Translator's Preface/Chapter 1
In presenting to the public this, the first English translation of one of Reuter's works, it may not be superfluous to say a few words concerning their author. Though his name is unknown in England , in Germany he is one of the most popular authors of the day. His stories and poems are written in Platt-deutsch, and are read wherever that dialect is spoken that is to say throughout Northern, or Lower, Germany, — extending from Memel in the extreme North East to Aix-la-Chapelle in the South West, — and even the Germans of the more southern and higher-lying States, where Platt-deutsch is unknown, now frequently learn it for the sole purpose of reading Reuter's works.
The following story, called in the original “Ut de Franzosentid”, was published in 1860, and rapidly passed through several editions. It is one of a series to which Reuter has given the name of “Olle Kamellen” literally “old camomile-flowers”, by which he means “old tales, old recollections, useful as homely remedies.” It is one of the most popular of his works, and perhaps also the most translateable. Hence the reason for bringing it first before the English public.
The scene of the story is laid in Stavenhagen, or Stemhagen as it is called in Plattdeutsch, Renter's native town. The characters introduced were all real people-, and even their names have been retained.
The story opens at the moment when the German people was at length beginning to rise against Napoleon, and it gives a vivid picture of the state of feeling which then prevailed in Germany towards the French. The Germans were in the galling position of being forced to treat the French as allies, whilst hating them with an intense and unconquerable hatred. And this hatred, wide-spread over the whole country, is shown in the expressions of detestation ever bursting forth at the mention of the French name.
The language in which the story is written is closely allied to the Saxon, and has much more resemblance to English than High German has; but it is nevertheless a dialect, and bears the same relation to the High German as the child's language does to the man's; and my aim has been, while endeavouring to make the translation read like an English work, to adhere as closely as possible to the form and simplicity of the original.
Hampstead, June 1867.
IN THE YEAR 13
Showing why Miner Voss could not be made a bankrupt, and how he helped the Amtshauptmann in a great difficulty.
I WAS baptised, and had godfathers: four of them. And, if my godfathers were still alive, and walked through the streets with me, people would stop and say: "Look, what fine fellows! you won't see many such." They were indeed godfathers! And one of them was a head taller than the others, and towered above them as Saul did above his brethren. This was the old Amtshauptmann Weber. He used to wear a well-brushed blue coat, yellowish trousers, and well-blacked boots, and his face was so marked by the small-pox that it looked as if the Devil had been threshing his peas on it, or as if he had sat down upon his face on a cane-bottomed chair. On his broad forehead there stood written, and in his eyes too you could read, "Not the fear of Man but the fear of God." And he was the right man in the right place.
About eleven o'clock in the morning he might be seen sitting in an arm-chair in the middle of the room, whilst his wife fastened a napkin under his chin, put the powder on his hair, tied it behind and twisted it into a neat pigtail.
When the old gentleman walked up and down under the shade of the chestnut-trees at noon, his little rogue of a pigtail wagged merrily, and nodded over the collar of his blue coat as if it wanted to say to any one who would listen: "Yes, look old fellow! What do you think of me? I am only the tip of his hair, and if I can wag so comically out here, you may fancy how merry it must be inside his head."
When I took him a message from my father, and managed to give it straight off, he would pat me on the head, and then say: "Now, away with you, boy. Off, like a shot! When you pull the trigger the gun mustn't hang fire, but must go off like a flash of lightning. Run to Mamsell Westphalen, and ask her for an apple."
To my father he would say: "Well, friend, what do you think? Are not you glad that you have a son, boys are much better than girls; girls are always fretting and crying. Thank God, I have a boy too, my Joe. — What say you, eh!"
My father told my mother. "Do you know," said he, "what the old Amtshauptmann says? Boys are better than girls." Now, I was in the room at the time and overheard this, and of course I said to myself: "My godfather is always right, boys are better than girls, and every one should have his deserts." So I took the large piece of plumcake for myself and gave my sister the small one, and thought not a little of myself, for I knew now that I was the larger half of the apple. But this was not to last; the tables were to be turned. —
One day — it was at the time when the rascally French had just come back from Russia , and everything was in commotion — some one knocked at the Herr Amtshauptmann's door. "Come in," cried the old gentleman, and in came old Miller Voss of Gielow, ducking his head nearly down to the ground by way of a bow.
"Good afternoon, Herr Amtshauptmann," said he.
"Good morning. Miller."
Now, though the one said "good afternoon" and the other said "good morning," each was right from his own point of view, for the Miller got up at four o'clock in the morning, and with him it was afternoon, while with the Amtshauptmann it was still early in the morning, as he did not rise till eleven.
"What is it, Miller?"
"Herr Amtshauptmann, I've come to you about a weighty matter. — I'll tell you what it is: — I want to he made a bankrupt."
"I want to he made a bankrupt, Herr Amtshauptmann."
"Hm — Hm," muttered the Amtshauptmann, "that's an ugly business." And he paced up and down the room scratching his head. "How long have you been at the Bailiwick of Stemhagen?"
"Three and thirty years come Midsummer."
"Hm — Hm," again muttered the Amtshauptmann, "and how old are you, Miller?"
Dieses Kapitel ist Teil des Buches IN THE YEAR 13