Goethe’s Roman Elegies
and the Folk Song Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre
Dorothea Veit suggests (letter 277a) with regard to Wilhelm Schlegel’s dramatic satire Ehrenpforte und Triumphbogen that, because of its popularity, he ought to “brace” himself “for faring the same with Kotzebue as did that traveler with Malborough.” The allusion is to the French song Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre and to Goethe’s mention of it in his Roman Elegies. Dorothea read the version of the Roman Elegies published under the title Elegien in Schiller’s Die Horen (1795) no. 6, 1–44 (translation from Goethe’s Poems, trans. Paul Dyrsen [New York 1878], 232):
Homage be done to whom you desire! I have found an asylum. — Ladies of beauty and rank, gentlemen of the world, Ask as to uncle's health and to aunt's and to cousin's adventures, And the conventional talk end in a tedious whist. And ye innumerable friends in parties and at the fireside, Who have many a time brought me to wildest despair, Read and repeat with emptiest words political maxims Which, wherever he go, harass the traveler's march, Just as of old the song of Marlboro' followed the Briton, Down from Paris to Nice, then from Firenze to Rome, Greeting again at Naples and, when he had landed in Smyrna, Marlboro' awaited him there, Marlboro' the song in the port. So I have constantly been tormented by hearing them blame the People's violent acts, blame the intrigues of the kings. Not very soon you will now be able to trace my asylum, Given by Amor the King's royal munificent hand; For right under his wings I am hiding; my Roman beloved is Neither afraid of the Gaul, nor of the Frenchman's approach. Never she asks me for news, my Roman friend, but intently Watches her master and lord's amorous whims and desires; Eagerly listens to him, the ruddy and vigorous stranger, When he of mountains and snow, wood-built houses relates; Shares in the warmth of the fire she kindles and feeds in his bosom, Knowing he clings to his gold less than the native of Rome. Better is now her table, she is not in want of a new dress, Nor of a carriage to take her to the opera-house. Mother and daughter alike enjoy the northerner's presence And the barbarian lords over his Roman domain.