In 1826, the prince of Pückler-Muskau embarked on a tour of England, Wales, and Ireland. Although captivated by all things British, his initial objective was to find a wealthy bride. He and his wife Lucie, having expended every resource on a plan to transform their estate into a vast landscape park, agreed to an amicable divorce, freeing him to forge an advantageous alliance that could rescue their project. For over two years, Pückler’s letters home conveyed a vivid, often quirky, and highly entertaining account of his travels. From the metropolis of London, he toured the mines and factories of the Industrial Revolution and visited the grand estates and spectacular art collections maintained by its beneficiaries. He encountered the scourge of rural and urban poverty and found common cause with the oppressed Irish. With his gift for description, Pückler evokes the spectacular landscapes of Wales, the perils of transportation, and the gentle respite of manor houses and country inns. Part memoir, part travelogue and political commentary, part epistolary novel, Pückler’s rhetorical flare and acute observations provoked the German poet Heinrich Heine to characterize him as the “most fashionable of eccentric men—Diogenes on horseback.”
[A] classic of travel literature… Von Pückler-Muskau writes with an engaging intimacy, charm and eye for detail. At times he almost resembles his contemporary Stendhal, vivaciously describing Britain instead of Italy… Superbly edited, translated and annotated by Linda B. Parshall, this richly illustrated edition of the Letters of a Dead Man is one of those books that bring an era to life… Letters of a Dead Man, especially in this gorgeous edition, is a book you can happily live in for weeks.
The first complete translation into English of what is, after all, one of the most remarkable and comprehensive portraits of Britain in this period—and one made by a writer who is well known in Germany if little known in the English-speaking world, except to experts on landscape and gardening. Pückler’s descriptions of wild scenery are astonishing, as are his intrepidity and stamina when traversing such terrain; his accounts of magnificent parks, flower gardens and long-vanished garden buildings are especially valuable because they were made at a moment when concern for privacy and security were, increasingly, an impediment to curiosity. But the letters are of equal interest for historians who wish to understand the social rituals of that period, providing, for example, accounts of country house dinner conversation conducted against the background music of torrential male urine; of an audience, attired in deepest mourning for the deceased Duke of York, screeching with laughter at a pantomime; and of an awkward moment at court when, as George IV attempts to confer a knighthood, the sword sticks in its scabbard…We also gain insight into the aesthetic values and modes of interpretation characteristic of a cosmopolitan man of taste at that date.
[Pückler-Muskau] is sharp, witty and has an ear for a good story. What more could be asked of a companion? …Goethe and Heine both hailed the prince’s book as a new classic. They were probably right to do so. This splendid publication is an example of travel-writing at its best.
Linda Parshall’s elegant new translation provides the first complete English edition…It is in Pückler’s observations of the society he encounters that the Letters really come into their own. His impressions of the English, especially the upper classes, are relayed with an anthropologist’s detachment…The success of the letters is more than the result of a happy accident. They are a joy to read: lively, well observed, imbued with gentle self-irony and a good eye for a story—even, and perhaps especially, when the author is the butt of it.
Letters of a Dead Man, by Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, first published in 1831–32 in a heavily expurgated edition, records the travels of this minor German nobleman through England and Wales, and is full of acute and entertaining observations of English society and mores. Now it has been issued in a new translation by the Germanist Linda Parshall (in the Dumbarton Oaks Library series from Harvard University Press), with the cuts restored and the author’s own illustrations—including many that testify to his interest in parks and gardens—all reproduced in a sumptuous, large-format single volume: a treat and a treasure.
[The] translator, Linda Parshall, deserves the highest praise and surely a prize…It is the most beautifully printed, produced and color-illustrated book I have bought in my lifetime. Color prints of the period complement the text and conjure up its setting…[It] belongs in the library of every civilized garden owner…Goethe admired Pückler’s writings and so do I. He is an essential source for garden historians as well as for historians of social class.
- 800 pages
- 10 x 10-1/2 inches
- Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection
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