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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Bettina von Arnim (1785–1859)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
NO picture of German life at the beginning of this century would be complete which did not include the distinguished women who left their mark upon the time. Among these Bettina von Arnim stands easily foremost. There was something triumphant in her nature, which in her youth manifested itself in her splendid enthusiasm for the two great geniuses who dominated her life,—Goethe and Beethoven,—and which, in the lean years when Germany was overclouded, maintained itself by an inexhaustible optimism. Her merry willfulness and wit covered a warm heart and a vigorous mind; and both of her great idols understood her and took her seriously.  1
  Elisabeth Brentano was the daughter of Goethe’s friend, Maximiliane de la Roche. She was born at Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1785, and was brought up after the death of her mother under the somewhat peculiar influence of the highly strung Caroline von Günderode. Through her filial intimacy with Goethe’s mother, she came to know the poet; and out of their friendship grew the correspondence which formed the basis of Bettina’s famous book, ‘Goethe’s Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde’ (Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child). She attached herself with unbounded enthusiasm to Goethe, and he responded with affectionate tact. To him Bettina was the embodiment of the loving grace and willfulness of ‘Mignon.’  2
  In 1811 these relations were interrupted, owing to Bettina’s attitude toward Goethe’s wife. In the same year she married Achim von Arnim, one of the most refined poets and noblest characters of that brilliant circle. The marriage was an ideal one; each cherished and delighted in the genius of the other, but in 1831 the death of von Arnim brought this happiness to an end. Goethe died in the following year, and Germany went into mourning. Then in 1835 Bettina appeared before the world for the first time as an authoress, in ‘Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child.’ The dithyrambic exaltation, the unrestrained but beautiful enthusiasm of the book came like an electric shock. Into an atmosphere of spiritual stagnation, these letters brought a fresh access of vitality and hope. Bettina’s old friendly relations with Goethe had been resumed later in life, and in a letter written to her niece she gives a charming account of the visit to the poet in 1824, which proved to be her last. This letter first saw the light in 1896, and an extract from it has been included below.  3
  The inspiration which went out from Bettina’s magnetic nature was profound. She had her part in every great movement of her time, from the liberation of Greece to the fight with cholera in Berlin. During the latter, her devotion to the cause of the suffering poor in Berlin opened her eyes to the miseries of the common people; and she wrote a work full of indignant fervor, ‘Dies Buch gehört dem König’ (This Book belongs to the King), in consequence of which her welcome at the court of Frederick William IV. grew cool. A subsequent book, written in a similar vein, was suppressed. But Bettina’s love of the people, as of every cause in which she was interested, was genuine and not to be quenched; she acted upon the maxim once expressed by Emerson, “Every brave heart must treat society as a child, and never allow it to dictate.” Emerson greatly admired Bettina, and Louisa M. Alcott relates that she first made acquaintance with the famous ‘Correspondence’ when in her girlhood she was left to browse in Emerson’s library. Bettina’s influence was most keenly felt by the young, and she had the youth of Germany at her feet. She died in 1859.  4
  There is in Weimar a picture in which are represented the literary men of the period, grouped as in Raphael’s School of Athens, with Goethe and Schiller occupying the center. Upon the broad steps which lead to the elevation where they are standing, is the girlish figure of Bettina bending forward and holding a laurel wreath in her hand. This is the position which she occupies in the history of German literature.  5
 
 
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