Our grief is purely selfish

That evening came on with a still and tranquil beauty, and as the sun hastened to its close they launched their boat for an hour or two’s excursion upon the Rhine. Gertrude was in that happy mood when the quiet of nature is enjoyed like a bath for the soul, and the presence of him she so idolized deepened that stillness into a more delicious and subduing calm. Little did she dream as the boat glided over the water, and the towers of Cologne rose in the blue air of evening, how few were those hours that divided her from the tomb! But, in looking back to the life of one we have loved, how dear is the thought that the latter days were the days of light, that the cloud never chilled the beauty of the setting sun, and that if the years of existence were brief, all that existence has most tender, most sacred, was crowded into that space! Nothing dark, then, or bitter, rests with our remembrance of the lost: we are the mourners, but pity is not for the mourned, – our grief is purely selfish; when we turn to its object, the hues of happiness are round it, and that very love which is the parent of our woe was the consolation, the triumph, of the departed!

The majestic Rhine was calm as a lake; the splashing of the oar only broke the stillness, and after a long pause in their conversation, Gertrude, putting her hand on Trevylyan’s arm, reminded him of a promised story: for he too had moods of abstraction, from which, in her turn, she loved to lure him; and his voice to her had become a sort of want.

“Let it be,” said she, “a tale suited to the hour; no fierce tradition, – nay, no grotesque fable, but of the tenderer dye of superstition. Let it be of love, of woman’s love, – of the love that defies the grave: for surely even after death it lives; and heaven would scarcely be heaven if memory were banished from its blessings.”

“I recollect,” said Trevylyan, after a slight pause, “a short German legend, the simplicity of which touched me much when I heard it; but,” added he, with a slight smile, “so much more faithful appears in the legend the love of the woman than that of the man, that I at least ought scarcely to recite it.”

“Nay,” said Gertrude, tenderly, “the fault of the inconstant only heightens our gratitude to the faithful.”

(Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Pilgrims Of The Rhine, Kapitel VII: Köln, London 1834)

The character of the German literature (the mighty gloom of the Hartz)

On leaving Cologne, the stream winds round among banks that do not yet fulfil the promise of the Rhine; but they increase in interest as you leave Surdt and Godorf. The peculiar character of the river does not, however, really appear, until by degrees the Seven Mountains, and “The Castled Craig Of Drachenfels” above them all, break upon the eye. Around Nieder Cassel and Rheidt the vines lie thick and clustering; and, by the shore, you see from place to place the islands stretching their green length along, and breaking the exulting tide. Village rises upon village, and viewed from the distance as you sail, the pastoral errors that enamoured us of the village life crowd thick and fast upon us. So still do these hamlets seem, so sheltered from the passions of the world, – as if the passions were not like winds, only felt where they breathe, and invisible save by their effects! Leaping into the broad bosom of the Rhine come many a stream and rivulet upon either side. Spire upon spire rises and sinks as you sail on. Mountain and city, the solitary island, the castled steep, like the dreams of ambition, suddenly appear, proudly swell, and dimly fade away.

“You begin now,” said Trevylyan, “to understand the character of the German literature. The Rhine is an emblem of its luxuriance, its fertility, its romance. The best commentary to the German genius is a visit to the German scenery. The mighty gloom of the Hartz, the feudal towers that look over vines and deep valleys on the legendary Rhine; the gigantic remains of antique power, profusely scattered over plain, mount, and forest; the thousand mixed recollections that hallow the ground; the stately Roman, the stalwart Goth, the chivalry of the feudal age, and the dim brotherhood of the ideal world, have here alike their record and their remembrance. And over such scenes wanders the young German student. Instead of the pomp and luxury of the English traveller, the thousand devices to cheat the way, he has but his volume in his hand, his knapsack at his back. From such scenes he draws and hives all that various store which after years ripen to invention. Hence the florid mixture of the German muse, – the classic, the romantic, the contemplative, the philosophic, and the superstitious; each the result of actual meditation over different scenes; each the produce of separate but confused recollections. As the Rhine flows, so flows the national genius, by mountain and valley, the wildest solitude, the sudden spires of ancient cities, the mouldered castle, the stately monastery, the humble cot, – grandeur and homeliness, history and superstition, truth and fable, succeeding one another so as to blend into a whole.

“But,” added Trevylyan, a moment afterwards, “the Ideal is passing slowly away from the German mind; a spirit for the more active and the more material literature is springing up amongst them. The revolution of mind gathers on, preceding stormy events; and the memories that led their grandsires to contemplate will urge the youth of the next
generation to dare and to act.”*

* Is not this prediction already fulfilled? – 1849.

(Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Pilgrims Of The Rhine, Kapitel IX: Drachenfels, London 1834)

But in Holland activity destroys, in Germany indolence nourishes, romance

“Our travellers arrived at Rotterdam on a bright and sunny day. There is a cheerfulness about the operations of Commerce, – a life, a bustle, an action which always exhilarate the spirits at the first glance. Afterwards they fatigue us; we get too soon behind the scenes, and find the base and troublous passions which move the puppets and conduct the drama.

But Gertrude, in whom ill health had not destroyed the vividness of impression that belongs to the inexperienced, was delighted at the cheeriness of all around her. As she leaned lightly on Trevylyan’s arm, he listened with a forgetful joy to her questions and exclamations at the stir and liveliness of a city from which was to commence their pilgrimage along the Rhine. And indeed the scene was rife with the spirit of that people at once so active and so patient, so daring on the sea, so cautious on the land. Industry was visible everywhere; the vessels in the harbour, the crowded boat putting off to land, the throng on the quay, – all looked bustling and spoke of commerce. The city itself, on which the skies shone fairly through light and fleecy clouds, wore a cheerful aspect. The church of St. Lawrence rising above the clean, neat houses, and on one side trees thickly grouped, gayly contrasted at once the waters and the city.

“I like this place,” said Gertrude’s father, quietly; “it has an air of comfort.”

“And an absence of grandeur,” said Trevylyan.

“A commercial people are one great middle-class in their habits and train of mind,” replied Vane; “and grandeur belongs to the extremes, an impoverished population and a wealthy despot.”

They went to see the statue of Erasmus, and the house in which he was born. Vane had a certain admiration for Erasmus which his companions did not share; he liked the quiet irony of the sage, and his knowledge of the world; and, besides, Vane was at that time of life when philosophers become objects of interest. At first they are teachers; secondly, friends; and it is only a few who arrive at the third stage, and find them deceivers. The Dutch are a singular people. Their literature is neglected, but it has some of the German vein in its strata, – the patience, the learning, the homely delineation, and even some traces of the mixture of the humorous and the terrible which form that genius for the grotesque so especially German – you find this in their legends and ghost-stories. But in Holland activity destroys, in Germany indolence nourishes, romance.”

(Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Pilgrims Of The Rhine, Kapitel V: Rotterdam, London 1834)