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The Parritch and the Partridge: The Reception of Robert Burns in Germany

A History- 2nd Revised and Augmented Edition


Rosemary Anne Selle

This book sets out to explore the reception of Scotland’s best-loved writer Robert Burns in Germany, beginning with Burns’s contemporaries in a German state and at a time when instant international fame of foreign writers was yet to develop. The author traces Burns’s growing popularity and, for instance, demonstrates how a single line from a foreigner’s poem could become the motto of a generation of German revolutionists. Many of Burns’s well-known poems do not only figure in this first part but are also the subject of specific case studies in the second. Here works such as «Tam O’ Shanter» or «A red, red rose» are analysed in translation through the ages. The author’s comprehensive work is complemented by a short research update on the reception of Burns.


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1. Phases of Reception


1.1 Early Reception 1786 – 1829 In 1786, the year of publication of the first, Kilmarnock edition of Burns’s Po- ems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, his German contemporary Friedrich Schiller wrote to a friend discouraging him from the translation of British drama:10 “Es gab eine Epoche in Deutschland, wo es Verdienst hätte heißen können, aber jetzo verachtet der Luxus der Literatur diese Beisteuer aus fremden Landen.” This single sentence epitomised the German attitude to British drama pre- vailing in the last two decades of the eighteenth century. It had been the merit (“Verdienst”) of Lessing, Wieland and others to promote the development of German drama by referring it to British sources and models. Drama had become the mainstay of the Sturm und Drang movement. The fertile production (“der Luxus der Literatur”) and consequent self-confidence of the German dramatists led to rejection of foreign contributions (“verachtet […] diese Beisteuer aus fremden Landen”). Less reliance on foreign aid, more on domestic strength: the literary aspect was not of course the whole story. European quarrels and wars, occupations and mutual suspicions in the second half of the eighteenth century, as well as the spread of industrialisation and the reverberations of the American and French revolutions all contributed to a growing German nationalism and concentration on native cultural and literary traditions. There was a growing consensus among German writers in the second half of the century that not much could be learnt from contemporary British literature. There was a feeling of...

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