Page images

To reason from analogy is often dangerous, but to illustrate by a fanciful analogy is sometimes a means by which we light an idea, as it were, into the understanding of another.

April 24. The King of Prussia, after seeing Othello, forbade Desdemona to be murdered for the future, and the catastrophe was altered accordingly-" by his majesty's command.” This good-natured monarch, whose ideas of art are quite singular, also insisted that in the opera of “ Undine,” Huldibrand should not die as in the tale, but become a waterspirit, and “all end happily ;” but I would not advise you to laugh at this, as long as we endure the new catastrophes tacked to Shakspeare.

It was Hoffmann, so celebrated for his tales of diablerie, and in Germany not less celebrated as a musician, who composed the opera of “ Undine.” The music, as have been assured, was delicious, and received at Berlin with rapturous approval. After the first few representations, the opera-house was burnt down, and with it the score of the “Undine” perished. Hoffmann had accidentally one partie in his desk, but in the excess of his rage and despair he threw that also into the fire, and thus pot a note of this charming opera survives.

Only the other day I was reading Hoffmann's analysis and exposition of the “ Don Juan.” It is certainly one of the wildest, and yet one of the most beautiful, pieces of criticism I ever met with —the criticism of an inspired poet and musician. Methinks that in this opera the words and the music are as body and soul; and certainly we must judge the character and signification of the whole by the music, not by the words. Hoffmann regards Don Juan as a kind of Faust, and insists that Donna Anna was in love with him; and the music given to her expresses certainly a depth of passion and despair beyond the words, and something different from them. The text speaks the conventional woman, and the music breathes the voice of nature revealing the struggle, the tempest within.

When at New York this winter, I was intro duced to a fine old Italian, with long and flowing white hair, and a most venerable and marked physiognomy; it was Lorenzo da Porta, the man who had first introduced Mozart to the Emperor Jo seph, and who wrote for him the text of the “ Don Juan,” the “Figaro,” and the “Cosi fan Tutti ;” we have no such libretti now!

The German text of the “ Zauberflöte” was by Schichenada, a buffoon comedian and singer in the service of Joseph II.; he was himself the original Papageno. Some people think that he meant to dramatize in this opera the mysteries of Freemasonry, and others are anxious to find in it some profound allegorical meaning; whereas I doubt whether the text has any meaning at all, while to the delicious music we may ally a thousand meanings, a thousand fairy-dreams of poetry. Schichenada was patronized by Joseph, and much attached to him; after the emperor's death, he went mad, and spent the rest of his life sitting in an arm-chair, with a large sheet thrown all over bim, refusing to speak to his family. When any one visited him, he would lift the sheet from his head, and ask, with a fixed look, “Did you know Joseph ?” If the answer were “ Yes,” he would, perhaps, condescend to exchange a few words with bis visitor-always on the same subject, his emperor and patron; but if the answer were “ No,” he immediately drew his sheet about him like a shroud, hid his face, and sank again into his arm-chair and obstinate silence; and thus he died.

May 1. Exceedingly cold,

,-a severe frostma keen, boisterous wind, and a most turbulent lake. Too ill to do any thing but read. I amused myself with Friedrich Rückert's poems,* which left on my imagination an impression like that which the perfume of a bouquet of hot-house flowers, or the sparkling of a casket of jewels, would leave on my knses. As an amatory lyric poet, he may be compared to Moore ;—there is the same sort of efflo rescence of wit and fancy, the same felicity of expression, the same gem-like polish, and brilliance, and epigrammatic turn in his exquisite little lyrics. I suppose there could not be a greater contrast than between his songs and those of Heine. It is greater than the difference between Moore and Burns, and the same kind of difference.

* Friedrich Rückert is professor of the Oriental languages at Erlangen. He has published three volumes of poems, partly original, and partly translated or imitated from eastern poeta, and enjoys a very high reputation both as a scholar and a poet.

Lenau,* again, is altogether distinct; and how charming he is! Yet great as is his fame in Germany, I believe it has not reached England. He is the great pastoral poet of modern Germanynot pastoral in the old-fashioned style, for he trails no shepherd's crook, and pipes no song “to Amaryllis in the shade," nor does he deal in Fauns or Dryads, and such “cattle.” He is the priest of Nature, her Druid, and the expounder of her divinest oracles. It is not the poet who describes or comments on nature ;-it is Nature, with her deep mysterious voice, commenting on the passions and sorrows of humanity. His style is very difficult, but very expressive and felicitous; in one of those compound words to which the German language lends itself—like the Greek, Lenau will place a picture suddenly before the imagination, like a whole landscape revealed to sight by a single flash of lightning. Some of his poems, in which he uses the commonest stuff of our daily existence as a material vehicle for the loftiest and deepest thought and sentiments, are much in the manner of Wordsworth. One of the most beautiful of these is " Der Postilion.”

* Nicholaus Lenau is a noble Hungarian, a Magyar by birth: the name under which his poetry is published is not, I believe bis real name.

Lenau has lately written a dramatic poem on the subject of “Faust,” the scope and intention of which I find it difficult to understand-more difficult than that of Goethe. For the present I have thrown it aside in despair.


The genius of Franz Grillparzer has always seemed to me essentially lyric, rather than dramatic; in his admirable tragedies the character, the sentiment, are always more artistically evolved than the situation or action.

The characters of Sappho and Medea, in his two finest dramas, * are splendid creations. We have not, I think, in the drama of the present day any thing conceived with equal power, and at the

* The “ Sappho " appeared after the “ Abpfrau,” to which it presents a remarkable contrast in style and construction. The “Golden Fleece," in three parts, appeared in 1822. Both these tragedies have been represented on all the theatres in Germany; and Madame Wolff at Berlin, Madame Heygendorf at Weimar, Madame Schroeder at Munich and Vienna, have all excelled as sappho and Medea.

« EelmineJätka »