Sunday, May 01, 2011

A Translation of "Haimatochare" by E. T. A. Hoffmann

(For a PDF version of this translation, go to The Worldview Annex)

The following letters, which provide particulars regarding the unfortunate fate of two naturalists, were conveyed to me by my friend A. v. C, immediately upon his return from the remarkable voyage in which he circumnavigated the globe one-and-a-half times.  They seem eminently worthy of public notice.  It is lamentable, indeed horrifying, to acknowledge how often a seemingly harmless occurrence can rend asunder the straitest bonds of the most intimate friendship and work baleful mischief where one believed oneself entitled to expect the highest good and the greatest profit.
E. T. A. Hoffmann

To the Right Honorable _____, Brigadier General in His Majesty's Army and Governor of New South Wales

Your honor will have chanced to hear that my friend Mr Brougthon in his capacity as a naturalist is participating in the expedition that is about to set out for Oahu.  For the longest time it has been my most ardent desire to visit Oahu once again, as the brevity of my last sojourn did not permit me to raise my multitude of extremely remarkable natural-historical observations quite to the level of determinate results.  The intensity of this desire has been lately redoubled by the fact that we, Mr Brougthon and I, being mutually conjoined by that straitest of all chains, a common object of research, have been accustomed for quite some time to make our observations together, and, in virtue of our instantaneous collaboration on these observations, to walk hand in hand.  I beseech your honor to vouchsafe me your approval to accompany my friend on the expedition to Oahu.
Ever-respectfully, &c.

 J. Menzies

P. S.  I shall add to those of my friend my own petitions and expressions of desire that your honor should deign to allow him to go with me to Oahu.  Only in his company, only if he shares in my endeavors with accustomed affection, shall I be capable of achieving what is expected of me.
A. Brougthon

The Governor's Reply

It is with sincere pleasure, my dear sirs, that I perceive that science has made the two of you such intimate friends with each other that out of this united endeavor, out of this noble bond, only the most copious and splendid results may be expected to eventuate.   On these grounds, albeit that the Discovery already has a complete crew and space aboard her is scarce, I nevertheless intend to permit Mr Menzies to join the expedition to Oahu, and accordingly at this very instant I am imparting the requisite orders to Captain Bligh.
The Governor

J. Menzies to E. Johnstone in London
Aboard the Discovery.  July 2, 18**

You are right, my dear friend: when I last wrote to you I was indeed suffering from more than a touch of the spleen.  I was bored in the extreme by life at Port Jackson; with grievous longing I kept thinking back on my majestic paradise, on delightful Oahu, which I forsook for the first time not so very long ago.  My friend Brougthon, a learned man and a good-natured one to boot, was the only person capable of cheering me up and receiving scientific knowledge, but he too longed to get away from Port Jackson, which afforded such meager nutriment to our hunger for research.  I was hardly pulling your leg when I wrote to you that a first-rate sailing vessel had been promised to Teimotu, the King of Oahu, and that this ship was to be built and fitted out at Port Jackson.   The ship was built and made ready; Captain Bligh received orders to convey her to Oahu and to tarry there for a little while towards the end of strengthening our ties of friendship with Teimotu.  My heart was fairly throbbing with my joyous conviction that I would without fail be aboard throughout; but then, like a bolt out of the blue, came the Governor's decision to send Brougthon instead.  As the vessel consigned to the expedition to Oahu, the Discovery, is a medium-sized ship equipped to accommodate only the crew needed to sail her, I nursed but faint hopes of prevailing upon the authorities to grant me my wish to accompany Broughton.   This noble individual, who is devoted to me with every fiber of his heart and soul, seconded my expression of this wish so forcefully that the Governor consented to its fulfillment.  From the superscription of this letter you will have correctly gathered that the two of us, Brougthon and I, have already set out on our voyage. 

Oh what a majestic life is in store for me!  My breast fairly swells with hope and ardent yearning when I think of how on each and every day—nay, at each and every hour—nature will give me the freedom of her abundant treasury, so that I may lay claim to some as-yet undiscovered jewel, that I may call some never-before-seen wonder my own.

