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life was his introduction to and subsequent marriage with the celebrated Rahel Levin, or Robert. The circumstances of that connection were highly honourable to Varnhagen. The lady was twelve years older than himself, without rank, comfortable indeed, but nothing extraordinary in the money line; and in religion, externally at least, and to the eye of the world, a Jewess. Beauty, of the vulgar merchantable kind, was also not pre-eminent. The only thing that remained, therefore, was the spiritual beauty, the beauty of soul, of character, and expression; and to this Varnhagen instantly surrendered himself, with a devotion and a singleheartedness in these hard times unfortunately not so common as it was in the days of Petrarch. Varnhagen describes the first glimpses he caught of this intellectual lady in the following terms. The scene is Berlin, Rahel's habitual residence-date, 1803.
"At one of our literary soirées, while we were engaged reading Wieland, a visit was suddenly announced; and at the name of the visitor that sort of commotion was instantly observed in the room, which is wont to preludize the entrance of something great and uncommon. It was Rabel Levin, or Robert. Often had I heard this person the subject of discourse in intelligent circles; and when her name was mentioned, it was always in such terms as were calculated to excite in my mind the idea of something extraordinary, and altogether unique. The general idea of her character that I had formed was that of an energetic compound of intellect and nature, both in substance and form most original and pure. (Ein energisches zusammen seyn von Geist und Natur in ursprunglichster reinster Kraft und Form.) And when this or the other critic might say any thing less favourable, it was always so expressed, that an impartial listener must draw from the severest remark more substantially of praise than blame. At this very time there was much talk in Berlin of a strong attachment that she had formed, more elevated in its character, and also more tragic in its issue, than any that the poets had sung. I naturally therefore watched the entrance of the announced visitor with no common attention. There appeared a light, graceful figure, of small stature, but strong make, with delicate and full limbs, feet and hands remarkably small: the countenance encircled with rich, dark locks, spoke intellectual superiority; the quick and yet firm dark glances left the observer in doubt whether they gave or received more; an expression of suffering lent a soft grace to the clear features. She moved in a dark dress, light almost as a shadow, but also with freedom and sureness; her greeting was as easy as it was kindly. But what struck me most was the sonorous and mellow voice which seemed to swell from the inmost depths of the soul, and a conversation the most extraordinary that I had ever met with. She threw out in the most easy and unpretending fashion thoughts full of originality and humour, where wit was united with naïveté, and acuteness with amiability; and into the whole a deep truth was cast, as it were out of iron, giving to every sentence a completeness of total impression which rendered it
difficult for the strongest to break, or to rend it in any way. Through the whole also there breathed a warmth and a spirit of genuine human kindliness which removed every painful feeling of inferiority, even from the lowest. This, however, for the present only in momentary glimpsesthe visit was uncommonly short, but short as it was, the impression remained on me ineffaceable. A sonnet indeed was enough to satisfy the expression of my admiration at that time; but I afterwards discovered that this was only the first link in a chain which should unite my own happiness for ever with that of Rahel Levin."
In 1807 Varnhagen returned from Halle to Berlin, renewed his acquaintance with Rahel, and this acquaintance soon ripened into that perfect intellectual sympathy and emotional harmony, in which alone the poetry of marriage consists. From this period we have the following supplementary notice:
"It were in vain for me to attempt giving anything like a satisfactory outline of Rahel's character to those who have never had the happiness to see her personally. The striking thing in her was the concentrated action of every vital and intellectual function in every moment; a natural and habitual power, to represent which all paper and all canvas is powerless. Generally, however, I may state the impression made on me at that time. In the first place I can say, that in Rabel's presence I had the full conviction that a genuine human being (this noble creation of God) stood before me in its most pure and perfect type; through her whole frame, and in all her motions, nature and intellect in fresh breezy reciprocity; organic shape, elastic fibre, a living connection with every thing around her; the greatest originality and simplicity in sensuous perception, and intellectual utterance, the combined grandiosity of innocence and wisdom; in word and deed alertness, dexterity, and precision of function. All this was at the same time embosomed in an atmosphere of the purest goodness and benevolence, which did not remain a mere atmosphere, but was eager at every moment to incarnate itself in a deed. In Rahel I found combined, what in the greatest characters of the age I had hitherto seen isolated. Profound reflection and brilliant wit, ingenuity and love of truth, imagination and humour, were here united in a succession of the most energetic, gentle, and graceful living motions, which, like Goethe's words, hold quite close by the thing, are the thing itself, and, with the concentrated might of their suggestive contents, work momentarily. Never have I seen elsewhere such a mass of masculine breadth and penetration; along side of which, however, swelled without remission the warm flow of womanly mildness and beauty. Never have I seen an eye and a mouth so animated with loveliness, and at the same time giving free vent occasionally to the most violent outbreakings of enthusiasm and indignation."*
So far Varnhagen, the lover, the husband.
