Supplementary Appendix 280.2

The Contested Translations of Cervantes:
Dietrich Wilhelm Soltau, Wilhelm Schlegel, Ludwig Tieck
July 1799—December 1800

Dorothea Veit writes in exasperation to Schleiermacher on 28 October 1799 (letter 252a), a year later almost to the day, on 31 October 1800 (letter 278b), and finally on 17 January 1801 (letter 282b):

For as it is, your personalities, your desires — all that accords with the literary path and criticism and all that stuff the way a giant fits into a child’s bed. I see quite clearly now that those who are sitting at the rudder are polite, cold, malleable simpletons who cannot use any of you for the tiny machines they have set up for their feeble hands. They bend way over when passing through the tiny door, and all of you want to enter standing upright; no wonder you hit your heads. . . . Wilhelm is a worthy warrior; but it pains me that he must squander so much wit and energy against these wretched creatures.

Let Friedrich think about Plato, about Greek poesy and about Lucinde, and Wilhelm about Shakspeare and “Tristan” — look, those are completely different things; I was very apprehensive about this critical journal thing. Leave criticism at home, it is an ill trade in ill hands; and none of you should soil your hands with it anymore, for you learn nothing from all your criticizing, and the others do nothing more than simply say “thank you kindly.”

My dear Schleier: if you still have any trust in my opinion, then do not get mixed up in any critical journal, and do not advise Friedrich to do so either; I hate this entire enterprise; and if possible my next poem will express this hatred.

And Caroline writes to Wilhelm Schlegel on 2 March 1801 (letter 293):

I am quite sorry I did not have you give me your written word to abstain forthwith from all criticism. Oh, my friend, remind yourself incessantly how short life is, and how nothing exists as genuinely as does a work of art — criticism perishes, physical races are extinguished, systems change, but when the world itself one day incinerates like a scrap of paper, works of art will be the last living sparks to enter into the house of God — only then will there be complete darkness.

An extended example of the sometimes lengthy and tedious critical exchanges on which the Romantics expended so much effort is that with Dietrich Wilhelm Soltau concerning translations of Cervantes, especially of Don Quixote. Although Soltau was not directly involved in the first stage of this issue, namely, Wilhelm’s review of Tieck’s incipient translation, his public questioning of the announcement of yet more translations from Cervantes was perceived as an ill-timed and ill-directed challenge. Wilhelm and Tieck’s response set in motion yet more exchanges.

The final installment of this exchange came from Christian August Fischer in his review of Soltau’s translation and comparison with that of Tieck and with Wilhelm’s original assessment of the latter, and explicitly also with Wilhelm’s dismissive assessment, in the final issue of Athenaeum, of Soltau’s translation, M. de Cervantes Saavedra, Der sinnreiche Junker Don Quixote von La Mancha, vols. 1–2 (eventually 6 vols.), trans. Dietrich Wilhelm Soltau (Königsberg 1800).

Though this quarrel was not by far as acerbic and hostile as some others, it does demonstrate how seriously such purely literary matters were taken in the public forum and how at least Wilhelm could take an increasingly “schoolmasterly” position in what otherwise, it seems, should have been serious, courteous scholarly exchanges.

The course of the exchanges went as follows:

(1) Wilhelm’s review of Tieck’s translation Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Leben und Thaten des schafssinnigen Edlen Don Quixote von la Mancha, vol. 1, trans. Ludwig Tieck (Berlin 1799), in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1799) 230–31 (Saturday, 30 July 1799) 177–83, 185–89 (incidentally Wilhelm’s final review for the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung).

Wilhelm’s initial paragraphs engage in a brief, initial characterization of Don Quixote as a whole in both its current reception and original intent, emphasizing especially the cohesion of the overall structure and addressing criticisms of various elements integrated into that structure; he then proceeds to the review proper:

Twenty-five years ago, when a learned connoisseur of Spanish language and literature began to introduce us to the latter, and especially with what at the time in Germany was the virtually unknown piece Don Quixote, the animated resonance and swift dissemination demonstrated that this undertaking had undeniably chosen the right path with respect to the situation of own literature at the time as well as the general receptive posture of the reading public. . . .

