Friday, August 26, 2016

Was Goethe blue?

The Blue Goethe and a herd of imposters
I have frequently mentioned that one comes across Goethe in unexpected places. Today it was a piece on the site The Smart Set by the German writer Bernd Brunner. The title of the piece, “Encyclopedia Blue: A History of What May Be the World’s Most Beloved Color,” overstates things, for the piece itself is (for the internet) remarkably short. Brunner does nod to Goethe’s Farbenlehre, and his reference to the sky's color:

“Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the great German poet-philosopher who couldn’t help also being a natural historian, reminds us in his (otherwise debatable) Theory of Colors (1810) that ‘the highest is to understand that all fact is really theory. The blue of the sky reveals to us the basic law of color. Search nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory.”

Following links attached to the piece, I discovered that Brunner has written the book When Winters Were Still Winters: The History of a Season (Als die Winter noch Winter waren: Geschichte einer Jahreszeit). His website has a nice description of the book, along with a quote from a letter of Ivan Turgenev to Gustav Flaubert, written in February 1870, while Turgenev was staying at the Hotel de Russie in Weimar:

I have been here for about ten days and my sole preoccupation is keeping warm. The houses are badly built here, and the iron stoves are useless.”

Clearly, France was a warm place to live in contrast to Germany in the 19th century.

While reading Sigrid Damm’s book Goethes Freunde in Gotha und Weimar, I came across complaints from Goethe about the freezing conditions at Friedenstein castle in Gotha. Goethe was a welcome and frequent guest at the ducal court. In a letter to Carl August in January 1782 he complains how the many court activities in Gotha are a waste of time, before mentioning that reluctance to go there has much to do with the coldness of his quarters:

Bedenk’ ich noch dazu den Zug auf dem Gotischen Schlosse, die Kälte und daß man weder Herr von seinem Rock noch Fußbekleidung bleibt, so schreckt mich das Ganze in mein Dachsloch zurück, wo mich ohnedies eine hypochondrische Vorliebe gefangen hält.”

No comments: