Monday, July 14, 2014

Interesting sight

"Regenschirm Panorama" via FAZ
Berlin, July 13, 2014: How the world does turn.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Cosmos and I

One comes across Goethe in the darndest place, as I have often discovered. My husband, Rick, taught physics and had a huge library of books on the history of science, his special interest. I have been going through these books and listing the more valuable ones on Amazon for sale. A few days ago I received a request for The Mechanization of the World Picture: Pythagoras to Newton, published in 1950 by the Dutch historian of science E.J. Dijksterhuis. (First English translation, 1960.) Paging through it I came across a footnote in section 108 in which appears the poem Goethe wrote after his ascent of the Brocken in 1783:

Wär' nicht das Auge sonnenhaft,
Die Sonne könnt es nie erblicken;
Läg nicht in uns das Gottes eigne Kraft,
Wie könnt' uns Göttliches entzücken?

 The poem comes up in Professor Dijksterhuis's discussion of astrology in the ancient world. Apparently, the Babylonian legacy of "star science" was systematized by the Greeks, especially by the Old and Middle Stoa.

 Stoicism, he writes, "taught people to view the world as a living being, endowed with reason and feeling. ... Man is a microcosm, a small-scale image of the whole, which he would not be able to know if he were not essentially akin to it. It is the thought which Maniliu was aferwards to express in the verses: Quis coelum possit nisi coeli munere nosse et reperire Deum nisi qui pars ipse Deorum est." There follows the footnote reference to Goethe's poem, which, he writes "voice[s] an essential elements of [Goethe's] natural philosophy."

Persian astrologer Mashallah ibn Athari
At the end of this chapter Dijksterhuis mentions a difference of opinion that divided the minds of ancient men, namely, "whether the celestial bodies themselves actually affect events on earth by their influence or whether they merely act as omens announcing those events." Many thinkers, after all, thought it incompatible with free will and responsibility "that men's characters and fortunes should be influenced by celestial bodies," even if they were unable to give up the theory of the relation between terrestrial and celestial events, "which was universally accepted and supported by the greatest authorities."

So, where did Goethe stand on this question?

Picture credits: Information is Beautiful; Who Guides; Staff Science

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The business of communication

Thurn und Taxis board game
Rulers in the early modern period invested in expensive courier services to keep abreast of the activities of fellow-rulers. Such correspondence was of course restricted to the highest circles of "government," such as it was. By the 13th century, however, a new network of correspondence began to develop, namely, among merchant companies who were in the process of transforming the economy of Europe. Again, I take this information from Andrew Pettegree's The Invention of News (see previous post). Italian merchants, according to Pettegree, gave up the laborious activity of traveling from town to town and instead entrusted their business to brokers and agents in, for instance, Antwerp and Bruges. The introduction of paper (over parchment) made correspondence more cost-effective, leading to the construction of paper mills in Italy, France, and Germany by the 13th century. By the 15th century, "a branch system" of Italian companies dealing in various commodities led to the development of "an international European business network."

Maximilian I, by Albrecht Dürer (1519)
Interestingly, the major development in postal communications came with the reign of Maximilian I. He did not succeed in uniting the Holy Roman Empire, but he inaugurated an imperial post in 1490, two years before the Islamic kingdom of Granada was reconquered and Columbus discovered the New World. Maximilian's intention was to link his dominions in the Low Countries and Austria. The system was expanded by Charles V and Philip II who, through marriage and inheritance, became the most powerful rulers in Europe. After the conquest of the Americas, Philip II ruled over a territory larger than the old Roman empire.

It was Charles I who, in 1516, established a contract with the Taxis family who expanded Maximilian's network to Italy and Spain and established a route from Antwerp via Innsbruch to Rome and Naples. The revolutionary development was the permission received by the Taxis family to take letters for private clients. In return, the Habsburgs were relieved of the cost of maintaining the network, and the Taxis family had to invest in infrastructure: purpose-built postal stations, for instance, thereby relieving postal riders with the necessity of staying in inns.

 By the 1530s the Taxis had introduced "ordinary post": "fixed service, publicly advertised, leaving on a particular day of the week." The only imperial city within the network was Augsburg; the other German imperial cities were outside of it fearing the incursion of Habsburg institutions inside city walls. The postal service also ran all night, but city walls did not open. Even in Augsburg, where the Fuggers profited immensely from the new network, the post was outside the walls. Frankfurt was served by a postal station in Rheinhausen. As Pettegree writes, late-16th century correspondence between Italian merchants and their business partners in northern Europe (Antwerp, Cologne) was "testimony both to the continuing vitality of international trade and to the role of the imperial post in sustaining it."

Post Boys and Horses, by George Morland (1794)
To give some idea of how fast the system was it is fun to compare the pace of Goethe's travels. From the book Goethe: Der Manager by Georg Schwedt, I have learned that Goethe, when traveling by horse, was able to achieve 9 km per hour on average. Thus, "bei bis zu neun Studen im Sattel kam er auf eine Tagesstrecke von 80 bis 100 km." In contrast, writes Schwedt, "die regulären Postwagen konnten bei nicht mehr als drei Poststationen (zum Wechseln der Pferde und der Aufnahme neuer Reisenden) 70 bis 75 km zurücklegen." Even the "Extrapost mit kürzeren Aufenthaltzeiten in Poststationen kam auf maximal 100 km am Tag." Another factoid: "Schnellpost" from Frankfurt am Main to Leipzig (386 km) in 1830 required 33-34 hours. The above painting by George Morland, from 1794, suggests to me sites and conditions Goethe encountered while traveling by horse.

Picture sources: Hans im Glück; Arteparnasomania; Jane Austen's World

Friday, July 4, 2014


In connection with my work on world literature, I have been reading about the development of the "periodical press" in Europe, which followed, by almost a century, the first newspapers in Europe. Interestingly, the first newspaper began publication in 1605 in Strassburg. The entrepreneur was Johann Carolus, who printed the latest news from the known world, "in conformance with the rhythm of the weekly incoming post." The development of newspaper publication was slow in coming, but the outbreak of the 30 Years' War seems to have stimulated this growth, with a dozen weekly newspapers added after the Swedish invasion of 1630. Germany was, so to speak, the "fulcrum of European politics" for an extended period, and the war was the first to be conducted in "the full glare of new news media." Indeed, postal stations connected Prague to the German postal networks, so that it was only a few days before news of the events in Prague, ostensibly the cause for the outbreak of war, reached Frankfurt.
18th-century London coffeehouse
This information comes from one of the many sources I have been looking at, namely, Andrew Pettegree's The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself. From his endnotes, I see that Pettegree relies a lot on German sources, who seem to have pioneered this field, including works by Klaus Beyrer, Johannes Weber, and Wolfgang Behringer. As Klaus Beyrer has written, academics, i.e., the "republic of scholars," played "no active part in the emergence of printed newspapers until the last decades of the 17th century." (See Germany History 24 [2006], p. 395.)

The earliest newspapers reported "the facts" as they became known. It was broadsheets, especially during the war years, that "editorialized," slanting the news, so to speak, in favor of the Catholic or the Protestant cause. "The age of the journal," as Pettegree calls it, was inaugurated by two publications, Journal des sçavans, from 1664, and The Philosophical Transactions, from 1665, both catering to new interest groups and both "self-consciously a part of the international community of learning and discovery." Published in French and English, respectively, they marked a decisive break with the Latinate tradition of humanists. Unlike newspapers, journals were not as constrained by official censorship.

It was through The Invention of News that I came across the name of Gottlob Benedict von Schirach, who in 1781 found the Politische Journal, which became the "most widely read periodical in the German-speaking world, with an audience transcending the micro-markets of the German city and princely states." Its readership grew to 8,000 readers. If that was the case, I figured that Goethe must have been familiar with it. A couple of internet sources assert that he and Charlotte von Stein were readers, but my own Goethe reference books contain no mention by Goethe of the publication or of von Schirach. In fact, the only mention of Goethe in connection with von Schirach I could find was an article on the Goethezeit-Portal site; it concerns Karl Philipp Mortiz's Beiträge zur Philosophie des Lebens and von Schirach's Ueber die menschliche Schönheit und Philosophie des Lebens (1772).

Hitler Youth March Past Baldur v. Schirach, 1933
The name von Schirach of course has other connections, namely, Baldur von Schirach, the enthusiastic Hitler supporter and Nuremberg defendant who, like Speer, escaped the gallows. The matter could not rest there. Looking up Baldur von Schirach I discovered that the family is currently represented by three writers, all grandchildren of the National Socialist. These are the attorney and best-selling author Ferdinand von Schirach, Ariadne von Schirach, and Benedict Wells. The last-named changed his name very early on. I am pretty sure I would have done the same, had my grandfather been responsible for deporting 150,000 Jews from Vienna. It is a heavy legacy.

Pictures sources: ORF News; Frances Hunter; Magnolia Box