Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Goethe and the Cloud Messenger

Study of Cirrus Clouds by John Constable

Many years ago (2008!) I penned a short post in which I included a verse from a poem (in translation) by Goethe in honor of Luke Howard and the Englishman's classification of clouds. Among Goethe's many duties in the duchy was that of overseer of the meteorological station at the university in Jena. He became a systematic observer of cloud formations, and it was through this interest that he learned of Howard and his writings on clouds, or, according to the Marginalian, "humanity’s favorite atmospheric phenomena." We know that Goethe was interested in many eminent English, French, Italian, and American men of science (yes, most were men), but Howard might have appealed to him because he did not come from academia. Indeed, Howard was a Quaker, which meant that in England in the early part of the 19th century he was not permitted to attend the university, which was the case of many early inventors. Howard is the person who gave us the Latin names that became the basis for the classification of cloud formation: status, cumulus, cirrus. It turns out that, when Howard was criticized for his use of Latin rather than English terms, Goethe stepped in and wrote in Howard's favor that his nomeneclature “should be accepted in all languages; they should not be translated, because in that way the first intention of the inventor and founder of them is destroyed.” The image below, from the Cloud Appreciation Society website, shows "Altocumulus above patches of Altostratus spotted over Goethe’s home town of Weimar."

I found myself returning to the subject of clouds after recently reading the novel A Passage North by the Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam. In this novel, the present-day narrator, sighing for the presence of a woman he loves, relates the story in the  Meghaduta by the Sanskrit writer Kalidasa of the neglectful deity banished from his Himalayan residence for a year by his master, the god of wealth, Kubera, for an offense and is thereby separated from his beloved. Espying a passing cloud, the banished yaksha requests of this cloud that it bear a message to his distant lover. The message is to the effect that his love for her is unchanged and that she should hold on to that love until his return. 

The majority of the poem is the narrator's description of the route that the Cloud Messenger is to take to reach her. For anyone interested, I came across a thesis from the faculty of theology and religious studies at the Reijksuniversiteit in Holland that has that route as its subject: "Exploring the Geographical Data of the Meghadūta: Reconstructing the Route of the Cloud." A map is included. It is in the second verse of Goethe's poem honoring Luke Howard that the cloud messenger is mentioned. (See this translation.)

Just when you think you have come up with something new to write a blog post about, someone has  already written a thesis on it! In preparing this blog post, I even came across a piece in an Indian journal concerning the reception in Germany of Kalidasa's work, including the drama Sakuntala, first translated from Sanskrit by Sir Willliam Jones into Latin, and then into German by Georg Forster, "the Mainz Jacobin," according to Indian Review, who then forwarded his translation to Goethe. What a small world.

And to top all this off, consider this bit of information, also from Indian Review. The posthumous publication of Heinrich Heine's works in 1869 revealed that Heine had noticed the use Goethe made of the Sakuntala, namely, in the "Vorspiel auf dem Theater" in Faust. In the Sakuntala drama, after an actor appears on stage and speaks a prayer to Shiva for the performance, the stage director appears and informs the leading actress "that the drama Sakuntala is to be performed before a cultured audience, so that the actors must do their utmost." As the writer in Indian Review acknowledges of the differences in the two prologues: "two different kinds of society, each with different expectations of the theatre." World literature, indeed, on the subject of which a colleague of mine in the Goethe Society of North America, Willi Goetschel, has recently published an article on Heine and world literature.

For those who have more interest in clouds, in particular in the writings of Germans, the Freie Universität has a nice post on the "Language of Clouds."

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Goethe and "evening's empire"

Copernicus Observing the Night Sky, by Jan Mateiko

While Goethe Girl was following various trails that led from Grumach, subject of the previous post, there were along the way some interesting byways that led her to pause and take a look. A book that came to my attention was Evening’s Empire: A History of the Night in Early Modern Europe by Craig Koslofsky. As Professor Koslofsky writes on the first page, “The night imposed fundamental limits on daily life” for people of early modern Europe, while also “serving as a many-faceted and evocative natural symbol.” The subject of his study is the gradual “nocturalization” in the 17th and 18th centuries in European countries, a process that had a significant effect on social life. By 1700, for instance, all European cities had coffeehouses, which as we know from Habermas were sites of lively sociability. But even discussions of the scientific discoveries of the early modern period took place in the candlelight-illuminated indoors, as seen in the painting below.

