The Dial/Volume 15/Number 171/A Year of Continental Literature
A YEAR OF CONTINENTAL LITERATURE.
For some time past "The Athenæum" has published annual summaries of the current literature of Continental Europe, each country of importance being represented by a special article. To the year just ended are devoted no less than thirty-two pages of the issue for July 1 of our English contemporary, and the information given by this series of communications is of such interest that we feel justified in devoting considerable space to a summary of their contents. There are in all thirteen articles, the countries represented being Belgium, Bohemia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, and Sweden. This list includes, it will be seen, every European country of any literary importance, with the two exceptions of Norway and Portugal.
M. Joseph Reinach, who is the French contributor to this symposium, thus comments upon the general literary situation in France:
"The word crisis is, indeed, the most applicable to
the present state of French letters. They are on a field of battle where two different mental tendencies are struggling for mastery: science and metaphysics, criticism and belief, realism and idealism. Fifty or sixty years ago the same phenomenon appeared, and then romanticism triumphed over classicism, positivism over spiritualism, liberal ideas over the old principles of absolutism. Which will triumph to-day cannot be predicted with certainty. Perhaps neither of the tendencies which I have indicated will be victorious; perhaps the two currents of existing thought will continue to run parallel. At most one may discover under the vacillations of the moment an uneasiness in matters of social action, and in regard to letters in particular a growing belief that they are not merely a relaxation, an amusement, or a consolation, but that they ought to result in some direct teaching and help to man, tracing for him a line of conduct in life. This will be better understood after
a rapid glance at the principal works of French literature during the last twelve months."
After a few comments upon the influence exerted over French thought by the two great men of letters who have recently died — Renan and Taine — M. Reinach begins his review with some remarks about M. Ernest Lavisse, whose "Jeunesse de Frédéric II." is one of the notable books of the year.
"His talents as a sagacious historian and a fascinating writer have often been remarked upon, but he is,
perhaps, less known as an educationalist to those who are not familiar with the progress and history of schoolmastering. M. Ernest Lavisse has in this department left a very deep impress on the generation of young professors and their youthful auditors of the Faculty of Letters at Paris, where he teaches. After 1870 he held that it was the mission of the Ministers of Public Education, and especially of the professors of history, to know and make known the secret of our conqueror's power. That is why all his endeavors have been concentrated on the annals of Prussia and Germany. His success has been so signal, both in the quality of the matter and the excellence of the manner of his work, that the author of 'Etudes sur les Origines de la Prusse' is recognized to-day as an incontestable authority on
Studies of the French Revolution have figured largely in the work of the past year, having been encouraged by the Society of the History of the Revolution, and by a special chair established by the Faculty of Letters at Paris. Some of the books in this department are M. Aulard's "Le Culte de la Raison et le Culte de l'Etre Suprême, 1793-1794," the fourth volume of M. Albert Sorel's "L'Europe et la Révolution," and M. H. Houssaye's "1815." Other historical studies are M. Thureau-Dangin's work on the reign of Louis Philippe, M. Spuller's work on Lamennais, M. Leroy-Beaulieu's "La Papaute, L'Eglise, et la Démocratic," and M. Benoist's "L'Eglise et l'Etat." In poetry, M. Jose Maria de Heredia's "Les Trophees" is singled out for special praise. In fiction, the place of first importance is given to M. Zola's "La Débâcle," of which we read:
Other noteworthy works of fiction are M. Bourget's "Terre Promise" aand "Cosmopolis," M. Margueritte's "Sur le Retour," M. Prevost's "L'Automne d'une Femme," M. France's "Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque," M. Barres's "L'Ennemi des Lois," and M. Lemaître's "Les Rois." In criticism are mentioned a volume of essays by M. Brunetière, M. de Vogüé's "Heures d'Histoire," and M. Doumic's "De Scribe à Ibsen." M. Reinach concludes his article in the following hopeful strain:
"When this work appeared its morality was the subject of much discussion. Some of its critics took exception to the mournful picture of the military disorganization, the despair and general hopelessness which marked the terrible downfall of the empire. Some, indeed, went so far as to accuse M. Zola of a serious lack of patriotism for having thus laid bare the story of our
army's sufferings and defeats. These criticisms do not seem to me to have much foundation. The catastrophe at Sedan, terrible as it was, had certain lessons to teach, and it is well that someone should have interpreted them. There is a patriotism, as sincere and as ardent as the other, which finds in a defeat something to be learned and pondered over for future guidance."
"The ethic — or, to use a less pretentious word, the
moral character — of literature is regaining importance. The most of our men of letters are writers with a thesis — even those who seem to sacrifice the least to the desire of proving a truth; and the most wayward allow themselves to be impressed by the serious problems of the moment. In poetry, too, symbolism — efforts to express what young theorists call 'the mystery of things' — is a sign of the general state of men's minds. It is the same with the historian in the choice of subject, and with the character and part some assign to critics. 'L'art pour l'art,' 'le désintéressement littéraire,' are phrases that have had their day, as well as descriptions of gross realities. The object of our best writers appears to be to teach men what one of them calls 'le devoir présent et l'action morale.'"
