« PreviousContinue »
Russell's (Lord John) Letter to the Elec-
tors of the City of London, 82
Scotland-its Faith and its Features.
By the Rev. F. Trench, 378
the Second, 289
Irish Church, 108
Parish (The) Choir, or Church Music
of Commons, Jan. 27, 1846, 191
Quinet's Works, 407
The true Grandeur of Nations. An
Oration by Charles Sumner, Esq., 502
Recent Secessions--Mr. Oakeley, Mr.
Walpole (Horace) Memoirs of the Reign
of King George the Third. By Sir
Denis le Marchant, 201
G. J. PALMER, PRINTER, SAVOY STREET, STRAND.
OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE
Art. I.-Faustus. A Dramatic Mystery. Translated from
the German of Goëthe, and illustrated with Notes, by JOAN
ANSTER, LL.D., of Trinity College, Dublin. London, 1835. How many translations of Faust have appeared during the last fifteen
years, it would not perhaps be any more useful than it would be easy to ascertain. As it is the first ambition of every young player to act Hamlet, so it seems every student of German, as soon as he has mastered his grammar and can spell out a sentence without too much help from a dictionary, thinks he must make use of his new acquirement in giving the public one more version of Faust in good or bad English verse. We have no intention of examining their respective merits,—we have only seen a few of them, and those we have only serve to convince us, that like a metrical version of the Psalms, what they are attempting is, strictly speaking, an impossibility. Not that the English language is unfit to represent shades of thought so deep and intricate, but that full-grown thought, like full-grown trees, does not admit of transplanting without a sacrifice of at least all such growth of leaves and flowers as may be blooming on it when it is moved. Faust may take root in any human mind as Plato's Dialogues may, and reappear under a metamorphosis with such form and foliage as suits its new climate; but of being rendered literally, verse for verse and line for line, it admits as little as the Iliad or the Agamemnon. A prose translation which would be content to sacrifice form to a close adherence to the letter of the original, would be a real benefit to us; but till such appear, whoever wishes to understand anything of Goëthe must be content to study him in the original. Of the translations, however, such as they are, Dr. Anster's is certainly very much
the best. Aiming so little as he does at ornament, he has preserved far the largest share of the meaning, and his careful and voluminous notes have gained him the respectful attention even of the fastidious critics of Germany. It is with the however, rather than with its translators, that we have to do, and here we take leave of them, with all gratitude for what they have done and what they have tried to do; saying, at the same time, that they indicate at least this, a growing feeling in men's minds, that somehow or other, whatever it mean, Faust is the poem of this century—the mirror which all thinking men in all countries just at present will receive good from looking into, as likely to give them more insight than they will get elsewhere into what is going on inside their own breasts. Dr. Anster will kindly permit us to avail ourselves of his translation for such extracts as we shall have to make; yet, before we leave him, will he as kindly allow us to ask him one question, and take some opportunity in his future writings to give us something like an answer to it. Why did he translate the poem at all? What does he understand by it? He has examined all the commentaries, he has tried all the solutions, and in the end he is obliged to acknowledge that either he has missed the ineaning altogether, or if his conjecture is right, so far from having any light of God's truth about it, it is all devilish falsehood.
I remember,' he says, but one passage in which it can be anticipated how the difficulties of this drama can be solved, rendered so complicated as they are by the hero falling the victim of every artifice of the tempter. In that passage it seems to be obscurely intimated that the victim will finally escape from the toils; that while the desire for good continues, man cannot utterly fall; that sin is but the error of our wandering in permitted darkness; that evil, known as evil, will cease to be; that increase of light is in fact all that man wants to release him from error and perplexity, for if I understand my author rightly, it cannot properly be called sin. If this be Goëthe's creed, I have little hesitation in describing it as “vain wisdom all and false philosophy.” The increasing light and knowledge may be easily imagined without any corresponding effect on character, and the most fearful enigma of our mysterious nature, is the possibility of sinning against light. If what Goëthe means is this, that while the principle of conscience still survives, there is hope for man; that every undirected aspiration is evidence not alone of his fitness for something better, but also of this, that what we call moral evil is only the evil of surrounding circumstances, and that the ultimate rescue for which man is to hope, is not a change of nature and of heart, but a removal of all that is inconvenient in his circumstances, and the provision of a heaven fitted for his unchanged nature; and if the poem is to be regarded as seriously teaching this doctrine, or any doctrine that involves the admission of these principles, I have nothing more to say, than that among the shapings of the unregenerate heart no wilder theory has been before suggested; that in my view, the most dreary infidelity would be better than such a hopeless faith. A belief that regards as indifferent everything but vague sentiment, is worse than any scepticism.'
