Monday, February 15, 2016

Goethe's Venetian Epigrams

Protestant cemetery in Aruba
 This is a subject I have posted on several times (e.g., here and here), and now my thoughts have again been drawn back to Goethe in Venice. I brought with me on this trip to Aruba a folder of Goethe articles that I had not previously had time to consider, one of which was Gustav Seibt's review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Dan Wilson's Goethes Erotica und die Weimarer "Zensoren," which appeared in 2015. (Gustav Seibt is always worth reading in connection with Goethe.

Tomb of Segundo Jorge "Boy" Ecury

This post is in the way of acknowledging the continuing contributions Dan Wilson makes to Goethe studies, especially in less traveled areas (homosexuality, censorship), and which demonstrate his immersion in archival work, an example for all of us. My earlier posts have mentioned the early "editorial" mangling of the epigrams, because of their explicit sexual content and the criticism of the rulers of Venice. Drawing on unpublished archival material, Wilson has documented the meddling that occurred before the first "official" publication of the epigrams in volume 53 of the Weimar edition of Goethe's works in 1915.

Ecury family memorial
As Seibt writes: "Etliche der Epigramm-Handschriften waren mit Radiergummi, Messer und Schere behandelt worden, ganze Texte abgeschabt, einzelne Versgruppen herausgeschnippelt worden." Grand duchess Sophie was among those suspected of this "Textmassaker." Having inherited Goethe's manuscripts, she was the first who would have gone through them. Wilson has shown that the matter is not so straightforward. He tells what Seibt calls "eine windungsreiche, teilweise irrsinnige Geschichte, die bei Schillers und Herzog Carl Augusts Bedenken beginnt." (Seibt says that Wilson's use of "censorship" here is "nicht ganz glücklich.") The negotiations concerning the manuscripts also involved Eckermann, Riemer, and Kanzler Müller, as well as the fate of a case of "brisanten Manuskripte" that turned up in Müller's attic. Finally there was "die peinlich gequälte Arbeit berühmteste Germanisten und Archivare."

 Grand Duchess Sophie is absolved of having "geschabt und geschnippelt." More likely, if Wilson is correct, it was Goethe's grandson Walter before 1885, and then one of the directors of the archive around 1910, either Carl August Hugo Burkhardt or Bernhard Suphan.  Although, as Seibt writes, this cannot be conclusively proven ("im strengen Sinn"), no one can have come closer to the truth than Wilson. One thing in particular to be regretted: apparently Grand Duchess Sophie destroyed a letter of Goethe to Napoleon.

Note Vatican order on tombstone
Concerning Schiller's reaction to the Roman Elegies, Wilson plausibly demonstrates ("in minutiösen Fassungsvergleichen") that it was not "die Freizügigkeit an sich" that disturbed Schiller, but "Goethes unverblümte Feier sexueller Lust um ihrer selbst willen, auch ohne dauerhafte Beziehung." Other contemporaries were also offended, recognizing behind the "antikizierenden Gewand," the real person of Goethe. At the same time, those capable of discerning judgment realized that the Elegies were "ein überwältigend gelungenes Meisterwerk," with Herder commenting, "Goethe habe 'der Frechheit ein kaiserliches Insiegel aufgedrückt.'"

 One thing that surprised me was Seibt's continual remarking on Wilson's diligence. In conclusion, he writes of "Wilsons akribischer, gelegentlich pedantischer ... zuweilen auch überziehender Untersuchung." Are American scholars outshining German ones?

Goethe Girl goes touring
As mentioned in my previous post, I am in Aruba. The pictures here (click on images to enlarge) are from the Protestant Cemetery in Oranjestad. I was particularly touched by the words on the tombstone of Boy Ecury, whose appears to have come from one of Aruba's leading families. Indeed, the Archaeological Museum here is the former family home of the Ecurys. It seems that Boy was sent to study in Holland in 1937. When the Germans attacked that country he joined the resistance movement and with other resistance fighters sabotaged railway lines, blew up supply trucks, and assisted Allied pilots. He was captured and executed by the Germans in 1944, and his body was returned to Aruba for burial in 1947.

1 comment:

Sven Wifstrand said...

"Are American scholars outshining German ones?"
Nice turn!