Sunday 25 June 2017

Another false early German Brontë novel, or my discovery of C. Bell’s "Der Sturmvogel - eine Seegeschichte"

An American collector of Charlotte Brontë’s literature asked me some weeks ago 
to help him with the search for old prints in German language; he needs them 
for a book he is preparing in the future. I live in Hannover, Germany and I love books, but it was a long time ago that I read the Brontës. So it was very thrilling to whisk again into their world and I tried to remember what we learned many years ago at school about Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell. I was surprised to see how many different translations into German happened in the middle of the 19th century and later after 1950 - and how few there were during the two wars.

Looking at websites like Booklooker, Justbooks or viaLibri I found out that it is still possible to get rare books from private booksellers if you patiently try different spellings of names and titles.
So suddenly I found MY BOOK!  Or better, a part of MY BOOK: C. Bell’s Der Sturmvogel - eine Seegeschichte. Vom Verfasser des Rockingham

Title page of my Der Sturmvogel

That it states “Vom Verfasser des Rockingham” (by the author of -) makes it implicitly an Acton Currer Bell book, it appeared from an article on this blog about this author. It refers to Rockingham oder Der Jüngere Bruder, published in 1851 in Leipzig. I posted a comment to the article and I quickly got a response from the author - and it was quite easy to find the original novel!

Der Sturmvogel - eine Seegeschichte was first published as vols. 432, 433 and 434 in the book series named "Europäische Bibliothek der neuen belletristischen Literatur Deutschlands, Frankreichs, Englands, Italiens, Hollands und Skandinaviens" (Grimma/Leipzig, 1851).

Title page of the 1851 Der Sturmvogel

My own edition of the Der Sturmvogel. volume 2 (Grimma/Leipzig) contains the additional information of the name of the author, "C. Bell" on the title page! Unfortunately the year of publishing is not readable; I guess that the second library owner placed his label on top of it and after someone tried to remove it there is now a small hole and this label is glued on the back. But I would estimate that my Sturmvogel by C. Bell is from 1852. The publisher clearly hoped to profit from the popularity of the Brontës. This edition is not complete – it’s only the second volume - , and I was not able to find it in any publication or bibliography on the internet. It must be extremely rare.

The first print of Rockingham, or the younger brother was published in 1849 in London, anonymously. Later editions like the one from 1855 (published together in one Volume), which I own, got additionally: "By the Author of Elektra" (Elektra. A Story of Modern Times. By the Author of Rockingham (1853, London Hurst and Blackett).

Nowadays we know that Philippe-Ferdinand-Auguste de Rohan-Chabot was the author of Rockingham – and indeed, some libraries give him credit as the author of Der Sturmvogel. But in catalogues and bibliographies you can find often also Anne Brontë as the author of Der Sturmvogel. Some librarians did look no further than Acton, concluding it must be Anne Brontë then. 

"Der Sturmvogel/The Petrel"  was dispatched to search the Mozambique Channel for pirates.
While it is not easy to determine if the Cruizer-class brig-sloop HMS Racehorse was the warship that gave the inspiration for the „Sturmvogel“ in this novel it was easy to find the original English novel with just the opening lines. The German title was a literal translation of the original English version: The Petrel: A Tale of the Sea. By a Naval Officer (published by Henry Colburn from London, in 3 vols.). It was also easy to find out who wrote it: William Fisher (1780-1852), an admiral of The Royal Navy and a novelist.

It was a gamble to present this as a Brontë work, if only implicitly. The book starts off on a ship near the east southern coast of Africa. Not at all a natural setting for a Brontë work. Nor does the book seem to come anywhere close to their quality. “During his retirement“, Wikipedia writes, “he wrote two novels: The Petrel, or Love on the Ocean, in 1850, which passed through three editions, and Ralph Rutherford, a Nautical Romance, in 1851. He died in London, on the 30th of September 1852. Of Fisher's novels, naval historian John Knox Laughton wrote "A man who had been so long in the navy during a very stirring period, who had surveyed the Mozambique, and captured slavers and pirates, had necessarily plenty of adventures at command, which scarcely needed the complications of improbable love stories to make them interesting; but the author had neither the constructive skill nor the literary talent necessary for writing a good novel, and his language throughout is exaggerated and stilted to the point of absurdity."

First pages of part two of Der Sturmvogel
and The Petrel


It was not illegal for a Leipzig publisher to translate and publish such a work in 1851. But it could well be that the publisher of my special book took some extra care by only stating 'C. Bell', instead of Currer Bell. We can be pretty certain that the authors of both Rockingham and The Petrel had not attempted to obtain copyright in Germany. They could have, under the 1846 copyright treaty between Britain and Prussia and Saxony. While it took until 1855 before it was fully ratified, one can find interesting reports of attempts to adhere to it before here, but less so when the Germans saw that the British did nothing to protect German literature.


Grimma, near Leipzig, was famous for its historical art of printing and typography. Georg Joachim Göschen (1752 –1828) was a German publisher and bookseller in Leipzig (in the Kingdom of Saxony), notable for typography and his publications of music and philosophy.
He moved the printing house to Grimma in 1797. There he was granted an unlimited licence to print and was free from the restrictive rules of the Leipzig printers guild. Göschen assumed a leadership role among German booksellers on issues such as copyright law and fixed prices. After his death his printing press was in 1833 sold to Dr. Carl Ferdinand Philippi. He was the founder of the Verlags-Comptoir (publishing house) Grimma und Leipzig and publisher of many important periodicals, like the “Wochenblätter”.  He scaled up the press and (in 1842) bought a first rapid press, more followed over the years. He died in 1852 in Leipzig, one year later his printing press was offered for sale.

The town of Grimma was affected by heavy floodings in 2002 and 2013. Many of the old archives and libraries got lost in the floods and the muddy water. It makes it difficult to find out more about my Sturmvogel.

Carolinensiel and the Leihbibliothek

Opposite the title page of my Sturmvogel (see first picture) a yellow label is pasted. It shows that this book once was volume nr 1038 in the collection of the “Leihbibliothek von U.H. Janssen zu Carolinensiel.” 
The flowering period of the German Leihbibliothek (like its Dutch equivalent of the ‘Leesbibliotheek’) was in middle of the 19th century. At that time there was a strong demand for books of light fiction, for new novels from England, France and Scandinavia. And books were rare and too expensive to buy for the middle class, the new readers. Here they could lend books.

Nordmeyersche Leihbibliothek, Hannover 1886

So my book came from the town of Carolinensiel, a small village on the coast of Lower Saxony. It had its own library, the “Leihbibliothek A.O. Oltmanns [later U.H. Janssen]”. The middle of the 19th century was the” Golden Age” for the harbour of Carolinensiel. Many tourists on the way to the islands crossed this place, and the smuggling of tea via Helgoland (at that time British) filled the coffers. During the Crimean War (1853-56), the fishermen (seamen and vessel owners) became rich by trading in crisis areas. In 1860 Carolinensiel had 40 captains with together 59 ships, two shipyards, four breweries und many pubs. Everyday seven vessels entered or left the port.

The Oltmanns family was much esteemed at that time. They played an important part in the town of Carolinensiel, as teachers, as “Landvoigt” during several generations – I would not be surprised if one daughter of the big branch also managed this library.

History of my lonesome books

The private bookseller who sold me this single part of my Sturmvogel told me, that (about ten years ago at EBAY) he found the offer to buy in auctions many parcels of old books from an old library. This lady had packed all books unsorted in many paper boxes and sold them one by one to many different persons. So he got in his parcels so many precious old prints (some in poor condition, wet and mouldy), but not complete and he tried to find the other customers. They exchange books to supplement some of the edition they needed. He is collecting and reprinting old criminal fictions and phantasm novels. His cellar is still good filled and the books wait for new owners. Some are listed at booklooker for selling.

Ellis Currer Bell

Some weeks ago he found for me there: Ellis Currer Bell’s Wutheringshöhe (1857, Part 1) and Currer Bell’s Shirley (1857, Part 5). It is interesting that the name of Ellis Currer Bell was used. The title is also interesting. It’s a rare example of a translation in which the word wuthering was not translated (another one is the Irish Gaelic Arda Wuthering). In nearly all German translations of the novel the word Sturm was used, for instance Sturmhöhe and Stürmische Höhen.

Title page of the 1857 German Wutheringshöhe

The first German edition of Wutheringshöhe was published in Grimma in 1851, also under the name of Ellis Currer Bell, the same year as the first Der Sturmvogel. Both are shown in the announcement of the Grimma publications in that year.

Grimma publications listed in the Börsenblatt des
Deutschen Buchhandels, 1851/Part 2

So my two other Brontës are from 1857. By that year the publisher had moved to Wurzen. Usually prints of this years show “Wurzen” instead of “Grimma” in the masthead. To reprint a new edition means then that someone must have the opportunity to use the old kept print letters or the collected heavy lead pages of the first editions.

The date 1857 is interesting: Mrs. Gaskell’s book appeared in Britain: on the 9th of April 1857: The posthumous biography of Charlotte Brontë by her friend and fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. So the demand for Brontë products increased again – it was necessary to reprint some books. But I think my edition of Der Sturmvogel seems to be older, the cover is different, in much better quality and with leather edges and there is a print remark at the last page, the others don't have.

It is not important for me what the real year will be. Owning a wonderful old edition, calling an old early print of one of the Brontës your own is something special, in this case something unique! And it is a very great pleasure and joy to deal with this special topic and the historical situation around it.

Ursula Hager

1 comment:

Anne said...

Fascinating post, thank you!