I won’t go into the story of the discovery by Georg Rhätius in 1540 that night was an effect of the earth’s rotation. Previously, as Koslofsky writes, the space between the Earth and the circle of fixed stars was conceived as being illuminated by solar and divine light. The new astronomy would reveal an infinite universe of endless light. Imagine the effect on your thinking at such a discovery, although it probably didn’t really settle into men’s minds for a long, long time. with the night kept at bay.

Wright of Derby, The Orrery (1766)

You knew I would be getting around to Goethe at some point. Again, I am focusing on the “young” Goethe, before 1775, the date at which he went to Weimar and began, in my estimation, “to become Goethe.” There are three stages here: Frankfurt, Leipzig, and Strassburg.

In Book 5 of his autobiography, chronicling the period 1765–65, he writes of spending evenings away from his parental home in Frankfurt at a house where gathered a group of young folks his own age — in the telling he is fourteen going on fifteen — during which he first displayed his poetic talents. By then, Frankfurt was a major city of the Reich — it was the site in the year 1765 of the coronation of the emperor, a story also told in Book 5 — and would have had street lighting, which, as Koslofsky tells us, consisted of candles or oil lamps in glass-pained lanterns. So, we can imagine that Goethe had no trouble finding his way to the party and back home at a late hour without stumbling around in the dark. Before the inauguration of street lighting, anyone out after dark was required to carry a torch or a lantern: not to see so much as to be seen.

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night
In 1765 he went to study law in Leipzig, which according to Richard Benz’s short bio of Goethe in vol. 14 of the Hamburg edition of Goethe’s works, was the most modern “Großstadt” of the time. The initiative for street lighting there had come from the Elector of Saxony, Augustus II (again, this and all info on street lighting is gleaned from Koslofsky), Leipzig being part of his fief. It was in particular the merchants’ guild that advocated street lighting because of nocturnal crime, and it was duly established in 1701. Leipzig’s prosperity, after all, depended on attracting merchants. (And of course Augustus taxed the residents for this amenity.) We know from the letters Goethe wrote home from Leipzig that he often went to the theater. Again, like coffeehouses, theater productions contributed to a lively street life with the advent of street lighting. Thus, we can see young Goethe — he is first sixteen, going on seventeen — heading out in the evening to the theater or to Auerbach’s Keller.

Finally, he arrived in Strassburg in 1770. Interestingly, as Koslofky writes, Strassburg was the “last word” in street lighting, where it was finally installed — and over the protests of citizens at that — in 1779, long after Goethe’s student days there. Goethe makes no mention in the autobiography of theater attendance in Strassburg, so we can imagine his nocturnal activities taking place indoors, spending many an evening, for instance, reading with Herder, who was undergoing eye surgery there. At the same time, he describes his horse rides in the Elsass as well as to Sesenheim to visit Friederike, and I wonder if those rides took place at night. It might have been pretty dangerous.

Francisco de Goya, Witches Sabbath (ca. 1823)

I am not sure whether night as subject in Goethe’s poetry and of his work in general has been investigated in detail, but, along with various night scenes in Faust, he wrote one very impressive poem in which night expresses the “Invisible World” of nocturnal ghosts and witches, as Koslovsky writes, before “the imprint of nocturnalization on the early Enlightenment helped reconfigure European views of human difference and the place of humankind in the universe.” That was “Der Erlkönig,” the effect of night in that poem being well evoked by Schubert. One of my favorite early Goethe poems concerning night, however, evokes both the “Schauer” (frisson) of night combined with the sweet experience of spending it with the beloved:

Gern verlaß ich diese Hütte,
Meiner Schönen Aufenthalt,
Und durchstreich mit leisem Tritte
Diesen ausgestorbnen Wald.
Luna bricht die Nacht der Eichen,
Zephirs melden ihren Lauf,
Und die Birken streun mit Neigen
Ihr den süßten Weihrauch auf.

Schauer, der das Herze fühlen,
Der die Seele schmelzen macht,
Wandelt im Gebüsch im Kühlen.
Welche schöne, süße Nacht!
Freude! Wollust! Kaum zu fassen!
Und doch wollt ich, Himmel, dir
Tausend deiner Nächte lassen,
Gäb mein Mädchen Eine mir

Friday, February 17, 2023

Goethe and the lightness of color

As I wrote in an earlier post, I have been expanding my reading in works of “later Goethe,” works after his return from Italy. My previous post on Erich Grumach has in the meantime led me to consult Grumach’s two-volume work Goethe und die Antike, an assemblage of everything Goethe expressed about Greek and Roman antiquity. As I was paging through this 1,100-page study, my eyes were caught by (among other subjects) the extracts from correspondence between Goethe and the Swiss artist Heinrich Meyer in the 1790s concerning The Aldobrandini Wedding. The image above is a lovely detail from this Roman fresco, a copy of an ancient Greek painting (for a full-scale image of the work, go here).