Now, if this was all that Dr. Anster made of Goëthe's philosophy, or if he made this at all of it, we can find no excuse for or explanation of his publishing either this poem, or the many others of Goëthe's which he has done at various intervals since. We cannot flatter him (as we cannot believe that he himself can persuade himself) that after all a poem will be judged as a poem; that the Faust of Goëthe will have as little effect on morality or theology, as the Faustus of Marlowe.' From what he says we should think he has never seen the second part, or if he has, he has assumed with many other worthy critics, that it has no connexion, except in the accident of the name, with anything that has occurred before. We cannot see how, studying Goethe as he has done, he can have failed to learn that of all the philosophic teachers who have appeared on this earth since Shakspeare, he is by far the most remarkable; and that as such, what he has written must not only influence but will more or less have the entire forming of the coming world. Goethe's writings, if we study them in connexion with the history of his life, are all pictures of conditions through which his mind passed, and which as he rose through them he crystallized into form, and so delivered himself of them; Werter, Prometheus, Epimenides, last of all this great life drama of Faust
Hurrying with speed more swift than words can tell,
Rapid as thought, from heaven, through earth, to hell,' are but the history of his mind, (the type in this matter, and completest exhibition of all minds at this age,) struggling with the obscurest and deepest questions of human nature.
Faust for sixty years incessantly present in his thoughts, as a whole, must be supposed to contain such answers to these questionings as the full powers of his truly most awful mind were able at last to give; and therefore we believe that as the world grows older, and more and more grows up to him, this poem will exercise more influence over the entire scheme of thought, in time to come, than any other book, poem, treatise or philosophy whatsoever; and we cannot agree with Dr. Anster, and we cannot excuse him for having given so much of his precious time and labour to the making accessible to persons, who might have been saved from it, what he considers to be deadly poison. Perhaps this
may be the best opportunity to notice a question
often asked, whether Faust is a moral poem, to warn people against such questions, and to say, once for all, that in no work of art whatsoever of a higher kind than the Edgeworth novels, is any didactic sentiment capable of being expressed in propositions ever to be looked for: for all art is imitation; dramatic art imitation of huinan life, thought, and action. If, as the Miss Edgeworth school of writers would have us believe, a poem must contain a moral sentiment; one simple and incomplex, and nothing more; then the lives and actions of human beings, would be equally reducible to such simple formulæ, which we cannot think is true: if it were, the world would be a far simpler business to manage than it is. It is not true, in any sense at all, even of the most common-place character, and therefore the very simplest stories that have got such moral to them, are exactly, in so far as they have this moral, untrue to nature. Faust, like Hamlet and Othello, must be read as human nature in a case of crystal, where we may learn to read the anatomy of our own hearts in that which is the epitome of all hearts, and know ourselves, and govern ourselves, and that is all; perhaps enough, if we go to work as we may do. In this lies the true difficulty of the poem: because the hero, as being not only an individual, but a representative of the Universal, has to assume such Protean forms. He is Prometheus over again : now a person thinking, working, suffering, rising, and falling : now the human race: now a part of it at a particular time. In the second part it is yet worse. Modern politics, romantic art, each are represented in the person of Faust, and at last he falls again into the individual soul to be saved. But to all this we shall return hereafter.
We have said we believe Goëthe to be the most remarkable person the world has seen for centuries. And this is the reason we believe so. It is said by certain not very wise philosophers, that men never know the value of faith till they have passed through a state of doubt. It would be nearer the truth to say that a man who had once doubted never could believe-the objects of faith are not like the objects of pure reason, self-convincing to all persons under all circumstances; if it were so, how could believing rightly be a part of our trial : nor would it be right to say they are so (that the creeds are so, for instance) to fair minds, to unprejudiced minds, who will weigh evidence, and so on. Evidence (meaning external evidence of certain facts) has very little to do with it. It is with the heart man believeth ; to the prepared heart only the objects of the Christian faith are the proper correlative; and, as a general rule, almost without exception, it is only by the antecedent presence of faith in the heart that it can be so prepared. To this rule an exception