Arguing for the need for further translations in the preface to his 1970 translation Harry Steinhauer noted; ". . . it is necessary to retranslate Homer, the Bible and Goethe repeatedly. And the translator is faced with the task of providing a version for the reader of today in our idiom and yet remaining faithful to the spirit of the original." (Steinhauer vii)4.
The challenge to be " faithful to the spirit of the original" has resulted in at least thirteen translations of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, with considerable variations. Even the titles differ; Werter and Charlotte; a German Story, (Parsons, 1786)5; The Sorrows of Werter: a German Story, (Malthus, 1789)6; The Sorrows of Werther, (Carlyle, circa 1850; Carlyle and Boylan, 1917)7,8; The Sorrows of Werter / from the German of Goethe, (Unknown, 1892)9; The Sorrows of Young Werther, (Lange, 1949; Hutter, 1962; Bogan, 1971; Hulse, 1989; Carlyle and Boylan, 2001)10,11,12,13,14; The Sufferings of Young Werther, (Morgan, 1957; Steinhauer, 1970)15,4 and The Sorrows of Young Werter, (Ticknor, 1966)16. The earliest English translation in Australian libraries is a reprint of a 1796 text, usually attributed to Daniel Malthus, in which preface Jonathan Wordsworth seemed to disagree with Steinhauer's argument for repeated translations; ". . . [This translation] has a gravitas that is appropriate, and a sense of period that no modern version (however it might score in point of accuracy) can ever achieve." (Wordsworth ii-vi)17. Indeed, the argument is persuasive that Malthus' work, reflecting as it does the heightened language of the day and written in the day, is more accurate than the language of any modern translator. However, in assessing the fidelity or accuracy of any translation of any work surely the first concern is the title. Malthus' epithet The Sorrows of Werter: a German Story immediately raises doubts.