Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb
Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb, an eminent German poet, one of the forerunners of the great German poetic renaissance of the 18th century-" the German Milton," as he is frequently styled-was born at Quedlinburg, Saxony, July 2, 1724. He received his early education at the school of his native place, and when sixteen years of age was admitted to the Gymnasium at Naumburg, where he became acquainted with the style of the classical authors of his country. While here his private hours were devoted to compositions both in prose and verse, particularly to the writing of pastorals, which were in great vogue among the Germans, and it is said that even at that early period he had decided to write a poem of greater length than any that had hitherto been attempted by his countrymen, and one that should do honor to German literature, which was at this time rather at low ebb. France was in the avantguard of political influence, and everything French was considered worthy of imitation; but French influence was most completely manifest in the social life of the Germans, particularly in their literature, and, as a late writer in the Westminster Review (Oct. 1871, p. 212) has it, "at no time, perhaps, was it more difficult to form and express original views in Germany." Klopstock had acquired the English language, and in his readings of English works his eye had fallen upon the immortal production of Milton. Trained from his youth to a religious life, and destined for the ministry, he naturally decided to present his nation with a like work that should stand by the side of the English production. If no more, he was determined that the German mind should turn towards English literature, and drink at its fountains, rather than be any longer subjected to that cold, correct, and unimaginative spirit which had hitherto tyrannized over their thoughts and habits. Bodmer, the great leader of the so-called " Swiss school" of German literature, and others of the Swiss school, were already furnishing his countrymen with able translations of English poets; among other works, he translated Milton's Paradise Lost. In 1745 Klopstock went to the University of Jena to study theology, but, amid the pursuit of studies in divinity, his attention at every convenient moment was occupied with the great work which he had projected. During his residence at that institution he composed the first three cantos in prose; but after his removal to Leipzig (in 1746), having made trial of hexameters in imitation of the melodious strains of Homer and Virgil, and being pleased with the success of the experiment, he resolved to execute the whole poem in that measure. Finally, in 1748, the first three cantos of his Messiah were published in the Bremer Beitrage, a journal which had been started by men determined, like Klopstock, to break loose from that shallow despotism which, under the leadership of the pedantic Gottsched, had so long hung over them. The fame of Klopstock, whom the year previous such men as Gellert, Rabener, Hagedorn, and Gleim had pointed out as the man likely and competent to inaugurate a new era in German poetry, now spread far and wide; for that poem enjoyed an extraordinary popularity among all who could appreciate the attractions of elegant diction and high devotional feeling. It was the subject of admiration in every circle-even in the pulpit it attracted notice, and was often quoted with applause. It gratified its pious author by its subserviency to the purposes of practical religion, for many portions of it were set to sacred music, and sung at the family worship of the Germans, and many of its finest passages were introduced to give point and liveliness to the pages of religious and devotional works of that day. It raised the name of Klopstock to the highest pinnacle of renown, insomuch that all classes of his countrymen, even the peasantry, learned to understand and love him as a sacred poet. His fame was spread even to foreign countries- for in 1750, when, on the invitation of some friends, he went to spend some time in German Switzerland (at Zurich), in the enjoyment of its wild and romantic scenery, he was received with a degree of respect almost bordering on veneration. While in that country his mind seems to have taken a patriotic tendency: the ancient Hermann (the Arminius of Tacitus) became his favorite hero, whose deeds he afterwards celebrated in some dramatic works. In Denmark the minister Bernstorff had become acquainted with the three cantos of the Messiah, and Klopstock was offered a pension of $400 by the Danish king on condition of coming to Copenhagen, and there finishing his poem. He set out in 1751, travelled through Brunswick and Hamburg, and at the latter place formed an intimacy with Margaretha Moller, daughter of a respectable merchant. At Copenhagen he was received by Bernstorff with the greatest