Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"China in the German Enlightenment"

Have I mentioned this before? Some of you know that I was chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Eighteenth-Century European Culture for seven years. During that time we had a wonderful variety of scholars speaking on many aspects of this subject. In the wake of the debates over freedom of speech during the year of protests over the "Mohammed cartoons," I organized a series of talks on freedom of speech in the 18th century. The results appeared in a volume published by Bucknell University Press.

I have recently been anointed co-chair of another Columbia seminar, Religion and Writing, with my term officially beginning in the academic year 2016-2017. This is a two-year gig, as one of the present co-chairs has accepted an EU fellowship. This Thursday, one of the most notable members of the Goethe Society of North America, and indeed the president of our organization, Daniel Purdy will be speaking on "Publishing over Preaching: Jesuit Missionaries and Chinese Print Culture in the Seventeenth Century." (If you would like to attend, please contact the Seminar's rapporteur, Deborah Shulevitz. Her email is on the Seminar's website.)

In preparation for my introduction of Daniel on Thursday, I have taken a look at a recently published volume that he edited: China in the German Enlightenment. Very many interesting subjects are contained in its pages, including the fascinating-sounding “Leibniz on the Existence of Philosophy in China,” by Franklin Perkins. However, the one that caught my eye in particular is the chapter by John K. Noyes entitled “Eradicating the Orientalists: Goethe’s Chinesisch-deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten.” Unfortunately the Amazon preview only allowed me to see two pages, but in those two pages I noticed that John referred to the Wolfgang Schadewaldt essay that I discussed in a post recently on "reflections in a watery medium." I look forward to reading more.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Goethe's rainy days in 1816


Thomas Jefferson's temperature notes, 1810–1816
It was in the summer of rain of 1816 that Goethe mentioned in a letter to the classical scholar Heinrich Karl Eichstadt of his interest in Lord Byron, which was also the summer in which Byron and his friends were in residence on the shores off Lake Geneva, also rained in. As in previous years, Goethe planned a stay at a spa in the hopes of physical “Linderung.” E.g., from his rheumatoid “Übel.” which caused him on occasion to be bed ridden. Nevertheless, as he wrote to Zelter on June 8, the “cimmerian” summer was standing in his way. Since we know that Germany can be cold in summer, it must have been really cold. Like many learned people, he made notes in his diary about the weather, although perhaps not so consistently as did our third president.

The above account is from Wolfgang Berhringer's Tambora und das Jahr ohne Sommer. According to Behringer, Goethe planned to  to travel to Wiesbaden, then to Baden-Baden. Without being aware of it, he was planning to travel to the center of the European hunger crisis, caused by the massive amounts of material erupted into the atmosphere the year before and producing the worst harvest since the 1770s. He had not got far in his journey to Wiesbaden, however, when, on July 20, the wagon in which he was traveling broke an axle, and Meyer, his traveling companion, suffered a head injury. Since he was in  his own coach, he could not exchange it for another. He returned to Weimar, where he spent the night and had dinner with the physicist Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni. According to his diary they talked about meteors. Chladni was among the first to identify the phenomenon of meteors. (Wikipedia identifies Chladni as "physicist and musician." Was he hearing the "music of the spheres"?) Behringer assumes they also talked about the continuing unusual weather, which was then occupying the thoughts of scientists. Chladni would publish an article, in 1819, with his own theories: "Über die Ursachen der naßkalten Kälte des Jahres 1816."



On July 24, Goethe journeyed instead to the Tennstedt sulfur springs. It took eight hours to reach Tennstedt from Weimar, as he reported in a letter to Meyer, writing that he had never seen "soviel Noth und Qual auf einem Weg von acht Stunden." He ended up not being very happy with the conditions there: the spa was a barely tolerable place to be and he frequently mentions the terrible weather, not to mention that neither the guests nor the facilities could compare with Carlsbad or Baden-Baden. Even simple walks were impossible. On his return to Weimar he was sunk in what Behringer calls “winter blues.” Throughout December, e.g., he suffered from an evil “catarrh.” Not until the new year was he again on his feet.

As I mentioned in my last post, it was not until February 1817 that he read a report in Cotta’s Morgenblatt about the Tambora eruption. Yet he seems not to have made a connection between the cold summer temperatures, the constant rain, and the bad agricultural yields of 1816. At the same time, as minister he was responsible for the mines and for the natural sciences in general. Thus, it is not surprising that he would notice the weather, and not simply because of his desire to go to spas, or to engage in conversations with Döbereiner on the oxygen content of the atmosphere and on sun spots. He was also occupied with the local consequences of flooding because of the constant rain. His observation about “Gewitterwolken” on July 21 fit his interest in cloud theory; since December of 1815 he had been occupied with Luke Howard’s  essay on clouds. There was lots of weather collecting at the time, people knew that something irregular was going on, but they didn't have the physics, especially the idea of global circulation.


Byron’s Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva
So, the weather was just one of many things occupying Goethe in these crisis years. In fact, in April 1815, when Tambora started erupting, Napoleon was re-erupting, raising an army in Paris, but the Battle of Waterloo would soon follow. Afterward, the nations of Europe, struggling from the effects of so many years of continental warfare, were not in good shape to deal with the environmental crisis. There were the problems of reintegrating trade after the wars, getting people to work in peacetime, reorganizing international trade, high unemployment. And then, in 1816, the growing season was reduced, and there was snowfall in summer in central Europe. England did not have a subsistence crisis because of its maritime trade and its imports from America. Half a million barrels of flour arrived in the ports of Liverpool in 1818. In central Europe, with rudimentary transportation systems, it was difficult to get food.


Landscape and weather were the base of much poetry at the time: doing weather though the lens of the theory of the sublime.The English writers living in Geneva that summer could not go boating, so they sat inside and talked. They enjoy watching the thunderstorms over the lake: aesthetic spectacle. Byron’s “Darkness” emerge from this time, as did Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Goethe and the Year Without Summer

People eating grass in Switzerland in 1816
A few posts ago I mentioned Goethe's diary entries during the summer of 1816, when the climatic effects of the 1815 eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora began to make themselves felt in Europe. I now have Wolfgang Behringer's new book about the eruption, which fills in a few things. Behringer mentions a poem written at the death of Christiane that connects Goethe's mood with the current weather:

Den 6. Juni 1816
Du versuchst, o Sonne vergebens,
Durch die düstren Wolken zu scheinen!
Der ganze Gewinn meines Lebens
Ist, ihren Verlust zu beweinen.

As Behringer writes, the "Tambora crisis," especially the devastating atmospheric effects on agriculture for several years running, occurred in a "modern, media environment," thus differentiating our understanding of these effects from that of all previous climatic or subsistence crises. At the beginning of the 19th century, as European global expansion was at its height, there were already "worldwide" newspapers and journals. And everywhere we encounter educated, curious administrators, truly competent ones, communicating about what was going on around them.

The first example, and the most proximate one, was Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, governor of British Java, who immediately began commissioning reports from the local population about the eruption itself. During the first phase of the eruption, on April 5, 1815, the explosions were so intense that they could be heard throughout the Indonesian archipelago. They sounded like mortor fire, perhaps signs of a French sea invasion. Troops were called up in Yogjakarta to prevent a foreign attack. Raffles, however, recognized that it was an eruption. But, as Behringer writes, where was this volcano? By May of 1815 a circular had gone to all British who were residence in Indonesia with three questions.

The first concerned the chronology and the physical conditions. What day and at what hour was the ash rain noticeable, its duration, and its chemical composition?

The second question concerned the medical and economic consequences, in particular the effects on the health of humans and livestock and harvest.

The third question remained: where was the volcano?
Aerial view of the caldera of Mt Tambora at the island of Sumbawa
 The worst phase of the eruption occurred on April 10. Besides the considerable amount of material that it released into the atmosphere, the eruption was so strong that it blew off the top part of the volcano, reducing its height from 4,200 to 2,850 meters and leaving a six-meter wide "caldera" with a lake in the middle. It wasn't until 1847 that the first European, the botanist Heinrich Zollinger, climbed the still smoking volcano and thus made the first report on the recovery of plant life.

As for Goethe, it was not until February 20, 1817, that he first read a report, in Cotta's Morgenblatt für die gebildeten Stände (note "gebildet" in the title of the Cotta publication, pointing to the media  culture noted by Behringer), about the eruption in Tambora. In his diary Goethe wrote: "Zeitungen. Morgenblatt gelesen. Geschichte eines neuentstandenen Vulcans auf Sumbawa." But, writes Behringer, like others among his contemporaries, he did not draw a connection between the cold temperatures, the constant rain, and the bad harvests of 1816.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Reflections in watery medium

Sanford Gifford, Twilight at Lago Maggiore (1871)
As the past few posts indicate, I have been obsessed with imagery concerning atmospheric effects and reflections, following on the mention in Goethe's diary of June 30, 1816: "Wiederschein der Bäume im trüben Wasser." Since that posting, I am constantly coming across such imagery in paintings, and this morning's reading was an article by Wolfgang Schadewaldt discussing such imagery in a Goethe poem. It begins "Dämmrung senkte sich von oben," and is the eighth poem in the 1827 collection Chinese-German Hours and Seasons (Chinesisch-deutsche Tages- und Jahreszeiten). Here is the poem in English translation by David Luke:

Dusk has fallen, and already
All that’s near grows faint and far;
But the first to rise has risen,
High it shines, the evening star!
All is in uncertain motion,
Creeping mists enshroud the sky;
Gulfs of night as deep as ocean
Mirrored on the dark lake lie.

