extravagances it must be admitted she is, if of Major Knebel's existence. He was born once she gets the spoiled children into the in 1744 at Wallenstein, a market-town in the stocks. But these children are of a volatile mediatized princedom of Oettingen-Wallen. character, and have a tendency to fly away stein, not far from Anspach, now forming if not strictly watched. Thus Knebel fled; part of the kingdom of Bavaria. His father and, thinking it more honorable at least to was privy councillor in the ministerial college be a tool in the hand of the great Frederick at Anspach. Here it was that Knebel re- than a puppet in the formal mechanism of ceived his early education. It was remark- the law, he exchanged Halle for Potsdam, able for nothing except for that cast of pe- and the rough bullying of university Bursdantic formality which characterized the Ger- chen (whom he never liked) for the nice disman education of those days, a specimen of cipline of a Prussian army. This was in which the reader may perhaps remember to 1763, and with Frederick, as we had occa. have seen at full length in Göthe’s Autobio. sion to mention a bove, he remained ten years. graphy. Knebel's father was not quite so pre- This time, we may suppose, was not very cise a gentleman as old Göcthe ; but, as Theo- edifyingly spent; no baules were fought, and dore Mundt observes, the young philosopher upon the chess-board of Potsdam tacties it was drilled into Latin and the Bible as mecha- was not to be expected that the wonderful nically as the great king (the hero of that day) blossom of poetry would blush out. Some drilled his Persian boors into soldiers. But knowledge of the world was however here the old German pedantry was even then be gained ; and it was perhaps to this businessginning to give way, and young Knebel had training, if we may so call it, that Knebel the good fortune to spend many of his boy was indebted for a certain clearness of perish days in the society of John Peter Uz, one cep:ion and soundness of judgment, which, of the poetical leaders of those times- a amid all his Lucretianizing speculations, negood, easy, dapper Horace, it is said, no less ver failed to accompany hiin.* In 1773, in bodily conformation than in intellectual character. But there was not sufficient in * The following short note from Knebel's tellectual nourishment yet of true German fragments (vol. iii. of the Nachlass) deserves atorigin to supply growth to the young literary king. The testimony is peculiarly valuable as
tention of every future biographer of the great minds of the day ; and Knebel, like many coming from one who had such ample opportuothers among the then rising men, was ob- nities of making his own quiet observations. liged to turn himself from the learned dust of " Thelen years that I lived at Potsdam, I spent, German polyhistors to the well of English fear of the king. We allowed ourselves to cri
like the other officers, in blind admiration and undefiled. His favorite study was Young's ticise this and that upon occasion, but in the
however, he left Potsdam with the rank of a the young prince, happening a few years Lieutenant, (Frederick very properly refus. after his arrival at Weimar, released him ed to make him captain, for he had seen no from all laborious duties. He was honor. fight) and with the determination never to ably pensioned off with the title of Major, return. His literary propensities naturally to poetise, philosophisze, and Lucretianize led him to Weimar, where Wieland was as he might think proper. Thus was he then the Olympian Jupiter of the German allowed, in the prime of a healthy life, to Parnassus. Knebel's agreeable manners and enjoy the olium cum dignitate on the banks amiable poetico-philosophical sociality capti- of the Saale and among the towers of Jena. vated the hearts of the Weimariins; the No philosopher could have desired a more Duchess Dowager Amelia, who possessed erudite seclusion, no poet could have prayed “ the gift of genuine insight” into talent and for a more picturesque neighborhood. virtue in an eminent degree, fixed her foster
We have said that Knebel was both a ing eye upon the Prussian lieutenant, and he poet and a philosopher; whether a poetic was straightway (with the title of captain) philosopher or a philosophical poet, he constituted and inducted military tutor to the never seems himself to have been able to young prince Constantine.