The above remarks constitute but a meager contribution to a more complete characterization and assessment of the original piece, which does, however, lie outside the purview of this journal; these remarks serve merely to provide a perspective from which to underscore the principle that such a work must be translated wholly, completely, just as it is. That is the goal of the translation into German under discussion here.

Only those familiar with the Spanish original and who know from first-hand experience what poetic translations truly involve can grasp the entire scope of the difficulties attending such an undertaking. It is virtually impossible to accomplish everything at once; just as in this discipline it is inappropriate to translate anything other than masterpieces, so also is it true that one must continue to work on precisely those masterpieces in an attempt to bring these renderings ever closer to perfection, something which is, of course, an essentially infinite task.

In the meantime, to the extent our own language does possess sufficient power for such mediation in its present condition, the translation of Herr Tieck under consideration here is on the whole quite satisfactory, both with respect to a detailed comparison with the original as well as with respect to the overall impression left after continued reading. It is quite such that only the highest standards can be applied in its assessment. Let us, therefore, move on to an examination of details. . . .

[Extensive analysis and comparison between the original and Tieck’s translation, not without certain criticism, e.g., “the metrical coercion in this passage is admittedly not inconsiderable, occasionally prompting deviations causing a dissolution of some of the more sophisticated contextual connections, as is the case in the third stanza here”; “since the translator did once succeed in achieving the impossible in rendering the original meter, one might wish he had not left the penultimate line of each strophe without rhyme, since in the Spanish such occurs in the middle of the final verse, as if, e.g., in this example Plagen had been used instead of Jammer. Such inserted rhymes are not without precedent in our own earlier poesy.”]

Wilhelm concludes in the next issue of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung:

This reviewer cannot concur with the translator with respect to the tone and style expressed in the song of the shepherd Antonio. Although one might discuss to and fro what metrical choice best translates a Spanish romanze in so-called castellanas with thoroughgoing assonance . . . the course of this particular song has obviously become too jumpy and unstable, and the muse of the rural singer too comical. One characteristic of the southerly languages is that the Volkslied does not degenerate into crude, base elements, sharing instead a certain element of purity or even daintiness with the poesy of higher lilt. . . .

But enough about the poems. As far as the prose is concerned . . . the Castellan, like the Italian as well, with his sonorous, lightly gliding language, prefers to have the ear satisfied with a resonant plethora of words and a majestic scope of cycles, and this golden stream of eloquence constitutes not a small part of what pleases the native speaker in Don Quixote. Hence nothing is more to be avoided by a translator than falling into a sliced-up style, which, moreover, accords neither with the serenity of the portrayal nor with its pleasing richness of circumstance.

On the other hand, in our German syntax, sentences and clauses cannot so facilely be appended one to the other by means of participles and relative pronouns, whence, given cycles of equal length, it is difficult to avoid having such constructions drag and struggle along. In the present translation, we find that the translator has for the most part maintained a quite successful medium path. . . .

[Wilhelm also gently critiques passages in which characters use words deriving from a higher social class:] In German one would actually have to use a completely different expression here [than Tieck uses]. . . .

[Wilhelm continues later:] Here and there this reviewer found unnecessary deviations from literal precision, as well as several semantic errors that crept in. In a translation intending to serve merely as an aid to interpretation, one would, of course, need to address such issues; but such do not really affect the overall impression of the work. Let us note the following to be corrected in the future: . . .

This reviewer might also express certain other doubts and make other remarks concerning certain issues . . . but the parameters of a general assessment do not allow us to touch on many such issues, and certainly not to discuss them exhaustively. Let us remark in conclusion merely that this volume concludes with the story of Cardenio (further than the first volume in the earlier translation). Readers will without a doubt hope for a speedy publication of the continuation that they might learn how Cardenio is freed from his truly pathetic pain, and Don Quixote from his pain of parody.

(2) Friedrich Schlegel then makes brief remarks concerning Tieck’s translation in
Athenaeum (1799) 324–27 (Jugendschriften 2:314–16), albeit using Tieck’s translation, which admittedly did have its faults, as an occasion more to assess the poet (including other works) than the translator. Friedrich addresses Tieck’s translation primarily in the first two paragraphs of his review, then mentions the desirability of translating other works by Cervantes:

The hitherto acceptable translation of Don Quixote in Germany was certainly entertaining enough to read, it merely lacked — poesy, to wit: in both the verse and prose sections, and hence the overall cohesion of the piece, in which there inheres no more but certainly no less cohesion than in a musical composition or a painting. Don Quixote’s marvelously heated temper as well as his pompous composure too often lacked their more subtle features, and Sancho too often resembles a peasant from Lower Saxony.

It takes a poet and intimate friend of earlier Romantic poesy such as Tieck to address these shortcomings in rendering and recreating the impression and spirit of the whole in German. He has made an initial attempt, and the first part of his translation sufficiently demonstrates the extent to which he has indeed succeeded in imitating the tone and colors of the original, indeed, to have attained such as far as is possible. Even many passages that might appear untranslatable have been rendered with surprising felicity.

And yet the translation is by no means timidly accurate in every detail, though it does indeed conscientiously attempt to be so with respect to overall coloring. Hence in the poems a certain element of semantic precision has been sacrificed with respect to rendering the original meter, which is always of such crucial importance in Cervantes. What one might yet hope to see from the translator can be found in the masterfully translated poem on page 417. In the poem of Chrysostom, too, the tone of the whole has been rendered quite well. And the further one progresses in the work, the more fully developed and “Spanish” does the prose itself seem, and individual instances of harshness become less frequent.

The question is thus merely whether readers will be willing to enter into the translator’s perspective, whether, that is, they can resolve to read Don Quixote in hours other than those of digestion, which, as is well known, so easily incline to be disadvantageous to anything that does not make a reader laugh, that is, especially to serious and, certainly, tragic poesy.

Hence let us entreat them with equal portions of emphasis and devotion to view Cervantes as a poet who, though seeming to pour forth in the first part of Don Quixote the entire, rich bouquet of his fresh poesy all at once from the cornucopia of wit and in a moment of merry dissipation, has nonetheless also conceived and created other, quite respectable and honorable works that will one day find their place in the sanctuary of Romantic art.

I am referring to the charming and ingenious Galatea, where the play of human life is organized with modest art and quiet symmetry into an artistically beautiful tapestry of eternal music and tender yearning in its very act of fleeing. It is the garland of innocence and of earliest, still bashful youth.

By contrast, the darkly colored Persiles moves slowly and almost ponderously through the opulence of its strange entanglements from the faraway, dark north toward the warm south, ending cordially then in Rome, the magnificent center of the cultivated world. It is the latest, almost too mature, and yet still fresh and spicily fragrant fruit of this amiable spirit, who yet breathed poesy and eternal youth even in his final breath.

The novelas may certainly be ranked behind none of his works. Whoever cannot find them divine must necessarily have utterly misunderstood Don Quixote, which is also why they should be translated immediately after the latter. For one must translate and read everything or nothing by this immortal author.

(3) Wilhelm and Ludwig Tieck picked up on this suggestion of additional translation in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 1 (Wednesday, 1 January 1800) 3–4:

Convinced that, given the turn German poesy has recently taken, one of the most essential needs is now to facilitate as thorough an acquaintance as possible with an artist as singular and profound as was Cervantes, the undersigned have from some time now been preparing to undertake a translation of his complete works, a study that indeed has already prompted one of us to publish a translation of Don Quixote.

After the completion of this latter piece, which will happen quite soon, a translation of the novellas by us both will appear. Then the remaining Romantic writings, Persiles and Galatea, and the other poems and dramatic works will follow to the extent they are known through publication and might be of interest to us because of the considerable difference of national taste.

For unfortunately twenty to thirty of his earlier plays, several of which he considered his masterpieces, were wholly lost because of the strange prejudice that Cervantes was no dramatic genius, or lie yet forgotten in modern theater archives. And among his later works for the stage, the writer apparently accommodated himself to the spoiled taste of his age of the sort that had become regnant through Lope de Vega.

The Numancia, a tragic masterpiece with which few modern pieces indeed can compete, comes from his earlier epoch and would thus especially be worth the trouble of a poetic adaptation in its own forms. — We flatter ourselves all the more that we will succeed with this difficult undertaking insofar as we are not unfamiliar with how to deal with the poetic meters ottava rima, terza rima, and sonnet, on which so much depends here and which is at home in Italian and Spanish.

