Goethe’s “Egmont” by Margaret Fuller

Egmont, a Tragedy in five acts. Translated from the German of Goethe. Boston: James Munroe and Co. 1841.

In reading this translation through, we easily recognize our old impressions of the original, and do not find those impressions much disturbed. In comparing a few passages, line for line, we find the version faithful. And we chose for this experiment two scenes, in the highest, and in the lowest style, which the play affords. One was the opening scene, the shooting match in the streets of Brussels, where we have the great man reflected in the common gossip of the idol-worshiping, fickle crowd; and the other, which carries us into the private sanctuary of his ideal character, the sublimely poetic Monologue of Egmont in prison awaiting his execution. Indeed the Play seems to lose but little by translation; the spirit of the whole seems transfused without much evaporation, and the details faithfully copied. This is partly owing to the bold and decided beauty of the noble prose poetry of the original, which cannot fail to leave its mark, of which the rudest copy, if it give the greater features, like the tracing of the outer edge and principal veins of a leaf, readily suggest the whole. But partly, and largely too, it is the translator’s merit. His work shows a just conception and feeling of the piece, a nice criticism of language, and that first merit of a translator, faith enough in the indwelling beauty and eloquence of the original to let it speak for itself, and not dilute it and modify it, for fear of strangeness, into the common-place Review style of English. Translators have been long in learning that it is safe to be literal. The translator, in the present case, deserves our thanks. May he find it worth his while to give us more of the same good work.

Source: The Dial (January 1842) pp. 394-395