Sorrows of Werther

December 8, 2018 at 10:16 am (books, chutes of the vyne, entertainment, history, jane austen, people) (, , , )


Last Saturday I was listening to the Met’s broadcast of Mefistofele (Boito); here, of course, is a subject who is undoubtedly better-associated with composer Charles Gounod.

Searching (as I always do!) for more on my Smiths & Goslings, I turned up a subscriber list for a book that, for DAYS, I believed was an English translation of that 18th-century smash-hit from Germany, Die Leiden des jungen WerthersThe Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe.

Pulling up the relevant book – this time having to SEARCH FOR IT (rather than stumbling upon it), I found that the text is a bit of a “hybrid” – a POEM, The Sorrows of Werter (sic): A Poem, by Amelia Pickering. It is, like the operas Mefistofele and Faust, based on source material, in this case “Founded on Goethe’s Novel.” It was published by Cadell in 1788.

No “Jane Austen” among the subscribers (famously, she IS listed as a Fanny Burney Camilla subscriber). But: a long list of names familiar to me as belonging to the wider Smith and Gosling circle.

When I spotted HENRY ADDINGTON (MP and PM), I wasn’t surprised when JOSHUA SMITH and MRS. SMITH turned up. The Smiths are Emma Austen’s maternal grandparents; Addington was Joshua’s fellow MP for Devizes.

The Duchess of Bolton would have been a name familiar to Jane Austen. There’s even a MRS. BENNET and a MRS. ELTON on the list!

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

Several names occur in the Smith diaries – but I would have to dig about to ascertain whether they were the actual PEOPLE the Smiths and Goslings knew. Some BLACKWOODS, even an ABDY and a Mrs. BAKER of BEDFORD SQUARE. And who was the 1780s “Miss Ashley”???!! Two sisters of that name (but in the 1830s and beyond) were beloved by the Smith family.

There’s a BERTIE and a couple of BOSANQUETS. BLACKSTONES join the Blackwoods from further up the list. LADY CLIVE is prominent (in second position at the start of the ‘C’s’); Clive of India banked with the Goslings. Several CARTWRIGHTS and a couple of CARRS and COURTENAYS. Even “Mr. Cadell,” who (presumably) must be the publisher himself.

Well, you get the drift. So many people, so many readers.

In short, it’s so much fun to sort thru the names – especially when realizing that I am actually uncovering what volumes once belonged to a library or bedside table of relations to my Two Teens in the Time of Austen (ie, Mary Gosling and Emma Smith). The inclusion of The Sorrows of Werter: A Poem is a bit of a surprise, though they were a group who LOVED to read (and even write) verses.

Among family, joining the aforementioned Joshua and Sarah Smith are:

  • Robert Gosling, Esq.
  • Mrs. Gosling

(surely Mary’s paternal grandparents)

There are three Hornes and a Mrs. Hyde who may be Smith relations. The HICKS I suspect Jane Austen also to have known. There is a Countess Dowager of Northampton, related to Emma’s Castle Ashby cousins, but no one young Emma knew personally.

elizachute

The NORMANS were the cause of my search, and the reason I stumbled upon this book: TWO Mrs. Norman’s are listed; I lean a bit more towards the “Mrs. Norman, Henley” as being the woman _I_ want; but I’m not sure (the other has no identifying information attached to her name). I do believe, though, that her sons and daughter-in-law turn up as:

  • Richard Norman, Esq.
  • Mrs. R. Norman
  • George Norman, Esq.

The identify of Mrs. R. Norman is especially interesting – she was a daughter of Francis Gregg, and therefore a sister to Caroline Carr, née Gregg. Married in 1783, she evidently died in 1792 or 1793. Eliza Chute (then unmarried and still Eliza Smith) makes NO MENTION of the death of Mrs. Richard Norman (which would have been an enormous help, Eliza!), but neither did she mention the 1817 death of Jane Austen — and both events must have been known to her, and of interest to her.

It dawned on me in the night to ask: WHO was Amelia Pickering??

It was while trying to find something, anything about the author that I found a copy of this very book (!!) at a rare-bookseller’s site, for £1200 (!!!!).

The seller found a critique of the period by Mary Wollstonecraft:

4to., pp. xxii, 69, [1]; with half-title and a sixteen-page list of 961 subscribers; apart from slight fraying a very good copy, uncut, in original blue-grey wrappers and tan paper spine.

First edition. Amelia Pickering’s ‘melancholy, contemplative poem’ (Todd) was one of a spate of works in English and German founded on Goethe’s novel, including poems by Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson, both subscribers here. Pickering ‘gives to Charlotte a voice, if rather weakly moralistic, and to Werter suffering which is acute, credible and unhysterical’ (Feminist Companion citing ‘The Sorrows of Young Charlotte: Werter’s English Sisters’, Goethe Yearbook, 1986).

Mary Wollstonecraft, however, was not enthusiastic. ‘To pity Werter we must read the original … The energy … is lost in this smooth, and even faithful, imitation … Werter is dead from the beginning: we hear his very words; but the spirit which animated them is fled …’ (Analytical Review, January 1789).

 

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