Page images
PDF
EPUB

.

particularly mention A. Dyce's editions of G. Peele (1829), Webster (1830), and R. Greene (1831). The edition of Ben Jonson, recently published by Moxon, with the introductory memoir by Barry Cornwall, has not yet reached my hands. And so too, unfortunately the Collection of English Miracle-Plays, or Mysteries, &c., by William Marriott, (Basle, 1838), did not appear before half of the present work had been printed : it does however confirm what I have advanced concerning these first beginnings of dramatic art. But it is to Payne Collier that Shakspeare and the history of the English drama is most largely indebted. By his careful and diligent research among the public and private libraries of England, and particularly that of Bridgewater House, he has succeeded in discovering many an important document, and thereby he has not only confirmed much that was previously doubtful, but has also brought to light many new and unexpected particulars. By these he has rendered the biography of Shakspeare, and especially the chronology of his dramatic works, much less conjectural than it formerly was. This was ground which English labourers alone could work successfully. On the other hand, I think I do them no great injustice in saying, that it is Germany, and particularly Schlegel and Tieck, that have introduced a better spirit and a livelier interest into this domain. At least it is very pleasing to see how many of Tieck's conjectures have been confirmed by the discoveries of Collier and others. In criticism, too, these German scholars have led the way with the very best examples. Tieck especially has the merit of having in his translations collated the readings of the old Quarto and the Folio, and thereby sweeping away the chaff of the arbitrary, and for the most part prosaic corrections of the English Editors. Ilow greatly he has thereby contributed to the elucidation of the poet may be judged, for instance, from his Macbeth.

But, on the other hand, æsthetics and philosophical criticism

have in Germany at least made considerable progress since the days of Schelling, Solger, &c. The new philosophy has disused itself to look upon art merely as the cheerful play of the imitative faculty, whose highest end is simply the recreation of toil-wearied humanity. It is no longer regarded as a paradox, to maintain, that in art, the noblest, chiefest, and fairest flowers of the human mind expand themselves,—that it is a channel of divine revelation

a lever for the advancement of the history of the species towards its last great end. And above all, the conviction is now pretty general, that the depth of the christian mind comprehends the greatest treasures of the true materials of art, and that no works but such as are intimately and purely pervaded with this spirit can make a just claim to the high dignity of a work of art.

In two respects the present work seems to me calculated to meet a want in our present German literature. It proposes to make the scientific world of Germany acquainted with the results of the historical researches of Englishmen, and also to exhibit in its historical foundation, development, and attendant circumstances, the great historical fact which lies eternally present before us in the poetry of Shakspeare. And besides this, it was my wish to give an estimate of Shakspeare, from the high points of view of modern æsthetics,- of christian æsthetics, I would rather say, did I not fear that at this word many would begin to cry out, Pietism! Pietism! and begin to argue, that I made of the great poet, who as such could be no Christian, a proselyte, or even a Pietist, while others would say that I had made him out a poor sinner, before the tribunal of a religious and moral pedantry. But I have done neither : even because he was himself a good Christian, and so confessed himself a sinner. I have therefore confined myself to set forth the profundity and sublimity of his poetical view of life, which was simply on this account sublime and profound, because it was Christian, and Christian also, even because it was profound and sublime. For this reason, my first endeavour has been to point out the organic gravitating centre of each of his dramas, i.e. to discover in each that inmost secret spark of life, that unity of idea, which preeminently constitutes a work of art a living creation in the world of beauty. But I have also subjected his poetry to an historical as well as to an æsthetical criticism; that is to say, I have endeavoured to fix not only its true position on the borders of the 16th century, but also its true relation to the past, the present, and the future. For this end, it was indispensably necessary for me to determine what was Shakspeare's own conception of the essence of the tragic, comic, and historic drama; or, what is the same, to shew that a true aesthetical notion was the basis of each actual manifestation.

Lastly, I believed that I should be able to approach more nearly to the secret of the marvellous poems of Shakspeare, if I were likewise to consider them as reflected in the mirror of the poetry of Goethe and Calderon.

In the mere historical portion of my work it is manifest that my task is simply to appreciate and to put rightly together the existing materials.

Out of England it is impossible to discover any fresh data, and it has not been my good fortune to be able to visit that country. For the mere facts, therefore, and for them alone, Malone, Steevens, Chalmers, and others, and particularly Drake, Skottowe, and Collier, must answer. For all the restfor historical combination, i. e. conjectures, &c., I must stand on my own responsibility.

I am too well aware that the philosophers par excellence will be able to see no depth in my book, either because it does not enter into the absolute profoundness of their own philosophy, or because it adopts a freedom from a strict philosophical form, or rather from what they at present call so.

I would, however, beg leave to remind them that the expression of æsthetical ideas must at least precede a system of asthetics, and I would also ask, whether an æsthetical system, which is not merely philosophically

conceived, but also based on the firm foundation of history, is not preferable to every other. On the other hand, the philologers of the history of art will be disappointed to find my book not decked out with an array of great erudition, notes, emendations, and all the usual cram of historical and critical trifles. As to quotations, I have purposely abstained from them, except where a new or probably hitherto doubtful fact is brought forward, or where it seemed desirable to enable the reader himself to judge of the weight of authorities. Endless reading--great stores of historical, grammatical, and critical learning, no man can make a display of who does not possess them, and yet, if modesty allow, I might beg of these “masters” to look a little closer, and try whether they cannot find even here much of what they seek.

In conclusion, I have to express my sincere thanks to Dr. S. H. Spiker and Dr. G. Friedlander : to the former, for the ready kindness with which he opened to me his rich library of English works, and to the latter, for the obliging friendship with which not only on the present occasion, but on many previous ones, he has hastened to supply my wants from the Royal Library at Berlin.

[ocr errors]

H. ULRICI.

Halle, Jan. 1839.

« PreviousContinue »