Essays on European Literature

Essays on European Literature

Translated by Michael Kowal
Copyright Date: 1973
Pages: 541
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    Essays on European Literature
    Book Description:

    Although the reputation of the great German scholar Ernst Robert Curtius was firmly established for English and American readers by the translation ofEuropean Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, much of his work is still unknown to them. These twenty-four essays, written over a period of nearly thirty years, range widely in time and scope and consider some of the greatest figures in European literature, among them Virgil, Goethe, Balzac, Joyce, Eliot, Ortega y Gasset, and Hesse. The essays show the qualities that made Curtius one of the great critics of our age: his lucid, penetrating mind, his comprehensive erudition, his cosmopolitan outlook, and above all his passionate concern for European culture.

    Like T. S. Eliot, the subject of one of his finest essays, Curtius believed in an ideal order, a cultural unity of the West. The unifying element in all these essays is a concern to insure the conservation and continuance of European humanistic culture. For him this culture consisted of the literary heritage of Greece and Rome, developed and enriched by the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages. Consequently he selected for discussion those poets and writers who have been conscious of the unity of these two European currents and who have striven to maintain it in our time. As he ranged freely through the languages and literatures of all Western cultures, Curtius himself did much to preserve this tradition, to demonstrate its relevance, and insure its continuity.

    Originally published in 1973.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6798-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. v-vi)
    Μ. K.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Ernst Robert Curtius is best known in the English speaking world for his magisterial examination of mediaeval poetics and rhetoric,European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. What is less known, what may even surprise, is that Curtius was not, in any technical sense, a “mediaevalist,” that he turned to mediaeval studies relatively late, driven to them partly by inner necessity, partly by external pressures.

    It is true that the ground for this development was carefully prepared. For Curtius entered upon the study of Romance philology when the split between linguistics and literature, which he was often afterwards to deplore,...

    (pp. xxv-2)
  6. I. Virgil
    (pp. 3-17)

    The tomb of Virgil and that of the first emperor lie buried beneath the bricks and mortar of populous Italian cities, surrounded by the bustle of our modern life. Virgil is known to us through historical records even to the date of his birth. To be able to celebrate its two-thousandth recurrence must inspire every lover of Rome with a shudder of pious joy. This is no scholarly reminiscence; it is a day of living remembrance, a reverent solemnization.

    It would often seem as if our present, hurried generation had lost time through tempo, the past through lust for contemporaneity....

  7. II. Rudolf Borchardt on Virgil
    (pp. 18-26)

    It is a strange feeling for me to be speaking to British listeners about Virgil.¹ For my love for Virgil was brought about through a friend from Oxford, and that will soon be half a century ago. My friend had come to Germany to study Bible criticism at its source. When riding on the train, he would read Virgil in a Clarendon Press edition on rice paper. As anex librishe used the beginning of one of Virgil’s verses in which his name was concealed and his martial ideal was hinted at:fit via vi. Once, when we were...

  8. III. Goethe as Critic
    (pp. 27-57)

    Literary criticism has no acknowledged place in German intellectual life. Germany has had no Sainte-Beuve and probably could not have had one. With us, Uterary culture is the affair of a few scattered individuals, not a need of the general reading public. We lack an established body of literary tradition. What is produced as literature is usually consumed asWeltanschauung. The leading German newspapers have had regular music and drama critics (music, theater, and film, as we know, constitute “culture” or “the arts”—they can be “pursued,” like trades). But they have not had a literary critic. Books were casually...

  9. IV. Goethe as Administrator
    (pp. 58-72)

    Johann Georg Zimmermann (1728–1795) of Brugg in the Aargau, who through his writings on moral philosophy (Von der Einsamkeit, Vom Nationalstolz) [On Solitude, On National Pride] and his skill as a physician became a European celebrity—he attended Frederick the Great in his last illness—also crossed Goethe’s path on a number of occasions. In May, 1775, he showed the poet several silhouettes, among them that of Frau von Stein. Goethe wrote under it: “It would be a fine spectacle to see how the world is mirrored in this soul. She sees the world as it is and yet...

  10. V. Fundamental Features of Goethe’s World
    (pp. 73-91)

    In his essay on granite (1784) Goethe mentions that this rock was forced to “endure some moments of humiliation” when an Italian naturalist advanced the opinion that it had been artificially produced from a fluid mass by the Egyptians. “But this opinion was soon dispelled, and the dignity of the rock was definitively confirmed by the excellent observations of many travellers.” In hisFarbenlehreGoethe says of red: “This color, on account of its high dignity, we have sometimes called purple.…” From the “complete determination of the limbs” he derives the “dignity of the most perfect animals.” The principal purpose...

  11. VI. Friedrich Schlegel and France
    (pp. 92-106)

    We have serious amends to make to Friedrich Schlegel, for no great author of our golden age has been so misunderstood, indeed so malevolently maligned as he, not only in his own lifetime, but also, curiously, for long afterwards, in fact even to the present day. It is distressing and almost incomprehensible how tenaciously prejudices and misjudgments continue to flourish in the scholarship of our German universities. And at bottom Friedrich Schlegel has always been judged from the musty atmosphere of the study. The famous Leipzig philologist Gottfried Herrmann set the tone as early as 1796, when he designated the...

  12. VII. Stefan George in Conversation
    (pp. 107-128)

    Berlin, winter of 1906 to 1907…. The artist couple Reinhold and Sabine Lepsius¹ had invited me to spend the evening: I was to meet Stefan George. The Lepsiuses lived in the old Westend, in the Kastanien-Allee. It was a scholarly residential quarter from the 1890s. Simmel, Wilamowitz, Roethe dwelt nearby. Plain brick houses. But when you had crossed the Lepsiuses’ threshold, you were in a different atmosphere. The large living-room had a tapestry after a “cartoon” by Lestikow: horse-chestnut leaves, green shading to brown, on a brown background. A low, deep sofa, covered in yellow silk. There sometimes the beautiful...

  13. VIII. To the Memory of Hofmannsthal
    (pp. 129-141)

    In a “best-seller” for the 1929 season the contrast between the German youth of today and the youth of the turn of the century is exemplified in the fact that the latter read Hofmannsthal, the former no longer read him, no longer wish to read him. The youth of 1905 wanted to be aesthetic, that of 1925 political. In the earlier period, “aestheticism” constituted an offense in the eyes of the old; today it is condemned in the forum of the young. These resistances have a sociological interest, but no other. It is the interest most general in form but...

  14. IX. George, Hofmannsthal, and Calderón
    (pp. 142-168)

    After an early meeting in Vienna in 1890, the paths of Hofmannsthal and George did not cross again. Their destinies obeyed different laws. They sought and found fulfillment in worlds between which there was no longer any connection. And yet there was much that the youth of George and Hofmannsthal had in common. I wish to draw attention to only one significant element in it: the assimilation of the linguistic and literary spirit of the Romance world.

    France, Italy, Spain—varied as are the national characters, the intellectual visages, the cultural forms of these three countries, they still present themselves...

  15. X. Hermann Hesse
    (pp. 169-188)

    November 1918…. Leaden despair weighs upon men. For the old generation, Germany is shattered, because to them Germany means the empire of the Hohenzollern. There are dignitaries of the fallen regime who do not wish to survive the entry of the occupying forces. But the younger generation do not mourn the passing of this unreal world. To them Germany was, in George’s words, “the land still imbued with great promise.” Through the collapse of the regime all the progressive forces had been set free. In the German universities great teachers were functioning at the height of their powers: Ernst Troeltsch...

  16. XI. New Encounter with Balzac
    (pp. 189-210)

    This year, 1950, completes the first century since the death of Balzac. My thoughts wander back a generation. In the summer of 1918, having returned home wounded, I gave a course on Balzac. Five years later my book on the great author was published. It was what was known in Germany at the time as an “interpretation.” My intention was to explore Balzac’s work in all its greatness and depth. I thought that up until then Balzac had been unfairly treated and imperfectly appreciated by literary history.

    It was Balzac’s misfortune to have displeased not only a Sainte-Beuve but also...

  17. XII. Emerson
    (pp. 211-227)

    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was introduced in Germany by Herman Grimm in 1857. Nietzsche admired him. To the Germany of the present he has become a stranger. I consider him one of the most valuable legacies of the century after the death of Goethe. Emerson’sEssays(only this book is to be discussed here) appeared between 1841 and 1844. What occupied the educated European at that time? The decade between 1835 and 1845 brought him in the way of literary novelties—we restrict ourselves to a few characteristic titles—the following:

    1835: David Friedrich Strauss,Leben Jesu.

    1835: Büchner,...

  18. XIII. Unamuno
    (pp. 228-247)

    The poet in exile—this is a situation that we feel to be typical of the Latin style of history. Elegiac in Ovid, heroic in Dante, theatrical in Victor Hugo, it is repeated in our own day by Miguel de Unamuno. When, in March 1924, Primo de Rivera banished the sexagenarian to Fuerteventura, a rocky island in the Canaries, he thrust him, surely unintentionally, into the glaring light of publicity. The world press reverberated with indignation. Intellectual antipodes like D’Annunzio and Romain Rolland united in protest. From one day to the next Unamuno had become a European figure. What is...

  19. XIV. Charles Du Bos
    (pp. 248-281)

    In the “alten Westen” section of Berlin fifty years ago there was a boardinghouse, the Pension B. The refined solidity of the Hanseatic manner of life provided a frame of comfort. In the Munich office of the prematurely deceased Herr B. Thomas Mann had composed his first verses. The enchanting daughters of the house brought with them an air of the Atelier, the Secession, the Reinhardt stage. The atmosphere was international. In 1904 you could meet a young Frenchman there. He had something of a prince of the Arabian Nights about him. He was surrounded by an aura of luxury...

  20. XV. Ortega y Gasset
    (pp. 282-317)

    José Ortega y Gasset is the founder and editor of theRevista de Occidente, which has rapidly gained a place for itself among the liveliest and most intelligent periodicals in Europe; professor of philosophy at the University of Madrid; and author of a series of essay collections that reveal him to be a brilliant and universal critic.¹ The originality of this criticism lies in the rare combination of sparkling vitality and power of organized thought. From Ionic philosophy of science to Cubist painting there does not seem to be anything in which this critic is not passionately interested. His intellectual...

  21. XVI. Ramón Pérez de Ayala
    (pp. 318-326)

    Through Unamuno and Ortega the intellectual problems of contemporary Spain were discovered for German readers. But Spanish poetry and the Spanish novel are still little known. That is why I should like to call attention to the work of a man who has, for decades, as poet, as critic, as novelist, been producing an extensive body of work distinguished by strength and full-bloodedness, by magnificent originality and complex spirituality. I am speaking of Ramón Pérez de Ayala, whom the Spanish Republic sent as ambassador to London in 1931.

    Of the nineteen volumes of his Collected Works (Editorial Pueyo, Madrid) only...

  22. XVII. James Joyce and His Ulysses
    (pp. 327-354)

    ThePortrait of the Artist as a Young Mangives us the selfportrayal and self-analysis of this artist, who in private life is named James Joyce. It shows the forces that influenced him: Irish destiny, i.e., political, cultural, and religious opposition as an atmosphere of life; upbringing in a Jesuit boarding school; the home, poisoned by economic failure with all its humiliating consequences. In these surroundings the drama of Stephen Dedalus’s soul is enacted. The stresses of puberty drive him into the arms of a streetwalker, into the dark rapture of sin; he is extricated by a three-day period of...

