Caroline’s Review of Mistress Inchbald, Natur und Kunst

Caroline’s Review of Mistress Inchbald, Natur und Kunst (1797) [*]

Leipzig: Reinicke and Hinrichs. Natur und Kunst oder der Karakter der Menschen gründet sich auf Erziehung: Eine Geschichte in zwey Theilen. Trans. from the English of Mistress [Elizabeth] Inchbald. 1797. 250 pages. 8vo. (18 gr.).

Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1797) 48 (Saturday 11 February 1797) 383–84:


Although one cannot pick up a work by the authoress of the Simple Story [1] without the most favorable feelings of anticipation, such anticipation in this case is unfortunately not in the slightest justified. The necessity Mistress Inchbald adduced in that earlier piece as her muse performed incomparably more comely service to her than the didactic intentions that here stand at her side and which the title already so unequivocally announces. For here one wholly misses the charming, heartfelt interest she otherwise so delicately managed to preserve in the willful peculiarity or imperfection of her characters.

Indeed one notices hardly a trace of this lighter, more facile gift of portrayal here. Art is unpleasantly concealed, nature painfully awkward, and the result nothing more than repugnant impressions. The emotional insensibility and misery of the one brother and his descendants are portrayed far more vividly than the good heartedness of the other line, and their sparse rewards pleasantly recounted.

The younger Heinrich seems to lack only resolve to improve his lot earlier, for he must then wander about for almost twenty years in the farthest corners of the earth before finding his beloved again — unmarried and faithful, to be sure, but also all the more advanced in age. It is incomprehensible why this episode is not considerably shorter and why the reader’s imagination has been so severely taken to task insofar as the authoress has already quite sufficiently tormented her with the misfortune of another poor girl who receives the death sentence for a transgression from a judge who was in fact her seducer.

As far as the stated principle is concerned, namely, that character is based on upbringing and education: the authoress does indeed try to demonstrate its veracity quite methodically in one example, but then contradicts it in yet another. For what exactly was the difference in the upbringing of the two brothers who arrived in town after their father’s death with a small bundle over their shoulders? —

Individual episodes that are both true and moving are ruined thus by the deficient, anxious disposition and ill effects of the whole.

Thus the original. — The translation, utterly and carelessly dashed off, is even less worth reading.


[*] Original English: Nature and Art, 2 vols. (London 1796). — Illustrations: frontispiece and title page from Vienna edition of 1797. Back.

[1] Eine einfache Geschichte, trans. Meta Forkel, 4 vols. (Leipzig 1792); Engl. 2nd ed., London 1791. Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott