« PreviousContinue »
"lightning passion, that with grasp of fire Advancest to the middle of a deed
Almost before 'tis planned ;"
but it is imagination that gives their beauty to so many of the choruses, and to that exquisite piece of descriptive writing detailing the supposed death of pytus. He has come nearer, we think, than any other candidate to giving the effect of the Greek chorus. Though his verse wants something of varied cadence and music, and the changes lie within too limited a range: and though, too, the sharp incessant ictus strikes with something of an artificial sound on the ear, yet he has caught something of that warbling lyric effect which is most characteristic of the ancient choruses, and makes them more like the singing of birds than any other music.
From the oak-built, fiercely-burning pyre,
Drove them screaming from their eyries!
When the shirt-wrapt, poison-blister'd Hero
Living, his own funeral-pile,
And stood, shouting for a fiery torch;
Coming swiftly through the sad Trachinians,
That the flame tower'd on high to the Heaven;
To the side of Hebe,
To immortal delight,
The labour-releas'd Hero.
O heritage of Neleus,
O town, high Stenyclaros,
With new walls, which the victors
From the four-town'd, mountain-shadow'd Doris,
For their Hercules-issu'd princes
Built in strength against the vanquish'd!
Another, another sacrifice on this day
Ye witness, ye new-built towers !
When the white-rob'd, garland-crowned Monarch
Approaches, with undoubting heart,
Living, his own sacrifice-block,
And stands, shouting for a slaughterous axe;
And the stern, Destiny-brought Stranger,
The inheritor of the realm,
Coming swiftly through the jocund Dorians,
Drives the axe to its goal:
That the blood rushes in streams to the dust;
Bearing with it, to Erinnys,
To the Gods of Hades,
To the dead unaveng'd,
The fiercely-requir'd Victim.
Knowing he did it, unknowing pays for it.
Right at the harbour-mouth,
Strikes, with all sail set,
ART. II.-STRAUSS'S LIFE OF ULRICH VON HUTTEN.
Ulrich von Hutten. Von David Friederich Strauss. 2 vols. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1858.
Epistola Obscurorum Virorum, aliaque Evi Decimi Sexti Monimenta rarissima. Die Briefe der Finsterlinge an Magister Ortuinus von Deventer, nebst andern sehr seltenen Beiträgen zur Litteratur- Sitten- und Kirchengeschichte des sechzehnten Jahrhunderts. Herausgegeben und erläutert durch Dr. Ernst Münch. (Letters of Obscure Men to Master Ortuinus of Deventer, with other very rare Contributions to the History of Letters, Manners, and the Church in the 16th Century. Edited and elucidated by Dr. Ernest Münch.) Leipzig, 1827.
CONSIDERING the important part which Ulrich von Hutten played in the history of the Reformation, singularly little is known concerning him. To men in other respects well informed he is scarcely more than a name. A few paragraphs, a sentence, an allusion, are all that is afforded him in the popular histories of his time. Those histories, it is true, have been mainly written by theologians; and Hutten's, though in many respects a manly and noble character, is not one to find favour with divines. His faults are those at which they are always ready to cast the first stone; and which the Lutheranism of his latter days, though, like charity, it will cover a multitude of sins, has not been able entirely to veil.