determine; and it seems a matter of very This grand ducal tutorship, as the reader little consequence to adjudicate. But, whemust have foreseen, fixed the domicile of ther the poetical or the philosophical were Knebel for life. He was no longer destined the proper categorý of his nature, he certo wander about as a stray leaf on the sur- tainly was, in many respects, a very pecuface of society, or to sit penned in a military liar and original character; and as such, coop at Potsdam; he was now in a quiet not less than as an accessory star of the haven, and the rest of his story is shortly great Weimar constellation, he is unquestold. He passed his time partly at Weimar, tionably entitled to our studious attention. parily at Anspach and Nurnberg, with his Those who prefer the hidden wonders of friends, but chiefly at Jena, and among the the mysterious cathedral of thought to the mountains at Ilmenau.* The majority of bowling-green, or the battle field of external
life, will find themselves edified in no vulmain we bowed before the power and insight of gar fashion by stealing a glance into Karl the master-mind. I cannot, however, deny, that von Knebel's mind. There are many hightowards the end of my residence in Potsdam I
sounding names both in poetry and philo. began to suspect that many things were not altogether as they should be. Assuming the wis- sophy which men are in the habit of looking dom of the monarch to be as great as I then con- up to, but which would much less reward sidered it, it seemed undoubted that greater con- (the trouble of a close anatomy than the descension and a more easy spirit would on many mind of this philosophic major. occasions have been very beneficial. Not that but build up a system of startling meta
Let a man he knew how to let himself down when he plea-physics, or spread himself out into a soundsed. But there was still something about him ing epic on a popular theme, (religion or which separated his person too much from other patriotism is the best,) and he is sure to
I should say with considerable confidence, valk through centuries, eternized, if not in that, to govern men well, one must possess something in common with the great mass of men, the hearts of the people, at least in the viz., something common place. But the whole benches of erudite book-gatherers. Liter. easy sympathy with common humanity; and ary histories will mention him with honor, there was nothing in the character of the Ger- and re-echo his praises with parrot fidelity, mans at that time that could tend to smooth down long after the animating breath of human this uninviting exterior. He was not altogether sympathy has ceased to dwell among his to blame in despising his own countrymen and dead bones. But let a man be honest, mohis own language. Properly speaking, the king was loved by no
dest, and unassuring, solicitous about nobody, but those to whom he had done some good thing but this one thing needful, to be wise action, and who never had seen him; the others and to do good; and, unless chances be only feared him. If he had any love at all in peculiarly kind, a hundred trumpets, (weré
"P. S.-I do not think it does any good to a they to be found for such service) shall not king to have the ambition of authorship: Study be able to blow him into reputation. Such has a tendency to withdraw us from other men, and versifying makes us whimsical. The great- outward show, empty court duties, and aimless est statesmen have left us little or nothing of their dissipation, for his quiet, contemplative disposistatesinanship in writing. Besides, study often tion." He loved sociality, but could not sympa, makes us one-sided."
thize with the loosely-mingled mirth of mixed * The truth is, that Knebel, notwithstanding society. Besides, Knebel was a liberal in politics, the great kindness shown him by the grand duke, and did not altogether approve of certain sentiand all the members of the Weimarian circle, ments on important public subjects that passed (for he was a universal favorite,) did not much current in the court circle. Göthe was the man like Weimar. There was too much of formal for this atmosphere.