Now I sense the gleam and glowing
Of the moonlight’s eastering day;
Slender willow-tresses flowing
With the nearby waters play.
Through the flickering shadows lunar
Magic dances, coolness seems
To have touched my eyes and soothes me,
Steals into my inmost dreams
.

Wolfgang Schadewaldt was an awesomely erudite and far-reaching scholar such as are few and far between today. Besides being the foremost Homer expert in modern times, he was also quite well versed in Goethe, Winckelmann, and Hölderlin. I have on my desk the volume Goethe Studien: Natur und Altertum, a collection published in 1963 that contains the essay "Zur Entstehung der Elfenszene im 2. Teil des Faust" (from Dvjs 29 [1955]). The essay is an example of philology at its best, in which Schadewaldt deduces the date of composition of the "elves chorus" scene at the beginning of the second part of Faust by comparing it with the above "Chinese" poem. Here, again in Luke's translation, are the relevant verses from Faust (Anmutige Gegend, 4634f.):

When a fragrance has descended
All about the green-girt plain,
Richer air with mist-clouds blended,
Evening dusk comes down again;
Lulls to infant-sweet reposing,
Rocks the heat with whispering sighs,
And this wanderer feels it closing
On his daylight-weary eyes.

Now to night the world surrenders,
Sacred love joins star to star;
Little sparkles, greater splendors,
Glitter near and gleam from far,
Glitter in the lake reflecting,
Gleam against the clear night sky;
Deepest seals of rest protecting
Glows the full moon strong and high.

Soon the hours have slipped away,
Pain and happiness are past;
Trust the light of the new day,
Feel your sickness will not last!
Green the valleys, hillsides swelling,
Bushing thick to restful shade,
And the fields, their wealth foretelling,
Rippling ripe and silver-swayed!

Have you wishes without number?
Watch the promise of the dawn!
Lightly you are wrapped in slumber:
Shed this husk and be reborn!
Venture boldly; hesitation
Is for lesser men — when deeds
Are a noble mind’s creation,
All his enterprise succeeds.


It is via a comparison of the two poems that Schadewaldt sets the date of composition of the elves chorus in 1827, when we know from his correspondence, diary entries, and conversations with Eckermann that Goethe was occupied with Chinese literature. On February 5, 1827, he published a small piece in volume 6 of Kunst und Altertum entitled "Chinesisches," which included a translation of verses from a Chinese collection translated in 1824 by an Englishman named Peter Perring Thomas. This new "East-West" encounter, introducing Goethe to a remote and exotic world as well as new poetic forms and motifs, led to increased productivity on his part, especially in connection with Faust.

Wang Wei poem on painting by Xin Tian
Luke also mentions in the notes to his translations the similarity in meter and mood of the two poems. Schadewaldt goes further, noting the common musicality, as well as the identical setting (moon rising over a body of water), and imagery (Dämmrung, Nebel, See, with variations on nah/fern, Licht, Spiegel, Glanz). Both are also "times of day" (Tageszeiten) poems, with day understood as including both day and night. Finally, both concern the soothing effect of nature on the human soul, especially the delight in repose produced by the approaching quiet of evening.

For Schadewaldt, the correspondences suggest that the two poems have their origins in a similar sort of epiphany, but he then proceeds to the differences. The first poem is "experienced" nature (aus unmittelbarer Naturnähe gedichtet), while the latter represents a more structured form (mehr versammelter Gestaltung). In the first, every two lines represent an addition of the details concerning the event -- the emergence of twilight -- with the effect tiptoeing, so to speak, into the observer's soul and registered in the final two lines: "Und durchs Auge schleicht die Kühle/ Sänftigend ins Herz hinein." In contrast, in the elves chorus scene, the effect on Faust comes from outside. Ariel has already instructed the elves to soothe Faust's turmoil (des Herzens grimmen Strauß) and, thus, Faust is enveloped in a healing sleep that will allow him to forget the past and restore him to new life. Nature is still the mediator, but the images of nature extend beyond the immediate experience into the future, into the light of day itself: "Fühl' es vor! Du wirst gesunden;/ Traue neuem Tagesblick."

