Page images
PDF
EPUB

of cantonal vanity: “ We are first ponds to the truth of its delineation here,” they say,

we Unterwalden- of character. The incidents of the ers.

They have not charters or Swiss Revolution, as detailed in written laws to which they can ap- Tschudi or Müller, are here faithfully peal; but they have the traditionary preserved even to their minutest rights of their fathers, and bold hearts, branches. The beauty of Schiller's and strong arms to make them good. descriptions all can relish; their The rules by which they steer are fidelity is what surprizes every reanot deduced from remote premises der in Switzerland. Schiller never by a fine process of thought; they saw the scene of his play; but his are the accumulated result of expe- diligence and quickness and intensity rience, transmitted from peasant sire of conception supplied this defect. to peasant son. There is something Mountain and mountaineer, conspisingularly pleasing in this exhibition racy and action, are all brought beof genuine humanity; of wisdom fore us in their true forms, all glowembodied in old adages and practical ing in the mild sun-shine of the poet's maxims of prudence; of magnanimi- fancy. The tyranny of Gessler, and ty displayed in the quiet unpretend- the misery to which it had reduced ing discharge of the humblest every- the land, the exasperation, yet paday duties.

Truth is superior to tient courage of the people; their fiction : we feel at home among these characters, and those of their leaders, brave, good people; their fortune Fürst, Stauffacher, and Melchthal; interests us more than that of all the their exertions and ultimate success, brawling, vapid, sentimental heroes described as they are here, keep up in creation. Yet to make them in- a constant interest in the piece. It terest us was the very highest pro- abounds in action as much as the blem of art; it was to copy lowly Bride of Messina is defective in that nature, to give us a copy of it em- point. bellished and refined by the agency But the finest delineation is unof genius, yet preserving the likeness · doubtedly the character of Wilhelm in every lineament. The highest Tell, the hero of the Swiss Revolt, quality of art is to conceal itself: and of the present drama. In Tell these peasants of Schiller's are what are combined all the attributes of a every one imagines he could imitate great man, without the help of edusuccessfully; yet in the hands of any cation or of great occasions to devebut a true and strong-minded poet, lope them. His knowledge has been they dwindle into repulsive coarse- gathered chiefly from his own expeness or mawkish insipidity. Among rience, and this is bounded by his our own writers, who have tried such native mountains: he has had no subjects, we remember none that has lessons or examples of splendid virsucceeded equally with Schiller. One tue, no wish or opportunity to earn potent but ill-fated genius has, in far renown: he has grown up to mandifferent circumstances and with far hood a simple yeoman of the Alps, other means, shown that he could among simple yeomen; and has have equalled him : the Cotter's Sa- never

aimed at being more. turday Night of Burns is, in its own trace in him a deep, reflective, earnest humble way, as quietly beautiful, as spirit, thirsting for activity, yet bound simplex munditiis, as the scenes of Tell. in by the wholesome dictates of pruNo other has even approached them; dence; a heart benevolent, generous, though some gifted persons have até unconscious alike of boasting or of tempted it. Mr. Wordsworth is no fear. It is this salubrious air of ordinary man; nor are his pedlars, rustic, unpretending honesty that and leech-gatherers, and dalesmen forms the great beauty in Tell's chawithout their attractions and their racter: all is native, all is genuine ; moral ; but they sink into whining he does not declaim; he dislikes to drivellers beside Rosselmann the talk of noble conduct; he exhibits Priest, Ulric the Smith, Hans of the it. He speaks little of his freedom, Wall, and the other sturdy confede- because he has always enjoyed it, rates of Rutli.

and feels that he can always defend The skill with which the events it. His reasons for destroying Gessare concatenated in this play corres- ler are not drawn from jurisconsults

Yet we

[ocr errors]

and writers on morality, but from he threatens fiercely that he will
the everlasting instincts of pature: suppress complaining, he will subdue
the Austrian Vogt must die; because the pride of freedom, he will bend
if not, the wife and children of Tell this stiff-necked people, he will
will be destroyed by him. The scene, when the arrow of Tell smites him to
where this peaceful but indomitable the heart; the impious menace dies
archer sits waiting for Gessler in the upon his tongue, and his spirit passes
hollow way among the rocks of forth,“ prepared or not, to stand
Küssnacht, presents him in a striking before its Judge."
light. Former scenes had shown us The death of Gessler, which forms
Tell under many amiable and at- the leading object of the plot, hap-
tractive aspects; we knew that he pens at the end of the fourth act :
was tender as well as brave, that he the fifth, occupied with representing
loved to haunt the mountain tops, the expulsion of his satellites, and
and inhale in silent dreams the in- the final triumph and liberation of
fluence of their wild and magnificent the Swiss, though diversified with
beauty : we had seen him the most occurrences and spectacles, moves
manly and warm-hearted of fathers on with inferior animation. A cer-
and husbands ; intrepid, modest, and tain want of unity is, indeed, dis-
decisive in the midst of peril, and tinctly felt throughout all the piece ;
venturing his life to bring help to the the incidents do not point one way;
oppressed. But here his mind is ex- there is no connection, or a very
alted into stern solemnity; its prin- slight one, between the enterprize of
ciples of action come before us with Tell and that of the men of Ruthi.
greater clearness in this its fiery This is the principal, or rather sole,
contest. The name of murder strikes deficiency of the present work; a
a damp across his frank and fearless deficiency inseparable from the faith-
spirit; while the recollection of his ful display of the historical event,
children and their mother proclaims and far more than compensated by
emphatically that there is no remedy. the deeper interest and the wider
Gessler must perish: Tell swore it range of action and delineation,
darkly in his secret soul, when the which a strict adherence to the facts
monster forced him to aim at the allows. By the present mode of
head of his boy; and he will keep his management, Alpine life in all its
oath. His thoughts wander to and length and breadth is placed before
fro, but his volition is unalterable; us; from the feudal halls of Atting-
the free and peaceful mountaineer is hausen, to Ruodi the Fisher of the
to become a shedder of blood: woe Lucern Lake, and Armgart-
to them that have made him so !
Travellers come along the pass: the The poor wild-hay-man of the Rigiberg,
unconcern of their every-day exists Whose trade is, on the brow of the abyss,
ence is strongly contrasted with the To mow the common grass from craggy
dark and fateful resolution of Tell. And nooks to which the cattle dare not

shelves
The wife of Armgart, an injured climb.
peasant, is waiting with her children
to implore the Landvogt for the li- We stand as if in presence of the
berty of her husband, whom he keeps Swiss, beholding the achievement of
unjustly and unmercifully prisoner. their freedom in its minutest circum-
Gessler appears, conversing with his stances, with all its simplicity and
follower on the insolence of these un- unaffected greatness. The light of
submissive peasants; he spurns the the poet's genius is upon the Four
woman's prayer; she intreats with Forest Cantons, at the opening of the
more desperate fervour, at last de- fourteenth century: the whole time
claring that, unless he liberate the and scene shine as with the bright-
father of her children, she will die ness, the truth, and more than the
beneath the hoofs of his horse, for a beauty of reality,
death by woe and famine is more ter- The tragedy of Tell wants unity of
rible than this. The Vogt again refuses interest and of action ; but in spite
with imprecations, calling on his re- of this, it may justly claim the high
tinue to take these wretches from his dignity of ranking with the very best
way, lest in his rage he crush them; of Schiller's plays. Less comprehen-

1

а

sive and ambitious than Wallenstein, In 1804, having been at Berlin less ethereal than the Jungfrau, it witnessing the exhibition of his Wilhas a look of nature and substantial helm Tell, he was seized, while retruth, which neither of its rivals can turning, with a paroxysm of that boast of. The feelings it inculcates malady, which for many years had and appeals to are those of universal never wholly left him. The attack human nature, and presented in their was fierce and violent; it brought purest, most unpretending form. him to the verge of the grave: but There is no high-wrought sentiment, he escaped once more; was considerno poetic love. Tell loves his wife ed out of danger, and again resumed as honest men love their wives ; and his poetical employments. Besides the episode of Bertha and Rudenz, various translations from the French though beautiful, is very brief and and Italian, he had sketched a tragedy without effect on the result. It is on the history of Perkin Warbeck, delightful and salutary to the heart and finished two acts of one on that of to wander among the scenes of Tell: a kindred but more fortunate imposall is lovely, yet all is real. Physical tor, Dimitri of Russia. His mind, and moral grandeur are united; yet it would appear, was also frequently both are the unadorned grandeur of engaged with more solemn and sunature: there are the lakes and green blime ideas. The universe of human vallies beside us, the Schreckhorn, thought he had now explored and the Jungfrau, and their sister peaks, enjoyed; but he seems to have found with their avalanches and their pa- no permanent contentment in any of laces of ice, all glowing in the south- its provinces. Many of his later ern sun; and dwelling among them poems indicate an incessant and inare a race of manly husbandmen, he- creasing longing for some solution of roic without ceasing to be homely, the mystery of life: at times it is a poetical without ceasing to be ge- gloomy resignation to the want and nuine.

