1902 Encyclopedia > Faustus


FAUSTUS. Although probably the name of an actual historical personage, Faustus or Faust is principally inter-esting as an ideal figure of a twofold and in some respects antithetical type,—on the one hand the deliberate choice of evil, on the other an unsatisfied aspiration towards the highest good. The development of the latter conception from the former—of Goethe's Faust from the mediseval Faustus—is an interesting study in itself, and affords a curious example of the accretions and modifications inci-dental to popular myths. The Faustus of tradition arose from the fusion of two more primitive conceptions,—that of a compact with the evil one, of which the Theophilus of ecclesiastical legend supplies the typical example, and that of the subjugation of the infernal powers by intellectual pre-eminence, as in the cases of Virgil, Pope Sylvester, and Michael Scott. Early in the sixteenth century the two currents of tradition united in the person of an adventurer calling himself Faustus the Younger, from which it may be inferred that the name had already become typical. The existence of an elder Faustus cannot, however, be proved; nor can he, as sometimes suggested, be identified with Gutenberg's coadjutor, the printer Fust. A conjuring book bearing his name (Dr Faust's Dreifaclier Hbllenzwaiuj) exists in several MSS. dated early in the sixteenth century, and has been published in the magical collections of Scheible and Horst. It nevertheless appears from the style to be at least a century later. The younger Faust's own existence has been disputed, but apparently on no good grounds. He is mentioned as a contemporary by Trithemius (1507), Mutianus Rufus (1513), Begardi (1539), and Gast (1548). Trithemius denounces him as a charlatan, who purposely shunned him for fear of exposure. Rufus and Gast claim to have been actually in his company. The former entertains the same opinion of him as Trithemius; the latter considers that a learned dog and horse which accompanied him were probably devils. The same judicious author vouches for his having been carried away by the demon in or about the year 1525. This catastrophe is also mentioned in an inscription on a picture still extant in Auerbach's cellar at Leipsic, bearing that date, and depicting the feats familiar to Goethe's readers. Further particulars are given by Wier in his well known work De prcestigiis dcemonum, and in Manlius's Locorum communium collectanea (1562), in a passage often erroneously attributed to Melanchthon, whose conversation Manlius is not reporting on this occa-sion. According to him, Faustus was born at Knittlingen in Wiirtemberg (the popular legend says Rohda in Saxony, and other places are also mentioned), and educated at the university of Cracow. However unworthy of such a distinction, he had evidently by this time become a popular hero, around whom the floating accumulations of legend respecting such national wizards as the Bohemian Zyto, the English Friars Bacon and Rush, and the Polish Twardowski were gradually tending to group themselves. These ultimately took shape in the standard version of Faustus's life, published at Frankfort by Johannes Spiess in 1587. This remarkable book, the work of an anonymous scholar acquainted with Latin, first mentions Mephisto-philes as the name of Faustus's familiar spirit, introduces new elements suggested by the compiler's animosity to Rome, and gives especial prominence to the traditions which represent Faustus in connexion with classical mythology. The effect is to exalt his importance as a type by exhibiting him as in some sort a representative of free thought and free learning, thus paving the way for Goethe's more pro-found interpretation of his alleged compact with the fiend. The more obvious tragic aspects of the situation were magnificently brought out by Marlowe, whose tragedy of Faustus, founded on an English translation of the German narrative, is thought to have appeared as early as 1589. Marlowe's play contains some of the finest dramatic poetry in our language, and" he dwells with especial delight on Faustus's evocation of Helen, which by education and sympathy he was peculiarly qualified to apprehend. It was inevitable, however, that he should be principally studious of dramatic effect; and the perception of the full significance of this episode, as well as of the story generally, was reserved for a more reflective age. A more homely moral was drawn by Faustus's next biographer, Johann Wiedemann, who (1599) rewrote the narrative from an edify-ing point of view, interspersing copious historical parallels and theological disquisitions,—which latter, indeed, are not wanting in the earlier version,—and omitting what he deemed unsuitable for pious ears. His pedantic labours, subse-quently revised in the same spirit by Pfitzer (1664), unfor-tunately led to the almost total disappearance of the older narrative, except in the abridged form of a chap book, in which it has survived nearly to our own times, and has even been reprinted in America. Another development of the myth was now at hand—the dramatic. It formed the theme of Justi Placiclii infelix prudentia, a play in Latin verse published at Leipsic in 1598. By 1618, as appears from Ayrer's Opus Theatricum, a play on the subject was a stock piece on the boards of the German puppet-theatre. Heine thinks that it was introduced by the English itinerant players who traversed Germany at the time,—a supposition confirmed by Lessing's previous indication of an English element in the text. These marionette pieces long main-tained themselves as a popular entertainment. Zedler mentions them as still frequently performed in 1735; Heine saw the story of Faustus thus represented as late as 1826. It was not committed to writing, and was partly extemporized for the occasion. Restorations have nevertheless been given by Scheible (1847), Hamm (1850), and Engel (1872). Such representations undoubtedly served to keep the legend alive until it met with critics and poets able to discern its significance in the persons of Lessing and Goethe. The original draft of the latter's Faust, as pointed out by Heine, is almost entirely based upon the puppet representation. Lessing's interest in Faust is believed to have been awakened by a performance of the old play at Berlin in 1753. He took up the subject shortly afterwards, and, according to his own statement, at different periods of his life sketched out the ground plan of two versions,—the first on the lines of the original legend, the second without any supernatural element. Both are said, on his own authority, to have been nearly completed in December 1775, but were probably lost in the following year, along with a trunk containing other MSS. An anonymous Faust ap-peared in 1775 at Munich, and has recently been re-published as Lessing's, which it certainly is not. The con-ception of Goethe's Faust was formed as early as 1770, and, according to the contemporary testimony of Merck, the composition had made great progress as early as 1775. The first part, notwithstanding, was not completed until 1807, nor the second until 1831. The analysis of this won-derful work will fall more appropriately under the heading GOETHE (q, v.). It need only be remarked here that, while Goethe has finally achieved the transformation of Faustus from a vulgar conjuror into a personification of humanity in one of its most interesting phases, the result, in the first part, is still inadequate to the power of the machinery and the dignity of the situation. As Charles Lamb tersely expressed it, "What has Margaret to do with Faust?" The much abused and under-rated second part may be regarded as an endeavour to remedy this defect, which might have fully succeeded but for the taste for allegory which had become a mania with Goethe in his later years. The Helena episode is nevertheless a masterpiece, and the fifth act presents the quintessence of Goethe's wisdom with the authority of a last testament:—

" Ja, diesem Sinne bin ich ganz ergeben : Das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluss ! "

Among later attempts at a literary treatment of the Faust legend may be mentioned Klinger's romance, translated into English by Borrow, and chiefly remarkable for the introduction of the Borgia family ; Klingemann's unwittingly burlesque tragedy, " the hero of which is not the old Faust driven desperate by the uncertainty of human knowledge, but plain John Faust the printer, driven desperate by an ambitious temper and a total deficiency of cash " (Carlyle) ; Heine's ingenious and highly dramatic ballet (Der Boktor Faust, ein Tanzpoem) ; and Lenau's poem, partly epic and partly dramatic, not deficient in isolated beauties, but a mere repetition of Goethe in all essential respects. Goethe's example, as well as the gene-rally subjective character of modern poetry, has led to the creation of a number of ideal figures impersonating some particular thought or principle, and betraying more or less affinity to their original. Such are the Manfred of Byron, the Paracelsus of Browning, the Balder of Dobell, the Spiridion of George Sand, the Konrad Wallenrod of Mickiewicz, last and not least remarkable the Brand of the Norwegian poet Ibsen. The affinity between the typical figures of Faustus and Tanuhauser is very powerfully in-dicated in the last poem of the lyrical collection entitled Der neue Tanuhauser, by Eduard Grisebach (1871).

The best works on the history of the Faustus legend are—Ristellmber, Faust dans l'histoire et dam la légende (Paris, 1863) ; Diintzer, Die Sage von Dr Johann Faustus (Stuttgart, 1846) ; the article by W. Sommer in Ersch and Graber's Encyclopaedia, and that in Meyer's Conversations Lexicon. For its bibliography see Peter, Die Literatur der Faustsage (3d edit. Leipsic, 1857), and the "Bibliotheca Faustiana " in the first part of Engel's Deutsche Puppenkomodien (1872). The earliest extant edition of the English version of the German legend, from which it departs in several respects, bears date 1592, but the work had been published previously. It is reprinted in the third volume of Thoms's Early English Prose Romances (1827). (R. G.)

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