Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Goethe at Christmas Anno Domini 1776

I have been Tweeting entries from Goethe's diary, day by day, now in the year 1776. Today's diary entry mentions Goethe's attendance at a "Christbescherung" or "handing out of Christmas presents." According to the Commentary volume for the diaries, it was Anna Amalia's custom on this day to invited members of her inner circle for gift giving. Here is a description of the occasion (go to Google Translate if necessary):

In einem geräumigen Zimmer waren Tische, Gestelle, Pyramiden und Baulichkeiten errichtet, wo jeder Einzelne solche Gaben fand, die ihn theils für seine Verdienste um die Gesellschaft belohnen und erfreuen, theils auch wegen einiger Unarten, Angewohnheiten und Mißgriffe bestrafen und vermahnen sollten.

One would like to know what the "bad habits" and "blunders" certain individuals were admonished or punished for.

The last part of Goethe's diary entry records his mood: Druck Wehmut und und Glauben: "pressure, melancholy, and belief (or faith)."

Picture credit: AKG-Images

Saturday, December 21, 2019

"Things Go Better with Goethe"

The title of this post is a New York Times headline over a feature by Martin Walser that apeared in the Sunday Book Review in the year 1986. (The translator is noted as Leigh Hafrey.) That was a year when the New York Times actually deserved its reputation. Among other things, it featured pieces by writers who really knew what they were talking about, in contrast to the presently favored blowhards, who merely opinionate. The piece by Walser is also quite long, long pieces having been abandoned by the NYT in favor of large print and large photos, even on the front page.

I digress.

Walser begins by noting the appropriation of Goethe's words for commerce, prophecy, self-help, and general all-around good feeling. The first example he cites bearing Goethe's words occurs in the advertising copy for a medical journal that appeared in FAZ: ''Goethe'': ''Beginnings are always hard; they often don't lie ready to hand . . . and what everybody wants will emerge only slowly.''

Walser goes on to give examples of other Goethe wisdom in various national and personal contexts, but his aim is to point out the way Goethe has come to seem a model of how to live. As Walser writes: "Everyone who quotes Goethe becomes a little bit like Goethe. If I doubt I can make this assertion on my authority alone, I draw support from Goethe: 'The virtues we appreciate are rooted in us as well.'"

The heart of Walser's piece is quite serious and takes us through Goethe's life stages via his literary production, especially Wilhelm Meister. I quote herewith a small portion:

At Weimar, Goethe housed himself in a snail's shell grand enough to be the cosmos. If, as was the case with Socrates, not a line of his had survived, nothing but the letters and diaries of his contemporaries to tell us how he lived and what he said on this or that occasion, we would still have a sense of him.

Goethe only took his autobiography up to the day in 1775 when he received the invitation to go to Weimar. With that, for him, the most important questions had been answered. He probably would have been less of a model for the German people if he had gone to Italy then, as his father and he himself wanted. He was actually on the way; one can imagine he would have become just another artist burning himself out on the Roman Corso in one disguise after another, as contemptuous of the world as he was narcissistic. He would in any case have encountered few real obstacles. His Wilhelm Meister novel would have remained an art novel - Wilhelm would have lived out his coming of age under interestingly rarefied circumstances.

But Goethe, though he was already considered a genius for ''Gotz'' and ''Werther,'' chose - no doubt in response to his deepest instincts - the more difficult environment. He faced real obstacles and engaged in self-fulfillment not for its own sake, but in confrontation with a kind of duty - an almost Schillerian abstraction for Goethe's sense of the absolutely real. That is how I see him - he was always drawn to what was most alive. Not to a life running free, but a life still suppressed, still disoriented, one that demands more than it has, has a right to more than it is given - that is, a life as yet unsure of its claim to legitimacy. In that situation, one has to help oneself without knowing how. Life is at its most lively when it still lacks something

Having posted several times on the practice of quoting Goethe in various contexts, I now regularly run quotes through Google Translate. The one in the image at the top of this post strikes me as inauthentic:

Sie müssen nicht um die Welt reisen, um zu verstehen, dass der Himmel überall blau ist.

It doesn't have enough gravity to come from Goethe. What do you think?

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Goethe's diaries again

Lenz, ca. 1776
This post is going to engage in nit-picking and revisit a recent post concerning Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedel, part of Carl August's circle of male friends and one of Goethe's closest associates in the early Weimar years. In that post I mentioned a letter of mid-November from Goethe to von Einsiedel (WA IV, 120).

As I interpreted the letter, Goethe was having a hard time getting Einsiedel into doing his part for his role in Die Mitschuldigen. I repeat here what Goethe wrote:

Du mußt in einer verfluchteten Hypochondrie stecken. Ich wollte schwören, dir wärs gut, wenn du dich nur ein bissel angriffst. ... Die Andern spielen brav und ich weis absolut keinen Söller. Und weis, daß du ihn gewiss gut spielen würdest.

Today I was reviewing Goethe's diaries for the last few days of November 1776, which touch on Lenz's departure from Weimar. On November 29, Goethe wrote the following in his diary:

Dumme Briefe von L[enz]. Kalb abgeschickt.

The commentary volume to the diaries has this to say:

"Wohl in Goethes Auftrag versuchte Johann August von Kalb, Lenz von der Notwendigkeit zu überzeugen, Weimar zu verlassen."

As if to verify that von Kalb was the bearer of the bad news, the commentary is as follows:

"Siehe Lenz an Kalb, 29. November 1775 (LB 2, 55): Ich danke Ihnen mein verehrungswürdiger Freund und Gönner für die unangenehme Bemühung die Sie meinethalben übernommen und versichere daß mir eine Ordre wie die auch wenn ich sie verdienet durch die Hand die sie mir überbrachte, versüßt worden wäre."

So far so good. But the above diary entry from November 29 continues as follows:

Einsid. hartes Betragen.

Citing a letter of November 28 (WA IV, 123) from Goethe to Einsiedel, the commentary on this passage connects this mention of Einsiedel to Lenz's departure from Weimar:

"Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedels Verhaltensweise erklärte sich wohl aus Carl Augusts und Goethes Entscheidung, Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz aus Weimar auszuweisen."

It may be that Einsiedel was upset about Lenz's departure, but that letter, which I also quoted in my earlier post, may simply refer to Goethe's continuing difficulty with Einsiedel's participation in Die Mitschuldigen. Indeed, Goethe uses the same words in the November 28 letter as in the mid-November letter:

Einsiedel, ich bitte dich, strecke deinen Stumpfsinn an die Rolle! Die Andern machen's brav ...

Note the repetition in the two letters of "Die Andern machen's/spielen brav." Of course, it depends on the interpretation of the word "Stumpfsinn." I read it to mean that Goethe was saying that Einsiedel was not putting his heart into his role in the play. Or was he instead saying that Einsiedel was upset about the treatment of Lenz and should get over it? Any suggestions?

What happened with Lenz in Weimar is one of the unsolved mysteries.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Goethe wisdom

 The Goethe Society of North America has a list serve, and requests frequently appear on it for sources of Goethe's writings, thinking, life, and so on, and, in particular, quotations that are said to have been uttered by our great poet. John Noyes, colleague of mine in the GSNA, posted today a request from a colleague of his for assistance in finding the source of a line attributed to Goethe. I am posting the request, quoted below, in part.

“I’m working on a project on energy at the *** this year, and I’ve been searching in vain for a Goethe citation that Vaclav Smil uses as an epigraph: Energy will do anything that can be done in the world. The full citation in English, which appears thousands of times online, seems to be Energy will do anything that can be done in the world: and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities will make a two-legged animal a man without it.  I have been unable to track down a source in German or English. I had a similar problem with a line from Benjamin Franklin & concluded that the Franklin citation must be apocryphal.  My other friend, who wrote his dissertation on German Classicism, says that pithy Goethean sayings (like Franklin’s maxims) are as common as bratwurst in Teutonic circles and one loses track of origins. If you have any idea about how to track down this one, I would be most grateful.”

Interestingly, Google Translate offers a very good translation of the English. In fact, it sounds very much like Goethe to me:

Energie wird alles tun, was auf der Welt getan werden kann: und ohne Talente, ohne Umstände und ohne Möglichkeiten wird ein Zweibeiner ein Mensch ohne sie sein.

I am not sure, however, about the quote in the image at the top of this post, which, as Googled Translated, sounds a little too corny to me: "Jeden Tag sollten wir mindestens ein kleines Lied hören, ein gutes Gedicht lesen, ein exquisites Bild sehen und, wenn möglich, ein paar vernünftige Worte sprechen."

Just for fun, here is the result of Google Translating into German two quotes from Donald Barthelme's Eckermann pastiche that I posted on earlier. I like the second one a lot:

Ich bin heute Abend mit Goethe vom Theater nach Hause gegangen, als wir einen kleinen Jungen in einer pflaumenfarbenen Weste sahen. Jugend, sagte Goethe, ist die seidige Apfelbutter auf dem guten Schwarzbrot der Möglichkeit.

Kunst, so Goethe, sei die 4-prozentige Verzinsung der kommunalen Lebensbindung.

If anyone has an answer to the GSNA request, please let me know.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Goethe's diaries

I have been tweeting from Goethe's diaries for the year 1776. Interesting, that this is the year that the United States had its birth, on July 4, with the Declaration of Independence. Goethe's diary shows no awareness of this event, nor do his letters. He had barely been six months in Weimar on that date. I have the Metzler edition of the diaries for the years 1775 until 1787, along with the commentary volume, which offers information concerning people and places that Goethe reduced to abbreviations. For instance, in my last Tweet is the abbreviation "Eins," which represents Friederich Hildebrand von Einsiedel, one of Carl August's close associates (along with Wedel, who is also mentioned in that Tweet). There was what might be called a "Männerkreis" around the young duke, of which Goethe quickly became an integral member.

Einsiedel seems to have been an aesthete: a "Schöngeist." He played the violincello in the Liebhaberorchester, and took on many roles in the Liebhabertheater. He played the role of Söller in Goethe's play Die Mitschuldigen, which had its premier at the Liebhabertheater in Weimar in January 1777. The play opens with Söller breaking into the room of one of the guests at an inn. He is dressed as a "Domino" (he has told his father-in-law, the owner of the inn, that he was going to attend a masked ball).

According to the entry on Einsiedel in Effi Biedrzynski's Goethes Weimar, Einsiedel had a somewhat labile personality, which is suggested in Goethe's correspondence's with him about his part in the play. In mid-November he wrote to Einsiedel as follows:

Du mußt in einer verfluchteten Hypochondrie stecken. Ich wollte schwören, dir wärs gut, wenn du dich nur ein bissel angriffst. ... Die Andern spielen brav und ich weis absolut keinen Söller. Und weis, daß du ihn gewiss gut spielen würdest.

Toward the end of November, he wrote him again about his concerns:

Einsiedel, ich bitte dich, strecke deinen Stumpfsinn an die Rolle! Die Andern machen's brav ...

In investigating such individuals, one gets some insight into what Goethe's life was like in these early Weimar years, in which he underwent an immense transformation, personally and poetically. I try to imagine how he "managed" such aristocrats, people who could be genial, but also rather hidebound, like the society described by Proust in Swann's Way.

Picture credit: Berlin Programm

Friday, October 11, 2019

Goethe and Charlotte von Stein

Slip-covered edition of Lotte meine Lotte by Die Andere Bbliothek
I have been Tweeting various entries from Goethe’s diaries, beginning with the Weimar era. Goethe started a Weimar diary on March 11, 1776, as follows: “Herzog und H.D. die verwittibte Herzogin die nach Gotha ging biß Erfurt begleit’. Beim Herzog geschlafen.” Since I started posting Tweets on September 5, illustrating them with images of people or subjects mentioned, all the Tweets reflect the day they were written in 1776. Occasionally I throw in a passage from Goethe’s letters, especially those to Charlotte von Stein. Which has led me to reread the letters, in the edition from the Andere Bibliothek (Lotte meine Lotte: Die Briefe von Goethe an Charlotte von Stein), which I reviewed in the Goethe Yearbook (vol. 23, 2016), alongside Der Briefschreiber Goethe by Albrecht Schöne.

The letters, upward of 1,700, are often only notes that were transmitted by a servant during the day or in the evening, accompanying an exchange of food (Feldhühner, Wildpratsbraten, Phasen) or of flowers and fruit. On an almost daily basis they mention concerts, plays, excursions. Goethe passes on gossip, tells her how he slept and of his tooth aches, and is much concerned for her health and sleep as well. According to my edition of his correspondence in the Weimar edition (WA IV,3), she is the recipient of the vast majority of letters he wrote between 1775 and 1778, beginning in early January of 1776, in other words within days of his arrival in Weimar. Johanna Falmer, with whom he had been corresponding before he left Frankfurt, gradually falls out of the picture.

My edition of Lotte meine Lotte is papered with post-its on which I express my astonishment at his importuning of her. By the end of January, he is addressing her per “Du”:

Liebe Frau, leide dass ich dich so liebe habe. Wenn ich iemand lieber haben kann, will ich dir's sagen. Will dich ungeplagt lassen. Adieu Gold, du begreiffst nicht wie ich dich liebe hab.

The contemporary German poet Jans Volker Röhnert, who wrote the afterword to the Andere Bibliothek edition, speculates that the letters represent a “gesteigerter Werther.” Rather than expressing his ardor for a beloved Lotte via William, Goethe now addresses himself directly to a similarly-named, likewise unavailable lady of much higher station. How many ways can one say “I love you”? It can be hard reading: “Ja liebe Lotte ietzt wird es mir erst deutlich wie du meine eigne Hälfte bist und bleibst. Ich bin kein einzelnes kein selbständiges Wesen.”

I hazard that there is another epistolary precedent to these letters, aside from The Sorrows of Young Werther, namely, the Leipzig letters of November 1767 to Ernst Wolfgang Behrisch. Those letters, ecstatic professions of love for Katharina Schönkopf scenically dramatized over several days, were clearly a case of literary role-playing. In the case of Charlotte von Stein, the role playing went on for a long time.

