Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune, 1844-1846

By Judith Mattson Bean; Joel Myerson | Go to book overview

‘Ertheiler's Phrase-Book’

This little book will be found of real use by those who are learning German in an intelligent manner. It is usually taught by a pedantic routine which makes its attainment unnecessarily difficult, as well as tedious. The writer, by methods similar to that proposed in this book, learned in three weeks what those who proceed in the common course do not in three months, to translate books in a simple style and on familiar subjects with considerable fluency. Nor is this method of learning superficial: on the contrary it implies a speedy insight to the construction of the language, which will never be attained merely by writing exercises in grammar, or hunting for each word singly in the dictionary. The two difficulties to be conquered in learning this language are the construction of the sentence which to us is, at first, clumsy and perplexing, and the many compounds, which are an endless task to those who count the leaves of the plant, instead of inferring them from their root. Both these difficulties are best overcome by some use of interlinear translation, with an intelligent analysis of compound words by the teacher.

The writer regrets the prejudice that exists against the study of this language as a difficult one, being of opinion that acquaintance with it and its literature is the one most likely to counteract the defects, to which our country tends, of hasty observation, shallow judgment, self-complacent ignorance, and a devotion to the merely temporal uses of life. It is also likely to further what exists among us of the truly catholic spirit in criticism and in faith. A wide experience in teaching the language, no less than the speed with which it was learned, shows this prejudice to be unfounded, and we would gladly prove to many more that it is so. We see with pleasure translations, many of them quite good, multiplying among us; but only by acquaintance with it in its native language, can the German mind in its purity, in its piety, its homely tenderness, its boundless aspiration, and its unwearied diligence (reader this last is climax, not bathos,) be brought home to us and “pressed to the heart of

-117-

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