Caroline’s Review of the Bibliothek der Robinsone and Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren

(6) Caroline’s Review of the
Bibliothek der Robinsone in zweckmäßigen Auszügen and
Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren [*]

(6) Bss [Caroline] Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1806) 42 (Wednesday, 19 February 1806), 334–36.

Berlin, bei Unger: Bibliothek der Robinsone in zweckmäßigen Auszügen, by the author of Die graue Mappe. 1805. Vol. 1. 406 pages. 8vo. With vignettes. (1 Rthlr. 12 gr.).

Leipzig, bei Steinacker: Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren. 1805. Vol. 1. 272 pages. Vol. 2. 335 pages. 8vo. With title engravings. (2 Rthlr. 8 gr.) [1]

The enterprise of assembling a “library of Robinsons,” given the scope we encounter here and willingness to provide excerpts from even the most distant imitations or distortions, is indeed at once one of the more refined and subtle enterprises aimed at the public. Yet in such hands a more concentrated overview of this subject matter would certainly have been extremely welcome.

The introduction demonstrates that the editor has construed his subject matter with a correct understanding of the attendant universally human element and also possesses the requisite historical information. Why, however, did he not simply translate Robinson anew, and have it printed in its entirety, instead of providing this unabridged excerpt, in which rather than introducing Robinson in his own narrative, instead narrates about him, doing so, moreover, in a writing style that although on the whole is quite animated and stimulating, nonetheless is far too pretentious, too rhetorical, and here and there even too stiff not to rob it of something of its natural form and unaffected overall disposition.

Then the host of successors might have been merely fleetingly sketched to the extent they differ more or less each from the other according to their general inclinations and express something more specific, e.g., the way Campe’s Robinson addresses the pedagogy of the age. [2]

For what can be less expedient [3] than excerpts from dull, banal incidents, an infinite perspective on which is disclosed to us here, one opening up vistas to every possible adventure, albeit a perspective we also admittedly cannot hereby hope to stem. Contra the view of the editor, which treats the initiator of Robinson as not much more than a mere scribbling hack, let us remark only that Defoe executed his own, ingenious conception too successfully for him not to have found its fertile seed with extremely open eyes. [4]

True, the least of his concerns is to posit in Robinson an example of how a human being, as long as his feet but still touch the earth, like Anteus, cannot be overwhelmed and, left solely to himself, will yet make himself its master if in his early youth he has but acquired considerable mechanical skills.

To the contrary, he by no means robs him of the most necessary elements, equipping him instead so richly that our uncomfortable, indeed painful concern for the shipwrecked man is soon mitigated and transformed into genuinely cheerful interest, whereupon everything that happens subsequently the author then distributes and positions such that even the tiniest circumstance acquires a kind of romantic interest, the successful implementation of this or that gadget becoming an event, and the footprints in the sand a tragic mystery that makes not just Robinson alone shiver.

He has conceived and drawn his character with considerable insight, and this merit continues in full force in part two as well. He has him find and recognize a God on the desolate island about whom he had never thought in his previous desolate life, but only to the extent allowed by his limited nature, which as a matter of fact does not destine him to become another evangelist John who might compose “revelations” on the desolate island. The Bible he accidentally rescues and which he had known only in the form of lifeless letters now becomes animated and turns into a convivial oracle that must offer him comforting aphorisms. The internal disquiet that pursues him is the salt that also preserves him in solitude, solitude making him egoistic, domineering, and mistrustful, as is also commensurate with his restricted nature.

The more beautiful nature of his subsequent companion, however, Friday, who is nothing but love, affection, courage, and joy, provides a touching contrast. Robinson’s proselytizing and intolerance as manifested in part two are doubtless an important feature, and even in the larger sense the details here similarly attest considerable powers of invention, albeit not consistently enough implemented to give the continuing story an overall interesting enough turn such that two different but genuinely harmonious parts might have emerged. —

This editor thus deserves praise in every way for having recalled Robinson in his more inspired form after he has had to serve the present age as a mere marionette for learning technical skills.

The Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren stands in a reverse relationship to the previous piece, since in order to accomplish something solid, it would have to have been conceived more expansively. Here one has merely short excerpts and narratives collected together under certain rubrics, incomplete, with no attention to either the sequence or connection between ages and nations, so that the whole is nothing more than arbitrarily chosen samples of this or that romantic or wondrous element — “a sample card of all shrub types” — and a dried one at that. And as such it has become a rather ordinary reading book, albeit one still more to be recommended than a hundred others at the moment.

For, after all, it has better background support. The editor has also generally indicated his sources, giving those unfamiliar with them the opportunity to follow up. It seems to us, however, that a single poetic piece of this sort, enjoyed in its authentic form, is better able to awaken a sense for all such works than nibbling on such an enormous number of incomplete examples.

It is, by the way, difficult to understand — even given the less-than-rigorous overall disposition here — how the French-appreté [5] Endymion (l’Endymion [Paris 1620]) found its way into this series of folk legends, since otherwise Greek myths are nowhere addressed; or Prince Ahmed, [6] (Le gout dans l’amour [Paris 1746]), a frivolous and extremely tasteless French story.



[*] Frank’s footnotes below are prefaced by his name; in several, the present editor has also silently supplied additional or more complete bibliographical information or images. Back.

[1] [Frank:] The author of Die graue Mappe aus Ewald Rinks Verlassenschaft¸ 4 vols. (Berlin 1790–94) was Johann Christian L. Haken (1767–1835). While working as a pastor in Symbow, he became friends with Schleiermacher, who at the time was a pastor in Stolpe (1802). See Goedeke VI, 380, no. 8.

[Title vignette of the Bibliothek der Robinsone, vol. 1:]


The editor of the Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren was Christian August Vulpius (1762–1827), Goethe’s brother-in-law and the author of the famous robber novel Rinaldo Rinaldini, der Räuberhauptmann. Eine romantische Geschichte unseres Jahrhunderts, 3 vols. (Leipzig 1798) [see letter 392b, note 1]. Goedeke V, 512, 42; Carl Müller-Fraureuth, Räuber- und Ritterromane (Halle 1894), 77–82; Die Ritter-, Räuber- und Schauerromantik. Zur Geschichte der deutschen Unterhaltungs-Literatur (Leipzig 1859), 42–53.

[Title vignette from Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren, vol. 1:]


[Frontispiece and title vignette from Bibliothek des Romantisch-Wunderbaren, vol. 2:]



[2] [Frank:] Johann Heinrich Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere appeared in Hamburg in 1792 — and the 116th printing in 1894. [Here the frontispiece and title vignette to vol. 1 of the edition of 1780:]




[3] Germ. unzweckmässiger, a play on the subtitle (thus the reading in the original Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung). Frank reads zweckmässiger, “more expedient.” Back.

[4] [Franke:] Daniel Defoe’s (1660–1731) novel, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York appeared in 1719, the first German translation already in 1720. (See Hermann Hettner, Robinson und die Robinsonaden. Ein Vortrag. Gehalten im wissenschaftlichen Verein zu Berlin [Berlin 1854]). Back.

[5] Fr., “affected, manneristic.” Back.

[6] The youngest of three sons of a Sultan of the Indies in One Thousand and One Nights. Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott