Novalis and the Blue Flower: The Romantic School in Germany

GERMAN Romanticism is at present generally characterized as being a purely retrogressive movement, an attempted revival of feudalism and a reaction toward Catholicism. A Romanticist, in the modern acceptation of the term, is a man who places himself in a hostile attitude toward the progressive spirit of the age, and tries by artificial means to revive “ the good old times.” That the phase of Romanticism represented by Friedrich Schlegel and Schleiermacher in the early stages of their careers was anything but catholic or conservative, our former article on this subject must have sufficiently proved. The man who gave the strongest religious impulse to the school, and whose character more nearly approaches our present idea of the Romantic type, was Friedrich von Hardenberg, more commonly known by the nom de plume, Novalis.

Who does not know Heine’s story of the young girl, sister of the postmistress near Göttingen, who read consumption out of Novalis’s romance, Heinrich von Ofterdingen? It may seem irrelevant in this connection, but nevertheless it conveys an idea of a certain subtile quality in this author’s genius which a more direct critical analysis might fail to detect. Novalis was one of those whom death had early marked for its own. A hectic flush burned upon his cheeks, his exquisitely chiseled lips indicated extreme sensitiveness, and his large blue eyes, whose gaze appeared to be turned inward, shone with a deep, unearthly lustre. Even the one strong passion of his life, his love for the twelveyear old child, Sophie von Kühn, seems to have been a kind of ethereal, sexless feeling, a mere poetic devotion, purged of the earthy element which clings to the passions of men. No one will wonder that the poetry springing from such a relation lacks that distinctly virile quality and that robust health which characterize the lyrical effusions of poets like Goethe, or even Schiller before he had drunk too deeply of Kantian philosophy. Nevertheless, the lyrics of Novalis have a vague, spiritual, not to say phantasmal beauty of their own; they fascinate by their very strangeness; their fleeting perfume lures the sense by its very deftness in evading its grasp; they gleam with that “ light that never was on sea or land; ” they move onward with a delicious, subdued splendor of cadence that falls upon the ear like melodious whispers from distant fairy realms. Excelling as it does in rhythmical effects and tuneful transitions rather than in strength of thought and splendor of imagination, his verse naturally baffles the translator’s art. It would be as easy for a flower-painter to bind the perfume of the lily to his canvas as for a translator to transfer the fleeting beauty of Novalis’s songs into a foreign tongue. An attempt has lately been made by an English writer, but be who knows the Spiritual Songs in the original will keenly feel the shortcomings of the English renderings.

The early education of Novalis was well calculated to develop the mystic tendencies of his nature. His father, a stern, grave man of commanding appearance, belonged to the so-called Hernhutters, a sect which, without essentially differing from Lutheran orthodoxy in its doctrinal tenets, censured the laxity of its moral discipline and demanded a return to the early Christian simplicity of life. The author Tieck, who as a friend of Novalis visited his home, has given a quaint and interesting account of the daily life of the family. “The old Hardenberg,” says he, “stood like a patriarch among his gifted sons and his amiable daughters. . . . He praised and loved the much-abused old times, and whenever he had an opportunity he boldly expressed his views or flared up in sudden indignation.” At certain times, Tieck further relates, the father was in the habit of testing the orthodoxy of his children, and then stormy scenes were of no infrequent occurrence. Once, on hearing a great noise in the next room, Tieck anxiously asked the servant what had happened. “ Nothing,” was the careless answer, “ it is only the master who is giving religious instruction.”

At the University of Jena, Novalis made the acquaintance of Schiller, whose Robbers and Don Carlos had filled his enthusiastic soul with an ardent love and reverence for their author. Schiller, who at once recognized the extraordinary talents of the young man, took a very kindly interest in him, gave him the benefit of his advice and instruction, and even for several years kept up a correspondence with him. Novalis’s letters, which have been published among his posthumous papers, read more like the passionate effusions of a young maiden to her lover than the communications of a scholar to his teacher; he nearly exhausts the vocabulary of his native tongue in trying to find words strong enough to convey his unbounded homage and admiration. But Novalis was a sympathetic and affectionate nature, and moreover he was a poet and a German. For him the step from the poem to the poet’s personality was a short one. He feels the same kind of personal friendship and attachment for Homer as he does for Schiller. The Wolfian theory does not in the least disturb him. “ Oh,” he exclaims, “ if I could but fall upon the neck of the singer of the Odyssey, and hide my blushing face in the thick, venerable beard of the worthy old man! ”

His daily intercourse with Friedrich Schlegel sootl opened Novalis’s eyes to the greatness of Goethe, and when, in the spring of 1795, Wilhelm Meister appeared, “ the great Pagan ” threatened to gain the place in his affections which had hitherto belonged to Schiller, Schlegel had in his usual paradoxical way declared that “ Wilhelm Meister, Fichte’s Doctrine of Science, and the French Revolution were the greatest phenomena of the century;” and Novalis, whose flexible mind was at this time strongly influenced by his aggressive friend, readily subscribed to this verdict. “Fichte and Goethe ” became the watchword of both, and the constant theme of their conversation. The idealism of Fichte they still further idealized, and the freedom from moral restraints which characterizes Goethe’s romance they pushed even beyond the boundary line which the liberal author had fixed. But the radicalism of Novalis, which is, no doubt, chiefly attributable to his association with Schlegel, was but of short duration. The death of his betrothed, Sophie, who was then fifteen years old, suddenly dispelled these intellectual vagaries and plunged him back into his native mysticism. His sorrow knew no bounds; for three days and nights he shut himself up in his room and wept, then moved to Tennstadt, where she was buried, and sat at her grave, brooding over his loss. Darkness closed around him, the light of day seemed odious to him, and the scenes of life passed like a horrible, meaningless pageant before his eyes. The thought of suicide constantly haunted him, and he was on the verge of despair, when at length Sophie, yielding to his prayers, appeared to him in a vision and brought him comfort. Then his old gift of sontr comes to his rescue; although not altogether abandoning the thought of death, he still resolves to live, and his sorrow gains a voice in a series of poems entitled Hymns to the Night. “ If I have hitherto lived in the present,” he writes, “ and in the hope of earthly happiness, I must now live altogether in the real future, in my faith in God and immortality. It will be very difficult to me to separate myself from this world which I have studied with so much affection; frequent relapses will bring me many a sorrowful moment, but I know that there is a power in man which by assiduous care can be developed into a remarkable energy.”

Again, speaking of Sophie’s death: “ The flower-petal has been wafted over into the other world. The reckless plaver throws up his hand and smiles, as if awakened from a dream, listening to the last call of the watchman, and waiting for the glow of the morning which shall rouse him to renewed life in the world of reality.”

But this first glow of the morning is long coming; and long the poet waits in vain. Nevertheless, in the midst of his grief, when the violent emotion might be expected to banish all thought of self, his attitude is that of a true Romanticist. His self-consciousness never for a moment leaves him; his eye is constantly turned inward, and its keen sight penetrates into the darkest chambers of his mind. With a half psychological, half poetical interest he watches the crescendos and diminuendos of his emotions, records in his journal the results of his observations, and upbraids himself whenever a note of natural, worldly joy mingles in the transcendental harmonies of his soul. To an unprejudiced observer this appears very much like dallying with one’s grief, in order, by artificial means, to keep it up to the proper pitch; and if Novalis had not from his earliest youth breathed the air of philosophical abstraction, and if he had not lived in an age which was universally afflicted with this habit of morbid introspection, we might be justified in regarding these delicately retouched negatives of his mental states as insincere and affected. But a deeper knowledge of Novalis’s character excludes such a supposition; he was, in the truest sense of the word, a child of his time, and it is perhaps the best proof of his sincerity that he followed it in its extravagances, shared its infirmities, and unconsciously respected its limitations.

The Hymns to the Night open with an apostrophe in prose to “ the all-rejoicing light, with its colors, its rays, and its billows, its gentle omnipresence, as awakening day.” Then the poet turns to " the holy, inexpressible, mysterious night,” in whose darkness he beholds “ the memories and wishes of his youth, the dreams of his childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of his whole life, marching before him, draped in gray garments like mists of the evening when the sun has set.” His beloved is hidden in the impenetrable night; therefore he loves the night better than the day. “ Embrace with spirit passion my body,” he exclaims, “ that I may become more inwardly blended with thee, and that my bridal night may last forever.”

A mixture of sensuous pleasure and high religious raptures give a curious interest to these hymns of Novalis. It is as if this earthly body which he is resolved to renounce and to mortify, in spite of the poet, again and again asserted its rights; as if his spiritual nature struggled desperately to break loose from the trammels of the flesh, and in the ardor of the combat gathered strength to rise to ever loftier flights. But this forcible heightening of every sensation, these endless distorted attitudes of ecstasy and despair, indicate a state of mental disease. Novalis seems himself to have been aware that his was not the normal condition of humanity, but this does not, to the mind of a Romanticist, necessarily prove that his condition leaves anything to be desired. The Romantic poet, according to Friedrich Schlegel’s manifesto, knows no law except his own sovereign will, and where he differs from the rest of humanity the presumption is that humanity is in the wrong, Thus Novalis also performs a series of philosophical somersaults, and ends with the conclusion that disease is preferable to health. For “life,” he says, “ is a disease of the spirit.”

A volume of fragments, published under the title of Flower-Dust (Blütlieustaub) contains numerous abstruse speculations on these same subjects of life and death, health and disease, pain and pleasure, etc. There is no obscure region of the soul which the mystic poet has not attempted to explore, there is no human emotion so ethereal and fleeting as to evade his eye, and no object in heaven or on earth too mean or too exalted for his earnest interest and consideration. Here we find a striking aphorism embodying some homely truth, in the next paragraph a conjecture as to the nature of the divine trinity, and a few lines further on some mere personal item, a literary project, a sigh of regret and resignation, or a half-subdued sob for the death of the beloved.

The author has himself justly estimated the value of these fragments when he says:—

“ The art of writing books has not yet been discovered, but it is on the point of being discovered. Fragments of this kind are literary seed - corn. There may be many a barren grain among them; however, if only some will sprout.” . . .

From the whole number, amounting to upward of a thousand, we select the following for translation: —

“ Goethe is the true steward of the poetic spirit on earth.”

“ Poetry is absolute reality. This is the kernel of my philosophy. The more poetic, the truer.”

“ Every Englishman is an island.”

“ There is a possibility of an infinite delight in pain.”

“ Whatever I will do, that I can do. With man nothing is impossible.”

“ Pain should properly be the normal state, and joy should be what now sorrow and pain are.”

“ Religion cannot be preached except as love and patriotism.”

“ The republic is the fluidum deferens of youth. Wherever there are young people, there is a republic. By marriage the system changes. The married man demands order, security, and rest; he seeks the genuine monarchy.”

“ Death is the Romantic principle of life. Death is life. Through death life is intensified.”

“ The epigram is the central monad of old French literature and culture.”

“ Coals and diamonds are one and the same substance. And still how different! Is there not just the same difference between man and woman? We are the homely charcoal; the women are opals and sapphires, which likewise are nothing but coals.”

“ A marriage is a political epigram. An epigram is only an elementary poetic expression — a poetic element — a primitive poem.”

“ Love is the end and goal of universal history, — the amen of the universe.”

“ Klopstock’s works give the impression of being free translations of some unknown poet by a very talented but unpoetical philologist.”

“ Very properly do many women speak of sinking into the arms of their husbands. Happy she who can rise into the embrace of her lover.”

“ Can an I suppose itself an I without another I or not I? ”

“ Love is the highest reality, and a first cause. All romances which deal with true love are fairy tales, magic narratives.”

“To become a man is an art.”