Jena, December 1799
Ludwig Tieck
A. W. Schlegel

Engraving from volume 1 of Soltau’s translation:


(4) Soltau responded to the previous announcement in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 27 (Wednesday, 5 March 1800) 216:

A while back, I announced that after the completion of my edition of a translation of Don Quixote I would be translating and publishing the novellas of Cervantes and, following that project, also his Persiles and Galatea.

I now see from the first issue of the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung that Messieurs L.Tieck and A. W. Schlegel intend to combine their poetic talents (whose considerable merits they extol) not only to complete the translation of Quixote they have already begun, but also to translate together the previously announced as well as other works of Cervantes.

As far as Persiles and Galatea are concerned, I am not unpleased to learn that Messieurs Tieck and Schlegel will for now spare me the effort of translating these two works. Truth be told, I have not yet developed that particular taste for these two works, and especially Galatea, that might make this work pleasant for me. Hence neither will I take up such work without a specific charge to do so from my publisher.

On the other hand, I have been occupied with translating the novellas for some time now. Although it is not at all my opinion that those readers utterly lack good taste who (as Herr Schlegel allegedly puts it somewhere* [*In the second issue of Athenaeum, if am not mistaken.] are unable to find these novellas at least divine, nonetheless because they alongside Quixote are one of the best works done by Cervantes, I do indeed consider them worthy of, if not divine veneration, then nonetheless certainly human treatment, which is why I will continue with my translation and publish them as promised after my Quixote. The first volume of the latter has already been printed, the rest will follow as quickly as the press can expedite them.

Herr Anderson in London has promised to provide an engraving for the title of each volume. I hope he will keep that promise in a timely enough manner that the titles can be simultaneously published at least with the final volume.

Lüneburg, 11 February 1800
D. W. Soltau

Engraving from volume 2 of Soltau’s translation:


(5) Wilhelm and Ludwig Tieck responded to Soltau in their own turn and at the same time raised the hostility level of the discussion in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 53 (Wednesday, 23 April 1800) 439–40:

concerning an insert by Herr Soltau in no. 27 of this Intelligenzblatt

Every writer undeniably has the right to translate a foreign author even should another author already have undertaken and announced the same project, nor can he consider himself denigrated if the latter has not tried to denigrate his anticipated work.

In our own announcement of the translation of the collective works of Cervantes, we have carefully avoided such with respect to Herr Soltau, whereas he, by contrast, committed the offense by, peculiarly, considering himself denigrated and by publishing a counter-announcement full of insulting hints concerning us, thereby demonstrating, moreover, an element of professional envy in response to which it would be beneath our dignity to do anything other than direct it back into its base sphere with a brief reproach. First of all, it is an unseemly lie for Herr Soltau to say that we extolled the considerable merits of our own talents.

What we said was that we were not unfamiliar with several poetic meters common in Spanish, a fact one was certainly permitted to adduce in such a context. Herr Soltau also considers the novellas to be something like his own property for translation and is refraining for translating Persiles and Galatea at least for now (until we have perhaps done too ill a job of it ourselves), because “truth be told,” he has “not yet developed that particular taste for these two works, and especially Galatea, that might make this work pleasant for him. He doubtless hardly realizes what infinite difficulties in poetic rendering and imitation he is therewith magnanimously renouncing, especially in Galatea.

At the same time, he betrays how new he is to the study of Cervantes, since at the time of his initial announcement he obviously had not yet read these two works. Presumably it was a passage in Athenaeum [no. 2 above] — one which in his simplemindedness he endeavors to ridicule — that first brought such to his attention, just as he seems similarly to have learned only from our own announcement that there are indeed other works by Cervantes besides the ones mentioned. Actually we wish Herr Soltau would carry out his plans and thereby expose his utter incompetence all the more thoroughly.

Such, however, is not really needed, since his so tritely expressed assessment of Persiles and Galatea cannot but demonstrate to any connoisseur that he understands this poet not in the slightest, and that from the perspective of poetic considerations his translations of Don Quixote and the novellas can therefore only turn out quite ill. But such was to be expected in any case from someone who spent so much time and effort on the translation of the sort of crass and unpoetic party-satire represented by [Samuel Butler’s] Hudibras.

