Faustus: from the German of Goethe.

London: Boosey and Sons ... and Rodwell & Martin ... 1821.

4to., pp. viii, 86, [2], with the half-title, and the final leaf with a list of plates and errata; frontispiece drawn and engraved by Henry Moses, and twenty-six plates engraved by Moses after Professor Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch’s famous ‘outlines’, the most enduring illustrations to Faust of the nineteenth century; some spotting and foxing, as nearly always, but a good copy, in contemporary half calf, rubbed and rebacked, corners scraped.


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First edition of this expanded translation of Faust (Part I), long mistakenly attributed to George Soane, but now authoritatively credited to Coleridge; issued here with the Retzsch plates which had appeared separately in 1820. ‘The most striking passages and scenes ... have been translated into blank verse, and connected by a detailed description in prose’ (Introduction), and it is the first substantial English translation of the work. There is also an octavo issue, without plates, from the same setting of type.

Coleridge had first contemplated, and begun, a translation of Faust for John Murray in 1814, a project soon abandoned. In 1820, when demand was high in England for a translation to accompany Retzsch’s iconic illustrations (first published in Germany in 1816), George Soane had answered the call first with a series of excerpted captions, followed by ‘a German in humble circumstances’ (i.e. Daniel Boileau) who contributed to the Boosey edition of Retsch’s Series of Twenty-Six Outlines in 1820. ‘Both the Bohte [Soane] and Boosey [Boileau] editions sold out quickly, but Thomas Boosey had initiated plans for a second edition of his version two months before the first edition appeared. He thus turned to Coleridge for “friendly advice” … The new text was twenty-nine pages longer, and could be bound with the plates or separately as an original publication. Coleridge translated almost half the original work, with his dramatic blank verse embedded in a prose plot summary of the remaining half’ (Burwick & McKusick). Coleridge’s strong understanding of German literature and of the philosophical and literary references embued in the original gave him a unique advantage among the English translators of Faust.

Although the Coleridge–Boosey correspondence survives, along with numerous other contemporary references (Goethe himself heard that ‘Colleridge übersetzt das Stück’), a late nineteenth-century misattribution to Soane has long held sway, helped along by Coleridge’s own ambigious statement that ‘I never put pen to paper as translator of Faust’. The recent Clarendon Press edition provides detailed circumstatial and ‘stylometric’ evidence for the attribution to Coleridge.

Morgan 2622; see Faustus: from the German of Goethe. Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, F. Burwick and J. McKusick, eds., Oxford, 2007.

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