TC TO WILLIAM TAIT; 3 November 1825; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18251103-TC-WT-01; CL 3:401-404.
TC TO WILLIAM TAIT
Hoddam Hill, Ecclefechan, 3d November, 1825—
My Dear Sir,
I might have sent you up those borrowed Books ere now; for, except one, I had done with them all some considerable time ago; but I waited till I should find an opportunity of sending them commodiously and safely. My Brother is about setting out for College; he will deliver them to you the week after next. I write at present to consult with you about the object they were meant to serve; and to request that if possible you would have a farther supply of materials in readiness against the time of my Brother's arrival. I have been extremely idle all summer; and now when the wild weather is come, I am grown outrageously diligent.
Our Literary Project, in the course of my reading and inquiring and considering about it, has begun to assume a more settled form in my mind of late, tho' as yet I have scarcely half a volume of the work in readiness. Out of all these forty tomes I gleaned nothing printable, except a few choice pieces from the Phantasus of Tieck.1 My future progress however will be far easier. I have made investigations and received advices; and if once the material were lying on my table, fairly settled and cut up for translating, I should not mind tho' the printing were ready to commence.
I wrote to London to a Friend,2 who has lived long in Germany, and is on terms of intimacy with several of the Literati of that country, and with all the friends of German literature in England. He dissuades me strongly from meddling with Werter; says it was translated from the original some years ago in London, by one Render,3 and met with no encouragement; the world being already overflowed with the spurious copies, and perhaps little able to appreciate the superiority of the real ones. I suspect Render to be a foreigner, and that his translation was bad. However, I confess my own opinion very much agrees with that of my friend in this matter. Curiosity is dead on the subject of Werter; and really notwithstanding all its popularity it is among the poorest performances of Goethe. I had worked off a sheet or two of it; but gave it up in a sort of disgust. I think it will answer much better to take Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre once for all, and fill a volume with this Master of German novellists. As a story Wilhelm Meister is incomplete and uninteresting; but it binds together a mass of fine little tales and disquisitions; and the book on the whole has the breath of eternal life within it; and will be read and re-read when millions of others that are making such a stir beside it now are quiet as the last year's Almanack. There is also a strange little tale by Goethe, which Schlegel calls the “tale of all tales”;4 tho' I doubt whether it will ever make a fortune in England, I am translating it at present. These two I think, should make the last and best volume of the three.
For the First Volume I propose a selection from the five volumes of Musäus' “Popular Tales,” which I already have in my possession; the “Tales” of Tieck, which I have already translated; and perhaps the Undine of La Motte Fouqué, tho this, both as being at present in English, and the work of no very first-rate man, is not at all a prime favourite with me. However by reason of his popularity I think it would be well to admit him, and Undine or Sintram might be as good a specimen as any. His wife the Baroness, with Claurens and a whole host of such small deer, I am strictly cautioned5 to exclude altogether, and indeed in the present series I do not see where we can make room for any of them. There is one Madame Naubert6, however, who is vehemently praised by Büsching7 as an excellent narrator of “popular tales”; her collection I should be very happy to see; a few tales from it would make a uniform and perhaps very interesting thing of our first volume. Her Volksmährchen [Folk tales] is marked in Fleischer's8 catalogue; but I suppose it would be impossible to borrow it, and it is hardly worth buying.
For the Second Volume I must have Richter and Lafontaine and Hoffmann; and La Motte Fouqué, if by the fortunate procurement of this Mad. Naubert we could exclude the Baron from the first volume. Richter is an indispensable person; by a good many degrees the strangest and most gifted novellist, or indeed writer of his country, except Goethe, and quite unknown here. His Schmelzles Reise nach Flätz9 from all that I can learn appears to be the only work of his that will suit us. Those in the Advocates' Library will not do; and his best work Titan10 is in four volumes. This, however, with the Unsichtbare Loge11 and the Leben Q. Fixlein,12 or any of them, I should be very glad if you could procure for me to read. The Schmelzle's Reise you must buy for me, if no better may be; for Richter is a man we absolutely cannot do without, and Schmelzle I understand to be the best of his smaller works. My London friend, writing from the oral report of a German critic whom he had consulted, calls it Reise des Feldprediger's Schmelzer13 [Schmelzer underscored twice], adding that it is “delightful”; but in the title I think he must be mistaken, tho' in ordering it, if you have it to order, it might be well to mention both. The former is in Fleischer, and cheap.— Of Lafontaine14 (whose works amount to four-score volumes) I know not well what to make. His best small work is the “Moral tales” (Moralische Erzählungen), from which something might be extracted, if I had it; and the best of all his works, I am told, is the Familie von Halden, which I fear would be too large, yet I long very much to see it.— From Hoffmann15 I want some portions of his Serapions brüder and Fantasiestücke. Gillies16 must have both Lafontaine and him: it is pity one could not borrow them from him; I should return them without any injury
There is another Book, Maler Müller's17 works, which I particularly wish to see: I am told on the best authority that he is full of genius and originality. One or two of his pieces, from my present notion of him, I imagine would be well worth inserting. I rely upon your diligence to procure it for me if possible.
Thus, my dear Sir, have I laid the matter before you as it stands at present with myself. If I had these books ready by me, I should reckon the undertaking half completed. Perhaps it may not be so difficult to obtain at least a perusal of them. Most, nay all of them, are marketable works, and I could read, without injuring, them. By your commercial connexions I trust you may be able to procure me the greater part of them: I shall expect your tidings on the subject soon; at latest when my Brother comes. The works I want most and must buy if they are not otherwise to be had are Richter's Schmelzle, and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre. Maler Müller too I have such faith in that I should almost risk him also. He is utterly unknown in this country, and highly recommended by Tieck, Richter, and others. The rest of the works I have mentioned, I must one way or another contrive to see likewise; but I do not think them worth buying, as except for this undertaking I would not purchase them at sixpence the waggon-load.
By a careful selection and elaboration of these materials, I feel considerably confident that we shall make a Book, worthy to be avowed in the face of day, and differing a good deal from the common ware which is imported in such quantities from Germany. Get me the books if possible; and tell me every thing about the printing, publishing &c; for I am very anxious to get along with my utmost speed. Make my best compliments to your Brother,18 and believe me always,
My Dear Sir,
Very truly your's, /