A Biography. From the German of J. P. Fr. Richter. Translated by CHARLES T. BROOKS. In Two Volumes. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
THIS romance, the first work of Jean Paul’s which won the attention of his countrymen, is called “ Hesperus,” apparently for no reason more definite than that the heroine, like a fair evening-star, beams over the fortunes of the other personages, and becomes at length the morning-star of one. The supplementary title of “Forty-Five DogPost-Days” is a quaint subdivision of the volumes into as many chapters, each of which is a “ Dog-Post-Day,” because it purports to be dispatched in a bottle round a dog’s neck to an island within the whimsical geography which the author loved to construct, and in which he pretended to dwell. Truly, the ordinary terra-firma was of little consequence for home-keeping purposes to Jean Paul, as the reader will doubtless confess before he has proceeded far through the maze of Extra Leaves, Intercalary Days, Extra Lines, Extra Shoots, and Extorted Anticritique. And the divisions which are busied with the story, instead of carrying it forward, stray with it in all directions, like a genuine summer vagabond to whom direct travel is a crime against the season. Many charming things are gathered by the way; but if the reader is in haste to arrive, or thinks it would not be amiss at least to put up somewhere, his patience will be severely tried. We do not recommend the volumes for railway-reading, nor to clergymen for the entertainment of sewing-bees, nor to the devourer of novels, in whose life the fiction that must be read at one sitting forms an epoch. It is a good vade-mecum for a voyage round either Cape; its digressive character suits the listless mood of the sea-goer, and he can drop, we will not say the thread, but the entanglement, in whatever watch he pleases.
Let no one expect the critic to sketch the plot of this romance. It is a grouping of motives and temperaments under the names of men and women, concerning whom many subtile things are said and hinted ; and they are pushed into and out of complicated situations, by stress of brilliant authorship, without lifting their fingers. There is no necessary development nor movement: the people are like the bits of glass which shake into the surprising patterns of the kaleidoscope. The relation of the parties to each other is a great mystification, bunglingly managed : we cannot understand at last how Victor, the hero of the chief love-passage, turns out to be the son of a clergyman instead of a lord, and Flamin the son of a lord in spite of the plain declaration on the first page that he belongs to a clergyman. No key-notes of expectation and surmise are struck ; the reader is as blind as the old lord who is Victor's reputed father, and not a glimmer of light reaches him till suddenly and causelessly he is dazed. The author has emphasized his sentiments, but has not shaded and brought out the features of his story. It is plain, that, when he began to write, not the faintest notion of a dénouement had dawned upon his fancy. The best-defined action in the book results from Flamin’s ignorance that he is Clotilde’s brother, for he is thus jealous of his friend Victor’s love for her. How break off Flamin’s love for his unknown sister? How rescue Victor from his self-imposed delicacy and win for him a bride ? This is the substance of the story, hampered by wild, spasmodic interpolations and intrigues and didactic explanations.
The reader must also become inured, by a course of physical training, to resist the fiery onslaughts of a sentimentality which was the first ferment of Jean Paul’s sincere and huge imagination. See, for instance, Vol. II. p. 229. And we cannot too much admire the tact which Mr. Brooks has brought to the decanting of these seething passages into tolerable vernacular limits. Sometimes, indeed, he misses a help which he might have procured for the reader, to lift him, with less danger of dislocation, to these pinnacles of passion, by transferring more of the elevated idiom of the style : for, in some of the complicated paragraphs, a too English rendering of the clauses gives the sentiment a dowdy and prosaic air. We should not object to an occasional inversion of the order, even where Jean Paul himself is more direct than usual; for this always appeared to us to lend a racy German flavor to the page, No doubt Jean Paul needs, first of all, to be made comprehensible ; but if his style is too persistently Anglicized, many places will be reached where the sense itself must suffer for want of the picturesqueness of the German idiom. The quaintness will grow flat, the color of the sentiment will almost disappear, the rich paragraphs will run thinly clad, disenchanted like Cinderella at midnight. Some of Mr. Carlyle’s translations from the German are invigorated by this Teutonicizing of the English, and by the sincerity of phrases transferred directly as they first came molten from the pen. This may be pushed to the point of affectation ; but judiciously used, it is suited to Jean Paul’s fervor and abandonment.
There is also a rhythm in his exalted moments, a delicate and noble swing of the clauses, not easy to transfer : as in the Eighth Dog-Post-Day, the paragraph commencing, “ Wehe gröszere Wellen auf mich zu, Morgenluft !” “Thou morning-air, break over me in greater waves ! Bathe me in thy vast billows which roll above our woods and meadows, and bear me in blossom clouds past radiant gardens and glimmering streams, and let me die gently floating above the earth, rocked amid flying flowers and butterflies, and dissolving with outspread arms beneath the sun ; while all my veins fall blended into red morning-flakes down to the flowers,” etc. But this may appear finical to Mr. Brooks. We certainly do not press it critically against his great and general success. Such a paragraph as, for instance, the closing one upon page 340 of Vol. II. is very trying to the resources of tire translator. Here Mr. Brooks has sacrificed to literalness an opportunity to sort the confused clauses and stop their jostling: this may be done without diluting the sentiment, and is within the translator’s lib-
it always seemed to us that the finest part of “ Hesperus,” and one of the finest passages of German literature, is contained in the Ninth Dog-Post-Day and some pages of the Tenth. The Ninth, in particular, which is a perfect idyl, describes Victor’s walk to Kussewitz : all the landscape is made to share and symbolize his rapture : the people in the fields, the framework of an unfinished house, the two-wheeled hut of the shepherd, are not only well painted, but turned most naturally to the help of interpreting his feeling. The chapter has also a direct and unembarrassed movement, which is rare in this romance. And it is beautifully translated.
The reader must understand that Victor is called by various names ; so that, if lie merely dips into the book, as we suspect he will until his sympathy is enlisted by some fine thought, his ignorance will increase the frantic and dishevelled state of the story. Victor is Horion, Sebastian, and Bastian ; a susceptible youth, profoundly affected by the presence of noble or handsome women, and brought into situations that test his delicacy. He smuggles a declaration of love into a watch which he sells, in the disguise of an Italian merchant, to the Princess Agnola, on occasion of her first reception at the court of her husband. He is ashamed of this after he begins to know Clotilde, who is one of Jean Paul’s pure and noble women ; and he is at one time full of dread lest the Princess had read his watch-paper, and at another full of pique at the suspicion that she had not. Being court-physician and oculist, he has frequent opportunities to visit Agnola, and there is one rather florid occasion which the midnight cry of the street-watchman interrupts. But all this time, the inflammable Victor was indulging a kind of tenderness for Joachime, maid-of-honor and attractive female. As the love for Clotilde deepens, he must destroy these partialities for Agnola and Joachime. This is no easy matter ; what with the watch-paper and various emphatic passages of something more than friendship, the true love does not at once stand forth, that he may find “ the partition-wall between love and friendship with women to be very visible and very thick.” But one day the accursed watch-paper flutters into Joachime’s hand, who at once takes it for a declaration of love to herself, and beams with appropriate tenderness. Victor, seized with sudden coldness and resolution, confesses all to Joachime; and the story, released from its feminine embarrassments, would soon reach a honeymoon, if it were not for the difficulty of deciding the parentage and relationship of the various characters. A wise child knows its own father; but no endowment of wisdom in the reader will harmonize the genealogy of this romance. A birth-mark of a Stettin apple, which is visible only in autumn when that fruit is ripening, plays the part of Box’s strawberry in the farce, and with as much perspicuity.
However, the characters are all respectably connected at last, and the reader does not care to understand how they were ever disconnected : for Lord Horion’s motive in putting the children of the old Prince out of the way, and keeping up such an expensive mystification, can be justified only by an interesting plot. But American readers have learned by this time, much to their credit, not to apply to Jean Paul for the sensation of a cunningly woven narrative, like that of the English school, which furnishes verisimilitude to real life that is quite as improbable, though less glaringly so, than his departures from it. “ Hesperus ” is filled with pure and noble thought. The different types of female character are particularly welldefined ; and if Jean Paul sometimes affects to say cynical things of women, he cannot veil his passionate regard for them, nor his profound appreciation of the elements of their influence in forming true society and refining the hearts of men. Notice the delicacy of the “Extra Leaf on Houses full of Daughters.” It is chiefly with the women of his romances that Jean Paul succeeds in depicting individuals. And when we recollect the corrupt and decaying generation out of which his genius sprang, like a newly created species, to give a salutary shock to Gallic tastes, and lend a sturdy country vigor to the new literature, we reverence his faithfulness, his incorruptible humanity, his contempt for petty courts and faded manners, his passion for Nature, and his love of God. All these characteristics are so broadly printed upon his pages that the obsoleteness of the narrative does not hide them.
In view of a second edition, we refer to Mr, Brooks’s consideration a few places, with wonder at his general accuracy in the translation of obscure passages and the explanation of allusions.
Vol. I. page 22. Sakeph-Katon (Zaqueph Qaton) is an occasional pause-accent of the Hebrew, having the sense of “ elevator minor,” and is peculiar to prose.
Page 68. The famous African Prince Le Boo deserves a note.
Page in. Ripieno is an Italian musical term, meaning that which accompanies and strengthens.
Page 114. Grãnzwildpret does not mean “frontier wild-game,” but game that, straying out of one precinct into another, gets captured ; stray game, or impounded waif.
Page 139. The note gives the sense, but the corresponding passage in the text would stand clearer thus : " not a noble heart, by any means ; for such things Le Baut’s golden key, though bored like a cannon, could fasten rather.”
Page 179. A note required : the passage of Shakspeare is, “Antony and Cleopatra,” Act V., Scene 2 : —
“ His face was as the heavens ; and therein stuck
A sun and moon; which kept their course, and lighted
The little O, the earth.”
A sun and moon; which kept their course, and lighted
The little O, the earth.”
Territory of an old lady should be " prayer of an old lady." Gebet, not Gebiet.
Page 209. Eirunde Loch would be better represented by its anatomical equivalent, foramen ovale. It should be closed before birth ; in the rare cases where it is left open after birth, the child lives half asphyxiated.
Page 224, note. Semperfreie is not from the Latin, but comes from sendbarfreie, that is, eligible, free to be sent or elected to offices, and consequently, immediately subject to the Reich, or Holy Roman Empire.
Page 235. An Odometer is an apparatus for measuring distances travelled by whatsoever vehicle.
Page 275. Incunabula means specimens of the first printed edition of a work ; also the first impressions of the first edition, the firstlings of old editions.
Page 317. Wackelfiguren means figures made of Wacke, a greenish-gray mineral, soft and easily broken.
Page 322. The note is equivocal, since the phrase is used by fast women who keep some one in their pay.
Vol. II., page 122. Columbine is not equivalent to ballet-dancer; it is the old historical personage of the pantomime, confederate and lover of Harlequin, who protects her from false love.