Birch, Jonathan (DNB00)

BIRCH, JONATHAN (1783–1847), translator of 'Faust,' was born in Holborn, London, on 4 July 1783. When a lad he had a strong desire to become a sculptor, but in October 1798 he was apprenticed to an uncle in the city. In 1803 he entered the house of John Argelander, a timber-merchant at Memel, where he remained until Argelander's death, in 1812, much of his time being employed in travelling in Russia, Sweden, and Denmark. In 1807 the three eldest sons of Frederick William III of Prussia took refuge with Argelander for eighteen months, and became warmly attached to Birch, in whose company they took delight.

In 1812 Birch returned to England and turned to literary pursuits. In 1823 he married Miss Esther Brooke, of Lancaster, who bore him five children, of whom only two survived, a boy and a girl. His son, Charles Bell Birch, A.R. A., became a sculptor.

After many minor essays in literature he published 'Fifty-one Original Fables, with Morals and Ethical Index. Embellished with eighty-five original designs by Robert Cruickshank; also a translation of Plutarch's "Banquet of the Seven Sages," revised for this work,' London, 1833, 8vo. The preface is signed 'Job Crithannah,' an anagram of the author's name. The Crown Prince of Prussia accepted a copy, and renewed the friendship formed at Memel. Birch next produced 'Divine Emblems; embellished with etchings on copper [by Robert Cruickshank], after the fashion of Master Francis Quarles. Designed and written by Johann Albricht, A.M.' (another anagram of Jonathan Birch), London, 1838, 8vo ; Dublin, 1839, 8vo. On sending the crown prince a copy he received in return a gold medal, of which only thirty were struck, and given by the prince to his particular friends. He now undertook a complete translation of Goethe's 'Faust,' being the first to attempt the two parts. The first was published in 1839, and dedicated to the crown prince, who, on coming to the throne in 1840 as Frederick William IV, sent him the 'great gold medal of homage.' In 1841 Birch was elected 'foreign honorary member of the Literary Society of Berlin,' the only other Englishman thus honoured being Thomas Carlyle. The second part of 'Faust' was published in 1843, and dedicated to the King of Prussia. Birch also translated, from the German of Bishop Eylert, two works upon Frederick William III. In 1846 the King of Prussia offered him a choice of apartments in three of his palaces. He chose Bellevue, near Berlin, mainly for the sake of his son's artistic studies. At the end of 1846 he settled in Prussia, and completed his last work, a translation of the 'Nibelungen Lied,' Berlin, 1848, 8vo. He was greatly aided by Professor Carl Lachmann, whose text he mainly followed, and by the brothers Grimm. While his work was still in the press he was taken ill, and died at Bellevue on 8 Sept. 1847.

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T. C.