The Best Tales of Hoffmann

The Best Tales of Hoffmann

by E. T. A. Hoffmann

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E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was perhaps one of the two or three greatest of all writers of fantasy. His wonderful tales, translated into many languages and adapted into numerous stage works, have delighted readers for a century and a half.
They open our eyes to an extraordinary world of fantasy, poetry, and the supernatural. Remarkable characters come vividly to life. With exciting speed, Hoffmann moves from the firm ground of reality to ambiguity, mystery, and romance. His imaginativeness is unsurpassed, and his handling of allegory, symbolism, and mysticism is unusually skillful. These qualities make his tales some of the most stimulating and enjoyable in the world's literature. They can be read on many levels of enjoyment; as exciting fiction brilliantly told, as a fascinating statement of many of the major concerns of the Romantic era, and as a culmination of German Romantic literature.
This collection contains ten of his best tales: "The Golden Flower Pot," "Automata," "A New Year's Eve Adventure," "Nutcracker and the King of Mice," "The Sand-Man," "Rath Krespel," "Tobias Martin, Master Cooper, and His Men," "The Mines of Falun," "Signor Formica," and "The King's Betrothed."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486138961
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 07/16/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 480
File size: 2 MB

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The Best Tales of Hoffmann


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1967 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13896-1




On Ascension Day, about three o'clock in the afternoon in Dresden, a young man dashed through the Schwarzthor, or Black Gate, and ran right into a basket of apples and cookies which an old and very ugly woman had set out for sale. The crash was prodigious; what wasn't squashed or broken was scattered, and hordes of street urchins delightedly divided the booty which this quick gentleman had provided for them. At the fearful shrieking which the old hag began, her fellow vendors, leaving their cake and brandy tables, surrounded the young man, and with plebian violence scolded and stormed at him. For shame and vexation he uttered no word, but merely held out his small and by no means particularly well-filled purse, which the old woman eagerly seized and stuck into her pocket.

The hostile ring of bystanders now broke; but as the young man started off, the hag called after him, "Ay, run, run your way, Devil's Bird! You'll end up in the crystal! The crystal!" The screeching harsh voice of the woman had something unearthly in it: so that the promenaders paused in amazement, and the laughter, which at first had been universal, instantly died away. The Student Anselmus, for the young man was no other, even though he did not in the least understand these singular phrases, felt himself seized with a certain involuntary horror; and he quickened his steps still more, until he was almost running, to escape the curious looks of the multitude, all of whom were staring at him. As he made his way through the crowd of well-dressed people, he heard them muttering on all sides: "Poor young fellow! Ha! What a vicious old witch!" The mysterious words of the old woman, oddly enough, had given this ludicrous adventure a sort of sinister turn; and the youth, previously unobserved, was now regarded with a certain sympathy. The ladies, because of his fine figure and handsome face, which the glow of inward anger rendered still more expressive, forgave him his awkwardness, as well as the dress he wore, though it was at variance with all fashion. His pike-gray frock was shaped as if the tailor had known the modern style only by hearsay; and his well-kept black satin trousers gave him a certain pedagogic air, to which his gait and manner did not at all correspond.

The Student had almost reached the end of the alley which leads out to the Linkische Bath; but his breath could no longer stand such a pace. From running, he took to walking; but he still hardly dared to lift an eye from the ground, for he still saw apples and cookies dancing around him, and every kind look from this or that pretty girl seemed to him to be only a continuation of the mocking laughter at the Schwarzthor.

In this mood he reached the entrance of the Bath: groups of holiday people, one after the other, were moving in. Music of wind instruments resounded from the place, and the din of merry guests was growing louder and louder. The poor Student Anselmus was almost ready to weep; since Ascension Day had always been a family festival for him, he had hoped to participate in the felicities of the Linkische paradise; indeed, he had intended even to go to the length of a half portion of coffee with rum and a whole bottle of double beer, and he had put more money in his purse than was entirely convenient or advisable. And now, by accidentally kicking the apple-and-cookie basket, he had lost all the money he had with him. Of coffee, of double or single beer, of music, of looking at the pretty girls—in a word, of all his fancied enjoyments there was now nothing more to be said. He glided slowly past; and at last turned down the Elbe road, which at that time happened to be quite empty.

