Tuesday, April 28, 2015

History of Goethetc.

I have noted in recent days that the number of visits to this site has been moving toward 200,000. Overnight, it has overtaken that mark.

I began blogging in August 2008, not quite sure what I wanted to do. Initially I had the idea of a website, on which I would upload my own work on Goethe, but Carole, with a few keystrokes, created the blog template. "Goethe" was already taken as a blog name, and Rick suggested "Goethetc." Etcetera has truly been the case. Indeed, within days of starting the blog, I went off to Vienna for a visit. It seemed natural to post photos of my trip on my return. Thus, although I have posted mostly on Goethe, but not necessarily in my own area of interest (world literature), it has included lots of subjects that interest me personally. "Goethe," however, covers a wide swath, as noted by recent posts on Carl Friedrich Zeiss.

The image at the top of today's post comes from an Argentinian site dedicated to comparative literature. It appeared at the top of my third post, back in 2008. I can't really read Spanish, but I looked at the link today and notice that the article contains quite a bibliography–– certainly of interest for Spanish scholars of the subject. It lists, for instance, a thesis from 2000 by Waltraud Kirste: Weltliteratur de Goethe, un concepto intercultural. (Tesis doctoral bajo la dirección del Dr. José María Santamaría. Universidad del País Vasco - Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea.) And, of course, Eckermann's Conversaciones con Goethe. The article on Goethe is by Damián Leandro Sarro, who appears to be at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario.

Since 2008 I have fielded many requests concerning Goethe from all over the world, including from high school students and retired folks. Onward and upward to 500,000.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Übergoethe is the title of a newly created site by a blogger from Braunschweig. For additional reactions to and insights on Goethe, please visit this new enterprise and send some traffic his way! The most recent posting describes a visit to Goethehaus in Frankfurt.

Goethe was in Braunschweig as part of Carl August Fürstenbund diplomatic mission between August 16 and September 1, 1784. He found the court atmosphere unappealing. Bernd Wolff, a writer who grew up in the Harz region, wrote a Brocken trilogy, novels about Goethe's Harz journeys. The third, Die Würde der Steine, includes a description of the mission to Braunschweig. I wrote a review of the novels for the Goethe Yearbook (vol. 18, 2011). I notice that Wolff has recently published Klippenwandrer: Heines Harzreise, the journey of another Harz traveler.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Zum Schäkespears Tag

Homer Teaches Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe to Sing by Bela Sesija
Die erste Seite die ich in ihm las, machte mich auf Zeitlebens ihm eigen, und wie ich mit dem ersten Stücke fertig war, stund ich wie ein blindgebohrner, dem eine Wunderhand das Gesicht in einem Augenblick schenckt. Ich erkannte, ich fühlte auf's lebhaffteste meine Existenz um eine Unendlichkeit erweitert, alles war mir neu, unbekannt, und das ungewohnte Licht machte mir Augenschmerzen.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Goethe and Germany's optical revolution

Arrival on the moon, recorded by Hasselblad camera with Zeiss lens
This is a “Nachtrag” to my last post concerning Carl Zeiss and Goethe. I mentioned in that post a friend who formerly occupied a high position at Zeiss. He has since written me that he was doubtful that any role could be attributed to Goethe in the transformation of Carl Zeiss’s small mechanical workshop in Jena into the world giant in optics. My friend has written me that it was Carl Zeiss’s cooperation with Ernst Abbe that made this possible. Among other things, Abbe developed the famous optical laws that defined the curvature of glass and that made possible the production a reliable lens on an industrial scale.

Abbe was born in 1840 in Eisenach, thus in the duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The Neue Deutsche Biographie says that he came from a humble home. His father was a printer, later the foreman in a spinnery. As with many of the great inventors of the 19th century, Abbe’s early genius was recognized and, through his family’s efforts and patronage, he was able to study physics and mathematics at Jena and later at Göttingen, where he got his Ph.D. in 1861. His interests, however, were not specifically in optics, and it was only after what NDB calls the “schicksalhafte Verbindung mit Carl Zeiss,” beginning in 1867, that he discovered his “Lebensaufgabe.” I will not try to detail his many accomplishments; Wikipedia gives a good summary, including the formula for his discovery of the resolution limit of the microscope (published in 1873), which is engraved on a commemorative plaque in Jena.

