Thursday, November 13, 2014


The Happiness of the Peasant

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, letter to Friederike Baldinger (February 20, 1777), tr. Franz Mautner and Henry Hatfield in Lichtenberg: Aphorisms & Letters (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969), p. 92 (with translators' footnotes):
My blood boils when I hear our bards envying the happiness of the peasant. You want to be happy as he is, I'd always like to say, and at the same time stay the fop you are; that won't do at all. Work the way he does; if your limbs are too delicate for the plough, work in the depth of science; read Euler* or Haller† instead of Goethe, and bracing Plutarch instead of Siegwart.‡

* Leonhard Euler, famous Swiss mathematician (1707-83).
† Albrecht von Haller, Swiss scientist and poet, important in the history of physiology, botany, anatomy (1708-77).
‡ A sentimental novel by J.M. Miller, published in 1776, written in emulation of The Sorrows of Young Werther, the work by Goethe most widely known at that time.
The German:
Mir läuft die Galle allemal über, wenn ich unsere Barden das Glück des Landmanns beneiden höre. Du willst, möchte ich immer sagen, glücklich sein wie er und dabei ein Geck sein wie du, das geht freilich nicht. Arbeite wie er, und wo deine Glieder zu zart sind zum Pflug, so arbeite in den Tiefen der Wissenschaft, lies Eulern oder Hallern statt Goethe, und den stärkenden Plutarch statt des entnervenden Siegwarts.
The translators omit entnervenden (= enervating) describing Siegwart—it really is necessary, to mark the contrast with stärkenden Plutarch (= bracing Plutarch).

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