A. W. Schlegel
Ludwig Tieck

Engraving from volume 3 of Soltau’s translation:


(6) Soltau responds as well, including to the raised hostility level, in the Intelligenzblatt of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 83 (Monday, 18 June 1800) 696:


In no. 53 of this Intelligenzblatt, Messieurs A. W. Schlegel and L. Tieck published a half dozen rude remarks about me that any reasonable person need but read to consider unworthy of any serious refutation from my side.

The accuse me of an “unseemly lie” because I said that they extolled the considerable merits of their own poetic talents. Had they not done so, then they might at most accuse me of having accused them unjustly of such; but “lied”?! — But one cannot seek urbanity among their antipodes. Let one merely read from start to finish the announcement of Messieurs Tieck and Schlegel in the first issue of this Intelligenzblatt and judge whether it is composed in a straightforward, modest tone of voice, or whether it betrays an element of pretension. And if one needs further proof: Athenaeum is notorious enough for its hyperbolic praise that Herr A. W. Schlegel showers down upon his friend Tieck [no. 1 above] (and, one might add, himself as well).

By accusing me of “professional envy,” these gentlemen are doing injustice to me, for I truly know not why I should envy them.

They call my declaration concerning Persiles and Galatea (in no. 27 of this Intelligenzblatt [no. 4 above]) a “tritely expressed assessment” of these two works. Is one issuing a “tritely expressed assessment” of a work — or is such to be called an assessment at all — if one says that one has not acquired that particular taste for it that might prompt one to undertake its translation con amore? Does one thereby deny that work any and all elements of beauty or any and all merit?

When people who speak and reason thus, people who in their own simplemindedness and self-conceitedness refer to me as being apriori ignorant and incompetent, I cannot but reckon such for myself more as praise than reproach. And when they say a posteriori of Hudibras that it is nothing but a “crass and unpoetic party-satire,” I doubtless have no need to take up the cause of a poem against them whose value has been acknowledged for a century.

The arrogant challenge Messieurs Schlegel and Tieck issue for a poetic competition reminds me of the erstwhile Sir Goliath of Gath, he of such blustering loudmouthed memory [1 Samuel 17]. These two learned gentleman enter (as he did) in their greaves of bronze; and I, the poor layman, have nothing other than my staff and sling. From this story of the Philistine warrior, however, these gentlemen could yet learn the lesson that one should never challenge someone without first knowing that person’s strength. For the time being, they will certainly find work enough in Quixote and the novellas.

Lüneburg, 6 May 1800
D. W. Soltau

Engraving from volume 4 of Soltau’s translation:


(7) Because Wilhelm had for a year no longer published reviews in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, neither could he review Soltau’s translation of Don Quixote there (M. de Cervantes Saavedra, Der sinnreiche Junker Don Quixote von La Mancha, Teil 1–2, trans. Dietrich Wilhelm Soltau [Königsberg 1800]); hence he published his response in his own periodical, Athenaeum (1800) 297–329 (August 1800), albeit its final issue.

The myriad painstaking examples Wilhelm adduces are not included here, though they might well illustrate that side of Wilhelm’s scholarly personality for which Friedrich used the expression “schoolmaster” (see Dorothea’s letter to Schleiermacher on ca. 28 April 1800 [letter 259k], in which she cites Friedrich’s remark that the “schoolmaster” was one of only three devils that ever got into Wilhelm, and Friedrich’s letter to Caroline on 2 October 1795 [letter 157], in which he refers to Wilhelm as the “Grand Schoolmaster of the Universe”; this side would emerge later as well in Wilhelm’s unsuccessful marriage to Sophie Paulus); in any event, Wilhelm goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate the problems with Soltau’s translation:

In the fourth issue of this periodical [no. 2 above], reference was made to Tieck’s translation of Don Quixote at its first appearance; two volumes of Herr Soltau’s translation have now appeared, which, however, constitute only two thirds of the first half of the original, so that the whole will accordingly consist of six volumes. The most cordial relationship should obtain between two translators of a great poet, translators who strive for a common goal and whose efforts might occasionally complement one another.

