“HANS BREITMANN Gife a Barty”—the first of the poems here submitted to the English public—appeared originally in 1857, in Graham’s Magazine, in Philadelphia, and soon became widely known. Few American poems, indeed, have been held in better or more constant remembrance than the ballad of “Hans Breitmann’s Barty;” for the words just quoted have actually passed into a proverbial expression. The other ballads of the present collection, likewise published in several newspapers, were first collected in 1869 by Mr. Leland, the translator of Heine’s “Pictures of Travel” and “Book of Songs,” and author of Meister Karl’s “Sketch-Book,” Philadelphia, 1856 and “Sunshine in Thought,” New York, 1863. They are much of the same character as “The Barty”—most of them celebrating the martial career of “Hans Breitmann,” whose prototype was a German, serving during the war in the 15th Pennsylvanian cavalry, and who—we have it on good authority—was a man of desperate courage whenever a cent could be made, and one who never fought unless something could be made. The “rebs” “gobbled” him one day; but he re-appeared in three weeks overloaded with money and valuables. One of the American critics remarks:—“Throughout all the ballads it is the same figure presented—an honest ‘Deutscher,’ drunk with the New World as with new wine, and rioting in the expression of purely Deutsch nature and half-Deutsch ideas through a strange speech.”
The poems are written in the dull broken English (not to be confounded with the Pennsylvanian German) spoken by millions of—mostly uneducated—Germans in America, immigrants to a great extent from southern Germany. Their English has not yet become a distinct dialect; and it would even be difficult to fix at present the varieties in which it occurs. One of its prominent peculiarities, however, is easily perceived: it consists in the constant confounding of the soft and hard consonants; and the reader must well bear it in mind when translating the language that meets his eye into one to become intelligible to his ear.
Thus to the German of our poet, kiss becomes giss; company—gompany; care—gare; count - gount; corner - gorner; till - dill; terrible - derrible; time - dime; mountain - moundain; thing - ding; through - droo; the - de; themselves - demselves; other - oder; party - barty; place - blace; pig - big; priest - breest; piano - biano; plaster - blaster; fine - vine; fighting - vighting; fellow - veller; or, vice versa, he sounds got - cot; green - creen; great - crate; gold dollars - cold tollars; dam - tam; dreadful - treadful; drunk - troonk; brown - prown; blood - ploot; bridge - pridge; barrel - parrel; boot - poot; begging - peggin’; blackguard - plackguart; rebel - repel; never - nefer; river - rifer; very - fery; give - gife; victory - fictory; evening - efening; revive - refife; jump - shoomp; join - choin; joy - choy; just - shoost; joke - choke; jingling - shingling;, &c.; or, through a kindred change, both - bofe; youth - youf; but mouth - mout’; earth - eart’; south - sout’; waiting - vaiten;’ was - vas; widow - vidow; woman - voman; work - vork; one - von; we - ve, &c. And hence, by way of a compound mixture, we get from him drafel for travel, derriple for terrible, a daple-leck for a table-leg, bepples for pebbles, tisasder for disaster, schimnastig dricks for gymnastic tricks, let-bencil for lead-pencil, &c. The peculiarity of Germans pronouncing in their mother tongue s like sh when it is followed by a t or p, and of Germans in southern Germany often also final s like sh, naturally produced in their American jargon such results as shplit, shtop, shtraight, shtar, shtupendous, shpree, shpirit, &c; ish(is), ash(as), &c.; and, by analogy led to shveet(sweet), schwig(swig), &c. We need not notice, however, more than these freaks of the German-American-English of the present poems, as little as we need advert to simple vulgarisms also met with in England, such as the omission of the final g in words terminating in ing (blayin’—playing; shpinnen’ - spinning; ridin’, sailin’, roonin’, &c.). We must, of course, assume that the reader of this little volume is well acquainted both with English and German.
The reader will perceive that the writer has taken another flight in “Hans Breitmann’s Christmas,” and many of the later ballads, from what he did in those preceding; and exception might be taken to his choice of subjects, and treatment of them, if the language employed by him were a fixed dialect—that is, a language arrested at a certain stage of its progress; for in that case he would have had to subordinate his pictures to the narrow sphere of the realistic incidents of a given locality. But the imperfect English utterances of the German, newly arrived in America, that, in proportion to his intelligence, his opportunities, and the length of time spent by him among his new English-speaking countrymen, he will sooner or later rid himself of the crudenesses of his speech, thus preventing it from becoming fixed. Many of the Germans who have emigrated and are still emigrating to America belong to the well-educated classes, and some possess a very high culture. Our poet has therefore presented his typical German, with perfect propriety, in a variety of situations which would be imperceptible within which the the dialect necessarily moves, and has endowed him with character, even where the local colour is wanting.
In “Breitmann in Politics,” we are on purely American ground. In it the Germans convince themselves that, as their hero can no longer plunder the rebels, he ought to plunder the nation, and they resolve on getting him elected to the State Legislature. They accordingly form a committee, and formulate for their candidate six “moral ideas” as his platform. These they show to their Yankee helper, Hiram Twine, who, having changed his politics fifteen times, and managed several elections, knows how matters should be handled. He says the moral ideas are very fine, but not worth a “dern;” and instead of them proclaims the true cry, that Breitmann is sound upon the goose, about which he tells a story. Then it is reported that the German cannot win, and that, as he is a soldier, he has been sent into the political field only to lead the forlorn hope and get beaten. In answer to this, Twine starts the report that Smith has sold the fight to Breitmann, a notion which the Americans take to at once—
Accordingly, Breitmann calls a meeting of Smith’s supporters, tells them that he hopes to get a good place for his friend Smith, though he cannot approve of Smith’s teetotal principles, because he, Breitmann, is a republican, and the meaning of that word is plain:—“... If any enlightened man vill seeken in his Bibel, he will find dat a publican is a barty ash sells lager; und de ding is very blain, dat a re-publican ish von who sells id ’gain und ’gain.” Moreover, Smith believes in God, and goes to church,—what liberal German can stand this?—while Breitmann, being a publican, must be a sinner. As to parties, the principles of both are the same—plunder—and “any man who gifes me his fote,—votefer his boledics pe,—shall alfays pe regardet ash bolidigal friendt py me.”
This brings the house down.
And when Breitmann announces that he sells the best beer in the city, and stands drinks gratis to his “bolidigal friendts,” and orders in twelve barrels of lager for the meeting, he is unanimously voted “a brickbat, and no sardine.”
After this brilliant success, the author is obliged to pause, in order to proclaim the intellectual superiority of Germans to the whole world. He gets tremendously be-fogged in the process, but that is no matter -
- “Ash der Hegel say of his system,’ Dat only von mans knew
- Vot der tyfel id meant; and he couldn’t tell,’ und der Jean Paul Richter, too,
- Who saidt, ‘Gott knows, I meant somedings vhen foorst dis buch I writ,
- Boot Gott only weiss vot das buch means now, for I hafe forgotten it!’”
But, taking the point as proved, our German still allows that the Yankees have some sharp-pointed sense, which he illustrates by narrating how Hiram Twine turned a village of Smith-voters into the Breitmann camp. The village is German and Democrat. Smith has forgotten his meeting, and Twine, who is very like Smith, and rides into the village to watch the meeting, is taken by the Germans for Smith. On this, Twine resolves to personate Smith, and give his supporters a dose of him. Accordingly, on being asked to drink, he tells the Germans that none but hogs would drink their stinking beer, and that German wine was only made for German swine. Then he goes to the meeting, and, having wounded their feelings in the tenderest point,—the love of beer,—attacks the next tenderest,—their love for their language,—by declaring that he will vote for preventing the speaking of it all through the States; and winds up by exhorting them to stop guzzling beer and smoking pipes, and set to work to un-Germanise themselves as soon as possible. On this “dere coomed a shindy,” with cries of “Shoot him with a bowie-knife,” and “Tar and feather him.” A revolver-ball cuts the chandelier-cord; all is dark; and amidst the row, Twine escapes and gallops off, with some pistol-balls after him. But the village votes for Breitmann, and be “licks der Schmit.”
The ballad, “Breitmann’s Going to Church,” is based on a real occurrence. A certain colonel, with his men, did really, during the war, go to a church in or near Nashville, and, as the saying is, “kicked up the devil, and broke things,” to such an extent, that a serious reprimand from the colonel’s superior officer was the result. The fact is guaranteed by Mr. Leland, who heard the offender complain of the “cruel and heartless stretch of military authority.” As regards the firing into the guerilla ball-room, on the night of Feb. 10 or 11, 1865; and on the next day, Mr. Leland was at a house where one of the wounded lay. It took place near Murfreesboro’, On the same night a Federal picket was shot dead near Lavergne; and the next night a detachment of cavalry was sent off from General Van Cleve’s quarters, the officer in command coming in while the author was talking with the general, for final orders. They rode twenty miles that night, attacked a body of guerillas, captured a number, and brought back prisoners early next day. The same day Mr. Leland, with a small cavalry escort, and a few friends, went out into the country, during which ride one or two curious incidents occurred, illustrating the extraordinary fidelity of the blacks to Federal soldiers.
The explanation of the poem entitled, “The First Edition of Breitmann,” is as follows:—It was not long after the war that a friend of the writer’s to whom “the Breitmann Ballads” had been sent in MSS., and who had frequently urged the former to have them published, resolved to secure, at least, a small private edition, though at his own expense. Unfortunately the printers quarrelled about the MSS., and, as the writer understood, the entire concern broke up in a row in consequence. And, in fact, when we reflect on the amount of fierce attack and recrimination we reflect this unpretending and peaceful little volume elicited after the appearance of the fifth English edition, and the injury which it sustained from garbled and falsified editions, in not less than three unauthorised reprints, it would really seem as if this first edition, which “died a borning,” had been typical of the stormy path to which the work was predestined.
“I Gili Romaneskro,” a gipsy ballad, was written both in the original and translation—that is to say, in the German gipsy and German English dialects—to cast a new light on the many-sided Bohemianism of Herr Breitmann.
The readers of more than one English newspaper will recall that the idea of representing Breitmann as an Uhlan, scouting over France, and frequently laying houses and even cities under heavy contribution, has occurred to very many of “Our Own.” A spirited correspondent of the Telegraph, and others of literary fame, have familiarly referred to the Uhlan as Breitmann, indicating that the German-American free-lance has grown into a type; and more than one newspaper, anticipating this volume, has published Anglo-German poems referring to Hans Breitmann and the Prussian-French war. In several pamphlets written in Anglo-German rhymes, which appeared in London in 1871, Breitmann was made the representative type of the war by both the friends and opponents of Prussia, while during February of the same year Hans figured at the same time, and on the same evenings for several weeks, on the stages of three London theatres. So many imitations of these poems were published, and so extensively and familiarly was Mr. Leland’s hero spoken of as the exponent of the German cause, that it seemed to a writer at the time as if he had become “as regards Germany what John Bull and Brother Jonathan have long been to England and America.” In connection with this remark, the following extract from a letter of the Special Correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph of August 29, 1870, may not be without interest:—
“The Prussian Uhlan of 1870 seems destined to fill in French legendary chronicle the place which, during the invasions of 1814 - 15, was occupied by the Cossack. He is a great traveller. Nancy, Bar-le-Duc, Commercy, Rheims, Chalons, St. Dizier, Chaumont, have all heard of him. The Uhlan makes himself quite at home, and drops in, entirely in a friendly way, on mayors and corporations, asking not only himself to dinner, but an indefinite number of additional Uhlans, who, he says, may be expected hourly. The Uhlan wears a blue uniform turned up with yellow, and to the end of his lance is affixed a streamer intimately resembling a very dirty white pocket-handkerchief.
Sometimes he hunts in couples, sometimes he goes in threes, and sometimes in fives. When he lights upon a village, he holds it to ransom; when he comes upon a city, he captures it, making it literally the prisoner of his bow and his spear. A writer in Blackwood’s Magazine once drove the people of Lancashire to madness by declaring that, in the Rebellion of 1745, Manchester ‘was taken by a Scots sergeant and a wench;’ but it is a notorious fact that Nancy submitted without a murmur to five Uhlans, and that Bar-le-Duc was occupied by two. When the Uhlan arrives in a conquered city, he visits the mayor, and makes his usual inordinate demands for meat, drink, and cigars. If his demands are acceded to, he accepts everything with a grin.
If he is refused, he remarks, likewise with a grin, that he will come again to-morrow with three thousand light horsemen, and he gallops away; but in many cases he does not return. The secret of the fellow’s success lies mainly in his unblushing impudence, his easy mendacity, and that intimate knowledge of every highway and byway of the country which, thanks to the military organisation of the Prussian army, he has acquired in the regimental school. He gives himself out to be the precursor of an imminently advancing army, when, after all, he is only a boldly adventurous free-lance, who has ridden thirty miles across country on the chance of picking up something in the way of information or victuals. Only one more touch is needed to complete the portrait of the Uhlan. His veritable name would seem to be Hans Breitmann, and his vocation that of a ‘bummer;’ and Breitmann, we learn from the preface to Mr. Leland’s wonderful ballad, had a prototype in a regiment of Pennsylvanian cavalry by the name of Jost, whose proficiency in ‘bumming,’ otherwise ‘looting,’ in swearing, fighting, and drinking lager beer, raised him to a pitch of glory on the Federal side which excited at once the envy and the admiration of the boldest bush-whackers and the gauntest guerillas in the Confederate host.”
The present edition embraces all the Breitmann poems which have as yet appeared; and the publisher trusts that in their collected form they will be found much more attractive than in scattered volumes. Many new lyrics, illustrating the hero’s travels in Europe, have been added, and these, it is believed, are not inferior to their predecessors.