Reading Andrew Curran’s Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, I came across an interesting connection to something I wrote for a book my friend Zarko Radakovic and I have just finished.
Curran points out that after spending time in prison for a couple of publications (including The Indiscreet Jewels — the jewels being talking vaginas controlled by a magic ring), Diderot published only what appeared in his Encyclopedie. He kept the manuscripts of everything else he wrote over the course of his life close at hand. One of these unpublished manuscripts was the novel Rameau’s Nephew.
That title caught my eye. Schiller’s last letter to Goethe before his death was a response to Goethe’s translation of a manuscript of the novel. The translation was published a few months later.
This translation was the very first publication of Diderot’s Le Neveu de Rameau. The first publication in French was a translation of Goethe’s translation! The French manuscript used for the subsequent French edition was discovered later.
Here my translations from Schiller’s and Goethe’s last letters, part of Zarko’s and my book “We: A Friendship”:
. . . Schiller to Goethe: 27 March 1805
Tell me how you have been recently. I have finally begun to work again in all seriousness and plan not to be easily distracted. After such a long hiatus and several unfortunate incidents, it has been difficult to get back to work and I have had to force myself. Now, however, I am underway.
The cold north-east wind will slow your recovery, as it does mine, but this time I feel worse than usual at this state of the barometer.
Would you send me the French Rameau for Göschen? . . .
Good luck to you, I would love a line from you.
. . . Goethe to Schiller: 25 April 1805
Here finally the rest of the manuscript. Would you take a look at it and then send it on to Leipzig? . . .
I have begun to dictate the Theory of Colors. . . .
Otherwise I am doing well, as long as I ride daily. When I don’t, however, there is a price to pay. I hope to see you soon.
Schiller’s final letter, a long one dated 25 April 1805, included copious thoughts about Goethe’s notes that accompanied his translation of Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew.
Meine Gedanken sind meine Dirnen, Goethe’s translation of the early line reads. Leonard Tancock’s translation for Penguin Classics is My thoughts are my wenches. Supposing truth to be a woman, Nietzsche wrote. The New Yorker cartoon on my wall says: Everything about her spelled trouble. Unfortunately, it was night and I thought it spelled truffles.