« PreviousContinue »
means prepared to follow these gentlemen into their ingenious disquisitions touching the period of sentiment and power, the period of the ideal, and the period of the elegant; but are quite satisfied with the evidence which the work itself affords, that it presents us with the favourite creations of the poet's youthful imagination, elaborated in the maturity of his manhood and his art. Götz, Werther, Meister, and Faust, are all shadowings forth of the feelings of Goethe's own youth; and we confess that we can see no distinction between the mind and manner exhibited in the earlier of these and in the later, except what may be easily accounted for by their dates. We miss, in short, in the performances that were published early, the knowledge which implies leisurely observation of our species, the wisdom which follows from the meditation of years, and the elegance which the bappiest genius must be content to purchase by patient reiteration of efforts. Give me,' says the poet, in his prologue to his Faust
“Give me the active spring of gladness,
Of pleasure stretch'd almost to pain ;
Give me my youth again !'
The wish for youthful force were wise
To win a battle or a race;
In yielding woman's close embrace.
The nerves of youth the bowl to drain;
We all may wish, and wish in vain.
Which makes our day more glorious ere it closes.' The work of art which its author has ventured to introduce in this manner, has enjoyed undivided popularity at home, and indeed there is scarcely any German critic who, if called upon to point out the production of the vernacular muse which he considers as most distinguished, whether by originality of conception or by power of execution, would hesitate to name 'the Faust of Goethe. Of the moral tendency of the performance, on the contrary, very different opinions have been formed, even in Germany: and in this country an unfavourable one appears to have generally prevailed. We confess that we are at a loss to compre
hend the grounds on which such an opinion has been maintained by any person acquainted with the drama as a whole; and have little doubt that the English critics who have condemned it as an immoral work, have permitted themselves to judge from mutilated translations. Lord Francis Gower himself has omitted in his version many passages which--whatever their appearance if singly presented to the reader's eye might be,-could never be considered as ill meant, if regarded in connection with the general strain of the poem,--and, in the total absence of which, justice certainly cannot be done to the true scope and design of the poet. We shall specify one example: he has very well translated the first part of Goethe's • Prologue in Heaven,' but omits entirely the sequel, in which, instead of the sublime chorus of angels and archangels celebrating the majesty of the spheres, we have the fiend Mephistopheles asking and receiving from the Almighty permission to make trial of the virtue and constancy of his servant Faust. There are some expressions in this dialogue which it might have been well to soften, but its entire omission is all but fatal to the understanding of the drama which ensues : Faust, never concluded by Goethe, and thus deprived of its commencement by his translator, can no more be expected to produce its just effect on the mind of the reader, than the Book of Job without its first and its last chapters. It is no great wonder that persons who have considered only an analysis such as Madame de Staëls, or a version thus incomplete, should, in spite of occasional passages, mistake the general purpose of the poet-and accuse him of ridiculing curiosity, knowledge, and virtue, while, in fact, he had himself taken especial precautions (whatever may be thought of the taste with which he had selected some of these) to make it clear to every capacity, that the only objects of his attack were the extravagance, restlessness, and misery of curiosity when directed to subjects beyond the legitimate range of human intellect, the uselessness of mere knowledge divorced from wisdom by the intervention of vanity, and the feebleness of that virtue which presumes to rely solely on itself. Faust, a good man at heart, a man of lofty and tender feelings by nature, is to be humbled in his intellectual pride; and for this purpose the devil is permitted to have full power over him, but this, as it is expressly said, only for a season.
Is well aware of the right way.' - Accordingly. Faust, led by the cunning fiend through every
walk of seduction, sinning grievously, and giving occasion not only to sin and sorrow, but to all the horrors of blood and remorse, remains, throughout his career, within the reach of our human sympathies. Nor can any one, who weighs well the last scene of the poem, doubt that, if the author had ever completed it, the repentance of the seducer would have come forth and been rewarded as fully as that of his victim, Margaret.