Still, the “intellectual ambience” of Jena, so to speak, one that Goethe nourished, establishes a connection between him and Friedrich Körner, Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, and Zeiss. It was the latter, after an apprenticeship with Körner, who built the lens-making workshop in Jena. By 1861 already he was recognized as one of the leading instrument makers in Germany. In 1866 the workshop sold its thousandth microscope. It was at that point that he consulted with Abbe, who, until then had only occasionally occupied himself with optics. Later Abbe became the sole owner of the company, but in honor of his friend Carl Zeiss and as a sign of Abbe’s modesty, he kept the name ZEISS even after he owned all shares of the company and turned it into a foundation.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Three degrees of separation

Magnet ginko and color circle
A friend has written me of a book he is reviewing: Weimar, from Enlightenment to the Present by historian Michael H. Kater (Yale UP, 2014). Not having been aware of it, I went up to Columbia University and checked it out of the library. The first chapter concerns Weimar's "golden age," from 1770 to 1832. For the Goethe "Kenner," a few mistakes stand out. For instance, was Winckelmann murdered by "his male lover," as Kater writes? "Lover" suggests a degree of acquaintance that doesn't fit the facts. Kater also brings up copycat suicides after the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther. Maybe others will disagree, but were the papers Goethe delivered at the Friday Society "learned"? There is throughout a scholarship characterized by heavy reliance on secondary sources.

What really bothers me about Kater's account is its resolutely negative tone, which continues into the second chapter: "Promising the Silver Age, 1832–1863." This chapter enumerates all of Weimar's failures to live up to the golden age. As Kater does correctly point out, Weimar was a backwater industrially and agriculturally, remaining "behind the norm in other German states despite some impetus caused by the Industrial Revolution." As in Goethe's time, the main enterprises in Weimar until mid-century were "handicraft shops, tightly controlled by ancient codes." Friedrich Justin Bertuch's early industrial efforts, continuing under his heirs, are mentioned (although Kater fails to cite Daniel Purdy's study of Bertuch in his bibliography), as are the presence of a few small-scale factories. "Ambitious entrepreneurs," as he writes, those wishing to start something on a large scale, were discouraged. His prime example is that of Weimar-born Carl Friedrich Zeiß, who was barred by the Weimar town administrators from setting up a mechanics shop, "for fear he would cause undue competition to the two existing establishments." Thus, he moved to Jena and set up his workshop, which was the start of the Zeiß optical works. Kater's judgment: "Weimar had missed the entrepreneurial chance of a century."

I would not have thought much about the matter had my friend not been curious to ascertain the veracity of the account about Carl Friedrich Zeiß. It happens that among my circle of friends is a man who, until his retirement, occupied a very high position at Zeiss, and I asked him about Kater's description. He wrote me that Kater's account is "generally" true, but that the matter is more complex. Here is the beginning of the story, from the first chapter of the official history of Zeiss: Carl Zeiss: Die Geschichte eines Unternehmens, 1846-1905 by Edith Hellmuth and Wolfgang Mühlfriedel. As will be seen, there is a connection with Goethe.

Watch with guilloché pattern
Carl Friedrich was born in Weimar on Feburary 11, 1816. His father, Johann Gottfried (1785–1849), was a master turner (in German, Drechsler), but clearly one of an inventive bent. Among other things, he built a machine for producing the guilloché technique. The family was an upwardly mobile family: two older brothers, for instance, made their way into the academic sphere, but Carl Friedrich, like his father, had more of a mechanical and theoretical bent. After leaving school and through his father's acquaintance with Friedrich Körner, he began at the age of 18 as an apprentice as Körner's workshop in Jena.

Körner had been "Hofmechanik" in Weimar since 1810, going to Jena in the same capacity at the university, where he received the doctorate and became Privatdozent. At this time he and Goethe corresponded in connection with Goethe's scientific studies, and Körner was also called upon to manufacture optical, meteorological, and astronomical instruments, for instance, for the Jena observatory. According to the natural science supplement of the Goethe-Handbuch, Goethe consulted him in connection with the Farbenlehre. He built an apparatus for displaying the entopic colors, and he produced glass that showed the entopic "Farbmuster" requested by Goethe.

An achromatic doublet, which combines crown glass and flint glass
The Handbuch makes a mysterious reference to Körner falling out of favor with Goethe and with the duke in 1824, which perhaps had to do with his failure to produce a satisfactory flint glass. Interestingly, as I glean from Hellmuth and Mühlfriedel, this attempt was carried out with Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, professor of chemistry in Jena (and also he of the Döbereiner Triad), whom Goethe likewise involved in his optical studies and who was in general a go-to person for Goethe's scientific questions.

