The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Hermann und Dorothea

HERMANN UND DOROTHEA. Goethe's ‘Hermann and Dorothea’ is a bright idyll of a small German country town near the right bank of the Rhine, set against the dark background of the French invasion of the Rhenish Palatinate in 1794. It was written between September 1796 and March 1797, and was to some extent suggested by Voss's ‘Luise,’ an idyll in hexameters, first published in 1782-84. The story of the well settled burgher's son marrying a poor fugitive was contained in an account of the Salzburg Protestants who, for their religion, in 1731 fled from their old homes into Germany. The inhabitants and conditions of the little town which is the scene of ‘Hermann and Dorothea’ are pictured in contrast to the turmoil of the French Revolution, for they stand for the foundations on which civilization will always rest. The leading characters represent the standard callings of men — the farmer, the merchant, the apothecary-doctor, the minister, the judge. The hero is the true son of mother earth, given to tilling the soil and harvesting his crops. The life both in family and community is depicted as the fundamental social forms, with some hints of national life. The love story of the young couple is free from wild romance, indeed their love makes them look to the future not with any anticipation of pleasure or extravagance, but with the instinctive conviction that the true blessings of life flow from the performance of necessary tasks. The public spirit of Hermann's father germinates also in the son's character as his burning patriotism protests against the French invasion. But the spirit that permeates the poem as a whole is that of trust in the future and sympathy with mankind. The hexameters of the nine cantos are at times irregular. The serene flow of presentation, the masterly descriptions of landscape and home, the plastic vigor of the main figures, the balance of color, all go to render ‘Hermann and Dorothea’ a great work of literary art. Consult edition of Goethe's works in ‘Deutsche National-Literatur’ (Vol. V, pp. 1-99, 1882-98); English translation in German classics and in Harvard classics; von Humboldt, W., ‘Æsthetische Versuche: Hermann und Dorothea’ (1799); Hehn, V., ‘Ueber Goethes Hermann und Dorothea’ (1893).