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

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