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Telling Tales

David Blamires

3. Elements of Morality: Salzmann and Wollstonecraft

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1Agreat deal of eighteenth-century German children’s literature is concerned with matters of morality, understood in the wide sense. As we have already seen with Campe, moral issues and rational conduct also underlie stories of exploration and adventure. They form the central concern of Campe’s contemporary, Christian Gotthilf Salzmann, whose Moralisches Elementarbuch (first edition 1783, new improved edition Leipzig: Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius, 1785) was translated into English by Mary Wollstonecraft as Elements of Morality (London: Joseph Johnson, 1790). This translation is noted in virtually all histories of English children’s literature, most probably because of Wollstonecraft’s name, but very little comment is ever made about the content or the original author.

2Salzmann (1744-1811) was born in Sömmerda, not far from Erfurt, studied theology at the University of Jena and became a village parson in 1768. In 1770 he married Sophie Magdalene Schnell and moved two years later to Erfurt. In 1781 he joined Basedow’s celebrated Philanthropin in Dessau, but left after three years to found his own educational establishment at Schnepfenthal, near Gotha, in 1784. Here he remained until his death in 1811, teaching and writing. Schnepfenthal’s reputation is briefly alluded to by the dramatist August von Kotzebue in his Travels from Berlin, through Switzerland, to Paris, in the year 1804:

  • 1 August von Kotzebue, Travels from Berlin, through Switzerland, to Paris, in the Year 1804 (London: (...)

The seminary of the able Salzmann at Schnepfenthal (of which I may boast by experience, that it makes and keeps the hearts of young people susceptible of all that is good and excellent) is as flourishing as ever, and its blossoms yield fine ripe fruits in many a country.1

3The Moralisches Lesebuch in its improved edition was adorned with 67 etchings by Daniel Chodowiecki (1726-1801), one of the great illustrators of the period. Many critics attribute the book’s success to his work, but that is praise at Salzmann’s expense and belittles the author unjustifiably.

4Salzmann’s classic work is a profoundly didactic text case in the form of a simple narrative about the Herrmann family, father, mother, son and daughter. There is no plot as such, but in forty-five chapters Salzmann follows the day-to-day life of this comfortably off merchant’s family, their friendship with a modest pastor’s family and their contacts with many other people in their immediate locality. Each chapter exemplifies some virtue or vice, which is signalled to the reader by a word or a sentence printed in bold type. The majority of the chapters focus on matters directly concerned with the children’s conduct, but some deal with matters between adults. Salzmann was at great pains to show the consequences of certain kinds of behaviour in terms that a child of six to eight (his target audience) could understand. The narrative thus opens with a chapter in which the fact that little Luise has dirtied her dress makes it impossible for her to join a family excursion to visit the neighbouring wealthy Heilbergs. (The surname of the head of this family has an ironic ring – it means ’mount of healing’ – but his material wealth is of no avail to him when he is stricken by ill health. Wealth is no comfort when health is lacking.) Much later in the book there is a parallel exclusion for the young son Ludwig: he is prevented from going to a garden-party because his thoughtless chatter and spreading of confidential conversation within the family has led to an unpleasant fracas between his mother and a woman of dubious morals. Consequently, his parents are wary about whether he can be trusted to behave responsibly.

5The Herrmanns are a privileged family, but Salzmann makes it clear that wealth brings with it responsibilities to those less fortunate: giving employment, assisting the destitute, comforting and supporting the sick. The children are taught to respect everyone they meet, whatever their social status or outward appearance. When the family’s two servants are both away at the same time, the maid having been given permission to go to a fair in a nearby village and the man-servant being occupied looking after his sick father, the children experience at first hand how much they rely on the servants because they now have to fulfil those tasks themselves. Salzmann never simply enunciates a moral principle: it is always demonstrated through an incident.

