FREYTAG’S Aus einer Kleinen Stadt1 is a readable book, and in these dark days, when French novelists are vying with one another in diving for material into the indescribable, it is pleasant to
come across so agreeable a foreign story as this one. It belongs to a series entitled Die Ahnen : the first volume, it will be remembered, was called iogo and Ingraban, after two of the leading characters of the book. They were, if we are not mistaken, very early Teutons, who wandered about the forest slaughtering their foes. Whether they finally killed each other, or, possibly, became man and wife, and founded the royal family of Prussia, the writer of this notice is unable to say, inasmuch as he gave the story of their adventures as widE a berth as he would have given to the originals in their native wildwood.
Since then Frey tag has written several other novels, presumably illustrative of the condition of Germany at various periods; and now, in this one, he has come down to the present century, when that country has been civilized, and partly uncivilized, too, by the Thirty Years’ War, and he tells with much humor and real power the story of a little town in Silesia under the rule of napoleon, and the brave struggles of the people against that despot.
The hero is a young physician in the nameless town, and the heroine is a clergyman’s daughter in a neighboring village ; the smooth course of their love is marred by wars and rumors of wars, and the fact that the heroine is saved from the insolence of some soldiers by a French officer, who asserts that she is his “ Braut ” that is to say, that they arec engaged; and in testimony of this he exchanges rings with her almost by force, at least without her assent. What is the upshot of the whole business the reader must ascertain for himself, or, more probably, for herself. This part of the plot is tolerably fantastic, and the story is prolonged by a good deal of superfluous matter, in which the author seems to have had no other aim than a desire to bring into the book the disturbances of 1848.
Captious critics, who are full of sentiment, may take exception to1 part of the love story : when, namely, the young physician is anxious to make a present to the young girl with whom he is in love, he does it in this way: he remembers that one of his college friends, whom he had known at Coburg, had once drawn for him a picture of the castle, and he writes to him for another sketch of the same place. This he receives shortly; he has it framed, and sends it to the heroine, who probably admired her lover’s artistic skill. She is not to be outdone, so she sends him a package.
“ Beneath the spring flowers lay rich products of domestic cookery. And although the animals which had contributed the material for these things had not been included among poetical objects, the doctor did not observe this discordance. He first put the flowers in a glass, and carried them out of the candle-light into the next room, into which the full light of the moon was shining [it is a curious astronomical fact that the moon is always shining in that country], and, gazing at the nosegay as it was lit up by the moon, stood long at the window and looked up into the night sky. But at last he recalled with joy the ham and sausages, and as he sat down with delight to sup off of these presents he could not get rid of the thought how melancholy it was that he had to eat all these things up far from their giver. So he ate and drank in delicious yearning [heimlicher Sehnsucht].”
This sentimental devourer of ham and sausages is elsewhere set before us after a less provincial fashion. The book is full of incident, and all the part that describes the sufferings of the people during the war, and their efforts to break loose from the tyrant, could not be better. Then, too, the whole impression of the little town, with its musty narrowness, is admirably given, and the story is, on the whole, distinctly readable. It has an air of reality about it, with the exception of the episode in 1848, which was probably inserted with an eye rather to the history of Germany than to the needs of the novel, and unreality certainly cannot be alleged against the picture of gluttony that has been given above. Frey tag’s reputation as a novelist is already deservedly high; his Soll und Haben and Die verlorene Handschrift are distinctly good work, and this story will well maintain his reputation. So much may be said without in any way calling Aus einer Kleinen Stadt a great book.
Auerbach’s Brigitta 2 is another story that may be warmly commended to those who read German novels with pleasure. It is in Auerbach’s best style, and does not contain the discussions of the “ true inwardness” of everything, which sometimes overburden his long novels. It is a short story, very much like the Dorfgeschichten, by which we are safe in presuming that this author will be remembered by future generations. Indeed, it is to be borne in mind that Auerbach deserves credit, not merely for his own delightful stories, but also for inspiring other writers with the desire to copy him. George Sand, for instance, was led by reading these village tales to write La Mare au Diable and the other stories of simple peasant life. It is not given to every man to open a new pathway in literature, and that Auerbach has done this is something which should not be forgotten. Of late years, after abandoning the tale, he has tried more ambitious flights, which have been, on the whole, less successful, so that his return to his original methods is wise.