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Erl-King. “O come and go with me, no longer delay, Or else, silly child, I will drag thee away.' “O father O father now, now, keep your hold, The Erl-King has seized me—his grasp is so cold !”
Sore trembled the father; he spurr'd thro’ the wild,
Clasping close to his bosom his shuddering child;
He reaches his dwelling in doubt and in dread,
But, clasp'd to his bosom, the infant was dead.
END OF BALLADS FROM THE GERMAN.
IN early youth I had been an eager student of Ballad Poetry, and the tree is still in my recollection beneath which I lay and first entered upon the enchanting perusal of Percy’s “Reliques of Ancient Poetry,’ although it has long perished in the general blight which affected the whole race of Oriental platanus to which it belonged. The taste of another person had strongly encouraged my own researches into this species of legendary lore. . But I had never dreamed of an attempt to imitate what gave me so much pleasure. I had, indeed, tried the metrical translations which were occasionally recommended to us at the High School. I got credit for attempting to do what was enjoined, but very little for the mode in which the task was performed, and I used to feel not a little mortified when my versions were placed in contrast with others of admitted merit. At one period of my schoolboy days I was so far left to my own desires as to become guilty of Verses on a Thunderstorm, which were much approved of, until a malevolent critic sprung up, in the shape of an apothecary's blue. buskined wife, who affirmed that my most sweet poetry was stolen from an old magazine. I never forgave the imputation, and even now I acknowledge some resentment against the poor woman's memory. She indeed accused me unjustly, when she said I had stolen my brooms ready made ; but as I had, like most remature, poets, copied all the words and ideas of which my verses consisted, she was so far right. I made one or two faint attempts at verse, after I had undergone this sort of daw-plucking at the hands of the apothecary's wife; but some friend or other always advised ine to put my verses in the fire, and, like Dorax in the play, I submitted, though 'with a swelling heart.” In short, excepting, the usual tribute to a mistress's eyebrow, which is the language of passion rather than poetry, I had not for ten years indulged the wish to couple so much as love and doze, when, finding Lewis in possession of so much
reputation, and conceiving that, if I fell behind him in poetical powers, I considerably exceeded him in general, information, I suddenly took it into my head to attempt the style of poetry by which he had raised himself to fame. This idea was hurried into execution, in consequence of a temptation which others, as well as the author, found it difficult to resist. The celebrated ballad of Lenoré,” by Bürger, was about this time introduced into England; and it is remarkable, that, written as far back as 1775, it was upwards of twenty years before it was known in Britain, though calculated to make so strong an impression. The wild character of the tale was such as struck the imagination of all who read it, although the idea of the lady's ride behind the spectre horseman had been long before hit upon by an English ballad-maker. ... But this pretended English original, if in reality it be such, is so duff, flat, and prosaic, as to leave the dis. tinguished German author all that is valuable in his story, by clothing it with a fanciful wildness of expression, which serves to set forth the marvellous tale in its native terror. The ballad of ‘Lenoré' o possessed general attractions for such of the English as understood the language in which it is written ; and, as if there had been a charm in the ballad, no one seemed to cast his eyes upon it without a desire to make it known by translation to his own countrymen, and six or seven yersions were accordingly presented to the public. Although the present author was one of those who intruded his translation on the world at this time, he may fairly exculpate himself from the rashness of entering the lists against so many rivals. The circumstances which threw him into this competition were quite accidental, and
of a nature o to show how much the l
destiny of human life depends upon unimportant occurrences, to which little consequence is attached at the moment. About the summer of 1793 or 1794, the celebrated Miss Laetitia Aikin, better known as Mrs. Barbauld, paid a visit to Edinburgh, and was received by such literary society as the place then boasted, with the hospitality to which her talents and her worth entitled her. Among others, she was kindly welcomed by the late excellent and admired Professor Dugald Stewart, his lady, and family. It was in their evening society that Miss Aikin drew from her pocket-book a version of * Lenoré, executed by William Taylor, Esq., of Norwich, with as much freedom as was consistent_with great spirit and scrupulous fidelity. She read this composition to the o who were electrified by the tale. It was the more successful, that Mr. Taylor had boldly copied the imitative harmony of the German, and described the spectral journey in language resembling that of the original. Bürger had thus painted the ghostly career:
“Und hur hułre, ho o hop
Ging's förtin sau em KGalopp,
Dass Ross'ind Reiter schnoben,
Und Kieslund Funken stoben.’
When Miss Aikin had finished her recitation, she replaced in her pocket-book the paper from which she had read it, and enjoyed the satisfaction of having made a strong impression on the hearers, whose bosoms thrilled yet the deeper, as the ballad was not to be more closely introduced to them.
The author was not present upon this occasion, , although he had then the distinguished , advantage of being a familiar friend and, frequent visitor , of Professor Stewart and his family. . But he was absent from town while Miss Aikin was in Edinburgh, and it was not until his return that he found all his friends in rapture with the intelligence and good sense of their visitor, but in particular with the wonderful transla. tion from the German, by means of which she had delighted and astonished them. The enthusiastic description given of Bürger's ballad, and the broken account of the story, of which only two lines were recollected, inspired the author, who had some acquaintance, as has been said, with the German language, and a strong taste for popular poetry, with a desire to see the original.
This was not a wish easily gratified; German works were at that time seldom found in London, for sale—in Edinburgh never. A lady of noble German descent, 1 whose friendship I have enjoyed for many years, found means, however, to É. ne a copy of Bürger's works from Hamburgh.
1 Born Countess Harriet Bruhl of Martinskirchen, and married to Hugh Scott, Esq., of Harden, afterwards Lord Polwarth, the author's relative, and muchvalued friend almost from infancy.
The perusal of the original rather exceeded than disappointed the expectations which the report of Mr. Stewart's family had induced me to form. At length, when the book had been a few hours in my possession, I found myself giving an animated account of the poem to a friend, and rashly added a promise to furnish a copy in #. ballad verse. I well recollect that I began my task after supper, and finished it about daybreak the next morning, by which time the ideas which the task had a tendency to summon up were rather of an uncomfortable character. As my object was much more to make a good translation of the poem for those whom I wished to please, than to acquire any poetical fame for myself, I retained in my translation the two lines which Mr. Taylor had rendered with equal boldness and felicity. My attempt succeeded far beyond my expectations; and it may readily be believed that I was induced to persevere in a pursuit which gratified my own vanity, while it seemed to amuse others... I accomplished a translation of "Der Wilde Jäger'—a romantic ballad founded on a superstition universally current in Germany, and known also in Scotland and France. In this I took rather more license than in versifying * Lenoré': and I balladized one or two other o of Bürger with more or less success. n the course of a few weeks, my own vanity, and the favourable opinion of friends, interested by the temporary revival of a species of poetry containing a germ of popularity of which perhaps they were not themselves aware, urged me to the decisive step of sending a selection, at least, of my translations to the press, to save the numerous applications which were made for copies. § en was there an author deaf to such a recommendation? In 1796, the present author was prevailed, on, "by request of friends, to indulge his own vanity b publishing the translation of Lenoré, 'wit that of ‘The Wild Huntsman,’ in a thin quarto, The fate of this, my first publication, was by no means flattering. . I distributed so many copies among my friends as, according to the booksellers, materially to interfere with the sale; and the number of translations which appeared in England about the same time, including that of Mr. Taylor, to which I had been so much indebted, and which was published in ‘The Monthly Magazine,’ were sufficient to exclude a provincial writer from competition. However, different my success might have been, had I been fortunate enough to have led the way in the general scramble for precedence, my efforts sunk unnoticed when launched at the same time with those of Mr. Taylor (upon whose property I had committed the kind of piracy already noticed, and who generously forgave me the invasion of his rights); of my inge. nious and amiable }; of many years, William Robert Spencer; of Mr. Pye, the laureate of the day, and many others besides. In a word, Iny adventure, where so many pushed off to sea, proved a dead loss, and a great part of the edition was condemned to the service of the trunk-maker. Nay, so complete was the failure of the unfortunate ballads, that the very existence of them was soon forgotten ; . in a newspaper, in which I very lately read, to my no small horror, a most appalling list, of my own various publications, I saw this, Iny first oftence, had escaped the industrious collector, for whose indefatigable research I inay in gratitude wish a better object. The failure of my first publication did not operate, in any unpleasant degree, either on my feelings or spirits. I was coldly received by strangers, but my reputation began rather to increase among my own friends, and, on the whole, I was more bent to show the world that it had neglected something worth notice, than to be affronted by its indifference. Or rather, to speak candidly, I found pleasure in the literary labour in Wà I had, almost by accident, become engaged, and laboured, less in the hope of pleasing others, though certainly without despair of doing so, than in the pursuit of a new and agreeable amuseinent to Inyself. I pursued the German language keenly, and, though far from being a correct scholar, became a bold and daring reader, nay, even translator, of various dramatic pieces from that tongue. The want of books at that time (about 1796) was a great interruption to the rapidity of my movements; for the young do not know, and perhaps my own contemporaries
may have forgotten, the difficulty with which publications were then procured from the continent. The worthy and excellent friend, of whom I gave a sketch many years afterwards in the person of Jonathan Oldbuck, procured me Adelung's Dictionary, through the mediation of Father Pepper, à monk of the Scotch College of Ratisbon. Other wants of the same nature were supplied by Mrs. Scott of Harden, whose kindness in a similar instance I have had already occasion to acknowledge. Through this lady's connections on the continent, I obtained copies of Bürger, Schiller, Goethe, and other standard German works; and though the obligation be of a distant date, it still remains impressed on my memory, after a life spent in a constant interchange of friendship and kindness with that fainily which is, according to Scottish ideas, the head of my house.
Being thus furnished with the necessary originals, I began to translate on all sides, certainly without anything like an accurate knowledge of the language; and, although the dramas of Goethe, Schiller, and others, powerfully attracted one whose early attention to the German had been arrested by Mackenzie's Dissertation, and the play of ‘The Robbers, yet the ballad poetry, in which I had made a bold essay, was still my favourite. I was yet more delighted on finding that the old English, and especially the Scottish language, were so nearly similar to the German, not in sound merely, but in the turn of phrase, that they were capable of being rendered line for line, with very little variation.
| THE WILD. HUNTSMAN. P. 634.
This is a translation, or rather an imitation, of the Wilde Jäger of the German #. Bürger. The tradition upon which it is ounded bears, that formerly a Waldgrave, or keeper of a royal forest, named Faulkenburg, was so much addicted to the pleasures of the chase, and otherwise so extremely profligate and cruel, that he not only followed this unhallowed amusement on the Sabbath, and other days consecrated to religious duty, but accompanied it with the most unleardof oppression upon the poor peasants, who were under his vassalage. When this second Nimrod died, the people adopted a superstition, founded probably on the many various uncouth sounds heard in the depth of , a German forest, during the silence of the night. They conceived they still heard the cry, of the Waldgrave's hounds; and the well-known cheer of the deceased hunter, the sounds of his horses' feet, and the rustling of the branches before the game, the pack, and the sportsmen, are also distinctly discriminated; but the phantoms are rarely, if ever, visible. . Once, asabenighted Chasseur heard this infernal chase pass by him, at the sound of the hailoo with which the Spectre Huntsman cheered his hounds, he could not refrain from crying, ‘Gluck zu Falkenburgh/? [Good sport to ye, Falkenburgh! J "Dost thou §§ me good sport?' answered a hoarse voice; “thou shalt share the game;" and there was thrown at him what seemed to be a huge piece of soul carrion. The daring Chasseur lost two of his best horses soon after, and never Portly recovered the personal effects of this ghostly greeting. This tale, though told with some variations, is universally believed all over Germany.
The French had a similar tradition concerning an aérial hunter, who infested the forest of Fountainbleau. He was sometimes visible; when he appeared as a huntsman, surrounded with dogs, a tall grisly figure. Some account of him may be found in 'Sully's Memoirs,' who says he was called Le Grand Veneur. At one time he chose to hunt so near the palace that the attendants, and, if I mistake not, Sully himself, came out into the court, supposing it was the sound of the king returning from the chase. This phantom is "E. called Saint Hubert.
The superstition seems to have been very general, as appears from the following fine poetical description of this phantom, chase, as it was heard in the wilds of Ross shire.
‘Ere since of old, the haughty thanes of Ross,
And nearer, voice of hunters, and of hounds,
A posthumous miracle of Father Lesley, a Scottish capuchin, related to his being buried on a hill haunted by these unearthly cries of hounds and huntsmen. After his sainted relics had been deposited there, the noise was never heard more. The reader will find this, and other miracles, recorded in the life of Father Bonaventura, which is written in the choicest Italian.
THE FIRE-KING. P. 637.
This ballad was written at the request of Mr. Lewis, to be inserted in his ‘Tales of Wonder.” It is the third in a series of four ballads, on the subject of Elementary Spirits. The story is, however, partly historica); for it is recorded that, during the struggles of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, a KnightTemplar, called Saint-Alban, deserted to the Saracens, and defeated the Christians in many combats, till he was finally routed and slain, in a conflict with King Baldwin, under the walls of Jerusalem.
FREDERICK AND ALICE. P. 64o.
This tale is imitated, rather than translated, from a fragment introduced in Goethe's Claudina von Villa Bella,' where it is sung by a member of a gang of banditti, to engage §. attention of the family, while his coinanions break into the castle. It owes any ittle merit it may possess to my friend Mr. Lewis, to whom it was sent in an extremely rude state; and who, after some material improvements, published it in his ‘Tales of Wonder.”
THE BATTLE OF SEMPACH. P. 642.
These verses are a literal translation of an ancient Swiss ballad upon the battle of Sempach, fought July 9, 1386, being the