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THE WILD HUNT which Heine describes in this canto is an old German legend which poets and painters have found to be a fertile source of inspiration. The wild huntsman must ride through the world every night, followed by all evil-doers, and wherever he appears, thither, according to old folk-belief, does misfortune come. Tradition herds all the foes of Christianity among this rout of evil-doers; for this reason does Heine include Goethe--the "great pagan," as the Germans call him--in that crew. There have been other foes of Christianity since, and some very great figures amongst them, so that in time the Wild Huntsman's Company may become quite presentable.
HENGSTENBERG (1802-1869). A fanatical theologian professor at Berlin who made an attack upon Goethe's "Elective Affinities," which then had not yet become a cla.s.sic, and was thus still liable to the attacks of the "learned."
FRANZ HORN. A contemporary of Heine's of no particular importance, a poet of the Romantic School and a verbose literary historian. He wrote a work in five volumes upon Shakespeare's plays. In this he interprets the poet in a wholly romantic sense and winds up by presenting him as an enthusiastic Christian.
ABUNDA--in the Celtic (Breton) folk-lore Dame Abonde and even Dame Habonde. The Celtic element (as, for instance, the legend of King Arthur's Round Table) played a great part in the romantic poetry of Germany, and later in the music dramas of Wagner. Romanticism is therefore represented in Heine's poem by the fairy Abunda, in contradistinction to the Greek and Semitic inspiration--represented by Diana and Herodias. Heine's conception of Herodias as being in love with the Baptist and taking her revenge on him for his Josephian att.i.tude towards her, has, no doubt, influenced later writers on the subject, especially Flaubert and Oscar Wilde, save that these had not the courage (nor perhaps the insight) to regard the hero in question as a "block-head."
SIX-AND-THIRTY KINGS. At once an allusion to Shakespeare's "A kingdom for a horse!" ("Richard III") and a side-stroke glancing at the various kings and princes of Germany--some thirty-six in Heine's time.
h.e.l.lISH HERBS. The foul and mouldy herbs and medicines in Uraka's hut represent a collection of remedies for the cure and preservation of decaying feudalism and Christian mediaevalism, which, however, no remedy can restore to health. The smell in Uraka's hut is the smell of the "rotting past," that, in spite of all nostrums and artificial revivals, goes on decomposing. The stuffed birds which glare so fixedly and forlorn, and have long bills like human noses, are members of Heine's own race. These stuffed birds are the symbols of Judaism which according to our h.e.l.lenistic poet, possesses, as religion, as little life as the Christianity that is based upon it.
A SWABIAN BARD. The Swabian school of poetry, of which Uhland was the leader, was the chief representative of German Chauvinism in Heine's day. W. Menzel, the critic who denounced "Young Germany" to the Government, belonged to this school. Borne answered him in his "Menzel der Franzosenfresser" ("The Gallophobe"), and Heine mocked at him in his paper "The Denunciator." Gustav Pfizer (who had provoked Heine) and Karl Meyer were members of the Swabian school, and prided themselves particularly upon their morality and religiosity, for which reason they set themselves in antagonism to the "heathen" Goethe. Goethe, on his part, estimated this school as little as did Heine. In a letter to Zelter dated October 5, 1831, Goethe writes thus of Pfizer: "...I read a poem lately by Gustav Pfizer ... the poet appears to have real talent and is evidently a very good man. But as I read I was oppressed by a certain poverty of spirit in the piece and put the little book away at once, for with the advance of the cholera it is well to shield oneself against all debilitating influences. The work is dedicated to Uhland, and one might well doubt if anything exciting, thorough, or humanly compelling could be produced from those regions in which he is master. I will therefore not rail at the work, but simply leave it alone. _It is really marvellous how these little men are able to throw their goody-religious-poetic beggar's cloak so cleverly about their shoulders that, whenever an elbow happens to stick out, one is tempted to consider this as a deliberate poetic intention_."
METZEL-SOUP. A Swabian soup of the country districts, glorified in the poetry of Uhland. It is usually prepared from the "insides" of pigs.
CHRISTOPHER FRIEDRICH K. VON KoLLE (1781-1848). A Privy Councillor of the Legation of Wurtemberg--composer of many poems and political pamphlets.
JUSTINUS KERNER (1786-1862) was also a poet of the Swabian school. He believed in spirits, and made many observations and experiments in his house at Weinsburg in order to obtain some knowledge of the supernatural world. Thousands of those who believed, or wished to believe, came to his "seances." He worked in conjunction with a celebrated medium of his time, and later published a very successful book about this lady. Heine, no doubt, had this medium in mind when he mentioned Kerner.
BALDOMERO ESPARTERO (1792-1879). A celebrated Spanish general who fought against Don Carlos on the side of Maria Christina. He was later given the t.i.tle of Duke of Vittoria.
EMILIA GALOTTI. This refers to the heroine of Lessing's drama of the same name, in which old Odoardo Galotti slays his daughter in order to protect her from dishonour. The theme is derived from the story of Virginia and Tarquin.
"NO ROSE WOULD HE PLUCK, ETC." Lessing's drama closes thus: "_Odoardo_: 'G.o.d! what have I done!' _Emilia_: 'Thou hast merely plucked a rose ere the storm reft it of its petals.'"
GANELON OF MAINZ was the stepfather of Roland, against whom he bore a grudge. He contrived to bring about his destruction by betraying him to the Saracens, who over-powered and killed him in the Valley of Roncesvalles, as related in the well-known "Chanson de Roland."
VALHALLA'S HALL. King Ludwig I of Bavaria ordered a Greek temple to be built on the banks of the Danube near Regensburg, to which he gave the name of Valhalla. In this the busts of all great Germans are placed--as, for instance, with great ceremony, that of Bismarck some years ago, and recently that of Wagner. Atta Troll's epitaph is a satirical imitation of the poetic effusions of Ludwig I, who considered himself a poet but was nothing more than an affected versifier. His mania for compression and for participial forms (not to be tolerated in German) more than once drew the arrows of Heine's wit. The last line: "Talent none, but character," has become a familiar phrase in Germany.
PYRENEEAN LAFAYETTE. Lafayette fought for the Revolution in France as well as in America.
"THAT WHICH SONG WOULD MAKE ETERNAL," &c. A quotation in a semi-satiric vein from Schiller's "The G.o.ds of Greece."
DROVE THE SNAKES AND LIONS FAR. A burlesque quotation from Freiligrath's poem "Der Lowenritt," from which also the reference later on to the crocodile is taken.
VARNHAGEN VON ENSE (1785-1858). After abandoning his career as a diplomat, von Ense married the celebrated Rahel. He lived in Berlin, where the salon of his wife became the meeting-ground for artists and writers. In his youth he a.s.sociated closely with the romantics--de la Motte Fouque, Chamisso, and Clemens Brentano, the brother of Bettina von Arnim. Though imitating the heavy and cautious style of the later Goethe he was a good writer, and his biographies of celebrated men belong to the best in German literature. He endeavoured, but without success, to win over the all-powerful Austrian Minister Metternich to the cause of "Young Germany."
OTHER TIMES AND OTHER BIRDS! These words refer to the new generation of poets--Georg Herwegh, Friedrich Freiligrath, Dingelstedt, Hoffmann von Fallersleben, and Anastasius Grun--who came upon the scene about 1840, cherished mechanic-democratic ideals and brought about the Revolution of 1848. Heine, by nature an aristocratic poet, who instinctively dreaded the compet.i.tion of "n.o.ble bears," saw all his loftiest principles trodden into the mire by these Utopian hot-heads and the crew of politicians that came storming after them. This doctrinaire and numerical interpretation of the rights of man--for which rights in their proper application the poet himself had fought so valiantly--caused him great unhappiness. He now saw his fairest concepts (as is made clear in his own introduction) distorted as in some crooked mirror, and so, filled with anger, grief and disgust, he conceived and wrote his lyrico-satiric masterpiece, "Atta Troll." The poem has been misunderstood to this very day, for the mechanics and theorists have practically won. _The day it is understood, their reign will be over_.