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The German Museum and the Early Reception of German Letters in Britain, 1800-1801

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Puckey, Oliver 


The early reception of German letters in London can be better understood through a close reading of the bookseller Constantin Geisweiler’s short-lived journal The German Museum (1800–1801). The 1790s have been described as an era of literary ‘Germanomania’, as numerous translations of German works appeared for the first time in English. By 1800, however, an increasingly pejorative assessment of the supposedly pro-Jacobin and atheistic character of German culture had entrenched itself among British critics. Geisweiler and his co-contributors responded to this through wide-ranging analyses of German literature and philosophy. Although Geisweiler’s enterprisewas, commercially speaking, a failure, this article argues that The German Museum was nevertheless significant for breaking out of the rigid mould of ‘Schauer-, Ritter- and Räuberromane’ that had superficially characterised earlier British interest in German culture. This article will argue that the period around 1800 was a particularly febrile one for processes of Anglo-German cultural transfer due to the consolidation of transnational networks of booksellers, printers and publishers – networks whose activities would be severely compromised following Napoleon’s Continental Blockade of 1806. In the final analysis, nascent British ideas of ‘Germany’ at the turn of the nineteenth century can be more robustly historicised through a scrutinous reading of Geisweiler’s journal.



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German Life and Letters

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University of Cambridge Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholarship