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THE STARTING POINT.-SOME HISTORY.-KLOPSTOCK.-LESSING.-WIELAND.-HERDER.-A GLANCE AT PHILOSOPHY.— KANT. FICHTE. SCHELLING. HEGEL." STURM UND DRANG."-GOETHE, HIS YOUTH AND EDUCATION.—“ GÖTZ.” —" WERTHER.”—WEIMAR.—ITALY.
We have seen that nineteenth-century literature in England fitted very comfortably between the dates 1780 and 1892, and that thus a quite exact limit was afforded. But this is by no means the case with German literature. In England the writers of the 18th century were of an essentially different type from their successors in the 19th. Pope and Dr. Johnson and Goldsmith had little in common with Wordsworth and Shelley and Tennyson. In Germany, however, there is a steady development along the same lines, from a very low degree of performance about 1700 to a period of splendid achievement beginning about 1773. And the two
greatest writers that Germany has had-Goethe and Schiller-flourished between 1781 and 1805. So that there are no very determinate limits, and it is necessary to make a more than momentary journey far back into the 18th century before we can appreciate the work of the 19th. The title of this chapter is, perhaps, open to criticism; but, even though somewhat narrow, it represents an important movement of the period, and will serve to indicate the main highway through which German literature entered the nineteenth century.
In 1700 literature was at a very low ebb. The chief reason for this was the fact that the German nationality was not very strong and the German language was despised, even in the Fatherland. Most learned men preferred French or Latin. And even when Frederick the Great came to the throne of Prussia in 1740 things did not at once improve. This monarch, for all his magnificent work in Germany's behalf, had little hope in Germany's intellectual future. The great influence was French. The king inclined to French customs and French literature, and, naturally enough, all the petty princes followed his example. M. de Voltaire, for years at Frederick's court, wrote from Potsdam in 1750: "I find myself in France. Every one speaks our language. German is only for soldiers and horses. One only needs to use it when travelling through the country. I found people who had lived all their lives in Königsberg who knew my
verses by heart." Only for soldiers and horses. The clever Frenchman missed the immense undercurrent of strength and patience; he would have been the last to think that within fifty years a marvellous literature would arise to astonish the world.
Although Frederick the Great was never in sympathy with German mental conditions, his influence was extremely valuable. He reigned from 1740 to 1786-a period of much importance. There was something in his personality which stimulated the whole people. A glance at what he did will help us to understand this. In the first place, while maintaining all the forms of government established by his father, he ruled in a more generous and enlightened spirit. He was careful to provide for the most exact administration of justice; he granted wide religious freedom, and imposed few restrictions. But his positive achievements were even more considerable. Gerinany at that time was an aggregation of small states with no enduring bond of union. In the face of a common foe they would sometimes not always-draw together for the common defence. But Frederick the Great appealed to the imagination of all Germans. By the time he was thirty-three he had won a prominent place in Europe, and thenceforward was the most important figure of his age. He encouraged industry, filled the public offices with capable and energetic men, and did much for the cause of elementary education. And the Seven Years' War (1756–63)