Sunday, July 17, 2016

Goethe's brother-in-law

"Stürmisch brauste der Wind, tobend wie empörte Meereswogen, über den Nacken der hohen Apenninen, schüttelte die Wipfel hundertjähriger Eichen und beugte das schwankende Gesträuch der Flamme des Feuers zu, an welchem nahe bei einer steilen Felsenwand, in einem kleinen Tale, Rinaldo und Altaverde saßen. Die Nacht war dunkel, dichte Wolken verschleierten den Mond, und kein lächelnder Stern funkelte am Himmel."

This passage of purple prose is from a work entitled Rinaldo Rinaldini: der Räuberhauptmann. It is from the hand of Christian August Vulpius, the brother on whose behalf Christiane first approached Goethe, a meeting that inaugurated their relationship. Although Goethe ultimately helped him to secure a firm position at court with fairly substantial remuneration, he certainly never went out of his way and certainly never referred to him as his brother-in-law. (Which he would not in any case have been until 1806.) In his letters Goethe speaks of Christian August as "Registrator," as "Bibliothekar," as "der gute Rath Vulpius," while the latter addresses Goethe as "Ew. Exzellenz" and signs himself "untertanigster Diener." He seems to have known his place.

Indeed, Vulpius seems to have been regarded by Goethe as one of the many "Dienender" in his household. He carried out an immense amount of work for Goethe, with very little remuneration. As Damm writes: “Christian August Vulpius hat Goethes Vertrauen mit unendlichem Fleiß und lebenslanger Dienstwillingkeit und Liebe erwidert, ohne auf dessen Gegenliebe zu treffen.”

Vulpius, however, was a very accomplished person, and his life is testimony to the immense amount of effort a person without wealth and family connections had to make to secure a foothold in the world in the 18th century. Because of his many labors, executed to keep a roof over his head, he did not have the leisure to be a "literary artist" in the manner of Goethe and Schiller. Thus, the potboiler Rinaldo Rinaldini, which was an immensely popular work and which, today, represented by a literary agent, would have netted him an immense sum. It was made into a Finnish film in 1927, and, according to Wikipeida, into a TV series of 13 episodes in 1968. (Click on images to enlarge.) Besides reprints within a few years of its publication in 1798, it was translated into English in 1800, into French in 1801, and went on to appear in Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Swedish, and Danish. It is still in print in two editions.

His various plays were also performed in various cities in Germany.

Such popularity might have wounded Goethe, who no longer had much resonance with the public. His feelings toward Vulpius were similar to those he felt toward Friedrich Jusin Bertuch: “Der Mann bildet sich ein, daß wir Berührungspunkte hätten.” In Bertuch's case, it could not have been a matter of class, but of Bertuch's mercantile efforts. A publication of 1800, concerning "historisch-statistischen Nachrichten" about the famous city of Weimar places Vulpius sixth among the famous writers of the city: Wieland, Goethe, Herder, Bertuch, Böttiger, Vulpius, Falk, Scherer, Jean Paul, and Merkel.

Indeed, Vulpius's many writings appear to have been well received, including the 1788 Das Glossarium für das Achtzehnte Jahrhundert, an "Enlightenment" dictionary, which contains the following definition of "Dichter": "eine Menschengattung, welche sich des Hungers nicht erwehren kann und doch von Göttermalen, von Nektar und Ambrosia spricht." A reprint by the M. Wehrhahn Verlag was reviewed by the Suddeutsche Zeitung in 2002. Apparently, Vulpius's rehabilitation is underway, with his work being featured in an exhibition entitled Andere Klassik in 2012. In the same year, a review of the printed book Andere Klassik – Das Werk von Christian August Vulpius, edited by Alexander Košenina, appeared in Goethe Jahrbuch.

Picture credit: Wunschliste; Biller Antik

No comments: