In the 18th century there were more than eighteen hundred different German-speaking political entities in Central Europe. During this period, due to influences from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment , Latin and French dominated over the German language , and German literature had mostly been modelled after French and Italian literature. These factors lead few scholars to recognize the existence of a distinct German culture or literature. In order to gain acknowledgement for the German language and thus acquire a distinctively German literary tradition from which it would be possible to get a sense of nationality, philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder believed that it was necessary to preserve German idioms , for they are the element that gives a language its idiosyncrasies and distinguishes it from other languages: . The idioms are the elegances of which no neighbor can deprive us and they are sacred to the tutelary goddess of the language.
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When he wrote it he supposed it to be a spirited and a good translation: I supposed the same, and continued to be extremely familiar with it for some years ensuing. After a certain space of time my brother neglected the performance, and it dropped entirely out of his thoughts.
I heard no more of it, and probably never, after or some such date, set eyes upon any manuscript or any portion of it. No such manuscript was in my brother's possession at the date of his death, April At last one of the few copies which in he made of the translation has turned up. Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge, on November 26th, , and was there bought by Mr. Gilbert I. On its being shown to me, I adhered to the opinion of my boyhood—that it is a good rendering, far rather than a bad one.
I think it perfectly worthy of publication. This appears to be the first translation of any sort of importance that Dante Rossetti ever undertook. In he had begun the study of German under Dr. Adolf Heimann, of University College, London,—a most kind friend as well as excellent instructor.
My brother learned the language pretty well, but not so as to have an absolute and ready mastery over it. No doubt Dr. Heimann must have coached him up to some extent when his juvenile ambition pointed to Lenore. Soon afterwards he translated the Arme Heinrich of Hartmann von Aue—published in in his Collected Works as Henry the Leper ; and I need not scruple to say that he made a capital thing of it.
In October he began a version of the Nibelungenlied. It is rather noticeable that these first essays in verse-translation should all have been from the German—a language which Rossetti never knew thoroughly, which, after early youth was past, he did not in any way keep up, and which he may be said to have all but wholly forgotten in course of time. His translations from the Italian—which he knew very well, and from the most childish years—began probably in , not earlier than the period when he ventured upon the Nibelungenlied.
In his preface to the volume The Early Italian Poets Dante Rossetti explained his general views as to what are the obligations incumbent upon a translator. They amount to this: that a translator ought to be faithful, but is not bound down to being literal; he is compelled to make various mutual concessions between meaning and rhythm or rhyme; and in especial he must not turn a good poem into a bad one.
In his version of Lenore he has conformed very fairly to these rules. He allows himself contrary to his original the latitude of leaving lines 1 and 3 in each stanza unrhymed and of lengthening lines 7 and 8 from three feet to four. I myself regard this latter change as a decided improvement to the ear: but my opinion is not much to the point. The most salient modification, however, is in general tone. It may perhaps have been by mere inadvertence that he turns the religious atmosphere of the poem, which is manifestly Protestant, into Roman Catholic: thus, for instance, a "Vaterunser" becomes an "Ave Marie.
In stanza 15 the translator is wrong in indicating that midnight is already past, for the clock afterwards strikes eleven; and in stanza 17 the ghostly bridegroom, in saying "zur Wette," only means "I wager you," and not "'Tis for a wager I bear thee away. Der Mond scheint hell! Lass ruhn die Todten! It takes the literary form of a modern-antique, and throws the period of the ballad back from the Seven Years' War to crusading times.
Next, Sir Walter Scott , in , published a version anonymously. Scott's William and Helen , as he entitled it, can hardly be called a translation: it is a paraphrase, put into the ordinary English ballad-metre, and altering the period of the story in the same way that Taylor had done.
Several passages here and there are however translated closely enough. This rendering by Scott—not any other rendering of the ballad—must have been highly familiar to Dante Rossetti several years before he undertook his own version. In a translation, Leonora , was published by W. Spencer, with engravings by Lady Diana Beauclerc.
It is, I think, barely less faithful than Rossetti's version; the difference being that, while the latter exceeds in picturesque colouring, Spencer loads up the then accepted pomposities of "poetic diction. On the whole it is a creditable performance. Stanley, nearly contemporaneous with Spencer's. The Laureate was not extremely faithful to his original in substance, and not at all in metre; and I think his version hardly as good as the average of others.
Stanley might pass muster tolerably enough, were it not that he has stupidly added to the ballad a long tag of his own, turning the whole affair into a dream.
The famous designer Retzsch made a series of outlines to Lenore , published at Leipsic in , with the text in German, and likewise in an English rendering by F.
Of all the translations that I have seen, this is the faithfullest. The metre is correctly followed, and the diction comes as close as one could demand. Many lines however are very poor, from a poetic or literary point of view. What could be more miserable than.
As will be seen, all the translations of which I have as yet spoken were produced before that of Dante Rossetti. The following two are of later date. In Mrs. Cameron , in her preface, seems to suppose that her rendering is a strictly faithful one, but I can only say that she was mistaken: she does not stick close to the terms of her original, and she wholly discards its metre. In there was a translation by John Oxenford , a good German scholar: it is however rather an adaptation than a translation, being done to serve as the words for a cantata by G.
Macfarren produced at a Birmingham Festival. There are yet other versions of Lenore , known to me little or not at all: the reader may perhaps opine that I have already mentioned quite enough. Of all the translations with which I am acquainted, the best, I venture to think, is the one which Dante Rossetti wrote at the age of sixteen. Some of the other renderings—as Taylor's, Scott's, and Stanley's—are put out of count by arbitrary alterations: the remaining ones are less animated, less poetical, and mostly less faithful, than Rossetti's.
It may be as well to state here that, as the Lenore was the first translation of any importance that he produced, so also was it the first favourable example of his powers as a verse-writer. His original ballad-poem of Sir Hugh the Heron , written mostly at the age of twelve, was not indeed worse than one would expect from so boyish a hand, but no human being who knows the meaning of the word "good" can apply that epithet to Sir Hugh the Heron ; and another shorter ballad, William and Marie , which he composed at the age of about fourteen, is even inferior to its precursor.
This William and Marie , as it happens, was sold at the same auction-sale in which Lenore was included: it fetched a price decidedly more than proportionate to its poetic deservings.
I will therefore say a few words about the ballad and its author. He was fond of romantic solitude, and was anything but a strict moralist.
His face is not an interesting one: fleshy, with round eyes, and, save the mouth, large features. Lenore , published towards , was the first poem of his to fix attention, which it effectually did; there was also the equally celebrated Wild Huntsman. Shortly after publishing Lenore , he married a Hanoverian lady named Leonhart, and then by his misdoing consigned her, as his spectral Wilhelm did Lenore, to an early grave. As soon as he was married to one Leonhart, he fell desperately in love with another, the younger sister whom he has celebrated under the name of Molly.
This is rather a curious parallel to the case of the thrice-wedded poet of England, Milton, whose second wife also expired in childbed. Before his choice had been fixed he received a letter from Stuttgart, written by a young lady in cultivated and feeling language.
She professed enthusiasm for his poetry, and willingness to bestow her hand upon him. The poet, after making some inquiry, was only too eager to assent, and he brought home his third bride. But the result was a woful failure. The lady became faithless to her husband, made his life a torment, and, in less than three years, had to be divorced. He was very poor, he was harassed by a bitter critique written by Schiller, and everything seemed to go wrong with him.
In June he died, aged only forty-six. The original Manuscript of the youthful translator has been strictly followed in the printing, as regards of citing, punctuation, etc. And sad was the true heart that sickened afar. And clank, clank, clank! With the trumpet-sound that rose and sank. I reck no more how the world runs on: What pity to me does God impart? Woe, woe, woe! Doth he heed my despair,—doth he list to my cry? What boots it now to hope or to pray? The night is come,—there is no more day.
Spark of my life! What pity to me does God impart? Cease, cease, my child, thy wretchedness, And think on the promised happiness; So shall thy mind's calm ecstasy Be a hope and a home and a bridegroom to thee. Earth and Heaven, and Heaven and earth.
Reft of William are nothing worth. But hark to the clatter and the pat pat patter! How the steel clanks and rings as the rider springs! While slightly and lightly the gentle bell Tingles and jingles softly and well; And low and clear through the door plank thin Comes the voice without to the ear within:. Is thy heart still free and still faithful to me? Up, up and away! I must not stay: Mount swiftly behind me!
An hundred miles must be ridden and sped Ere we may lie down in the bridal-bed. Dost hear the bell with its sullen swell. The wedding-guests are gathered and met, And the door of the chamber is open set.
To and fro they sway and swing; Snorting and snuffing they skim the ground, And the sparks spurt up, and the stones run round. Is my love afraid of the quiet dead? Bearing the coffin, bearing the bier; And the chime of their chaunt was hissing and harsh, Like the note of the bull-frog within the marsh. Come, chorister, come with thy choral throng, And solemnly sing me a marriage-song; Come, friar, come,—let the blessing be spoken, That the bride and the bridegroom's sweet rest be unbroken.
His ballads were very popular in Germany. His most noted ballad, Lenore , found an audience beyond readers of the German language in an English and Russian adaptation and a French translation. He was born in Molmerswende now a part of Mansfeld , Principality of Halberstadt , where his father was the Lutheran pastor. He showed an early predilection for solitary and gloomy places and the making of verses, for which he had no other model than hymnals. He learned Latin with difficulty. In he passed to the University of Halle , as a student of theology , which, however, he soon abandoned for the study of jurisprudence. As he continued his wild career, however, his grandfather withdrew his support and he was left to his own devices.
Gottfried August Bürger