Deciphering 1790s German handwriting - what does this say?
November 29, 2018 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Help transliterate or translate this handwritten, one-page German letter from 1792?

Posting on behalf of someone I know.

They have an old family letter in an archaic form of German, in old, beautiful handwriting that they can't read. Does anyone have any guesses on what it says (that is, can read the handwriting and transliterate it into plain text) or know enough German to read and translate any of it?

My acquaintance has "uploaded it to some translation services but it's no dice so far".

My acquaintance knows it is a letter to George Stier penned in 1792, and family lore says it is a goodbye letter to George before he left Europe for the new world. It's now an heirloom within the Erwin family.
posted by brainwane to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: This is in Kurrentschrift, a term that may help if you upload it to translation/genealogy websites. I read Kurrent very poorly, but the first line, to my eyes, says "Fort fort zum Himmel zu, was wilst du hier verweilen, du musst nach Zion eilen," which means roughly "Out, out to heaven, what do you want to linger here for, you must hurry to Zion." It sounds like that first line may be taken from a hymn or similar.
posted by besonders at 3:37 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Best answer: It is a devotional text the full text is here
In the Chur-Pfälzisches Allgemeines Reformirtes Gesang-Buch
posted by 15L06 at 3:59 PM on November 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


Best answer: The first eleven lines contain a part of the devotional text linked above, the last four contain a personal message. My attempt at a transcription of the whole thing (with line numbers added) is as follows:

1. George Stier Fort fort zum Himmel zu, Was
2. wilst du hier verweilen, Du must nach zion eilen, Da ist die wah
3. re ruh, fort fort zum him̄el zu, Was sind doch daß für sachen
4. Die dich so brünstig machen, Ein rauch der bald ensteht, Und eben
5. so vergeht, Die blüthe junger Jahre komt eben auf die bahre
6. Wer weiß ob heute nicht, Die hütte gar zerbricht
7. Dort ist die wahre ruh, Beÿ Christo sind die gaben Die hertz und
8. sinnen laben, Drum fort zum him̄el zu, Dort ist die wahre ruh
9. Bedencke nur die liebe, Und die so zarten triebe, Die Cristi
10. Hertze hegt, Und die ihr gar bewegt, Daß er sein treües leben
11. Zum toe hingegeben, Vor dich und jederman̄, O seele dencke dran
12. Nun diese vorschrift hin, Ich geb sie dir aus liebe, So du sie
13. nun nicht schreibst, So ?hust dich selbst schaden, Schreibst du sie nun
14. mit lust, Und liebst was vorgeschrieben, So werde ich dich auch, Und deine? ? ?
15. Geschrieben ? 30? Mertz 1792 ? ? W: v: Lamp?


Unfortunately I can't make out the last few words of line 14, nor much of the final line. Maybe someone more famiilar with German and the letter writing conventions of the era can figure out more (and translate the last four lines at least).
posted by Signy at 5:03 AM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]


Best answer: ?hust in l. 13 is 'thust', I think? The old-fashioned way of writing 'tust' > tun, the verb 'to do'. And the very last word must be lieben, judging by the other examples in the text. But I have no idea what the penultimate word is, sorry.
posted by ogorki at 5:57 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Much thanks to you all for your detective work! My acquaintance deeply appreciates the effort, and says their family "are going to be so floored by the progress on this!"

Another acquaintance, Veit Heller, provided an attempt at a quick translation:
George Stier, gone gone towards the heavens, what
would you stay here for, you have to go to zion, there is the
true calm, gone gone towards the heavens, what kinds of things are those
that make you lively, a smoke that rises quickly, and vanishes
just so, the blossom of youth now lies on the bier,
who knows if not today, the house is coming down,
there there is true calm, with christ are those that gave their hearts
and (?), so gone towards the heavens, there there is true calm,
think of the love, and the new shoots so tender, that christs
heart sprouts, and that you move, so that he has given his life
to death, for you and everyone, oh soul, think of that
now this writing here [not so sure about this], i give it to you in love, so that
you don’t have to write, so you don’t hurt yourself, write now with
pleasure, and love what was written to you, so i will love you, ?
and added, "(the last line is not really translatable with all of the missing words) .... I tried to keep the commas, but some seem to break the text up in odd places. I’m not entirely sure what's up with that.... caveat that, while I am German, I’m not a linguist or translator and this translation should probably go with a grain of salt :)"

More help would be welcome -- perhaps someone who knows older German/Kurrentschrift can slot in some of the missing puzzle pieces here....
posted by brainwane at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2018


1) Line 10 "und die ihr gar bewegt" I think should be "und die ihm gar bewegt", so, "and that moved [Christ/his heart] so much that [he gave his life to death]"

2) Line 12 "Nun diese vorschrift hin" should actually say "Nim̄ diese vorschrift hin", so, "take this writing here".

I THINK the penultimate word could possibly be "Eltern" (parents)?
posted by jeudi at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, the signature reads approximately: "Geschrieben d[en] 31ten , Mertz [März] 1792 Von mir F: C: W: v: Lamp"
posted by jeudi at 11:03 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


(I'm not sure on the initials, but if your friend's family have an idea who could have written the letter, they might be able to figure out what that should say.)

Also, also: "Bey Christo sind die gaben, die hertze und sinnen laben" is something like "Christ has the gifts that comfort the heart and spirit" -- "Herz und Sinnen laben" might be familiar from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and the command to the shepherds, "Geht und labet Herz und Sinnen".
posted by jeudi at 11:19 AM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


It looks like a devotional text with decorative border, written out by a scribe at the behest of someone else. I don't think it's a personal letter. It's all about loving Jesus (and Jesus' love) and not focusing on earthly things. There doesn't really seem to be anything personal in it - the last few lines are an admonition to write out this prayer for your own good and a declaration that it is given in love (in love of Christ?). Doesn't really sound like a goodbye letter.

There's also an ambiguity in "Vorschrift" and "vorgeschrieben". It can mean both a writing sample/template and a rule/regulation. So Line 12 is "take this template" or "take this Imperative" and Line 14 is "love what has been written for you" and "love what is required by (biblical) law".

I think the name at the bottom is the name of the scribe that copied out the text.

Lange Rede, kurzer Sinn/tl;dr: "Remember Jesus loves you, so don't be a sinner and follow the rules"
posted by yggdrasil at 6:50 AM on December 6, 2018


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