There is a portrait prefixed to the first volume, which answers this description very well. It is intellect without coldness, mildness without weakness, composure without indolence or luxuriousness of soul; expressive and pleasing, not beautiful.
writer never had the pleasure of the personal acquaintance of this celebrated lady; he only knows her from her general reputation among the Germans, and from the five (equal to eight English) volumes of German memoirs, of which the title is prefixed; but he can honestly say, that he finds nothing overcharged in the statement of Varnhagen. It is impossible to read the letters of this highly-gifted person, and not feel instinctively that the homage so long and so generally paid to her in Germany was of the true and genuine kind, and such as deserves to have a separate and prominent chapter allotted to it in the records of "hero-worship." Rahel is a German of the Germans; and as such in several traits of intellectual character, and in some opinions, not likely to excite the sympathy of the English mind. But it is, for the most part, only the excellencies of the German mind that are potentiated in her; she stands erect, and sees clear through the confounding nebulosity of æsthetical and philosophical nonsense with which our cobweb-spinning neighbours have so encumbered the atmosphere of thought. In this respect she was more to the literary world of Germany than Napoleon was to the political world in France. He ruled because he was the incarnation and the apex of his nation's prejudices; Rahel was a German, as Gamaliel was a Pharisee, of them and among them, but above them. For this reason, also, she stood isolated and alone even while she reigned; her superiority was felt and admitted in many places, where it was not allowed to operate any practical results.
The two volumes of "Portraits" which Varnhagen has published contain the most ample evidence of the vast influence which Rahel exercised over the greatest minds in Germany. Schleiermacher, the delicate philosopher and the subtle dialectician; Frederick Schlegel, the restless investigator and sublimely floundering dogmatist; Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, the chival rous and adventurous prince, who wanted but the world's one thing needful-success, to have gone down to posterity as famous as Blücher; Gentz, whose pen in modern history has been almost as famous as Napoleon's sword; all know and acknowledge the Berlin Jewess as Pope Paul V. did Cardinal Perron :-" May God inspire that man with good thoughts, for whatsoever he says we must do it!" Would to God, gentle reader, that you or I had been Varuhagen on that night, when at one of the Berlin intellectual soirées he first saw the redoubtable Schleiermacher, who had lectured at Halle, the rival of Wolff and Steffens, now fencing doubtfully with a woman, nay, sitting at her feet, struck dumb once and again by an electric word, as the strongest vision glimmers when phosphorus burns in oxygen gas! To talk with Rahel was to steam it at high pressure,-very dangerous work for
common vessels; so much so, that many mighty men, who had filled Europe with their name, either retreated hesitatingly from her contact, or, what was nobler, fell down devoutly and worshipped, crying, "Spare me, O woman, for I am but a worm!" So in particular Gentz worships the superiority of this lady almost to humiliation, confessing himself with more honesty than dignity to be in her presence the woman, and she the man. "My instructress, my oracle, my friend, my angel, my all!" And of her letters, he says, "They are not written letters-not words on paper; they are living beings, that with a fresh, lusty generosity, with blooming cheeks and with bright eyes, walk in before me and embrace me;" and similar language, for the exaggerations of which we cold-blooded English must make wise allowance. Expressions of like intensity we find in the letters of all Rabel's correspondents. Goethe does not hold his worshippers by a stronger magic. When she speaks, her word goes directly to the heart; and the effect follows instantaneously, as from harlequin's wand in the pantomime.
