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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Paul Heyse (1830–1914)

PAUL HEYSE stands among the foremost modern German writers, and his reputation is not confined to his native land. A cultured cosmopolitan of literature, there is much in his work to appeal to all who are sensitive to the presentation of life in artistic form, with grace, charm, and power.

Johann Ludwig Paul Heyse—to give him his full baptismal name—was born at Berlin, March 15th, 1830, the son of a distinguished philologist of that city, both father and grandfather being scholars of importance. By blood he is half Jew. At first he studied classical philology at the Berlin University under Böckh and Lachmann; but in 1849 at Bonn took up the study of the Romance languages and literatures. His dissertation in 1852 for his doctorate, on the subject of the refrain in Troubadour poetry, shows his early literary leanings. Next came the “grand tour,” so fruitful in rounding out and ripening the education of a young man of gifts. The libraries of Italy and Switzerland were ransacked for books bearing on his Romance studies. In 1854 he was called to Munich to join the circle of writers gathered there by King Max, and he decided to make that center of art and music his permanent home. By 1850, at the age of twenty, he was writing poems and plays and had begun to publish his long list of works, which in 1910 numbered over seventy volumes. Of these, twenty-four are collections of short tales and novelettes, characterized by artistic beauty, delicate sentiment, picturesque description, and poetic feeling, often tinged with melancholy, and at times sensuous beyond the limits of current usage. Excellent examples of these short stories—to some, Heyse’s best literary endeavor—may be found in ‘The Book of Friendship.’ A tale as widely known outside of Germany as any he has written is ‘L’Arrabbiata,’ a charming Italian idyl of peasant life. His early poems—lyric, epic, and dramatic—testify to his culture, warmth of temperament, and inventive power; and he has never ceased to do work of this sort, though it is minor compared with his fiction. His best-known epic is perhaps ‘Thekla,’ published in 1858. Many of his plays have had more or less vogue on the stage: by his ‘Sabine Women’ in 1859 he won the dramatic prize offered by King Maximilian; and ‘Hans Lange,’ which the eminent Danish critic Brandes calls both “beautiful” and “national,” is regarded as a drama of high merit. In other leading plays Heyse treats historical subjects in a romantic manner, making them pleasing and impressive. In 1884 he received from the Kaiser for his dramatic compositions the Schiller prize, a much-coveted honor. In 1905 his dramatic works extended to some forty volumes. He was ennobled in 1910 and received the Nobel prize in 1911. His last years were occupied with the publication of the reminiscences of his youth.

It is likely that Heyse has been most widely enjoyed, and has appealed to the greatest number of readers, by his short stories. It is quite true that they represent him in many of his most delightful moods. Yet for depth and power his two “purpose” novels, ‘Children of the World’ and ‘In Paradise,’ are more typical and have helped to give him international fame. Few modern works of fiction have aroused so much interest. Many editions have appeared, many translations been made. These novels were early examples of a type which has developed rapidly under the present literary creed of realism. Such works propound grim problems, or preach reform, or attack social abuses. Contemporary examples in English are Sarah Grand’s ‘The Heavenly Twins’ and Mrs. Ward’s ‘Robert Elsmere.’ A common trait of this “purpose” literature, as it is called, is its power, seriousness, and frequent sadness. It is a later phase of the intellectual and moral storm and stress which earlier in the century, and under the influence of the romantic spirit, breathed from the lyrics of Heine and the plays of Goethe. When ‘Children of the World’ appeared in 1873, it made a sensation, because of both its ability and its teaching. It was warmly praised, bitterly attacked; but its spiritual significance and artistic charm were generally conceded. ‘In Paradise,’ which followed two years later in 1875, also recognized as having great strength and fine art, called out a storm of protest for its conception of life: it cries up the hedonism which makes personal happiness the aim and test of action. Individual freedom, liberty to grow in spite of the conventions of society or politics or religion, is the keynote in both novels. “There is but one real nobility,” Heyse makes some one say: “to be true to one’s best self.” This is the individualistic note of Ibsen. Heyse’s motto is, “Follow nature.”

Comparing the two books, ‘Children of the World’ may be preferred for its healthier tone, better construction and taste, and more pleasing solution. It is full of capitally drawn scenes of Bohemian student life: the art, literature, and philosophy of the day are reflected in its pages; and the character-drawing and situations have compelling interest. The hero is conducted through an unconventional, emotional love experience, to find peace and happiness at last. The story thus avoids the disagreeable extreme of too many “purpose” novels.

Heyse is what the Germans call a dichter. This does not mean poet in the narrow English sense, which makes the word denote the writer of literature in verse form; but rather a writer who, whether in prose or poetry, and perhaps never penning a line of formal verse, has in his work the qualities of romance, imagination, artistic beauty. There is something of the feminine in Heyse’s glowing, plastic work. A critic has said that he is to German imaginative literature what Mendelssohn is to German music,—of a lyric rather than dramatic genius.

The selection is made from one of the long stories, as being more satisfactory than any excerpt from the shorter tales could be.