Sarah Austin (translator) bigraphy, stories - Translators

Sarah Austin (translator) : biography

1793 - 8 August 1867

Sarah Austin (1793–1867) was an English editor and translator from German.


Born Sarah Taylor in Norwich, England in 1793, she was the youngest child of John Taylor, a yarn maker and hymn writer from a locally well-known Unitarian family.Taylor, Edward (1826). Obituary - Mr. John Taylor. The Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature vol xxi, 482-494. Her education was overseen by her mother, Susanna Taylor, née Cook (1755–1823). She became conversant in Latin, French, German and Italian. Her six brothers and sisters included Edward Taylor (1784–1863), a singer and music professor, John Taylor (1779–1863), a mining engineer, Richard Taylor (1781–1858), a printer and editor and publisher of scientific works. Family friends included Dr James Alderson and his daughter Amelia Opie, Henry Crabb Robinson, the banking Gurneys and Sir James Mackintosh.

Sarah grew up to be a remarkably handsome and attractive woman, and caused some surprise by marrying John Austin (1790–1859) on 24 August 1819. During the first years of their married life they lived a wide social life in Queen's Square, Westminster. John Stuart Mill testified the esteem which he felt for her by the title of Mutter, by which he always addressed her. Jeremy Bentham was also in their circle. She travelled widely, for instance to Dresden and Weimar. According to a modern scholar, Austin "tended to be austere, reclusive, and insecure, while she was very determined, ambitious, energetic, gregarious, and warm. Indeed her affections were so starved that in the early 1830s she had a most unusual 'affair' with Hermann Pückler-Muskau, a German prince whose work she translated.Briefe eines Verstorbenen (1831), as Letters of a Dead Man. It was conducted solely by an exchange of letters and she did not meet her correspondent until their passions had cooled."Wilfrid E. Rumble's ODNB entry for John Austin:

The only child of the marriage, Lucie was herself a translator of German works. She married Alexander Duff-Gordon. Her 1843 translation of Stories of the Gods and Heroes of Greece by Barthold Georg Niebuhr was erroneously ascribed to her mother. The family history was recorded in Three Generations of English Women (1893), by Sarah Taylor's granddaughter, Mrs Janet Ross.ODNB entry for Sarah Austin.


Austin's literary translations were a principal means of financial support for the couple. She also did much to promote her husband's works during his life and published a collection of his lectures on jurisprudence after his death. In 1833, she published Selections from the Old Testament, arranged under heads to illustrate the religion, morality, and poetry of the Hebrew Scriptures. "My sole object has been," she wrote in the preface, "to put together all that presented itself to my own heart and mind as most persuasive, consolatory, or elevating, in such a form and order as to be easy of reference, conveniently arranged and divided, and freed from matter either hard to be understood, unattractive, or unprofitable (to say the least) for young and pure eyes." In the same year, she published one of the translations by which she is best known: Characteristics of Goethe from the German of Falk, Von Müller, and others, with valuable original notes, illustrative of German literature. Her own criticisms are few, but highly relevant.

In 1834, she translated The Story without an End by Friedrich Wilhelm Carové, which was often reprinted. In the same year she translated the famous report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia, addressed by Victor Cousin to Count Montalivet, minister of public instruction. In the preface she pleads eloquently for the cause of national education. "Society," she says, "is no longer a calm current, but a tossing sea; reverence for tradition, for authority, is gone. In such a state of things who can deny the absolute necessity of national education?" In 1839 she returned to the same subject in a pamphlet, originally published in the Foreign Quarterly Review. Arguing from the experience of Prussia and France, she urged the establishment in England of a national system of education.

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