CHAPTER XII. THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES: GERMANY
Luther, Zwingli, Albert Duerer, Leibnitz, Gottsched
NO RENAISSANCE.—The great originality of Germany from the literary point of view—perhaps, too, from others—is that she had no renaissance, no contact, at all events close, with classic antiquity. Her temperament was no doubt hostile; the Reformation, that is, the impassioned adoption of a primitive unadulterated Christianity conservative and directly opposed to antiquity whether pagan or philosophical, added to the repugnance. However that may be, the fact remains: Germany enjoyed no renaissance.
LUTHER.—Also in the sixteenth century in Germany, as in France in the fourteenth century, there was only popular poetry, and all the prose is German, all reformist, all moralising, and has little or practically no echo of antiquity. Luther, by his translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue, by his prefaces to each book of the Bible, in his polemical writings (The Papacy and its Members, The Papacy Elevated at Rome by the Devil, etc.), by his Sermons and Letters, gave to Teutonic thought a direction which long endured, and to Teutonic prose a solidity, purity, sobriety, and vigour which exercised an immense influence on human minds.
THE REFORMERS.—Following Luther, Zwingli, Hutten, Eberling, Melanchthon (but in Latin), Erasmus (most frequently in Latin but sometimes in French) spread the new doctrine or doctrines in relation thereto.
ERASMUS; ALBERT DUeRER; GOTTSCHED.—An exception must be made about Erasmus in what has just been observed. With a very unfettered mind, often as much in opposition to the side of Luther as to the side of Rome, and also prone to attack the pure humanists who styled themselves Ciceronians, Erasmus was a humanist, an impassioned student of ancient letters, so that he has one foot in the Renaissance and one in reform, and withal possessed a very original brain, and was, from every aspect, “ultra-modern.”
Albert Duerer must also be cited: mathematician, architect, painter, yet belonging to our subject by his four books on the human proportion wherein he shows, in chastened and precise style, that he himself is nothing less than the earliest founder of Teutonic aestheticism.
The seventeenth century—extending it, as is reasonable enough, up to the region of 1730—is almost exclusively the era of French influence and a little, if desired, of Italian influence. The critic Gottsched (Poetic Art, Grammar, Eloquence) maintained the excellence of French literature and the necessity of drawing inspiration from it with an energy of conviction which drew on him the hatred of the succeeding generation.
LEIBNITZ.—German poetry of his period, possessing neither originality nor power, could only interest the erudite and the searchers. The domain of prose is more enthralling. Leibnitz, who wrote in Latin and French, and even in German, is pre-eminently the great thinker he is reputed to be; but though he never possessed nor even pretended to possess originality in style, he is nevertheless highly esteemed for the purity, limpidity, and facility of his language.