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Transatlantic Crossings and Transformations

German-American Cultural Transfer from the 18th to the End of the 19th Century


Kurt Mueller-Vollmer

This volume attempts for the first time a comprehensive view of the momentous process of German-American cultural transfer during the 18th and 19th centuries, which played an important part in the formation of an American national and cultural identity, a process to which the New England Transcendentalists contributed some of the decisive ingredients, but which has largely escaped the attention of German and American scholarship. In each chapter a specific problem is treated systematically from a clearly defined perspective, deficiencies of existing translation theories are exposed, so that in the concluding chapters 13 and 14 (with an unpublished memorandum by Alexander von Humboldt) a cohesive view of the entire process emerges. A comprehensive bibliography will facilitate further scholarly pursuits.
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4. Herder, Bancroft, and the Importation of Cultural Nationalism in the Early Republic


4.1 Cultural Nationalism in Europe and its American Counterpart

Johann Gottfried Herder was one of the first important writers who became part of the canon of German authors to be adopted by the New England Transcendentalists and who made his presence felt both in their theoretical utterances and literary productions. The second issue of The Dial, the official mouthpiece of the New England Transcendentalist movement, carried a letter by George Ripley, one of the leaders of the movement, addressed to an American student of theology, in which he warmly recommended Herder’s Letters Concerning the Study of Theology (Briefe das Studium der Theologie betreffend), a book that he considered worth the trouble of learning to read German.1 Already twenty years earlier, in 1820/21, the Reverend Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham of Boston, one of the earliest students of the German language in America, had translated and published portions of Herder’s piece, “Letters to a young Theologian” in The Christian Disciple.2 In 1826 translations of portions of Herder’s Vom Geiste der Hebräischen Poesie (The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry), translated by James Marsh, appeared in The Biblical Repertory, which was followed in 1833 by the publication of the entire work by the same translator.3

But Herder’s reception in early nineteenth-century America has to be seen in both broader and more specific terms than is suggested by his presence among the New England Transcendentalist theologians and literati. The reception of German literature and ideas played an important part in...

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