I can picture you smiling ironically at my enthusiasm; I can hear you saying, "Of course, he will come back carrying a brand-new Swammerdam [microscope] in his satchel, but if I should ask him about the proclivities, customs, fashions—in short, the various modes of life—of these foreign peoples that he has seen; if I should express a desire to glean from him but such few precious details as cannot be found in any existing travelers' accounts of the region, and can be communicated only by word of mouth, he will thereupon exhibit to me a pair of cloaks and a pair of coral necklaces and otherwise be pretty much incapable of telling me anything else.  In the midst of his mites, his beetles, his butterflies, he entirely forgets about human beings!"

I know that you think it odd that research-wise I am inclined to the order of insects; and in point of fact, I can rejoin nothing in my defense except by averring that the Almighty has so deeply implanted this inclination in my innermost self, that my very ego has been unable to avoid assuming its exact shape.  But you cannot accuse me of neglecting or forgetting my friends on account of this inclination that [admittedly] seems very weird to you.  I shall never manage to discover anyone to equal that old Dutch senior lieutenant who—but by way of forestalling your inevitable comparison of this old fellow to me, I shall recount to you in full his remarkable history, which has just now popped into my head.  When it came to insects, the old senior lieutenant (I made his acquaintance in Königsberg) was perhaps the most zealous, the most indefatigable, naturalist that had ever lived.  The rest of the world in its entirety left him cold, and whenever he happened to find himself alone in the company of other humans, he was most risibly and insufferably possessed by the idée fixe that at he was on the verge of dropping dead of bread poisoning.  I am hardly pulling your leg: the German equivalent of our white bread is known as Semmel.  He used to bake himself a loaf of this stuff every morning and bring it with him to whichever tavern he had been invited to for breakfast, and once there he could not for the life of him be prevailed upon to partake of any bread but his own.  By way of clinching the actuality of his insane parsimony I need only say that he—bear in mind that he was quite a hale and hearty fellow for his age—would make his way along the streets one gingerly step at a time, with his arms stretched out as far as he could keep them from his torso, lest his uniform should suffer the loss of its pristine veneer courtesy of the frictional wear-and-tear of everyday walking.  But I digress!   The old man had not a single relative in the entire world apart from a younger brother who lived in Amsterdam.  The two brothers had not seen each other in thirty years, when the Amsterdam one, impelled by an [insatiable] longing to see his brother at least one more time, set out for Königsberg.   He crossed the threshold of his brother’s lodging.  The older man was sitting with his head bowed over a table and meditatively peering through a magnifying glass at a tiny black dot on a piece of white paper.  His brother emitted a loud cry of joy; he was on the point of throwing himself into the older man’s arms; the latter, however, shied him away with a wave of his hand without taking his eyes off the dot, and peremptorily uttered the reiterative command of “Sh-,” “Sh-,” “Sh-,” “Shush!”  “My dear brother,” cried the citizen of Amsterdam, “what are you about?  It’s me: your brother George, who hasn’t seen you in thirty years, and who has  traveled all the way from Amsterdam to see you one more time this side of the grave!”  But the other man remained motionless and whispered, “Sh-,” “Sh-,” “Shh: the animalcule is dying.”  Only now did the citizen of Amsterdam notice that the black dot was a tiny grub twisting and writhing in its death agonies.  The citizen of Amsterdam paid condign obeisance to his brother’s passion and sat down beside him without saying another word.  But after a full hour had elapsed, an hour during which the older man could not be bothered to oblige his brother with so much as a glance in his direction, the younger man leapt up, dashed out of the room while uttering a coarse oath in Dutch, sat down [on the spot/in the hallway {to catch his breath}], and returned to Amsterdam without having aroused the faintest trace of awareness of any part of the entire episode in the older man!  Now just ask yourself the following question, Edward: if you were suddenly to step into my cabin here and to find me deeply immersed in the contemplation of some remarkable insect, would I keep looking at the insect without moving a muscle, or would I [leave off my bug-gazing] and throw myself into your arms?

