Monday, October 17, 2016

"A hard rains gonna fall"

Goethe must have been thinking along the lines of Bob Dylan's song (note the apocalyptic imagery: e.g., "a wave that could drown the whole world") in the summer of 1816. Christiane died on June 6. It was not a good time, and then there was all that rain, which he noted in his diary. I referred in an earlier post to the effects of the Tambora volcano eruption, which made themselves felt in Europe in the summer of 1816. As Wolfgang Behringer notes in his book on the eruption, Goethe made many references to the rain in his diary that summer.

The first mention occurs on June 23: "Schrecklich durchwässerter Zustand des Gartens." There continue, until October, notations about the weather conditions. For instance, on July 3: "Um 7 Uhr von Jena ausgefahren. Schlimmer Weg durchs Mühlthal." Or, on July 9: "Spazierfahrt mit Meyer wegen dem Regen abgekürzt." Or, regarding his visit to the court: "Durch kalte Witterung aus dem Park geschreckt." On July 29, he noted that it had rained the entire night and was continuing. There are entries along these lines: "Anhaltendes Regenwetter." Attempts to take a walk were interrupted by rain. He also noted good weather. June 29: "Erster schöner Tag." On the same day he also drove "am Neuthor" in order to view the flooding.

It is unclear from these entries how much he knew about the cause, but on June 28 he notes a visit of Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner, followed by "Gespräch über die Sonnenflecken. Sauerstoffgehalt der Atmosphäre" (conversation about sun spots; oxygen content of the atmosphere), which suggests that he was being informed about the atmospheric effects of the eruption.

Constable, Flatford Mill on the River Stour (detail)
There were two interesting entries about other effects, for instance, on June 21 he noted that thunder clouds had broken up into sheet lightning. And he also noted, on June 30, the reflection of trees in cloudy water (im trübem Wasser). Does he mean in puddles? Or in a river? This reference caused me to look up some contemporary artists who might have painted such reflections. I turned to John Constable, the notable English landscape painter. Constable painted a lot of English water -- lakes, canals, locks, etc. -- and in many case there are trees on the water's edge, yet he seems not to have dealt much with this aspect. I am not a Constable expert, so there may be examples in his oeuvre, but I include here the one that I found, from 1816. But I also noted that, even though he was painting in the very period in which Friedrich and Turner had documented the red skies, his skies do not reflect the new pollution.

By September there occur more mentions of good weather, and, finally, on October 7: "Schöner Tag. Im Garten."

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