Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Evolution of the Faust Legend by George A. Mulfinger 1894

The Evolution of the Faust Legend by George A. Mulfinger 1894

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The Faust legend is an epitome of the mighty struggle between the powers of light and darkness in the evolution of Germany's intellectual life—the struggle of that period when the German nation was emerging out of its brute state and, in its new-born might, was reaching out to grasp the mysteries of heaven and earth. The germ of the legend was planted in darkness and nurtured by its forces; but it was a new epoch in which Faust was born—the epoch of inventions and discoveries and maritime expeditions, when the human intellect reached forth with irresistible force. The achievements of the intellect were gigantic. They were so great that they amazed the vast mass of uninitiated mankind and made them easily susceptible to hoax and deception. Learning was mixed with magic. Keppler set the horoscope for Rudolph II. Hugo Deiff, the reformer of medicine, who was at the same time scholar and braggadocio, humanist and exorcist, philanthropist and drunkard, reflects the spirit of the age.

The legend has undoubtedly a basis in fact. Records of a personal acquaintance with a charlatan, swindler, boaster, and fool named "Faustus Junior," "Astrologer," and "Second Magnus" have been left by two distinguished contemporaries of Faust, Johann the Abbot of Sponheim and Conrad Mund, a friend of Reuchlin. The most important poet-Reformation testimony is that of Johann Mennel, who gives to Melanchthon the credit of quite a detailed account of the character and magical powers of a certain Johann Faust. From these records it would seem that Faust flourished as early as 1506 and lived in Wittenberg till after 1527. His contemporaries picture him as a wild, dissolute rake, with traits good enough, however, to attract the attention of Melanchthon.

But, though the historic Faust was not an extraordinary character, yet he has become the nucleus of the legend because he claimed to be the successor of Simon Magnus (Acts 8:9-23), who, according to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, had a boon companion named Faustus. The writings of the early Fathers circulated in Germany during the Middle Ages, and in Bavaria the Simon legend was developed in Jesuit plays. The historical Faust called himself "Demigod from Heidelberg," which suggests the "Supreme God " and the "Old Faustus" of the Magnus legend. The credulity of the Middle Ages in this particular case is not to be wondered at, because the thirst for magic was fed by numerous bands of students wandering all over Germany and doing all sorts of marvelous magic. Faust, in tine, was the archetype of mediaeval necromancers, and combines in himself all their characteristics.

As to the growth of the legend, the account of a contemporary clergyman; Johann Gast, illustrates how it grew in Faust's own generation. He declares Faust's dog and horse to be devils and able to do everything. He says Faust was finally strangled by a devil. Variations of the legend are found along the upper Rhine, in Wittenberg, Erfurt, Wurzburg, and later in Leipzig. An anonymous person in Speier compiled the Wittenberg variation, and sent it to John Spies in Frankfurt-on-the-Main. It appeared in 1587 under the title "Historia von Dr. Johann Fausten, dem weitbeschreyten Zauberer und Schwartzkunstler." This version tells of Faust as taking a Doctor's degree in theology, but soon devoting himself to magic; he conjures the devil and soils his soul to him. From the theological cast of this version, it is evident that the author was a Protestant clergyman. Faust is made to repent at last, but he believes that his sins are beyond forgiveness. This version "is an attempt of Protestant theology of the Reformation to express itself upon the great intellectual movement of the Renaissance." It was Humanism, however, that first completed the development of the "Titanic traits" of Faust. Its spirit is recognized in the six so-called Leipzig-Erfurter chapters which were added to the book in 1590. Faust, while reading Homer, calls up the shades of the Homeric heroes. The Faust of the Humanists feels the need of woman's love, and this forms the germ of Goethe's Gretchen, whose prototype in the legend is a beautiful country maid or a beautiful servant girl. Under Marlowe and the English writers, the legend took a great stride forward. Faust now takes wings to himself and resolves to search into all things in heaven and earth. Marlowe's drama was performed in Germany by English comedians as early as 1626. Poets improvised new scenes and altered old ones, usually, however, following Marlowe's plot. Through the influence of the Italian stage, the clown or Harlequin was introduced into Germany under the various names of "Pickelbaering," "Hanswurst," etc. During the eighteenth century the popular Faust plays fell more and more into disrepute. Lessing was the first to revive the study of Fauet by insisting on its eminent dramatic interest. He was the first, also, to see that the "salvation of Faust" should be made the solution of the problem of the legend. But it remained for Goethe to pluck the fruit which had been ripening for years.

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