« AnteriorContinuar »
times than perhaps any other, but less understood. There are plenty of loose ideas, indeed, afloat on this important subject, but comparatively few fixed principles; and the cause of this confusion is plain: people must study so complex a subject before they can hope to comprehend it; study first its principles in the psychology of the human mind, and then its details in the practice of various skilful persons. To all who are in search of a wise pilot through these seas, we can most conscientiously recommend Dr. Friedrich Beneke.
ART. VII.-1. The Rural and Domestic Life of Germany. By WILLIAM HOWITT. London: Longman and Co.
2. German Experiences: addressed to the English; both Stayers at Home, and Goers Abroad. By WILLIAM HOWITT. London: Longman and Co.
THERE are no two countries in the civilised world so similar in some aspects, and so dissimilar in others, as Germany and England. And the points of resemblance are so close, as to make the points of contrast absolutely glaring-perhaps even to produce a painful sense of uneasiness or distrust upon the detection of them. It is to this sort of strange antagonism, expanding amidst family affinities and sympathies, that we must mainly attribute all the vexed problems into which our English writers upon Germany are constantly falling.
There is no country so difficult of access in its real inner character as Germany. We must know the people long and intimately, and become ourselves habituated to their usages and modes of thinking, before we can reconcile their surface contradictions, and discover the true harmony that lies beneath. It is the most difficult of all countries for a foreigner to write a book about, that shall be both faithful and comprehensive.
And of all book-writing people the English are the last to produce works upon the domestic life of other nations in the right, unbiassed, universal spirit. It is not that they do not possess in a very high degree the requisite qualifications,-knowledge, keen observation, sagacity; but that they are afflicted with serious disqualifications, which do not exist elsewhere in such paramount force-insular prejudices, a perpetual tendency to think every thing wrong that does not assort with their own modes and notions, a constant recurrence to the one rigid self-elected judgment. The English cannot go out of themselves: they cannot enter into the circumstances of other races. They can hardly comprehend a
Errors to which English Travellers are prone.
people existing without such an eternal pressure upon their faculties as shall literally absorb out of every-day life all traces of poetry and romance. There cannot be a greater enigma to them than the silent influence of tradition in moulding living customs and manners. Every thing that is new to them jars against their habits. Pleasure itself offends them when it is not cooked to their palate. Even the unalterable elements to which so much of the fashioning of human institutions is unavoidably adapted, will sometimes excite a biliary derangement in the English. They will make little or no allowance for the inevitable effects of climate. They would carry their own climate everywhere—that sullen climate which destroyed poor Weber, that yellow climate, loaded with sulphur and human steam.
Conceive then an Englishman writing a book upon social Germany, the most intractable of all men sitting down to a subject which, of all others, demands the most patient investigation, and the most complete suppression of previous theories.
It must not be supposed from this prelude that we are about to analyse the works whose titles we have placed at the head of this paper. They are too well known to require any such process at our hands. The well-merited reputation of the author has already secured to them a large and admiring circle of readers, and every body who feels any interest in Germany, or the Germans, may be presumed to be already tolerably familiar with their contents. But we propose to touch upon a few of the salient opinions expressed in them, not for the sake of criticising Mr. Howitt's writings, but merely to indicate some of the points upon which, as it seems to us, our countrymen are apt to entertain erroneous impressions.
We have observed that Englishmen are not the best adapted by constitution, or temperament, or hereditary position, for writing sound books of travels-carefully confining the observation, however, to the social and domestic phases of the subject. We must be frank enough to say that we do not consider Mr. Howitt an exception to the general rule. He is a thorough-bred Englishman in his tastes and habits, in his likings and his dislikings, in the uncompromising energy of his mind, his education, and the aims and produce of his whole life. Were we to select the writer who, in our estimation, was best qualified to penetrate the recesses of our society, and portray faithfully the actual life of our people, we should unquestionably name William Howitt. But it may be fairly doubted whether one who is thus deeply imbued with English feeling, and whose modes of thinking are so thoroughly English, is exactly the fittest person to undertake the delineation of foreign life. Such a book in such hands must insensibly become a book of contrasts. The more English the writer, the less
likely is he to form independent opinions. Freedom from national predilection is at least as necessary as mental activity and honesty of intention.
The effect of this strong nationality is palpable in these volumes. Mr. Howitt is ever yearning towards his English homestead; and while he is depicting German characteristics, cannot restrain himself from reverting to customs endeared to him by early associations. The comparison under such circumstances cannot be otherwise than unfavourable to Germany-be it in reality just or unjust. Thus in speaking of the aspect of the country, he cannot resist the recollection of the trim hedge-rows and picturesque cottages of home:
"Here you look in vain," he says, "for any thing like the green fields and hedge-rows of England, with their scattered trees, groups of beautiful cattle and flocks grazing in peace, and sweet cottages, and farm-houses, and beautiful mansions of the gentry. It is all one fenceless and ploughed field.”—Rural and Domestic Life.
It cannot escape the reader that in this description Mr. Howitt employs a variety of the most captivating terms. When he speaks of England, the fields of necessity must be green; nor is he satisfied with mere groups of cattle,-the cattle must needs be beautiful; nor will he allow the flocks simply to graze-to heighten the sylvan charm he must make them graze in peace; and the cottages must be sweet, and the mansions of the gentry must be beautiful. Of all intention wilfully to convey an unfavourable impression of Germany, by exaggerating the pastoral beauties of England, we fully acquit Mr. Howitt. It is quite evident to us that he never meant any thing of the kind; on the contrary, he wrote of such things, of which there are numerous instances, unconsciously, out of that irrepressible love of country which comes in full flood upon the heart in remote and strange scenes. But we refer to the passage for the sake of illustrating the insensible colouring such feelings inevitably impart to books of this class.
Were it a matter of much practical importance, it would be easy enough to turn this enchanting picture inside out, and show how much misery and want are frequently found lurking under all this beauty and sweetness, and to draw from thence a contrast with the social condition of the people of Germany;-which would prove to the satisfaction of all the world, that if their cattle are not so prettily grouped, nor their trees so agreeably scattered, they possess this material advantage, that they are content in their condition and always have enough to eat. Mr. Howitt himself fully acknowledges this. He says that when an Englishman visits Germany, he sees many things from which he might derive valuable hints for improvement at home.
German and English Landscapes.
"He sees a simple and less feverish state of existence. He sees a greater portion of popular content diffused by a more equal distribution of property. He sees a less convulsive straining after the accumulation of enormous fortunes. He sees a less incessant devotion to the mere business of money-making, and, consequently, a less intense selfishness of spirit; a more genial and serene enjoyment of life, a more intellectual embellishment of it with music and domestic entertainment. He sees the means of existence kept by the absence of ruinous taxation, of an enormous debt recklessly and lavishly piled on the public shoulders, by the absence of restrictions on the importation of articles of food, cheap and easy of acquisition."-Experiences.
We ask any man possessed of an average share of common sense, which of these pictures is the more substantially attractive-the sweet cottages and the misery, or the bald, fenceless landscape with content and an equitable distribution of means? Alas! it is grievously to be feared that the inhabitants of the sweet cottages would gladly exchange conditions with the German peasantry, and compound all their hedge-rows and white gables for a little ease of mind and a sufficiency of wholesome fare.
But is it quite true that the external aspect of country life in Germany is so unpromising? Is it quite certain that distance in this case, as in many others, has not lent a little enchantment to the view? The close pastoral landscape of England is undoubtedly very charming. It is a thing not to be met with anywhere else. The whole of Europe contains no parallel for the garden beauty of the Isle of Wight. But is there no other kind of beauty worthy of admiration except hedge-rows and cattle, cottages, groups of trees, and green lanes? Let us imagine a German visiting England, and giving vent to his poetical spirit in this fashion:
'Here you look in vain for any thing like magnificent ancestral forests of the growth of ages, and richly wooded valleys, and vast mountains, with their weird solitudes and solemn forms, their swooping eagles, their torrents, and their rocks. It is all one tame region, pranked out with neat houses and cropped trees.'
Yet this would be quite as reasonable and as well founded as Mr. Howitt's regrets for the absence of English scenery in the broad champaign of Germany. It is curious enough that Mr. Howitt should expressly recommend the traveller on going to Germany, to cast away as fast as possible all Arcadian ideas! all dreams about graceful youths and maidens, and bands of music;' (Experiences, 6, 7); yet that he should himself forget to profit by his own advice, so far as to retain in his mind all the time the most Arcadian visions of the beauty and comfort of England, which he is perpetually drawing into contrast with the rugged
features of German life. It is not alone that he falls into the ordinary injustice of setting up the English standard to test another people by, but that he sets up the poetical side of England against the prosaic side of Germany. It is certain that when a traveller is far from his own country he is apt to carry with him vividly only the most agreeable recollections of it-the pleasant memories, the sunshine, the roses, the happy faces, and so on; dropping wholly out of his calculation the thousand and one petty drawbacks, the small inconveniences, the abiding discontents of all kinds. And all this, the aromatic essence of the distant and the past, is urgently opposed by his imagination to present discomforts, whatever they may be, the unaccustomed ways, the disappointments occasioned less by any deficiency or unfitness in the elements of things, than by his own strangeness in the use or enjoyment of them, and the innumerable obstacles of the present which he stumbles against in unfamiliar scenes. The comparison, consequently, is taken at the utmost conceivable disadvantage. It is not merely England against Germany, but the England of an excited fancy, relieved of all its disagrémens, against the real work-a-day Germany, disenchanted of all its romance.
Such comparisons are false in principle. Countries ought to be judged as they are, not as they are not. It proves nothing to show that Germany is not England. We knew that before. What we want exactly to be informed about is the place itself, as it is; but if we are to be reminded incessantly of its inferiority to England, or of the odd differences between it and England, it seems as if the traveller were going about, not to collect facts, but to flatter the national vanity at home.
This is certainly not the general tendency of Mr. Howitt's first book upon Germany; for, although it is full of laments for the rural English sights and usages he misses in the fatherland, it must be accepted upon the whole as a most able exposition of the actual condition of the country, bearing high and honourable testimony to the character and industry of the people. It is in his second and smaller book that we find his dissatisfaction break out; and it is in this volume chiefly we discover those statements which we hold to be objectionable.
Upon the whole, there is a marked discordance in the spirit of the two volumes not very easy of illustration or solution. The larger and more tolerant work was published while Mr. Howitt was yet residing in Germany-the other since his return to England. He reserved his final indictment against the country until he had left it, a course which is perfectly justifiable in itself. But this will not account for the startling opposition, not so much in matters of