Herr Robert Zimmermann, who writes the German article, says that the literature of his country at the present day has less to fear from a comparison with contemporary literatures than from a comparison with its former greatness, with the "time of its literary classicism and philosophical idealism," which is so obvious as hardly to be worth the saying. In dramatic literature, nothing published has been found worthy of the Grillparzer prize, which is awarded only to dramas of inherent worth and proved success upon the stage. We have mention, however, of Herr Fulda's "Das Verlorene Paradies" and "Die Sklavin," of Herr Sudermann's "Hirmat," of Herr Hauptmann's "Die Weber," of Herr Wilbrandt's "Der Meister von Palmyra," and of Herr Widmann's "Jenseits von Gut und Böse." The latter title is also given to the latest philosophical work of Herr Nietzsche. This is a very fin de siècle book, as appears from the writer's comment:
"The justifiable contention that the man who has arrived at complete moral control over himself no longer requires the leading-strings of duty and legal restraint
goes too far when it is assumed that commands and precepts are only binding upon 'lower' mankind, and that the 'higher,' or so-called 'upper,' mankind is above the law and the opposite qualities of good and bad. The moral cynicism contained therein is veiled by the semblance of greatness that superiority to the law conjures
up in the minds of naïve readers and onlookers."
Among novels, Herr Heyse's "Merlin" leads the list, followed by the "Per Aspera" of Dr. Ebers, the "Sonntagskind" of Herr Spielhagen, and the "Glaubenslos" of Frau von Ebner-Eschenbach. The Goethe Gesellschaft has been active during the year, and has done something towards the rehabilitation of Christiane. There has been no end of Bismarck literature, mostly ephemeral. Herr Nietzsche, besides the book already mentioned, has published the fourth volume of his principal work, "Also Sprach Zarathustra." Having fallen a victim to the curse of insanity, the career of this brilliant writer is probably closed.
Literature has been active in all three of the Scandinavian countries, and we much regret that Norway should be unrepresented in the "Athenæum" symposium. Herr Alfred Ipsen, writing from Denmark, tells us:
"The public is tired of books crammed with discussion, so that they seem the works of so many journalists — tired of a sterile realism, which has ended with
giving us only photographs of life, disregarding the human soul's everlasting thirst for something beyond or behind reality. There is a feeling that we have had enough of sexual abnormities and pathological phenomena — enough of stories of sinful and merely sensual love, detailed with minute accuracy. … Some point to Maeterlinck as the prophet to come, and comment on his works, while they proceed to imitate him as fast as they can. Many still swear by Henrik Ibsen, and especially by his last esoteric dramas. French symbolists also are finding imitators and eulogists among
our youngest writers, and Baudelaire has been canonized by a few young poets who 'have read him.'"
The writer makes particular mention of the interest aroused in Denmark by the Shelley centenary, and of Dr. A. Hansen's translation of "Prometheus Unbound." A sumptuous monograph on Thorvaldsen is among the noteworthy books of the year, but the name of the author is not given. A great cooperative work on the Denmark of to-day is also mentioned. A dictionary of Danish national biography is being edited by Herr Hegel of the Gyldendalske firm of publishers. Other books of importance are Professor P. Hansen's "History of the Royal Danish Theatre," Dr. Vedel's work upon Dante, and his "Kulturbaerere" ("Bearers of Culture"), the latter being studies of Boccaccio, Petrarch, Chauncer, and others.
Herr Hugo Tigerschiöld, who writes from Sweden, thus characterizes the most important book of the year:
"The most remarkable literary production of the year is certainly Louis de Geer's 'Minnen' ('Memoirs'). Animated by an infinite love of truth, the aged statesman has bequeathed to his country the picture of a noble and upright, clear, if not altogether deep personality, in whoose life, both private and political, one can never detect any but the purest motives. At the smae time he has imparted to us in these memoirs many important and hitherto unknown documents relating to Sweden's most recent history, which no one knows better than he who has taken such an active part."