Interestingly, when Goethe was on the road, when he lacked the opportunity for the daily “conversation,” his need for communication is more objectively rendered. whether it concerns climbing the Brocken or exploring the Harz; the second Swiss journey in 1779, with Carl August; the diplomatic mission to Brunswick in 1784, also with Carl August (letters in French, nicely translated); or excursions to mines and in pursuit of his geological interests. They are evidence that Goethe had many registers in which he was able to express himself.

Rereading these letters led me to look at Nicholas Boyle’s Goethe bio anew, in which Boyle offers a cogent discussion of why Goethe stayed in Weimar and of the liaison with CvS. Regarding the former, it had in part to do with Goethe’s “pedagogical” tendency, which I noted in an earlier post in regard to the Conversations with Eckermann. That tendency was also on view in Goethe’s letters to Cornelia from Leipzig, and the duke was of course Goethe’s most important student. Boyle doesn’t mention Rousseau’s Emile, although much has been written of the influence of Rousseau on Goethe’s literary works. At a certain point, however, even after the duke was “educated” sufficiently, Goethe may simply have got used to the place. Boyle quotes from a letter Goethe wrote in which he is reflecting on his situation and which includes the following sentiment: “A man who changes his situation always loses his travel and removal expenses, both morally and economically.” Boyle gives the reference  (HABr i,414), but does not mention the date or the recipient. (I don't have that edition of the letters at home.)

Monday, September 16, 2019

"Sichtung und Klarheit"

The title of this post concerns a volume of journalistic pieces so titled by Jörg Drews that I’ve been making my way through. The pieces originally appeared in the Suddeutsche Zeitung from 1984 to 1999. I was drawn to look at the book because of the subtitle (Kritische Streifzüge durch die Goethe-Ausgaben und die Goethe-Literatur der letzten Fünfzehn Jahre). Drews was a literary critic for the SDZ and later a professor of literature and literary criticism at the university in Bielefeld, and his compass and judgments are an indication of the different nature of German journalism from that in the U.S. Drews' remit was to evaluate the publication of new editions of Goethe’s works as well as scholarly literature. So far, the volume has introduced me to works with which I was not familiar (Isabella Kuhn’s Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften und das sogenannte Böse) and reintroduced me to familiar names, especially in early Goethe scholarship (e.g., Viktor Hehn).

Like all of us involved in Goethe scholarship, Drews sounds a note that is all too familiar. I quote here the entire German passage (please copy and paste to Google translate, if necessary):

"Eine der unbestreitbaren Erfahrungen intensiver Goethe-Lektüre ist, daß dieser Autor immer für eine Überraschung gut ist, daß er viel schwieriger auf einen Nenner zu bringen ist als andere .— auch bedeutende — Autoren, daß man zwar vertrauter werden kann mit seinem Werk, aber eigentlich nicht zu einem konsistenten ‘Bild’ kommen kann: dazu ist das ‘bunte Gemisch der Phänomene’ einfach zu groß, das Werk, Person und Lebensvollzug bieten."

Yes, one does feel overwhelmed. At times, I would like to revert to and remain with my earliest area of Goethe research, namely, the pre-Weimar works. In my dissertation and early essays, I traced his literary coming of age in the Anacreontic and pastoral/idyll idioms. The “young Goethe” is very likable, especially in his enthusiasms, and this trait began to be effaced in the years following his establishment in Weimar. Maybe it had something to do with encountering a young noble, a duke, who shared his enthusiasms, but on whose decisions would rest the future of the duchy, that made Goethe serious about the effect of his writing and behavior on others. (And which may, later, have turned him against his early tendencies among the Romantic generation.) The turn — and it was not immediate — must have been the result not only of considerable soul searching and evaluation of the new circumstances of life at a court but also of the conviction that his early life represented a false path. He appears to have begun to remold himself, at the age of twenty-six, at considerable personal cost, made himself into a person that was not foreseeable while still in Frankfurt. I wonder if the physical distance he kept between himself and his mother after he went to Weimar indicated his awareness that he had become a different person. The "Schattenriss" at the top of the post seems to speak to an indeterminate Goethe.

I have begun to read his diaries, especially of his first years in Weimar, for some insight into this change. Some research on my part is required before I can say anything about my reading, but I am in possession of the J.B. Metzler edition of the “historical-critical” edition of the diaries and the companion volume of Commentary edited by Wolfgang Albrecht and Andreas Döhler. In the meantime, I have started re-tweeting about Goethe, with entries from these early diaries. For those interested, go here for my Goethe Twitter feed. I am following him day by day beginning in 1776.