Goethe In Britain

Rosemary Ashton

  • Goethe’s Plays translated by Charles Passage
    Benn, 626 pp, £12.95, July 1980, ISBN 0 510 00087 8
  • The Classical Centre: Goethe and Weimar 1775-1832 by T.J. Reed
    Croom Helm, 271 pp, £14.95, November 1979, ISBN 0 85664 356 4
  • Goethe on Art translated by John Gage
    Scolar, 251 pp, £10.00, March 1980, ISBN 0 85967 494 0
  • The Younger Goethe and the Visual Arts by W.D. Robson-Scott
    Cambridge, 175 pp, £19.50, February 1981, ISBN 0 521 23321 6

In 1827, Thomas Carlyle, already the translator of Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, was invited by Jeffrey, editor of the Edinburgh Review, to ‘Germanise the public’. Jeffrey issued the invitation cautiously, even negatively, asking Carlyle to temper his enthusiasm for ‘your German divinities’ – an enthusiasm he could scarcely understand, let alone share. Indeed, two years earlier Jeffrey had reviewed Carlyle’s Meister translation, censoring the work as ‘eminently absurd, puerile, incongruous, vulgar and affected’. Carlyle fulfilled the task set him by his amused, semi-reluctant editor with the influential essay ‘The State of German Literature’. As a result of this and other articles on German literature, Carlyle became the most celebrated Germanist of his age. It was Carlyle, as G.H. Lewes acknowledged in his Life of Goethe (1855), ‘who first taught England to appreciate Goethe’.

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[*] I would recommend the recently reprinted Penguin editions of Faust I and II, translated by Philip Wayne, and of Elective Affinities, translated by R.J. Hollingdale, and Catherine Hutter’s Sorrows of Young Werther (Signet Classics, 1962).