Supplementary Appendix 143.2

Georg Schatz, review of Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer, Spiele des Witzes und der Phantasie. Berlin, bey Vieweg dem ältern. 1793. 206 pages. 8vo. 16 gr. Neue allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek, vol. 6, no. 1 (1793), 140–42.

Instead of a preface, our author begins with the passage from the Gospel of Mark [12:41–44] in which it is said that the poor widow, by offering but two small copper coins, nonetheless basically contributed more than anyone else, since it was everything she possessed: an allusion that unfortunately seems not at all to be to the author’s own advantage, since poetic copper coins are precisely what least serves our public, which in its own turn is currently so unfavorably disposed to the lyric muse. Mediocribus esse poëtis, etc. [1]

Works of unequivocal value, of course, need pay no attention to the frigid sensibility of their decade, and those who write not for money, but from a more lofty impulse, will look only to posterity, and be little concerned the with ambiguous applause of their contemporaries. And posterity — thank heaven! — remains an unerring judge. The present reviewer must leave in abeyance whether our present son of the muses might anticipate a better fate for his own copper coin among future generations.

In any event, the publisher has ensured a favorable reception among the present public by way of the volume’s handsome paper and unequivocably clean printing; and such is doubtless also the most appealing part of this entire product. Although there is no table of contents, the volume probably contains close to a hundred poems and lesser verses, generally of an erotic and sentimental nature. A not inconsiderable number of others has been borrowed from foreign languages, a circumstance sometimes brought to our attention, sometimes not.

According to the poem to Bachidion commencing on page 49 and signed by A. W. Schlegel — doubtless the most charming of the entire collection — the author might in fact even be a woman, since a four-page response from Bachidion begins on page 56 in which case this Bachidion is then Meyer; in any event, this is the name on the table or altar in the title vignette, which otherwise portrays the various attributes of poetry.


Let those capable of deciphering this thing please do so, for on page 77 we find yet another impromptu to Meyer the man; the present reviewer regrets being unable to offer any cordialities to the author (or authoress) without allowing both criticism and the public to suffer it. These poems do not seem to transgress against morality, if the latter be not taken in too strict a sense, nor against grammar and language, and rhymes such as Tag and gebrach or Neckereyen and Kosereyen occur but rarely.

And yet the absence of such transgressions does not make the whole any better, and though only a few of the pieces in this collection are perhaps wholly beneath criticism, neither — unfortunately! — does even a single one rise above mediocrity! — By “Spiele des Witzes” [games of wit] the author is presumably referring to epigrams, with which his poetic quiver is certainly amply stocked; and yet even among these, there are several, and perhaps precisely the most tolerable, whose arrows have long been sharpened by others. Filling an entire page with epigrams such as the following:

Were I Apollo, no magical blow
Could place on Parnassus the lady of my ideas:
In her would I see blue Thetis,
And the day itself would sink!

certainly constitutes an all the more unpardonable presumption with respect to our money purses, since such entries do not even offer anything new to read, but rather merely what has already been copied hundreds of times from the Gallic singer. The reflection on wasting paper applies to page 99 and its justification of the autocritic:

Unfairly do you reproach what so wisely he did,
His well considered step of reviewing himself:
For he alone deserves to criticize his book
Who alone has read it.

Here, however, the reviewer at least has occasion to request that it might please the author to have been the reviewer of his own work! —

The collection also includes not a few poems relating to places in Italy. I do hope their author has nothing in common with that particular Herr Meyer whose art descriptions and travelogues concerning this country the public has, to the extent this reviewer is aware, read with such enjoyment. [2]

Be that as it may, in any event such poems do prove yet anew what a different undertaking it is to let one’s imagination have free rein in prose rather than trying willfully to imprison it in the realm — one wisely fenced in by art and convention — of versification!


[1] Horace, Ars poetica, 372: “Mediocribus esse poetis, / Non homines, non di, non concessere columnae”; trans. John Devoe Belton, A Literary Manual of Foreign Quotations Ancient and Modern (New York, London 1891), 109: “Neither men, nor gods, nor booksellers allow poets to be mediocre.” Back.

[2] Friedrich Johann Lorenz Meyer, Darstellungen aus Italien (Berlin [Potsdam] 1792); this is the second instance Friedrich Ludwig Wilhelm Meyer has been mistaken for Caroline’s brother-in-law (see her letter to Luise Gotter on 20 April 1792 [letter 112] with note 21). Back.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott