that she was a Catholic, with most of England now Protestant, had much to do with it.
Henrietta Maria provided her husband with no fewer than three sons destined to live to adulthood. The ‘hotter’ sort of Protestant (dismissively known as ‘puritans’) viewed this, however, with dismay, fearing that her children would be contaminated by her religious beliefs. Such fears were only exacerbated when early quarrels in the royal marriage were patched up, and the couple fell in love. Charles’s attitude to the Catholics he had earlier persecuted softened under his wife’s influence, and fears grew that the king, with his love of church music, art and ceremony, was himself a closet Roman. Alongside this were concerns about Charles’s authoritarianism.
Puritans, ironically enough, looked to pre-Reformation political theory for arguments to support their case that the king’s power should be limited, while Charles followed in the footsteps of the absolutist Henry VIII and his archbishop, Thomas Cranmer. The cleric who had granted Henry the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had rewritten the coronation oath so that Henry’s son Edward VI, instead of swearing to accept laws presented to him in parliament, swore that the people were to accept his laws. Charles swore this same oath (although many preferred to believe it was a dastardly Stuart innovation) and took his promise to the extreme of dispensing with parliament altogether.
The royal marriage did not ameliorate the growing anger towards the king among the political nation. Charles was a stubborn and blinkered man. It did not help that his wife was also tactless and bull-headed. But Whitaker, who is a fine writer as well as an excellent historian, manages to paint a sympathetic portrait of a queen whose courage and warmth endear her to the reader, even while she helps pave the way to civil war. We are given fresh insights into Henrietta Maria’s relationship with Charles’s favourite the Duke of Buckingham, and dramatic scenes are vividly evoked. In one such, Whitaker describes in cinematic detail the queen smashing the windows of her room to call out her farewells to the French servants Charles had expelled from the palace following their early quarrels. The later idyll of the 1630s is also beautifully rendered, with memories of an ‘enchanted island’ untouched by the ravages of war, filled with the scent of ‘a field of beans when newly blown or … a meadow being lately mown’.
Tension increases as war approaches, but the narrative halts rather abruptly when battle begins. We are propelled suddenly to January 1647, with the Scots handing Charles I over to parliament, and then rapidly onwards to the denouement of his trial and execution. I would have enjoyed two or three extra chapters. Charles was to be buried in the same vault as Henry VIII, and they still lie together today, Charles without his head, and Henry with his third wife, Jane Seymour, who gave him a son, destined to die aged fifteen: a lesson in hubris. To order these books, see LR Bookshop on page 22
GOING DEUTSCH THE GERMAN GENIUS: EUROPE’S THIRD RENAISSANCE, THE SECOND SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION, AND THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
By Peter Watson (Simon & Schuster 964pp £30)
READERS OF LITERARY REVIEW, it can be assumed with confidence, will have heard of Kant, Mozart, Beethoven, Hegel, Goethe, Schiller, Wagner, Marx, Freud and Einstein. Most will also know something about Friedrich, Fichte, Clausewitz, Heine, Bruckner, the Webers (Carl Maria and Max), the Manns (Thomas and Heinrich), Schoenberg and Heidegger. But how about Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749–1817), Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855), August Kekulé (1829–1896), Robert Koch (1843–1910), Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915), or any of the other hundreds of names that appear in Peter Watson’s review of German intellectual achievement since the eighteenth century? I gave up counting the names appearing in the index when the score went into three figures – and I was still only on the letter ‘B’.
This is much more than a compendium, however. Watson has a clear thesis which he lays out at the start: between 1764, when Winckelmann published his History of the Art of Antiquity, and 1933, when (among other things) Erwin Schrödinger received the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Germans ‘went from being the poor relation among Western countries, intellectually speaking, to the dominant force’, leaving the British, French, Italians and even Americans in their wake. He might even have pushed the start date back a bit if he had included Buxtehude, Leibniz, Wolff, Telemann, Handel and Bach. If it be objected that Buxtehude was (probably) born in Denmark, it should be noted that Watson employs a definition of ‘Germany’ which generously includes Austria, German-speaking Switzerland, parts of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland, and at times Denmark, the Netherlands and the Baltic states – in other words, something approaching the frontiers mapped out by Hoffmann von Fallersleben in Das Deutschlandlied.
The case is well made because it is based on a truly formidable amount of reading. The Germans like to write very long books but Watson seems to have read all of them. The result is a very long book of his own – close to 1,000 pages of smallish print. He puts his case so authoritatively that, long before they have reached the end, most readers may feel inclined to throw up their arms and cry ‘Kamerad!’. But they should persevere, for the German achievement was cumulative, spreading out from the
LITERARY REVIEW November 2010
traditional musical, literary and philosophical strongholds to include the visual arts, technology and the natural sciences. As Watson points out, this is a world we have lost, blanked out by an obsession with Hitler that ignores anything that happened before 1933. No wonder, he adds, that the German ambassador to Britain Thomas Matussek should have complained so bitterly in 2002 that history teaching in British schools focused excessively on the Third Reich.
It is Watson’s mission ‘to reinsert into both the nonGerman-speaking consciousness and the German-speaking consciousness’ the names and achievements of those left stranded by the portcullis that slammed down in 1933. In this he certainly succeeds. No one who reads his book can be left in any doubt as to the reality of ‘the German genius’ proclaimed by the title. He has an enviable gift of explaining lucidly and cogently ideas that are often complicated or profound (or both). The Germans may well ‘dive deeper but come up muddier’, as Wickham Steed famously observed, but Watson strips off the ordure with crisp common sense. ‘Why make it simple when it can also be made to seem complicated?’ is another unlovely German trait that he reverses. Watson is at his best when dealing with literature, philosophy, mathematics and the natural sciences. In particular, the chapters on science, complete with equations and formulæ, are very impressive. Chapter Thirteen, for example, on ‘the heroic age of biology’, which begins with a vignette of the ‘Benzolfest’ held in Berlin in 1890, is a masterpiece. His touch is less sure with the visual arts and music. Ludwig Feuerbach the philosopher gets plenty of attention, but Anselm Feuerbach the painter is not mentioned. Richard Wagner receives much coverage (Watson acknowledges his debt to Bryan Magee), but elsewhere there is a sense of the autopilot being switched on when the music plays. There are too many tepid observations such as ‘Mendelssohn’s music was very popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, but his reputation today is divided.’
In a book of this size and scope there are bound to be problems with coherence. The title of Chapter Seven – ‘Cosmos, Cuneiform, Clausewitz’ – is certainly alliterative, but the contents are just as certainly disparate. There are also some odd jumps in chronology, with one great romantic poet – Hölderlin (born in 1770) – making his appearance 100 pages after his almost exact contemporary Novalis (born in 1772). A more serious shortcoming is the emphasis on narrative at the expense of analysis. The concluding chapter offers ‘five distinct yet interlocking aspects’ of modern German culture – the importance of the educated middle classes, inwardness, Bildung, institutionalised research and the longing for a redemptive community – but these are indeed ‘aspects’, not causes. The raw material for an explanation is there, notably in the constantly recurring theme of the beneficial effects of political and cultural fragmentation, but it is not worked out. The heavy and growing representation of intellectu-
als of Jewish origin also calls for explanation.
The last part of the book is sombre, as the triumphalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth century ended abruptly with what was arguably the deepest self-inflicted wound ever perpetrated by a nation. By 1935 the Nazis had dismissed around a third of all university teachers on political or racial grounds. Einstein was only one of thousands to emigrate. When asked by an official whether his department at the University of Göttingen had suffered from the expulsion of its Jewish faculty members, the mathematician David Hilbert replied: ‘Suffered? It hasn’t suffered, Minister. It doesn’t exist any more!’ Among those taking their intellectual capital to the USA were Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Bertolt Brecht, Hanns Eisler, Max Horkheimer, Erich Korngold, Fritz Lang, Thomas Mann, Otto Preminger, Max Reinhardt, Arnold Schoenberg, Joseph Schumpeter, Paul Tillich, Kurt Weill and Billy Wilder. In all, around 130,000 Germans moved to the USA and 50,000 to Great Britain. Their impact was immense and enduring. As Watson concludes: ‘The United States and Great Britain may speak English but, more than they know, they think German.’
This is a big book in every sense. Not every part works, but everyone interested in the sufferings and greatness of modern culture will be informed, entertained and provoked by it. To order this book at £24, see LR Bookshop on page 22
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