Page images

years of labour, he could no longer bear to lie still and idle at head-quarters. Accordingly, after the entry of the army into Rheims, he returned to his home.

But a heavy and unexpected trouble yet awaited him. For nearly a quarter of a century, in joy and sorrow, he had been closely associated with the Grenzboten. The thought of separation had probably never occurred to him. And yet it was to be. Justly appreciating the importance and the services of the man whose name adorned his paper, the publisher had rarely attempted to exercise any influence on its management. Suddenly, excited by the admission to its columns of an especially liberal article, he altered his hitherto calm and indifferent demeanour. Relying on a clause in the agreement, which it was never thought would have been put in force, he purchased the shares which Freytag and Jordan had in the paper, thus buying them out. Julian Schmidt had retired long ere this, and removed to Berlin, where he died in the spring of 1886. Of course this act of the publisher's resulted in a complete rupture.

There was much that happened about this time which weighed upon his spirit. The condition of his wife became worse from year to year; physicians gave little hope. He was a watchful and loving nurse to his beloved companion. One after another of his old friends and associates sank into the grave ; it grew lonely about him, and the happy smile upon his lips was rare.

We cannot, therefore, wonder that as years went by, Freytag more and more renounced intercourse with the wider circles of his acquaintance, and devoted himself to the care of his small estate, his dear ones, and his literary pursuits, glad and happy when one or other of his old friends, for instance, Berthold Auerbach, would become his guest for a short time, with whom he could recall the old, delightful days. But it must arouse our astonishment to perceive how, in this rural stillness and seclusion, he created a world of his own, in which he held communion with the ghosts of antiquity, and described them for us as if they were shapes of flesha and blood; and how, in quick succession, he sent out into the world eight long stories, with which he climbed an entirely new round in the ladder of his fiction.

With Our Forefathers he entered upon a path along which Scheffel had triumphantly passed before him. The historical novel will always find a large circle of readers in Germany. The writings of Sir Walter Scott were, at one time, literally devoured. Hauff's Lichtenstein was read with no less avidity, and Our Forefathers, especially the first volumes, achieved an enormous

Freytag's innovation consisted principally in establishing an internal connection between the different novels, representing them as epochs in the history of one family. The aim of this plan is neither ethical nor even instructive. Against this idea the author has himself pronounced. “ This book will contain poesy, and no history of civilization at all.” The idea is there certainly, and it runs like a scarlet thread through the whole, but no one would wish to assert that Freytag has written six large volumes to prove the truth of it. The leading idea in the books is the same which he has somewhere expressed in The Lost Manuscript : the assumption that the deeds of the forefathers have an influence on those of their descendants, so that these again, by their aims and acts, bequeath rights to their offspring, and impose obligations upon them to march forward in the paths, upon which they have already entered, for the welfare of the nation—the assumption of a moral heirloom of obligation. Having made all his heroes descendants of one race, the author must, of course, give to them a certain family resemblance. The Ingos, Immos, Georges, Bernhards, have all one common feature-hatred of bondage. They are all contenders for freedom and independence : the first, indeed, for that of their persons; the later ones for that of their race; and the last for that of their nation. Thus the race faithfully pursues the path of progress and civilization which all the inhabitants of German lands have trodden; and the stage of their development and the aspect of their time, in contrast to those of an earlier century, are always reflected in the individual characters. Outwardly, too, their lot has one thing in common. Not one of them comes into easy, undisputed possession of his wife, for while each, in the choice of his bride, follows, as is right, but the instincts of his heart, and is determined only to call her his own whom he has chosen for himself and considers fit to be the mother of heroes like himself and his forefathers, he invariably meets with hindrances; opposition on the part of parents and relatives; or the influence of higher powers, which, not being able to overcome in a friendly manner, he defiantly removes out of the way by carrying off his beloved. Such a repetition of remarkable circumstances in several generations is nothing new, and Freytag is always found taking the ground of German popular opinion. A similar state of things is to be met with in Gudrun.


