I would like to shed light on a certain aspect of the history of translation, through an examination of two fictional translation activities depicted in Goethe's writings.
Faust speaks a well known soliloquy, in which he shares his difficulties in translating the opening lines of St. John's Gospel: beyond its philosophical contents, his speech reflects also a theoretical consideration of the practice of translation: should the translator choose an exact verbal equivalent, which gives a certain idea about the structure and intention of the original, or should he choose to replace it by an entirely different conceptual system which may reflect the world of his readers?
The first of these two possibilities complies with Luther's choice in his Bible translation, but Faust final decision complies with the second one. However, according to several hints in the play, it seems that he prefers the first possibility. Moreover, in his other writings Goethe repeatedly praises Luther's translation, and he develops a theory which explicitly opposes the transformational choice, calling it "the parodical translation".
The second fictional translation is Werther's rendering of "Ossian", which is cited at the end of Goethe's novel. This translation meets all the criteria for a good translation as set forth in Goethe's theoretical writings. It is verbal and reflects the exact structure of the English source, and at the same time it points to new possibilities in German prose.
In a certain sense this choice is preferred by most theoretical writers of the time, including Novalis and Schleiermacher, and it represents the main stream of German translation practice of the time, far beyond the bounds of Romanticism.