The death of Countess Leffler-Cajanello was the most serious loss of Swedish letters during the year; a posthumous sketch of her friend, Professor Sonja Kovalevski, is among the books of the mentioned by the writer of this article. Another posthumous work of importance gives to the public the letters and memoirs of the great chemist Scheele, and proves, we are told, "to demonstration the claims of Scheele to be regarded as the discoverer of oxygen." The following extract from the Swedish article is of much interest:
The article on Italy is the work of Signori Ruggero Bonghi and Giovanni Zannoni, and the following extracts are taken from the opening paragraphs: by those who have themselves closely followed it in the past, and the rise of a lyric poetry whose aim is to be the exponent of the miseries of the wretched. Hence academic poetry with its fixed poetic systems is falling into disuse, and it is not possible to save it. Upon its ruins is rising a new type of lyric poetry, devoting itself to otiose meanderings. The first fact need occasion nothing but rejoicing; the second should warn us to advance somewhat circumspectly. Since a young poetess, Ada Negri, with the true poetic instinct, strong and original, has carried a generous wrath into glowing verses, too many have thought themselves to be inspired by the social muse; but its notes are harsh and sombre. No longer do we see the old-fashioned Arcadia with its piping shepherds, but another type of Arcadia — perhaps a less pleasing one — with its oppressed and its barricades."
The difficulties which Swedish authors in the field of belles-lettres have to contend with, and which, so far as they result from limited area of language and the restriction of the book market to a very short period of the year, have already been touched upon in my previous review, have led during the the present year to a combination of authors into an Authors' Union. The narrow circle which an author in Sweden can reckon upon, in consequence of the limited area of the language in genera, is made even narrower than it need be by several circumstances. A torrent of translations from foreign belles-lettres of very doubtful value, not unfrequently acquired by publishers at unreasonable low prices, really floods the market, and competes with the works of original native authors. The Union has, therefore, set before it the task of ostracizing both bad translations and translations of bad books, and thereby establishing fixed minimum prices for both translations and original works."
Among novels we are especially asked to note Signer Praga's "La Biondina," Signer de Rossi's "Mai d'Amore," Signer Farina's "Amore Bugiarda," Signer Mambrini's "A Bordo," and Signora Serao's "Castigo." In miscellaneous literature, Signora Beri's "In Calabria," Senatore Pasolini's "Caterina Sforza," Signer Centelli's "Caterina Cornaro e il Sue Regno," and Signer Carducci's "La Storia del Giorno di Giuseppe Parini," seem to be particularly noteworthy.
Señor Riaño leads off his discussion of contemporary Spanish letters with some remarks upon the books called forth by the Columbus centenary. Among these we note "Autógrafos de Cristobal Colon y Papeles de America," a volume of original documents published by the Duchess of Berwick and Alba, and Señor Asensio's "Fuentes Históricas Sobre Colon y America." The writer thus concludes the Columbus section of his article:
"To end with this topic, which is becoming rather
tedious, I may conclude by saying that two important points have been gained: one is that it is almost certain that Columbus's birthplace was Savona; the other that Amerigo Vespucci never thought of giving, or pretended to give, his own name to the new continent discovered by Columbus, but that it was entirely the fault of those
who drew the first charts of the discovered continent."
We are also told of the Congress of Americanists assembled last October at Huelva, and of the linguistic studies stimulated by that gathering. There has been of late a considerable revival in Spain of interest in Arabic studies, as the following paragraph will show:
"For some time past my countrymen seem to have
arrived at the conviction that the study of the Oriental languages, and principally of the Magrebi or Western Arabic, is not only indispensable for the complete knowledge of the national annals, but also useful in view of Spain's mercantile and political relations with Morocco. Hence it is that the number of chairs or professorships at the universities has been increased; that manuscripts have been bought at Tunis, Algiers, and elsewhere; and that numerous publications are daily being made on the history and geography of Mohammedan Spain. I scarcely need call your readers' attention to the collection of Hispano-Arab historians which the learned Professor of Arabic at the University of Madrid is now continuing, and the eighth volume of which, containing the text of Ebu Alfaradhí, a writer of the fourteenth century of our era, has just appeared. Under the title of 'Estudios sobre la Invasion de los Arabes en España,' Saavedra (Don Eduardo) has published what may be rightly denominated a luminous essay on the invasion of
Spain by the Moors."
In belles-lettres, nothing of special importance has appeared during the year, unless we accord that distinction to "Mariana" and "Dolores," two comedies by Señor Echegaray.
M. Paul Fredericq's Belgian article opens as follows:
"The two principal events in the annals of French
literature in Belgium during the last twelve months are the republication of the 'Légende d'Uylenspiegel' of the late Charles de Coster, and the production at Paris
of the 'Pelléas et Mélisaude' of M. Maurice Maeterlinck."
Other works deemed worthy of special mention are M. Nautet's "Histoire des Lettres Beiges d'Expression Française," M. Eekhoud's " Au Siècle de Shakespeare," M. Kurth's "L'Histoire Poétique des Mérovingiens," the conclusion of "L'Œuvre de P. P. Rubens," by M. Rooses, and the conclusion of the "Cours d'Histoire Nationale," by Mgr. Namèche. Of the latter work we read:
"The twenty-ninth and last volume of Mgr. Nameche's
great 'Cours d'Histoire Nationale' has just made its appearance, although the author died, at the age of eighty-two, in January last. This volume stops at the year 1804, and deals with the history of Belgium under the Consulate. The first volume of this vast and scholarly
composition was published forty years ago."
Among books written in the Flemish language, the writer gives the place of first importance to M. van Zuylen's "De Belgische Taalwetten Toegelicht," a work "designed to furnish an account of the laws on the official use of the two national languages." The death of Laveleye has been the great loss of the year in Belgian letters.
From Holland, Mr. Taco H. de Beer writes to inform us that "there is a dreadful monotony about the middle-class Dutchman and about the ordinary society of the Dutch East Indies, which form the staple materials of our novelists." The successes in Dutch fiction have been "Eene Illusie," by Mr. Couperus, "Johannes Viator," by Mr. van Eeden, and "De Brederos," a historical novel by Professor Jan ten Brink. Among plays, "Petrus Dathenus," by Mr. Hoogewerf, and "Het Goudvischje," by Mr. van Nouhuys, are noted. The following note is of curious philological interest:
"What might interest English readers is the appearance of a little book of Professor Bulbring, the wellknown philologist from Heidelberg, who lately was made
Professor of English at Groningen. The oratio inauguralis of the Professor of English at a Dutch university was delivered in — German! The professor's predecessor was never heard speaking English in public, nor will the present professor address his audience in that language. As Professor Bulbring discoursed about 'Wege und Ziele der Englischen Philologie,' it is rather curious that he did not prove by example that speaking
the language is one of the aims of English philology."
Contemporary Russian literature is treated at some length by Mr. P. Milyoukov, who does not, however, find many important works to mention. What he says of the literary tendencies of the last decades is highly interesting.
"The 'men of the eighties,' who made a virtue of
their want of principle, have been silent. It is not so long ago that they were making a stir and causing people to talk of them, although by no means formidable; but latterly, although certain publicists belonging to the party still continue to pour out the vials of their wrath, nobody pays them any attention. Again, during the 'seventies' a curious movement sprang up which was called 'going among the people,' and consisted in an adoption of the life of farm labourers by educated and cultivated young men, who thus established colonies amongst the peasantry which served as centres for the spread of socialism. During the 'eighties' these settlements succumbed to the prevalent tone, and, cutting themselves off from their surroundings, devoted themselves, partly under the influence of Tolstoy's teachings, to the work of self-perfection. To-day they have taken a new departure. They have recognized that this self-centred work of internal improvement leads inevitably to mysticism and sectarianism, and deprives them of all wider influence. In a word, the rise in the social temperature, which I recorded last year, continues unmistakably. The Russian social movement is clearly preparing itself for fresh and increasing efforts. To begin with, after putting aside the programme of the 'men of the eighties,' we have commenced an active survey of the social programmes of preceding periods. This is, indeed, the meaning of a renewal of the controversy between our liberals and our radicals, or party of the people; for in a country where eighty-eight per cent of the population are peasants, radicalism is bound
to be popular."
A few of the publications mentioned by Mr. Milyoukov are the "Village Communes" of Vorontzov, an "Essay in Russian Historiography," by Professor Ikonnikov, and a volume of "Sketches and Tales," by Korolenko.
Mr. Adam Belcikowski, who writes of things Polish, calls our attention to "Lux in Tenebris Lucet," and "Do We Follow Him," both by Mr. Sienkiewicz, and both showing signs of an encroaching mysticism which we hope will not make of this great writer a second Tolstoï. "Charcyzy," a historical novel by Mr. Rawita, and "The Annals of the Western Slavs," by Mr. Bogulawski, are other noticeable books of the year. Mr. V. Tille, the Bohemian correspondent, reports much Comenius literature, two volumes of poems and one of essays by Mr. Vrchlicky, the first part of Mr. Vlcek's "History of Bohemian Literature," and a general tendency towards realism. Herr Leopold Katcher, writing from Hungary, praises "The Gyurkovics Girls," by Mr. Ferencz Herczeg, the True Stories " of Dr. Adolf Agai, Mr. Gracza's "Life and Work of Kossuth," and the "Social Economy" of Professor Földes. Mr. Jokai, also, has published a novel, "Brother George," in five volumes. This popular writer is soon to celebrate "the half-centenary of his literary activity" — or rather it will be celebrated for him by the publication of his collected works in a limited édition de luxe. Last of all upon our list comes an article from Greece, by Mr. S. P. Lambros, who tells us of Mr. Karkavitsas, and his tales, called "Diegemata"; of "The Eyes of My Soul," by Mr. Palamas, and "The Singer of the Village and the Fold," by Mr. Krystallis, both volumes being verse. With these notes we must bring to an end our digest of this very valuable series of articles, referring our readers to the pages of "The Athenæum" both for other titles and for further details concerning the books that we have singled out for mention.