No less important, however, is the prevailing identity of locality in the action. There is one spot in the home of the German nation in which, after long journeyings, we meet every one of the heroes again, and it is remarkable, although, of course, easily explained, that this place is not at all distant from the neighbourhood in which the novelist has settled, and nearer-some portions of it, indeed, quite near—to the Castle from which his princely patron directed the administration of his small but beautiful spot of earth, and in which, in the evenings, after having discharged the duties of government, he found leisure and refreshment in a distinguished circle of noble and intelligent men, of whom our novelist was not the least eminent. These novels are the work of a genuine poet, and with the favour of the muse are they created. True, it cannot be disputed that they are of unequal merit, but none will deny that any one of them, taken separately, possesses great excellencies. The most finished of them appears to be the first volume. It contains the two tales of Ingo and Ingraban. As regards the periods at which the events are supposed to have taken place, there is an interval of four hundred years between the stories. Mighty and giant-like are the personages in Ingo. They are children of nature in every sense, primitive men, uncontrollable in their love as in their hate. There is in these heroic forms something of the pristine vigour of the giants of the Niebelung. In the first volumes Freytag, with subtle calculation, invariably chooses for a background an epoch in which old ideas and conditions are in conflict with the new. In Ingraban, for instance, he describes the earliest spread of Christianity in the east and north of Germany; in the Wrens' Nest, the commencement of the struggle between the Pope and the Emperor, and in Brothers of a German House, the beginning of the religious disorders and the first attempts at German colonization. Although as regards their effect, and their artistic merit, these novels, from Ingo to the Brothers, move along a descending scale, only in Marcus König to rise again to a still higher level, which, however, in the last two, is not maintained ; yet these, too, have poetic scenes of delicate loveliness and real power. The effect of the first sound of bells upon the pagan mind, and the dignified character of Bonifacius in Ingraban, are incomparably portrayed. Frau Edith (Wrens' Nest) is worthy to take her place alongside those wonderful women, Leonora, Ilse, Irmgard, and Walburg. All the intrepid daring of the children of Ingo appears in her, united with a true womanliness, exactly as it does later in the peasant woman Friderun. And where is the German novel which offers love-scenes of such exquisite tenderness as those between Hildegard and Immo, Ivo and Hedwig, George and Anna? Here the novelist's art appears almost to be on a level with that of a Shakespeare or a Goethe. Modesty and chasteness are blended with a wondrous softness, and it is only a German writer who could paint the hazardous scene of George's wedding-night in such delicate colours. But, on closer inspection, one sees that it is with the simplest methods he produces his strongest effects, and with the fewest requisites he induces the changeful moods. How

[ocr errors]

simple, and yet how stirring, is the description of Ingraban's nightly flight! Ever again, his irrepressible humour creates some excellent characters, and, as usual, it is with the vulgar and narrowminded that he is most successful.

The separate volumes of Our Forefathers were published between the years 1872 and 1880. The applause and admiration which were accorded to them by readers among the German people have probably helped the author through many a sad and bitter hour, and inspired him with courage for fresh achievements. For in these years life offered but little joy to the lonely man. His faithful wife, who so long had had to struggle with painful disease, succumbed to her sufferings in 1873. Having, some years afterward, contracted another alliance, upon which the fates were pleased to smile, he had to suffer the loss of one of his children

last year.

It is said that great sorrows have a beneficial effect on great spirits; that these are endued by them with the will and the courage to bid defiance to a merciless, purblind fate, and to extort from it some great thing, just at the moment when it appears to be robbing them of everything. Will such be the case with Freytag? will he feel within his soul new powers for new work ? will he be able to dull the pain, and to conquer it? None can tell ; but that such may be the case, all will hope.




[The original MS. of the following paper is extant among the MS. remains of the author, the late Thomas Love Peacock, and is the only one of them absolutely complete and ready for publication. It was in all probability intended for Fraser's Magazine, but never appeared there, nor, so far as can be discovered, elsewhere. The probable date of composition is about 1862.

Apart from the literary merit of the paper, and its interest as a record of forgotten circumstances, it is a fitting conclusion to the literary life of the veteran author, ending it where it may be said to have begun. Peacock’s first and only school had been at Englefield Green, on the verge of Windsor Forest, and there he imbibed that love for river and sylvan scenery in general, and for that of the Thames and Windsor in particular, which colours nearly all his writings.-R. G.]

Many of my younger, and some of my maturer years, were passed on the borders of Windsor Forest. I was early given to long walks and rural explorations, and there was scarcely a spot of the Park or the Forest with which I was not intimately acquainted. There were two very different scenes to which I was especially attached : Virginia Water, and a dell near Winkfield Plain.

The bank of Virginia Water which the public enter from the Wheatsheaf Inn, is bordered, between the cascade to the left and the iron gates to the right, by groves of trees, which, with the exception of a few old ones near the water, have grown up within my memory. They were planted by George the Third, and the entire space was called the King's Plantation. Perhaps they were more beautiful in an earlier stage than they are now; or I may so think and feel, through the general preference of the past to the present, which seems inseparable from old age.

In my first acquaintance with the place, and for some years subsequently, sitting in the large upper room of the Inn, I could look on the cascade and the expanse of the lake, which have long been masked by trees.

Virginia Water was always open to the public, through the Wheatsheaf Inn, except during the Regency and reign of George the Fourth, who not only shut up the grounds, but enclosed them,

« PreviousContinue »