If we look a little more minutely into this matter, and inquire how it was that the Berlin lady exercised this charm over the greatest intellects of Germany, the two following points prominently present themselves. In the first place, Rahel's mind is of a most masculine, strong, racy, one might almost say, sturdy character. We doubt much whether, notwithstanding all the feminine blandishments with which it was so witchingly tempered, such a female character would please in England. We find, for instance, in these letters, the constant recurrence of such phrases as the following: Bei Gott! bei allen höllischen Qualen! zum rasend werden, zum Tod werden, grimmig, grässlich, verdammt, verflucht, aud so forth and then such a determined and despotic Ich HASSE es-I hate it; such an intolerant wrath against every thing "low" (gemein); nay, and she confesses plainly that there is nothing she loves better than to be angry, for a little irritation goads her to speak the truth with more point; and, unless a man speak the truth, he had better not speak at all. Gentz, as we said, will have it that Rahel is properly a man ;* and she is so; but she is not masculine to the exclusion, but merely to the bracing, of her womanhood. She did not live, like most masculine women, loveless and unloved; but on the contrary both loving and most passionately loved. As that man is the most perfect in whom the rough strength of his own sex is tempered by the milder virtues of the woman, so that woman is the true glory of her sex, who to the natural feminine charms of grace and tenderness, adds the
* Sie sind ein grosser Mann; ich bin das erste aller Weiber.-Bildnisse, ii. 203.
clearness of intellect and the decision of purpose characteristic of the male. So the finest statues of the Greeks, like the Rabbinical tradition of the primeval human being, have, properly speaking, no sex, or rather embrace both. Thus we think also it is with Rahel; and in this view we are inclined with Varnhagen to place her far above the general run of great women. But the masculine preponderates, at least strikes more; there is about her a habitual air of decision, and instinctive (not assumed or paraded) dictatorship, which contrasts her strongly with the prevailing aspect of the female character. This masculine character appears in nothing so strongly as in her literary taste; and this we may remark, by the way, is the best of all tests. For a woman, though she may love a whiskered and brawny man to protect her, prefers a smooth and sentimental writer to sympathize with her; thus we suppose, among our female students of German literature, Schiller will always be a greater favourite than Goethe; for Goethe's mind (notwithstanding the "eternal womanly" of the second part of Faust) is essentially masculine, though, as Carlyle happily expressed it, the hard granite mountain is overgrown with soft grass. But Rahel's literary heroes are all of the masculine kind-Goethe, Fichte, Mirabeau,* Heinse; and she will make
*The following short characteristic of Mirabeau is among the few interesting sketches from the external public world that Rahel's letters contain. It is much to be lamented that a lady, with such a fine eye for observation, and such a wide sympathizing heart, should have been cooped during her whole life in a small private cor ner of Berlin; where, for want of grand external objects to occupy her attention, she was tempted to yield too much to that German habit of probing and piercing the inner man, an occupation confined in England for the most part to the religious world, but spreading itself in Germany over the whole breadth of literary activity, and tainting its inmost core. The characteristic of Mirabeau is dated 1st November, 1812, and is as follows:-" When Mirabeau was in Berlin, I saw him in the simple dress of a civilian, and looking altogether like the French courtiers of the day. He wore a slightly curled powdered toupet, bag-wig, shoes and stockings, and corresponding clothes, without gold, silver, or embroidery. He had dark animated eyes, and strong protruding eyebrows, yet there was something mild in his look. He was marked with the small-pox; his figure broad, but not stout. He had the appearance of a man that had lived much and with many; his movements were quicker and more various than is generally found in persons of his rank; for there was nothing compact, or nicely rounded off about him (Er hatte nichts compassirtes). In every thing he did, there was a wonderful activity; you saw at once that here was a person who was accustomed to see and investigate every thing for himself; he used his lorgnette, and I might say his whole person, with a peculiar air of independence. He used to frequent the German theatre, and every day brought his own letters to the post-office, where I often saw him for half-hours and hours at a time, while a lady and his eight-yeared son were waiting for him in a carriage. My father pointed him out to me simply as Count Mirabeau ; I knew nothing about him, and for this reason am the more inclined to put a value on the judgment I then formed. He made a good impression on me, though he seemed old, and nothing neat or elegant; and I was almost a child, accustomed to admire only fair and slim men. I have no further recollections of him; he looked like a person that had suffered much and discussed much (Einer der viel gelitten und diskutirt hatte)."