Friday, December 19, 2014

A.J. Mordtmann (1839-1912)

August Justus Mordtmann
Aka Dr. Eisenhart, R.A. Guthmann, N.N. Guthmann, R. von A. Duroy-Warnatz (1)
Civil Servant, Journalist, Editor, Author, Classical Scholar
Born February 27, 1839, Hamburg, Germany
Died April 30, 1912, Darmstadt, Germany

August Justus Mordtmann was a German author, editor, and journalist born in Hamburg on February 27, 1839. He was the son of Andreas David Mordtmann (1811-1879), a teacher, diplomat, and Orientalist, and the brother of Andreas David Mordtmann II (1837-?), an author and historian, and Johann Heinrich Mordtmann (1852-1932), who, like his father, was a diplomat and Orientalist.

August J. Mordtmann received his education in Anklam and at the famed Johanneum school in Hamburg. (2) He then went to work in the customs and tax office (Zoll- und Akziſe-Deputation), then in the post office, all in his native city. Mordtmann served during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and did not begin his career as a writer and editor until 1881.

Mordtmann was a friend of the German teacher, writer, and journalist Ernst Otto Hopp (1841-1910). Hopp edited Deutschen (Schorerschen) Familienblatt (translated as Family Blade or Family Paper) beginning in 1881 and founded the weekly Echo in 1882. Mordtmann was an editor with the Familienblatt in 1882-1883 and worked on Echo with Hopp. Mordtmann also edited Görlitzer Nachrichten (Görlitzer News) from 1883 to 1888 and was editor-in-chief of Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten (Münchner Latest News), in Munich, until 1902.

August Justus Mordtmann is little known today, but he was a prolific author. His works include the following: Aus zwei Welten (From Two Worlds, 1882), Das Goldene Vliess (The Golden Fleece, 1883), Märchenprinzessin (Fairy Princess, 1890), Der Untergang der Hibernia (The Sinking of the Hibernia, 1891), Kronjuwelen (Crown Jewels, 1892), Belladonna (1893), Max Ingram (1894), Der Vagabund (The VagabondThe Rover, or The Tramp, 1895), Sneewittchen (Snow White1896), Schlangenring (Snake Ring, 1898), Familienschmuck (Family Jewels, 1899), Die Insel Zipangu (The Island Cipangu, 1899, illustrated by Hugo L. Braune), Albumblatt (Album Leaf, Sheet, or Page, 1900), Die Abrechnung mit England (The Settlement with England, 1900), Sonnige Tage (Sunny Day, 1901), Perlen der Adhermiducht (Pearls of Adhermiducht, 1902 and 1905), Leukothea (1903), Konigin von Golkonda (Queen of Golconda, 1906), Jasillü-Tasch, Zacharula: Zwei Geschichten vom "Golden Horn" (Jasillü-Tasch, Zacharula: Two Tales from "Golden Horn", 1908), Pfingsten (Pentecost, 1909), Violanta (1911), Aus tiefer Not (From Great Distress, 1922), Eine halbe Stunde (Half an Hour), and Pater Unselm (3). Mordtmann also wrote the libretto for the operetta Der Fürst von Sevilla (The Prince of Seville, 1889) and may also have written works of history or geography.

Mordtmann wrote one story in Weird Tales. It is called "The Ship That Committed Suicide," and it appeared in the issue for March 1936. I am fairly certain that the translator was Roy Temple House, who had written a brief review of a German-language collection of ghost stories some years before and who was a regular translator of European stories for Weird Tales. The collection of German ghost stories about which he wrote is called Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (The Sinking of the Carnatic: Ghost Stories), and it was published in 1927 by Deutsche-Dichter-Gedächtnis-Stiftung of Hamburg. The title story, "Der Untergang der Carnatic," is the work of A.J. Mordtmann and was almost certainly the basis for Roy Temple House's translation for Weird Tales. In his review, published in Books Abroad in January 1929, House called Mordtmann's tale the most realistic of all to appear in the collection. "There are also shudderers by the Grimms, Wilhelm Hauff, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Paul Heyse, and Heinrich Zschokke," wrote House. The illustrations were by A. Paul Weber, and I believe Benno Diederich also contributed to the collection, perhaps as editor or the author of an introduction.

