Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Heine and Homer?
Emerson's experience in Everett's classroom gave an entirely new direction to his life:I have kept Wills' editorial insertions but omitted his footnotes.Germany had created [literary] criticism in vain for us until 1820, when Edward Everett returned from his five years in Europe, and brought to Cambridge his rich results, which no one was so fitted by natural grace and the splendor of his rhetoric to introduce and recommend. He made us for the first time acquainted with [Friedrich August] Wolf's theory of the Homeric writings, with the criticism of [Heinrich] Heine. The novelty of the learning lost nothing in the skill and genius of its interpreter, and the rudest undergraduate found a new morning opening to him in the lecture room at Harvard.Emerson's mention of the philologist Wolf struck an ominous chord for orthodox Calvinists of New England. By tracing multiple authorship in Homer, Wolf had encouraged a similar approach to the other main text of a "heroic age," calling into question Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch. Transcendentalists like Emerson and Theodore Parker would abandon or alter Christian tenets to accommodate this "higher criticism." The other name Emerson mentioned, that of the lyric poet Heine, suggests a different side of Homer, one that would also be important in the romantic period. Homer, who was thought of as wild and natural, held a relation to the polished Roman poets, like Virgil, roughly resembling that of Wordsworth to Alexander Pope.
The trouble with this analysis is that Emerson, in the passage quoted, did not write Heine, and was not talking about the German lyric poet. He wrote Heyne, i.e. Christian Gottlob Heyne, the classical scholar. For the quotation, see Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lectures and Biographical Sketches (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1886), p. 312 (online from an earlier edition here).