Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

small account of a rough, shaggy, scarred outside, of rudeness and even coarseness, if there be honest energy and native pith within. In this trait of character, closely connected with another to be immediately mentioned, we find in her mind a strong affinity with that of the most notable writer of the present day, Thomas Carlyle, concerning whom we remember to have heard a very proper criticism from the mouth of an intelligent individual, " that he had always shown a great partiality for scamps.” And this again brings to our mind a remarkable passage in one of Burns' letters, which we shall here quote in justification of Rahel's enthusiastic attachment to Mirabeau and Heinse : “ I have often," says the poet (Letter No. II., Currie's edition), “courted the acquaintance of that part of mankind commonly known by the ordinary phrase of blackguards, sometimes farther than was consistent with the safety of my character. Though disgraced by follies, nay, sometimes stained with guilt, I have yet found among them, in not a few instances, some of the noblest virtues, magnanimity, generosity, disinterested friendship, and even modesty.”

The other quality of Rahel's mind which we wish particularly to mention, and in which she presents a yet more striking identity with the historian of the French Revolution, is truthfulness, and a detestation of lies (or SHAMS as Carlyle prefers to call them) amounting almost to a mania and a parade, certainly a mannerism and a hobby-horse. But it is a divine madness, as Plato would bave said, and a hobby-horse which a man may reasonably be permitted to ride lustily; for though we may never grant, in Rahel's strong phrase, that “the great world and the literary world are altogether baked out of lies” (diese aus Lügen zusammen gebackene litterarische und grosse Welt), it is a lamentable fact, that from the polite sniffle and snigger of the saloon to the fat duckfooted plumper of a plebeian falsehood, there is an infinite variety of simulation and dissimulation in the world ; and beyond the region of conscious or half-conscious lies there is a vast limbo of unconscious ones; both more familiarly known in England under the comprehensive name of HUMBUG. Now every thing of this kind Rahel would not inerely not tolerate, but with a strong and wrathful instinct did literally unveil and tear in shreds habituallya fearful habit of mind (Eivov, o xeralov, as Homer would have said), and which, when carried consistently out in these latter days (when many venerable forms have lost the soul which originally inspired them), must make either a martyr or a ruler of the possessor. Rahel seems to have been a little martyrized here and there in small matters; but she was amply compensated for this by the immense sway she gradually acquired over the minds of all the giants of the age who came in contact with her. She reigned a queen in Berlin in her own region much more potent than Frederick William. She soon found out that in certain matters of infinite moral, religious, and political import, the man who has clearness to see, and boldness to speak out the truth which he deeply feels, is greater than all poets and all philosophers. Herein, and in nothing else, lay the secret of Martin Luther's reformation. Herein also she placed the ground of her hero-worship in respect of the questionable Mirabeau. “ Mirabeau,” she says, “is my great hero, by virtue of the force of truth which governs him; thereby he is sublime and innocent; and only this is loveable. Chamfort said, few things gave him greater pleasure than to look at a dog in quiet greedily gnawing a bone, because he thereby became possessed by the healthy idea of an upright honest endeavour. I understand this feeling of Chamfort completely; I can become perfectly in love even with things most rude and coarse, if only they do not lie.And in another passage she makes the remark, that in certain circumstances, and on certain occasions, there is nothing more strange and startling than the utterance of plain truth; so that if any person wishes to attain a reputation for originality, and what the world calls genius, he has a certain, though by no means an easy way to do so, by training himself to the habitual perception and utterance of common truth. If a man has lost every thing else in this world, she often says, at least he has not lost his eyes: “ Look, look, look! and save yourself from narrowness and total unbelief; some things are beyond all question, and in these, when you once know that they are, you must believe !" And as Schiller sings in a verse which contains the whole philosophy of conscience,

