[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 105].
To his mother [Colvin 1911, pp. 45-49]
Hotel Landsberg, [Frankfurt,] Thursday, 1st August 1872.
[…] Yesterday I walked to Eckenheim, a village a little way out of Frankfurt, and turned into the alehouse. In the room, which was just such as it would have been in Scotland, were the landlady, two neighbours, and an old peasant eating raw sausage at the far end. I soon got into conversation; and was astonished when the landlady, having asked whether I were an Englishman, and received an answer in the affirmative, proceeded to inquire further whether I were not also a Scotchman. It turned out that a Scotch doctor – a professor – a poet – who wrote books – gross wie das – had come nearly every day out of Frankfurt to the Eckenheimer Wirthschaft, and had left behind him a most savoury memory in the hearts of all its customers. One man ran out to find his name for me, and returned with the news that it was Cobie (Scobie, I suspect); and during his absence the rest were pouring into my ears the fame and acquirements of my countryman. He was, in some undecipherable manner, connected with the Queen of England and one of the Princesses. He had been in Turkey, and had there married a wife of immense wealth. They could find apparently no measure adequate to express the size of his books. In one way or another, he had amassed a princely fortune, and had apparently only one sorrow, his daughter to wit, who had absconded into a Kloster, with a considerable slice of the mother’s Geld. I told them we had no Klosters in Scotland, with a certain feeling of superiority. No more had they, I was told – ‘Hier ist unser Kloster!’ and the speaker motioned with both arms round the taproom. Although the first torrent was exhausted, yet the Doctor came up again in all sorts of ways, and with or without occasion, throughout the whole interview; as, for example, when one man, taking his pipe out of his mouth and shaking his head, remarked à propos of nothing and with almost defiant conviction, ‘Er war ein feiner Mann, der Herr Doctor,’ and was answered by another with ‘Yaw, yaw, und trak immer rothen Wein.’
Setting aside the Doctor, who had evidently turned the brains of the entire village, they were intelligent people. One thing in particular struck me, their honesty in admitting that here they spoke bad German, and advising me to go to Coburg or Leipsic for German. – ‘Sie sprechen da rein’ (clean), said one; and they all nodded their heads together like as many mandarins, and repeated rein, so rein in chorus.
Of course we got upon Scotland. The hostess said, ‘Die Schottländer trinken gern Schnapps,’ which may be freely translated, ‘Scotchmen are horrid fond of whisky.’ It was impossible, of course, to combat such a truism; and so I proceeded to explain the construction of toddy, interrupted by a cry of horror when I mentioned the hot water; and thence, as I find is always the case, to the most ghastly romancing about Scottish scenery and manners, the Highland dress, and everything national or local that I could lay my hands upon. Now that I have got my German Burns, I lean a good deal upon him for opening a conversation, and read a few translations to every yawning audience that I can gather. I am grown most insufferably national, you see. I fancy it is a punishment for my want of it at ordinary times. […] Now, what do you think, there was a waiter in this very hotel, but, alas! he is now gone, who sang (from morning to night, as my informant said with a shrug at the recollection) what but ‘s ist lange her, the German version of Auld Lang Syne; so you see, madame, the finest lyric ever written will make its way out of whatsoever corner of patois it found its birth in.
‘Mein Herz ist im Hochland, mein Herz ist nicht hier,
Mein Herz ist im Hochland im grünen Revier.
Im grünen Reviere zu jagen das Reh;
Mein Herz ist im Hochland, wo immer ich geh.’
I don’t think I need translate that for you.
There is one thing that burthens me a good deal in my patriotic garrulage, and that is the black ignorance in which I grope about everything, as, for example, when I gave yesterday a full and, I fancy, a startlingly incorrect account of Scotch education to a very stolid German on a garden bench: he sat and perspired under it, however with much composure. I am generally glad enough to fall back again, after these political interludes, upon Burns, toddy, and the Highlands. […]
I go every night to the theatre, except when there is no opera. I cannot stand a play yet; but I am already very much improved, and can understand a good deal of what goes on.
Friday, August 2, 1872. – […] In the evening, at the theatre, I had a great laugh. Lord Allcash in Fra Diavolo, with his white hat, red guide-books, and bad German, was the pièce-de-résistance from a humorous point of view; and I had the satisfaction of knowing that in my own small way I could minister the same amusement whenever I chose to open my mouth.
I am just going off to do some German with Simpson. – Your affectionate son,
Auber’s ‘Fra Diavolo’, full opera by the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, 1982
(N.B. – Beginning at min. 7:50)