Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark as a Translator


Mark conquered Germany before he became one of the favorite literary sons of Austria. "I often wonder that they take to my brand of humor so well," he told me more than once in Vienna—"I mean AFTER MY GERMAN TRIUMPHS, for if Vienna Bookland hates anything worse than German Bookland, I haven't come across the likes of it. Each capital thinks itself a Boston and each calls the other Kalamazoo, or dead Indian Town.

"But I'm not ungrateful," continued Mark, "and to prove it, I studied hard and established the identity of the fatherlandish author whom both Vienna and Berlin admired (though nobody reads him, of course): Goethe."

"Goethe was Englished before I tackled him, but I happened on a passage in Faust that, it seemed to me, was not done justice to. So I summoned the family to a powwow and between us, and a heap of dictionaries, we rendered the disputed and immortal lines 'thus classic':

"'What hypocrites and such can't do without—
 Cheese it—ne'er mention it aloud.'

"Bayard" (Taylor) "would have burst with envy if he had lived long enough to see how happily I interpreted Goethe without itching for translator's laurels or royalties."

"Let's see the original, Mark."

"Here it is:

 "'Man darf es nicht vor keuschen Ohren nennen,
Was keusche Hertzen nicht entbehren können.'

"Vers libre with a vengeance, eh?" chuckled Mark. "And why in thunder shouldn't that mean verse liberally handled?"

"If I translated your version of Goethe back into German, do you suppose the Fatherlanders would understand it?"

"No," said honest Mark, "but I do understand their translations of my lingo I am told they make me appear like a native German writer, in fact Moritz Busch called me the most translatable of foreign authors, to my face—but Goethe was a poet, and a prose man, like me, can never do justice to a poetry man of Goethe's distinction. Look at these German translations of Shakespeare—they think them classic—they get my eyes in flood with laughter."