Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Goethe and Girolamo Cardano

This entry is speculative. First of all, there is no scholarship on the subject of Goethe and the Renaissance polymath Girolamo Cardano (1501–76), aside from the mention in the Goethe-Handbuch, that Goethe attended to both Cardano's autobiography and that of Cellini in connection with Dichtung und Wahrheit.  Goethe's diary of July 27, 1777, documents that he was reading Cardano's De propria vita. Three days later, it is Cardano's Synesiorum somniorum omnis generis insomnia explicantes libri IV (Four books in which all kind of dreams in Synesius’s “On dreams” are explained; 1562). Dream interpretation has apparently a long tradition, The Neoplatonist Synesius of Cyrene (370–413) himself being one. As I said, no scholarship on why Goethe might have been reading, as he wrote in his diary, Cardan Synes Somn.

But I was intrigued and went looking and found an article that had no reference to Goethe, but was suggestive of what might have interested Goethe in Cardano's dream book. The article is by Jacomien Prins, and it concerns a seminar held between 1936 and 1941 conducted by the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, during which he discussed twelve of Cardano's dreams, which apparently appeared in the Latin-titled work that Goethe read. I will be paraphrasing from this article, which appeared in I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance (vol. 20, no. 2, 2017).

Cardano is most well known for his work in mathematics, but we can assume that his math was not Goethe's interest, but, instead, the more arcane aspects of the Renaissance thinker. Cardano was, for instance, an astrologer. According to Prins, Cardano was also “one of the most important Renaissance pioneers to revive the ancient dream interpretation.” Here is a sentence from the first paragraph of the article that one can imagine might have had some resonance for Goethe: “Central to Cardano’s dream theory is the idea that the cosmos is a dynamic network of occult harmonic correspondences, knowledge of which can be revealed in dreams.”

Cardano kept a night diary in which he recorded his dreams. He believed that dreams, being about the dreamer's present situation, should be consulted for inferences they contain for the future. According to Prins, the great trauma of Cardano's life was the death of one of his sons, who was executed for murdering his wife. Cardano kept asking himself whether, had he paid more attention to warning signals in his dreams, he could prevented this tragic course of events. Cardano wrote, for instance: “I had a warning, also, in 1547, in the summer at Pavia while my younger son was sick, lying, as it were, at the point of death, that I should be bereft of the object of my affection.”

In this connection, I can't help considering that Goethe might have been seeking some solace after the family tragedy of the month before, the death of his sister Cornelia. The few comments that Goethe made about his sister suggest a certain guilt concerning her unhappy situation after her marriage.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Goethe the Manager

One of the books on Goethe that I am working my way through this summer is Goethe: Der Manager. The word “manager” is used advisedly by the author, Georg Schwedt, who seeks to portray Goethe’s practice, both literary and professional, within the context of modern management techniques. My own recent focus on Goethe concerns the early Weimar years. While this volume principally deals with the years after Goethe has become established in Weimar, it introduces a slew of people with whom he was associated from 1775 already, and with whom I am trying to gain a closer acquaintance

The aim of the book, as Schwedt mentions in the foreword, is to show how it was possible for Goethe so successfully to organize activities as diverse as administrative tasks and literary work (“so unterschiedliche und vielfältige Geschäfte wie das Verwalten (als Beamter) und Dichten (als freier Schriftsteller) erfolgreich zu organisieren”). Goethe, he asserts, can be taken as a model of our own managerial era. The first chapter, concerning Goethe before his arrival in Weimar, documents how his literary career (Sturm und Drang) and his legal work already established a “network.”

Here are the titles of the remaining chapters.

2. Der verbeamtete Manager
3. Der Zeitmanager
4. Der verbeamtete Entrepreneur: Veranstalter, Unternehmer, Agent und Förderer
5. Der Personal-Manager und Networker
6. Der private Geschäftsmann

There is a table of Goethe’s official activities and a short bibliography.

A lot of the material in this book has been treated in greater detail in various entries in the Goethe-Handbuch. For instance, Schwedt draws heavily on the entry of Siegfried Scheibe and Dorothea Kuhn on Goethe’s “Arbeitswese.” Nevertheless, it is great to have such scholarly articles condensed, as it were, plus there is lots of personal detail that gives a glimpse of Goethe or others in his environment. I mentioned in my last post the social emptiness of Weimar on Goethe’s arrival. In this connection, Nicholas Boyle in his Goethe bio goes on to write of Weimar in 1776: "There was no body of learned, or even systematically educated, men and women, no thinking and writing and artistically active milieu, such as a great city can provide, to support, stimulate, and give variety to their efforts." Schwedt shows us the contributions Goethe made to remedy the situation. In 1791,  for instance, he established the Freitagsgesellschaft (the Friday Society), which Schwedt calls a “think tank.”

At these monthly meetings, different individuals — scholars as well as members of the court and other intellectually interested people from Weimar and the neighboring towns — would present work on literary, historical, or scientific subjects. At the first meeting, according to Goethe’s minutes, Mining Director (Bergrat) Bucholz carried out a chemical experiment; Christian Gottlob Voigt read an essay concerning the newest discoveries on the west coast of North America; and Goethe read an introduction to his theory of light and color. The final contribution on that afternoon was from Major von Knebel: “Warum sich Minerva wohl eine Eule zugestellt habe?”

That last, by Knebel, is the one I would like to have heard.

By the way, Georg Schwedt is himself an analytical chemist by profession, with numerous scholarly publications to his credit, and apparently quite a time manager himself, to judge by the books on Goethe he has produced. Besides Goethe als Chemiker, these include a "Reiselexikon" of one hundred places associated with Goethe: Goethe: Museen, Orte, Reiserouten, a book that I have in my possession.  It was published in 1996 and thus, besides Germany, Switzerland, and France (Alsace), he was able to include places in the Czech Republic.

Picture credit: Das Lecturio Magazine

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Goethe in July 1777

The "Goethe Room" at Schloss Kochberg
In July 1777 a month after receiving the news of Cornelia’s death, Goethe made a number of escapes from Weimar, some lasting only a day or two, including to Kochberg, estate of the von Stein family (who at the time were not in residence, but at a spa). As Nicholas Boyle writes, Goethe’s response that summer to his bereavement was “an almost manic wildness.” Sometimes he traveled alone, at times with members of the court.

On July 4, Goethe went to Dornburg with the Duke and Duchess Luise and Karl Theodor von Dalberg, where they sketched and, not having made overnight reservations, they ended up sleeping on straw palliates in unfurnished rooms of one of the small castles. Goethes diary entry: Nachts auf der Streue mit d. Herzog, Prinzen, Dalberg u 2 Einsiedels. The next morning they set off fireworks (Canonen gelöst), then returning to Weimar and arriving at midday. Goethe turned around and went to Kochberg (um 5 nach Kochberg geritten). He was back in Weimar on the 7th (In dunckler Unruhe früh). On the 8th he was in Tiefurt, joining the Duke and Prince Constantin where, as Boyle writes, they stayed up “half the night” and spent the following morning as well “talking, drinking, drawing silhouettes, and reading from his manuscript of Wilhelm Meister.” On the 11th he actually walked to Kochberg (Nachmitt. halb 5 zu Fus nach Kochberg kam halb 10 an). What oh what was going on in Goethe's head during those hours? The next day, July 12, was spent drawing.

Goethe seems to have been something like a member of the Stein family, spending a lot of time with Stein children, as on the visit he made on foot. He wrote to Charlotte concerning the July 12 visit (as always, go to Google Translate if necessary):

Mir ist's diese Woche in der Stadt wieder sehr wunderlich gegangen, ich habe mich gestern heraus geflüchtet, bin um half sechs zu Fuß von Weimar abmarschiert und war halbzehn hier, da alles schon verschlossen war und sich zum Bett gehn bereitete. Da ich rief, ward ich von der alten Dorothee zuerst erkannt und mit großem Geschrei von ihr und der Köchin bewillkommt. Kästner kam auch mit seinem Pfeifgen herab, und Karl, der den ganzen Tag behauptet hatte, ich würde kommen; Ernst, der schon im Hemde stand, zog sich wieder an, Fritz lag schon im Schlafe. Ich trank noch viel Selzerwasser, wir erzählten einander unsre Wochenfata, die Zeichnungen wurden produziert ...

The rest of his diary for July 1777 records frequent excursions to Kochberg, Tiefurt, and Ettersburg.

Boyle writes interestingly about the “ineluctable social facts” of Weimar at this time: “not much happened there, apart from the administration of the duchy.” The theater was one escape, a “transient” one into “aesthetic illusion, ... but Goethe was realist enough to know that inches behind the backcloth stood a blank wall.”

The lovely illustration at the top of this post is among a number of drawings of Kochberg by Editha Drawert (1887-1947) that can be found on the Goethezeitportal. According to the caption there, at the left is Charlotte's "old desk," which Goethe used when in Kochberg; the one of the right is the "new" one, a present to him from Charlotte.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Goethe in Fiction

I have posted occasionally on the results of my habit of looking for Goethe's name in the index of books I read, whatever the subject. He shows up everywhere. Just a couple of posts ago,  I introduced  the above subject, which I suspect is a promisingly large one.

