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Reviewed by:
  • Matthias Claudius 1740–1815: Leben, Zeit, Werk, and: Matthias Claudius: Language as ‘Infamous Tunnel’ and Its Imperatives
  • Wulf Koepke
Jörg-Ulrich Fechner, ed. Matthias Claudius 1740–1815: Leben, Zeit, Werk (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1996). Pp. 342.
Herbert Rowland. Matthias Claudius: Language as ‘Infamous Tunnel’ and Its Imperatives. (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997). Pp. 335. $48.50.

Anniversaries can be a curse for our profession when they generate unwanted volumes dictated by deadlines; but the Claudius Jubiläum in 1990 seems to have come at the right time. After the important volume of the Joachim Jungius-Gesellschaft of 1991 there is, finally, the book Matthias Claudius 1740–1815, resulting from the symposium of the Lessing-Akademie. Matthias Claudius, a remarkable poet and journalistic prose writer, was eclipsed by illustrious contemporaries like Klopstock, Wieland, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, and others. Literary historians keep repeating the characterization of the naive and deeply religious Claudius, and quote his famous folksong-like poem, “Der Mond ist aufgegangen.”

There is so much more to Claudius and his one-man periodical, Der Wandsbecker Bote, from which he selected his volumes of “Collected Works.” He continued the “Works” long after the cessation of the Bote, and he also continued to use the same characters created for the Bote, including Asmus, the ingénue, and his family and friends. The present volume deals primarily with religion, church matters, and politics—matters also of prime importance in Rowland’s book. Not only the first section on Claudius’s life discusses issues of church and state, but also the majority of the studies for section three, on the works on Claudius. This is significant, as it indicates that a writer generally labeled as conservative and as an obedient Lutheran Christian is now worthy of examination and debate, and not only Jacobins and Liberals. Claudius’s idyllic refuge Wandsbek was part of the Danish Gesamtstaat that included the duchies of Schleswig-Holstein, whose nobility at that time dominated the government in Copenhagen. The last decades of the eighteenth century witnessed the best form of enlightened absolutism in Denmark, so that Claudius would have little reason for fundamental social criticism. However, he could be outspoken on specific issues dear to his heart. Claudius, as these studies confirm, was a sincere Lutheran who believed in a god-given Obrigkeit, and thus condemned revolts and revolutions, but who claimed the God-given right and duty of a writer to criticize and reprimand anybody, including [End Page 123] rulers, who failed to fulfill their obligations. While affirming the existing social hierarchy, he insisted that the nobility had to merit their privileges, and had to respect the humanity of their subjects. Such a harmonizing ideal was, of course, hostile to disorder and chaos created by insurrection, but equally demanded the benevolence of the ruling classes needed for the well-being of the people.

This seemingly simple, if not naive, worldview has many facets, some of which are explored in this volume, notably Claudius’s concept of Obrigkeit, of church and state authority, his response to the French Revolution, his theology, his involvement in the reform of church services and Gesangbücher, and his views on education. Claudius is generally regarded as an enemy of the Aufklärung, but such a simplification is undercut by the studies of this book. This revision is evident from the contributions to the second section, dealing with Claudius’s relations with his contemporaries: Klopstock, Lessing, Herder, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Lavater—complemented by chapter 5 in Rowland’s book, which examines the diplomatic relations between Wieland and Claudius who, as editors of periodicals, were competitors and ideological adversaries, but in later years, after the violence of the French Revolution, whose ideas seemed to converge in a surprising manner. In spite of Claudius’s inevitable rejection of Lessing’s ideas in Nathan der Weise, their friendship was more than a mutual personal respect, whereas Claudius’s admiration of Herder’s works was never uncritical. Jörg-Ulrich Fechner’s study on Claudius and Herder is indeed only a sketch (eine Skizze), whereas the other contributions cover more ground. However, the Herder connection is the most complex as well as...

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