For all that, on the evidence of this tale you may well perceive that the order of insects is the most wonderful, mysterious order in the whole of nature.  If it has fallen to my friend Broughton’s lot to preoccupy himself with the world[s] of plants and full-fledged animals, I have complementarily settled into the homeland of the curious and often uninvestigated creatures that constitute the bridge or link between the other two realms.   But soft!  Lest I fatigue you, I shall leave off here [after] simply recording, to the end of thoroughly appeasing your poetic soul and thoroughly making peace with myself, that a certain German poet of  true genius has termed insects in their supremely beautiful, bedizened, parti-colored effulgence liberated flowers.  Just savor that lovely image for a while!
And in any case, why am I trying to justify my proclivities at such length?  Did I not after all find it necessary to convince [even] myself that it was a commonplace impetus to research that was impelling me irresistibly to Oahu; that the prevailing source of this impulsion was not rather a curious intimation of some unheard-of occurrence that I was destined to encounter?  Yes, Edward!  At this very moment this intimation is taking hold of me with such violence that I am incapable of writing any further.  You will regard me as a foolish dreamer, but this is the simple truth; I can plainly see in my soul of souls that either the greatest happiness or ineluctable perdition awaits me in Oahu!
Your ever-faithful &c.

Menzies to Johnstone again

Honolulu, Oahu: 12 December 18**

No!  I am no dreamer, but there are intimations—intimations that do not deceive!—Edward—I am the happiest man under the sun!  I have been placed at the very apex of life.  But how ever am I to relate all this to you, such that you will [palpably] feel my ecstasy, my ineffable delight?  I wish to compose myself; I shall try to do so, however incapable I may be of calmly describing to you everything the way it actually happened.      

Not far from Honolulu, the seat of King Teimotu’s court, at which he has received us most cordially, lies a quite charming woodland.  Thither I repaired yesterday as soon as the sun began setting.  I had intended, if possible, to catch a very rare butterfly (the name of the species would not interest you), which commenced its erratic but vaguely circular flight pattern after sundown.  The atmosphere was sultry, suffused with the voluptuous perfume of aromatic herbs.  As I entered the woods, I felt a curiously sweet sense of dread, a mysterious shudder that thrilled through my entire body, that dissolved into sighs of [passionate] longing.  The nocturnal bird that I had set out in search of sprang up right in front of me, but my arms were dangling flaccidly, impotently on either side; as if transfixed by a cataleptic fit, I was unable to budge from the spot where I was standing, unable to pursue the nocturnal bird, which was soaring forth into the forest.  Then I found myself being pulled as if by invisible hands into a thicket, which, amid the [ambient] rustle and bustle, spoke tender words of love to me.   Oh, good heavens!  On the parti-colored carpet of the wings of a dove lay the prettiest, sweetest, loveliest island-dweller that I had ever seen.   No!  Only the external contours of the winsome creature suggested that she was indigenous to Oahu.  Everything else—color, deportment, appearance—was different.  For sheer enraptured terror, I could scarcely breathe.  Warily I approached the tiny creature.  She seemed to be sleeping—I grabbed her; I carried her out of the woods with me; the most splendid jewel on the island was mine!  I named her Haimatochare, pasted together a lovely little bedchamber for her out of gold[leaf] paper, [and] prepared a bed for her out of the very shimmering, parti-colored dove-feathers on which I had discovered her!  She seems to understand me, to surmise what she means to me!   Forgive me, Edward, I am taking my leave of you—I must see what my lovely being, my Haimatochare is up to—I am opening her little bedchamber.  She is lying there on her bed; she is toying with its parti-colored little feathers.  Oh Haimatochare!  Farewell Edward!

Your ever-faithful &c.