Beneath an elder-tree, which had grown out through the wall, he found a kind green resting place: here he sat down, and filled a pipe from the Sanitätsknaster, or health-tobacco-box, of which his friend the Conrector Paulmann had lately made him a present. Close before him rolled and chafed the gold-dyed waves of the fair Elbe: on the other side rose lordly Dresden, stretching, bold and proud, its light towers into the airy sky; farther off, the Elbe bent itself down towards flowery meads and fresh springing woods; and in the dim distance, a range of azure peaks gave notice of remote Bohemia. But, heedless of this, the Student Anselmus, looking gloomily before him, blew forth smoky clouds into the air. His chagrin at length became audible, and he said, "In truth, I am born to losses and crosses for all my life! That, as a boy, I could never guess the right way at Odds and Evens; that my bread and butter always fell on the buttered side—but I won't even mention these sorrows. But now that I've become a student, in spite of Satan, isn't it a frightful fate that I'm still as bumbling as ever? Can I put on a new coat without getting grease on it the first day, or without tearing a cursed hole in it on some nail or other? Can I ever bow to a Councillor or a lady without pitching the hat out of my hands, or even slipping on the smooth pavement, and taking an embarrassing fall? When I was in Halle, didn't I have to pay three or four groschen every market day for broken crockery—the Devil putting it into my head to dash straight forward like a lemming? Have I ever got to my college, or any other place that I had an appointment to, at the right time? Did it ever matter if I set out a half hour early, and planted myself at the door, with the knocker in my hand? Just as the clock is going to strike, souse! Some devil empties a wash basin down on me, or I run into some fellow coming out, and get myself engaged in endless quarrels until the time is clean gone.

"Ah, well. Where are you fled now, you blissful dreams of coming fortune, when I proudly thought that I might even reach the height of Geheimrat? And hasn't my evil star estranged me from my best patrons? I had heard, for instance, that the Councillor, to whom I have a letter of introduction, cannot stand hair cut close; with an immensity of trouble the barber managed to fasten a little queue to the back of my head; but at my first bow his unblessed knot comes loose, and a little dog which had been snuffing around me frisks off to the Geheimrat with the queue in its mouth. I spring after it in terror, and stumble against the table, where he has been working while at breakfast; and cups, plates, ink-glass, sandbox crash to the floor and a flood of chocolate and ink covers the report he has just been writing. 'Is the Devil in this man?' bellows the furious Privy Councillor, and he shoves me out of the room.

"What did it matter when Conrector Paulmann gave me hopes of copywork: will the malignant fate, which pursues me everywhere, permit it? Today even! Think of it! I intended to celebrate Ascension Day with cheerfulness of soul. I was going to stretch a point for once. I might have gone, as well as anyone else, into the Linkische Bath, and called out proudly, 'Marqueur, a bottle of double beer; best sort, if you please.' I might have sat till far in the evening; and moreover close by this or that fine party of well-dressed ladies. I know it, I feel it! Heart would have come into me, I should have been quite another man; nay, I might have carried it so far, that when one of them asked, 'What time is it?' or 'What is it they are playing?' I would have started up with light grace, and without overturning my glass, or stumbling over the bench, but with a graceful bow, moving a step and a half forward, I would have answered, 'Give me leave, mademoiselle! it is the overture of the Donauweibchen'; or, 'It is just going to strike six.' Could any mortal in the world have taken it ill of me? No! I say; the girls would have looked over, smiling so roguishly; as they always do when I pluck up heart to show them that I too understand the light tone of society, and know how ladies should be spoken to. And now the Devil himself leads me into that cursed apple-basket, and now I must sit moping in solitude, with nothing but a poor pipe of——" Here the Student Anselmus was interrupted in his soliloquy by a strange rustling and whisking, which rose close by him in the grass, but soon glided up into the twigs and leaves of the elder-tree that stretched out over his head. It was as if the evening wind were shaking the leaves, as if little birds were twittering among the branches, moving their little wings in capricious flutter to and fro. Then he heard a whispering and lisping, and it seemed as if the blossoms were sounding like little crystal bells. Anselmus listened and listened. Ere long, the whispering, and lisping, and tinkling, he himself knew not how, grew to faint and half-scattered words:

"'Twixt this way, 'twixt that; 'twixt branches, 'twixt blossoms, come shoot, come twist and twirl we! Sisterkin, sisterkin! up to the shine; up, down, through and through, quick! Sunrays yellow; evening wind whispering; dewdrops pattering; blossoms all singing: sing we with branches and blossoms! Stars soon glitter; must down: 'twixt this way, 'twixt that, come shoot, come twist, come twirl we, sisterkin!"

And so it went along, in confused and confusing speech. The Student Anselmus thought: "Well, it is only the evening wind, which tonight truly is whispering distinctly enough." But at that moment there sounded over his head, as it were, a triple harmony of clear crystal bells: he looked up, and perceived three little snakes, glittering with green and gold, twisted around the branches, and stretching out their heads to the evening sun. Then, again, began a whispering and twittering in the same words as before, and the little snakes went gliding and caressing up and down through the twigs; and while they moved so rapidly, it was as if the elder-bush were scattering a thousand glittering emeralds through the dark leaves.

"It is the evening sun sporting in the elder-bush," thought the Student Anselmus; but the bells sounded again; and Anselmus observed that one snake held out its little head to him. Through all his limbs there went a shock like electricity; he quivered in his inmost heart: he kept gazing up, and a pair of glorious dark-blue eyes were looking at him with unspeakable longing; and an unknown feeling of highest blessedness and deepest sorrow nearly rent his heart asunder. And as he looked, and still looked, full of warm desire, into those kind eyes, the crystal bells sounded louder in harmonious accord, and the glittering emeralds fell down and encircled him, flickering round him in a thousand sparkles and sporting in resplendent threads of gold. The elder-bush moved and spoke: " You lay in my shadow; my perfume flowed around you, but you understood it not. The perfume is my speech, when love kindles it." The evening wind came gliding past, and said: "I played round your temples, but you understood me not. That breath is my speech, when love kindles it." The sunbeam broke through the clouds, and the sheen of it burned, as in words: "I overflowed you, with glowing gold, but you understood me not. That glow is my speech, when love kindles it."

And, still deeper and deeper sank in the view of those glorious eyes, his longing grew keener, his desire more warm. And all rose and moved around him, as if awakening to glad life. Flowers and blossoms shed their odours round him, and their odour was like the lordly singing of a thousand softest voices, and what they sang was borne, like an echo, on the golden evening clouds, as they flitted away, into far-off lands. But as the last sunbeam abruptly sank behind the hills, and the twilight threw its veil over the scene, there came a hoarse deep voice, as from a great distance:

"Hey! hey! what chattering and jingling is that up there? Hey! hey! who catches me the ray behind the hills? Sunned enough, sung enough. Hey! hey! through bush and grass, through grass and stream. Hey! hey! Come dow-w-n, dow-w-w-n!"

So the voice faded away, as in murmurs of a distant thunder; but the crystal bells broke off in sharp discords. All became mute; and the Student Anselmus observed how the three snakes, glittering and sparkling, glided through the grass towards the river; rustling and hustling, they rushed into the Elbe; and over the waves where they vanished, there crackled up a green flame, which, gleaming forward obliquely, vanished in the direction of the city.


"The gentleman is ill?" said a decent burgher's wife, who, returning from a walk with her family, had paused here, and, with crossed arms, was looking at the mad pranks of the Student Anselmus. Anselmus had clasped the trunk of the elder-tree, and was calling incessantly up to the branches and leaves: "0 glitter and shine once more, dear gold snakes: let me hear your little bell-voices once more! Look on me once more, kind eyes; O once, or I must die in pain and warm longing!" And with this, he was sighing and sobbing from the bottom of his heart most pitifully; and in his eagerness and impatience, shaking the elder-tree to and fro; which, however, instead of any reply, rustled quite stupidly and unintelligibly with its leaves; and so rather seemed, as it were, to make sport of the Student Anselmus and his sorrows.