And yet Hutten, more fitly perhaps than any of his contemporaries, might stand as the representative man of his age. He did not, it is true, like Erasmus, "lay the egg of the Reformation," nor, like Luther, "hatch it." He was not so great a man, it is needless to say, as either of these. But while they embodied single tendencies, the religious and the humanistic, in unbalanced excess, in Hutten all the conflicting forces of the age were epitomised. In him, we see his own time, as it were in microcosm. Scholar, knight, soldier, a partisan of the Emperor against the Pope, and of Luther against the corruptions and "heresies" of Rome; a vindicator of the privileges of the feudal nobility against the encroachments of the sovereign princes,there is scarcely an aspect of his age, political, social, religious, or literary, to which his character does not present a corresponding phase. When to this we add the romantic interest of his life, whose vicissitudes and troubles St. Paul's words describe without exaggeration,-"In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, . . . in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren,
in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness,”—we are surprised that a character and career as attractive to the lover of the wonderful and adventurous, as it is significant to the philosophic student of history, should have been left to Dr. Strauss now for the first time worthily to set forth. He has diligently consulted all the materials which the works of his predecessors and literary collections have made accessible to him. Böcking, who has long been engaged on a collective edition of Ulrich von Hutten's writings, to supersede the slovenly and inaccurate volumes of Münch, has generously placed at Strauss's disposal the results of his researches and criticisms. Of the literary skill with which these elements are worked up, no reader of our author's former biographies will require to be assured. Strauss is no hero-worshiper. No one was ever less infected with the "lues Boswelliana, or disease of admiration," to which, as Lord Macaulay urges (and in some passages of his history, perhaps, illustrates), "biographers, translators, editors, all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or the writings of others, are peculiarly exposed." His cool judgment and clear analytic faculty protect him from this danger, as self-reliance is said to protect one against physical distemper. Dr. Strauss does not project himself into his subject. He stands calmly above it, surveying it. The figures do not breathe and move on the canvas. They are dissected on the surgeon's table, and lectured upon. No doubt, a biography written in this judicial spirit loses in interest, if it gains in impartiality. Of the solar rays, it is the province of some, we are told, to convey light, of others to carry heat, to the world. Dr. Strauss shines brightly upon his subject; but he shines exclusively with luminiferous rays. He gives out none of that quickening warmth which is able to make the dry bones of past events and half-forgotten men live again. Disappointing as this phlegmatic impassive temperament occasionally is, it is much better than the forced "geniality," the strained enthusiasm, the ambition above all things to be vivid and picturesque, which is a growing fault of English biographers. We' are never, in the case of Dr. Strauss, distracted with painful doubts as to whether a particular passage is intended to be admired as eloquent, or received as true. Conscientious fidelity, entire freedom from exaggeration,-the first and essential qualifications of the historian and biographer, just as truthfulness is the ground of all other virtues,-preeminently characterise him.
In Strauss's previous biographies, it is easy to perceive a doctrinal purpose, underlying the narrative, and colouring the author's reflections. He values the Greek element of our civilisation more than the Hebrew, pits the Classics against the Scriptures as instruments of individual culture and national health
and strength. There is a polemic aim also in the work before us, though of a somewhat different kind, and likely to enlist a wider range of sympathies. Hutten, indeed, would hardly serve to point the moral which was drawn from the lives of Frischlin, Schubart, and Märklin. He did not turn from theology to literature, but beginning with the humanist passed over to the Lutheran party. He was always, however, an intense asserter of German nationality,—of secular rights against ecclesiastical domination. The untoward events which have called forth Bunsen's Signs of the Times,-the insidious encroachments of Protestant synods no less than of Papal hierarchies upon freedom of conscience in Germany,-have evidently been inducements to the preparation of this book. But Hutten's own character and writings tell their tale so plainly, that there is no need for the author to appear as chorus, and point out their significance and application to the present time. Moreover, the impressive nature of the man,-whom Melancthon feared and wondered at while he esteemed, -keeps the biographer more faithful than he is wont to be to his allegiance, which is (so far as may be) to depict his hero in his habit as he lived, and not to moralise about him. The following passage of the preface, and the concluding paragraph of the biography, which is in the same vein, are almost the only portions of the work into which contemporary references intrude:
"For the rest, throughout this book I wish for not merely satisfied and favourable, but also right many dissatisfied readers. What kind of book on Ulrich Hutten would that be, with which all the world should be pleased? Would that my memoir might vex to the heart those whom our hero would vex if he were living to-day! May they desire to shatter the mirror, out of which their own countenance stares them so unflatteringly in the face! It is this which is excellent in Hutten, that throughout he called things and persons, most of all the bad, by their right names. In this time of Concordats (to mention but one of its evil symptoms), the image of such a man rises as if invoked. Hutten was, to his last breath, the enemy of papal Rome; he knew, and will tell us why, he was so. Indeed, just as he pointed out to his contemporaries the Turks in Rome, so would he to-day find Rome in more than one Protestant consistory.
He does not, however, in this first volume come before us in conflict against Rome. We shall first see him at school (eine Schule machen), preparing himself, by skirmishes with lesser foes, for the great work of his life. The second volume will bring us for the first time before the walls of the Romish Troy, which he was among the foremost to attack, in order at the last, reversing the case of Philoctetes (ein ungekehrter Philoktet) to die on the island of his serpent-wounds. But his arrows are immortal, and wherever in German lands a battle is gained against obscurantism and spiritual tyranny, against priestcraft and despotism, there have Hutten's weapons been." (vol. i. pp. xii-xiv.)