So, this was the Jena environment in which Carl Friedrich Zeiß began his apprenticeship, learning the operation of fine tools and machinery and the manufacture of microscopes and scientific instruments. Körner allowed his apprentice to take scientific courses at the university –– which included algebra, analytic geometry, trigonometry, mineralogy, and optics –– although, according to the Zeiss company history, he did not initiate Carl Friedrich into the secrets of producing glass. The young man completed his apprenticeship in 1838 and went a wandering, continuing to solidify his expertise, which included a period in Vienna and Berlin. He returned to Weimar in the fall of 1845. He did indeed apply for permission to open his own workshop there and was turned down because the city already had two mechanists, and the powers-that-be did not believe there was enough business for a third.

But would Zeiss have become the world-famous optical producer had he stayed in Weimar? Of course not. It wasn't so much that Weimar missed an opportunity, as that it did not have the facilities or the faculty of Jena or its university. By the time Zeiss settled there, Jena was the intellectual center of the Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, and much of the reason for its eminence was of course due to Goethe, who fostered and supported so many of the scientific institutes and collections there, not to mention cultivating contact with the scientists.

Apollo mission photograph with Hasselblad camera with Zeiss lenses
It was also a period presaged in Goethe's works of the 1820s, a time of a "grundlegende Umwälzung in der gewerblichen Wirtschaft und im Verkehrswesen." The Customs Union of 1834 fostered a larger domestic market, and there arose a domestic industry producing advanced machinery based on inventions already in use in England. Carl Friedrich arrived at the moment when there was the greatest demand for modern "Arbeits- und Antriebsmaschinen aus den verschiedenen Gewerbbezweigen." These quotes come from Hellmuth and Mühlfriedel, according to whom he founded his workshop in Jena in 1846 for the production of simple microscopes, measuring instruments, and other precise optical and mechanical instruments. But, as they write, he also possessed the combination of technical and theoretical expertise required for the new industrial age in Germany: "Der junge Geschäftsinhaber [hatte] sich fachlich sorgfältig auf eine selbständige Existenz vorbereitet." Becoming a world-famous concern, however, was long in coming. For instance, there was rent to be paid for living expenses and for work rooms. He borrowed 100 Taler from his father in 1846, then a further 100 from his brother Eduard and an even larger sum from a relative.

Jena itself had only 6,000 inhabitants. Like Weimar, it was a small city, its businesses consisting of small tradesmen who supplied the local economy. It was in this situation that Carl Zeiss began his mechanics workshop, gradually expanding his customer base. After Körner's death in 1847, he inherited a number of the master's clients. Thus, we come full circle. If Goethe had not been so passionate about optics, would Carl Zeiss have become one of the best German scientific instrument makers?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Frohe Ostern an alle

Otto Schwedgebrth, Fausts Osterspaziergang (1964)

Vom Eise befreit sind Strom und Bäche
Durch des Frühlings holden, belebenden Blick,
Im Tale grünet Hoffnungsglück;
Der alte Winter, in seiner Schwäche,
Zog sich in rauhe Berge zurück.
Von dort her sendet er, fliehend, nur
Ohnmächtige Schauer körnigen Eises
In Streifen über die grünende Flur.
Aber die Sonne duldet kein Weißes,
Überall regt sich Bildung und Streben,
Alles will sie mit Farben beleben;
Doch an Blumen fehlts im Revier,
Sie nimmt geputzte Menschen dafür.
Kehre dich um, von diesen Höhen
Nach der Stadt zurück zu sehen!
Aus dem hohlen finstern Tor
Dringt ein buntes Gewimmel hervor.
Jeder sonnt sich heute so gern.
Sie feiern die Auferstehung des Herrn,
Denn sie sind selber auferstanden:
Aus niedriger Häuser dumpfen Gemächern,
Aus Handwerks- und Gewerbesbanden,
Aus dem Druck von Giebeln und Dächern,
Aus der Straßen quetschender Enge,
Aus der Kirchen ehrwürdiger Nacht
Sind sie alle ans Licht gebracht.
Sieh nur, sieh! wie behend sich die Menge
Durch die Gärten und Felder zerschlägt,
Wie der Fluß in Breit und Länge
So manchen lustigen Nachen bewegt,
Und, bis zum Sinken überladen,
Entfernt sich dieser letzte Kahn.
Selbst von des Berges fernen Pfaden
Blinken uns farbige Kleider an.
Ich höre schon des Dorfs Getümmel,
Hier ist des Volkes wahrer Himmel,
Zufrieden jauchzet groß und klein:
Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ichs sein!