The omission we have noticed is, moreover, attended with a disadvantageous effect of quite a different kind. The Faust, though it be called a tragedy on its title-page, is in fact, and was designed to be, a Mystery, and the reader loses a great deal in not being compelled to recognize, from the very outset, this--the peculiar charaeter of the piece. The audacious dialogue in the prologue does not stand alone; there are numberless passages scattered over the performance, the effect of which must be miserably impaired, if not distorted, if we do not recollect that the poet has in his hands the Gothic license of that essentially Gothic form of composition. In one page we have Raphael and Gabriel uttering strains of Miltonic harmony and grandeur, in the hearing of all the host of Heaven. In another, the jabber of fiends and sorcerers in their witch-sabbath presents an unearthly mixture, in which it is impossible to draw any definite line between the grotesque and the ghastly, the sadness of immortal degradation, and the buffoonery of diabolical despair. In the midst of all this, human passions-love, hatred, revenge, repentance, remorse-clothe themselves alternately in the severest simplicity of idiomatic dialogue, and the softest or noblest strains of lyric poetry. Even mere satire--the satire of literature, of manners, of politics, above all, of philosophy, finds its place. The effect of so strange a medley of elements must have been abundantly considered by so learned an artist as Goethe; and -no i translator can have any right to interfere with him by diminishing their number or variety,
By far the greater number of Lord F. Gower's faults are of this kind-sins of omission; and they occur most frequently in the most fanciful and airy parts of the poem. Thus the scene in which the philosopher Faust conjures up the elemental spirits, and endures: the mortification of being rejected by them as unworthy of any participation in their society, is reduced, most unhappily, to not more than two thirds of its proper dimensions ; and of the little snatches of songs in which various subordinate demons mysteriously, and as it were in whispers, communicate with Mephistopheles, while he is playing on his victim's perplexities. ere the final surrender is ratified, scarcely a trace can be perceived in the
translation. The wild vagaries of the Mayday-night's scene are also sadly curtailed; and the interlude of Oberon and Titania's bridal is entirely left out.
This last omission is particularly injudicious, because the crowd and tumult of contradictory images, of which so large a portion is thus struck from the page, must have been expressly designed and congregated by the poet, in order to deceive the reader's fancy, and bewilder so thoroughly all sense of the lapse of time as to render tolerable the otherwise abrupt transition from the commencement of poor Margaret's errors to the consummation of all her earthly woes.
Even in the plainest and most perspicuous parts of the main action and dialogue, however, we could point out many instances where his lordship has retrenched, in the total absence, according to our notion, of any sufficient reason for retrenchment. For example: why should we lose the savage sarcasm of the fiend, when, deriding all intellectual pursuits, and extolling the substantial, as he chooses to represent them, pleasures of the senses, he exclaims to the sorely puzzled Doctor“?
'Yes-in my mind your man of speculation
These fair green meadows mock the sage's feast !' or why should the scene which represents the citizens rejoicing in the fields on Easter Sunday be deprived of its best song?
“The shepherd deck'd bim for the green,
And gaily deck'd was he ;
Beneath our linden tree,' &c. In our opinion a careful revision is all that is wanted to make Lord F.'s version as satisfactory as a whole, as the specimens we are about to quote will prove it to be happy in parts; and we trust that, in the favour with which his work, in its present state, has been received, the author will permit himself to find not only the reward of the talent he has already exerted, but a stimulus for his industry.
As all the world is acquainted with Madame de Staël's Germany, and Schlegel's Lectures on the Literature of the Drama, we may, we presume, take it for granted, that anything in the shape of a. regular analysis of the Faust would be superfluous in this place. Our readers cannot have forgotten the fine art with which Goethe interrupts his hero, when the vexed man of speculation' is about to seek refuge from all his troubles in a voluntary death.
Thou lonely flask, with reverential awe,
Essence of painless rest, untortured death,*
Now show your healing influence, for ye can;
I hold ye, and my phrenzy cools again.
And the broad sun's last rays to distant shores invite.' Faust then takes down a goblet-and is checked for a moment by the train of recollections which the sight of that 'old domestic ornament' calls up.
• I have not thought on thee this many a year.
Oft at my father's feast, the rosy wine
And add a lustre to the good man's cheer.
When the blithe comrades pledged thee through the night,' &c. But he recovers his resolution--and pouring the poison out of the cup exclaims
*In thee the troubles of my soul I cast,
Hail the blest drops and drain them to the last.'t At this moment the effective interruption occurs : Faust sets the cup to his lips, and at that instant the church bells begin to ring. It is Easter morning, and the anthem is heard in the distance. The sequel is skilfully rendered :
What thrilling sounds, what music's choral swell
Arrests the band which death but now defied ?
The solemn hour of Easter's holy tide ?
When the new covenant was ratified ?'...
* Lord F. Gower would improve his version by transposing these two lines. The original runs literally, Thou essence of all that is soft in slumber, thou extract of all that is delicately deadly.'
+ The translator does not observe that this takes place just as the first rays of the dawntouch the window-whence the propriety of the original, ' Be this my last draught with my whole soul dedicated as a high festival-offering to the morning.'