“Self-contradiction is the only wrong." So Rabel gives the rule of conduct,

Handele Du nach deinem Innersten : daher kommt nur Glück !" Deal truly and honestly with your own soul and never blink inward questionings, for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” The honesty of the German character is proverbial: and Rahel, by her heroic and sometimes almost Quixotic devotion to truth, stands before us a pattern specimen of her nation, even as Mirabeau, Voltaire, and Madame de Staël, by their eloquence, their wit, and their vanity, are pattern specimens of the French

When to these two grand qualities of mind-muscularity and truthfulness—we add those many witching graces which Varnhagen has described, and bear in mind also (what the perusal of her multiforın correspondence sufficiently brings out) that Rahel's mind was as active as it was strong, and as elastic as it was ponderous, we shall see reason to express surprise that such a highly

gifted woman in this age of books, among a nation of book makers, and living as she always lived in a continued state of high intellectual excitement, never brought forth a volume or even a brochure of tangible lucubration of any kind. This is a peculiarity well worth noticing, forming as it does such a contrast to the restless voluminosity of her great French counterpart, Madame de Staël; and when carefully weighed, and compared with other similar cases, it will, perhaps, lead to the conclusion, that the class of men who write books are not always, are not generally, the wisest or greatest of their kind. For we are sent here not to put our thoughts upon paper, and obtain a vain inmortality in musty shelves, but to cast burning words into the hearts of our fellow-men, and to stereotype healthy thoughts into deed— TOIEW TNV aay Delav, as St. John says. It was a weakness, no doubt, in one sense, or say a defect, in Rahel's mind, that she could not easily express her thoughts on paper, could not build up a secondary architecture of emotions and ideas, apart from the original living root out of which they had sprung: but in another sense this quality of mind has also a strength and an excellence. It is a common remark that great authors seldom sustain their greatness in society and in actual life; the artificial conjuring paraphernalia of pen and paper seem necessary to stimulate the flow of their ideas. Not so with Rahel, and such original, vital, essentially natural, and essentially practical minds. Everything that they are and do, they are and do in vital connection with the vitality that surrounds them. Their intellectual action is in the highest degree immediate; society is at once the atinosphere in which, and the object for which, they live. Ich kann alles im Augenblicke!said Rahel: Bring the devil before ine, and I trust myself with God's grace that I shall knock him down, but I cannot get up a diablerie in three volumes to frighten myself and others with, while so many serious realities are urging the moment, and crying “ Come and shape me!" ... So the earnest practical mind speaks ; such a mind was Rabel's : and such minds are the greatest, for the end and accomplishment of all thought and all speech is a deed. How happy was Rahel in 1813 in Berlin, in Prague! “ My whole day,” she exclaims triumphantly, " is a feast of doing good!” Amid the borrors of war then, and amid the horrors of disease (in 1891), she moved about like a beneficent Valkyrie; and discovered thus that her whole life had been a mistake, because with a highly intensified internal productiveness, a very paltry sphere of external activity had been within her reach. She discovered that she should have been a QUEEN—nothing modest; for modesty (so called) with her had no meaning, or this despicable one-dressing up greatness in a lie that littleness may not be offended. She knew that she was the

VOL. XXVII. NO, LIIS.

cleverest woman in Germany, and she said so, when occasion called, like any other thing that was true.

Rahel, with all her soundness of mind, was, like other bold and decided minds, not altogether free from whims, paradoxes, and peculiar opinions. Among other things, she was a stout advocate of suicide, and this from a sort of moral aristocracy of soul that disdained to live after life was worthless : a good argument, perhaps, if one ever could be in a condition to say that his life is altogether worthless. Napoleon argued better on this point; and Rahel refuted her own arguments in the most satisfactory manner by her deeds; for few women have suffered more, and more acutely, and none ever bore their sufferings with more cheerfulness and resignation. She had the soul of a Danton " allons, point de faiblesse !” and that not doggedly or obstinately, but with the most pious surrender of the soul to him who made it.

