Sunday, August 21, 2011

Goethe on Schwanau

I came across this charming postcard on the Goethezeit-Portal website. The date on the card would seem to refer to a visit by Goethe on the island of Schwanau on July 17, 1775. The visit would have occurred on his return from the so-called first Swiss journey, which Goethe undertook from Frankfurt with the Stolberg brothers in May of 1775. Goethe was supposedly fleeing from the pressure of his amorous entanglement with Lili Sch├Ânemann. The poem "Auf dem See," recording an outing on Lake Zurich, recalls this relationship. (Here a translation by the singer Tomoko Yamamoto.) While in Zurich he stayed with Lavater, who introduced him to some of the local eminences, including the now aged Bodmer. Though Goethe had dreamed for years of making a journey to Italy, he went only as far as the Gotthard Pass, which he reached on June 23.

I have looked through all of my reference books and can find no indication that Goethe was actually on Schwanau, a small island in Lake Lauerz. There is today an inn on the island that has a "Goethe-Stube" that can accommodate (according to the inn's website) 30 guests. As can be seen in the photo above, the room, with its windows and ceiling, looks just like the one in the postcard.

Goethe's visits to even the most obscure locations are pretty well documented. For instance, a year earlier, in July 1774, Goethe made an excursion on the Rhine and the Lahn with Lavater and Basedow. According to the plaque picture on the postcard, Goethe and his companions left their ship and had a "Mittagsmahl" at the "Wirtshaus an der Lahn" near Coblenz.

It was already fashionable in the 18th century to travel in the footsteps of beloved authors. In 1791, for instance, Friederike Brun visited another Swiss island, the Isle of Saint-Pierre on Lake Biel. It was made famous by Rousseau, who described his idyll there in 1765 in the fifth promenade of Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Rousseau, when the lake was not calm for rowing, liked to find a charming, isolated nook, where he could dream undisturbed and where the view, he wrote, was limited only by the distant range of mountains. After enjoying lunch in the humble room in which Rousseau stayed, Brun, in a nice inversion, refers to the prospect outside the window, hemmed in by the peaks of glaciers: "The view is limited, but vast for the imagination." The title of one of her poems gives an idea of her sentimental itinerary: "Die Insel auf dem Bielersee (An Rousseaus Schatten)."

So, the visit to Schwanau remains mysterious. Maybe someone reading this has information on the visit there?


Michael Li said...

Is that postcard drawn by Goethe? It's beautiful to say the least. And, do you think the Goethe-Stube is the same place?

Goethe Girl said...

No, though Goethe drew a lot, he was not that good a draftsman. I am still trying to figure out the real connection of Goethe with this "Goethe-Stube."

Anonymous said...

Lately I've been straining through some Hegel--he clearly studied Rousseau and appropriated, in particular, Rousseau's concept of "perfectibility." We have no "human nature" such as Aristotle and Plato described it; rather we are perfectible or changeable--historical beings. You can see the Will, which Strauss sees already in Machiavelli, taking its near-final form. Our freedom is not a static form but a dynamic force in nature inside of which is Will (to Power). The seeds of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche then have already been planted first in Machiavelli, then in Rousseau (the general Will). Hegel creates a system summarizing his predecessors, some say, in a magnum opus analogous to Aristotle's summary/system. I also learned last night that Hegel got to know Goethe and that they shared a mistrust of the long range implications of Newton's way of looking at things. If I'm not mistaken, they preferred Kepler. What this is about, I could not say! Perhaps something about Goethe's theory of color. At any rate, these notes/observations in this blog, these Reveries as it were, continue to enrich my readings in things German (and French and American, etc.). If I were ever to write something, the form would probably have to follow the general structure I learned in "self-improvement": the way things were, what happened, and the way things are today. This temporal outline, it occurred to me, is the Bible's (and the great spiritual autobiographies like Paul's and Augustine's) (arguably) Shakespeare' great story-telling's, including Hegel's, if you will. I'll never forget the comment on Hegel I learned decades ago from a professor who quoted the German genius: "The owl of Minerva begins its flight at dusk," that is, after we turn sixty! In the case of the super-enlightened, however, the process can begin in one's teens if not earlier. Some people know who they are and what they want at age nine, like the founder of Schepp's Dairy here in town, who died recently in his nineties after a lifetime of concern for others....Today we almost take for granted the "changeable," historical nature of man: postmodernism is in the air we breathe it seems. (And unfortunately the moral relativism that goes with it.) Leo Strauss invites his students and readers in the general public to pause and, perhaps like Rousseau, take a look back. In particular, he invites us to look back at the possibilities for excellence in human life and Plato and Aristotle, whom he (arguably) considered not just excellent but "holy" men. Readings and studies in this direction make for a very novel way of looking at things, a way, by the way, that is not necessarily at odds with a living, contemporary faith. But Kierkegaard is probably right: one has to decide. It is interesting to note that John Paul's respect, Catholicism's respect, for human freedom is such that it cannot, we cannot or rather should not--presume to NOT respect human freedom with its power and duty to take personal responsibility in conscience. As I read Benedict's homilies I note that he, too, seems to have been influenced by Rousseau! (Both he and John Paul were and have been prominent solitary walkers during vacations and other times.) But their take on "perfectibility" seems to be based on the biblical injunction: "be perfect." A tall order indeed. In their own unique ways, Goethe and Hegel and Leo Strauss seem to have taken this counsel literally in terms of "self-improvement." And Rousseau, too, the solitary walker, instead of the Catholic rosary, carried with him his own all-encompassing life of revery and eccentric reverence. (Sorry, this was more than a "comment"!)

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention I enjoyed very much the English translation of the Goethe poem written when he was twenty-five or so. Writing a quarter of a century before Wordsworth, he expresses himself as "a man speaking to men." One reads such "simple" verse and thinks, "I could have done that." But then one thinks again. It is astonishing to think that Hegel knew Hoelderlin intimately, got to know Goethe, and then just went about his business as usual...except that we learn that Hegel continued all his life to return to what was for him THE poem, "Antigone." (This interplay of things pious, things conventional-natural and things metaphysical: the Tensions within a growing, developing consciousness.) Soon I plan to read "Faust, Part Two," which I'm told pretty much blew Goethe away, to the point that his Phenomenology actually seems to be in Goethe's debt. These influences in the history of ideas fascinate and motivate me to keep at it.