THE SORROWS OF WERTER [WERTHER]: A German Story.

The first translation into English of anything by Goethe
THE SORROWS OF WERTER [WERTHER]: A German Story.

London: Printed for J. Dodsley, 1779. First English language edition. 2 vols. in 1. 1st edition in English, translated by Daniel Malthus, father of the celebrated economist. 19th century 3/4 calf, no half–titles, sides a little rubbed else a nearly fine, clean copy of a very scarce book. The auction record shows 2 copies sold in the last 40 years, 1 of them twice. A census of institutional libraries by ESTC records 11 copies, OCLC found 7 more, some of them imperfect or defective, and some of them horribly mangled, and anyway, 18 copies total, world-wide, in 234 years of hunting them down, confirms that this 1st edition is scarcer most other books on the market called "rare" these days.

The Sorrows of Werter was partially autobiographical. Lotte, the object of Werter’s passion was a thinly veiled Charlotte Buff, the object of Goethe’s own youthful fantasies. It was first published in 1774 (in German), became the foundational novel of Romanticism, and brought Goethe immediate and staggering fame across the Western world, rivaling The Beatles 190 years later. “Werter Fever” inflamed pan–European young men to emulate Werter, an artist with a sensitive and passionate temperament, to dress in Goethe’s description of Werter’s clothing, and, in an unprecedented blowout, gave rise to copycat suicides as the fashionable response to unrequited love. And it didn’t fade quickly. The young Napoleon, channeling Werter, wrote a soliloquy in Goethe’s style, and in 1798, he carried a copy of the 1777 French translation with him on his campaign into Egypt, and 20 years after that, Frankenstein’s creature reads The Sorrows of Werter and contemplates suicide himself. And still it lived on. Carlyle touched the Goethe/Buff non–affair in Sartor Resartus (1836), Thackeray wrote a poem about it (1855), and 165 years after the 1st edition. Thomas Mann wrote his Lotte in Weimar (1939) in which Goethe has a reunion with his muse Charlotte Buff.
(Item #867)

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