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Kuno Francke’s Edition of «The German Classics» (1913–15)

A Critical and Historical Overview


Jeffrey L. Sammons

The twenty-volume edition of The German Classics: Masterpieces of German Literature Translated into English was edited by Kuno Francke of Harvard (1855-1930), the most prestigious professor of German in America at the time. While it bears the imprint dates 1913 and 1914, it was not completed until mid-1915, just in time for the submarine sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania in May of that year. The edition was publicized with great fanfare and was well received at first, but with the outbreak of the European war in 1914 and the entry of the United States into it in 1917, American sentiment turned against all things German. The reviews became hostile; the edition was nearly pulped; its publisher went bankrupt; and Francke felt obliged to resign his Harvard professorship. Kuno Francke’s Edition of The German Classics (1913-15) describes the origins of the edition; recounts the careers of the editors and some fifty professional contributors; seeks to identify approximately 115 translators; and comments on the nearly 500 illustrations, mostly German art of the nineteenth century. This book also introduces the selections from the 114 featured authors, almost a third of whom were still alive at the time of publication, and evaluates the critical commentary. The edition emerges from the study as a laboratory of the high prestige of German literature and culture in the United States before it fell into permanent decline at the time of World War I.