Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Christtag früh"

As a young man Goethe did express some enthusiasm about Christmas, as can be seen in a letter to Johann Christian Kestner, written on Christmas day, 1772. He begins the letter vividly, locating himself in a specific time and place, up in his famous attic room:

Early Christmas day. It is still night, dear Kestner, and I have got up early in order to write again by the light of early morning, which recalls pleasant memories of earlier days; I had coffee made to honor the feast and plan to keep writing until morning breaks. The crier has already announced his song; I woke up on account of it. Praise to you, Jesus Christ. I love this time of year, the songs one sings; and the sudden cold makes me feel completely cheerful.

This was at the height of the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen phase, the so-called Sturm und Drang era, when Herder, Merck, and Goethe formed a literary circle. His letters are of a piece with the poetry and other literary writings. He sketches in this longish letter his changing mood as day dawns and reflects on his days with Lotte and Kestner. He mentions the previous evening:

We had a beautiful evening yesterday, like people on whom fortune has bestowed a great gift, and I fell asleep grateful to the holy ones in heaven for wanting o bless us with childlike joy for Christmas. When I walked through the market and saw the many lights and the toys I thought of you and my boys ...

Soon day arrives: "The first sign of day [das erste Grau!] has arrived above my neighbor's house, and the bells call together a Christian congregation." Yes, some enthusiasm on Goethe's part for Christmas, though it must be remembered that the protagonist of The Sorrows of Young Werther killed himself at Christmas time. Kestner of course was the fiance of Lotte Buff, the inspiration for Werther's love interest.

The pictures accompanying this post are totally unrelated to Goethe. They are from an old advertisement featuring a watercolor by the artist Charles E. Burchfield, an American artist with whom I have recently become acquainted via my friend, the artist Maureen Mullarkey. A good cheer to all at Christmas! I will be reading tomorrow, as every year, Charles Dickens' Christmas tales.

No comments: