A New and Complete Translation

Essay 8

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 26 May 1767

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 [†]The performances of the first evening were repeated on the second.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 On the third evening (Friday, the 24th of May), Melanide was performed. This play by Nivelle de la Chaussée is well-known.[8.1] It belongs to that touching genre that has been given the derisive label “larmoyant.[8.2] If larmoyant refers to something that brings us to the verge of tears (when we would really like to cry), then several plays of this genre are something more than larmoyant, as they cost a sensitive soul streams of tears. In comparison to such works, the common trash of French tragedies merely deserve the label larmoyant, because they only bring us to the point where we recognize that we would be crying if the writer had practiced his craft better.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Melanide is no masterpiece of this genre; but one still always sees it with pleasure. It has kept its place even in the French theater, in which it first played in the year 1741.[8.3] The subject matter supposedly derives from a novel titled Mademoiselle de Bontems.[8.4] I do not know this novel; but if the situation in the second scene of the third act is also taken from it, then I must envy an unknown person, instead of de la Chaussée, for creating that scene, since it is the reason I would wish to have written a Melanide.[8.5]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The translation was not bad; it is infinitely better than an Italian translation that is in the second volume of Diodati’s Theatrical Library.[8.6] I must offer reassurance to majority of our translators that their Italian comrades are, for the most part, far worse than they are. To translate good verse into good prose demands something more than correctness; or I probably should say, something else. Excessive fidelity will make any translation stiff, because it is impossible for everything that is natural in one language to be so in the other. Moreover, the literal translation of verses renders them watery and cockeyed. For where is that fortunate versifier who has never been forced by the meter or rhyme into saying something more or less here, stronger or weaker there, or earlier or later than he would have if he were free from this constraint? Now if the translator does not know how to discern this, if he does not have enough taste and courage to leave out a digression here, or to use the actual expression instead of a metaphor there, or to fill in for an ellipsis elsewhere, then he will pass on to us all of the faults of the original, and will have done nothing more than deprive them of this defense: namely, that they are due to challenges posed by the symmetry and melody of the original language.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The role of Melanide was played by an actress who, after a nine-year absence from the theater, has reappeared with all those perfections that experts and amateurs, those with and without discretion, have always perceived and admired in her. Madame Löwen combines the silver tones of the most lovely, sonorous voice with the most open, peaceful, and at the same time most expressive face in the world; the finest, quickest emotions; and the surest, warmest sentiment (which, to be sure, is not always as lively as many might wish, but nonetheless always expresses itself with grace and dignity). She accentuates her declamation correctly, but not too markedly. A complete lack of marked accentuation brings about monotony; but without accusing her of this, she knows how to use it more sparingly, due to a refinement of which, alas! many actors know absolutely nothing. I want to explain what I mean. We know what tempo means in music; not rhythm, but the degree of slowness or rapidness with which the rhythm is played. This tempo is uniform throughout the whole piece; the same degree of speed in which the first bars are played must be sustained for every bar until the last. Such uniformity is necessary to music, because a composition can only express itself in such a way, and without uniformity the combination of different instruments and voices would be impossible. With declamation, on the other hand, things are very different. If we consider a passage composed of many lines to be a special type of musical piece, and regard the lines as bars or measures of the same, then even if these lines were all of exactly the same length and consisted of the same number of syllables of equal measure, they should never be spoken with one and the same speed. For since they cannot have the same value and importance, either with regard to markedness and emphasis, or in light of the affect that governs the whole passage, it follows that the voice would utter the least significant lines quickly, slipping over them in a perfunctory and hasty manner, whereas it would linger over the more substantive ones, elongating and sharpening them, and making sure that each word, and each letter in each word, counts. The degrees of difference are infinite, and even though they do not allow themselves to be fixed by any artificial divisions of time and thereby to be measured against one another, they will still be differentiated by the most unskilled of ears and observed by the most unskilled of tongues—if and when the speech flows from a heart penetrated with feeling and not merely from well-prepared memorization.[8.7] The effect of this constantly changing tempo of the voice is incredible; and when absolutely all of the possible changes in tone—not only with respect to high or low, strong or weak, but also to harsh or soft, sharp or round, even clumsy or smooth—are joined with such a changing tempo at the proper moments, then that natural music occurs to which our heart unfailingly opens, because we sense that this music originates in the heart, and that art plays a part in it only insofar as art can become second nature. And with such music, I say, the actress of whom I speak is absolutely splendid; no one compares to her except Herr Eckhof, who brings his declamation to an even higher degree of perfection mainly because he intensely accents individual words (something she makes less effort to do). But perhaps she too has this under her command, and I merely judge her thus because I have not yet seen her in a role in which the touching is elevated to the pathetic. I look forward to seeing her in a tragedy—and in the meantime continue with the history of our theater.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 On the fourth evening (Monday, the 27th of May) a new German original was produced, titled Julie, or the Conflict between Duty and Love. The author is Herr Heufeld from Vienna, who tells us that recently two of his other plays have earned the acclaim of the audience there.[8.8] I do not know them; but to judge from this one, they are probably not terrible.The principal features of the story and most of the situations have been taken from Rousseau’s New Heloise.[8.9] I wish that Herr Heufeld had read and studied the evaluation of this novel in the Letters Concerning the Newest Literature before he approached this project.[8.10] He would have worked with a more secure insight into the beauties of the original and might have been more successful in many places.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The value of The New Heloise, in terms of originality, is quite minor, and the best of it is totally unsuitable for dramatic adaptation.[8.11] The situations are commonplace or unnatural, and the few good ones are spaced so far apart that they do not allow themselves to be squeezed into the narrow space of a three-act play without unnatural effort. The story could not possibly end on stage as it does in the novel, in which it does not so much end as lose itself. Here, Julie’s lover must be happy, and Herr Heufeld allows him to be happy. He gets his pupil. But did Herr Heufeld consider that his Julie is now no longer in any way Rousseau’s Julie? Then again, Rousseau’s Julie or not—who cares? As long as she is a person who interests us. But that is precisely what she is not; she is nothing but a love-struck little fool who from time to time chatters agreeably enough, whenever Herr Heufeld recalls a beautiful passage from Rousseau. “Julie,” writes the critic whose evaluation I mentioned above, “plays a double role in the story. In the beginning she is a weak and, indeed, somewhat seductive girl; at the end, she becomes a woman who, as a model of virtue, far surpasses all who have ever been invented.”[8.12] She becomes this model through her obedience, through the sacrifice of her love, and through the control she gains over her heart. But if there is nothing to be seen or heard of all this in the play, what is left of her except, as I already said, a weak seductive girl with virtue and wisdom on her tongue and foolishness in her heart?

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Herr Heufeld has rechristened Rousseau’s St. Preux as Siegmund. To us, the name Siegmund rather smacks of a domestic servant. I wish that our dramatic poets were a bit more discriminating in such details and strove to capture a more sophisticated tone. – St. Preux is already a very tasteless figure in Rousseau. “They all call him,” writes the above-mentioned critic, “the philosopher. The philosopher! I’d like to know what the young man says or does in the whole story that earns him this name? In my eyes he is the most fatuous person in the world, who praises reason and wisdom to the skies with the most generic proclamations and who does not possess the slightest spark of either. He is absurd, bombastic, and extravagant in matters of love, and we do not find the slightest trace of reflection in the rest of his doings. He is proudly confident of his levelheadedness, and yet is not decisive enough to take the tiniest step without his pupil or his friend leading him by the hand.”[8.13]–-And yet how far below this St. Preux ranks the German Siegmund!

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  • 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0
  • [8.1] Pierre-Claude Nivelle de La Chaussée (1692-1754). Mélanide premiered in Hamburg in 1742 (under the direction of actress Sophie Charlotte Schröder, later Ackermann) and was produced regularly in Hamburg in subsequent decades (See Litzmann, 33; and Meyer II/2: 44-47; 49; 52; and 118). The German translator of the work is unknown.
  • [8.2]“Comédie larmoyante.” A sentimental drama of the eighteenth-century that blurred the distinction between comedy and tragedy. Mélanide is considered to exemplify the form. Lessing coined the word weinerlich to translate the French term larmoyant in his 1754 essay “Abhandlungen von dem weinerlichen oder rührenden Lustspiele” [“Essays on the weeping or moving comedies”] (Werke und Briefe 3: 264-267; see also Grimm, 28: 903).
  • [8.3] Mélanide opened at the Comédie-Française 12 May 1741 and remained in that theater’s repertory throughout the eighteenth century (see Joannidès).
  • [8.4] The full (and correct) title of the work to which Lessing refers is Memoires de Mademoiselle Bontemps, ou de la Comtesse de Marlou by Thomas-Simon Gueullette (1748); however, Mélanide does not appear to have been based on this work.
  • [8.5] In Mélanide, young Rosalie is promised to a marquis, despite her love for Darviane. The conflict is resolved when Darviane is revealed to be the illegitimate son of the marquis and the eponymous Mélanide. In 3.2, Darviane confronts Rosalie about the arranged match and her feelings for him.
  • [8.6] Biblioteca teatrale italiana, II: 199ff. Collection of Italian plays and plays translated into Italian, compiled by Ottaviano Diodati between 1762-65, and supplemented with chapters in verse on dramatic theory and performance. Significant in part because of Diodati’s use of the word “drammaturgia” to describe his project.
  • [8.7] Cf. [3], which discusses the relative merits of the “feeling” and “unfeeling” actor.
  • [8.8] Julie, oder Wettstreit der Pflicht und Liebe, by Franz von Heufeld (1731-95), premiered in Vienna in 1766. The two previous works were likely Die Haushaltung nach der Mode, oder Was soll man für eine Frau nehmen? [Housekeeping à la mode, or What should one take for a wife?] (1765) and Die Liebhaber nach der Mode, oder Was soll man für einen Mann nehmen? [The Fashionable Lovers, or What should one take for a husband?] (1766).
  • [8.9] J. J. Rousseau, Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse, ou Lettres de deux amants [Julie, or the New Heloise] (1761).
  • [8.10] Lessing refers here to letters written by the philosopher and critic Moses Mendelssohn in the periodical they published jointly with Friedrich Nicolai, Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend, X: 255 ff. See [7.5].
  • [8.11] In Rousseau’s novel, lovers St. Preux and Julie, teacher and pupil respectively, are separated when Julie’s father, the Baron d’Étange, marries her to Wolmar, a nobleman. Julie lives happily as a wife and mother until St. Preux is hired to tutor her children; although the affair is not rekindled, Julie eventually realizes that she still loves St. Preux. In Heufeld’s play, Julie and her tutor resist their passion from the outset, Wolmar nobly releases Julie from her engagement, and her father allows the virtuous lovers to marry.
  • [8.12] Here Lessing paraphrases rather than quotes Mendelssohn’s text. Cf. Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend, X: 261.
  • [8.13] Briefe, die neueste Litteratur betreffend, X: 266-7.
  • [†] Text in blue indicates passages that were cut by Zimmern in her 1890 translation.
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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/essay-8/