Brougthon to the Governor of New South Wales

Honolulu, 20 December 18**
Captain Bligh has furnished you with a report of our prosperous voyage, and has assuredly not neglected to mention the cordial manner in which our friend Teimotu received us.  Teimotu is delighted with your honor’s munificent gift and has repeatedly, time and again, begged us to regard every portion of Oahu that might prove valuable or useful to us as our own indefeasible property.  The gold-embroidered cloak that your honor entrusted to me as a gift for Queen Kahumanu has made a profound impression on her Majesty, to the extent that she has lost her erstwhile unabashed good cheer and fallen prey to all manner of fantastical reveries.  Early each morning she walks to the deepest, most secluded thicket in the forest and, all the while flinging the cloak over her shoulders this way and that, practices certain mimetic performances that she exhibits to the assembled court in the evenings.  Moreover, she has fallen into a state of queer inconsolability that has been the occasion of no small amount of sorrow on the part of the worthy Teimotu!  Nonetheless, I have succeeded quite often in cheering up the woebegone queen with a breakfast of grilled fish, which she devours with gusto, whereupon she gulps down a hefty glass of gin, which palliates her wistful anguish to a remarkable degree. It is curious that Kahumanu trails our Menzies with every step he takes, and, thinking that nobody is observing them, clasps him in her arms and calls him by the sweetest names.  I am almost of a mind to suppose that she is secretly in love with him.
Moreover, I am very sorry to have to inform your honor that Menzies, of whom I cherished the highest hopes, is hindering more than furthering me in my researches.  He seems none too inclined to reciprocate Kahumanu’s love for him; on the contrary, he is in the grip of a separate foolish, nay outrageous, passion, which has seduced him into playing a very spiteful trick on me, a trick which, should Menzies not recover from his blindness, could disunite the two of us for ever.  I [am] even [beginning to] regret that I ever begged your honor’s permission for him to participate in the expedition to Oahu.  But how could I have imagined that a man whom I had regarded as a trusty friend for so many years would change so suddenly in such a queerly delusional fashion?  I shall take the liberty of keeping your Excellency apprised in minute and circumstantial detail of the progress of this episode that has proved so deeply mortifying to me, and, should Menzies not make amends for the injury he has done me, of beseeching your honor’s protection from a man who has the effrontery to greet the disinterested embrace of friendship with naked hostility.  Ever-respectfully, &c.

Menzies to Brougthon

No!  I can stand it no longer!  You avoid me, you cast at me looks in which I can read [nothing but] ire and contempt; you speak of perfidy, of betrayal, in such a way that I needs must assume that it is I who am the betrayer.  And [so] I am rummaging in vain through the entire kingdom of possibilities in search of an explanation for this [curious] comportment [of yours] towards your ever-faithful friend.  What did I do to you?  What did I venture upon that offended you?  Surely it is only a misunderstanding that is allowing you to doubt my love, my loyalty, for so much as an instant.  I beg you, Brougthon, to clear up this unfortunate mystery, to be mine again as you once were.

Davis, who will deliver this letter to you, is under instructions to request your immediate reply.  My impatience is tormenting me to the utmost limits of endurance.

Brougthon to Menzies

Are you still asking me how you have insulted me?  To be sure, such ingenuousness is most becoming in a man who has committed an utterly disgraceful outrage against friendship, or, to put it in constitutional terms, against a fellow-subject’s basic civil rights!  Do you insist on refusing to understand me?  Why then I shall shout my accusation at you so that all the world will hear it and recoil in horror from your monstrous misdeed—in sooth I shall!  And thus I shout into your ear the name that expresses in full the enormity of your outrage: Heimatochare! Yes!  You have christened her whom you have abducted from me Haimatochare: she whom you openly keep hidden away, she who was mine, she whom to be sure in my sweet pride I myself intended to christen for the benefit of the eternally perduring annals of natural history!  Do you insist on refusing to understand me?  Why then I shall shout my accusation at you so that all the world will hear it and recoil in horror from your monstrous misdeed—in sooth I shall!  And thus I shout into your ear the name that expresses in full the enormity of your outrage: Heimatochare! Yes!  You have christened her whom you have abducted from me Haimatochare: she whom you for all the world keep hidden away, she who was mine, she whom to be sure in my sweet pride I myself intended to christen for the benefit of the eternally perduring annals of natural history!  But no!  I am not yet ready to give your virtue up for lost; I yet retain the hope that your faithful heart will vanquish the unfortunate passion that has so precipitately swept you away in its reeling embrace.  Menzies!  Restore Heimatochare to me, and I shall clasp your hand as that of my eternally faithful friend, I shall press you to my bosom as the eternal sibling of my heart!  Then in my mind will remain nary a trace of the wound that you have dealt me in succumbing to this lapse of judgment.  Yes: I retain the fond hope of being able to term the abduction of Haimatochare neither a betrayal, nor an outrage, but merely a lapse of judgment.  Restore Heimatochare to me!    

Menzies to Brougthon

My friend!  What manner of queer delusion has you in its clutches?  I am supposed to have abducted Haimatochare from you?  Heimatochare, who, like all of her sex, [will have] nothing whatsoever to do with you—Haimotochare, whom I openly, in the open air of nature discovered sleeping on the fairest of tapestries, I who first regarded her with loving eyes, who first gave her a name and a place of her own!   To be frank, since you say that I have betrayed you, I must upbraid you for your insanity, in that out of sheer delusive and base jealously, you dare lay claim to what has become mine and will remain so for evermore.  Haimatochare is mine, and I shall christen her mine in those annals into which you would bluster and swagger your way by flaunting another man’s property.  I shall never part with my beloved Haimatochare; I [would] gladly [give up] everything, indeed my very life, which can assume a semblance of purpose only under her auspices, for Haimotachare!

Brougthon to Menzies

Shameless thief!  Am I supposed to have nothing to do with Haimatochare?  Was she at liberty when you discovered her?  Liar!  Was not the carpet on which Haimatochare was slumbering my property; are you not consequently obliged to acknowledge that Haimatochare belongs to me, to me alone?  Restore Heimatochare to me, or I shall publish your outrage to the world.  It is not I, but you—you alone—who are deluded by base jealousy.  You have plans of flaunting stolen property, but you shan’t get away with it.  Restore Haimatochare to me or I shall denounce you as a craven scoundrel!    

Menzies to Brougthon

Go denounce yourself as a scoundrel three times over!  Only together with my life will I relinquish Haimatochare!

Brougthon to Menzies

Only together with your life will you relinquish Heimatochare, you scoundrel?  Very well then: let the possession of Haimatochare be determined by force of arms at tomorrow evening, in the patch of clear ground opposite Honolulu, near the volcano.  I hope you have pistols ready to hand.  

Menzies to Brougthon

I shall appear at the appointed place at the appointed time.  Haimatochare herself shall witness the struggle for her possession.

Captain Bligh to the Governor of New South Wales

Honolulu on Oahu, 26 December 18**
It is my sad duty to give your honor a report of the terrible incident that has robbed us of two men of the most sterling merit.  For the longest time I had noticed that Messers Menzies and Brougthon, who had formerly been united in the straitest bonds of the most intimate friendship, who together had formerly always appeared to constitute one heart, one soul that was impervious to any effort to divide it, had fallen out with each other; and yet I was unable to descry the faintest suspicion of a cause for this mutual estrangement.  In the end, they scrupulously avoided each other’s company and communicated with each other by means of letters, which our helmsman Davis was obliged to carry in both directions.  Davis told me that each of them upon receiving one of these letters would invariably fly into the most violent passion, and that in the end Brougthon’s outbursts were especially ardent and ireful.  Yesterday evening Davis observed Brougthon loading his pistols and leaving Honolulu in great haste.  He was not immediately able to locate me.  At the very moment when he was finally sharing with me his suspicion that Menzies and Brougthon were quite possibly engaged in a duel, I happened to be heading out, along with Lieutenant Collnet and our ship’s surgeon Mr Whidby, to visit the patch of clear ground opposite Honolulu, near the volcano.  Whereupon it struck me that if we really were dealing with a duel here, that patch of ground was the ideal spot for it.  My hunch was not mistaken.  Even before we reached the spot, we heard a shot and immediately thereafter [a] second one.  We discovered Menzies and Brougthon stretched out on the ground in pools of their own blood, the latter having been shot in the head, the former in the chest, and neither of them evincing the faintest stirrings of life.  They had been standing barely ten paces apart from each other, and between them lay the unfortunate object that, as I learned from Menzies’s papers, had ignited Brougthon’s hatred and jealousy.  In a tiny box taped together with gold paper I discovered beneath [a carpet of] lustrous feathers a tiny, curiously shaped, beautifully colored insect, which Davis, with his knowledge of natural history, was inclined to identify as a pygmy louse, albeit one that especially in point of coloration and the quite curious shape of its abdomen and feet differed considerably from all animalcules of that genus that had hitherto been discovered.  On the box was written the name Haimatochare. 

Menzies had noticed this curious, heretofore completely unknown, animalcule on the back of a beautiful dove that Brougthon had shot down, and intended, in the character of its discoverer, to introduce it to the natural-historical community under the name that he had devised for it: Haimatochare; Brougthon, on the other hand, maintained that he was the discoverer of the insect, as it had been resting on the body of the bird that he had shot down, and [he] intended to adopt Haimatochare as his own.  Whence originated the fateful quarrel that ended in the deaths of these two men of superior parts and virtue.

Preliminarily, I shall remark that Mr Menzies regarded the animalcule as an entirely new species and placed it midway between pediculus pubescens, thorace trapeziodeo, abdomine ovali, posterius emarginato ab latere undulato etc. habitans in homine, Hottentottis, Groenlandisque escam dilectam praebens [pubic louse, trapezoidal thorax, oval abdomen with wavy border towards the back and away from the sides {?} etc. lives in/on man, a source of food for Hottentots and Eskimoes, who regard it as a delicacy] and nirmus crassicornis, capite ovato oblongo, scutello thorace majore, abdomine lineari lanceolato, habitans in anate, ansere et boschade [thick-horned nirmus {?}, oblong ovato {?} head, fairly large shield-shaped abdomen with plated border, lives in/on ducks, geese, and teal]. 

From these hints of Mr Menzies's your honor will have deigned to grasp what a singular being this animalcule is, and I shall be bold enough to assert, although I am certainly not a proper natural scientist, that this insect, when observed closely under a magnifying glass, betrays an attractiveness attributable especially to its glossy eyes, to its beautifully parti-colored carapace, and to a certain alluring effortlessness of motion otherwise unnoted in such animalcules. 
I await your honor’s orders directing me either to send the calamitous animalcule in a secure package to the [British] Museum, or to drown it in the ocean depths for its having occasioned the death of two excellent human beings.  Pending your honor’s momentous decision, Davis will be keeping Haimatochare in his cotton cap.  I have placed the maintenance of her life, of her well-being, in his charge.  With all due assurances to your honor of etc.   

The Governor’s Reply

Port Jackson, 1 May 18**

I am pained, my dear captain!, to the very depths of my heart by your report of the unfortunate deaths of our two valiant naturalists.  Is it possible for a human being to be so exercised by his zeal for science as to lose sight of his minimal duties as a friend, nay, as a fellow subject?  I hope that Messrs Menzies and Broughthon have been interred in the most decorous fashion.  As to Haimatochare: you are hereby ordered to drown her in the depths of the ocean to the accompaniment of a full military salute in honor of the unfortunate naturalists.
Yours ever, etc.

Captain Bligh to the Governor of New South Wales

Aboard the Discovery, October 5, 18**

Your honor’s orders regarding Haimatochare have been executed.  At six o’clock p.m. sharp yesterday, in the presence of our funereally-uniformed crew, along with King Teimotu and Queen Kahumanu, who had boarded in the company of several grandees of their kingdom, Haimatochare was removed by Lieutenant Collnet from the cotton cap of Mr Davis and placed in the gold-taped box that once had been her dwelling and now was destined to be her tomb; after which this box was affixed to a large stone and, to the accompaniment of three salutes from our cannon, flung into the ocean by myself.  Hereupon Queen Kahumanu launched into a song, in which the assembled Ouahuans joined and which was as awful-sounding as the lofty dignity of the occasion required.  Hereupon the cannon were fired three more times, and beef and rum were distributed amongst the crew.  Teimotu and Kahumanu, along with the rest of the Ouahuans, were served grog and other refreshments.  The worthy queen is still utterly incapable of coming to terms with the death of her beloved Menzies.  In honor of the memory of her lover, she has impaled her posterior on a large shark’s tooth and is still suffering keenly from the wound.

I must also mention that Davis, the loyal custodian of Haimatochare, gave a very moving speech in which, after synoptically recounting Haimotachare’s career, he held forth on the transience of all things terrestrial.  The hardest-hearted of our bluejackets could not hold back their tears, such that Davis was in turn impelled to leave off speaking every now and then to let out a staccato yelp of appropriate grief, and the Oahuans began to howl in a most horrific manner, which enhanced the solemnity and dignity of the event not a little. 

Please accept, your honor, my particular etc.

THE END     

Translation ©2011 by Douglas Robertson