Mark Twain's Version of "Slovenly Peter"
SLOVENLY PETER (STRUWWELPETER). Or Happy Tales and Funny Pictures Freely Translated by Mark Twain, with Dr. Hofmann's Illustrations. Adapted From the First Rare Edition by Fritz Kredel. New York: Harper & Brothers. $1.50.
The appearance in 1935 of an English translation by Mark Twain of "Der Struwwelpeter," never before published, is an event, and an interesting link in the history of a remarkable book. Written and illustrated in 1844, by Dr. Heinrich Hofmann for his 3-year-old son, because Dr. Hofmann liked none of the children's books on the market, it was translated in English four years later and was promptly adopted as a favorite by English nurseries. Ever since then new editions have been appearing at intervals in both countries.
As F. J. Harvey Darton says, "much of it has become a proverbial jest in English," and so it is not at all surprising to read in the preface by Mark Twain's daughter, Clara Clemens, to this most recent translation that during a gloomy Winter which the family spent in Berlin, when funds were very low, her father found diversion in making a translation of Dr. Hofmann's masterpiece as a surprise for his three little daughters. It was apparently not the moral teaching that attracted the translator; on the contrary, Clara Clemens suggests that it was "the impious spirit of contrariness in the verses that appealed to Father, suffering as he was from the Blue Berlin mood of those first weeks. He could sympathize with Kasper, who wouldn't take his soup, because Father did not care for German soup either."
Under the Christmas tree that year, with its shining silver and gold and its yellow candles, the little girls found the translation of "Struwwelpeter." Mark Twain had wrapped it up himself, twining a large red ribbon around it as an ornament. Seated by the tree, he read the verses aloud so dramatically that his audience of three was moved to tears and laughter. The verses were lively and the rhymes ingenious.
To note the variations in the illustrations of this classic from those in the original edition down to the present day is a study in itself. One of the charms of the Mark Twain volume is the fact that the illustrator has made his drawing after those in the first printing. As is the case with all popular children's books, the first edition has practically disappeared; only four copies are know to be in existence, and it was from one of these, borrowed from the library in Frankfurt-am-Main, that Hans Kredel made his drawings.
"Slovenly Peter" is a delightful item for the Mark Twain Centennial Year and an admirable example of fine printing and book making.
ANNE T. EATON.