There must be some kind of "law" to the effect that once you notice something, it will appear all over the place. Sure enough, this morning, while reading Willa Cather's The Professor's House, I came across a scene in which Goethe himself is the subject.

The protagonist of the novel, Godfrey St. Peter, a professor at a Midwestern collge, is in Chicago to give a lecture on his historical work. His son-in-law gives him and his wife tickets for a performance of Mignon at the city's opera house. St. Peter mentions that, when a student in Paris, he had a subscription to the Opéra Comique, where he occasionally saw Mignon. Cather is a wonderful writer, so allow me to introduce her description of the effect of the overture:

The music seemed extraordinarily fresh and genuine still. It might grow old-fashioned, he told himself, but never old, surely, while there was any youth left in men.

On the entrance of the hero, i.e., Wilhelm Meister, St. Peter's wife leans toward him and whispers:

"Am I over-credulous? He looks to me exactly like the pictures of Goethe in his youth."

To which her husband responds:

"So he does to me. He is certainly as tall as Goethe. I didn't know tenors were ever so tall. The Mignon seems young, too."

She was slender, at any rate, and very fragile beside the courtly Wilhelm.

What a lovely evocation of an era in America -- the novel appeared in 1925 -- when people actually had thoughts about what Goethe looked like.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Cornelia Goethe

On this date in 1777 Goethe received news of the death of his sister Cornelia the previous week, on June 8, four weeks after the death of her second child. His diary entry concerning the news is brief, with "zurück" referring to his return to Weimar from Kochberg, the von Stein estate:

früh zurück. Brief des Todts m. Schwester. Dunckler zerrissener Tag.

One assumes that he related the news to the duke, but the only document concerning his immediate reaction, a letter to Charlotte von Stein on the same day, is terse:

Um achte war ich in meinem Garten fand alles gut und wohl und ging mit mir selbst, mit unter lesend auf und ab. Um neune kriegt ich Brief dass meine Schwester todt sey. -- Ich kann nun weiter nichts sagen.

Every study I have seen of Goethe's sister stresses the close relationship between Cornelia and Wolfgang, who was one year older. (There had been another brother who survived early childhood, but only to the age of seven.) They were both educated at home, having many of the same lessons and teachers. His letters to her from Leipzig, where he enrolled as a student at the age of sixteen, reflect the bookish atmosphere in which they were raised. These letters display the pedagogical bent that was lifelong. As the elder sibling, he is always instructing her, especially on how to write a proper letter. This instruction itself reflects what he was learning at the time, as he attended the classes of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, who besides being one of the most popular German writers of the 18th century, penned a letter-writing style manual: Briefe, nebst einer praktischen Abhandlung von dem guten Geschmacke in Briefen (Letters, together with a practical treatise on good taste in letters, 1751). Letter-writing was an absorbing interest in the 18th century, as can be seen in the epistolary novels of Richardson and Rousseau. Germans learned from these writers, and carried on the tradition, with Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther being one of the most exemplary.

Goethe himself, however, rarely displayed such an outpouring of personal emotion in his letters. We know of the effect on him of grief, in the case of Cornelia's death, by what he did not put into words. A further diary entry, the next day, is very succinct: "Leiden und Träumen." That says it all, but he did write to his mother later in the month, in which he writes of the way that the good fortune he is currently enjoying in Weimar makes Cornelia's death more painful. And then a very interesting observation concerning the difference between recovery from physical pain and from grief:

Ich kan nur menschlich fühlen, und lasse mich der Natur die uns heftigen Schmerz nur kurze Zeit, trauer lang empfinden lässt.

A longer letter to his mother in November contains a beautiful, image-rich passage describing his relationship to his sister (and below it my paltry translation):

Mir ists als wenn in der Herbstzeit ein Baum gepflanzt würde, Gott gebe seinen Seegen dazu, dass wir dereinst drunter sizzen Schatten und Früchte haben mögen. Mit meiner Schwester ist mir so eine starcke Wurzel die mich an der Erde hielt abgehauen worden dass die Äste, von oben, die davon Nahrung hatten auch absterben mussen.

(It seems to me as if in autumn a tree had been planted, to which God gave his blessing so that we might one day sit in its shadows and have fruit from it. With my sister, it is as if a strong root that held me to the earth has been torn up, so that the branches above above that had their nourishment from it also had to die.)

Photo credit: Rain Forest Alliance

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Goethe in Fiction

I have a feeling that there is a large topic on the subject of the title of this post. Suffice it for today simply to post here a passage in English translation from Ingrid Noll's 1993 novel Der Hahn ist tot (English: Hell Hath No Fury). The reason for the different typeface below is that I have copied the passage from a great blog called Clothes in Books. Please go to that link for observations on the passage by Moira Richmond, the host of Clothes in Books.

I had a bath, washed my hair and blow-dried it. Witold wouldn’t be coming in the morning, since he had to be in school. But as to whether he would arrive immediately after lunch or not until later, I could only guess. From two in the afternoon, I was waiting, in my silken pyjamas; I put away my tea-cup, fetched it out again, cleaned my teeth once more. By six I was extremely edgy....

At last, at eight, he arrived…

‘Come on,’ he said, ‘don’t hang around in the kitchen, lie down on the sofa. I’ll stay with you for a few minutes.’

In my silk nightwear, I tried to assume as decorative a pose as possible, a bit like Tischbein’s painting of Goethe in the Campagna.

‘I looked awful yesterday, you must have been disgusted by the sight of me,’ I murmured.

‘Don’t worry yourself, that’s how everybody looks when they’re in a bad way.’ Witold really did seem to pay precious little attention to my appearance.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Goethe and Trade: Correction

Global Trade Map
I posted on the above subject earlier, but must now make a correction to what I wrote in that post about Goethe and trade. Having finished reading Book 3 this morning (June 24) of the "Urmeister," i.e., Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung, I decided today to turn to the first Meister novel that Goethe published, the Lehrjahre (Apprentice Years). And there, in chapter 10 of Book 1, I find Werner's threnody concerning trade and commerce. Mea culpa. It would have been so great to have discovered something that no one else had noticed, but it was not to be.

In any case, here follows the earlier post with my error regarding the omission in the Apprentice novel. What still stands, of course, is what I wrote concerning Goethe's understanding of trade and commerce when he dictated the Urmeister.


My summer reading includes Goethe's earliest version of the Wilhelm Meister saga, which I am beginning to think can be characterized as a roman fleuve, in the sense that Roger Shattuck discusses that term in connection with Proust's seven-volume novel. This early version, entitled by scholars Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung, was dictated by Goethe in the early 1780s, but the manuscript was not discovered until 1909, after which it appeared in published form. Whether Proust knew of this early version, he was familiar with Elective Affinities and the Wilhelm Meister novels. (The collection Marcel Proust on Art and Literature, translated by Sylvia Townsend Warner, contains an essay by Proust on Goethe.)

The topic of trade occurs in the 8th chapter of part 2 of the Theatralische Sendung, during a discussion between Wilhelm and his brother-in-law Werner. I think we are supposed to assume that Werner is a prosaic sort, attuned only to the family business, but, Wilhelm having suffered a nervous breakdown over the love affair portrayed in part 1, Werner has been attempting to build him up again. In the preceding chapters, he has spent many an hour listening to Wilhelm discoursing on the theater and on his writing efforts.

In a similar spirit of enthusiasm and in an attempt to draw Wilhelm's thoughts in a new direction, Werner portrays to him the charms of trade and commerce. It is astonishingly clear sighted concerning the effects of capitalism and imperialism. This discussion is not included in the eventual canonical Wilhelm Meister saga. For those interested but whose German may not be up to it, I recommend pasting the following into Google Translate.

Wirf einen Blick auf alle natürliche und künstliche Produkte aller Welteile, siehe wie sie wechselweise zur Notdurft geworden sind; welch eine angenehme geistreiche Sorgfalt ist es, was in dem Augenblick bald am meisten gesucht wird, bald felt, bald schwer zu haben ist, jedem der es verlangt, leicht und schnell zu schaffen, sich vorsichting in Vorrat zu setzen und den Vorteil jedes Augenblickes dieser großen Zirkulation zu genießen. ...

Es haben die Großen dieser Welt sich der Erde bemächtiget und leben in Herrlichkeit und Überfluß von ihren Früchten. Das kleinste Fleck ist schon erobert und eingenommen, alle Besitztümer befestiget, jeder Stand wird vor das, was ihm zu tun obliegt, kaum und zur Note bezahlt, daß er sein Leben hinbringen kann; wo gibt es nun noch einen rechtmäßigern Erwerb, eine billigere Eroberung als den Handel?

There is much more of Werner's comments in this chapter, but the above is a small taste.
I have often thought that Goethe's ideas on world literature, dating from the 1820s, were grounded in a recognition of the global spread of trade and commerce -- in fact, I have published an essay on this subject and also written about it on this blog, including this post and also here -- but I was thrilled to come across his early portrayal of the subject.

Image credit: Financial Channel