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The following translation of UNDINE, one of the minor romances of Frederic, Baron de la Motte Fouquè, is from the fourth impression of the original, that of Berlin, 1826. It was made in the winter of 1835, and has since received such revision and improvement, as the kindness of literary friends, in connection with my own wish to do as little injustice to the genius of the author as I could, has enabled me to give it.
This is no place for discussing the characteristics of Fouquè, but he has one excellence of composition so rich and rare, that I may
permitted to allude to it here : -I mean his harmonious union of fiction and fact, his exquisite blending of the natural and supernatural. So perfect do we find this union to be, such a melting indeed of both into one, that we hardly know in which of the two we feel ourselves most at home. We have the true feeling of real life, embellished by the magic of imagination, — just as the frost-work, which at times we see almost spiritualizing our groves and shrubberies in winter, constitutes so much of their peculiar charm ;- and this double excellence it was, that led me to select and translate a few specimens of this writer's Natural and Supernatural.
UNDINE is a beautifully imaginative tale, a masterpiece in this department of German literature. With a simplicity of the antique cast it combines the most picturesque wildness, unbroken interest, excellent principles, a peculiar vein of pleasantry, and even what we seldom look for in works of this kind, touches of genuine pathos. We are esteemed, and I presume justly, a less imaginative race than the people of Germany. Our traditions, local superstitions, early influences, education, habits of thought, and other circumstances of life, are of a more common-place order than theirs. We are not, it may be, less fond of legendary lore, since love of the marvellous seems to be a universal impulse in our nature ; but we seek its enjoyment with the mere calm approval of fancy, while they welcome it with much of the warmth of good faith. Still, if “THE WORLD OF REALITY, NOT THE FAIRYLAND OF ROMANCE,' be our maxim, the spirit of truth and tenderness is no where wholly extinct : long as it may lie slumbering in the soul, it is too inseparable a part of our being ever to die. Is not imagination a germ of immortality ?
I am gratified to perceive that many writers allude to this fiction in terms of warm commendation. Menzel, in his developement of German Literature, of which we have lately been favoured with an able translation, speaks of this and the Vial-Genie,' or · Mandrake,' another miniature romance by the same author, in these words : “Fouquè's Undine' will always continue one of the most delightful creations of German poetry. Also the little story of the “Mandrake' belongs to the best elaborations of the old national sagas,” or tales of the supernatural, derived from the voice of traditional superstition. But the most accurate appreciation that I have seen of Undine, I find among those golden fragments of the richest of minds, the Specimens of the Table Talk of S. T. Coleridge. This is the passage to which I refer : “ Undine is a most exquisite work. It shows the general want of any sense for the fine and the subtle in the public taste, that this romance made no deep impression. Undine's character, before she receives a soul, is marvellously beautiful.”
The author, to whom we are so much indebted for these Specimens and other Literary Remains, and to whom we hope to be more and more indebted, as well for these labours of love as for those of his own classical genius, observes in a note : “Mr. Coleridge's admiration of this little romance was unbounded. He said there was something in Undine even beyond Scott, — that Scott's best characters and conceptions were composed; by which I understood him to mean, that Baillie Nicol Jarvie, for example, was made up of old particulars, and received its individuality from the author's power of fusion, being in the result an admirable product, as Corinthian brass was said to be the conflux of the spoils of a city. But Undine, he said, was one and single in projection, and had presented to his imagination, what Scott had never done, an absolutely new idea.”
This character being formed according to the principles of the Rosicrucian philosophy, it has been suggested to me, that, to enable the reader to understand and appreciate her story, I ought to prefix a sketch of that system to my translation, and I once thought of profiting by the suggestion. On reflection, however, I cannot but view the work as complete in itself. Whatever seems requisite, even for readers least conversant with such lore, Fouquè has contrived to incorporate, and I think very happily too, with the texture of his fable. See the developements of the eighth chapter. Every body enjoys the delightful marvels of the ARABIAN Nights, marvels that have almost become numbered among the commonplaces of our experience ; even children understand