One reason that my posts on this blog are not as frequent as I would like is because, as soon as something like this subject interests me, it is necessary to dig into it, and I begin consulting the scholarly research on the subject, which always lead me far afield. The first stop was the article “Die Aldobrandinische Hochzeit als gemalte Farbentheorie” by Johannes Rössler, which appeared in the volume Farben der Klassik. Wissenschaft – Ästhetik - Literatur (2016). I am not an art historian, nor even very knowledgeable about Goethe’s color theory, and am really not competent to take apart Rössler awesomely compounded sentences. My take from his article is the following, namely, that the lack of action in the fresco is compensated for by the expressiveness of the color in the ancient work, in contrast to the “new painting” of the time.

Meyer, Die Aldobrandinische Hochzeit (1796)

Meyer, Die Aldobrandinische Hochzeit (1809)
In any case, it seems that the fresco was of such interest among connoisseurs in the 18th century and earlier that Meyer made several copies of it. The  top one pictured above hangs in the “Juno” room of the Haus am Frauenplan, with the green curtains that were to protect it from outside light. It was Meyer’s first copy, from 1796. A second one, from 1808/1809, is in the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. (Click to enlarge.) A comparison with the details in the image at the top of this post shows how difficult it is to reproduce the ancient effects. (Rössler did, however, make an interesting comparison of those effects with those in the painting Autumn Forest (1906) by the German Impressionist artist Max Stevogt.) (BTW, the reason I link to articles in Wikipedia is that the site does not include ads.)

Max Stevogt, Autumn Forest

Among the scholarship I discovered on this subject is the work of the late Pamela Currie, whose Goethe’s Visual World appeared in 2013. In the last chapter, “An Alternative Antiquity,” she discusses “Goethe’s preference for lightness in painting.” (I have not seen the book, so I am quoting from the 2015 Goethe Yearbook review by Walter Stewart.) Further, “In terms of specific artworks, Goethe and Meyer most preferred the lightness that they observed in The Aldobrandini Wedding.” An article by Currie in Oxford German Studies in 2008 has this to say: “Goethe's and Heinrich Meyer's idea of colour harmony in painting required all the six colours of the wheel, so arranged and modulated as to avoid harsh transitions between them. This prescription resembled the aesthetic of fresco as seen in the ancient Roman 'Aldobrandini Wedding' and in work by Raphael and Paolo Veronese.”

As I said, doing work on any specific area of Goethe leads you far afield. To get an idea of how much effort Goethe devoted to the effect of specific colors, one only has to the look at table of contents of the “Didactic” part of the Farbenlehre. Its final section concerns the “sensuous/moral effect of color” (sinnlich-sittliche Wirkung der Farbe) beginning with yellow, which, Goethe writes, “ist die nächste Farbe am Licht” (the closest color to light).

Image credits: Youpedia; Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Goethe scholars past


Ernst Grumach

Aside from a short excursus here and there, e.g.,  the subject of Goethe and world literature or a piece on Goethe and Fanny Burney (see this issue of Arion), my work on Goethe has focused on the “young Goethe,” specifically the years before he went to Weimar and he was still developing his literary creds. It’s not a well-traveled area of Goethe scholarship these days. Today the “Green Goethe” is a popular subject. So, in my research I end up reading authors whose work is more philological than theoretical. In this connection I came across a few days ago a fascinating article on Ernst Grumach (1902–67), whose initial scholarly studies lay largely in the field of classics. Within Goethe studies, he is the editor of the study Goethe und die Antike (publ. 1949). He is also the editor of a collection of essays that I wanted to consult on a very under-researched area of Goethe’s early efforts, the fragment of an epistolary novel entitled “Arianne an Wetty.” It was while Googling for this collection that I came across the above-mentioned article on Grumach in the Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook in 2018 by Anna Holzer-Kawalko: “Jewish Intellectuals between Robbery and Restitution: Ernst Grumach in Berlin, 1941–46.” Most of what follows is taken from this article, even when not directly quoted.