"The gentleman is ill!" said the burgher's wife; and Anselmus felt as if someone had shaken him out of a deep dream, or poured ice-cold water on him, to awaken him without loss of time. He now first saw clearly where he was, and recollected what a strange apparition had assaulted him, nay, so beguiled his senses, as to make him break forth into loud talk with himself. In astonishment, he gazed at the woman, and at last snatching up his hat, which had fallen to the ground in his transport, was about to make off in all speed. The burgher himself had come forward in the meanwhile, and, setting down the child from his arm on the grass, had been leaning on his staff, and with amazement listening and looking at the Student. He now picked up the pipe and tobacco-box which the Student had let fall, and, holding them out to him, said: "Don't take on so dreadfully, my worthy sir, or alarm people in the dark, when nothing is the matter, after all, but a drop or two of christian liquor: go home, like a good fellow, and sleep it off."

The Student Anselmus felt exceedingly ashamed; he uttered nothing but a most lamentable Ah!

"Pooh! Pooh!" said the burgher, "never mind it a jot; such a thing will happen to the best; on good old Ascension Day a man may readily enough forget himself in his joy, and gulp down a thought too much. A clergyman himself is no worse for it: I presume, my worthy sir, you are a Candidatus. But, with your leave, sir, I shall fill my pipe with your tobacco; mine was used up a little while ago."

This last sentence the burgher uttered while the Student Anselmus was about to put away his pipe and box; and now the burgher slowly and deliberately cleaned his pipe, and began as slowly to fill it. Several burgher girls had come up: these were speaking secretly with the woman and each other, and tittering as they looked at Anselmus. The Student felt as if he were standing on prickly thorns, and burning needles. No sooner had he got back his pipe and tobacco-box, than he darted off as fast as he could.

All the strange things he had seen were clean gone from his memory; he simply recollected having babbled all sorts of foolish stuff beneath the elder-tree. This was the more frightful to him, as he entertained an inward horror against all soliloquists. It is Satan that chatters out of them, said his Rector; and Anselmus had honestly believed him. But to be regarded as a Candidatus Theologiæ, overtaken with drink on Ascension Day! The thought was intolerable.

Running on with these mad vexations, he was just about turning up Poplar Alley, by the Kosel garden, when a voice behind him called out: "Herr Anselmus! Herr Anselmus! for the love of Heaven, where are you running in such a hurry?" The Student paused, as if rooted to the ground; for he was convinced that now some new accident would befall him. The voice rose again: "Herr Anselmus, come back: we are waiting for you here at the water!" And now the Student perceived that it was his friend Conrector Paulmann's voice: he went back to the Elbe, and found the Conrector, with his two daughters, as well as Registrator Heerbrand, all about to step into their gondola. Conrector Paulmann invited the Student to go with them across the Elbe, and then to pass the evening at his house in the suburb of Pirna. The Student Anselmus very gladly accepted this proposal, thinking thereby to escape the malignant destiny which had ruled over him all day.


Excerpted from The Best Tales of Hoffmann by E.T.A. HOFFMANN, E. F. BLEILER. Copyright © 1967 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was perhaps one of the two or three greatest of all writers of fantasy. His wonderful tales, translated into many languages and adapted into numerous stage works, have delighted readers for a century and a half.
They open our eyes to an extraordinary world of fantasy, poetry, and the supernatural. Remarkable characters come vividly to life. With exciting speed, Hoffmann moves from the firm ground of reality to ambiguity, mystery, and romance. His imaginativeness is unsurpassed, and his handling of allegory, symbolism, and mysticism is unusually skillful. These qualities make his tales some of the most stimulating and enjoyable in the world's literature. They can be read on many levels of enjoyment; as exciting fiction brilliantly told, as a fascinating statement of many of the major concerns of the Romantic era, and as a culmination of German Romantic literature.
This collection contains ten of his best tales: "The Golden Flower Pot," "Automata," "A New Year's Eve Adventure," "Nutcracker and the King of Mice," "The Sand-Man," "Rath Krespel," "Tobias Martin, Master Cooper, and His Men," "The Mines of Falun," "Signor Formica," and "The King's Betrothed."