We learn from Tieck that these fragments, many of which were written only for the author’s own amusement and without a view to publication, are the first crude beginnings of a great encyclopædic work, in which facts and speculations drawn from all departments of human knowledge should mutually explain and support each other. It is safe to assert, however, that Novalis, even if he had lived to the age of mature manhood, would have been poorly equipped for such an undertaking.

Without an acquaintance with the leading philosophical systems of Germany, and especially that of Fichte, the greater part of Novalis’s prose writings will appear obscure and unintelligible. And their obscurity does not always, as Carlyle would have us believe, prove that the thought which is struggling for utterance is too profound to be embodied in the common vernacular of cultivated men, but is as frequently the result of a confusion of ideas in the author’s mind. It is truly to be regretted that a man in whom there dwelt so rich a fountain of song should have spent so great a portion of his life in unprofitable investigations regarding “ the internal plural,” or the relation of mathematics to the emotional life of man. It may be that occasionally he caught glimpses of truths too high for the comprehension of men of coarser fibre, but it is as certain that his speculations often lost themselves in vague abstractions and pedantic sophistries. As a curiosity we quote in the original the following untranslatable passage, which, if it means anything, certainly does not bear its meaning on the surface: —

“ Wir sind gar nicht Ich, wir können und sollen aber Ich werden, wir sind Keime zum Ich-Werden. Wir sollen Alles in ein Du, in ein zweites Ich verwandeln; nur dadurch erheben wir uns zum groszen Ich das Eins und Alles zugleich ist.”

We comprehend that these utterances, although clothed in the phraseology of Fichte, have been suggested by, or at least have something to do with, Spinoza’s doctrine of the mere relative existence of all finite things when compared to the one “ absolute existence,” God. No doubt Novalis was an ingenious dilettante in philosophy, and perhaps divined a profounder meaning in the systems of his day than even the founders themselves; but the world has outgrown many an elaborate philosophic structure in this century, and will doubtless outgrow many more. But of its true poets mankind can afford to forget none; and when the philosopher Novalis shall long have been forgotten, the poet Novalis will still survive.

If we had been writing a romantic fiction, instead of a biographical sketch, we could never have invented a series of more pathetic events than those which mark the closing years of this author’s life. He had coquetted so long with death, that death at last took the matter in earnest, placed its hand upon his shoulder, and bade him keep himself in readiness for the final summons. But never had this earth appeared more beautiful to the poet than just then; never had the quickening tide of life pulsated more vigorously through his veins, never had the future dawned upon him with such golden promise. He loved again, and this time not a child, but a beautiful maiden in the first flower of her womanhood, who in return had bestowed upon him all the affection of her heart. Moreover, he had been appointed assessor of the Thüringian mines, and rejoiced in the prospect of a useful activity in his chosen field of labor. His literary fame was spreading, and that first recognition which is so dear to a young author’s heart had come to him from a source which made it tenfold sweet and delightful. The poet Tieck, whose popular tales (Volksmärchen) he had long ardently admired, sought him at this time, and their very first meeting laid the foundation of a warm friendship, which during the few years they were allowed to remain together shed a softly brightening lustre over the lives of both. " My acquaintance with you,” writes Novalis to his friend, “ opens a new chapter in my life. ... No one has ever appealed to me so gently and still so universally as you. Every word from you I understand perfectly. In no point do I meet you only from afar. Nothing human is foreign to you; you take an interest in everything, and your spirit diffuses itself like a perfume over all objects, and still lingers most lovingly with the flowers.”

It was, no doubt, the association with Tieck which counteracted Schlegel’s influence, and induced Novalis to relinquish his philosophical speculations and henceforth devote himself exclusively to poetry. In the mean while his sickness, which he had so often apostrophized in prose and verse, was gradually undermining his strength, but the nearer the end approached, the more tenaciously he clung to this life, which had once appeared but a heavy burden and an endless sorrow. His aæsthetic convictions also underwent radical changes. The sensuous equilibrium, the sunny realism and distinctness of outline, which once had attracted him in Goethe, now disgusted and repelled him. The shimmering moonshine, the forest solitude, the wonder-blossoms, and all the magic machinery of Tieck seemed to embody the essence of poetic art, and the nebulous mysticism in the theosophic meditations of Jacob Böhme completely won his heart. Wilhelm Meister, his former ideal of a romance, he finds " altogether prosaic and modern.” It is merely a domestic tale which, where it does not ignore the wonderful, treats it as the enthusiastic extravagance of youth. Artistic atheism, he thinks, is the spirit of the book. In order to enter his protest against these pernicious teachings he determines to write a romance which shall express the very opposite sentiments. A theme well adapted to embody his own poetic creed he had discovered some time before in the history of the celebrated Minnesinger, Heinrich von Ofterdiugen. He communicated his plan to Tieck, whose sympathetic interest stimulated his mind to increased activity in spite of the growing weakness of his body. In his predilection for the Middle Ages, Tieck had himself been Novalis’s predecessor, and to him belongs the chief honor of the Romantic School, that of having directed a nation, whose literature had long fed on foreign spoils, to its own historic past as its proper source of poetic inspiration. Mediæval life, with its sharp distinctions of birth and caste, and moreover lacking many of the leveling and equalizing agencies of our own age, offered larger types of men, a bolder grouping of scenes, and a wider scope to a picturesque fancy. That child-like trust in a Divine Father, that sublime disregard of the world with all its allurements, that strong religious fervor which stirred with one grand impulse the hearts of the mightiest king and the lowliest beggar, and drove great nations away from their hearths to perish in the unknown deserts of the Orient, — traits like these, with all the imposing historic drama which they brought into action, will always have the power to set the poet’s pulses throbbing. It had been the custom during the period of the Enlightenment, as ii is largely at the present day, to sneer at the religious rapture of the Crusades and call it morbid, theatrical, etc.; to scoff at the naïve directness of mediæval art, and to regard the few monuments of Old German literature which time had spared as the rude stammerings of a barbarous age. The mistake which every century has made, that of judging its

predecessors by its own standard, was at that time the more to be, regretted, because undoubtedly it occasioned the final loss of many valuable ancient manuscripts which perhaps a little antiquarian skill or curiosity might have preserved. The opinion of Frederick the Great concerning the Niebelungenlied, that it was not worth a pinch of snuff, and that he would not tolerate such stuff in his library, is well known; but that the king, both in his ignorance and in his ill-nature, fairly represented the attitude of his times toward the Middle Ages ought by no means to be regarded as a daring assertion. Not long ago M. Taine exemplified the same tendency in his brilliant lectures on The Philosophy of Art, and the reader hardly knows which ought to surprise him the more, the total inability of the Gaul to comprehend the Gothic character, or the complacent arrogance with which the nineteenth century behaves toward its less enlightened precursors. The Romantic poets, with Tieck and Novalis in their van, have erred on the very opposite side. Guided not by the light of reason, but by a dim poetic instinct, they groped their way in the twilight through the “ corridors of time,” and, rummaging about in the lumber-rooms of the past, they discovered, among much that was of priceless value, a good deal of rubbish which might as well have remained in its former obscurity. They admired not only the picturesque pomp and splendor of feudalism, but also its system of caste, and its lawlessness, and its oppression of the lower classes; not only the primitive simplicity of faith and the intensity of emotional life in the early Catholic Church, but also its intolerance, its hostility to liberty, and its idolatrous Madonna worship. The paradisaical state of the world, according to them, lay in the past; since the Crusades mankind had been constantly degenerating. They accordingly demanded of their own nation a return to this ideal state, and upbraided it because it could no more feel and think and believe as it had done in its childhood. As Heine says, they resembled the aged chambermaid in the fairy tale, who, having discovered that her mistress renewed her youth by means of an elixir, put the flagon to her mouth and emptied the whole contents; she not only regained her youth, but became an infant in the cradle. If the enlighteners had erred in despising their mediæval ancestors because, judged by the standard of the eighteenth century, they were rude and ignorant, the Romanticists committed a no less grievous error in measuring their contemporaries by the long disused standards of the past.