respect, and introduced to the king, Frederick V, whom he accompanied on his travels. In 1754 he went to Hamburg, which was at this time a sort of literary capital of Germany, and more particularly of its northern half, as Weimar became some years later of the southern half. Not only could Klopstock claim it as his residence, but it also contained for some time the great Lessing, who, by the way, was no mean defendant of Klopstock in the attacks made against the latter by Gottsched and his school; Herder occasionally visited the Hanse city, and a number of lesser lights, such as Voss, Claudius, Reimerus, the Stolbergs, etc., gathered there about the two chief luminaries. " Klopstock," says Mrs. Winkworth (Christian Singers of Germany, p. 326 sq.), speaking of his residence at Hamburg, ' enjoyed a sort of reverence not unlike that paid to Dr. Johnson il England, but in some respects more flattering, as he was a mall of whom it was much easier to make a popular, and especially a ladies' hero." Here the Messiah was at last finished in 1773, having thus occupied twenty-seven years in preparation. A complete edition of his odes and lyrics was brought out, and here he devoted the autumn of his long life to tie study and purification of the German language and its grammar. He had always been a passionate lover of his country, but this did not prevent him from taking the keenest interest in the American War of Independence, and the opening of the French Revolution. He was among those who hailed the earlier years of the latter with eager sympathy, and the hope of a coming brighter era for humanity, and who afterwards underwent the bitterness of profound disappointment. The National Assembly had marked their recognition of his friendship for the French people by according him the rights of a French citizen, but when the terrible massacres of 1793 took place he sent back to them his diploma. In Hamburg he married his "beloved" Margaretha, with whom, however, he enjoyed only a short union; she died in childbed in 1758. In 1771 he was honored with the appointment of Danish ambassador to Hamburg, and flourished at this place the remainder of his days, dividing his time between his public duties and the pursuits of literature. In 1792 Klopstock married for the second time, choosing the Frau von Winthern, an old love of his, who had meanwhile become a widow, and who survived him. He died in 1803, and was buried (March 22) by Hamburg with royal honors, a distinction which in Germany is generally accorded only to royal personages.
His work of next importance to the Messiah is a drama, above alluded to, entitled Hermann's Schlacht (the Battle of Arminius), the subject of which is the defeat of the Roman general Varus by the ancient Germans. It is scarcely so much a drama as a lyric poem in a dramatic form. It was composed in 1764. His other dramas are of a similar character, and were written evidently with intent to arouse German patriotism from its lethargy, and to breathe into the German heart the air of freedom. But the Messiah alone is of special interest to our readers, and we therefore give a particular description of it.
Klopstock's Messiah is a poem in twenty cantos, written in hexameters, except where certain choral songs occur in unrhymed lyrical measure. " The action opens after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when the Messiah withdraws from the people, and, alone on the Mount of Olives, renews his solemn vow to the Almighty Father to undertake the work of redemption; it closes when that work is completed, and he sits down at the right hand of God. Around the central figure of the God-man are grouped an infinite variety of spectators and actors: angels and seraphs, among whom Elva and Gabriel are especially appointed to attend on the divine sufferer; evil spirits who conspire against him, but one of whom, Abbadonna, repents and at last obtains mercy; Adam and Eve, and the patriarchs, who watch with profound interest and gratitude the reparation of the fall; and the inhabitants of another world, like in nature to man, but unfallen, who are permitted to know what is taking place among their sinful kindred. Even the Father himself is introduced as speaking, and the scene is sometimes laid in the highest heaven. The earthly actors are the mother and disciples of Jesus, the Jews, and the Romans, who lead him to death, and a number of those who have come in contact with him in his ministrations, among whom the most clearly drawn are two female figures, both named Cidli: one, the wife of Gedor, is a reminiscence of Meta, and her death is an exact transcript of Meta's death-bed; the other is the daughter of Jairus, between whom and Semida, the youth of Nain, there exists a pure but ardent attachment, which at last finds satisfaction in heaven. The immense number of personages thus introduced produces a confused impression; everything is described by one or another