Herr Soltau, however, suspended such a relationship first by viewing several elements of praise accorded to his predecessor as a denigration of his own talents [no. 4 above] and by accompanying his own translation with yet more coarse invectives directed against Tieck and my brother and me.

Both my brother in Athenaeum [no. 2 above] as well as I myself in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung [no. 1 above] spoke more about the original and about Cervantes in general than about the translation [of Tieck], since it seemed important to us on the occasion of such a translation — one that on the whole seems on the right path — to return to the truer perspective of the former that has long been lost from view. Nor did we remain silent concerning the shortcomings of the translation of our friend [cross references], who, precisely because he wholly senses and feels the poet, considers his own work anything but beyond reproach, since it is precisely through practice itself that one acquires skill in an undertaking as difficult as this one is; and the extent to which such is genuinely the case is sufficiently demonstrated by the continuation of his work up to the recently published third volume.

Instead of responding to Herr Soltau’s attacks, let us instead assess his own translation here, an assessment which, given these peculiar circumstances, and since Herr Soltau has suggested that I am not quite up to the task, will have to consist as far as possible of concrete examples, for which I would like to apologize beforehand to those among my readers who do not know Spanish.

Although it is with respect to lexical correctness that Herr Soltau’s translation is at its best, substantial errors do occur. [Examples, including where Tieck commits the same error, though also where Tieck does not.] A translation of Don Quixote could admittedly contain far more and far more egregious errors than does that of Herr Soltau without compromising one’s enjoyment of the work, since, after all, higher demands of poetic rendering frequently enough necessitate intentional deviations from the literal meaning; that said, since the present translation raised such great expectations precisely in this regard, and since such genuinely is the only side from which one might recommend it, for example, to those who are just beginning to learn Spanish, it was likely worth the effort to draw attention to such significant mistakes.

Of much more import, however, is the frequent lack of precision in rendering characteristic expressions and the unnecessary abbreviations and omissions. [Examples.] In general, he engages dashes, frequently underlines words, and even doubles punctuation (when!? or?!) to disguise these crutches of inferior prose, that is, of his own inferior prose; I say “his own,” for nothing of that of Cervantes remains. [Examples.]

This translation similarly remains incomplete insofar as much has simply been left in Spanish that in fact yet needs translation into German, and here the entire undertaking has been dealt a considerable setback after Tieck’s encouraging progress. [Examples.]

Although Herr Soltau makes a genuine effort to render wordplays correctly . . . he is usually quite unsuccessful. [Examples, including instances where Tieck was much more successful.]

One distinguishes quite rigorously in Don Quixote between passages where the language comes fresh and new from Cervantes’s own age, and where in the discourses of the protagonist, or of those who imitate his tone, it reverts to the archaic language of the stories of chivalry. Since a poetic rendering necessarily is concerned with evoking as completely as possible the entire world in which the poet’s portrayal is at home, the translator must in the former instance avoid any elements that too overtly evoke the views and customs of our own age, and in the latter imitate the solemnly antiquated style of the earlier period. Herr Soltau has not an inkling of such things. [Examples, including with comparisons to Tieck’s renderings.]

But my God, does Herr Soltau really believe that Cervantes had his protagonist speak this way quite without intention? Or does he understand nothing but the material meaning of words, and, though he has indeed been in Spain, has spent time neither in Cervantes nor in poesy?

Such examples doubtless relieve me of demonstrating how the more subtle elements of the beauty of this prose, the artful structure, charming concinnity and symmetry, the rhythmic pace and satisfying rounding off, and finally the tender breath of spiritual, all-penetrating grace — how all these elements have been utterly erased. But since such demonstration, considering that no theory is at hand that might guide it, would require a thorough discussion of the nature of Romantic prose, I will rely for now solely on the sensibility of such readers as have studied the original or who will take the trouble of comparing Tieck’s translation in such rhetorical passages with that of Herr Soltau. [Broad examples with reference to Latin and Greek.]

It is, however, the comical and mimetic elements that Herr Soltau has most egregiously botched. Nowhere does Cervantes’s high art come to more remarkable expression than in the way he is able to fuse it with the Romantic, and precisely where he enters into the most animated imitation of common reality . . . Herr Soltau, utterly without any sensibility for this modest distribution of colors, everywhere amplifies, coarsens, and shifts the expression into the ignoble and plebeian, where, however, there is absolutely no occasion to do so. [Examples.]

