The Collected Letters, Volume 12


TC TO R. PEACOCK ; 14 September 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400914-TC-RPE-01; CL 12: 257-258


5. Cheyne Row, Chelsea, / London, 14 Sepr 1840—

Dear Sir,

Will you return many hearty thanks on my part to Herr Heintze for the Gift you were kind enough to forward from him. You judged rightly that it would give me pleasure.1 Germany will have to get acquainted with Burns yet. Four Translations in one year do seem to betoken that it wants not the will towards that!

Of Kaufmann's projected Version I recollect hearing once from Goethe; nay I think I saw some manuscript specimens of it, which however did not seem to promise much. That his, and Herr Heintze's, and two other Translations, had actually come forth in print, was certainly new to me.2

This work I find to be done throughout in a really meritorious manner, all things considered. The grammatical sense is in general accurately seized; a thing not easy to do always in such a case. The poetical expression and physiognomy is given also, more or less; if not always Burns's, then Heinze's, who I find has one of his own too. Some Songs I would even call felicitously done; I have read none that were not done creditably.

Perhaps the one counsel I should venture to give Herr Heintze were this: In all cases to learn the tune first. Thomson's Collection of Scotch Songs, Johnson's Collection,3 or other the like works are not difficult to procure; and all the Germans are musicians. The tune is the soul of a true Song,—that is to say, if it be a Song at all, if it have any soul. Burns always strummed upon the fiddle till he got his head and mind filled with the tune (such is his own account); then came the words, the thoughts, all singing themselves by that. There is tune in every syllable: they are the truest Songs, these of Burns's, that we have had in Europe for a long while. The prime root of Herr Heintze's shortcomings, where he has come short, one might define to be this, That he had forsaken the tune, that he did not know the tune: Pray tell him so, if you judge it worth while.

I should guess farther that the Germans would like well to be acquainted with Burns as man, no less than as singer. Herr Heintze might make himself at home in this; his Sketch of Burn's Life already indicates that he is on the way thither. He ought to read Lockhart's Life, Cunningham's Life, Currie's Life; above all, the Letters of Burns himself, with annotations,—till he make the whole present to his own conception.4 Much might be selected which, once judiciously put together, the whole world would like well to read, on that side of the sea as on this. My brave German friends, if their honest hearts are not all changed since I used to know them as a nation, would hail with welcome this rugged Saxon brother; one of the strongest, noblest men; a Scottish Thor, as I sometimes call him,—a true Peasant-Thundergod, as the old Scandinavian was!5

With many thanks and compliments to yourself; with grateful pleasure in the past, and good hope in the future, towards your Friend,

I remain / Dear Sir, / Yours very truly

T. Carlyle

R. Peacock Esq, / Lübeck