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Graf von Loeben and the Legend of Lorelei   By: (1877-)

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Modern Philology

VOLUME XIII October 1915 NUMBER 6 (pp. 65 92)

ALLEN WILSON PORTERFIELD

GRAF VON LOEBEN AND THE LEGEND OF LORELEI

I

The devotees of Apollo have to give a good account of themselves in Olympia before, they can become persona grata on Olympus. They spend their lives, more or less, at the various games of poetry. Some, like Goethe, win in the majority of trials, and then we study all of their records regardless of their individual excellence. Some like Immermann in Oberhof , win only once, but this is sufficient to insure immortality. Some play and joust, run and wrestle with constancy and grace; their records, just after starting and just before finishing, are interesting, but in the end they are always defeated. And when this is the case, posterity, lay and initiated, forgets their names and concerns itself in no wise with their records, unless it be for statistical purposes. It is to the latter class that Graf von Loeben[1] belongs. For twenty five years he was a perpetual, loyal, chivalric contestant in the Olympic vale of poetry. His running was interesting, but he never won; he never wrote a single thing that everybody still reads for its own sake.

Aside from his connection with the Lorelei matter, Graf von Loeben is, therefore, at present, a wholly obscure, indeed unknown, Poet. The large Konversations Lexikons [2] of Meyer and Brockhaus say nothing about him, unless it be in the discussion of some other poet with whom he associated. Of the twenty best known histories of German literature, some of which treat nothing but the nineteenth century, only six contain his name, and these simply mention him either as a member of the Dresden group of pseudo romanticists, or as one of those Afterromantiker who did yeoman service by way of bringing real romanticism into disrepute through their unsubstantial, imitative, and formless works. And this is true despite the fact that Loeben was an exceedingly prolific writer and a very popular and influential man in. his day. Concerning his personality, Muncker says: "Die Tiefe und Wärme seines leicht erregbaren Gemüthes, seine Herzensreinheit, seine schwärmerische Hingabe an alles Schöne und Edle sowie sein zartes Tactgefühl erwarben ihm bei Freunden und Bekannten das Lob einer schönen Seele in des Wortes schönster Bedeutung."[3]

As to his poetic ability from the point of view of quantity, one can only marvel at the amount he produced in the time at his disposal; his creative works cover all types and sorts of literature.[4] He is best known for his numerous poems and his magnus opus , Guido , a novel of 360 pages, written under the pen name of "Isidorus Orientalis," and intended as a continuation of Novalis' Ofterdingen ; he used Tieck's notes for this purpose. He wrote also a great number of letters, between 60 and 70 elaborate reviews, and some critical essays, the best of which seems to be his commentary to Madame de Staël's De l'Allemagne , while he translated from Anacreon, Dante, Guarini, Horace, Ovid, Petrarch, Vergil, and others, and left a number of fragments including the outline of a pretentious novel of which Heinrich von Veldeke, whom he looked upon as "der Heilige des Enthusiasmus," was to be the hero. And he was, incidentally, an omnivorous reader, for, as he naïvely said:

Viele Bücher muss ich kennen, Denn die Menschen kenn' ich gern.[5]

As to his originality, another confession is significant:

Ja, es gibt nur wenig Leute, Deren Schüler ich nicht bin.[6]

No attempt, however, has as yet been made at even an eclectic edition of his numerous finished works, a few of which are still unpublished, many of which are now rare.[7]

As to his standing with his literary contemporaries, Eichendorff admitted[8] that Loeben influenced him as a man and as a poet; it was he who induced Eichendorff to write some of his earlier works under the pen name of "Florens." And Eichendorff in turn credited Goethe with the remark[9] that "Loeben war der vorzüglichste Dichter jener Zeit... Continue reading book >>




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