a modest man was Karl von Knebel; an aversion to dogmatizing, we are to attribute honest, unpretending thinker, whose name, in a great measure, the uncertainty with perhaps, many of our readers have scarcely which he always spoke of the immortality heard, while many noisy dictatorial Schle- of the soul; agreeing herein with many of gels have been marching through the the profoundest philosophers and theololength and the breadth of Europe on the gians of our own country, that on such a stilts of criticism, pulling down this idol subject the utmost that mere reason can ata and setting up that, according as their own tain to is a hope; while “life and immorsovereign will and pleasure (Napoleon- tality" can only be fully brought to light by wise) might direct. We have an instinctive an extraordinary revelation. But we shall suspicion of the whole race of Schlegels, see, anon, with what a holy sublimity (we Fichtes, Schellings, Hegels, Heines, Gulz. speak soberly) he could speak even on the kows, Weinbargs, who preach parodoxes, fearful subject of the annihilation of the soul; proclaim systems, and promulgate their own and we shall see also how strangely, in wisdom, with much noise, upon the market the mind of this man, the principles of an place. With so much the more pleasure, Epicurean and seemingly materializing however, do we turn to those sound, healthy philosophy are united with the most prominds that digest their food in quiet, and found piety and the most pure Evangelical who, though busy enough in putting ques. morals. This may indeed sound strange tions to Nature, do not feel themselves to some of those mechanical reasoners, too called upon to come forward and publicly frequently, alas! to be found in our land of catechize her. We value their doubts, as rail-roads and steam.coaches; but the huLord Eldon said of a celebrated Scotch man mind is neither a square nor a triangle, lawyer, more than the assertions of twenty nor is it to be measured by cubic inches, or Gamaliels. There are certain subjects on weighed by avoirdupoise. The ever-fer. which the highest wisdom is the wisdom of menting elements of German thought give Harpocrates—to hold our fingers upon our birth to strange combinations and most lips and be silent. Were this duly con- curious mixtures, which the eye of a mere sidered, a great deal of our most vaunted Englishman looks upon but does not underlearning, whether under the name of poetry, stand. We must be content to put on a philosophy, or theology, matters" little, pair of Nurnburg spectacles for a season, if would be seen to be what it really is, viz., we would see the true meaning and imdust and smoke, with a twinkling intellec- port of such minds as Knebel's and Göthe's. tual hallucination gathered round it, to con. The letter of mere church-orthodoxy, and found the weak sight of those whose eyes mere university-logic, finds itself ont of are every where except in their head. reckoning here; and, above all things, it is
But enough of this. Our zeal, however, the consummation of critical absurdity to will appear perfectly justifiable, when we bring an "Essay on Taste," or a pair of conside what a mass of confounded and French scissors (of Boileau or Batteux confounding transcendental nonsense is manufacture,) to clip and pare at the mind daily echoed over to us under big sounding of a German metaphysician. Pedantry titles (para nenupyapeva) from Germany, while may measure the length and breadth at pecalm, clear, unobtrusive reason is con- daniry; but, on the same principle, Nature demned to sit silent, like a clever school. has no measure but herself. boy, taught when it should teach. Karl
Karl von Knebel was ini reality a curious von Knebel was a decided enemy to the compound. We have found in him a mystic babble of the romantic school; and strange mixture of the delicacy of Jacobi it is for this calm, classical clearness, work with the somewhat rude strength and rough ing purely, for so many years, in wise hiliarity of Professor Zelter But the Jasilence, that we so highly esteem him. cobi predominates, (though, happily, withThis quiet, unclouded walk of sober specu- out one grain of the faith-philosopher's lation, he maintained, be it observed, in Ger- vanity ;) and, on the whole, we should say, many; the land of much misty metaphysics, that there is something feminine, certainly and of many foolish books; and yet he nothing effeminate, in his constitution. He neither mystified in metaphysics, nor overflows with love and kindliness-a pecuever published any thing that in folio'd liar virtue of the Germans; and he has a Germany could deserve the name of a book. tenderness altogether his own, which fitted So far from his philosophy being marked him well to be the friend of Jean Paul with that bold rash character which distin- Richter. But he has also frequent oulguishes so many continental speculations, breakings (though they seem to have been it was, if any thing, rather anxiously and mellowed with the ripeness of his latter scrupulously timid. To this instinctive years,) of what Wieland called his “Grau.
samkeit;" he can say very severe and very by nature with a very active and discursive cutting things when his bile is up; and the mind, and continually busy, he never seems honest Germans, with their learned pedan- to have seriously occupied Limself with the try, their watery sentimentality, and their idea either of building a scientific system of misty romanticism, are lashed, every now his strange musings, or of writing a modern and ihen, with a force that might have come philosophical poem, after the example of from the strong arm of Wolfgang Menzel. Lucretius, “ De rerum natura." This But Knebel is too much of the easy philo. want of literary ambition has certainly been sopher to allow himself 10 be discomposed a loss to the world; but it was no loss to for any length of time by these occasional Knebel. He was not, on that account, held sallies. Epicurus smiles through Demos- in the less estimation by the great minds that thenes; and, whereas Wolfgang Menzel were then creating German literature; nor walks forth bristling with saiire to sting to did he live less piously in faithful commudeath all the base leeches that suck the life nion with his own chosen goddess, “ MADRE of his dear fatherland, Karl von Knebel Natura." Nevertheless, he thought it reinains in his sunny garden, smiling at the his duty to do something for public edificapassing cloud which his own soul hadtion, as well as for private enjoyment; and raised, and proving that, notwithstanding as Herder, spurring most mercilessly at all German moral prostration and German himself, was also wicked enough to spur the political imbecility, Nature is wise and God ease of the Epicureau, some beautiful
poems is good.
at length blossomed into day, and some With such peculiarelements of character, classical translations were at length made calculated at once to please the superficial visible, by which it was meant to convince and to satisfy the profound, it is no wonder John Henry Voss that all good translations that Knebel made friends wherever he must be, like all good originals, a spiritual turned himself, and was in particular, the growth, and not a mere mechanical and idol and intimate of all those distinguised most erudite dove-tailing of short and long personages who constituted the literary so- syllables. Among other things, a classical ciety of Weimar. Lords and ladies, poets translation of Lucretius was lucubrated, a and philosophers, believers and infidels, work of love, in executing and improving seem to have been equally delighted with which the author employed thirty conscienhim. Göthe was indebted to him for his tious years. This work was hailed by all introduction to the young duke at Frank. the leading men in Germany, long before it furt; and Herder, who, in his latter years, publicly appeared, as a master-piece both of was not always very happy in the Wei- poetry and scholarship; what peculiar marian circle, seems absolutely to have claims it has upon the attention of English, lived in the atmosphere of Knebel's mind. men, we shall see below. Wieland found Lucretius a very useful ally Before proceeding, however, to cast a in his anti-Platonic skirmishes; only Schil. hasty critical glance over the volumes, the ler does not seem to have had any im- titles of which head these cursory remarks, mediate connection with Karl von Knebel; we must be allowed to insert from Mundi's and that we do not exactly understand. That interesting biography, the following edifysame moral purity and religious enthusiasm, ing account of the philosophers's death. which united him so intimately with Her Nothing can be more morally beautiful or der, should, it might seem, have made him psychologically instructive. the bosom friend of the bard of Wallenstein. ‘Knebel died, not of any disease, but, But there seems to have been something in the most peculiar and beautiful sense, of backward, and, we might almost say, monk- mere ripeness and sufficiency of existish, in Schiller's character, with which ence. He had a long and happy career. Knebel's sunny cheerfulness did not perhaps He exhausted his activities in almost evealtogether sympathize. Whatever might ry direction, and a length of healthy years
was given to him, almost surpassing the have been the cause, Herder, Wieland, and
measure of humanity. He died on the Göthe, seem to have monopolized Knebel's 230 February, 1834, in his ninetieth year. intimacy, to the almost complete, if not total, During his whole illness his mind remainexclusion of Schiller.
ed strong and cheerful.
He frequently Knebel lived ninety years in the enjoy- spoke to his friends of the satisfaction ment of leisure and good health, and cc- which the preservation of purely moral
less than in cupied himself for the last fifty years of his habits affords in life no life almost exclusively with science and ed originally on good natural disposition,
death. “Every thing,' he said, 'dependliterature. But, as we have said, he does but every one must take care for himself not seem, to have been at all ambitious of not to allow any black spot to defile Naliterary reputation; and, though endowed ture's handiwork.' To a friend, who ask.