Caroline’s Reviews of Erzählungen und Spiele and Eros

(8) Caroline’s review of Friedrich Neumann and Karl August Varnhagen, Erzählungen und Spiele, and Wilhelm Eulogius Meyer, Eros. [*]

(8.) N + d [Caroline] Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1807) 120 (Saturday, 23 May 1807), 345—50.

(1) Hamburg, bei Schmidt: Erzählungen und Spiele. Edited by Wilhelm Neumann and Karl August Varnhagen. 1807. 364 pages. Small 8vo. (1 Rthlr. 12 gr.)

(2) Berlin, bei Maurer: Eros. By Wilhelm Eulogius Meyer. 1805. 188 pages. Small 8vo. (14 Gr.).

We must concede to the poets in no. 1 that dealing with them is not all that easy, though we are speaking of these poets alone, namely, Messieurs Neumann, Varnhagen, Chamisso etc.; far be it from us to burden anyone or add them as a companion to anyone but themselves. For precisely that reason, however, doing battle with them is especially difficult, since they invariably return, and always in vast multitudes, and yet each individually demanding an account of the general, wearying surfeit their affectation causes; and also since, already being a parody themselves, they are so indefatigable in parodying themselves, several of them, moreover, fully aware and quite intentionally, thereby seizing control of the only weapon that might be entertaining to use against them.

Hence let us simply allow them to continue to have their way, since they cannot cease being the way they are in any case, and let us in our own turn simply indicate what this collection contains, a collection whose better assets, let us say here at the beginning, do not really derive from them. One would like to thank Herr Neumann for translating two novellas, one by Boccaccio, the other by Machiavelli, [1] since the first is less well known, not being contained in the Decameron [1353], and the other, although familiar enough — it is the one where the devil comes to earth and takes a wife — is nonetheless still a popular read, though its treatment seems rather dry juxtaposed especially with that of Boccaccio.

That notwithstanding, however, Herr N. has also diminished our gratitude a bit by the way he, as it were, literally transfers the Italian into German such that one can reconstruct it verbatim from his German rendering. Hence one might at first glance take this attempt to be the exercise of a schoolboy could one not assume with absolute certainty that the translator was indeed guided by the sort of mature principles he might, for example, ascribe to the finest masters in this area, masters intent on expressing the coloring and disposition of a foreign language to the extent such is one with the work itself, and who test the pliability of the German language precisely by nonetheless avoiding doing violence to it.

Herr N. has implemented this principle in the following way: “Eines Tages mehr als gewöhnlich von sehr schweren und unzähligen Leiden angefallen mich befindend etc.” [2] Or: “Und eines Tages mit seinen Vertrauten, Baronen, und Begleitern in solcher Kunst sich übend, geschah es, dass ein scharfzähniger Eber ganz schäumend und mit gesträubten Borsten vor ihm hinlaufend, vorbei kam und er ihn sehend, spornte sogleich das rasche Pferd, und mit dem Schwerdt in der Hand ihn verfolgend etc.” [3]

By snuggling up to the original this way, he does indeed barely miss being read, let us say, quite Italically if not agreeably. —

Benigna, a dramatic play by Varnhagen, offers some rather nice verses with both dark and light assonance, which, however, on the whole seem to offer neither light nor shade, and it presumably takes more to present in an animated fashion a tragic tableau of the sort this is supposed to be than merely for a father to kill both son and daughter, a song to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre, and to include a few hasty trochees evoking Calderon, which for precisely that reason cannot but fill every aficionado of Calderon with aversion. —

We would prefer to pass over Nero und Cato, a dialogue by †, and Fabio und Clara, a novella by Rosa Marie, the first a complete failure and tasteless, the second utterly harmless and insignificant, and the contributions of Pellegrin because we would wish a different position for them, since in and of themselves they simply cannot compensate for their inferior neighbors, whereas in better company they themselves might very well become better. [4]

What can one say about the vision Adelberts Fabel or the fairy tale Alfonso except that they are shadowy imitations of shadows and exhibit absolutely no original power or substance; [5] Adelbert cries out futilely, “O carbuncle, thou of my inner powers of self,” discovers Greek words on a talisman, and upon awakening turns his countenance toward the sun rising in the East — but it will not help him, unless perhaps he finally gets around to engaging the θελειν! [6] and thereby becomes reasonable.

Similarly, only an authoritative directive might yet be capable of delivering the outstanding judgment on the many biographical poems and sonnets by Neumann and Varnhagen; to wit, one would have to forbid them outright from composing any more. That they in their own turn, however, are far from resolving such on their own emerges in the plucky impudence expressed in the following sonnet:

Here part of my innermost self appears,
That just happened to become sonnets;
Should you find some of it too harsh,
Much is also exposed that is too soft.

Here does my poor heart yet pull
Too humbly on yearning's cord of fools;
Though a pretty beard have I since grown
And with that beard vainglorious impudence's gain.

Be it good or bad, false or true,
Weep or laugh, I weep and laugh along,
Know ye what humility and vainglory do?

Yet whether praise or rebuke I suffer,
From fools, wise men, weeping, laughing:
The light, quick blood of youth wells forth ever anew.

Which is as much as to say that we must all wait until the well runs dry.

Concerning the overall collection, let us remark yet that our poets are beginning the transition from the youthful period of seriousness into the manly period of jest, intending, moreover, to continue the same as others in every respect, remaining nowhere in arrears, in which case the serious good intent they appeared yet to cherish may very well be lost, and the final jest be yet more insipid than the first.

For quite specific reasons rather than merely by chance, we are positioning Eros as no. 2 following these Spiele here, albeit not to insult Eros, but because in it, as in the others, where at least a more fortunate disposition is evident, a similarly non-original, not quite fully developed talent elicits love.

[Vignette from title page:]


We are persuaded that this diminutive book called itself Eros on account of the consideration it both needs and merits; it could in part also be called Eris [7] on account of the satirical drama Von Heute [8] that genuinely does challenge the other part, consisting of lyrical poems and a small novel of love and education.

One might also view the former as one of our Eros’s moods, who still never really knows exactly what he wants. He vacillates quite severely especially in the novel; and although he does speak, describe, and depict quite sensibly and cleverly, a certain element of incomprehensibility nonetheless reigns that cannot become comprehensible merely by seeming to be aware of its own incomprehensibility. Everywhere one encounters imitated elements, songs, etc., but utterly without affectation, playful and cheerful; and for the sake of providing an example of how far the author’s original elements extend in appropriating the foreign, let us include the following poem here:

Our Amor

Not for the ancient, nor even more ancient races
Of those gods,
Those blustering,
Inwardly ensnaring,
Intrigue begetting,
Should you should query and yearn,

Let them be, to dwell
And wench and feast,
Mere guests they are
At Jupiter's celebrations,
Hungry, thirsty,
Thirsty, hungry.

But a single one do keep,
Who creates and rules,
Tempts and teases,
Enraptures and terrifies,
Within the realms of clouds and earth,
Within the realms of earth and clouds.
Seducing all,
Divining all
Who the spark secretly,
Hidden deep within,
Do lament and bear,
Bear and lament.

And though his modest voice
In the council of the gods
Does count for little, count for nothing;
Yet does his modest voice proceed,
Despite gods' counsel,
Ahead of them all.

And though in the coarse earthly crush
Psyche, the spouse,
She who gazes upon eternity,
Soul of the light, light in the soul,
He does sometimes lose,
The ever easy rascal he:

Nonetheless does he in life
Effervesce, ever high, ever up,
Within the heart does effervesce,
Lifting those up, through pain,
Those born somber,
To heaven on high.

Enticing them inside,
Enticing them with sweets,
With luxuriant forest glow,
Inside, inside.
Closing the door,
Imprinting the seal, exultant,

On those who are his own,
On those who are his own.

Although he does not labor excessively with artificial meters, he does dispose so readily over all that is pleasing and light with respect to sound that one occasionally becomes more readily inclined to glide past the meaning; after all, one does realize that the meaning here is intended to be light rather than profound. One cannot miss the intention in other poetic pieces, those consisting of several small poems and given a dramatic treatment, even though nowhere does any genuinely thoroughgoing conception emerge.

One of these poems is given the title “Goethe’s Birthday,” which contrasts various characters from the writer’s works, then ties them together in order to extol him. [9] Faust speaks to Iphigenie, he who is incomplete to her who is complete (that is, he who is incomplete according to his nature, not as a poem), she to him, turning away, but both turning to their common creator, where, however, Reinike recounts in between that Tasso just happens to be with the poet, who then, in departing, expresses with his unique impetuosity the enthusiasm and urge to emulate that the poet has awakened in him. Egmont and Werther speak with each other, the latter putting himself in the place of the hero, the hero putting himself in the position of the lover. Götz von Berlichingen comes to Egmont and greets him with several stanzas, at least the initial of which we would like to present here:

As when from out of the rocks' dark and mossy clefts,
High above floods of storm and winds of sea,
On a mountain's cloud-cover'd peaks
Two royal, heroic eagles do meet,
There to quench the bride [10]  in rays of sunshine:
So also two free hearts when each other they do find.
They, too, fly in bliss not unlike that of heroes
Toward their golden sun of freedom.

Wilhelm Meister concludes by repeating the final lines of those stanzas:

What devout heroes fought, what poets sang,
Is after all the yearning for God of but a single soul.

The general outline of the previously mentioned play [Von Heute] is as follows. The father, forced to leave his recently motherless family for a time, entrusts them to the care of a tutor, who is the first to surrender to madness, specifically: of the rhymed sort. The eldest son (fifteen years old) becomes an incorrigible braggart, avenger of all hideousness, disdainer of all traditional mores, a gambler, breaks the minister’s windows, etc., while the younger son composes plays. All the servants then follow his lead, the servants and cook performing the younger son’s play, Aeneas and Dido. The family’s fair cousin can imagine no greater amusement than to cultivate her crude cousin, not for the cousin’s sake, but for the sake of cultivation as such, but he responds to her with uncouth, coarse truths, as also the other fools. Finally the father sends the village schoolmaster into the town to ascertain how things stand with his family; the schoolmaster returns and recounts the mess things are in. The father himself comes along with several police officials to confront the eldest son. After the appropriate measures have been taken to restore order, the schoolmaster offers the following sentiment by way of conclusion, one we cannot but approve of in various respects:

(to the parterre, while holding a rod:)

Such was the harsh discipline of olden times.
On asses did one have youth ride;
But then, in its perfumed clothes,
Came today's age, our dear, new age.
Word had it that the asses were away, out the gate.  —
But humanity gives me pause for reservation.
What best promotes an upright character? Let God on high be judge,
Namely: a Spanish rod or Spanish poets?

So, this whole thing really is a game, everything airy and loose and aimlessly free-wheeling, though also quite without rancor; the verses and diction are wholly charming — the playwright’s rapture incomparable: the way in spirit he sees himself performed on a broad stage, summoned forth, his name borne through all the world, finally even receiving the poet’s crown from the pope himself.

Here, too, however, the internal element of thoroughness is lacking, an element that only seemingly can be missing from even such play if it is intent on achieving at least some longevity; nor do we dare hope for much more from the author than what he has already accomplished, notwithstanding he certainly provides reason enough to wish such. But even were he to persist with the talent already granted him, that talent has indeed nonetheless provided an hour of cheerful and refreshing entertainment, a compliment our aforementioned acquaintances cannot really anticipate, acquaintances whom, were it not impolite, we would kindly commend to the village schoolmaster.

N + d.


[*] The notebook to these reviews was still accessible to Erich Frank, “Caroline, Schelling, and the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, 54, who provides the following introductory remarks to this review:

This book [Erzählungen und Spiele] represents a kind of Musenalmanach, containing as it does contributions from different people, though prose as well as poetry. According to Varnhagen (Denkwürdigkeiten und vermischte Schriften, 2nd ed., 9 vols. [Leipzig 1843–59], 1:144), it genuinely was intended as a continuation of the “Green” Musenalmanach.

The review was received on 14 April 1807; Eichstädt confirms receipt on 20 April of “the wonderful review,” which he received “through Schelling’s kindness.” This turn of phrase shows that this review, too, is to be attributed to Caroline, and an observation of its style only confirms this assumption. It is highly unlikely Schelling would have written sentences such as “For precisely that reason, however, doing battle with them is especially difficult etc.” or, e.g., ” Hence one might at first glance take this attempt to be the exercise of a schoolboy etc.”

Annotations by the present translator; Frank’s original annotations indicated here as such. See also Caroline’s review of the Musenalmanach auf das Jahr 1805 since her review of Neumann and Varnhagen’s piece here functions as a kind of continuation of her critique of the Berlin Romantics. Back.

[1] [Frank:] Wilhelm Neumann’s Urbano after Boccaccio,and Belfagor after Machiavelli. Back.

[2] Here and in the next example, Caroline is emphasizing (italics) the German present and past participles. Germ. approx.: “One day finding myself more than usual befallen by extremely grievous and innumerable sufferings.” Boccaccio, Urbano. Opera bellitissima (1543), A2: “Vno giorno ritrouandomi piu che l’usato da grauissime, & innumerabili pene assalito.” Back.

[3] Germ. approx.: “And one day practicing such arts with his confidants, Barons, and companions, it happened that a sharp-toothed boar, quite frothing and with bristling hairs, running forth before him, came by, and he seeing him, immediately spurred his quick horse, and with his sword in hand pursuing him etc.” Boccaccio, Urbano. Opera bellitissima (1543), A2: “vno giorno lieto in tal arte con suoi familiari, Baroni, e compagni essercitandosi, che vno addentato Cinghiale ischiumoso tutto & con rabuffato pelo senza argomento d’altro dauanti lui correndo trappassaua. Et di cio auedendosi di subito punse il corrente cauallo, & con la spada in mano seguendolo piu volte rolpillo.” Back.

[4] [Frank:] “Fabio und Clara,” a dialogue that takes place in Elysium; the author is Bernhardi (Varnhagen, Denkwürdigkeiten 1:344). Rosa Maria is Varnhagen’s sister Rosa Maria Assing [1743–1840] (Goedeke vi:185; ADB 1:624f.). Pellegrin is Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1777–1843), who had already published under this pseudonym in the Musenalmanach auf das Jahr 1806 (Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, Lebensgeschichte des Baron Friedrich de La Motte Fouqué [Halle 1840], 274). His contributions here include a collection of poems, “Blüthenkranz,” and “Der Helden Rettung.” Back.

[5] [Frank:] “Adelberts Fabel,” by Adelbert von Chamisso, written 18–25 April 1806. Schleiermacher was full of praise for it. “Alfonso” is a “Fairy Tale by Varnhagen.” Back.

[6] [Frank:] “‘I have recognized you, you my fates of destiny,’ Adelbert cried, ‘O carbuncle, thou of my inn’r powers of self’ . . . ” [θελειν, Gk. vb., “to be resolved, inclined, willing; to wish, desire, want,” i.e., generally associated with “willing” and the “will.”] Back.

[7] Sister of Ares, goddess of quarrels and disputes, tossed the Golden Apple into the crown at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis with the inscription “To the most beautiful.” Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena competed for the apple, trying to bribe the judge, Paris, with promises. Aphrodite won the competition because she had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helene, wife of Menalaos, King of Sparta. Paris kidnapped her and thereby started the Trojan War. Back.

[8] The dramatic piece on pp. 145–88 is called “Von Heute: Ein Zeitstück in einem Akt” (“Of today: a period piece in one act”). Back.

[9] The characters are all taken from Goethe’s works: Faust. Ein Fragment (1790), Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787), Reineke Fuchs (1794); Torquato Tasso (1790); Egmont (1788); Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774); Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand (1773); Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795–96). Back.

[10] Goethe’s original reads “breast” rather than “bride.” Back.

Translation © 2018 Doug Stott