¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 [†]On the thirty-third evening (Friday, the 12th of June) Nanine was repeated, and the evening ended with The Farmer Inherits a Fortune, from the French play by Marivaux.[28.1]
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This short play suits our taste here and thus always gives great pleasure. Jürge returns from the city, where he has buried a rich brother from whom he inherited a hundred thousand marks.[28.2] Luck changes both status and manners: now he wants to live the way upper-class people live, he elevates his Lise to a Madame, quickly finds respectable matches for his Hans and his Grete, everything is good; but then the bad news arrives. The agent who held the hundred thousand marks is bankrupt, Jürge is once again nothing but Jürge, Hans gets dumped, Grete is jilted, and the end would be sad if fortune could take more than it has given. But they were healthy and satisfied before, and healthy and satisfied they remain.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Anyone could have invented this story, but few would have known how to make it as entertaining as Marivaux does. The most droll humor, the most amusing wit, the most mischievous satire have us beside ourselves with laughter, and the naïve rural dialect gives the whole thing its own special piquancy. The translation is by Krüger, who has translated the French patois masterfully into the local low dialect.[28.3] It is only a shame that the printing of several passages was garbled and full of errors. Many needed to be corrected and expanded in the performance. For example, the following, which is in the very first scene:
JÜRGE: Hey, hey, hey! Gimme five schillins change, alls I got is gulden n’ dollahs.
LISE: Hey, hey, hey! Five schillins, you crazy? Whatcha wannit fer?
JÜRGE: Hey, hey, hey! Jus’ gimme five schillins’ cuz I said so.
LISE: What fer, John Fool?
JÜRGE: Fer this guy that carried m’ pack all the way up the whole road to our village, n’ I was jest walkin’ all light n’ easy.
LISE: You walk’d here?
JÜRGE: I did. It was real comf’t’ble.
LISE: Here’s a mark.
JÜRGE: That’s good. How much is that now? That much. She gimme a mark: there, there it is. Take it, that’s right.
LISE: Yer gonna waste five schillins on some guy who carried your pack?
JÜRGE: Yeah! I gotta give ‘im a tip.
VALENTIN: Are those five schillings for me, Mr. Jürge?
JÜRGE: Sure are, pal!
VALENTIN: Five schillings? A rich heir! Five schillings, a man of your standing? And where is the grandeur of the soul?
JÜRGE: Oh! I don’t care ‘bout all that, ask anyone. Go on, woman, throw ‘im another schillin’; that’s how we reckon ‘round here.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 How is that? Jürge came on foot because it is more comfortable? He asks for five schillings, and his wife, who did not want to give him five schillings, gives him a mark? The wife is supposed to toss another schilling to the boy? Why doesn’t he do it himself? There was change left over from the mark, after all. Without the French text it is hard to get one’s bearings. Jürge did not come on foot, but in a coach; that is what his “It was real comf’t’ble” refers to. But the coach probably only went past his village, and he had his pack carried from where he got off to his house. This is what he gives the boy five schillings for. His wife does not give him a mark; rather, that is what he had to pay for the coach, and he just tells her how swiftly he dealt with the coachman concerning the payment.* [28.4]
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 I doubt our grandfathers understood the German title of this play. Even Schlegel translated Distrait as Dreamer.[28.6] To be absent-minded, a scatterbrain, is merely to make an analogy to the French. We do not want to investigate who had the right to coin these words; rather we want to use them after they have already been coined. As of now we all understand them, and that is enough.[28.7]
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Regnard brought his Absentminded One to the stage in 1697 and it did not have the least success. But thirty-four years later, when the comedians brought it out again, it fared much better.[28.8] Which audience was right? Perhaps neither was wrong. That earlier, rigid audience rejected the play for not being a good conventional comedy, which is doubtless what the writer claimed it to be.[28.9] This more sympathetic one took it for nothing more than what it is: a farce that is supposed to make us laugh. We laughed and were thankful. The first audience thought:
– non satis est risu diducere rictum
– & est quaedam tamen hic quoque virtus.[28.11]
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 This comedy cannot have been a great deal of trouble for Regnard to write, other than the versification, which happens to be careless and full of errors. He found the character of his protagonist fully conceptualized in La Bruyere.[28.12] He did not have to do anything other than take the most prominent traits and bring them out, partly through the action, and partly through narration. What he added of his own matters little.
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 There is no objection to be made to this criticism, but there is an objection to be made against another criticism that attacks the writer from the standpoint of morality.[28.13] An absentminded person should not be the subject of a comedy. Why not? The claim is that absentmindedness is an illness, a misfortune, and not a vice. An absentminded person does not deserve to be laughed at any more than someone who suffers headaches. Comedy must only deal with faults that can be corrected. But someone who is absentminded by nature can be as scarce corrected through mockeries as someone who limps.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 But is it in fact true that distraction is a deficiency of the soul that our best efforts cannot remedy? Is it really more a natural deficiency than a bad habit? I cannot believe that. Are we not masters of our own attention? Do we not have it in our power to compel or withdraw it at will? And what is absentmindedness if not an improper use of our attention? The absentminded person thinks; he just does not think about what he ought to think about according to his present sense impressions. His mind is not asleep, not stupefied, not put out of action, it is just absent, busy elsewhere. But as good as it can be there, it can be here: the mind’s natural calling is to be present to the sensual changes of the body. Effort is required to wean it from this calling, so should it really be impossible to reacquaint it with that calling?