the despair of any. His ardent spirit We have dwelt the longer on this could not satisfy itself with things play, not only on account of its pe- seen, though gilded with all the culiar fascinations, but also-as it is glories of intellect and imagination ; our last! Schiller's faculties had it soared away in search of other never been more brilliant than at lands, looking with unutterable desire present: strong in mature age, in for some surer and brighter home rare and varied accomplishments, he beyond the horizon of this world. was now reaping the full fruit of his Death he had no reason to regard as studious vigils; the rapidity with probably a near event; but we easily which he wrote such noble poems at perceive that the awful secrets cononce betokened the exuberant riches nected with it had long been familiar of his mind, and the prompt command to his contemplation. The veil, which which he enjoyed of them. Still all hid them from his eyes, was now that he had done seemed but a frac- shortly, when he looked not for it, to tion of his appointed task: a bold be rent asunder! imagination was carrying him for- The spring of 1805, which Schiller ward into distant untouched fields of had anticipated with no ordinary thought and poetry, where triumphs hopes of enjoyment and activity, yet more glorious were to be gained. came on in its course, cold, bleak, Schemes of new writings, new kinds and stormy; and along with it his of writing, were budding in his sickness returned. The help of phyfancy; he was yet, as he had ever sicians was vain; the unwearied serbeen, surrounded by a multitude of vices of trembling affection were projects, and full of ardour to labour vain : his disorder kept increasing ; in fulfilling them. But Schiller's la- on the 9th of May it reached a bours and triumphs were drawing to crisis. Early in the morning of that a close. The invisible Messenger day, he grew insensible, and by dewas already near, which overtakes grees delirious. Among his expresalike the busy and the idle, which sions the word Lichtenberg was frearrests man in the midst of his plea- quently noticed ; a word of no imsures or his occupations, and changeth port; indicating, as some thought, his countenance and sendeth him away. the writer of that name, whose works

[ocr errors]

he had been reading lately; accord- feelings, to honour themselves and ing to others, the castle of Leuchten- the deceased by tributes to his meberg, which, a few days before his mory. It was Friday when Schiller sickness, he had been proposing to died: his funeral was meant to be visit. Yet his friends were spared on Sunday; but the state of his rethe farther pain of seeing him de. mains made it necessary to proceed part thus miserably: the fiery ca- before. Doering thus describes the nopy of physical suffering, which ceremony: had bewildered and blinded his

According to his own directions, the bier thinking faculties, was drawn aside;

was to be borne by private burghers of the and the spirit of Schiller looked forth city; but several young artists and stuin its wonted serenity once again dents, out of reverence for the deceased, before it passed away for ever. After took it from them. It was between midnoon his delirium abated; about night and one in the morning when they four o'clock he fell into a soft sleep, approached the church-yard. The overfrom which he ere long awoke in fuií clouded heaven threatened rain. But as possession of his senses. Restored

the bier was set down beside the grave, the to consciousness in that hour, when clouds suddenly split asunder, and the the soul is cut off from human help, threw her first rays on the coffin of the de

moon, coming forth in peaceful clearess, and man must front the King of Ter- parted. They lowered him into the grave; rors on his own strength, Schiller and the moon again retired behind her did not faint or fail in this his last clouds. A fierce tempest of wind began and sharpest trial. Feeling that his to howl, as if it were reminding the byend was come, he addressed himself standers of their great, irreparable loss. to meet this stern and sudden call as At this moment few could have applied became him; not with affected care- without emotion the poct's own words: lessness or superstitious fear, but Alas! the ruddy morning tinges with the quiet unpretending manli

A silent, cold sepulchral stone; ness which had marked the tenor of And evening throws her crimson fringes his life. Of his friends and family

But round his slumber dark and lone. he took a touching but a tranquil So lived and so died Friedrich farewell: he ordered that his funeral Schiller; a man on whose history should be private, without pomp or other men will long dwell with a parade. Some one inquiring how he mingled feeling of reverence and love. felt, he said : Calmer and calmer;" Our humble record of his life and simple but memorable words, ex- writings is drawing to an end: yet pressive of the mild heroism of the we still linger, loth to part with a man. About six he sank again into spirit so dear to us. From the scanty a sleep; which deepened and deep- and too much neglected field of his ened till it changed into the sleep biography, a few slight facts and infrom which there is no awakening; dications may still be gleaned; slight and all that remained of Schiller was but distinctive of him as an individual, a lifeless form, soon to be mingled and not to be despised in a penury so with the clods of the valley.

great and so unmerited.