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The Best Tales of Hoffmann 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Neutiquam_Erro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hoffman is an undiscovered genius - mad perhaps - but definitely a genius. Of course, he was quite well known in the Nineteenth Century, garnering a well-deserved reputation as a writer of bizarre, macabre, gothic tales full of the unexpected and unexplainable. Originally written in German, these tales are mined from the same dark rich earth that gave birth to Goethe and Kafka, Jung and Freud, Hegel and Mesmer - something of a heavy burden to carry.This volume, consisting as it does of the "best" tales of Hoffman, contains a wealth of eclectic stories peopled with fractured and tortured characters. It includes, of course, the well known story of the Nutcracker and the King of Mice, although your typical ballet lover might find the story a shade darker and more menacing than contemporary stagings of Tschaikovsky: Godpappa Drosselmeier is a somewhat sinister figure, for example. Still, the tale of the Nutcracker is light fare when compared to works such as the Mines of Falun in which a sailor turns miner at the urgings of a shadowy mentor and pledges his soul to the underworldly Queen of the Mine. This tale becomes more and more sinister with the black pit of the mine eventually swallowing the protagonist in a rock fall, exacting revenge on him for falling in love with human woman. The tale ends when his petrified body is recovered 50 years later.Of course, all is not as it seems in most of these tales. They can be read as fanciful fairy tales - albeit very dark, adult ones - or they can be seen as investigations of the dark areas of the human psyche, at the edge of madness, where vaguely unusual events suddenly become twisted into disturbing patterns. In the Sandman, for example, the bringer of sleep is given a menacing aspect since his arrival heralds a darkening mood in a little boy's parents. The boy eventually learns that his mother sends him off to bed whenever an alchemist visits his father to perform occult experiments, eventually causing the father's death. The little boy grows up, falls in love with an animated doll and eventually commits suicide in the presence of the "Sandman".Not all of the tales in the book are unrelentingly dark. Some deal with obsession (The Golden Flower Pot), some are love stories (Tobias Martin, Master Cooper) while others are comic and vaguely satirical (The King's Betrothed). Signor Formica, which apparently was written to explain a painting by Salvator Rosa, has not a drop of the supernatural in it while Automata and A New Year's Adventure have it as their epicenters. Rath Krespel, a story about Hoffman's greatest love, music, leads the reader to think there is something otherworldly occurring but eventually all is explained naturally.A word about the nature of this edition. It contains a lengthy introduction explaining the context of Hoffman's work and some of his themes and sources. Somewhat to my chagrin, the introduction reveals at it very end, that various writers are responsible for the translation of these tales. While this is not so bad, we are then informed that the author of the introduction has translated the translations into modern English, eliminating anachronistic thee's and thou's. So we are really reading a double translation. While this may make the book a bit easier to follow, it is a bit like looking at an airbrushed photo, taken in dim light, of a reproduction painting. Another minor complaint I have is that the cover artwork of is pink and purple and leaves a distinctly cotton-candy feel to what is, in reality, a gathering of dark, angst-ridden, sturm und drang filled episodes.Still, the stories are mesmerizing, wonderfully inventive, and full of unexpected twists and intellectual challenges. Their archetypes have inspired many operas and still resonate today in movies such as Bladerunner and Edward Scissorhands.
praymont on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Some of Hoffmann's tales from the early 1800's anticipate more recent fiction involving automata. E.g., in The Sandman, a character falls in love with Olimpia, whom he then discovers to be a robot. Once Olimpia is exposed, Dr. Spalanzani, one of her designers, has to flee to "escape a criminal charge of having fraudulently imposed an automaton upon human society," a crime that sows "an absurd mistrust of human figures." Indeed, to be sure they're not dating robots, men start requiring their girlfriends to demonstrate their human imperfection by singing and dancing out of time, which is a very different male response from the one in Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives. A similar motif animates one of the best episodes in the 1960's TV series The Outer Limits. This 1964 episode, Demon With a Glass Hand (starring Robert Culp), presents a woman's response to the discovery that she's fallen for an automaton -- she screams and runs away.