‘The importance … can hardly be overestimated’

Posted on 6th February 2020 by simonbeattie

One of the jewels of this most recent catalogue, Anglo-German Cultural Relations, is the first anthology of English literature for German students: John Tompson’s English Miscellanies consisting of various Pieces of Divinity, Morals, Politicks, Philosophy and History; and likewise of some choice Poems; all collected out of the most approved Authors in the English Tongue, viz. Tillotson Denham Nichols Dryden Lock Buckingham Milton Prior Cowley Addison Waller Pope &c.  And chiefly intended for the Advantage of such, as are willing to apply themselves to the learning of this usefull Language (Göttingen , Abraham Vandenhoeck, 1737).

This rare first edition is one of the earliest pieces of English printing in Germany, and the first anthology of English literature for German students.  ‘The University of Goettingen, founded in 1737, right from its start had a Professor of French, and after 1747, a second official French lecturer.  English was represented by John Tompson, the former lecturer of English at Helmstedt, who taught in Goettingen until his death in 1768.  An outstanding cultural herald in an increasingly anglophile city, Tompson was for his contemporaries the incarnation of the true English gentleman.  He was appointed as Professor of English (Extraordinarius) by George II in 1751, and promoted to the rank of full professor (Ordinarius) by George III in 1762.  His personality and his teaching triggered a wave of anglophilia throughout Protestant Germany’ (Konrad Schröder, ‘Eight hundred years of modern language learning and teaching in the German-speaking countries of central Europe: a social history’, The Language Learning Journal, special issue, Feb. 2018: ‘Histories of Language Learning and Teaching in Europe’, pp. 28–39).

In Bernhard Fabian’s words, Tompson’s anthology is ‘a highly competent piece of bookmaking.  It appeared in Göttingen in 1737, shortly after the opening of the university.  In its production two newcomers had joined forces.  The publisher was Abraham Vandenhoeck, a Dutchman, who had moved his printing and bookselling business from London to Hamburg and soon after accepted an invitation to become Göttingen’s university printer.  The compiler was John Tompson, an Englishman, who had come to Germany to teach English and Italian at the University of Helmstedt in 1731 and who had been appointed instructor in English at the new University of Göttingen in 1735.  He remained at Göttingen for the rest of his life and was so successful as a language teacher that in 1762 the university made him professor ordinarius—apparently the first full professor of English ever appointed …

English Miscellanies was the right book at the right moment, and it was bound to be a success … the importance of [which] can hardly be overestimated.  It remained without a serious rival for nearly three decades and thus must be said to have dominated the period during which the eighteenth-century German taste in English literature was formed.  When in 1766 it reached its fourth edition as a two-volume work … it had established for the German reader a canon of English literature’ (‘The beginnings of English-language publishing in Germany in the eighteenth century’, Selecta Anglicana: buchgeschichtliche Studien zur Aufnahme der englischen Literatur in Deutschland im achtzehnten Jahrhundert, 1994, pp. 98–99).

For more, stay tuned for the PDF link to Simon’s latest catalogue, Anglo-German Cultural Relations.

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