6A large variety of figures are depicted in the book, some admirable, others wicked. Many appear only in one chapter, but others form part of the Herrmanns’ circle of friends and acquaintance. Key roles are occupied by father Herrmann himself, his wife Sophie, Magister Helwig, the pastor who finds Ludwig in the forest when he has got lost and is afraid, and also the old schoolmaster, Rektor Gutmann, who is described as having a powerful influence on both Herrmann and his old school-friend Friedrichson, to whom Herrmann gives a home and employment when he is down on his luck. Salzmann united in his own person the roles of father, pastor and teacher, and in his book these adult males are models of the moral values that he wishes to inculcate in his readers. They represent authority, sobriety, industry and benevolence. The schoolmaster’s name actually means ’good man’, and ’Herrmann’ can perhaps be equated with the English ’Masterman’.

  • 2 C. G. Salzmann, Elements of Morality (London: J. Johnson, 1793), vol. 2, p. 174.

7Yet the pursuit of goodness is no guarantee of undiluted material happiness: suffering and deprivation have to be accepted too as part of God’s mysterious purposes. The Helwig family is smitten with smallpox, and at the very end of the book Sophie dies of an undiagnosed illness, leaving Herrmann a widower and the children bereft of their mother. By this time, however, the children are ready to respond to their father’s desire: ’But if you are good, obedient, industrious children, and attend to truth, I shall still find some comfort, even after the loss of your mother’2. As they grow up, Herrmann experiences in them the fruits of the good lessons that he and Sophie have given them.

8The Moralisches Elementarbuch exemplifies the whole gamut of moral values relevant to pre-pubertal children. Like almost all children’s books of this period, it is firmly anchored in the experience and expectations of the middle class, comfortably off, but modest in its aspirations, spurning the pretentiousness and airs of the aristocracy, and conscious of its responsibility towards the lower classes. The book is full of incidental information about social life and conditions: children’s games, kitchen and ornamental gardens, leisure activities, appreciation of natural beauty, rural poverty, the plight of soldiers disabled through war, times of meals and of going to bed, gestures of affection. Some of these are altered in the English translation, a practice that points up differences between some German and English social customs.

9Salzmann uses a considerable number of personal names in the course of his narrative. Some of these, as we have seen, suggest the characteristics of the person in question, though these are few in number. The miser who plays such a nasty role in chapters 20 and 41 is given the name Harpax, the Greek and Latin for ’rapacious’, while the beneficent advocate in chapter 23 is called Lebrecht (’live rightly’). This latter name may well have been intended as a compliment to Salzmann’s publisher, Siegfried Lebrecht Crusius, who also published Basedow. The majority of the names, however, are ordinary German names of the day, and Mary Wollstonecraft alters most of them in her English translation, not generally using their English equivalents. Chapter 31 contains a sympathetic portrait of an elderly Jew who is able to cure Ludwig’s toothache. Although the boy is initially suspicious, Salzmann is at pains to show him overcoming his prejudice so as to accept the Jew’s help and take on board his firmly stated view that there are good people in all religions. This chapter testifies to the prevalence of popular prejudice against the Jews and the need to counter it.

10Salzmann’s philosophical position reflects common Enlightenment views. He constantly promotes a belief in goodness and amendment of life. In describing the unpleasant innkeeper in chapter 33 he has Herrmann explain to his children that the man is as he is because from childhood he has always had wicked people around him. Such a person is to be pitied and helped rather than hated. Everywhere Salzmann encourages mutual respect and assistance, and he extends this to the animal kingdom in the incident in which little Erich, a friend of Ludwig and Luise (called James in Wollstonecraft), catches a field-mouse and wants to kill it. Herrmann calls him cruel and tells him to be ashamed: ’He who can torment a little helpless animal, has certainly a bad heart’ (vol. 2, p. 67). Similar incidents of children mistreating animals are commonplace in the literature of the period.

11As a product of the Enlightenment, Salzmann’s religious views are general rather than sectarian. He speaks about God as Creator and the invisible power at work in the universe, not always or necessarily comprehensible to humankind. But because his book is not concerned with revealed religion, it avoids all mention of Jesus. Nonetheless, Salzmann sees his aim as completely consonant with the Christian ethos. The incidents he presents are not conceived in terms of commands and rules, but as examples of kinds of behaviour with particular consequences that children can readily understand. The values he propounds are expressed undogmatically and flow naturally and rationally, in true Enlightenment manner, from the kind of conduct necessary for an interdependent and harmonious society. They include industry, thrift, moderation, patience in adversity, compassion, persistence, gratitude, honesty and a simple lifestyle. Things to be avoided are selfishness, idleness, gossip, slander, cruelty towards animals and lavishness. Salzmann also firmly embraces the belief that wickedness does not win in the end, but is overcome through God’s goodness.

  • 3 See Nicholas Tucker, ’Fairy Tales and their Early Opponents: in Defence of Mrs Trimmer’, in Mary H (...)

12Salzmann’s book fits easily into a pattern of educational fiction in English, beginning with Sarah Fielding’s The Governess; or, Little Female Academy (1749) and including Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories from Real Life (London: J. Johnson, 1788). Both Fielding and Wollstonecraft are concerned with the education of girls, not with academic studies, but with moral and social questions, with how to behave in polite society. Fielding’s Mrs. Teachum and Wollstonecraft’s Mrs. Mason are both slightly terrifying in the retrospect of two centuries as they confront the deficiencies of their pupils. Mrs. Teachum has nine pupils aged between eight and fourteen, while Mrs. Mason has just two sisters, Mary and Caroline, aged fourteen and twelve. Neither book has anything like a plot, but simply recounts a number of exemplary situations in which the girls acquire the moral discernment necessary for their position in society. They learn from each other as well as from their governess. Fielding diversifies her narrative with inserted tales such as ’The Story of the Cruel Giant Barbarico, the Good Giant Benefico, and the Pretty Little Dwarf Mignon’, ’The Story of Caelia and Chloe’ and ’The Princess Hebe’. This was a pattern followed by Madame Leprince de Beaumont in her Magasin des enfans (1756), of which an English version appeared in 1757. Among other things it included the classic version of ’Beauty and the Beast’. Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories eschews such fantasies, but gives several edifying accounts of the experiences of persons who figure in the narrative. Tellingly, she refers in the text to Mrs Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories (1786), later retitled The History of the Robins. Mrs Trimmer is noted for her strong deprecation of fairytales, especially for their providing harmful examples of wickedness, terrifying their child readers and encouraging superstition.3 (The word ’fabulous’ in the title refers to animal fables, which since Aesop have been used to tell moral stories.)

  • 4 See Robert Woof, Stephen Hebron and Claire Tomalin, Hyenas in Petticoats. Mary Wollstonecraft & Ma (...)
  • 5 William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Women (London: J. Johnson; (...)

13As a teacher and writer on education, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) was well equipped to introduce Salzmann to British readers. In 1787 she had written Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, following it with Original Stories, which was reprinted a number of times up to 1807. In 1789 she contributed to Mr Cresswick’s The Female Reader, or, Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Verse, an anthology for girls, and in 1790 she adapted and ’improved’ a translation of Madame de Cambon’s De Kleine Grandisson, a children’s counterpart in Dutch to Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, which appeared with the title Young Grandison. All these books were published by Joseph Johnson (1738-1809). Johnson was one of the most notable publishers of the late eighteenth century and had on his list books by such important figures as Cowper, Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley, William Godwin, Erasmus Darwin, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Richard and Maria Edgeworth and Anna Laetitia Barbauld. He became the official distributor for the Unitarians.4 William Godwin, Wollstonecraft’s eventual husband and biographer, informs us that ’The translation of Salzmann produced a correspondence between Mary and the author; and he afterwards repaid the obligation to her in kind, by a German translation of the Rights of Woman’.5

6. Title-page of C. G. Salzmann, Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children; With an Introductory Address to Parents. Translated [by Mary Wollstonecraft] from the German. A New Edition (1805).

  • 6 Judith St. John, The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. A Catalogue (Toronto: Toronto P (...)

14Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children; With an Introductory Address to Parents was illustrated with numerous copperplates, sixteen of which were engraved by William Blake on the model of Chodowiecki.6 The translation was successful enough for Johnson to publish further editions in 1791, 1792, 1793, 1799 and 1805. From at least 1793 illustrations were no longer included. A Dublin edition appeared in 1798 (William Porter), and Oliver & Boyd produced a ’new and improved edition’ in Edinburgh in 1821. Various American editions can be cited between 1795 and 1850. The book clearly satisfied a great need, which only abated when Evangelical sentiment required a specific commitment among educationists to its demands.

  • 7 Woof, Hebron and Tomalin, Hyenas in Petticoats, p. 119.
  • 8 See Timothy Buck, ’Breaking the Ice: Christian Ludwig’s Teutsch-Englisches Lexicon, the First Germ (...)

15Apparently Wollstonecraft came across Salzmann’s book when she was beginning to learn German, and she made her translation as a kind of exercise.7 It would be interesting to know how she found the book; perhaps it was through a German governess or language-teacher in London at the time. What German grammar or dictionary she used is unknown. There were certainly grammar books available. John James Bachmair’s A Complete German Grammar had already appeared in a third edition (London: G. Keith, etc., 1771), and Gebhardt Friedrich A. Wendeborn’s An Introduction to German Grammar went into a third edition with additions in 1797, so presumably an earlier edition would have been available to her. As far as dictionaries go, she is likely to have used Christian Ludwig’s Teutsch-Englisches Lexicon, the first German-English dictionary to be published. Its first two editions were published anonymously by Thomas Fritsch of Leipzig in 1716 and 1745, but Wollstonecraft probably used one of the later editions published in 1765 and 1789. Another possibility would be the same lexicographer’s A Dictionary English, German and French (Leipzig: Fritsch, 1706), from which the Teutsch-Englisches Lexicon was derived, and of which subsequent editions appeared in 1736 and 1763 (the 1791 edition would have been too late for Wollstonecraft).8 By the beginning of the nineteenth century more grammars and bilingual dictionaries were being issued all the time, but Ludwig’s work dominated the eighteenth century.

16Wollstonecraft’s translation follows Salzmann relatively closely, but not wholly accurately. She omits occasional words and phrases, particularly at the ends of chapters, though she keeps to the general sense. In a few instances her chapters do not correspond to Salzmann’s, though it is hard to see why she has made the changes. Half of Salzmann’s chapter 7 becomes Wollstonecraft’s chapter 8 and sets up a sequence that is not corrected until she has a second chapter 40, which corresponds to Salzmann’s chapter 40.

17Understandably, Wollstonecraft’s translation of Salzmann adapts the text to fit English circumstances. The various characters are renamed wholesale, only a very few retaining an English form of the original German name. So Herrmann and his wife Sophie become a Mr. and Mrs. Jones from Bristol, and their children Ludwig and Luise become Charles and Mary. Magister Helwig becomes Mr. Benson, the unfortunate Friedrichson Mr. Noel, the cook Dorothee the more familiar Betty (Betty is a servant’s name in Original Stories too). The miser Harpax is turned into Mr. Skinpenny, Graf Rheinfeld into Lord Smooth-tongue. Ramboldchen, the name of the Helwig family’s dog, is changed to Pompey (also in Original Stories), which may have reminded English readers of Sir Francis Coventry’s satirical History of Pompey the Little; or, the Life and Adventures of a Lap-dog (1751). One of Wollstonecraft’s changes requires some comment, given her later Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Salzmann gives Herrmann’s wife the name Sophie, which he frequently uses in referring to her in the text (it was, in fact, the name of Salzmann’s own wife). Very rarely, she is called ’Madame Herrmann’. More often, it is ’Mutter’ (mother). Wollstonecraft turns her into Mrs. Jones without any first name. Since Salzmann refers to characters of lower social standing almost always by first names, while giving those of equal or higher status titles and surnames, Wollstonecraft’s transformation of Madame Herrmann or Sophie into Mrs. Jones can be interpreted as raising her status to that of equality with her husband. In the vast majority of instances Salzmann calls the father – the most important figure in the book – simply ’Herrmann’, though he has various characters address him as ’Herr Herrmann’. We never learn what his first name is. The translated narrative is firmly situated in the English landscape. Salzmann is rather vague in his geography, saying merely that the family lived in the town of N. near the banks of a river. The only place that he mentions is Stendal, from where Friedrichson hails and where Gutmann was a tutor. Wollstonecraft converts this into Yorkshire, and Mr. Goodman is described as being an usher at an academy in Bath. In the German text his son is about to study at an unnamed university, whereas in the English he is to go to Oxford.

18As far as the general flow of the narrative is concerned, Wollstonecraft keeps close to Salzmann, but her translation is free rather than exact, perhaps especially in the ’Introductory Address to Parents’. She makes judicious substitutions in order to make the details of an incident fit English expectations. For example, when Mr. Benson (Magister Helwig in the German) rescues the lost little boy Charles (Ludwig) in the forest, the illustrative story that Salzmann gives about a peasant hussar, who is similarly terrified in the forest and is wounded by his enemies, is transferred to the American wars. Wollstonecraft, however, gives the episode a twist of her own, as the wounded soldier is tended by ’one of those men, whom we Europeans with white complexions, call savages’ until he recovers from his injuries. The ’savage’ ’prayed the Great Spirit to take care of him, and conduct him safe to his own country’ (vol. 1, p. 24). One could imagine Salzmann approving of such a substitution.

19The incidents that comprise Salzmann’s long narrative are often linked by unexpected turns of events. The author keeps his readers’ or hearers’ attention by frequent changes of mood and emotion. There are tears a-plenty, fond embraces, kisses, expressions of delight, exuberance and also sorrow and anxiety. There was obviously too much of this for an English readership, for Wollstonecraft tones it down a good deal. This points to clear cultural differences between the Germans and the English. The free expression of the emotions found in German literature in the chronologically overlapping periods of Empfindsamkeit (Sentimentality) and Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) – Goethe’s Werther immediately springs to mind – was felt to be excessive in England.

20Wollstonecraft is content to leave parents and children embracing each other and kissing, but she draws the line at such demonstrations between grown men. When the lost Ludwig (Charles) is reunited with his father, the German text has the father step out of his carriage and fall on Magister Helwig’s (the curate’s) neck, for which the English substitutes: ’Mr. Jones stepped out, and taking the Curate’s hand, said, as he cordially shook it ...’ (vol. 1, p. 70). Similarly, when Albert, Herrmann’s boyhood friend, meets him again, Salzmann tells us that he fell most demonstratively on Herrmann’s neck, which Wollstonecraft transposes into ’He caught Mr. Jones by the hand with great warmth’(vol. 1, pp. 127-28). Even more striking are the differences between the German and English texts in regard to the reconciliation of Helwig and his estranged brother, Anselm. The latter falls weeping round Magister Helwig’s neck and kisses him, while the unnamed brother in the English version ’timidly took his [brother’s] hand’ (vol. 1, p. 93). Again, in the German book both Herrmann and Friedrichson kiss their former teacher, Rektor Gutmann, an action completely omitted from the English. By eliminating or toning down such details Wollstonecraft made Salzmann’s work more acceptable to her English readers. Some fifty years later William Howitt still remarks on these affectionate relationships between men, which he finds contrary to English habits:

  • 9 William Howitt, The Rural and Domestic Life of Germany (London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, (...)

Young men entertain that brotherly feeling for each other that you seldom see in England. They go, as youths, often walking with their arms about each other, as only school-boys do with us. They put their arms over each other’s shoulders in familiar conversation in company, in a very brotherly way. I say nothing of that hearty kissing of each other on meeting after an absence, that to an English eye, in great rough-whiskered and mustachioed men, has something very repulsive in it.9

21There are a few other details that differentiate the English text from its German source. Salzmann states that twelve o’clock was the time that Herrmann was accustomed to dine, while Wollstonecraft declares that one was the hour when Mr. Jones usually dined. The evening following the quarrel and accident involving the two coachmen was perhaps an exceptional one, as it continued with the return to the Helwigs’ house and the incident between the Magister and his estranged brother, but it did not conclude until one in the morning. There is no indication that the children were dispatched to bed earlier. The German text mentions the watchman calling out under the window and telling the company that the clock has struck one. The English version omits any reference to a watchman and states the clock to have struck twelve. The only reason for changes of this kind must be to conform to English habits.

