Caroline’s Review of Samuel Gottlieb Bürde, Poetische Schriften

(4) Caroline’s Review of the
Samuel Gottlieb Bürde, Poetische Schriften (Breslau, Leipzig 1805) [*]

Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung
(1805) 153 (Friday, 28 June 1805), 611–13.

Bss [Caroline], Breslau u. Leipzig, b. Korn: Poetische Schriften by Sam. Gottlieb Bürde. 1805. Vol. 2. 378 pages. 8vo. (1 Rthlr. 8 gr.). [1]

This second collection has neither elicited particularly high expectations nor seems to make any claims to such; it resembles the first in the tranquility residing on its own pages and contrasting pleasantly with noisier but certainly not more substantial writings, as also in the monotony of its forms, which betray no trace of any more recent study, and contains even more translations than that first collection. The first section, or fourth book of mixed poems, offers elegies modeled after the English, in part descriptive, in part didactic poesy in which the author has always felt most at home, igniting his talent on his English models in this area and thereafter steadfastly practicing it. A pure, flowing language and the melody of Gray’s “Country Churchyard” permeates the whole. [2] One example is “Das Nonnenkloster,” [3] a clear adaptation of the latter in which the dramatic element, namely, the introduction of the elegiac singer, seems forced, and in which the object of the lament might be capable of a rather comical interpretation. Let us adduce the following stanza as a sample of the rendering into German of the English original. [4]

Many a girl, like Juliet and Laura, here
Ingloriously fades; another, who e'en at dawn
To the modest garden hastens, there flowers to tend,
Might in a son raise another Goethe for us.

Such is followed by Alzire, adapted for the German theater, that is, a pleasant excerpt in carelessly constructed iambics with regard to which one must completely disavow the demand that a French tragedy as such be rendered here. [5] . The translator merely had the material itself in mind. He has eliminated the expansive treatment of the original; softened, in his play’s dramatic disposition, the edges and hardness of the French conventions and the characteristic peculiarities of its rhetoric; better rounded off the intrigue according to the usual views and transferred it into the action; and allowed the characters, if one will, to appear more natural, none of which, however, has managed to produce any more elevated effect for the stage. The character of Guzman has from the outset been presented in a bit more humane light, presumably in order better to motivate his conversion at the end; only once does he himself speak more arrogantly than in the original:

But what now my demand? Guzman's father to
Humble himself, a favor to request?

Whereas the original reads:

Je rougis, que mon père
Pour l'intérèt d'un fils s'abaisse à la prière. [6] 

He has Zamor court-marshaled, but during the proceedings Zamor himself sneaks in and murders him. [7] This action takes place on the stage itself, as is the custom in the German theater, but generates an awkward situation: although Zamor clearly presents himself as an assassin, the father, Alvarez, much too obviously appears to value the person who saved his own life more highly than the life of his own son — thus the ease with which an even more profoundly seated impropriety arises when one convention is exchanged for another. The many references to grossiers climats and sauvages vertus [8] with which Voltaire was wont to refer to foreign peoples, with whom he and his tragedies fairly made the rounds in the world, have been repressed; instead Zamor exits once with a, in fact, the only lyrical stanza that might fit the traditional “song of the savage.” Several passages among the best within the overall sense of the original have been scorned in the adaptation, e.g., “Manes de mon Amant, j’ai donc trahi ma foi etc.[9] .

Also Alzira’s prayer for Zamor:

Grand dieu condui Zamore au milieu des deserts etc. [10]

And when she says to Emira:

Va, la honte serait de trahir ce que j’aime etc. [11]

Furthermore, instead of her explanation concerning the path Zamor might take to save himself, namely, that of becoming a Christian:

Mais renoncer aux dieux que l’on croit dans son coeur
C’est le Crime d’un Lâche et non pas une erreur.
C’est trahier à la fois sous un masque hypocrite
Et le dieu que l’on sert, et le dieu que l’on quitte,
C’est mentir au ciel même, à l’univers, à soi.
Mourons, mais en mourant sois digne encor de moi. [12]

Here she answers thus to Zamor’s question [13] :

Zamor. Speak
How am I to choose?

