Literature At The End Of The Eighteenth Century
Poets Of The War Of Liberation
The Reaction Against Romanticism
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The Reaction Against Romanticism
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
After the downfall of Napoleon there was need for reconstruction of Germany. The people expected that they should receive back all the lands that had ever been taken from them by France, but the Treaty of Paris in 1816 fixed the boundaries as they had been at the out break of the French Revolution. As regards the internal arrangements of Germany, bitter experience had taught the need of a real union, and the people would have welcomed the establishment of a vigorous Empire. But Austria and Prussia could not forego their ancient jealousy, and the lesser princes objected to their petty States being wiped out. Instead of an Empire the Congress of Vienna organized merely a Bund or Confederation, leaving each State independent in its internal affairs. A permanent Diet, in which each State should be represented, was to meet at Frankfort and the Austrian representative was to be its presiding officer.
But the German people had been roused to seek not only national unity, but constitutional liberty. In the districts ruled by the French a higher regard for the natural rights of man had been introduced, and the principles of the Revolution had obtained general acquiescence. The selfish policy of the old German princes was detested, and the restoration of the old abuses was resisted. During the struggle with Napoleon the princes had made lavish promises of reform and concessions after peace should be established. In the very Act of Confederation there was a decree that a constitutional system should be established in every State. But the sovereigns of Europe, who had suffered so severely from the wars of Napoleon, and who regarded him as a product of rebellious democracy, determined to prevent the recurrence of such dangers. Alexander of Russia, Francis of Austria, and Frederick William of Prussia, before leaving Paris in 1815, had instituted the Holy Alliance, which was joined by every European sovereign, except the Pope and the King of England. The sovereigns were to be brothers to each other, fathers to their people, and would maintain religion, peace, and justice. This alliance was soon made the instrument of a faithless policy which sought to establish the absolutism of rulers, and suppress the doctrine that the people had any right in the government. The power of religion was invoked to crush the rising democracy and to set at naught the attempts at constitutional government. Eventually the Holy Alliance drew upon itself the reproach of hypocrisy and the hatred of the people. Prince Metternich, the Prime Minister of Austria, governed the diverse nationalities of that Empire without any regard to their separate characters and customs. His system was pure despotism. The King of Prussia repressed the popular aspirations; he refused a general parliament, but allowed provincial councils. Bavaria, Würtemberg, and smaller States, in which constitutions were granted, soon found their rulers endeavoring to annul them in practice. Every opportunity was taken to repress the free movement of ideas. The universities which, in the days of Napoleon, had been filled with crowds of students, enthusiastic for liberty, were put under police supervision. Professors who dared to raise their voices in behalf of constitutional liberty were silenced. Such was the treatment of the patriotic poet Arndt, the inoffensive brothers Grimm, and others. A rigid censorship of the press was established. Secret societies were hunted out. In the Diet the representatives of some small States favored conciliation and concession to the wishes of the people, but the reactionary party was united and determined, and long checked the wheels of progress. During this dismal period literature was repressed; Goethe, who held aloof from politics, busied himself with science, and labored to complete his "Faust."
Great hopes were entertained when Frederick William IV succeeded to the throne of Prussia, in 184o, that a change in the direction of greater liberty would be made. Concessions were made; professors who had been dismissed were restored to their places; the brothers Grimm were welcomed to Berlin. But there was no disposition to allow the people a real share in the government. The new King ruled more wisely than his father, but not less absolutely. The people were disappointed and the King soon lost all the popularity he had at the commencement of his reign.
In the fourth and fifth decades of the Century there arose a group called "Young Germany," different, how-ever, in spirit and aims from the "Young England," to which Disraeli gave countenance. "Young Germany" was inspired by the influences which led to the Revolution of 183o in France. It rose in opposition to the reactionary tendency in theology as well as politics and proclaimed rationalism as its creed. Among its leaders or supporters were Börne and Gutzkow. Ludwig Börne (1786-1837) was a child of the Ghetto, but in later life professed Christianity. He was chiefly engaged in journalism, and in his "Letters from Paris," where he had gone in 183o, he assailed the leading German orthodox writers with caustic wit. He had been an associate of Heine's, but they quarreled, and Heine wrote a severe criticism of his former friend. Karl Ferdinand Gutzkow (1811-1878) was the acknowledged head of "Young Germany." His novel, "Wally, die Zweiflerin" (Wally, the Female Skeptic) (1835), was pronounced atheistical and subversive of public order, and he was imprisoned three months. But his drama, "Nero," was not any better. He was an able critic and for a time was an assistant to Menzel, but quarreled with him. Among his later works are "Blasedow " (1839), a satirical tale; "Der Zauberer von Rom" (The . Magician from Rome) (1859). But his masterpiece is ! the tragedy of "Uriel Acosta" (1847).
Franz von Dingelstedt (1814-1881) also did his best work in this period, though he lived to become a famous stage director at Munich and Vienna. His "Songs of a Cosmopolitan Night-Watchman" (1841) produced a profound sensation. They gave poetical utterance to the sentiments of the free-thinking class. Among his novels the most admired are "Seven Peaceful Tales" (1844) and "The Amazon" (1868). He wrote also excellent criticism on Goethe and Shakespeare.