Novalis’s romance, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, being a true product of the Romantic soil, shares the extravagances and imperfections which characterize Tieck’s early works, and indeed all works of a similar nature within the school. It teems with sub-plots and allegories within allegories, and at times, it must be confessed, tasks the reader’s patience to the utmost; for the very moment he imagines that he has caught hold of a tangible thread and is determined to keep it, it somehow slips out of his fingers, and he is again lost in a huge, dimly lighted labyrinth, filled, it is true, with many beautiful things, but leading nowhere, without end and without beginning. As has already been remarked, the book was written as a protest against Wilhelm Meister, and as the latter, according to Novalis, was a glorification of the prose of life, so Heinrich von Ofterdingen should be an apotheosis of its poetry. But poetry the Romanticists conceived to be of a vague, ethereal, and impalpable essence, which impressed the sense not through the grosser faculty of understanding, but according to some mysterious law appealing directly to the deepest emotions of the heart. This theory, which the author shared with his friends Schlegel and Tieck, is no doubt largely responsible for the hopeless confusion which reigns in this otherwise well-conceived and interesting work. Singular enough, and apparently conflicting with the above theory, is the fact that the lyrical poems which are found scattered through the story are by far the clearest and most intelligible part of it; but Novalis was primarily a lyric poet, and nature will not fail to assert itself in spite of all theories.

To unravel the many allegorical complications of the plot is no easy task. Novalis has, however, himself given us the key to the understanding of it. In the first part, he says, the hero is matured as a poet, and in the second (which was left incomplete at the author’s death) he is glorified as a poet. In the very first chapter we meet with all the conventional machinery of Romantic fiction: night,moonlight,dreams, and the longing for the blue flower. This blue flower is the watchword and the sacred symbol of the school. What it is meant to symbolize it is difficult to tell, but judging from the rôle it plays in the present romance we should venture to say that it is an emblem of the deep and nameless longings of a poet’s soul. Romantic poetry invariably deals with longing; not a definite, formulated desire for some attainable object, but a dim, mysterious aspiration, a trembling unrest, a vague sense of kinship with the infinite, and a consequent dissatisfaction with every form of happiness which the world has to offer. The object of the Romantic longing, therefore, so far as it has any object, is the ideal — the ideal of happiness, the ideal of a woman, the ideal of social perfection, etc. The blue flower, like the absolute ideal, is never found in this world ; poets may at times dimly feel its nearness, and perhaps even catch a brief glimpse of it in some lonely forest glade far from the haunts of men, but it is vain to try to pluck it. If for a moment its perfume fills the air, the senses are intoxicated, and the soul swells with poetic rapture.

