German journal, 1841–1922
The weekly journal Die Grenzboten (Dispatches from the border) was published between 1841 and 1922. During the period between 1848 and 1857 it was edited primarily by Julian Schmidt and Gustav Freytag. Little has been written about this period of GB, though it deserves attention since the journal figured prominently in formulating the aesthetic and cultural characteristics of German literature and art. Although the post- 1857 period of the journal was increasingly aligned with the right, during Schmidt and Freytag’s tenure GB reflects its editors’ moderate liberalism. Further, GB addressed the formative political events of the time—from the failed Frankfurt Revolution of 1848 to the end of the reign of Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1857. Discussions of literature and culture in the Leipzig periodical were characterized by the editors’ desire to forge a common German cultural heritage, a necessity, they believed, if a politically united German state was to be formed.
GB was directed toward educated, middle-class citizens, a group whose numbers steadily increased in the 19th century. Circulation during this period was about 1000 (Joachim Kirchner, 1962). As the subtitle of the journal—“Zeitschrift für Politik und Literatur”—suggests, politics and literature were central concerns. Essays and articles on political and historical issues were the primary forms of writing in GB. Discussions of
aesthetics and reviews of specific literary works accounted for the journal’s literary component, although occasionally original literature appeared. Particularly in the first two years of Schmidt and Freytag’s joint editorship, each approximately 40-page issue was devoted to essays concerning Prussia’s and Austria’s relationship to the eastern border states, the hegemony of Prussia, and the stirrings of the southern German states.
Articles condemned both the more radical German parties which led the Revolution in March 1848 and the threat to individual liberties posed by the right.
Forces of the Prussian government ended the Frankfurt Assembly’s attempts to demilitarize Prussia and limit the power of the nobility; supporters of the Assembly throughout the country were suppressed and even executed. Nonetheless, the reestablishment of the pre-1848 order was generally welcomed by GB. On the first page of the January 1849 issue of GB the editors condemned the “chaos” of the revolution and welcomed the imposition of order and the hope it offered of a unified Germany. Schmidt and Freytag supported a loosely (politically) unified Germany under the leadership of Prussia.
Beginning in 1849 and 1850, the editors devoted a significant portion of each issue to literature, and, to a lesser extent, the plastic arts and music. Freytag, who was himself a novelist, is best known for his contributions to conceptions of German drama. Essays in GB concerning dramatic form reflect his rule-based aesthetic and desire for sharply drawn unities, heroism, strong characters, and emphasis on plot development. However, it was Schmidt, the writer of the five-volume Geschichte der deutschen Literatur von Leibniz bis auf unsere Zeit (1886–96; History of German literature from Leibniz to the present), who was most responsible for the periodical’s attempt to delineate and create a national German culture in order to reinforce the development of political unity.
The editors’ political and aesthetic emphases led to the focus on works of historical literature; discussions of the role of museums, dictionaries, and fairytale collections; and increasing interest in “Volkskunde” or folklore. Romanticism and the works of writers such as E.T.A.Hoffmann and Ludwig Tieck were criticized as dangerously subjective and fantastic. Even Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner, and Friedrich Hölderlin were censured for their attempts to portray madness, a state, Schmidt wrote in a review of Büchner’s oeuvre in 1851, that cannot and should not be portrayed through literature.
Writers viewed favorably in GB include Jeremias Gotthelf and Adalbert Stifter, authors of novellas concerned with village life and local customs, and Otto Ludwig, whose dramas exemplified the editors’ desire for an aesthetic of “poetic realism.”
The editors of GB viewed themselves as supporting the democratic ideals and rationalism of the Enlightenment. Frequent articles on the press and censorship reflected the editors’ belief in the need for a free press, and liberal conception of the rights of the individual. Featured essays represent an extraordinarily wide field, from articles on the role of the press in Austria to slavery and politics in the United States. In 1854 GB included essays on Prussia’s relationship to the Netherlands, Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, and the construction of Das Neue Museum in Berlin. Frequent essays under the heading “Zur orientalischen Frage” (On the question of the East) focused on Austria’s clash with many of the states within its empire. Articles concerning Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey were written by various, often unidentified, correspondents. Ignaz Kuranda, the founder of GB in 1841, was responsible for GB’s focus on Belgium in the first years of the journal; Schmidt and Freytag shifted the emphasis to Prussia and the eastern border states.
Formulation of cultural and national identities becomes more pronounced in the later years of Schmidt and Freytag’s tenure. Goethe and Schiller were especially lionized and sections entitled “Kulturbilder” (cultural images) and “Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit” (images from the German past) were inaugurated, addressing everything from the book trade in Leipzig to the piety of 16th-century German mercenaries.
Literature of ancient Greece and Rome as well as essays concerning the politics and culture of both were advanced as exemplary models from which Germans could learn.
Elster, Hanns Martin, “Die Grenzboten: Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst,” in Hundert Jahre Verlag F.W.Grunow, 1818–1919, Leipzig, 1919:59–74
Grunow, Johannes, “Fünfzig Jahre!,” Grenzboten 40, no. 4 (1891)
Kirchner, Joachim, Das deutsche Zeitschriftenwesen, seine Geschichte und seine Probleme, vol. 2, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1962:137–38
Leppla, Rupprecht, “Julian Schmidt (1818–1886),” Gustav-FreytagBlätter 13, no. 27 (1968):11–14
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