This turn in conception is for Schadewaldt evidence of the date of composition of the opening scenes of the second part of Faust. In 1816, when Goethe was writing down ideas about the second part of Faust, he had intended, according to Schadewaldt, a "Geisterchor" to open that part as a parallel to the chorus of spirits in part 1. This time around, Faust would be lulled with ironic visions of power, fame, and worldly honor. His work on the "Chinese" collection, however, led to a different conception. Through the healing sleep mediated by nature, Faust is not reformed or bettered or purified, but he is relieved of the sensuousness and passions that dominated in the first part. Moreover, what Schadewaldt calls the Volksbuch's "temptation structure" is abandoned. Faust will now go on to work in lofty regions of purposeful activity, still making mistakes, still deluded, still mistaken, but not on the lower, sensuous level of the first part.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Trees reflected in watery medium

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting 780-1 (1992)
In an earlier post I mentioned that Goethe commented frequently on the rainy weather during the summer of 1816, an effect of the eruption of the Tambora volcano in the previous year. I was struck by the cryptic note concerning the reflection of trees in water. I keep trying to imagine which trees he was talking about and what it was about the sight that caused him to mention it. Was it trees in the park in Weimar?

I have not been able to get the image out of my head. I was in Washington, D.C. this past weekend and saw a painting by Gerhard Richter that seemed to suggest the reflection of trees in a watery medium.  It hangs in the newly restored East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Goethe marries

"I want to sleep with you!"

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Christiane Vulpius were married on this day in 1806 in the Jacobskirche in Weimar. Like other official buildings in Weimar, it was also serving as an infirmary for the wounded. This was five days after the Battle of Jena and Auerstadt, in which the Prussian forces were defeated by Napoleon's troops. The reasons for Goethe's marriage to his long-time companion have been much studied. See, for instance, the essay by Peter Schwartz, "Why Did Goethe Marry When He Did?", which appeared in volume 15 (2008) of the Goethe Yearbook. The reason had much to do with the European-wide wars.

Sigrid Damm in Christiane und Goethe: eine Recherche poses the interesting question: how did "die kleine Freundin" (as Goethe referred to her), known for eighteen years as Demoiselle Vulpius, feel at this overnight change in her status. From one day to the next she inherited Goethe's name, his title of nobility, as well as his official title: suddenly she became "Frau Geheime Räthin von Goethe.

The photo above comes from a production that was supposed to take place in Istanbul in 2014, but that seems to have been canceled. The play dealt with Goethe's relationship with "a working woman from a lower class." It had to be canceled (I have this from the newspaper report in the English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News) because of the line "I want to sleep with you." I have not been able to find any other information on this play, not even the name of the writer of the play. According to the caption on the photo, the director was Kazım Akşar.

Monday, October 17, 2016

"A hard rains gonna fall"

Goethe must have been thinking along the lines of Bob Dylan's song (note the apocalyptic imagery: e.g., "a wave that could drown the whole world") in the summer of 1816. Christiane died on June 6. It was not a good time, and then there was all that rain, which he noted in his diary. I referred in an earlier post to the effects of the Tambora volcano eruption, which made themselves felt in Europe in the summer of 1816. As Wolfgang Behringer notes in his book on the eruption, Goethe made many references to the rain in his diary that summer.

The first mention occurs on June 23: "Schrecklich durchwässerter Zustand des Gartens." There continue, until October, notations about the weather conditions. For instance, on July 3: "Um 7 Uhr von Jena ausgefahren. Schlimmer Weg durchs Mühlthal." Or, on July 9: "Spazierfahrt mit Meyer wegen dem Regen abgekürzt." Or, regarding his visit to the court: "Durch kalte Witterung aus dem Park geschreckt." On July 29, he noted that it had rained the entire night and was continuing. There are entries along these lines: "Anhaltendes Regenwetter." Attempts to take a walk were interrupted by rain. He also noted good weather. June 29: "Erster schöner Tag." On the same day he also drove "am Neuthor" in order to view the flooding.

It is unclear from these entries how much he knew about the cause, but on June 28 he notes a visit of Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, followed by "Gespräch über die Sonnenflecken. Sauerstoffgehalt der Atmosphäre" (conversation about sun spots; oxygen content of the atmosphere), which suggests that he was being informed about the atmospheric effects of the eruption.

Constable, Flatford Mill on the River Stour (detail)
There were two interesting entries about other effects, for instance, on June 21 he noted that thunder clouds had broken up into sheet lightning. And he also noted, on June 30, the reflection of trees in cloudy water (im trübem Wasser). Does he mean in puddles? Or in a river? This reference caused me to look up some contemporary artists who might have painted such reflections. I turned to John Constable, the notable English landscape painter. Constable painted a lot of English water -- lakes, canals, locks, etc. -- and in many case there are trees on the water's edge, yet he seems not to have dealt much with this aspect. I am not a Constable expert, so there may be examples in his oeuvre, but I include here the one that I found, from 1816. But I also noted that, even though he was painting in the very period in which Friedrich and Turner had documented the red skies, his skies do not reflect the new pollution.

By September there occur more mentions of good weather, and, finally, on October 7: "Schöner Tag. Im Garten."