Strauss As A
by W. W. C.
The writer of a sketch in a late number of a Leipsic journal
presents the famous author of the Life of Jesus, David
Friederich Strauss, in a new character. He mentions, first,
that in the Unterhaltungen am häuslichen Heerde
("Conversations around the Homehearth"), published by Strauss
in 1856, the latter makes, in the introduction, the following
graceful reference to the deceased friend of his youth, E.F.
Kauffmann: "If I were a philosophical emperor and wrote
self-confessions, I would thank the gods for giving me, among
other blessings, a poet and musician for an early friend. He is
dead now, alas! the noble man whom alone I have to thank that
my ear, though still unskillful, has been opened to the world
of harmony. He was not a professional musician, but he had a
thoroughly musical nature. The laws of composition he had
studied theoretically, and he followed them practically. His
position, in reality, was that of a professor of mathematics.
But music was his secret love. He not only knew the great
masters, but he lived in them. He thought little of playing on
the piano the whole of one of Mozart's operas, note for note,
without any written music before him. I have often seen him do
this. How much I have owed to those hours! How he could draw
his hearers into the right mood! How he could illuminate the
groping mind with the lightning flash of thought!"
To this friend Strauss sent from Munich in 1851 ten sonnets.
They were accompanied by a versified dedication to Kauffmann
himself, and they constitute his claim to be considered a poet
as well as a philosophic theologian. The sonnets are all on
musical subjects, and may be taken as the natural outgrowth of
that cultivation of his musical taste which he owed to his
intimate association with Professor Kauffmann. The metrical
dedication and the first five sonnets are given in the sketch
before referred to. The writer of that article looks upon the
tendency, thus displayed by Strauss, to "drop into poetry," as
Mr. Wegg was accustomed to say, as another strong proof of the
affinity—elsewhere noticed—between the genius of
Strauss and that of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing; who, it will be
remembered, sometimes diverted himself with the composition of
light poetical pieces, such as his famous song, beginning
"Gestern, Brüder, könnt ihr's glauben?"
The first sonnet is on Händel, the second on
Glück, the third on Haydn, the fourth on Don Juan,
and the fifth on Figaro.
The following attempt at a translation of the fourth sonnet
may serve to give some idea of how far the world-renowned
philosopher and skeptic has succeeded in his effort to assume
the anomalous rôle of a
How joyously life's fountains here are flowing!
In crystal cups the purple flood is
Through dusky myrtle-groves are lovers
The dance begins in halls all bright and
Be watchful, though! Here treachery is hiding.
Wild passion naught for truth or ruth is
As hawks do doves, mild innocence 'tis
And human vengeance lightly is deriding.
But now, once more alive, the slain
They speak, with awful voice, the words of doom:
Death his cold hand is silently extending.
Now sinks the daring mood in ghastly
The golden dream of life dissolves in gloom;
The silent grave brings on the bright joy's
It is very hard, if not impossible, to render into any other
language the true spirit of a German poem. But in the original
this sonnet is far above mediocrity. It idealizes the opera of
Don Juan very artistically, and displays a combination
of force with harmony and grace which gives the impression, in
connection with the other sonnets, that if Strauss had devoted
his mental energy to poetry alone, he would not have taken a
low rank among the poets of Germany.