Alzira. —As your heart counsels you!
Look in my eyes! My gaze is serene,
My breast breathes freely!

in which one unfortunately cannot fail to be reminded of Thekla in Wallenstein. [14] Thus has the piece been utterly displaced from the specific perspective from which it was originally treated, and with which the translator, moreover, seems to lack rigorous familiarity. Within that which is most restricted and alien, however, a resolute or even elevating effect can yet come about for which a one-sided expansion offers no substitute, merely suspending the former. One of the passages in which the author stayed closest to the original and at the same time rendered most successfully, is the following:

De tout ce nouveau Monde Alzire est le Môdelle,
Les peuples incertains fixent les yeux sur elle,
Son coeur aux Castillans va donner tous les coeurs,
L’Amérique à genoux adoptera nos moeurs,
La foi doit y jetter des racines profondes,
Votre hymen est le Noeud, qui joindra les deux mondes. [15]

Our present author:

Alvarez. . . . She, Alzira,
The pride, the jewel of this new world,
Will deliver the hearts of her entire people to you
As dowry; following her example will
America adopt European customs;
The sacred bond uniting her with you
Shall join the new world with the old,
And every heart shall beat for Spain alone,
And for the Christians’ faith! [16]

It is better to say nothing concerning the author’s attempt in this same volume to adapt Wieland’s Don Sylvio von Rosalva to a singspiel; [17] insofar as the original idea retained not the slightest spark of life, we must unfortunately view it as utterly dead. A reader can, however, linger with considerable enjoyment over the few pages with the author’s own lieder and short didactic poems constituting the volume’s conclusion. The former are attractive through their pleasing locution without any further opulence; the pace within the most important poem among the latter is unfortunately just not consistent and forward-moving enough, turning back and forth from higher to more subordinated perspectives, and since it discloses neither new nor grand perspectives in any case, all the more could it have used a more prudent economy.



[*] Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (1805) 153 (Friday, 28 June 1805), 611–13. Reprinted in Erich Frank, Rezensionen über schöne Literatur von Schelling und Caroline in der Neuen Jenaischen Literatur-Zeitung (Heidelberg 1912), 34—36. Concerning this and reviews (1) and (2) earlier, see Erich Frank’s introduction. In general see Erich Frank, “Caroline, Schelling, and the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung.” Frank’s footnotes below are prefaced by his name; in several others, the present editor has provided additional or more complete bibliographical information as well as pertinent additional texts. Back.

[1] Schelling is often listed as the author of this review. [Frank:] S. G. Bürde was born in 1753 in Breslau, where he also died in 1831. During his time, he was a rather esteemed writer, editions of whose works were still being published in the 1830s (Goedeke V, §273, 20). Back.

[2] [Frank:] Thomas Gray (1716–71) is the well-known English lyric poet, famous especially for his “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard”(1751), which was soon translated into numerous other languages. Back.

[3] “The convent,” Bürde, Poetische Schriften, 38–48. Back.

[4] Tenth stanza, Poetische Schriften, 42. The reference “Juliet and Laura” is alluding to Christian Felix Weisse’s adaptation Romeo und Julie (1767), in which the character of Laura is Juliet’s confidante. Back.

[5] [Frank:] The original play was Voltaire, Alzire ou les Américains (1736). Back.

[6] Voltaire, Alzira, act 1, scene 1, in The Dramatic Works of Mr. De Voltaire, trans. Rev. Mr. Francklin, vol. vi (London 1763), 199:

And yet it hurts my soul [lit.: I blush with shame] to think Alvarez [his father]
Shou’d stoop so low, and be a suppliant for me. Back.

[7] Erich Frank’s transcription (35) reads “Er lässt aber Zamor ein Kriegsgericht halten,” “But he has Zamore conduct a court martial,” whereas the original review in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung reads “Er lässt über Zamor etc.,” lit., “He has Zamore court-marshaled” (my emphasis). Back.

[8] Fr., “coarse, rough climes,” “savage, wild virtues.” Back.