It turns out that Grumach’s Goethe scholarship arose principally after World War II. During the war, he worked as a forced laborer in the library of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) in Berlin in the years mentioned in the title of the article. While having trained in classical studies and pursuing a habilitation thesis on Lydian inscriptions, as a Jew he found his career upended in 1933 by the Aryan laws. He began working as a bookseller in Königsberg, where he sought emigration opportunities without success, but continued to be immersed in his own intellectual pursuits. In 1937, he moved to Berlin with his family, where he was employed as lecturer of classical philology and literature at the “Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums.” This institution had been founded 65 years earlier as a center for the research and teaching of the so-called “science of Judaism,” but its curriculum expanded beyond Judaic subjects when Jews were denied entrance to universities in November 1938 and, as author Holzer-Kawalko notes (quoting Richard Fuchs), when “German universities had degenerated into biased Party institutions.”

Memorial at bus stop at Eichmann's former office

The story Holzer-Kawalko tells is quite gripping: one feels throughout that any false step would have landed Grumach on a train to Auschwitz. In 1941 he was assigned to be head of a group called “the Reich Association of Jews in Germany.” In other words, he went to work for the persecutors of Jews at the RSHA, established by Himmler in 1939, which played a major role in the NS extermination policies, alongside in seizing Jewish assets. After an interview at Adolf Eichmann’s office, Grumach became part of a group whose task was to “establish a bibliographic order” for the seized Jewish book holdings, which included manuscripts and rare volumes. Even as Jewish heritage was being banned and persecuted, here was this working group, under “the highest authorities of the holy Gestapo,” reading, enjoying, and discussing “what nobody else in Germany could view anymore.” Ideology and hatred were of course the reason for this “commitment” on the part of the Third Reich. I am reminded of something I learned while a student many years ago — it was still a divided Germany — while on a trip to Prague with a group of students from the university in Marburg, where I was studying. One of the sites we viewed on the week-long visit — this was in 1970 — was the oldest Jewish cemetery in the country, which the Nazis intended to be a monument to a vanished race.

Grumach was one of the only two librarians of “Department VII” of the RHSA who survived the war. Both were married to non-Jews, but, even though he had never been an observant Jew, Grumach  and wife raised their daughter as Jewish.

Portrait of young Gershom Scholem

As per the title of her article, Holzer-Kawalko’s subject is the restitution of Jewish heritage after the war. Grumach’s contribution, she writes, has “not gained public recognition or been the subject of comprehensive scholarly examination to date.” I won’t go into the details here. Suffice it to say that Grumach’s proposal for “the project of a Jewish central library or a ‘supreme collection of Jewish books in Europe’” came to nought amid other visions, including that of Gershom Scholem, who “categorically refused even to negotiate with those Jews who had stayed in Germany.” As Holzer-Kawalko writes: “He [Scholem] and other representatives of the Hebrew University sought to redefine the looted German-Jewish book collections as belonging to the collective body of Jewish people rather than to German-Jewish communities.”

In conclusion, she writes: “The heroic efforts of Jewish librarians working in the ‘Grumach Group’ to preserve Jewish literary heritage while being forced to serve the National Socialist project of ‘culturcide’, and the physical dismantling of German-Jewish libraries for the sake of post-war cultural restoration show the extreme complexity of this period, thus making easy historical judgements impossible.”

Image credit: Leo Baeck Institute; Wikipedia (Eichmann's office); Wikipedia (Scholem portrait)

Monday, December 12, 2022

Goethe on "tolerance"

Battle of Valmy, September 20, 1792
 My earliest interest focused on the young Goethe, the “pre-Weimar” Goethe, which, from a literary POV encompasses the years 1765 to 1775, but I have also recently steeped myself in Goethe’s autobiography of those years, in particular Goethe’s account of an event of his youth as reported in his autobiography, which was written forty-plus years after the event. I won’t go here into the result of my labors, but having finished an article on the subject, I have decided to stay for a while with a “late Goethe” subject. I have been reading two accounts by Goethe of the events of 1792. That was the year in which Goethe accompanied Carl August and the Prussian forces in the War of the First Coalition against the French Revolutionary Armies.

