Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - The Novel That Never Was
By Simon Beattie
I like books based on conceits. See, for example, my earlier post on a 1732 German satire in the form of a translation of a letter from one Sir Robert Clifton to a correspondent on the Russian island of Novaya Zemlya regarding an apocalyptic image he has seen in a frozen window pane. Here’s another I came across recently.
Published anonymously in what is now the Polish town of Sulechów by the German writer Friedrich Wilhelm von Meyern (author of Dya-na-sore, oder die Wanderer, 1787), it purports to be translated from an English novel entitled The Ruins on the Mountain-Lake. The engraved title and the letterpress fly-title which follow both quote Ossian, in English, and the preface is dated London, 16 August 1792. In it, the ‘translator’ writes of his time spent in London during which he has visited the booksellers and marvelled at luxurious editions such as John Boydell’s ‘Shakespeare Gallery’ or Hamilton’s Campi phlegræi. One day he finds himself in East London (‘you can imagine a bookshop in Wapping or Tower Hill isn’t one of the most dazzling’), where he comes across the ‘little old-fashioned book’, The Ruins on the Mountain-Lake, which has so gripped his imagination. The ‘editor’ closes the preface with a note that his friend, the translator, has died.
Going through the deceased’s things, he came across the English book and a handwritten fragment, ‘Geschichte der Brüder des Bundes’ (‘History of the Brothers of the League’), which he has since edited into the book now before the reader.
Meyern’s book is a Bundesroman, a popular genre of novel in late eighteenth-century German literature which featured secret societies. As for The Ruins on the Mountain-Lake, it never existed at all, except in Meyern’s mind.
(Published on Simon Beattie’s blog The Books You Never Know You Wanted. Presented here by permission of the author.)