The story "Der Untergang der Carnatic" is an episode in a longer work by A.J. Mordtmann,  Die Perlen der Adhermiducht, which was originally published in the magazine Deutschen Romanbibliothek (German Novel Library) in 1902, then published in hardback in 1905. I will quote from Axel Weiss:
Die Perlen der Adhermiducht is an epistolary novel consisting mainly of letters one Lydia Thompson receives from several admirers. A central part of the story is the adventurous hunt for the pearl necklace of the Adhermiducht. (In the book "Adhermiducht" is the name of a princess of the Sassanids). In the end it is revealed that most of these adventures are simply made up to impress the lady--so is the tale of the sinking of the Carnatic.
In his study of ghost stories, Von Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur (On Ghost Stories, Their Art and Their Literature, Leipzig: Schmidt & Spring, 1903), Dr. Benno Diederich described Deutschen Romanbibliothek as having an inclination for telling stories with a spooky atmosphere, and German adventure stories as being less grotesque than their English counterparts. Dr. Diederich gave "Der Untergang der Carnatic" as an example. The title by the way translates as "The Sinking of the Carnatic." Axel Weiss describes it as "a ghostship-story taking place in the Antarctic region." The SS Carnatic was a real ship that foundered in the mouth of the Gulf of Suez in 1869. In addition to Mordtmann's story, the ship is mentioned in Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (1872).

August Justus Mordtmann died on April 30, 1912, at age seventy-three. I have found out about him only recently after hearing from Axel Weiss, the editor and layout designer for the German magazine Cthulhu Libria and the co-host of a podcast called Arkham Insiders. (Click on the titles for links.) Mr. Weiss wrote to me regarding A.J. Mordtmann because he would like to read the English translation of "The Ship That Committed Suicide" from Weird Tales. I don't have a collection of Weird Tales myself, so I ask:
Can anyone provide Axel Weiss with a copy or scan of "The Ship That Committed Suicide" by A.J. Mordtmann, from Weird Tales, March 1936?
If so, please contact me and I will put you in touch with him, or I will forward your reply to him.

Now, on to two issues that have come up in this article.

First, "Der Untergang der Carnatic" is an episode from Die Perlen der Adhermiducht, a story originally published in the magazine Deutschen Romanbibliothek in 1902. According to Dr. Benno Diederich, Deutschen Romanbibliothek had an inclination for telling stories with a spooky atmosphere. I don't know what kind of magazine it was. I have found only five references to that title on the Internet, and all are in German--and in Fraktur script! Der Orchideengarten: Phantastische Blätter (The Orchid Garden: Fantastic Leaves, 1919), a German title, is supposed to have been the first magazine in the world devoted to literature of the fantastic. Could Deutschen Romanbibliothek have been a forerunner? Or was Deutschen Romanbibliothek itself the first magazine of that type? Axel Weiss provides an answer:
Deutsche Romanbibliothek was a weekly magazine comparable to Charles Dickens’ All the Year Round (1859-1895). Die Perlen der Adhermiducht was printed throughout the thirtieth volume (1902). The magazine was not exactly specialized in uncanny tales but hosted a broad range of romantic, adventurous, and humorous novels and poems. Most of its authors are now forgotten (so is the magazine itself); among those who won a little bit of fame was Eva von Baudissin (1869-1943).
So if Der Orchideengarten: Phantastische Blätter is comparable to Weird Tales, perhaps Deutsche Romanbibliothek was like The Black Cat or The Argosy, which printed a variety of genres, including adventure and fantasy.

Second, "Der Untergang der Carnatic" was reprinted in the book Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (Hamburg, 1927). The other authors in that book are the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Hauff, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Paul Heyse, and Heinrich Zschokke. A. Paul Weber was the illustrator. Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, had previously used the book Modern Ghosts (1890) as a source of stories from the Old World. It's nice to think that he could have used Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten for yet more stories, translated of course by Roy Temple House. Instead, Weird Tales reprinted Mordtmann's tale and just one story by Wilhelm Hauff, "The Severed Hand," from October 1925. ("The Severed Hand" is not from Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten--see the list of contents below.) So who were those other authors, the illustrator, A. Paul Weber, and the contributor, Dr. Benno Diederich? First a list of their stories, then a few facts about each.

Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (Hamburg, 1927)
Illustrated by A. Paul Weber
Contents
"Märchen von einem, der auszog, das Fürchten zu lernen" ("The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn about Fear") by Brüder Grimm
"Die Höhle von Steenfoll" ("The Cave of Steenfoll") by Wilhelm Hauff
"Das rote Haus" ("The Red House") by Friedrich Gerstäcker
"Germelshausen" by Friedrich Gerstäcker
"Die schöne Abigail" ("The Beautiful Abigail") by Paul Heyse
"Der Untergang der Carnatic" ("The Sinking of the Carnatic") by A.J. Mordtmann
"Die Nacht in Brezwewmeisl" ("Night in Brezwewmeisl") by Heinrich Zschokke