  23. XVIII. Τ. S. Eliot
    (pp. 355-399)

    Let us begin with the positive facts. A small volume is lying before me,Poems, by T. S. Eliot.¹ The dust jacket contains a note on the author: “Thomas Stearns Eliot was born at St. Louis, Mo. in 1888. He received his A.B. at Harvard in 1909 and his A.M. in 1910. He studied subsequently at the Sorbonne, at the Harvard Graduate School, and at Merton College, Oxford. He has lived in London where he became a master at Highgate School, and lecturer under both the Oxford and the London University Extension Systems. He has contributed to several English papers,...

  24. XIX. Toynbee’s Theory of History
    (pp. 400-428)

    The individual understands himself to the extent that he learns to understand his personal history. In order to comprehend our civilization, we Europeans need the consciousness of our history. This is an essential correlation. It was expressed by Goethe and Hegel at the beginning of the nineteenth century. All philosophy before Hegel (the sole exception is Vico) considered history as something totally alien to thought, if not actually contrary to reason. It was Hegel’s Copernican feat to have recognized in this element, alien and opposite to mind, a form of the mind itself. History, for Hegel, is mind that has...

  25. XX. Jorge Guillén
    (pp. 429-436)

    Between the two world wars there were three poets whose work I was inspired to translate: Paul Valéry, T. S. Eliot, and Stephen Spender. After many years Jorge Guillén is the fourth. One translates not what one wants to but what one must. There are poems that appeal to one like women. But there are appeals that die without an echo. They fade into the unspoken. They heralded possibilities that were not realized. Jorge Guillén in one instance employs the antithesis of existing and persisting. More than a mere appeal is required if the gulf is to be bridged. The...

  26. XXI. Remarks on the French Novel
    (pp. 437-445)

    Nations, like individuals, are distinguished by their gifts. As early as the twelfth century France supplied all of Europe with verse romances and narrative matter. In the nineteenth century, which for France begins in 1789, it outdoes the other nations in three fields: painting, the novel, and revolution. From David (1748–1825) to Cézanne (1839–1906) French painting dominates, as did Italian in the Renaissance, Spanish during the Baroque. It is not as though a talent of genius came to the fore from time to time; no, an abundance of first-rate masters is found together in a small area; they...

  27. XXII. The Young Cocteau
    (pp. 446-455)

    Cocteau has collected the poems of seven years: 1916–1923. These two dates stand for the twenty-fourth and the thirty-first years in the life of the poet. Most of these poems were already published in the volumesLe Cap de Bonne Espérance, 1916 to 1919;Poésies, 1920;Vocabulaire, 1922;Plain-Chant, 1923. New in this collection is theDiscours du Grand Sommeil(1916–1918): sounds “de cette langue morte, de ce pays mort où mes amis sont morts” [of that dead language, from that dead country where my friends are dead].

    In the earliest of these poems there are lines like:...

  28. XXIII. William Goyen
    (pp. 456-464)

    Here is the fledgling work of a young American. I have rendered it into German because spiritual currents flow through it that I should like to transmit.

    A house in the remote southwest of the United States, a long-decayed house with its family relations and its fortunes, is erected here by the power of the spirit. Breath is respiration, breath is the breath of life, breath is the creative spirit moving upon the waters; it carries the word, it spans the abysses of human solitude, it builds palaces, cathedrals, worlds of ideas. Franz Werfel has expressed it in hymnic tones:...

  29. XXIV. The Ship of the Argonauts
    (pp. 465-496)

    According to a widely-held opinion the Argo was the first ship to sail the seas. The poets of Antiquity like to tell of the astonishment that it aroused among gods and men. The invention of navigation was a revolutionary event, comparable to the discovery of fire in prehistoric times and the invention of flight in ours.

    The legend of the Argonauts is said to reflect the earliest Aeolian voyages of colonization toward the East or Milesian trading expeditions toward the Black Sea, and appears to be pre-Homeric. But we possess no poetic version of the theme prior to Pindar’s Fourth...

  30. Appendix
    (pp. 497-502)
  31. Index
    (pp. 503-508)