 It was only in 1819 that Goethe began to consider writing his account of what would become Campagne in Frankreich, published in 1822. But Goethe also wrote a small prose work, Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten, which concerned the Germans who, escaping the Revolutionary armies, “emigrated” (thus, ausgewandert) to the right bank of the Rhine from their properties on the left bank. It was published in 1795 in Schiller’s journal Horen, thus, much closer in time to the events. Among the emigrants in the story are the Baroness von C.  and three of her grown children, only two of whom are named, Luisa and Friedrich; and a young relative of the family named Karl who is a supporter of the Revolution.

The property where they are holed up is also the possession of the baroness, but, while they often hear the sounds of bombardment, they seem not to be lacking in daily necessities (they are accompanied by servants). In this setting they are visited by Privy Councilor von S. and his wife, who is a long-time friend of the baroness. In this time of upheaval, they are overjoyed to see each other again, but things take a bad turn when the privy councilor and Karl come to strong words concerning the Revolution. The former speaks bitterly about young people who tend to idealize things, while the latter condemns those with superannuated ideas. The outcome, to the consternation of the baroness and her friend, is that the privy councilor more or less storms out, taking his wife with him. After which, of course, a great pall suffuses the household.

Goethe does not use the word “tolerance” (as in tolerance of other viewpoints), but the baroness, seeking to bring everyone to order, begins to speak of “Gesellschaft” and of “gesellige Bildung” (social "education"), of abstaining from commenting on the beliefs and customs of others, especially those customs or beliefs we find ridiculous. A result, as she says, is that “das Interesse des Tages” has led to the abandonment of instructive and elevating conversation.

Those who have stayed with me so far can no doubt recognize the situation that we now find ourselves in, not only in the U.S., but also in most of the Western nations. Living in New York City, as I do, it’s frequently the case that people are absolutely consumed with their own particular “Steckenpferd” on the politics of the present day. I’ve learned — and I am sure it is also the modus operandi of many others — not to wade into the discussion. Nowadays, the opinions on which people disagree are not only considered ridiculous, but also abhorrent. And who wants to be considered abhorrent? Is it the case that the ideals of the French Revolution have brought about this situation? Goethe himself writes the following in Campagne in Frankreich of its effects: “Eine große Nation aus ihren Fugen gerückt und nach unserm unglücklichen Feldzug offenbar auch die Welt schon aus ihren Fugen.”(A great nation thrown out of joint, and after our unfortunate campaign the world apparently also thrown out of joint.)

I notice that the translation of Goethe's work pictured above uses “refugees” for “Ausgewanderten,”  which corresponds more to the current state of cross-borders flights and which is generally rendered in German reportage as Flüchtlinge. W.G. Sebald in Die Ausgewanderten was clearly thinking of Goethe when he used that term. Thus, in the English translation of that work, it is rendered as “The Emigrants.”

To Be Continued.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Goethe and Turgenev anew

Turgenev memorial in Baden-Baden

Not even a day after my last post, I must add an addendum. I went to midtown today and stopped at the Graduate Center of CUNY for an event. The GC once had a German program, but no more, but there is still the same collection of books as when I was there writing my dissertation on Goethe. So, before the event, I browsed and came across The Russian Image of Goethe by André von Gronicka, the second volume of which concerns the second half of the 19th century. The volume opens with the chapter "I.S. Turgenev: A Study in Ambivalence." We learn from the start that Turgenev was accomplished in the German language, learning it already as a child with tutors, and the most knowledgeable of all Russians in German philosophy and letters. Turgenev even visited Weimar, where he was disappointed in Goethe's domestic taste. He was a visitor at the salon of Bettina von Arnim who, according to von Gronicka, was “the eloquent transmitter of G’s pantheistic world view which so enraptured young Turgenev.” His letters are replete with Goethe references and quotations. Of the Roman Elegies he wrote: “What life, what passion, what vitality breathe in these verses. Goethe in Rome, in the embrace of a Roman woman."

A.N. Wilson, in the review I discussed in my previous post, mentions that Turgenev's greatest work was in his profound insights into nature, "not in the novels where he regurgitated what he had read in western newspapers about his country." In this connection, von Gronicka mentions Turgenev's studies at the universities in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Berlin in the years 1833 to 1843, from which he emerged confirmed in his "Westernism." In an autobiographical sketch, Turgenev himself wrote of his stay in Berlin: "I threw myself headfirst into the German sea ... and when I finally surfaced from its waves I reappeared as a 'Westerner' and have always remained one."

