Caroline’s Review of The Health Springs

Caroline’s Review of Die Gesundbrunnen. Ein Gedicht in vier Gesängen. [*]

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1798) 374 (Saturday, 8 December 1798) 633–36.

Leipzig, bei Göschen: Die Gesundbrunnen. Ein Gedicht in vier Gesängen. By Valerius Wilhelm Neubeck, Doctor of the Medical Sciences. In Latin font. 1798. 94 pages. Folio. The same in German font. 112 pages. Octavo. (16 gr.).

The first edition of this poem was extensively reviewed in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 243. At the conclusion of that review, the reviewer, who enjoyed the rare pleasure of drawing attention to a hitherto insufficiently acknowledged talent (whereas the usual task generally consists in trying to counter, often futilely, excessive praise), expressed his wish that such a distinguished piece be published in an externally more commendable form as well.

This wish has in fact now been fulfilled earlier and to a far greater degree than one might have anticipated at the time. The publisher has enlisted the utmost care and made the most expensive printing arrangements to bring to completion the tasteful splendor of this folio edition, and anyone already familiar with the previous products of this printer can appreciate what it means when we in our own turn say that even those products have been surpassed here.

It is less the custom here than among the English or French to publish in larger formats works of belles lettres or in general anything making claims to elegance; in this present case, however, by its very nature, no smaller could have been chosen. The typographical arts are in general uncomfortable with verses and would frankly prefer everything to be written in prose; after all, regularly broken hexameters will never yield a handsome column, and even in a quarto format the font would invariably come out too small or the width too broad. By contrast, in a moderate folio these relationships of height and breadth, line spacing, and font size could be arranged in the most pleasing fashion. And such has indeed been accomplished here, with everything placed in the very best light through clean, precise printing.


The printing ink is extremely powerful, filling the letter outlines with no gaps (which is precisely the most difficult problem in deluxe editions) yet without falling outside. The finish on the Swiss paper is clean and everywhere consistent, nowhere exhibiting any excessive shine; given the format size, this otherwise excellent paper might possibly have been a bit more substantial. Were we to criticize anything about the delicate font, which was cut in Germany itself, it would be that the initials (at least in part) do not exhibit the exactly the same height as the lower-case letters extending above the line. —

Although four landscapes by Herr Veith, [1] a quite ingenious artist, were supposed to adorn this edition, certain obstacles made their delivery impossible; hence as it is, only one such landscape accompanies a poem, after Klengel [2] in aquatint. Its background is an airy, gently rising distant landscape, in the foreground a forest and bushes with naiads at a brook. [3]


This inviting appearance was naturally the first thing to occupy us, simultaneously giving us the opportunity to delight in the progress made by the typographical arts in this country, an art form that doubtless is not merely a matter of luxury, but certainly also of taste, possessing as it were its own, internal architectonic principle.

As far as the work itself is concerned, it needed but quite modest improvements, and any more excessive use of the file might have been dangerous. As it is, the poet has indeed not failed to engage a helping hand where needed, but has done so quite cautiously; in a precise comparison with the first edition, this reviewer found almost no changes that were not improvements, no addenda that did not profit the piece. Indeed, several of the verses that had previously been neglected amid the otherwise considerable rhythmic wealth and beauty have been elevated to the lilting level of the others. Thus we read at the very beginning the verse [4] :

Wer in eure Felsenhallen, ihr reinen Najaden? [5]

where the four trochees without caesura affront the ear, have now become:

Wer in das Innre der stillen Behausungen junger Najaden? [6]

Several hexameters lacking caesurae were nonetheless left standing of the sort which, depending on one’s interpretation of the ancients, Klopstock allows but Voss prohibits. The nymph’s lengthened discourse on page 18 now motivates the poet’s journey into the subterranean world of the vulcans even better:

Not without some promise of God, not without the guardianship
Of a hidden power, are the sons of inspiration.

