¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This excellent play had to fall into Frau Gottsched’s hands for translating. Given the confession she herself made, “that she considered the honor one could earn through the translation, or even through the production, of theatrical plays to be only a very mediocre one,” it is easy to suppose that she will have expended only a very mediocre effort to achieve this mediocre honor. I have done her the justice of noting that she has in fact not ruined a few comic plays by Destouches. But how much easier it is to translate a joke than a feeling! Those with or without wit can imitate what is ridiculous, but only someone with a heart can hit upon the language of the heart. It has its own rules, and once these are misjudged and subordinated to the rules of grammar, once the language of the heart is given all the cold perfection and boring clarity that we demand from a logical sentence, it’s all over. For example, Dorimond intends to give Mericourt a respectable marriage along with a quarter of his wealth. But Mericourt is after much more; he refuses the generous offer and wants to appear to be refusing it out of unselfishness. “What for?” he says. “Why do you want to rob yourself of your wealth? Enjoy your property yourself – they cost you danger and labor enough.” “J’en jouirai, je vous rendrai tous heureux,” Graffigny has the dear kindhearted old man answer: “I shall enjoy it, I shall make all of you happy.” Superb! Not a word too long! The truly effortless brevity with which a man, for whom good has become second nature, speaks of his own goodness, if speak of it he must! To enjoy his own good fortune, to make others happy: both are one and the same to him. One is not merely a result or a part of the other; for him, one is entirely the other. In the same way that his heart does not recognize any difference between them, his mouth cannot create a difference. He speaks as if he said the same thing twice, as if both statements were true tautological statements, perfectly identical statements, without the least little conjunction. O the impoverished soul who does not feel the connection, who needs a particle to make that connection apparent! And how do you think Frau Gottsched translated these eight little words? “Only then will I begin finally, truly to enjoy my wealth – when I have made you both happy through it.”[20.2] Unbearable! The sense is perfectly translated, but the spirit is gone: a deluge of words has suffocated it. This “only then” with its tail of “when”; this “finally,” this “truly,” this “through it”: blunt specifications that give outpourings of a heart the gravity of deliberation, and that transform a warm sentiment into a cold logical statement.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 To those who understand me, I will simply say that the entire play is translated roughly along these lines. Every refined inclination is paraphrased into healthy common sense, every touching expression is broken into the dead components of its meaning. On top of this we get the dreadful tone of ceremony in many places; clichéd proclamations of honor contrast with the natural exclamations of emotion in the most nauseating manner. When Cenie recognizes her mother, she cries, “Lady Mother! O what a sweet name!”[20.3] The name “mother” is sweet, but “Lady Mother” is pure honey with lemon juice. A heart opening itself to sentiment closes back up against this awful title. And in the moment that she finds her father, she throws herself into his arms with, “Gracious Lord Father! May I be worthy of your favor!”[20.4] “Mon père!” becomes, in German: Gracious Lord Father. What a mightily respectful child! If I were Dorsainville, I would have preferred not to have found her again rather than being greeted with this speech.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Madame Löwen plays Orphise. One cannot play her with more nobility and sentiment. Every expression conveys the quiet awareness of her unacknowledged worth, and she succeeds in revealing gentle melancholy with just her glance and her tone.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Madame Hensel is Cenie. Not a single word falls flat. What she says is not memorized: it seems to come from her own mind, from her own heart. Whether or not she is speaking, she is always acting. I know of only one flaw; it is a very rare flaw, a very enviable flaw. The actress is too big for the role. I feel like I am watching a giant perform drills with the rifle of a cadet.[20.5] Just because I can do something excellently doesn’t mean I would always choose to do so.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Herr Ekhof, in the role of Dorimond, is completely Dorimond. Such a combination of sweetness and earnestness, of tenderheartedness and severity, either is genuine in this kind of a man or is found in no one. When at the end of the play he says of Mericourt, “I will give him enough that he can live in that great world that is his homeland, but I wish never to see him again!” – who taught the man to show us, merely with a pair of raised fingers moving slightly, with just a mere turn of the head, what kind of a land this is, this homeland of Mericourt’s? A dangerous, evil land!
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Connoisseurs consider Amalia to be this writer’s best comedy. Indeed, it really does have more interest, better developed characters, and more lively and thoughtful dialogue than his other comic plays. The roles are very well cast here; in particular, Madame Böck plays Manley (the disguised Amalia) with great charm and a casual lightness without which we might find it somewhat improbable to see a young woman go unrecognized for so long.[20.8] In general, disguises of this type give a dramatic play a fantastical quality, but by the same token it is also inevitable that they should occasion not only comedic scenes, but also really quite interesting ones. The fifth scene of the final act is of this type, in which I might counsel my friend to soften a few of the brushstrokes that are too boldly sketched and to blend them into a more harmonious relationship with the rest.[20.9] I do not know if such a thing happens in the world, if someone might really speak to a woman in such a pushy manner. I will not investigate how far female modesty could go in handling certain matters so roughly, even when in disguise. I will leave unspoken the idea that perhaps this is not at all the correct way to corner a Madame Freemann; that a true Manley probably could have begun the matter more subtly; that one must not insist on wanting to swim in a straight line over a rushing stream; that – as I said, I will leave these ideas unspoken, for in such dealings there could easily be more than one correct way. Given these circumstances, even then, it is by no means certain that this woman, on whom this first attempt has miscarried, will put up a resistance to all other attempts. I will merely acknowledge that for my own part, I would not have had courage enough to handle a similar scene. I would have been as afraid of the one cliff – of showing too little experience – as of the other – of betraying too much. Indeed if I were sensible of a more-than-Crébillonian capacity in myself to steal between both cliffs, I still do not know if I would not have preferred a completely different path.[20.10] Especially since this other path opens up on its own here. Manley, or Amalia, knows full well that Freemann is not legally wed to his alleged wife. So why could he not use this as an excuse to seduce her away from Freemann, and offer himself not as a gallant only interested in fleeting signs of favor, but rather as a serious lover, ready to share his fate with her? His propositions would then have been – I will not say inculpable, but certainly less culpable; he would have been able to insist on them without insulting her to her face; the test would have been that much more enticing, and her resolve that much more decisive in favor of her love for Freemann. At the same time we would have seen an orderly plan on the part of Amalia, instead of being unable to guess what she might have done had she been unfortunately fortunate in her seduction.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Saint-Foix’s short comedy The Financier followed after Amalia.[20.11]It comprises approximately a dozen scenes that are wondrously lively. It would be difficult to squeeze more healthy morals, more characters, and more interest into such tight confines. This likable writer’s manner is well-known. No one has ever known how to make such a small, precious whole as well as he.
- ¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0
- [20.1] Cénie (1751): five-act sentimental comedy in prose by Françoise de Graffigny (1695–1758). Translated by L. A. Gottsched as Cenie, oder die Grossmuth im Unglücke, ein moralisches Stück [Cenie, or Magnanimity in Misfortune, a moral play] (1753). Dorimond’s two nephews, Mericourt and Clerval, wish to marry his daughter Cenie. Mericourt seeks Cenie’s fortune; Clerval, only her love. When Cenie, who loves Clerval, objects to her betrothal to Mericourt, he produces letters from her deceased mother revealing that Dorimond is not her father and that Cenie is in fact the daughter of her governess, Orphise. In the end, Cenie’s father, Dorsainville (Orphise’s long-lost husband), is rediscovered, enabling Cenie to marry Clerval.
- [20.2] “Alsdenn werde ich meiner Güter erst recht genießen, wenn ich euch beide dadurch werde glücklich gemacht haben” (Cenie, trans. L. A. Gottsched 2).
- [20.3] “Frau Mutter! O welch ein süßer Name!” (Cenie, trans. L. A. Gottsched 68).
- [20.4] “Gnädiger Herr Vater! Bin ich Ihrer Gnade wert!” (Cenie, trans. L. A. Gottsched 88).
- [20.5] Here Lessing critiques not Hensel’s physical appearance, but rather her forceful emotional expression, which he also censures in . In contrast, Hensel is praised in  for giving a “delicate” and “picturesque” performance of femininity. It is assumed that this review exacerbated the already existing tension between Lessing and Hensel.
- [20.6] “For this man, his limbs are all tongues”: from the epigram “De Pantomimo” found in the anonymous Anthologia Latina (c. 500). The line continues, “It is the miracle of art which enables his fingers to speak when his mouth is silent.” See Kay 44; 136.
- [20.7] Friday: Lessing’s mistake; the performance was on Monday. Amalia (1766): five-act comedy by Christian Felix Weisse, a friend of Lessing’s from their college days. Amalia learns that Freeman, the man who jilted her five years earlier, has become impoverished through free-living. Having inherited wealth, Amalia disguises herself as a man (Manley) in order to find and aid him. In the final act, “Manley” tests Madame Freeman (who is not legally married to Freeman) by offering to return jewelry lost through gambling in exchange for her favors. Madame Freeman refuses, Freeman challenges “Manley,” and Amalia reveals herself. Freeman wishes to marry the now wealthy Amalia, but she rebuffs him. The play’s characters and setting somewhat resemble Miss Sara Sampson.
- [20.8] Madame Böck: Sophie Elisabeth Böck, née Schulz (c.1745–1800), married to J. M. Böck.
- [20.9] Weisse did indeed revise this scene for the 1783 edition of his comedies.
- [20.10] Crébillonian capacity: allusion to Claude-Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon fils (1707–77), libertine novelist and royal censor.
- [20.11] Le Financier (1762): a one-act comedy by Germain-François Poullain de Saint-Foix (1698–1776). The German translation, Der Finanzpachter (1762), may have been by Christian August Wichmann (1735–1807) (see Robertson 76).
- [†] Text in blue indicates passages omitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation (here, the entirety of Essay 20)