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From Anecdotes, a collection of vignettes that originally appeared in Kleist’s newspaper Berliner Abendblätter, which began publication in 1810. Kleist took his own life the following year. The collection will be published next month by Sublunary Editions. Translated from the German.


Brietz, a laborer, said to Captain von Bürger, of the former Tauentzien Regiment, that the tree under which they stood was entirely too small for the both of them, and that he should put himself beneath another. Captain von Bürger, who was a placid and humble man, really did put himself beneath another tree, whereupon Brietz was immediately struck by lightning and killed.


Bach, when his wife died, had to make arrangements for the funeral. But the poor man was so used to her taking care of everything that when an old servant came and asked him for money to buy mourning crepe, the composer, behind silent tears, head propped on his desk, replied, “Ask my wife.”


Two famous English boxers, one a native of Portsmouth, the other of Plymouth, who for many years had heard about but never seen each other, resolved, when they finally met in London, to hold a public bout to decide which of them deserved the glorious title of champion. So, with clenched fists, among a crowd gathered in a tavern garden, they took their stand against each other; and when the Plymouther, in nothing flat, struck the Portsmouther in the chest with such force that he spat blood, the latter, wiping his mouth, cried out: “Splendid!” But soon thereafter, once they had squared off again, the Portsmouther dealt the Plymouther such a powerful right hand to the gut that his eyes rolled back and he sank to the ground, shouting: “Not so bad yourself!” Whereupon the crowd, standing around them in a circle, cried out in jubilation, and they awarded the Portsmouther—while the Plymouther was carried away, dead from intestinal wounds—the title of champion. The Portsmouther too, however, was said to have died the following day, of a severe hemorrhage.


A Capuchin monk, one very rainy day, accompanied a Swabian prisoner to the gallows. Many times, the condemned man lamented to heaven that he, in such terrible and unfriendly weather, had to walk so bitter a path. The Capuchin wished to give him Christian comfort and replied: “You scoundrel! How can you complain? You only have to go there, but I, in all this rain, must come back the same way!”


In Poland there once lived a countess, a lady of advanced years, who led a very wicked life and was, through her avarice and cruelty, a torment to others, especially her subordinates, bleeding them dry. This lady, when she died, bequeathed her fortune to a monastery for the absolution of her soul, the monastery erecting in its own churchyard a sumptuous tombstone of cast bronze on which, with much ado, her generosity was commemorated. The next day lightning struck and melted away the bronze, leaving nothing but a quantity of letters that, when read together, proclaimed the following: she is judged! The incident (let the scribes explain it) is verified; the tombstone still exists, and there are men in this city who have seen it.

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September 2021

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