22Salzmann, in addition to making several references to the children’s games and toys, also has the Magister produce a copy of the Göttingischer Taschenkalender in which there are pictures that the children look at with pleasure. Probably he is here paying an indirect compliment to his illustrator, Chodowiecki, since the latter provided pictures for it too. Wollstonecraft naturally enough simply refers to ’a little almanack’. In the original Ludwig mentions reading the Kinderfreund, a favourite book of his and one that has given him much pleasure. It is not absolutely clear what is meant here. Friedrich Eberhard von Rochow had produced a reader for use in rural schools called Der Kinderfreund (The Children’s Friend), which was first published in 1776 and reissued in several new editions up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. But around the same time Christian Felix Weisse had also begun to issue a weekly magazine called Der Kinderfreund, issues of which were then published in volume form. The first twenty-four parts were published in Leipzig between 1776-82 by Crusius. Since Crusius was Salzmann’s own publisher, it is more likely that this is what he was referring to. Wollstonecraft uses the occasion for her own benefit, as she has Charles read Young Grandison, thus alluding to her own version of Madame de Cambon’s book published by her own publisher, Joseph Johnson.

23The educational aims of Salzmann were very close to those of Campe. Their moral values and the means whereby they were to be inculcated show no serious divergence. Their emphasis on the affectionately knit family as the place in which these values and patterns of behaviour were to be learnt enabled their books easily to take root in middle-class Britain. In terms of their assimilation into British children’s literature it is noteworthy that their German provenance is of virtually no interest. The opening and closing scenes of Robinson the Younger are, of course, located in Hamburg, and other references to Germany do crop up occasionally in the book, but they are allotted no special significance or comment in the English translation. As to Salzmann’s Elements of Morality, the opportunity to remark on or explain things German is resolutely rejected, as Wollstonecraft systematically assimilates the story to plain English circumstances. So while the importance of these German books is emphatically acknowledged through their being translated, any significant German quality they may possess is underplayed, ignored or eliminated


1 August von Kotzebue, Travels from Berlin, through Switzerland, to Paris, in the Year 1804 (London: Richard Phillips, 1804), vol. 1, p. 12.

2 C. G. Salzmann, Elements of Morality (London: J. Johnson, 1793), vol. 2, p. 174.

3 See Nicholas Tucker, ’Fairy Tales and their Early Opponents: in Defence of Mrs Trimmer’, in Mary Hilton, Morag Styles and Victor Watson (eds.), Opening the Nursery Door. Reading, Writing and Childhood 1600-1900 (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 104-16.

4 See Robert Woof, Stephen Hebron and Claire Tomalin, Hyenas in Petticoats. Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley (Grasmere: The Wordsworth Trust, 1997), pp. 2-4.

5 William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Women (London: J. Johnson; and G.G. and J. Robinson, 1798; reprinted Oxford and New York: Woodstock Books, 1993), p. 65.

6 Judith St. John, The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. A Catalogue (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1975), vol. 1, p. 295.

7 Woof, Hebron and Tomalin, Hyenas in Petticoats, p. 119.

8 See Timothy Buck, ’Breaking the Ice: Christian Ludwig’s Teutsch-Englisches Lexicon, the First German-English Dictionary’, in John L. Flood et al. (eds.), ’Das unsichtbare Band der Sprache’. Studies in German Language and Linguistic History in Memory of Leslie Seiffert (Stuttgart: Hans-Dieter Heinz, 1993), pp. 237-51.

9 William Howitt, The Rural and Domestic Life of Germany (London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1842), p. 200.

Table des illustrations

Légende 6. Title-page of C. G. Salzmann, Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children; With an Introductory Address to Parents. Translated [by Mary Wollstonecraft] from the German. A New Edition (1805).
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