Wallenstein’s Camp, by Friedrich Schiller

[That is Wallenstein’s Camp, by F J Lamport.]

I have a set of six Spanish novels which I purchased many years ago, some of them quite difficult to obtain in English (Miguel Delibes’ The Prince Dethroned, for instance), which were published by Iberia Airways – presumably as part of a futile attempt to introduce Spanish culture to your average English tourist.

These books are pretty badly produced (a friend of mine, who worked in the publishing trade, found the type-setting in particular hilariously appalling) and in the main badly translated – and when I say badly translated, I mean not merely spelling errors and infelicities, but whole sentences which in English are just gibberish.

And yet – really, reading them, I don’t mind. I can take it; I can accept it; for the sake of being able to read the book. I don’t even think it’s really affected my enjoyment – it just catches me up every now and again, distracts me a moment against the author’s intention.

But FJ Lamport’s translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein’s Camp is far worse than this. No, there are no spelling mistakes; Lamport doesn’t get any of the English actually wrong – that would all be forgiveable. This is far more horrific: FJ Lamport – has translated it into rhyming couplets!

And even that’s not so bad, you may think – though it’s certainly true, if you want anything to sound like worthless doggerel, then you should put it in rhyming couplets. But here’s a phenomenon for you: if you ever read a prose work that’s been translated, and then suddenly there’s a poem by the author in the middle of it, you can be sure that the poem has been dreadfully rendered by the translator: that it’s set down without any sense of rhythm or cadence, without any appreciation of stress or metrical form; with no other intention, in truth, than getting a rhyme at the end of each line.

OK, so let’s take a line or two from Wallenstein’s Camp:

Did I run away from my desk in the school
Only to find the same labour and rule,
The narrow study, the toil and the cramp
Awaiting me here in the soldier’s camp?
I want to live well, not have too much to do,
Every day of my life see something new,
Cheerfully seize the moment, in sum,
Not brood on the past, nor on things to come-
That’s why I’ve sold Ferdinand my skin:
In the face of care I can merrily grin.
Lead me where cannon roar and thud,
Across the Rhine in its raging flood,
Let a third of the company shed their life’s blood;
I’ll not be squeamish, or make a dance.
But otherwise, if you don’t object,
Spare me your fuss and circumstance.

And so on, for 50 pages.

I imagine there’s a reason for all this. Perhaps the original German is in rhyming couplets. Certainly it’s probably in a different form to the rest of the play (just as this section involves the plebeians, whereas the rest – I suspect – is concerned only with the aristocracy); one of the first things I did was to look ahead and see if The Piccolomini was the same (I would have given up if it had been), but thankfully it looks like it’s in some sort of blank verse, which should probably be ok.

So – aside from all this – what about the play? – Well, it’s a sort of scene-setting: various of Wallenstein’s soldiers discuss war and peace, the current situation in Germany, what in brief has happened so far in the Thirty Years War, and whose side everyone’s on – hopefully all building towards better plays.


7 thoughts on “Wallenstein’s Camp, by Friedrich Schiller

  1. 50 pages of that you say? Thank you for taking one for the team, Obooki! Love the description of those Iberian Airways titles, but I shudder to think what they did to poor Miguel Delibes’ prose. Maybe there’s a reason he’s not a household name outside of Spain!

  2. I just checked the German original and it is pretty awful too. Same rhyming and some of it sounds positively stupid. Here it is:

    “Die Freiheit macht ihn! Mit Euren Fratzen!
    Daß ich mit Euch soll darüber schwatzen. –
    Lief ich darum aus der Schul’ und der Lehre,
    Daß ich die Fron und die Galeere,
    Die Schreibstub’ und ihre engen Wände
    In dem Feldlager wiederfände? –
    Flott will ich leben und müßiggehn,
    Alle Tage was Neues sehn,
    Mich dem Augenblick frisch vertrauen,
    Nicht zurück, auch nicht vorwärts schauen –
    Drum hab ich meine Haut dem Kaiser verhandelt,
    Daß keine Sorg’ mich mehr anwandelt.
    Führt mich ins Feuer frisch hinein,
    Über den reißenden, tiefen Rhein,
    Der dritte Mann soll verloren sein;
    Werde mich nicht lang sperren und zieren. –
    Sonst muß man mich aber, ich bitte sehr,
    Mit nichts weiter inkommodieren.

  3. It’s interesting. I wish my German was good enough to tell how poor the poetry actually is. Who knows, perhaps Schiller was aiming at artlessness in his portrayal of these lower-order characters. And maybe it is a very fine and faithful translation after all.

  4. Lamport (p. 17 if you have the same Penguin I do) describes the form as “doggerel verse” and notes that an earlier translator, a certain Sam Coleridge, omitted the Camp as incongruous “with the present taste of the English public.”

    So, yes, the translator is making the – best? worst? – of a – good? bad? – business.

  5. Ah well, there you go! – Far be it from me to read the introductions to books.

    It’s true though, in the c19th, they seemed to like a bit of doggerel. It was a simpler time, I suppose, before the mind-set which led to modernism came along and ruined it all.

    Still, it’s gratifying to know I can recognise rubbish when I see it, and I’m not taken in by a big name!

  6. Hahahaha…If only British Airways would emulate Iberia.

    “Welcome to London, Mr and Mrs. Fattydeposits. Here’s a copy of Molloy by Samuel Beckett, just to help you acclimatise. Enjoy your stay in the United Kingdom.”

    “Gee, thanks. When to we get to see the Queen?”

  7. It must have been suprisingly like that. One of the books, for instance, is You’ll Never Get Anywhere (Volverás a Región – You Shall Return to Región) by Juan Benet – a writer who was largely influenced by the more experimental arm of William Faulkner. Though to be fair, the Delibes is easy-going and very charming.

    I suppose that’s worth an article in The Guardian: what books should we give out on flights to foreign tourists to acclimatise them to British culture?

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