Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 12. His influence in Germany: Gellert, Wieland, Klopstock and Goethe; Dutch and Italian reproductions

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

I. Richardson

§ 12. His influence in Germany: Gellert, Wieland, Klopstock and Goethe; Dutch and Italian reproductions

Hardly less deep-reaching or extensive was his influence in Germany. “Richardson,” says Erich Schmidt, in his still indispensable study, “belongs as well to the history of the German, as to that of the English, novel.” The chords which the author of Clarissa struck in the hearts of his earnest, religious and sentimental German readers were no other than those which he had stirred in his light and sceptical French admirers—so true it is that one great tide of emotional enthusiasm swept, at that time, over the bounds of nationality and race. But the individual genius of each nation was, of course, recognisable in the chorus of praise by a tone of its own. The state of German romance before Gellert, says the critic just quoted, was much the same as that of English fiction before Richardson—with this difference only, that Germany had no Defoe. Gellert, who translated Pamela and Grandison, was, indeed, a writer after Richardson’s heart; and his novel, Das Leben der schwedischen Gräfin von G. (1746), though it falls far short of his model, still affords ample proof of the most praiseworthy intentions. Meanwhile, the German literary market, just like the French, was flooded with imitations and sequels; “histories” of an individual or of a family, in epistolary form, became the fashion. Among novelists who followed Gellert’s example may be mentioned Hermes (Geschichte der Miss Fanny Wilkes, 1766) and Sophie La Roche (Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim, 1771). Wieland’s admiration found vent in a drama on the unfortunate Clementina della Poretta (1760), after he had planned a series of letters from Sir Charles Grandison to Miss Jervois (1759). In their impulsive eagerness, many admirers would visit the scenes which Richardson had described or make a pilgrimage to those in which he had lived. Characteristic, in this respect, is Klopstock’s longing to be personally acquainted with the author of Clarissa, and the touching episode of his young wife’s correspondence with a man upon whom, in her naïve enthusiasm, she looked as little less than a saintly painter of angelic figures. As years went by, the rationalists and disciples of the Aufklärung grew rather bitter against the sentimental influence wielded by the English writer; Wieland himself somewhat recanted his undiscerning praise; and the parody of Musäus (Grandison der Zweite, written in 1759, recast in 1781) pointed, at least, to some irreverence in the minds of a few. But the popularity of Richardson was rooted in the love of all tender hearts, and, as is well known, tender hearts were then, and remained long afterwards, the majority in Germany. Moreover, to the direct action of Richardson must be added that which he exercised through Rousseau and La Nouvelle Héloïse; and, thus, the puritanic, insular English genius is brought into close association with the world-wide, supremely liberal intellect of the author of Werther’s Leiden. This summary would be too manifestly incomplete if a brief mention were not made of the Dutch translation of Clarissa, by John Stinstra; and of the sensation which Pamela created in Italy, where Goldoni adapted it for the stage.