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Let us assume absentmindedness is incurable: where is it written that we should only laugh at moral faults or correctable bad habits in comedies? Every absurdity, every contrast between imperfections and reality is laughable. But laughter and derision are very far apart.[28.14] We can laugh about a person, and on occasion laugh at him, without deriding him in the least. As uncontested and well known as this difference may be, nevertheless all of the chicanery Rousseau has recently resorted to in his attack on the value of comedy only arose because he did not take this difference into proper consideration.[28.15] For example, he says that Molière makes us laugh at the misanthrope even though the misanthrope is the honest man in the play; Molière thus proves himself an enemy of virtue by making the virtuous man the object of scorn. But no: the misanthrope does not become contemptible, he remains who he is, and the laughter, which derives from the situations the playwright puts him in, does not take away the least bit of our admiration for him. Likewise with the absentminded one: we laugh about him, but do we despise him because of it? We value his other good qualities as we should value them; indeed, without them we would not be able to laugh at his absentmindedness. Give this absentmindedness to an evil, worthless man and see if it will still be laughable. It will be repugnant, loathsome, ugly – not laughable.
- ¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0
- [†]Text in blue indicates passages omitted by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
- [28.1] For Nanine, see . L’Héritier de Village (1725): one-act prose comedy by Marivaux, translated by J. C. Krüger as Der Bauer mit der Erbschaft. First performed and published in 1747, the play was a great favorite in Hamburg and was one of the staples of the Hamburg National Theater repertoire. To date, this play has not been translated into English.
- [28.2] Character names in the French original are Blaise (Jürge), Claudine (Lise), Colin (Hans), and Colette (Grete).
- [28.3] Lessing misrenders Krüger’s name as “Krieger” in the text. Krüger translated the French patois into Plattdeutsch, a dialect of the Hamburg region; our translation attempts to approximate that “low dialect” in English. Thanks to Karen Jürs-Munby for assistance with the Plattdeutsch, and Savannah Reich for help in devising an English equivalent.
- [28.4] Marivaux, L’heritier de Village 4–5. In the original, after Blaise tells his wife the coach is more comfortable, she asks, “You spent an écu?” to which Blaise responds: “Oh, very nobly. How much? I asked. One écu, he said. Here you go, look, take it. Just like that.”
- [28.5] Jean-François Regnard, Le Distrait (1697), five-act verse comedy. An English version, under the title The Absent-Minded Lover, appears in Regnard et. al., The Heirs of Molière 9-86. A German translation, Der Zerstreute, oder der seine Gedanken nicht beysammen hat [The Absentminded One, or he who does not have his wits about him], was first produced in 1735 (see Robertson 81).
- [28.6] See J. E. Schlegel, “Demokrit, ein Todtengespräch” [“Democrites, a Conversation among the Dead”] (1741) in Johann Elias Schlegels Werke 3: 188.
- [28.7] Tr. note: the modern use of the word zerstreut – “scattered” – to mean “absentminded” or “distracted” (after the French word distrait) dates from the beginning of the eighteenth century (Grimm 31: 784).
- [28.8] For his discussion of Le Distrait, Lessing draws from and paraphrases criticism in the Histoire du Théâtre Français. See Parfaict 14: 71-81.
- [28.9] Conventional comedy: a comedy constructed according to neoclassical rules.
- [28.10] “It is not enough to make your audience grin with laughter…” Horace, Satires I.x.7-8.
- [28.11] “…though even in that there is some merit.” Horace, Satires I.x.8.
- [28.12] This paragraph is directly paraphrased from Parfaict (81). Jean de la Bruyère (1645–96): French lawyer and writer; his masterpiece, Les caractères de Théophraste, traduits du grec avec les caractères ou les moeurs de ce siècle [The Characters of Theophrastus, translated from the Greek, with The Characters or The Manners of This Century] (1688), provided a satirical and moralist critique of seventeenth-century France.
- [28.13] Lessing refers to criticism published in the Mercure de France (July, 1731) (qtd. in Parfaict 72–74).
- [28.14] From the neoclassicists onward, theorists have debated to what extent derision is a necessary component of comedy’s potential moral function; Molière posits that the defects of mankind can be corrected by exposing them to ridicule. Lessing presents a counterview in .
- [28.15] J. J. Rousseau’s antitheatrical polemic, the Lettre à M. d’Alembert, argues that, regardless of Molière’s intentions, comedy cannot be moral if it hopes to succeed with audiences. For Rousseau’s criticism of The Misanthrope, see Politics and the Arts: Letter to M. d’Alembert on the Theatre 36–45.