Contributors
The Brothers Grimm--Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859), together the Brothers Grimm, are among the most famous storytellers of all time. You can read more about them on your own.
Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827)--You can read more about Wilhelm Hauff in my posting "Weird Tales from Germany and Austria," here.
Friedrich Gerstäcker (1816-1872)--A traveler, adventurer, travel writer, novelist, and oddly enough honorary citizen of Arkansas, Friedrich Gerstäcker wrote the story "Germelshausen," upon which the Broadway musical Brigadoon (1947) may or may not have been based.  
Paul Heyse (1830-1914)--Paul Heyse wrote novels, short stories, poems, and plays and for his work was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1910.
August Justus Mordtmann (1839-1912)--His biography here.
Heinrich Zschokke (1771-1848)--Heinrich Zschokke was a novelist, playwright, historian, journalist, teacher, and civil servant. He spent most of his life in Switzerland.
A. Paul Weber (1893-1980)--Commercial artist, illustrator, lithographer, and painter Andreas Paul Weber was an artist whose work can be called weird without hesitation, put it also has a political dimension. There is information on him all over the Internet, including on the website of the A. Paul Weber Museum, here.
Dr. Benno Diederich (1870-1947)--Benno Diederich was a teacher, scholar, philologist, author, and biographer. Among his works is the aforementioned Von Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur (1903) and a biography of Alphonse Daudet. Diederich's daughter was the painter, illustrator, writer, and stage designer Ursula Schuh (1908-1993). I will quote Axel Weiss once again:
Benno Diederich is indeed the man who saved Mordtmann's ghost ship tale from ruin. [H]e featured it in Von Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur in 1903 and once again in Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (1927). But there is one more title to mention where it has been collected: Das Buch der seltsamen Geschichten (The Book of Strange Tales), an anthology published by Norbert Falk in 1914. Since 1945 "Der Untergang der Carnatic" has been reprinted seven times in Germany; finally it appeared as a recording on the audiobook CD Das Geisterschiff (The Ghost Ship) in 2004.
Of all the authors listed here, only August Justus Mordtmann is unrepresented on the Internet by an original work of biography. I hope I have done my part in correcting that oversight. I would like to acknowledge the great contribution of Axel Weiss and to thank him for giving me a start on August Justus Mordtmann.

This is probably my last entry on Tellers of Weird Tales for 2014. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

A.J. Mordtmann's Story in Weird Tales
"The Ship That Committed Suicide" (Mar. 1936)

Further Reading
Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur by Dr. Benno Diederich (Leipzig: Schmidt & Spring, 1903), p. 176+.
Deutschlands, Österreich-Ungarns und der Schweiz Gelehrte, Künstler und Schriftsteller in Wort und Bild (Leipzig, 1908), p. 321.
Lexikon der deutschen Dichter und Prosaisten vom Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart, Volumes 5 and 6 (?), by Franz Brümmer (Leipzig, 1913), p. 27.
Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie, [Volume] 7: Menghin-Potel, by Walter de Gruyter (Munchen: K.G. Saur, 2007), p. 189.

Notes
(1) Mordtmann apparently also wrote under a pseudonym which is some variation of the name for a traditional Turkish storyteller, Hodscha Nasreddin.
(2) The character Otto Lidenbrock from Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864) is a professor at the Johanneum, the first of two references to Verne's work you will find in this article.
(3) I have transcribed this list from sources printed in German Fraktur script. I'm not sure that I have translated them or certain other words or phrases correctly from Fraktur to a modern typeface. My task is complicated by the fact that I know only a few words in German and nothing at all about German grammar. The list is from Deutschlands, Österreich-Ungarns und der Schweiz Gelehrte, Künstler und Schriftsteller in Wort und Bild (Leipzig, 1908), found on the Internet by clicking here, and from Lexikon der deutschen Dichter und Prosaisten vom Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart by Franz Brümmer (Leipzig, 1913), found by clicking here. I invite corrections, comments, and additions.

Die Perlen der Adhermiducht by A.J. Mordtmann, serialized in Deutsche Romanbibliothek in 1902. The script is Fraktur, not easy for our American eyes. Translating it takes two translations: from Fraktur to a modern typeface, then from German into English. In my original article (from Dec. 19), I made a few mistakes. Axel Weiss has offered corrections, and I have included them in my revision of today, December 20.
Das Buch der seltsamen Geschichten (The Book of Strange Tales, Berlin: Ullstein and Company, 1914), in which "Der Untergang der Carnatic" appeared. The editor was Norbert Falk.
Mordtmann's story appeared once again as the title story in Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (Hamburg, 1927).
Die Insel Zipangu (The Island Cipangu, 1899) by A.J. Mordtmann, illustrated by Hugo L. Braune.
Aus tiefer Not (From Great Distress, 1922) by A.J. Mordtmann, published posthumously. Axel Weiss provided this image, as well as the first and second images shown above.

A postage stamp showing the work of A. Paul Weber, illustrator of Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten.

Revised December 20, 2014. Revised again December 21, 2014.
Thanks to Axel Weiss.
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley
Axel Weiss' comments are copyright 2014 Axel Weiss.

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