Page:Studies of a Biographer 2.djvu/51

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39
THE IMPORTATION OF GERMAN

make what contribution I can to this passage in literary history.[1]

It is a familiar fact that no Englishman read German literature in the eighteenth century. One sufficient reason was that there was no German literature to read. When philosophers such as Leibnitz and Wolff expounded their doctrines in French and Latin, when the great Frederick sat at the feet of Voltaire, and regarded his own literature as barbarous, foreigners could not be expected to qualify themselves for puzzling out the intricacies of an old-fashioned German sentence. The first-fruits of the independent German movement had no overpowering charm. I never read Klopstock's Messiah myself, but I am told by those who have, that if the perusal of that work were the sole reward of a victorious wrestle with German, the game might scarcely be worth the candle. Here and there we find men induced to go through the struggle. Early in the century the admirable William Law, of The Serious Call, studied German that he might translate the mystical works of Jacob Böhme, to whom he was attracted, as

  1. Mr. Herzfeld has been good enough to send me some notes of which I have taken advantage below.