Schiller's age was forty-five years The news of Schiller's death fell and few months, when he died. * cold on many a heart: not in Ger- Sickness had long wasted his form, many alone, but over Europe, it was which at no time could boast of regarded as a public loss, by all who faultless symmetry. He was tall and understood its meaning. In Weimar strongly boned; but unmuscular and especially, the scene of his noblest lean: his body, it might be perceivefforts, the abode of his chosen ed, was wasting under the energy of friends, the sensation it produced a spirit too keen for it. His face was was deep and universal. The public pale, the cheeks and temples rather places of amusement were shut; all hollow, the chin somewhat deep and ranks made haste to testify their slightly projecting, the nose irregu

* “ He left a widow, two sons, and two daughters,” of whom we regret to say, that we have learned nothing. “ Of his three sisters the youngest died before him ; the eldest is married to the Hofrath Reinwald, in Meinungen ; the second to Herr Frankh, the clergyman of Meekmühl, in Würtemberg."- Docring.

larly aquiline, his hair inclined to the stamp of internal vigour-new auburn. Withal his countenance truths, new aspects of known truth, was attractive and had a certain man- bold thought, happy imagery, lofty ly beauty. The lips were curved to- emotion. Schiller would have been gether in a line, expressing delicate no common man, though he had aland honest sensibility; a silent en- together wanted the qualities pecuthusiasm, impetuosity not unchecked liar to poets. His intellect is clear, by melancholy, gleamed in his softly deep, and comprehensive: its de kindled eyes and pale cheeks, and ductions, frequently elicited from the brow was high and thoughtful. numerous and distant premises, are To judge from his portrait, Schiller's presented under a magnificent aspect face expressed well the features of -in the shape of theorems embracing his mind: it is mildness tempering an immense multitude of minor prostrength; fiery ardour shining through positions. Yet it seems powerful the clouds of suffering and disap- and vast, rather than quick or keen; pointment, deep but patiently en- for Schiller is not notable for wit, dured. Pale was its proper tint; though his fancy is ever prompt with the cheeks and temples were best its metaphors, illustrations, compahollow. There are few faces that risons, to decorate and point the peraffect us more than Schiller's: it is ceptions of his reason. The earnestat once meek, tender, unpretending, ness of his temper farther disqualified and heroic.

him for this: his tendency was raIn his dress and manner, as in all ther to adore the grand and the lofty, things, he was plain and unaffected. than to despise the little and the Among strangers, something shy and mean. Perhaps his greatest faculty retiring might occasionally be ob- was a half poetical, half philosophiserved in him: in his own family, cal imagination; a faculty teeming or among his select friends, he was with magnificence and brilliancy; kind-hearted, free, and gay as a little now adorning, or aiding to erect, a child. In public, his external ap- stately pyramid of scientific speculapearance had nothing in it to strike tion ; now brooding over the abysses or attract. Of an unpresuming as- of thought and feeling, till thoughts pect, wearing plain apparel

, his looks and feelings, else unutterable, were as he walked were constantly bent embodied in expressive forms, and on the ground; so that frequently, palaces and landscapes glowing in as we are told, “ he failed to notice ethereal beauty rose like exhalations the salutation of a passing acquain- from the bosom of the deep. tance; but if he heard it, he would Combined and partly of kindred catch hastily at his hat and give his with these intellectual faculties, was cordial Guten Tag!Modesty, sim- that vehemence of temperament plicity, a total want of all parade or which is necessary for their full deaffectation were conspicuous in him. velopement. Schiller's heart was at These are the usual concomitants of once fiery and tender : impetuous, true greatness, and serve to mitigate soft, affectionate, his enthusiasm its splendour. Common things he clothed the universe with grandeur, did as a common man. His conduct and sent his spirit forth to explore its in such matters was uncalculated, secrets and mingle warmly in its inspontaneous; and therefore natural terests. Thus poetry in Schiller was and pleasing.

not one but many gifts. It was not Concerning his mental character, the “ lean and flashy song” of an the greater part of what we had to ear apt for harmony, combined with say has been already said in speak- a maudlin sensibility, or a mere aniing of his works. The most cursory mal ferocity of passion, and an imaperusal of these will satisfy us that gination creative chiefly because umhe had a mind of the highest order; bridled; it is, what true poetry is grand by nature, and cultivated by always, the quintessence of general the assiduous study of a life time. mental riches, the purified result of

It is not the predominating force strong thought and conception, and of any one faculty that impresses us of refined as well as powerful emoin Schiller; but the general force of tion. In his writings, we behold all. Every page of his writings bears him a moralist, a philosopher, a man

« PreviousContinue »