This reviewer cannot, however, approve the substitution of Hellas Oceaninen (p. 28) with Ephydriaden, a more learned designation but also one occurring only among the later Greeks and in any case less melodious. If the derivation of Oceaninen was not entirely correct, then only Oceaniden need be used. In the second canto, the characterizations of health springs have been augmented with two more, of which we will here present that of the mineral spring in Bilin in Bohemia:

But for whom is the grove solemnly silent? Is this precinct here
Sacred to the local god? Is there a temple of the nymphs here?
Does perhaps Bilina herself slumber there in mossy grotto?
O you, who does approach the halls of the white naiad,
Step gently across the threshhold and refresh yourself! In thanks do lay
Spring's brightest flower for her on the stone altar,
Silently, and entreat in festive tranquility the goddess that you might thrive.

On page 57 we read the following about a young man who by capriciously ruining his health transgressed against Hygieia and is now justifiably pursued by Nemesis:

He on whom in serious judgment the requiter does impose ill,
Will on earth henceforth never escape heart-gnawing grief.
Joylessly will he wander about, only lamenting his uneasy fate,
Amid the moaning of woe-threatening birds, in deserted forests.
For him does May crown itself in vain; its brightest sounds
Echo to him like the dirge of the dead. And alas! how the blossom
On his cheeks does wilt away! How premature age does pale
His locks! Lament this young man, O nymphs, lament him!
For not even your vivifying spring can save him.

This previously read as follows:

Like Orestes, driven to and fro, does he roam through the wilderness,
Wander about in forests, where the raven's moaning alone
Awakens him from anxious dreams. His peace of mind has fled;
Nature is dead for him. And alas! How the blossom
On his cheeks does wilt away, which the rose oil of health
Did yet lately color etc.

As one can see, several instances of exaggerated expressions and metaphors have been eliminated, something of which one becomes more aware only by comparing this new reading; to wit, the painting is now composed of more delicate and yet equally powerful colors. Solely the words für ihn [7] have apparently been incorrectly scanned; the correct scanning is ∪ —. Why not “Ihm bekränzet etc.”? [8] A charming metaphor has been appended to the reminiscence of the flourishing splendor of former classical Italy:

Where earlier at Lyaeus' [9]  altar the festive Etrurian goblet
Was crowned by fiery youths, extolling him on high in the fathers' song,
The cheerful god, there now blows, in melancholy, as if round graves,
Spring's own breath through the swaying reeds in the swamp.

At the end of the third canto, the poet recalls his deceased spouse in a tender lament that follows easily in place and in a subtle turn of phrase is announced as a later addendum:

Now lament, my song! Yourself as well, dearest Lina.

As proof that Herr also quite capable of sacrificing something that is not entirely objectionable, in that same canto an allegorical image of time as it appears in different guises to fools and the wise has been eliminated, an image not at all completely void of poetic richness and meaning and which only on closer examination does seem a bit overladen, replaced by a recommendation to read poets aloud as a form of beneficial recreation. —

We doubt not that the author will now harvest the appropriate rewards for his efforts in the form of universal acclaim, and that this splendid edition of the Gesundbrunnen will be viewed as an enduring monument on the basis of its inner value as well.


[*] “The health springs. A poem in four cantos.” — Footnotes are those of the present editor. — Concerning Caroline’s authorship, see Wilhelm Schlegel to Georg Joachim Göschen on 31 October 1798 (letter 207a) with note 3. — Because Caroline devotes considerable space in this review to a discussion of format and especially font, a representative sample is provided for reference (from the passage she cites that begins “But for whom is the grove solemnly silent? Is this precinct here etc.”). Back.

[1] Johann Philipp Veith (1768–1837). Back.

[2] Johann Christian Klengel (1751–1824). Back.

[3] Although illustrations are indeed positioned at the beginning of each of the four cantos, the one to which Caroline here refers stands as a frontispiece before the title page. Click on the following image to open a gallery of all five illustrations in the volume:



[4] Here in the original German for the sake of comparison. Back.

[5] Lit.: “Who [comes/enters] into your halls of rock, O pure naiads?” Back.

[6] Lit. “Who [comes/enters] into the interior of the quiet dwellings of young naiads?” Back.

[7] In the line “Für ihn bekränzt umsonst sich der May,” ” For him does May crown itself in vain.” Back.

[8] Caroline suggests replacing für ihn with the (here) semantically similar dative ihm to accommodate the correct meter. Back.

[9] Dionysos. Back.

Translation © 2013 Doug Stott