In Heinrich von Ofterdingen the presence of this wondrous flower is felt on every page, and quite unawares one may catch a glimpse of its fragile chalice. " I long to see the blue flower,” are the very first words which the hero utters; “ it is continually in my mind, and I can think of nothing else.” He falls asleep and has a very strange dream, also about the blue flower, the significance of which is heightened by the fact that his father had dreamed something similar as he was about to take the most important step of his life. Heinrich starts with his mother and a company of merchants for Augsburg, where he is to visit his maternal grandfather. Every new object which meets his eye fills him with wonder, and the conversation of his companions, in which he himself eagerly participates, is well calculated to enlarge his views of life and mature him for his future calling. It strikes one, however, as very singular that mediæval merchants should be constantly talking about art and poetry, and it seems as if the author had willfully violated reality when, for instance, he invariably makes them speak in chorus. Historical truth and local coloring are of course out of the question. The miner, the hermit, Zulma, Klingsohr, etc., are all bloodless and sexless abstractions, and are probably intended by tlie author as poetic personifications of certain forces of nature or of history. Zulma is the spirit of the Orient, the miner represents the poetry of nature and the hermit that of history, and in Klingsohr we meet the embodiment of the ideal, fully developed poet. In spite of his professed dislike of Wilhelm Meister, Novalis has, perhaps unconsciously, echoed Goethe’s sentiments in the æsthetic discourses of his ideal poet. The spiritual supremacy of “the great Pagan” makes itself felt even in a work whose purpose it was to protest against it. At the sight of Klingsohr’s daughter, Mathilde, Heinrich has the same sensation as he had had in the dream when he saw the blue flower. He loves her and his love is returned; but at the very moment when the mysterious flower seems to be within the reach of his hand, it is lost to him, Mathilde is drowned in the river, an event which Heinrich had anticipated in his dreams, and, stunned with grief and despairing of his own future, he leaves Augsburg to seek the imperial court. And now the author unfolds his transcendental wings and henceforth disdains to preserve even the semblance of probability. The hero hears voices of song coming apparently from a tree growing at the road-side. He recognizes the voice of Mathilde, who promises to send him another maiden, Cyane, to comfort him; then he has a strange allegorical vision, and the mysterious maiden suddenly stands before him, and immediately gains his love. Whether this Cyane really is Mathilde, or only a phantom representing her, or an altogether independent individuality, is a point which we are unable to settle. There are passages in the story which seem to prove that each of these assumptions is equally probable. In a cave, called the Cave of the Count of Hohenzollern, Heinrich sees wonderful signs and symbols which are supposed to hide the secrets of his fate, and in a convent, the inhabitants of which are not living men but spirits whose vocation it is “to preserve the sacred fire in young minds,” he receives instruction concerning the mysteries of life and death. The rest of the tale is only lightly sketched and abounds in mysteries, allegories, and metamorphoses, compared with which Sindbad the Sailor or The Forty Thieves appears as reasonable as an algebraic problem. Heinrich plucks the blue flower, and in the end is united with Mathilde. The boundary between this world and the world to come vanishes; time, space, logic, all disappear under the magic wand of the poet; all are but relative existences which are absorbed in the one absolute existence of poetry.

Considered as a story, this romance of Novalis may have very little importance, but regarded as a phenomenon in literature, containing the germs of various tendencies of a school which during the present century has spread throughout Europe, it is well worthy of the attention we have given it. That Heinrich von Ofterdingen, in spite of its mystic coloring and its visionary extravagances, is largely autobiographical, is easily seen; the character of the hero, being so nearly identical with that of the author himself, the death of his first beloved, the vision at the road-side, the vague, restless longing for the blue flower, the second betrothal, etc., belong as much to the history of the modern poet Novalis as to that of the mediæval hero of the romance. The poets of the eighteenth century, having seldom any practical aim to distract them from the contemplation of their own inner life, have more frequently than the poets of other ages apotheosized themselves in the persons of their heroes. Châteaubriand’s René, Goethe’s Werther, and Byron’s Childe Harold we mentioned in our former article as illustrations of the proneness to psychological self-analysis, and they might as well serve to illustrate what we should venture to call the autobiographical mania. As additional proof of our assertion we may select Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe, Étienne de Senancour’s Obermann, Tieck’s William Lovell, and perhaps even Madame de Staël’s Corinne and Schiller’s Marquis Posa, not to speak of a hundred minor examples which the literature of all lands furnish in great abundance. The contempt of life and the disgust with the world ( Weltschmerz, as the Germans call it) which directly result from these tendencies are not yet developed in Novalis. On the contrary, he studies nature with real affection, and takes a sincere interest in his fellow-men. But as a Romantic poet he is an absolute sovereign who brooks no law above him, and the laws of reality have no validity to him except as external symbols of a higher order of creation which the poet in moments of inspiration may behold.

This exaltation of the poet above the rest of his kind, this assumption of the office of a prophet, priest, and heaveninspired seer, and the kindred claims to exemption from the rules of morals which govern ordinary men, are features whose origin may be distinctly traced to the Romantic School. In lands where Romanticism never struck a very deep root, because the sound sense of the people rebelled against its extravagances, these phases are now becoming unpopular; but in France, where Lamartine, Alfred de Musset, and Victor Hugo (all extreme Romantic types) are the lyrical favorites of the public, the cant and superstitions of the school are still in full vogue.

Germany, in proud consciousness of its material strength, has lost its sense of kinship with the school which once, in its days of humiliation, so faithfully expressed its national physiognomy, and, having no great lyrical talent among its living littérateurs, feeds on the poetical superabundance of its classical period. Among the prominent novelists of the Bismarckian age, Freytag is a wideawake, practical citizen of the nineteenth century, Auerbach is rather nondescript, and Spielhagen is the only one who has not quite outlived the traditions of the Romantic era.

The religious mysticism and the consequent predilection for the Catholic Church which so strikingly characterized the later phases of Romantic development received its first impulse from Tieck’s friend, Waekenroder, but was hardly recognized as a distinct feature of the school until the days of Jsovalis. With Waekenroder the interest had been chiefly an artistic one; with Novalis it sprung from a real, deeply felt want of the heart. His fervid spirit demanded a warmer, intenser, and more picturesque faith than the rationalistic Lutheranism of his times afforded. The reading of Schleiermacher’s famous Orations on Religion awakened in him a desire to serve the same good cause; he accordingly wrote an essay on Europe and Christianity which he read in manuscript to an enthusiastic circle of friends in Jena. Tieck and Friedrich Schlegel were delighted, but Dorothea had her misgivings as to its merits. “ Christianity is àl’ordre du jour here,” she writes. “ The gentlemen are a little cracked; Tieck carries religion to the same length as Schiller does fate.”

In fact this attempt of Novalis to glorify the “ only saving church ” is without doubt the most paradoxical document which the Romantic literature has to show. It was accepted by Schlegel for The Athenæum, but Goethe, from a sincere friendship for the author, prevented its publication. It was not until several years after Novalis’s death that it was given to the public. The essay represents the Protestant movement as an unqualified evil because it destroyed the unity of the church; it also justifies the Madonna worship by the conscious craving in every human heart for a female ideal of the Divinity, a theme which receives frequent attention in the Spiritual Songs and the Fragments. The homage, however, which he pays “ the divine Virgin and Mother ” seems to be the adoration of a lover rather than that of a religious votary.

“ Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern
Maria, lieblich ausgedrückt,
Doch keins von allen kann dich schildern
Wie meine Seele dich erblickt.
Ich veisz nur dasz der Welt Getiimmel
Seitdem mir wie eiu Traum verweht
Und ein unnennbar stiazer Himmel
Mir ewig im Gemüthe steht.”

Among the works of Novalis there still remains a fragment of a romance, The Disciples at Sais, which may be worthy of mention. It was written before Heinrich von Ofterdingen, with which it has much in common, being a most curious medley of theosophic, metaphysical, and scientific reveries.

Novalis never lost his faith in life; even when the physicians had given him up, and death stared him in the face, he continued to busy himself with ambitious literary projects. He ate nothing but vegetables, which, according to Tieck, agreed well with him. His early love of metaphysics had now altogether deserted him. “ Philosophy,” he writes, “ now rests on my book-shelves. I am glad that I am done with this Arctic region of Pure Reason.” He died March 25, 1801, in the twenty-ninth year of his age. Judging by the bulk and the paradoxical character of what he has written, the fame which he enjoys even at this day might at the first glance seem well-nigh inexplicable; but looking more closely at these disjecta membra poetœ we find that they possess a potent charm and even a kind of unity of their own: they reveal a quaint, lovable, and eminently poetic personality, and watching their chronological succession we may read a record of psychological evolution most absorbing in its interest. His early death shed a romantic halo over the incidents of his life, which were in themselves sufficiently pathetic; his works became a sacred legacy to his friends, and their author the patron saint of German Romanticism.

Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.