of them, and talked over at length; scarcely anything actually takes place before the reader; there is an absence of local coloring and of character, and very few of the actors have any distinct individuality at all; while the effuo-t to keep the whole tone of the poem at the highest possible pitch of intensity and awe gives rise to an overstrained inflation of both thought and style, which becomes in the long run inexpressibly fatiguing. Yet Klopstock's poem has made for itself and for him a place in the literature of his country which does not depend on the number of readers it now attracts. Its subject is linked by a thousand invisible fibres to the whole Christian thought of centuries past, while its spirit of mercy, forgiveness, and tolerance-in a word, of redemption-is essentially characteristic of the later developments of Christianity. To treat such a theme worthily at all-to embody it in a form which, however full of defects, yet possesses a certain dignity and real genius-marks its author as a great poet, if not one of the greatest, and gives him a place historically even higher, perhaps, than he has a right to command as an artist." The poem certainly abounds in passages of the most beautiful and splendid poetry. An exuberant imagination everywhere scatters its wealth, and Klopstock has been said by one critic to be " as superior to Pindar in richness and deep feeling as the spiritual world he paints transcends in intrinsic magnificence the scenes celebrated by the Grecian bard;" and by another critic, "now to rival the tenderness of David, now to soar in the loftiest flights like Isaiah. The purity and pathos of its religious sentiments are equal to the excellence of its poetry. But all good and candid judges-will allow that, though exhibiting a sublimity and beauty of no common order, it has failed to accomplish the confident expectations of the Germans, that it would eclipse the Paradise Lost of Milton." For, notwithstanding its grandeur, it is exceedingly tedious to read t and even at the time of Klopstock's greatest popularity this seems to have been felt, for Lessing observes, in an epigram, that everybody praises Klopstock, but few read him. His odes are valued by his own countrymen more than his epic, and some are truly sublime; but the construction of the language is so singular, and the connection of the thoughts so often non-apparent, that these odes are reckoned among the most difficult in the language. Both in his Messiah and his odes he is dignified and sublime, but his rhapsodical manner contrasts strangely with the pedantry which is always apparent. Goethe, in his conversations with Eckermann, expressed his opinion that German literature was greatly indebted to Klopstock, who was in advance of his times, but that the times had since advanced beyond Klopstock. The young Hardenberg (who wrote under the name of " Novalis") has happily said that Klopstock's works always resemble translations from some unknown poet, done by a clever but unpoetical philologist. As for the theological aspect of his poem of the Messiah, Klopstock fell into the almost inevitable fault, in treating this subject poetically, of dividing the kingdom of heaven between the Father and the Son (ditheism), and even opposing them to each other, as when he makes Christ say to God, "I, who am God as well as thou, swear to thee by myself that I will redeem mankind." (Comp. Hurst's Hagenbach, Church History of the 18th and 9th Centuries, i, 249; ii, 277 sq.)
The Messiah was first published in fragments. and then as a whole (Altona, 1780; 7th ed. Lpz. 1817): it has been translated into Latin, English, French, Polish, Dutch, and Swedish. Klopstock also wrote the following shorter poems: Oden u. Elegien (Hamb. 1771, 2 vols.; 6th ed. Lpz. 1827; trans.
into English by W. Nind, 1847): — Geistliche Lieder (Kopenh. 1758-69, 2 vols.); besides dramas under the following titles: Adam's Tod (Kopenh. 1757; 4th ed. 1773): — Salomo (Magdeb. 1764): — David (Hamburg, 1772); etc. His complete works have been published under the title Klopstock's sinamtliche Werke (Lpzg. 1798-1817, 12 vols.; 1822-24, 12 vols; 1823-29, 18 vols.; 1839, 9 vols.; 1839, 1 vol.; Kopenh. 1844, 10 vols., with 3 supplements. See Cramer, Klopstock, er u. uber ihn (Dessau, 1780, 5 vols. 8vo); Mme. de Stael, De l'Allemagne; Klamer-Schmidt, Klopstock u. s. Freunde (Halberstadt, 1810); H. Doring, Klopstock's Leben (Weimar, 1825); English Cyclop. s.v.; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. vol. 7:s.v.; Kurtz, Literaturgesch. vol. ii (see Index in vol. iii); and especially the valuable work of Koberstein, Grundriss d. Gesch. der deutschen Literatur, mii, 260 sq., 2884 sq., etc.; Lobell, Entwickelungy d. deutschen Poesie v. Klopstock bis Goethe (Braunschw. 1856), Irol. i; Gervinus, Gesch. d. deutschen Dichtung (Leipzig, .1844, 5 vols. 8vo, 2d ed.), 4:115 sq.; British and Foreign Quarterly Review, Jan. 1843. (J. H.W.)