Monday, April 13, 2020

"Kein seeliger Tod ist in der Welt" - The Strange History of a German "Battle Song": From The Thirty Years' War To The First World War (Pt. 1)


Part 1:
I. Introduction
II. Herder (1778) - Morhof (1682) - Vogel (1626)
III. The Poetry of the Seven Years' War

Part 2:
IV. Herder and the Volkslieder (1778)
V. After Herder: From the Napoleonic Wars to the First World War
VI. Conclusion
Literature


I. Introduction

Johann Gottfried Herder published his famous anthology Volkslieder in 1778 and 1779 (here at the Internet Archive). In two volumes he offered what he regarded as the "national songs" of the Germans and several other peoples. It was at first not really a successful publication. But in practice in he created the genre Volkslied and inspired others to follow suit. Of course much of what he compiled would later not be accepted as belonging to this genre. Nonetheless in many cases Herder served as a kind of gate-keeper. He had selected texts from often very obscure sources and defined them as a Volkslied. That way these texts were reanimated and started a new life. Many of them were regularly reprinted and set to music and in the end they became popular songs.

Here I will discuss one example of this process. This is in fact a very fascinating story, especially because it may be regarded as one of the more problematic texts in his anthology although this was surely not Herder's fault. But here we will see how an old text from a very obscure source can take on a new meaning in a new ideological and political context.


In the second book of the first volume we find a text with the title "Schlachtgesang" (I.2.18, pp. 177-8). As the title says it's a battle song and it is placed between several old Norse texts - all very martial - and some Spanish romances. In fact this was included to represent German war songs and served as supplement and contrast to comparable texts from Northern and Southern Europe:
Kein selg'er Tod ist in der Welt,
Als wer vor'm Feind' erschlagen,
Auf grüner Haid' im freien Feld
Darf nicht hör'n groß Wehklagen,
Im engen Bett, da ein'r allein
Muß an den Todesreihen,
Hie aber findt er Gsellschaft fein,
Fall'n mit, wie Kräuter im Mayen.
Ich sag ohn' Spott,
Kein selig'r Tod
Ist in der Welt,
Als so man fällt,
Auf grüner Haid,
Ohn Klag und Leid!
Mit Trommeln Klang
Und Pfeiffen G'sang,
Wird man begraben,
Davon thut haben
Unsterblichen Ruhm.
Mancher Held fromm,
Hat zugesezt Leib und Blute
Dem Vaterland zu gute. 
It is really not necessary to translate the whole text. The first and the last few lines should suffice:
No more blissful death in this world
Than to get slain in front of the enemy,
In the green heath in the open field,
Must not hear big lamentations
[...]
Some pious hero
Has used body and blood
For the good of the fatherland
This is a song about dying for the fatherland, whatever that was at that time and looks like a popular variant of the famous formula we know from one of Roman poet Horatius' odes (Carmina 3.2.13):
[...]
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
[...]
The text is - as will be seen - about an early medieval battle but was written at the time of the Thirty Years' War. Herder doesn't mention that in his notes (pp. 323-4) although it was known to him. Instead he claimed - wrongly - that it was "surely old". The reprint of this "Schlachtlied" in the Volkslieder served as the starting-point for a new tradition. During the 19th century it was turned into a popular song that was still sung during the first and second world wars. This story is worth recapitulating because it also gives some insight into the development of nationalism in Germany since the early 17th century. We can go back step by step to discuss the sources and origin and then forward again to see what happened after Herder saved this text from oblivion.


II. Herder (1778) - Morhof (1682) - Vogel (1626)

In the notes (pp. 323-4) Herder also named the source for the text: "Die letzte Strophe aus einem langen Schlachtliede bei Morhof von der deutschen Poeterei." He clearly expected his readers to be familiar with this work, the earliest attempt at a comparative history of German literature that was first published 90 years earlier. Here - this is the second edition - we find the complete song of 11 verses (pp. 312-5):
Daniel Georg Morhof, Unterricht von der Teutschen Sprache und Poesie, Deren Ursprung, Fortgang und Lehrsätzen, Sampt dessen Teutschen Gedichten. Jetzo von neuem vermehret und verbessert und nach deß Seel. Autoris eigenem Exemplare übersehen, zum anderen mahle von den Erben heraußgegeben, Wiemeyer, Lübeck & Frankfurt, 1700, at Google Books [= BSB], also at the Internet Archive (see also the mod. ed. in: Boetius 1969)
Daniel Georg Morhof (1639-1691, see Wikipedia; wikisource; Deutsche Biographie; Dünnhaupt II, pp. 1215-1239; Boetius 1969), poet, historian and since 1665 professor in Kiel, can be regarded as one of the earliest scholars of German literature history. His Unterricht von der Teutschen Sprache und Poesie first appeared in 1682 (at Google Books [= BSB]) and a new extended edition was published posthumously in 1700. Herder owned an identical 1702 reprint (at Google Books; see BH 5152).

Morhof wrote against the contempt for the German language and literature that was at that time common in academic and intellectual circles. His aim was to unearth German literary traditions even though not much was available at that time. Nonetheless he can be seen as a pioneer in this respect. He also attempted a comparative approach and discussed Italian, Spanish, English, Dutch and French literature. Morhof was among the first in Germany to write about old Norse poetry and was familiar with some of the relevant Scandinavian publications that had appeared so far in Sweden and Denmark. In the chapter "Von der Nordischen Poeterey" (pp. 360-82; here pp. 374-82) he even introduced some exotic pieces to his readers: a Finnish "bear-song", a text from Scheffer's Lapponia and one of the Peruvian songs from Carcilaso de la Vega's Commentarios Reales. Herder later referred to or included them in his Volkslieder and he may have seen them first in this book.

In the seventh chapter (pp. 278-359) Morhof presented what he knew of "German" literature since the time of Charlemagne. He mentioned for example the Limburger Chronik (p. 311) from the 15th century - also later used by Herder - and discussed the so-called Meistersänger (p. 306). And at this point he added the battle song:
"Ich will hier zur Ergötzung des Lesers ein Schlacht Lied so ein solcher Meistersänger der die Historie des Henrici Aucupis beschrieben und wie eine Comoedie in gewisse Actus eingetheilet derselben mit einverleibet. Dann er führet einen Poeten ein, der zu Anfange der Schlacht ein Lied nach dem alten Gebrauche der Teutschen absinget ist gar nicht alt [...]" (p. 312).
Of course this was not the work of a Meistersänger. That was wrong. He didn't know the author's name because he only had a mutilated copy that a colleague had lent him. But he was able to tell that this text was part of a longer piece - a "comedy in several acts" about "Henry the Fowler" - King Heinrich I. of East Francia in the 10th century - and described it as the song performed by a poet before a battle, "after the old custom of the Germans". And he also noted that the song was "not really old", a remark that Herder later ignored.

 

But at least Morhof made it clear that this particular text belonged to an unidentified literary work about an early medieval battle. He didn't really like this "tasteless song" - "in diesem ganzen ungeschmackten Liede" (p. 315) - but at least he had to acknowledge that a few parts of it, the chants sung by the warriors, were not completely wrong. The complete text offers a curious history of the battle music with many references to the bible and antique sources:
Viel Krieg hat sich in dieser Welt
Mancher Ursach erhaben:
Demselben hat Gott zugesellt
Die Musik als sein Gaben:
Ihr erstr Erfinder war Jubal
Des Lamechs Sohn mit Namen:
Erfand Drometn- und Pfeiffenschall
Kont sie stimmen zusammen.
Die Music gut
Erweckt den Muth
Frisch unverzagt
Die Feind verjagt
Ruft starck, dran, dran
An Feind hinan
Brecht gewaltig durch
Schlagt Gassn und Furch
Schießt, stecht und haut alles nider
Daß keiner aufsteht wieder.
[...]
But what was Morhof''s source? It took more than a century after the publication of Herder's Volkslieder until the original author was identified. Austrian scholar Ferdinand Eichler (1889 & 1896) showed that Morhof quoted the text from a very obscure epic about the East Frankish King Heinrich I's victorious battle against the Magyars in 933 - today known as the battle of Riade - by the very obscure poet Jacob Vogel that was published first in 1626:
Jacob Vogel, Vngrische Schlacht. Das ist: Poetische Beschreibung der gewaltigen grossen Vngrischen Schlacht welche Keyser Heinrich der Erste (aus dem Königlichen Sächs. Stam Widikindi Magni, etc.) Auceps genant Anno 933. bey Mörsseburg mit dreymalhundert tausent Vngrern, Tartarn, Sarmaten, Wenden, Scythen, Reussen, etc. vnd andern damals grawsamen Völckern gehalten: welche er auch sampt seinem Heldenmühtigen Kriegsvolck mehrentheils erschlagen, theils gefangen, die vbrigen aber aus dem Lande verjaget hat.
Mit Namhafftigmachung der streitbarsten Königlichen, Fürstlichen, Gräfflichen, Landherrischen, Adelichen, etc. vnd andern rittermessigen Kriegshelden: so bey der Schlacht das beste gethan vnnd dardurch vnsterbliches Gedächtnis, Lob vnd Ruhm erworben haben.
Allen ritterlichen Helden, sonderlich dem Teutschen Adel, zu Ehren vnnd Wolgefallen, ans Tagesliecht gebracht, Weidner, Jena, 1626, here pp. 35-41,
at Google Books [= ÖNB], also at the Internet Archive (mod. ed. Balogh 2013)
Who was Jacob Vogel (1584-?; Eichler 1896; see also Deutsche Biographie)? He came from Württemberg but later settled in Saxony. A surgeon by profession he became a self-taught poet. Vogel didn't go to university - his family couldn't afford it - but he read a lot and also traveled far and wide, for example to Hungary and Italy. Since 1615 he was busy as a writer and in 1622 he was crowned a poet in Leipzig. Otherwise not much is known about him and after 1630 he vanished from the scene. We don't even know when and where he died.

Vogel wrote for example a Kurtze Wanderregel for travelling craftsmen (1615, at SB Berlin) as well as some historical epics celebrating the house of Saxony. The Clausensturm (1622; at UB Göttingen) was about Elector Moritz of Saxony's campaign in Bavaria and Tyrol against Catholic emperor Karl V. in 1552 during the Second Schmalkaldic War. The Bautzensturm (at SB Berlin) showed the siege and conquest of the town of Bautzen: the Lutheran Elector of Saxony helped the Catholic Emperor to defeat and depose the new Bohemian king, the Calvinist Palatinate Elector Friedrich V.

Vogel was surely not among that era's greatest writers. But nonetheless his work is not uninteresting. He himself didn't suffer from false modesty but instead believed he was much better than all the old Greek and Latin poets (see Eichler 1896, p. 397; Clausensturm l. 2v). What he shared with some of his high-brow colleagues from that time - for example Martin Opitz (see f. ex. Riemenschneider 1993) - was his language patriotism . He criticized the current contempt for the German language and he wanted to write German poetry: "Ob wol bey uns Deutschen, als welche ihre eigene Muttersprache verachten, kein Deutscher Poet [...] etwas gilt oder geachtet wird" (Clausensturm, l. 2v). He was not only a Saxon patriot but also promoted a kind of early German cultural nationalism.

The Ungrische Schlacht appeared in 1626, in the early years of what would later be called the Thirty Years' War. At that time his own ruler, the Lutheran Elector of Saxony, was still supporting the Emperor against the Protestants. Germans fought against Germans and a lot of foreign soldiers were involved. Poet Vogel who in an introductory epigram [p. iv]) is celebrated as a German Homer and Vergil clearly attempted a German national epic and reached back to early Middle Ages when - according to legend - all of "Germany" stood together to fight against foreign invaders.

Heinrich I. (c.876-936; see Wikipedia; Waitz 1863; Brühl 1995, pp. 411-60; Giese 2008; Schneidmüller 2003) was the first Saxon king of East Francia. German nationalist historiography later saw him as the first "German" king and the founder of the "German" empire. Of course at that time there was no "Germany". During the 19th century "Heinrich der Vogler" ("Henry the Fowler") had a nearly legendary status. Everybody knew Loewe's famous ballad "Herr Heinrich sitzt am Vogelherd" and he was also the hero of Wagner's Lohengrin. But in fact not really much is known about him. There are only very few contemporary sources and historians always had a hard time distinguishing facts from legends.