Masculine women have seldom any particular partiality for marriage, and are generally staunch advocates for a greater liberty of divorce. Something like the “ emancipation of women” glimmers here and there through Rabel's letters: we cannot define it precisely; but she says in one place, that so long as men and women stand over against each other “like two different nations," so long will the wicked one have work to do in families: and she says in the same place, that chivalry was a Lie necessary to restore the disturbed equilibrium of the sexes. Mrs. Jamieson, and Mrs. Sedgwick, and Miss Martineau, have lately taken up the subject; and they may finish it. A peahen can never be metamorphosed into a peacock by an act of parliament, that is certain; but it is also true that no act of parliament can change a woman into a chattel. To the benign genius of Christianity women owe it, that they are not now slaves and burden-bearers as they were of old. If there is any thing yet remains to be done in this direction, let the women see to it! We men, as the lawyers say, have no interest to move the question.

Of the five volumes of Rahelian memoirs which Varnbagen has published, the two last, entitled “ Portraits,” possess the most general interest. They contain a collection of letters from some of the most distinguished and most intimate of Rahel's correspondents, accompanied with a personal sketch of each character, from the neat pencil of Varnhagen. The sketches of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, and of Gentz the Austrian diplomatist, are particularly well executed, and possess a general historic interest. Mr. Alison, in his History of Europe, and Mr. Carlyle, in his expected Life of Napoleon, will not wisely overlook them.

We subjoin a few specimens of Rahel's opinions on important

subjects of life and literature. We need not say that this is a mere make-sbift. The German de Staël is a very German de Staël in this, that she does not deal in magniloquent pyrotechny. The world has allowed itself too long in all inatters to be fooled by castles and pagodas of grand words. First, a few stray thoughts on men and things.

GERMAN PHILOSOPHY-SYSTEM BUILDING.--"I am well acquainted with the grand modern art of leading pompous proofs, and building up systems. One may choose at random any point of nature, and cause the rest of the universe to play and revolve round it; and when this is done, as oftentimes chances, with prejudice and obstinacy, then the inventor of your philosophical system, let him be never so witty, becomes a fool, and what is worse, runs a great risk of remaining one. A grand Catholic sympathy with all possible systems-a hearty shaking one's self free from the exclusive trammels of any-a cordial surrender of ourselves into the hands of that Being who wields all possibilities, and an bonest and thorough dealing with the depths of our own hearts -this seems to me more than all philosophy, this is genuine piety, and a thing well pleasing to God.”

THE GOOD THAT IS IN THE WORLD. "We talk of the world, of fate, of chance and mischance, often in a very bad humour--but how much of the world have we seen ? how much have we not seen ? how much can, will we not see for sheer indolence and blindness? I have seen wonders to-day-moral wonders in this most frivolous and godless of cities-in this Berlin. What silent, unpublished greatness, religion in the highest sense, lives in women whom I found in the lowest grass-grown neglected hovels ! How different is everything among the lower classes from what the wise of this world have published, printed, read, and believed! God alone knows how much real simple-minded sterling honesty and truth he has sent into his world. Blessed be his name that he has given me eyes to see it!”.

Love.-"Novalis says, 'love is an eternal repetition. It is the greatest conviction, the most thorough persuasion, say I. Unconquerably is eye, ear, feeling convinced ; unconquerably does our heart believe in the object of its affection. Weaken this conviction in any point, and you weaken the love ; destroy that, and you destroy this also. Therefore man only loves, a being capable of conviction. Therefore love cannot be communicated, cannot be proved. A thorough conviction is a thing exclusively personal. A man can love, as be can pray, only for himself.”

FEAR.-" I was walking in a field with cattle ; they told me not to be afraid ; I said instinctively, 'Have I not reason to be afraid, when stupid people go about with horns ? This idea seemed to tickle them vastly.”

DIPLOMACY.—“I can tolerate all professions--physicians, lawyers, soldiers, usurers--- none of these are bad as the world says; but diplomatists -- this truly is the most shocking thing in human society. These

« AnteriorContinuar »