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Apology for Vico.
destroyed hypotheses, and uprooted systems, hesitating, embarrassed, and ready to retreat from the consequences of his speculations, despite incoherences and contradictions, the instant any one of those assertions, or dogmas, the blind acceptance of which he has imposed on his intellect as a religious duty, seems likely to be brought in question.
The blinding effect of superstition on an intellect naturally so acute as that of Vico, is a remarkable instance of how paralysing is the habit of implicitly bowing to authority on any subject.
Poor Vico! If his mind lacked power sufficient to free itself from the bondage of the darkness which prevailed around him, we cannot, at all events, suspect him of wearing motley for the sake of conciliating the motley world in which he lived. If he wore it, 'twas that he truly thought it the only wear;' for, in truth, between the world and him there was but scant good fellowship. In conclusion of an article, which has grown beneath our pen to a length we had not intended to allow it, we will extract the following melancholy passage from his biographer's summing up of the tone and colour of his life.
"His whole life was one continual struggle against abject poverty, and the struggle was an unsuccessful one. No drop in the cup of bitterness was spared him. For at the same time that he was doomed to witness his children in want, he had to support the contempt of his contemporaries. Poverty uncheered by glory,-obscurity uncomforted by ease-such was his lot. The friends he had, protected him as a man of letters of some talent, but unhappily given up to absurd speculations. His enemies pursued him loudly with their mockery. The greater part of his contemporaries were ignorant even of his name."
Reader! The lot of Vico is no solitary, or alas! even singular one. Such men there are in this nineteenth, as in all other centuries, among us, near us,-perhaps at our very elbow. Reader, if your path should cross any such, let fall into his cup of bitterness one drop at least of such consolation as sympathy and appreciation can afford, in remembrance of Vico.
ART. III-1. Goethe's Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde. (Goethe's Correspondence with a Child.) Berlin. 1837.
2. Dies Buch gehört dem König. (This is the King his book.) Berlin. 840.
3. Clemens Brentano's Frühlingskranz.
tano's Spring-garland.) Charlottenburg. 1844.
Vol. I. (Clemens Bren
THE Garland,' which is the immediate occasion of our present notice of Bettina Brentano, consists of her youthful correspondence with her brother Clemens. The first volume only has at present reached us; but, after reading six volumes, amounting to about two thousand pages, of her letters, reminiscences, and reflections, we are, perhaps, as well qualified to discuss her literary character as we are at any time likely to become. The second work on our list derives its name from its dedication to the King of Prussia, and consists of a series of philosophising rhapsodies, supposed to be delivered by Goethe's mother, who may probably share nearly equally with her ingenious reporter the credit of the acuteness, originality, and absurdity which they contain. Bettina (for it is impossible to think of her but as a girl, or to call her by her respectable married name of Madame v. Arnim) seems to have intended the 'King's Book' as a supplement to the 'Correspondence with Goethe,' on which her fame depends. The present publication however of her girlish letters illustrates her character much more fully and agreeably. We find in them a still more undisciplined enthusiasm than that which afterwards subjected her to so many misconstructions; and as she wrote to her brother without any portion of the admiring reverence which she felt for Goethe, she is even wilder and bolder in her speculations and assertions than when she is, with a kind of diffident audacity, instructing the great artist in music, love, and religion.
Bettina is scarcely known in England, except by name, and by the undesirable reputation of having written and published a series of love letters to a man who was neither her husband nor her lover. Her genius however was a few months ago fully recognised by a very able writer in a contemporary review, who, at the same time, attacked her character with an ingenious virulence, which was only explained by the general report that it was the offspring of feminine malignity. Englishmen are often unjust from a misapprehension of foreign manners and feelings, and from a well-founded love of reserve and dislike of strong expressions; many of them would, we doubt not, view Bettina's letters with strong moral disapprobation, in which we by no means participate; but no male critic possesses that happy instinct of offence which selects the weak points of the sex rather than the errors of the
Charges against Bettina.
305 individual to strike at. Madame v. Arnim is, no doubt, prepared for attacks on her writings, but she must be more than a woman if she reads with indifference our contemporary's charges, that she is older than she calls herself, that she wears spectacles, that she has gray hair, and that she wears a false front.** To dispose, in the first instance, of these heavy and conscientious objections, we feel it our duty to state that, on the first count of the indictment, we find her not guilty. She is very careless and irregular in dates, but here and there she gives statements of her age at different periods, which never, as far as we have found, contradict one another, while the coincidences seem wholly undesigned. From an examination of her various writings we state confidently, that she was born in 1787 or 1788, that she was about sixteen when the correspondence with Clemens commenced, and nineteen when she first knew Goethe. She frequently alludes to the mistakes of casual acquaintances who were deceived by her childish appearance; but she never makes any attempt to deceive her correspondents, having, indeed, little chance of imposing either on her brother, or on her great friend, who had held her as an infant in his arms. The spectacles and the grey hair are, we confess, more probable than censurable failings in a lady of fifty-six. To false fronts Quakers have, we believe, a conscientious objection, which we are not concerned to meet. If Bettina wears such vanities, and if she is singular in wearing them, let her be censured accordingly: but certainly we have been unjust to many elderly ladies, and their locks, if we have been mistaken in believing that
"There is an art which in their brownness shares
One remark we have finally to make on all the charges. Neither man nor woman by writing a book becomes a fit subject for public criticism. The book is the occasion of criticism, and it ought to be the limit. As far as the writer speaks of himself he may be spoken of; but his private life, and his personal feelings, ought to be safe from insulting remarks and from anecdotes such as one with which the review, of which we have been speaking, concludes, a story which is probably as false as it is undoubtedly coarse and offensive, and of which the truth, if established, would in no way justify the publication.
It is accordingly only of the ideal Bettina that we propose to speak, though we have pleasure in thinking that her strange and graceful character was in all essential points that of the living Bettina Brentano. Beyond her books we know nothing of her,
* Wig is the word used: but our masculine notions of propriety do not allow us even to quote a stronger expression than false front.
and, for our present purpose, desire to know nothing; it is enough for us that the childhood and youth described in her letters form a succession of beautiful idyls, animated and connected by a passion which was kept pure by the imaginative exaltation of its nature. Not understanding the meaning of Platonic love, nor believing that Bettina's enthusiasm receives that name from her countrymen and admirers, we nevertheless find no difficulty in contemplating her devotion to Goethe without suspicion, and with little censure except for imprudence which proved to be harmless. That her own sex will generally judge her more severely we are well aware. Their sensitive caution tolerates no eccentricity which may endanger their common position: a woman who moves from the ranks finds the martial law inexorable, as the error of one woman is the shame of all, and any appearance of individual rashness suggests thoughts of a common danger. Thus it will always be, though disinterested and friendly observers, like ourselves, continue to tell them that their policy is mistaken. It is so safe, and for many reasons so desirable, that the duties and province of women should be strictly defined, that they are justified in watching with jealousy any deviation from the beaten track. But when a woman like Bettina, of rare genius, and of a peculiarly independent character, is led by circumstances or disposition to turn aside from the ordinary means of happiness, and to concentrate the enthusiasm of her nature on an affection in which the heart and intellect alone participate, it is not for the interests of womanhood to assume at once that she deserves reproach and rejection. Rather should it be shown with triumph that female excellence depends upon something higher than prudence, and that the strict rules prescribed by custom and expediency are not its only safeguard. It is only by an unprejudiced study of her letters, that the internal evidence in her favour can be obtained, but to those who have heard her accused of cherishing a culpable and unbecoming passion, it may be useful to state the circumstances which illustrate the nature of her feelings.
The charge against her is founded on a series of letters full of warm and enthusiastic expressions of affection for the man whom, far above all others, the whole of Germany delighted to honour. Goethe had been the friend of her grandmother, and, as she reminds him, the lover of her mother, and he was forty years older than herself, though he still retained a considerable portion of the unequalled beauty of his earlier manhood: her passion, however, was so independent of outward appearance, that it had attained nearly its greatest height before she had even seen the object of it. That it was permitted by Goethe himself may be con
sidered an ambiguous circumstance; but it is strange that among those who saw its progress without objection, should be included her own brother and sisters, and her brother-in-law, the celebrated Baron v. Savigny, one of the gravest and most clear-headed of men; even Goethe's wife had the perverseness to cultivate her acquaintance, and strangest of all, the chief accomplice of her crime, the chosen depositary of her love secrets and troubles, was no other than Goethe's vigorous and sagacious mother, then living in an honoured old age at Frankfort. Among the accessories to her guilt were the Prince-Primate v. Dalberg, at the time her local sovereign, and head of the Catholic church in Germany; nor was Goethe's friend and master the Duke of Weimar safe from the unaccountable contagion. With her relation to the great poet universally known, she married a man of station and of literary reputation, Achim v. Arnim, the early friend of her brother; and lastly, in her maturer years, she voluntarily published the sole record of her discredit, and to this day is proud that it is known. There is a proverb or motto familiar to Englishmen, which seems to us not inapplicable to a case like this. We are not at this moment certain whether the old French participle admits of a feminine termination, or we should be inclined to write it Honie soit qui mal y pense.'
Goethe himself has been censured for his trifling share in the correspondence by the critic whom we have quoted, because it was not colder,-by the earnest and honest, but somewhat narrowminded Börne, because it was so cold; by both, we believe, on the gratuitous assumption that he was studying Bettina's feelings with a view to his novel of the Elective Affinities.' If such was his object, he failed in attaining it, for neither the Charlotte, nor the Ottilia, of the Wahlverwandtschaften' have borrowed any thing from Bettina; and he was contented to continue the correspondence after the completion and publication of the fiction. His letters throughout are few and short; kind and approving, but sometimes gently checking her vehemence, assuring her sometimes that he appreciates her devotion, but never professing that he returns it. Sometimes he delights her by sending back one of her exquisite paragraphs transposed into verse, frequently he praises a particular anecdote or description: but as a general rule he never affects to answer her letters, or to share in her excitement. His tone throughout is that of a busy man who turns aside for a moment to notice the caresses of a playful child. It would have been easy for him to reject her attachment, but probably he thought it kinder to guide and watch it, and knew that youthful enthusiasm is never so dangerous, as when it finds itself misunderstood and repelled by all around. For his own sake,