Among Heinrich's most important achievements was surely the victory against the Magyars in 933. These equestrian warriors from the East conducted aggressive raids westwards and his own kingdom was a regular victim of these attacks. For a long time the Franks had no idea what to do against these invaders. But in the mid-20s King Heinrich managed to reach an uneasy truce for nearly a decade. He then introduced some military reforms and prepared his knights for future battles. In 932 he stopped delivering the tributes to the Magyars and - as expected - the following years they returned. This time they were defeated and driven out. This was not a decisive victory and by all accounts it was not a big battle with many dead enemies. Heinrich's success "had primarily the psychological effect of destroying the legend of the invincibility of the Magyars" (see Brühl, p. 499). Nonetheless this made him a great hero and soon the story of the battle would be embellished with numerous legendary elements.

The Ungrische Schlacht had of course not much to do with what really happened. Vogel turned it into a battle of epic proportions: knights from all parts of "Germany" - it seems in reality only Saxons and Thuringians did the fighting - came together and on page after page he has them massacring the always nameless Magyars. Interestingly he did some research and for example claimed ([p. 144]) to have studied "old scrolls, rotten and partly eaten by mice" and other vermin. He also named his major sources: Brotuff's chronicle of Merseburg that included a chapter of very dubious quality about the battle (1556, ch. 15; 1557, ch. 15; 1606, pp. 493-508) and the "Turnirbuch", Georg Rüxner's Anfang vrsprung vnnd herkommen des Thurnirs in Teutscher nation (1530, see IIv - xiiii). The infamous forger Rüxner (see Wikipedia; wikisource; Graf 2009) had invented for his book the first 14 tournaments in Germany and all the names of the knights who took part. He claimed that the very first tournament was held by Heinrich after the Hungarian battle. Here Vogel found the names of the "German" heroes that he used in his epic. Besides these two he must have also known other sources but it surely didn't help him much. The whole epic is pure fantasy.

But this didn't matter much. Who cares about the real history when it's more important to promote a piece of German national mythology? The political message of his epic is clear: let's fight against foreign invaders (see Balogh, pp. 9-10). At the time of writing this idea surely made sense but was extremely utopian. Here Vogel anticipated future developments and was way ahead of his time. The real problem with his attempt at a national epic is that it surely looks like one of the worst epics ever written. The endless list of names is tedious beyond belief. There are countless bad rhymes that produce an unintentional comical effect and it is really difficult to stay serious while reading:
[...]
Also erschlug der Keyser viel/
Der Feind zu todt im Heldenspiel.
Der Herr Feldobrist leget ein/
Sampt den Herrn: in Ordnung fein/
Randtens Spornstreichs wider die Feind/
Jeder sein Man zu fällen meynt/
Welchs auch geschach in solchem Strauß/
Daß die Vngrer ankam ein Grauß/[p. 65]
[...]
Wilm von Delsperg/ mit seim Schlachtschwert/
Hieb manchen Vngrer zu der Erd/
Hanß von Trott/ schlug auch grewlich drein/
Mit seim Streitkolben: wurd ins Bein/
Gschossen: des ergrimmt er gar/
Zertrannt im Zorn der Feinde Schaar/ [p. 67]
[...]
The most interesting part of this epic is the song, clearly his own invention, that we can find at the start of Act III:
Des Keysrs Poet/ein Schlachtlied singt/
Welchs manch Heldengemüth auffbringt
[...]
The poet performs his battle-song at the emperor's table. He is accompanied by pipes and drums and sings it to encourage and incite the soldiers. There is nothing medieval about this text and most of it doesn't sound as if it could incite anybody. What's important is the last verse about dying for the "fatherland", the part that would survive the centuries. This formula would have been quite unusual at the time of the real battle against the Hungarians. But when Vogel wrote his epic it had become popular anew. He wasn't the first to use it.


This was of course a reference to Roman poet Horatius' famous ode (Carmina 3.2): "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori". His works were easily available at that time. The earliest printed edition of his odes had appeared at Straßburg in 1498 and this collection was then regularly reprinted (see here 1516). Equally important and influential in this respect were the martial elegies of Tyrtaios, the Greek poet from the 7th Century B.C. who had used an earlier variant of this formula (now fragm. 6D, see Gottwein.de). His works were also available in print since the 16th century (see Kühlmann 2011, pp. 178-86), for example in the editions by Camerarius, Melanchthon and Osius (here 1563, pp. 61-2).

"Amor patria" and its practical implications were widely discussed among scholars and intellectuals (see f. ex. Schmidt 2007) and translations and variants of this formula could also be found in German language publications, for example in Georg Lauterbeck's Regentenbuch, a popular textbook for government and politics (1561, pp. CCLXXXVIIv & CCCXXX):
Wer an der Spitzen nider felt/
Damit sein Vaterland erhelt
Im Krieg/derselb ist Lobens werth/
Kein grösser Lob mag seyn auff Erd.
[...]
Wie solchs der Poet lobet.
Dulce, & decorum est pro patria mori.
Das ist/Es ist lieblich und fein/sterben für das Vaterland [...].
Only recently poet Julius Wilhelm Zincgref had used it:
Kein Tod ist löblicher, kein Tod wird mehr geehret,
Als der, durch den das Heil des Vaterlandts sich nehret
[...]
This is the opening couplet of his long poem Eine Vermanung zur Dapfferkeit. Nach form und art der Elegien deß Grichischen Poeten Tyrtaei, welche der Lacedaemonier Feld Obersten ihren Bürgern und soldaten ehe sie ins Treffen giengen, vorzulesen pflegten (see Kühlmann 2911, Vollhardt 2011). His "admonition to bravery" based on Tyrtaios' elegies "that were read to the citizens and soldiers before the battle" was first published in 1624 in Teutsche Pöemata, Zincgref's edition of the poems of Martin Opitz where he added an appendix of other German poems, mostly his own (here pp. 220-4) and then a year later as a single print. More editions would follow (see Dünnhaupt III, pp. 2017-18).

Zincgref (1591-1635; Wikipedia; Dünnhaupt III, p. 2005), poet and jurist, wrote it - according to a later print (1632, at UB Göttingen) - in 1622 during the siege of Heidelberg, capital of the Palatinate electorate, where he was military judge. Of course this poem was intended to encourage the soldiers to fight against the Catholic forces. But to be true it was apparently of no use there. Heidelberg had to surrender and the poet had to flee. Vogel may have known any of these publications. But in general this formula was already so widely known - it was even printed on flags (see Schevenhiller's Annales Ferdinandei 10, 1724, col. 527) - that the question about his source is really not that important.

The real question is: what did he mean with term "Vaterland"? For whom should the soldier die? The fatherland in the political discussions of that time was not the same as the fatherland in modern nationalist ideology. It was usually simply the place one was born and living, the Heimat (see f. ex. Hartmann, p. 92; Walch 1733, col. 2633) but not "Germany" as a whole. Zincgref also spoke of "Volck und Vatterland". But he identified patriotism for "Germany" with the Protestant cause. That was of course a common way of thinking especially among Calvinist writers (see Garber 1986, pp. 327-31).

Two decades later another high-brow poet offered a soldier song in a similar vein. Georg Rudolf Weckherlin (1584-1653; see Wikipedia; Dünnhaupt III, pp. 1841-6), a jurist, diplomat and writer from Württemberg and a supporter of the Palatinate elector, went to England in 1620 where he then spent most of his life. In fact he preferred not to return to the continent and instead worked for the British government. Weckherlin wrote political and patriotic poems against the emporer and the Catholic league (see Meid 1982). In his Gaistliche und Weltliche Gedichte (1641, pp. 244-6; 1648, pp. 522-4) we can find the ode with the title "Wie die Soldaten man vorzeiten Laut mit dem mund: So Sie jetzund Ermahnet der Poët zu streitten":
Frisch auff, ihr tapffere Soldaten,
Ihr, die ihr noch mit Teutschem Blut
[...] suchet grosse thaten
[...]
Der ist ein Teutscher wolgeboren,
Der von betrug und falschheit frey,
Hat weder redlichkeit noch trew,
Noch glauben, noch freyheit verlohren:
[...]
Dan wan ihn schon die feind verwunden,
Und nemen ihm das leben hin,
Ist doch ruhm und ehr sein gewin,
Und Er ist gar nicht überwunden:
Ein solcher tod ist ihm nicht schwer,
Weil sein gewissen ihn versüsset;
Und er erwirbet lob und ehr,
In dem er sein blut so vergiesset.'
[...]
In this admonition to bravery the poet also celebrated the death for the fatherland. There is much Deutschtümelei but he of course understood the fight for German freedom as the fight for the Protestant cause. By the way, Zincgref's and Weckherlin's texts would at first become much more popular than Vogel's. Some year's later Johann Michael Moscherosch (1601-1669; see Wikipedia; Deutsche Biographie), a Protestant writer from Strasbourg, combined Weckherlin's poem with a part of Zincgref's and included it in Philander von Sittwalds Gesichten, a highly successful collection of satirical narratives published since 1640 (here Vol. 2, 1644, pp. 566-8; see Martin 2000; pp. 194-213).

Poet Jacob Vogel had a different attitude than his Calvinist high-brow colleagues. In the context of the epic the song was about "Germany" as a whole even if it didn't exist at that time. He celebrated the German heroes - "teutsche Helden" - and his patriotic epic is dedicated to everybody: "Allen ritterlichen Helden/sonderlich dem Deutschen Adel/Zu Ehren und Wolgefallen". By going back to the early middle ages he was able to ignore the ongoing war - Germans fighting against Germans and many foreign troops on German soil - and the contemporary political and religious fragmentation. Instead he offered a call for national unity against foreign invaders. The battle against Hungarians became a part of Germany's patriotic history.

The "Vaterland" in his song was clearly an imaginary united "Germany". At the time of writing this was wishful thinking. The armies consisted mostly of mercenaries from all over Europe who couldn't care less about the fatherland, whatever that was. In this respect Vogel was closer to modern nationalist ideology than most of his contemporaries. Of course in his thinking "Germany" was still represented by the nobility. The real people didn't play much of a role in this epic.


III. The Poetry of the Seven Years' War

But no matter what poet Vogel expected: his great epic wasn't successful. He was never recognized as the new German Homer and his name fell into oblivion. He was only rarely mentioned in the relevant literature and apparently not many copies of his book were sold at that time. When Morhof reprinted this "song" he didn't even mention Vogel's name, perhaps because he only had a mutilated copy. It seems he didn't even care about the author and his epic. For him it was only a strange curiosity and otherwise he thought the piece was quite bad and tasteless. 

Nearly 90 years later Herder discovered this text in Morhof's book and he could relate to it in a very different way. At that time patriotic battle songs had become very popular in the German language literary world. This was mostly thanks to Prussian King Friedrich II. who since his accession to the throne in 1740 regularly started new wars of aggression. German writers responded with martial poetry to support the Prussian wars and to promote a new patriotism.

We may only look at Samuel Gottlieb Lange's Horatzische Oden (1747, at Google Books). Here this pastor and poet (see Wikipedia) celebrated the king and the war in no uncertain terms and sometimes it sounded really blood-thirsty. In the appendix we find an ode by his wife Dorothea - "Friedrichs Zurückkunft in sein Land" (pp. 161-6) - where she expressed her wish to be a man and "splatter her blood" for the king:
O könnt ich, mit stark und männlichen Kräften,
Mein Blut für Dich, o Vater, Friedrich! versprützen
[...] 
Most important and influential in this respect was Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803; see Wikipedia) who had just become famous with the first parts of his Messias. In 1749 - a year after the end of the first Silesian wars - he published a "Kriegslied zur Nachahmung des alten Liedes von der Chevy-Chase-Jagd" in the Bremische Neue Beyträge (pp. 404-6; see the translation of a later version in Odes, 1848, pp. 55-7). Here he applied the meter of the British ballad "Chevy Chase" to a modern battle-song (see Bosse 2000 & 2001): 
Die Schlacht geht an! Der Feind ist da!
Wohlauf zum Sieg ins Feld!
Es führet uns der beste Mann
Im ganzen Vaterland.

Es braust das königliche Roß,
und trägt ihn hoch daher.
Heil, Friedrich! Heil dir, Held und Mann
Im eisernen Gefild!

Sein Antlitz grüht vor Ehrbegier
Und herrscht den Sieg herbey!
Schon ist an seiner Königsbrust
Der Stern mit Blut bespritzt.
[...] 
In 1711 English writer Joseph Addison had introduced the "old song of Chevy-Chase", the "the favourite ballad of the common people of England" to the readers of his Spectator (Nos. 70 & 74, here in later ed., Vol. 1, pp. 283-9, 301-7), an innovative and influential periodical. In fact this ballad (see Nessler 1911) about a battle in the 14th century at the English-Scottish border was rather old but he used more recent version from the early 17th century :
This news was brought to Edinburgh,
Where Scotland's king did reign,
That brave Earl Douglas suddenly
Was with an arrow slain.
[...] 
Here he presented it as an example of what he regarded as old English heroic poetry: "I know nothing which more shews the essential and inherent perfection of simplicity of thought" (p. 283). This was a very influential article that more or less started the ballad revival of the 17th century. The Spectator was also translated into German in the 1740s by Luise Gottsched. This text in particular was received with great interest (here 2nd ed., 1750, pp. 340-6, 362-8) and served as an inspiration for scholars and poets. 

Klopstock was among the first to try it out. It is not clear if this was a serious attempt. Perhaps he regarded it only as an an experiment with an interesting meter. The "Kriegslied" was accompanied by two more pastiches, a drinking song and a love song, written either by Klopstock himself or one of his friends (pp. 407-11). It is also not clear if the "Friedrich" in this poem was really the Prussian king. Klopstock later denied it (see Cramer II, p. 372-3) and changed the name. But for contemporary readers this was an obvious conclusion. Klopstock also revived here Horatius' "death for the Fatherland":
Willkommen, Tod fürs Vaterland!
Wann unser sinkend Haupt
Schön Blut bedeckt; dann sterben wir
Mit Ruhm fürs Vaterland.

[...]

Uns folgt ein Ruhm der ewig bleibt,
Wenn wir gestorben sind!
Gestorben für das Vaterland
Den ehrenvollen Tod. 
He had already used this formula in the Messias (1749, here 1751, p. 16 & p. 82) but here it was transferred to the present time and its real wars. All in all the "Kriegslied" sounded like a call for pro-Prussian patriotism and Friedrich II.'s wars and it would serve as a model for future "war-poets". 

But the great flood of new battle-songs only started in 1756 with what later would be called the Seven Years' War. Philosopher-in-chief Friedrich II. invaded and occupied Saxony and soon saber-rattling German writers were again busy celebrating the Prussian king's latest war. Anonymous producers of cheap broadsides (see Ditfurth 1871, at Google Books) and popular high-brow poets, amateurs as well as professionals did their best to support their army. There was for example an unnamed Prussian officer who wrote Zwey Kriegslieder an die Unterthanen des Königs, two victory songs with melodies (1757, at UB Halle). Another anonymous author offered Friederich der Sieger: Ein Heldengedicht (1758, at Google Books). Also Pastor Lange was at it again, blood-thirsty as usual: his lengthy poem with the title Die besiegten Heere, eine Ode, nebst dem Jubelgesange der Preußen (1758, at Google Books; at SB Berlin) seemed too harsh even for the Prussian censor (see Pröhle 1872, p. 78). 

Then there was Ewald von Kleist (1715-1759; see Wikipedia), at that time already a well-established poet but also a Major in the Prussian army. The "Ode an die preußische Armee" was first published as a broadside (at e-rara) and then included in his anthology Neue Gedichte vom Verfaßer des Frühlings (1758, at Google Books). Here he celebrated the death in the battle: "O Heer! Bereit zum Siegen oder Sterben". Dying for the fatherland once again became the call of the day. In his verse novel Cißides und Paches. In drey Gesängen (1759), set in the time of the wars of the Diadoches after the death of Alexander the Great, Kleist quoted this formula several times (pp. 10, 28, 40, 56):
Der Tod fürs Vaterland ist ewiger
Verehrung werth. Wie gern sterb ich ihn auch. 
This literary "death cult" (see Hellmuth 1998; Blitz 2000, pp. 223-6) was also promoted by admired young philosopher Thomas Abbt (1738-1766; see Wikipedia) in his treatise Vom Tode für das Vaterland (1760, at Google Books; see Hildebrandt 2019, pp. 344-55). He emphatically affirmed it as a patriotic obligation, even in an absolutist monarchy like Prussia. But at that time this ideal looked more like wishful thinking. A considerable part of the Prussian army was made up of mercenaries and of young men pressed into service against their will. Desertion was a great problem. Many of these soldier surely had no interest in dying for the "fatherland", whatever that was. Major Kleist himself in fact died in the war and that made him even more famous. Philosopher Abbt also died young, but not in battle. 

The most successful war songs from this time were surely Gleim's Kriegslieder eines preußischen Grenadiers. (s. Sauer 1882; Lacher 2017). Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719-1803; Wikipedia; wikisource; see f. ex. Browning 1978, pp. 92-115; Wappler 1998; Hettche 2003; Lee 2011; see also Gleimhaus Halberstedt) was already a well-established and popular writer and poet. He had tried to bring a lighter tone into German-language literature with his attempt at anacreontic poetry in Versuch in scherzhaften Liedern (1744-5, here 1753-8, at Google Books). Gleim was also familiar with French and Spanish romances and experimented with murder ballads (see his Romanzen, 1756, at Google Books). Besides that he became a passionate literary networker with a large circle of friends, among them Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the above-mentioned Major Kleist. With them he maintained an extensive correspondence. Not at least he was a Prussian super-patriot and a great admirer of King Friedrich. 

Now that a new war had started Gleim, challenged by his friend Lessing (Sauer, pp. xi-xii), also set out to produce patriotic songs. The first one was Siegeslied der Preußen nach der Schlacht bey Prag, den 6. May 1757 (at Google Books):
[...]
Auf sieben Schanzen jagten wir,
Die Mützen von dem Bär.
Da, Friedrich, gieng dein Grenadier,
Auf Leichen hoch einher.

Dacht, in dem mörderischen Kampf,
Gott, Vaterland, und Dich,
Erblickte, schwarz von Rauch und Dampf,
Dich seinen Friederich.
[...]

[transl.:]
[...]
On seven entrenchments we hunted,
The hats of the bear,
There, Friedrich, went your grenadier,
On dead bodies high along.

Thought, in the murderous fight,
God, Fatherland, and You,
Saw, black with smoke and steam,
You, his Friederich.
[...]
Just like Klopstock he applied the meter of "Chevy Chase", this time with rhymes, to give the song a more popular and martial tone. It was published anonymously on a broadside and passed off as the work of an unknown grenadier, a real soldier fighting in the battle. This text was then reprinted in a periodical, the Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der freyen Künste (1, 1757, St. 2, pp. 426-9) where the anonymous author of the introduction - it was Lessing - explicitly claimed that the poet was a "common soldier". He introduced a second song, a "Schlachtgesang" from the start of that year's campaign, and it was equally rough.

By the way, that song included the immortal verse "Aus deinen Schedel trinken wir/Bald deinen süßen Wein" ("From your skull we will/Soon drink your sweet wine"), one of the most often criticized lines in the history of German literature and until today a provocation to literary scholars who always condemned it in no uncertain terms (see f. ex. Kittstein, p. 44). But this was simply an attempt to show how the Prussian soldiers mocked the Hungarians in the Austrian army and of course also an ironic reference to the medieval battles against the Magyars. 

In the accompanying remarks Lessing also noted that these songs "couldn't be more poetical or martial" and are "full of the most subliminal thoughts in the simplest expression". These were the key terms: sublimity and simplicity. Here Gleim and Lessing created the persona of a people's poet, a poet in the battle. The grenadier was a role, a mask (see Browning, p. 109) that allowed poet Gleim to simulate "authentic" war experiences (s. Hildebrandt, pp. 309-26; Bosse 2001, p. 69) and it seems that he sounded very convincing. Goethe (1812, p. 158; see engl. transl., 1882, p. 232) later lauded their poetical authenticity. He claimed that these songs worked so well because they pretend that "a combatant had created them in the highest moments". They are "mit und in der That entsprungen".

This literary role play proved to be very successful, apparently many believed it. Gleim and Lessing even upheld the fiction in their correspondence. They always spoke about the grenadier as if he was a real person which is sometimes amusing to read (see the relevant letters in LS 17, pp. 104-61; LS 19, pp. 101-45). But this was also a very productive endeavor. More songs would follow and they again appeared at first on broadsides. There was the "Sieges-Lied der Preußen nach der Schlacht bey Rossbach" (1757, at UB Göttingen; at Google Books), the "Sieges-Lied der Preußen nach der Schlacht bey Lißa, den 5ten December 1757" (1758, at UB Göttingen) and the "Lied eines Preußischen Grenadiers bey Anfang des Krieges 1756 und Schlachtgesang der Preußen vor der Schlacht bey Prag den 6. May 1756" (1758, at UB Göttingen). 

Lessing himself reviewed and promoted some of them in newspapers (LS 7, pp. 121-4) and of course there were also illegal reprints. Most interesting was one broadside where two of the grenadier's songs were combined with Klopstock's old "Kriegslied" that was reanimated because it was still regarded as a pro-Prussian piece. Here even melodies by an unknown composer - allegedly the grenadier's brother - were included: Kriegslied, Schlachtgesang und Siegeslied eines preussischen Soldaten, mit seines Bruders Melodien, Gesungen im Lager by Prag (1757, at Google Books). But in 1758 Gleim and Lessing compiled an anthology, Preußische Kriegslieder in den Feldzügen 1756 und 1757. Mit Melodien (at the Internet Archive), with all the grenadier's song and with new melodies. They had commissioned tunes from several composers but it was Christian Gottfried Krause from Berlin who wrote them all.

Gleim, deeply rooted in antique literature, referred in the first song to what he regarded as the grenadier's predecessors. Prussia is Sparta, he is the the new Tyrtaios, the new Horatius. After the song he quoted and updated a line from the latter's Ars Poetica (402f): "[Tyrtaeusque] mares animos in Martia bella Versibus exacua" (see Kittstein pp. 49-50; see also Hildebrandt, pp. 224-9, 241-3). And of course he also explicitly promoted the death for the fatherland á la Horatius: 
Ein Held fall ich, noch sterbend droht
Mein Säbel in der Hand!
Unsterblich macht der Helden Tod,
Der Tod fürs Vaterland. 
But if he doesn't die in the battle the grenadier would like to be the king's poet: 
So werd aus Friedrich's Grendier
Dem Schutz, der Ruhm des Staates;
So lern er deutscher Sprache Zier,
Und werde sein Horaz. 
Lessing wrote a short introduction. Here he once again affirmed the role fiction: "The author is a common soldier, who has as much heroic courage as poetical genius [...] All his images are subliminal and all his sublimity is naive." Of course he also referred to the antique tradition: Pindar, Horatius and Tyrtaios. But then Lessing constructed a different line of tradition: the grenadier is a modern Prussian "bard", a successor of the old Germanic bards - an invention of German poets like Klopstock who thought the Germanic tribes had such "bards" - and the old Norse scalds. This he had already noted in his recent reviews of the grenadier's songs (see LS 7, pp. 121-4) where he claimed that he was not only a "second Tyrtaeus" but also sang in the "true tone of the old bards", in the "way of the old Scalds" and called him a "Heldenbarde". Lessing was among the first in Germany who was familiar with medieval Scandinavian poetry and with Danish kjaempeviser and this would be an important inspiration for later writers like Gerstenberg and Herder. It should be added that he also knew the battle-song in Morhof's book. It is mentioned and quoted partly in a letter to Gleim from around the same time (see LS 17, pp. 136-7). 

The series came to an end with this publication. Gleim stopped writing the grenadier's songs, partly because he was devastated by the death of his friend Kleist. But they remained popular and were regularly reprinted. In 1759 one magazine, the Neue Beytraege zum Vergnügen des Verstandes und Witzes (at Google Books) dedicated a complete issue to this genre and offered a great number of them, including some of Gleim's. Here we can see how much of this kind of war poetry was produced at that time. But the grenadier was the only one who - at first - survived this era and was not quickly forgotten. In fact Gleim's songs - widely admired and often copied - were later regarded as an important achievement, the beginning of German national poetry and the time of the Seven Years' War as a crucial moment in the history of German literature (see Goethe 1812, pp. 157-8; see the discussion in Hildebrandt, pp. 1-14, 23-7). 

Today this may be a little difficult to understand. Of course we are now all against war-songs and the great amount of martial poetry from this time seems to be a serious embarrassment for German literature historians. The era of enlightenment and of early German patriotism apparently wasn't as peaceful as we wished to believe and - shockingly - even the great Lessing was involved in the production of war poetry. Especially Gleim's work has come under heavy attack and he is now "unmasked" as a violent nationalist and chauvinist. In fact the grenadier may have been occasionally a little harsh on his enemies but that doesn't compare to the merciless denunciations that I have found in some of the recent academic treatises in this field (see f. ex. Blitz 2000, Herrmann 1996, Rohrwasser 1997, Kittstein 2009). 

There is no need to scandalize the "dark side of enlightenment" (Herrmann 1998, pp. 108-9). It was a violent era with bloody wars, an era represented by Prussian king Friedrich II., not only a "philosopher on the throne" but also one of the worst warmongers of this time. Wars produce war-songs, and, as mentioned, there were many of them. At that time it was a completely legitimate genre with a long tradition. Gleim and Lessing did their best to ground these songs in this tradition by reaching back to antiquity and to the (pseudo-)Germanic predecessors. 

Reading these songs today they often - but not always, of course - sound rather tame and harmless. We may compare them to Vogel's Ungrische Schlacht where the German "heroes" are busy butchering their nameless enemies page after page on assembly line. Poet Vogel is literally wading in blood. Also some of Gleim's contemporaries had less scruples in this respect, not only pastor Lange. Anna Louisa Karsch (1722-1791; see Wikipedia; wikisource; see f. ex. Ives 2000; Sophie Author Gallery), a self-taught poet from a humble background, first became popular with impressive odes about the war, for example "Der 13. May 1758 als der Tag des Schreckens in Glogau" (1758, at HAB), "Siegesode Friedrich, dem Überwinder der Russen dem grossen und besten König allerunterthänigst zu Füssen gelegt" (1758, at WLB), "Ode an das zerstörte Cüstrin" (1758, at WLB), "Friedrich der Beschützer und Liebenswürdige. Besungen den 24. Jenner 1759" (at SB Berlin) and "Den 3ten November 1760. groß durch den Sieg des Königs bey Torgau" (1760, at HAB). Here she offered at times astonishing and disturbing visions of revenge and violence and a nearly religious adoration of the king. These pieces were too much for the editors of her first anthology - Gleim among them - that was published in 1762. They left them out (see Hildebrandt, pp. 401-2). 

But Gleim's Kriegslieder stood out for several reasons, I think. There are clear egalitarian tendencies, or better "egalitarian phantasies" (s. Blitz, p. 265; Hildebrandt, p. 259). The grenadier does not appear to be a mercenary or a poor guy pressed into service. He is a patriotic citizen soldier who fights beside his king to defend his country. This may be seen as a kind of wishful thinking - the reality often looked otherwise - but I wonder if, perhaps, he was also implicitly criticizing the state of the Prussian army at that time: the recruitment by force and the hiring of soldiers from all over Germany and Europe. But I am not sure if he really was anticipating future developments like the volunteer army of the Napoleonic era 50 years later. It looks to me like a recourse to antiquity, to the idealized citizen soldier of old Greece and Rome. 

Gleim also humanized the king who - always close to his soldiers - was often portrayed very unmajestically. In fact his friend and fellow poet Ramler once noted in a letter: "Der König ist in ihren Schriften ja gewaltsam und antimajestätisch herumgenommen worden" (Schüddekopf, p. 364). Even failure was included, for example when, in the song about the battle at Collin, the king cancels an attack after several unsuccessful attempts to take an enemy position: "Laßt, rief er, Kinder, laßt doch ab!/Mit uns ist Gott heut nicht" (Sauer, pp. 16-7). 

Gleim has been called the poet with the mask (see Browning 1978, p. 109). It was always the grenadier speaking and reporting. It was the soldier in rage, in the heat of the battle or when hearing of alleged atrocities of the enemy's army. When Lessing introduced the last of the grenadier's texts - not a song but a long ode - in his Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend (St. 15, 1759, pp. 81-91, here p. 88) he noted that "it seems that our bard is overwhelmed anew by the rage of the battle. It gets so terrifying that the reader's hair stands on end". But he didn't quote the incriminated lines. In fact this was a controversial text that had made Lessing's own hair stand on end when he read it first and he then asked if "the grenadier" could tone it down a little bit (LS 17, No. 108, pp. 155-6). 

The ambiguous role play and the distance between the poet and the imaginary bard allowed Gleim to say more than he himself could say and it gave him more "stylistic freedom" (Hildebrandt, p. 316). He even discussed in his letters how far he could go (see f. ex. LS 19, pp. 135-6). There were also some problems with the Prussian censor because of this particular piece and his friend Ramler asked explicitly: "why can't we allow the heated poet and, more, the fighting poet, a bold outburst, an enthusiasm against his enemy" (Schüddekopf, p. 364). 

Interestingly the national and prussophile scholars of the 19th century were also critical of what they regarded as Gleim's excesses and they didn't like the "Rauf- und Mordlust" - "rowdiness and lust for killing" - found in some of the songs (Janicke 1871, pp. 29-30). One may assume they preferred a more sanitized presentation of war. But Gleim did not sanitize the war. To some extent he showed its ugliness and its cruelty. In the song about the battle at Lissa the grenadier explicitly mentions the "cruel and martial lust to kill" ("die grausame kriegerische Lust/Zu tödten"; Sauer, p. 31). 

A war produces hate and this is reflected in some of the songs. In spite of the super-patriotism and bellicism there always remained an ambiguity, a deep-seated fear of these aggressions. The grenadier even appears to be terrified of himself and in one case - in the same song - he describes his own and his comrades' behavior as "inhumane" (Sauer, p. 32): 
[...]
Unmenschlich gaben wir nicht mehr
Dem Bitten und dem Flehen
Den Knieenden vor uns Gehör,
[...] 
This was a bloody war with brutal battles, not in a far distant past like the Teutonic or old Greece epics, but in the present time and happening just around the corner. Gleim brought the war into the people's living-room with these songs and he didn't mince his words. Of course this was a stylized poetical "authenticity" still far away from the real brutality of the war. But nonetheless he created here a more realistic - and, what is rarely seen today, a more critical - view on what was happening on the battlefield. His grenadier was in fact "a bard for the present" (Bosse 2001, p. 51), but a very special bard who offered, it seems to me, a little more honesty. 

The real problem with these songs was that Gleim and his editor, the self-appointed world-citizen Lessing, became part of the Prussian propaganda machinery. Friedrich's war of aggression was justified as a defensive fight forced upon the Prussians by their enemies (see f. ex. Weber 1991, p. 26). Dying for the "Fatherland" meant dying for the king's "honor and glory" and for territorial gains. But at that time many fell in that trap. The Prussian king was popular all over Germany. For example young Goethe in Frankfurt happened to a great admirer (see Dichtung und Wahrheit I, pp. 92-5).

Friedrich was widely regarded as a great "hero" even though he surely may have been an unlikely hero for all the homeless German patriots: a francophile who despised German culture and literature and who had not much use for all the poets who celebrated him. But he had more to offer than the numerous potentates, mostly failures and despots, on all the mini-thrones in fragmented Germany. He was already a legend, a king who went to the battlefield himself and even won some of the battles in the wars he had started. This can be seen as the beginning of the prussification of German patriotism. The German "Fatherland" was at that time only purely theoretical entity. Friedrich's Prussia looked like the next-best solution. A century later Prussia took over the whole of Germany, with all the fatal consequences we now know about. 

Gleim's war poetry was widely admired even outside of Prussia. The war didn't keep the French critics from showing respect to his works. At the same time French and Prussian soldiers were fighting against each other on the battlefield the grenadier's songs were reviewed in the Journal Étranger (Nov. 1761, pp. 103-20). They even translated most of the texts. This review was then later acknowledged by Nicolai in Berlin in the Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend (Vol. 16, 1763, No. 256, pp. 50-1) who reprinted one of the French translations. 

War poetry was not only a Prussian specialty. Other poets elsewhere also tried out this genre and they were often inspired by Gleim's songs. One may say that there was a kind of international brotherhood of war poets. Michael Denis (1729-1800; Wikipedia) in Vienna, Jesuit priest, teacher, scholar, writer and soon to be Austria's "bard", published Poetische Bilder der meisten kriegerischen Vorgänge in Europa seit dem Jahr 1756 (1760, at Google Books). But his attempts sound mostly rather tame and harmless and often much too diffuse. Christian Felix Weisse (1726-1804; Wikipedia), a writer, poet and educator from Saxonia - for some time occupied by the Prussian army - offered Amazonen-Lieder (here 2nd. ed., 1762, at Google Books). His amazone was the soldier's girl who sends him to war and later follows him to the battlefield. This was surely a very strange collection with a touch of sultry eroticism. But he added translations of Greek poet Tyrtaios' elegies which were of course also of interest at that time. Weisse's publication was very well received by Prussian critic Nicolai in the Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend (Vol. 17, 1764, No. 266, pp. 1-16). 

Heinrich Wilhelm Gerstenberg (1737-1823; Wikipedia), a German writer living in Copenhagen and for some time solodier in the Danish army, offered Kriegslieder eines Königlich. Dänischen Grenadiers bey Eröffnung des Feldzugs 1762 (at DDB). What he wrote sounds really like a bad copy of Gleim's songs: "Ich dürste Blut, schluck Pulverdampf/Mit starken Zügen ein" (p. 11). He also fantasized about dying for the king and his country. The Danes had their own Friedrich but Frederik V. of Denmark was not really known as a great warrior. There would be no campaign, Denmark didn't become involved in the Seven Years' War and a possible military conflict with Russia was canceled. But some years later there would be a war with Algiers. I wonder if these songs were of any help then. 

Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801; Wikipedia), writer and theologian in neutral Switzerland, published anonymously his Schweizerlieder in 1767 (at Google Books). But there was only one contemporary war song threatening prospective invaders and otherwise - because of the lack of current wars - he preferred to write about medieval battles with Swiss input. Just like Weisse and Gerstenberg he applied the "Chevy Chase"-meter and even paid tribute to Gleim: 
Wenn Leser! dir mein Reim gefällt,
Danks dem Tyrtäus Gleim!
Der sang von Helden wie ein Held,
Und dessen ist mein Reim. 
By the way, nearly all the poets and writers named in this context would play an important role in the "discovery" and creation of the genre Volkslied. Gerstenberg later introduced old Norse songs and Danish kjaempeviser to his German readers, Denis translated MacPherson's Ossian, Weisse was among the first in Germany to discuss Ossian and he also translated old Norse texts. Lavater's Schweizerlieder looked like a collection of historical Volkslieder. Kleist had tried his hand at exotic poetry, for example with his "Lied eines Lappländers" (in Neue Gedichte, pp. 16-8), Lessing not only introduced Gleim's war songs as a kind of folk poetry but at around the same time he also wrote about Lithuanian songs. Klopstock was of course the first one to use the "Chevy Chase"-meter and Gleim would later be regarded by Herder as Germany's "erster und fast einziger Volkssänger" (Herder, Briefe 4, No. 28, p. 49). The Volkslied was very closely linked with the war song, in fact one may say it was its younger sibling. 



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