[9] Alzira, act 3, scene 1, The Dramatic Works of Mr. De Voltaire, 225–26; Alzira’s soliloquy:

Ye manes of my dear departed Zamor,
Forgive me, O forgive the wife of Guzman!
The holy altar hath receiv’d our vows,
And they are seal’d in heav’n: pursue me not,
Indignant shade! O if Alzira’s tears,
Her bitter anguish, her remorse, the pangs
Of her reluctant soul, can reach the dead,
If in a happier world thou still retain’st
Thy gen’rous noble spirit, thou wilt pardon
My weakness; ’twas a father’s cruel will,
A people’s happiness requir’d it of me;
Cou’d I refuse the dreadful sacrifice?
Thou art at peace, my Zamor, do not thus
Distract my soul, but leave me to my fate;
Alas! already it has cost me dear. Back.

[10] Alzira, act 4, scene 5, The Dramatic Works of Mr. De Voltaire, 250:

Oh God of Christians, thou all conqu’ring pow’r,
Whom yet I know not, O remove the cloud
From my dark mind; if by my fatal passion
I have offended thee, pour all thy vengeance
On me, but spare my Zamor; O conduct
His wand’ring footsteps thro’ the dreary desart!
Is Europe only worthy of thy care?
Are thou the partial parent of one world,
And tyrant o’er another? all deserve
Thy equal love, the victor and the vanquish’d
Are all the work of thy creating hand. Back.

[11] Alzira, act 4, scene 3, The Dramatic Works of Mr. De Voltaire, 247:

Attend on her
Who wou’d betray the man she loves; this shame
Thou talk’st of is an European phantom,
Which fools mistake for virtue! ’tis the love
Of glory not of justice, not the fear
Of vice but of reproach; a shame unknown
In these untutor’d climes, where honour shines
In its own native light, and scorns the aid
Of such false lustre; honour bids me save
A lover and a hero thus deserted. Back.

[12] Alzira, act 5, scene 5, The Dramatic Works of Mr. De Voltaire, 261:

But to renounce those gods our heart adores;
That is no venial error, but a crime
Of deepest die; it is to give up both
The God we worship, and the God we leave;
‘Tis to be false to heaven, to the world,
and to ourselves: no, Zamor, if thou dy’st,
Die worthy of Alzira. Back.

[13] Bürde, “Alzire,” act 5, scene 4, Poetische Schriften, 188. Back.

[14] Schiller, Wallensteins Tod, act 3, scene 21; English: The Death of Wallenstein, trans. S. T. Coleridge, in The Works of Frederick Schiller: Historical and Dramatic (London 1887), 382–83:

Max. Lay all upon the balance, all — then speak,
And let thy heart decide it.

Thekla. O, thy own
Hath long ago decided. Follow thou
Thy heart’s first feeling —

Countess. Oh! ill-fated woman!

Thekla. Is it possible, that that can be the right,
That which thy tender heart did not at first
Detect and seize with instant impulse? Go,
Fulfill thy duty! I should ever love thee
Whate’er thou hadst chosen, thou wouldst still have acted
Nobly and worthy of thee — but repentance
Shall ne’er disturb thy soul’s fair peace. Back.

[15] Alzira, act 1, scene 1, The Dramatic Works of Mr. De Voltaire, 200:

To this a new world shines forth a bright example.
She only can unite the jarring nations,
And make us happy; thy long wish’d-for nuptials
Shall join two distant globes; these fierce barbarians,
Who now detest our laws, when they shall see
The daughter of their king in Guzman’s arms,
Chearful beneath thy easy yoke shall bend
Their willing hearts, and soon be all our own. Back.

[16] Bürde, “Alzire,” act 1, scene 1, Poetische Schriften, 106–7. Back.

[17] [Frank:] The complete title of Christoph Martin Wieland’s piece is Der Sieg der Natur über die Schwärmerey, oder die Abentheuer des Don Sylvio von Rosalva, Eine Geschichte, worinn alles Wunderbare natürlich zugeht, 2 vols. (Ulm 1764). Bürde’s piece as published in the volume being here reviewed, pp. 195–328, was set to music and adapted for piano by Gottlob Bachmann (1763–1840), Don Sylvio von Rosalva, oder der Sieg der Natur über die Schwärmerey: Eine komische Oper in zwey Aufzügen (Braunschweig 1797). Back.

Translation © 2017 Doug Stott