Letters and Journals Relating to the War of the American Revolution, and the Capture of the German Troops at Saratoga

By MRS. GENERAL RIEDESEL. Translated from the original German by WILLIAM L. STONE. Albany : Munsell. 1867.
THIS is not the first translation of Madame Riedesel’s Memoirs, but, past all denial, it is the first good one. And if there was any book in a foreign language that called especially for a good American translator, that book is the one in question. To our thinking, the call has at length been answered in a very satisfactory way.
Good historical memoirs — the very life of historical literature — are scarce with us. Our Revolutionary heroes could not have written them if they would ; nor has our late war yet produced them, of any notable merit. Memoir writing is an art in itself, in which the French have far excelled all other nations. As for ourselves, our best possessions in this way are due to foreigners, and two of them to women. We mean the excellent little book of Mrs. Grant of Lugar, and the far more important memoir of which the translation is before us.
Madame Riedesel was the wife of General Riedesel, who commanded the Brunswick troops in the army of Burgoyne. With her three children she followed her husband to America, and shared all the dangers and hardships of the campaign of Saratoga, and the long captivity which followed it. To say of this most charming woman that she was the model of a tender and devoted wife and mother would be true, indeed, but yet would insufficiently describe her. Her graceful and feminine character was braced by an admirable courage, and a spirit which must have made her a very piquant companion. She had resources for every emergency, made friends everywhere, and appears to have been equally mistress of the situation in the backwoods of Virginia, and in the family circle of King George III., to which her rank and no doubt her own attractiveness admitted her.
Remembering what Madame Riedesel was, it is impossible to read without indignation the following passage in the Introduction to the wretched translation of 1827 :
“ For the passages which have been omitted in the translation no apology will be required by those who can peruse the original. Whether right or wrong (a question not now to be discussed) the reading portion of mankind has become so hostile to vulgarity, so delicate, in some respects so fastidiously refined, that many things and words that were perfectly innocent and inoffensive, or only pervertible by the sagacity of profligates and rakes, are now considered utterly disgraceful, and are wholly banished from polite literature.” The translator adds : “ We thought, however, that we might name, without begging pardon, such words as hog or swine ! ”
The “ vulgarity ” to which the translator, using the word in the sense in which children use it, takes exception, are a few simple and harmless statements, from the pen of a modest woman too sensible, natural, and pure to be a prude. Mr. Stone is free from the silly squeamishness of his predecessor, and has given the story of Madame Riedesel’s varied experience as he finds it.
The book is full of suggestion. Her travels during her husband’s captivity give many sharp glimpses of colonial life in New England, the Middle States, and Virginia, and suggest the reflection that, degenerate as our public men may be, the people at large of our time do not lose in comparison with their fathers. The volume is illustrated with a portrait and autograph of Madame Riedesel, and by two woodcuts of houses near Saratoga, conspicuous objects in the narrative, and of which one has already been removed or destroyed. The memoir is also accompanied by notes of the translator, adding much to its value.
The general style of the translation is easy and good, but here and there it is open to criticism. Thus a “ splendid cellar ” and “ splendid singing ” are anomalies in the English language. We observe a statement in the Preface that the German edition of 1800 is “ the first and only German edition” of the memoir. Now we have before us at this moment an edition published at Berlin in 1801. Translators and editors are bound to be exact in these matters.
We see it announced on a fly-leaf of this pleasant book—one of the pleasantest of its kind that we remember to have read — that Mr. Stone is engaged on a translation of the “ Life and Writings of General Riedesel,” published a few years ago at Berlin, and said to contain many letters hitherto unknown in this country, from Washington, Gates, Burgoyne, and other men of their day.