Ludwig Ferdinand Huber’s review of volume 1 (1791) of Friedrich Bouterwek, Graf Donamar. Briefe, geschrieben zur Zeit des siebenjährigen Krieges in Deutschland (Göttingen 1791–93) in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1791) 349 (Saturday, 31 December 1791) 677–78, reprinted in Huber’s Sämmtliche Werke seit dem Jahre 1802, vol. 2 (Tübingen 1810), 121–24. Here the title page to vol. 1 (1791) and the frontispieces to vols. 1, 2, and 3 (1810):
Because this novel is as yet unfinished, the critic has no way of assessing its overall concept, a situation similarly applying to several of its characters, whose overall personalities will emerge fully only in subsequent volumes. That said, however, volume 1 itself must determine the extent to which such is worth waiting for. The characters are basically quite ordinary, or are simply imitations, their rendering untrue and affected; the overall style, while not without its good points in places, is on the whole similarly stilted and unnatural; and the same shortcomings characterize the author’s invention of situations.
Indeed, flaccidity provides the foundation as such for the composition, over which exaggerated mannerism has been poured like crude oil. The author is almost everywhere hindered in developing these characters by a lack of knowledge of human nature and a lack of context and cohesion. The character of Laurette von Wallenstädt, a German Marquise de Marteuil (see [Choderlos de Laclos] Liaisons dangereuses [Amsterdam 1782]), seems to be the paltry product of an easily reckoned sum of immature experiences, on the one hand, and an element of being well read that yet insufficiently harmonizes with that immaturity, on the other. Her writing style, her tone, her comportment are those neither of a woman of standing nor of a clever coquette, nor in general appropriate to the creation of well-organized poetic imagination. The story’s real protagonist, namely, Count Donamar, with all his ill manners and purposeless wildness, sooner belongs to the formerly quite numerous but now seemingly extinct family of imitators of Werther, Woldemar, etc. 
Although the author has served up a considerable portion of mysteries — of the sort that has been part and parcel of our literary productions since the appearance of the Geisterseher  — in the portrayal of his character San Giuliano, the lack of purposiveness and a failed overall portrayal turn the pompous framework for this character into simple charlatanism. The peculiar contrast between characters, passions, and circumstances drawn from real life and grand society, on the one hand, and a language and mode of behavior drawn from an immature boy’s schoolbooks, on the other, are what really give the whole here, at least viewed from the perspective of art, such striking repugnance, notwithstanding the fact that several passages do attest an element of general talent and spirit.
The author’s imagination seems to lack the inner strength and freedom to elevate itself to the ideal, and lacks the calmness and maturity necessary for attaining truth in the overall portrayal; indeed, his failed attempt to combine the two has produced little more than pettiness, on the one hand, and affectation, on the other.
Given these shortcomings, the author’s striving for grace and subtlety — of which the reader is occasionally aware — simply cannot succeed, though there are passages here and there (e.g., the candle scene on p. 263) that might prompt a reader to determine why they did not succeed as they might have. On pages 194–203, and in the name of his protagonists, the author presents us with a digression on feminine sensibility and feminine nature that apart from various subtle or at least cleverly expressed ideas fails from the perspective of sound reasoning as completely as does the novel as a whole from the perspective of portrayal.
Stilted, contradictory, vacillating abstractions drawn from ambiguous and undigested observation underlie the author’s ideas about women as well as his actual female characters. Of course, the bold and facile games of feminine genius are quite the thing for confusing both the philosopher and the painter and to detour them away from nature, which itself is consistently simple; but we would certainly one day like to see the author atone to both the fairer sex and art itself for the sin of having mistaken insolence, indelicacy, and distortedness with those sublime, daring portryals of femininity in which the most extreme boundary of beauty is touched but never transgressed — that is, never transgressed the way this author preeminently does in his character Laurette.
 Schiller, Der Geisterseher: Eine Geschichte aus den Memoires des Grafen von O**, published in installments in Die Thalia (1787–89) and then as a book (Leipzig 1789); it dealt with experiments in the supernatural and featured the sort of obscurantist movements and secret societies that arose during the late Enlightenment, movements frequently enough also accompanied by charlatans; one character is Schiller’s piece is likely modeled on Alessandro Conte di Cagliostro (Giuseppe Balsamo), who also plays a role in Goethe’s play Der Gross-Cophta. Ein Lustspiel in 5 Aufzügen (Berlin 1792). Back.
Translation © 2011 Doug Stott