Like all translators of merely subjective taste who impose characteristics on their authors that seem most excellent, so also has Herr Soltau unmistakably tried to shift Don Quixote into the manner of Hudibras, whereas Hudibras in its own turn is merely a failed imitation of Don Quixote deriving from precisely the same misunderstanding.

[Copious examples and criticism of Soltau’s rendering of the poetry in Don Quixote. Wilhelm’s review lacks a traditional conclusion.]

Engraving from volume 5 of Soltau’s translation:


(8) Finally, in her letter to Schelling in January 1801 (letter 280), Caroline refers to
Christian August Fischer’s review of Soltau’s translation in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1800) 364 (Wednesday, 24 December 1800) 673–80, who, quite without further ado and from a more impartial perspective, ranks it above that of Ludwig Tieck:

A good translation of Don Quixote faces not inconsiderable difficulties. What creativity, what familiarity with language and background material must a translator not bring to bear in order to render the caustic, humoristic tone, the sophisticated, oft nuanced style, in a word: the entire original sensibility of this author! To what enormous extent must he have both languages under control in order to find the most appropriate renderings for those burlesque, often antiquated expressions, consistently commensurate with the spirit of the original, and yet never to write in an un-German fashion! What knowledge of customs and locale, finally, must such a translator have in order to portray the national elements attaching to the original in all its freshness!

These are approximately the demands to be made on any translator of Don Quixote, demands of which, moreover, Herr Soltau has long been cognizant. The fact that his own translation nonetheless does not completely fulfill those demands seems merely to demonstrate the impossibility of doing such in any case. And in precisely this regard it pains the present reviewer not a little to see two genuinely talented men at odds over this situation. Perhaps they might have come closer to that ideal had they united their efforts, whereas as it stands their current work can only be said to have fallen short.

In the most recent issue of Athenaeum [no. 7 above], Herr Wilhelm Schlegel has published a critique of Soltau’s translation that, apart from a few elements of animosity and petty chicanery, is on the whole not entirely unfounded. And yet when one compares Tieck’s translation with Soltau’s work, one is inclined to give preference to the latter despite its defects. —

Although Soltau has undeniably made mistakes, Tieck has made even more egregious ones. Although Soltau may have often enough failed to catch the tone of the original, Tieck has done so perhaps even more frequently. Although the present reviewer is not aware of harboring any dishonorable partiality and hopes to provide support for his assessments, he will do so accompanied by the respect with Herr Tieck’s talents have prompted in him in other contexts.

[Examples.] — Here Herr Tieck has translated the passage . . . completely incorrectly, and the whole in an extremely stiff and un-German style. That Herr Soltau correctly understood this latter passage is also demonstrated by Florian’s translation . . . .

The passage . . . , which Soltau translates quite appropriately, . . . Herr Tieck’s translation is as stiff as it is un-German. . . . Yet another passage . . . which Soltau translates quite well indeed . . . Tieck translates not only incorrectly, but ridiculously . . .

The passage . . . Soltau’s translation is quite good . . . Tieck’s in part un-German, in part stiff, and in part also incorrect. . . .

But my readers will become weary, and have doubtless already long concurred with this reviewer’s opinion. [Yet more examples.] . . . As a matter of fact, this reviewer picked these passages at random, and he himself senses that in Soltau’s translation he might have been able to find even more felicitous, and in Tieck’s even worse examples.

And now a few remarks for Herr Soltau that will prove to Herr Wilhelm Schlegel that this reviewer has proceeded with total impartiality, particularly since Herr Schlegel seems to have overlooked them despite his fretful enumeration. [Examples of corrections or improvements the reviewer would make in Soltau’s translation.] . . .

But enough. This reviewer believes he has written this assessment with the calm impartiality dictated both his own self-respect as well as by the guidelines of our journal. Why be bitter? The two translations can stand up quite well side by side, and a comparison of the two cannot but be instructive for readers who want either to study the original language itself or wish to find its style reproduced in a German rendering.

Engraving from volume 6 of Soltau’s translation:


Translation © 2014 Doug Stott