Turgenev spent seven years in Baden-Baden in the late 1760s to be with the famous soprano Pauline Viardot, where he also wrote the novels Smoke, Ghost, and The Dog. There were also other Russians there, including Tolstoy, who had a passion for roulette.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Goethe and Turgenev

I am sure that the title of this post is surprising, but as I have written on many occasions Goethe turns up in the most surprising places. Turgenev is a writer I like. His short works remind me of late-19th-century German Novellen. Think Eduard von Keyserling, a Baltic German poet (1855–1918). Never heard of him? Well worth reading: about the last days of the German aristocratic families in the Baltic provinces. They too are set in the countryside among the landed class. One of my favorite novellas of Keyserling's is Am Südhang, about which there are actually some online blogposts. It has even been made into a movie. (If anyone knows how I can view it, please let me know. Although, on the other hand, it might spoil my pleasure in the story.) Recently I read Keyserling's novel The Waves (Die Wellen). Keyserling has often been compared to Theodor Fontane. Those late-19th-century German works were my favorite reading when I became good enough to read German prose. And back then I also liked Turgenev, although in English translation.

So, today, Goethe and Turgenev, prompted by a review in the TLS (9/30/22) by A.N. Wilson of some new translations. Wilson begins right off the bat by writing "No one can really translate Shakespeare or Dante or Goethe, which is why it is worth learning their languages if you want to appreciate their essence." I guess I am fortunate to be a native English speaker, but it doesn't make understanding Shakespeare any easier. Goethe writes such beautiful poetry that I am really fortunate to be able to read it in the original. I feel bad that most people I know can't appreciate its "essence."

Turgenev, ca. 1850

Wilson's long review sums up a lot of critical reaction to Turgenev: there is something incomplete about his gift. For instance, instead of developing a character, he rounds off his stories "with arbitrary deaths." This is on view in Fathers and Sons, when the radical Bazarov doesn't come to terms with his radicalism in the end. Instead, he simply dies. Wilson also feels let down by the denouement in Love and Youth. But alongside this criticism of the newly translated editions, Wilson also reviews the book Hunting Nature: Ivan Turgenev and the Organic World by Thomas P. Hodge, which Wilson finds the "best analysis of Turgenev yet written." This is where Goethe comes in, namely the 1783 essay Die Natur, which was once attributed to Goethe and, so Wilson, "made a lasting impression on Turgenev."

Wilson, quoting from the essay, says that Goethe saw nature "as a goddess-like figure." This is the quote from the essay with She/Her referring to "nature":

We are surrounded by her and locked in her clasp: powerless to leave her and powerless to come closer to her ... She creates new forms without end: what exists now, never was before; all is new yet always the old.

This is indeed a correct translation of the German, although the essay does not use the terms "goddess," but speaks of "Natur!"" In any case, Wilson writes that Turgenev assimilated Goethe and Schelling's notion that "nature is unitary, monistic, and inclusive of humanity." The English words have so little heft compared with the "essence" of the German:

Wir sind von ihr umgeben und umschlungen -- unvermögend aus ihr herauszutreten, und unvermögend tiefer in sie hineinzukommen. ...  Sie schafft ewig neue Gestalten; was da ist war noch nie, was war kommt nicht wieder. Alles ist neu und doch immer das Alte.

It should be added here, however, that Goethe did not actually write the essay in question, although it was attributed to him. When asked about it in 1828, he wrote that he could not remember having written it, but that the ideas contained in it reflected an early stage of his scientific development. That is of course beside the point in the present case, as most people in the 19th century, including Turgenev, thought it was by him.

Turgenev hunting

In any case, Turgenev, according to the review, believed "in the epic wholeness of nature and also recognized, as who cannot, nature's indifference to humanity." The novels reflect nature's pitilessness, often expressed comically. Wilson finds Fathers and Sons to be a "book of profound empathy with nature and a deeply intelligent awareness of why farmers, peasants, landowners, and, yes, even hunters are aware of what nature is, an awareness that living in a town will numb and eventually kill."

Since Goethe sort of owned the essay "Die Natur," we might as well accept that it represents his ideas to some extent. And, yet, Goethe did not have the world-weary late-19th-century awareness that living in a town "numbs and kills." That is the insight of a later day. Turgenev, it seems, was a great hunter, which is not something that present-day intellectuals expect of a great writer, detached as we are, as Wilson writes, from the land and regarding the hunting of animals for pleasure as abhorrent. For Wilson, by not accepting that aspect of Turgenev, we get his writing "fundamentally wrong": "we shrink from realizing that his greatest work ... was in his profound insights into nature itself."