1824- 1825

The Collected Letters, Volume 3


TC TO HENRY CRABB ROBINSON; 29 April 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18250429-TC-HCR-01; CL 3:316-319.


Haddington, 29th April, 1825—

My Dear Sir,

Knowing by repeated experience your readiness to oblige, I make no scruple of applying to you in the present emergency; more especially as it relates to a department of business, in which you take a deep interest for its own sake.

I have engaged with an Edinburgh Bookseller to prepare three or four volumes of Translations from the German intended as Specimens of their chief novel-writers, with Prefaces, Lives, and Criticisms, and all the addenda, which may serve to procure them a good-natured reception from the English public. My acquaintance with this branch of German literature is small, for it does not stand by any means in the highest favour with me; yet I calculate pretty confidently on being able to select a handful of sound wheat from the loads of chaff which I have yet examined only on the surface; and being naturally anxious to effect this as perfectly as possible, I have determined on soliciting the benefit of your knowledge and taste to aid me in my choice. The Bookseller leaves me unlimited freedom; he has no information on the subject, and few counsellors by whose light it were safe to walk. So far as I can judge, his chief dependance seems to be on the Völksmährchen [folk tales] and Rittererzählungen [romances of chivalry] of our neighbours; on Musäus, La Motte Fouqué, Lafontaine,1 and the other “mob of gentlemen” who write for the venerable Plebs of the reading community. I dislike these people, but must not altogether neglect them. For the sake of popularity independent of merit, I must try to get a specimen or two from each of these notable personages; but my chief dependance is placed on Tieck, Richter,2 Wieland and Goethe. From the last I have already determined to take Werter, Melusine, and what you told me Schlegel called the Mährchen aller Mährchen.3 In Wieland, I think, I shall find an article or two in the Hexameron von Rosenhain,4 or elsewhere; valuable more for its author's than its own qualities, but giving room for some discussion on that topic and therefore useful for me. Of Richter I yet know little; I have looked into his Herbst-Bluminen,5 his Flegeljahre, and am now reading his Fibel. It is easy to see already that next to Goethe (and Tieck?) he is the best man in Germany: but his extravagance and barbarism will render the task of selecting from him one of some difficulty. The Phantasien which you lent me are all I know of Tieck; but I must if possible have him included in my list, and some of his smaller tales I hope will give me the opportunity. There is also one Hoffman whose Elixiere des Teufels6 was translated last year in Edinburgh (with small success), concerning whom I could like to have some farther information. As to Claurens with his Scherz und Ernst,7 I have got the book beside me, but put no faith in it.

Now, my dear Sir, could you “of your own knowledge,” or by consulting with any of your German friends, afford me advice in this matter? Could you learn for me which is Lafontaine's best novel in one moderate volume? I have read his Raphael (in French), his Rudolph von Werdenberg, and his Tinchen (in German): there is genius in all of these; but whether any of them is among the best of his half-a-century of works, I have no means of ascertaining. Do you know the character of his Sagen aus dem Alterthume and his kleine Romane?8 Which is Tieck's best novel? La Motte Fouqué's best novel or novels of the small sort? Is it Ondine? This they wish me to translate, thinking it badly done at present: but after reading the original, I despise it a good deal. Can you tell me which is the Baroness La Motte Fouque's best?9 Some of her little Tales are good: I must give a specimen both of her and her husband; but I wish to make them very short, for they are intrinsically very slender people.

In Edinburgh are several handsome collections of German Books, to most or all of which I have obtained or shall obtain access; particularly to that in the Advocates Library, one of the most numerous if not the best selected in the kingdom. Still the quantity of books I shall have access to, compared with the quantity I should wish to read before making a final choice, is inconsiderable; and as buying on the great scale is out of the question, I am anxious to have the range of my examination narrowed before commencing. For this purpose I put no small trust in you. I doubt not you will give me minutely your own thoughts on the matter; and transmit me those of your German friends in whose judgement you most rely. Has not Mrs Aders10 (the lady who lent me Wilhelm Meister) great skill in such things[?] So great is my confidence in your goodness that if you could readily procure me a loan of any quantity of books likely to be of use to me, I should not hesitate to ask you to take the trouble of sending them for my perusal and criticism: consigned to a Bookseller in London, they might with the greatest ease and speed be sent to my Bookseller in Edinr, and thence to my abode. This seems a strange proposal: but when I look at your Don Quixote and Quevedo,11 I hardly think it stranger than your kindness of disposition. At all events I count on your favouring me with your advice, the first hour you have leisure. I make no apology for the trouble I am giving you; but I hope I shall not feel the obligation of it the less on that account. If you write within a week after this arrives (which would be very desirable), please to direct to No 18. Salisbury-street, Edinr: if not till after that, it will be safer to say: Mainhill, Ecclefechan, Dumfries-shire, where I am to be all summer.

In a short while I mean to send you one of those Schillers that you may send it to Goethe: then, I shall try to write less drily. At present I must stick to the naked point of business; and even this I can hardly yet handle in intelligible terms: crowds of people are about me, hurrying me, and crossing me. I must pray you to make the best of it, and to believe me always, with true esteem,

My Dear Sir, / Most faithfully yours, /

Thomas Carlyle12