Sunday, February 28, 2016

Leaving Aruba

Unlike my summer sojourns in British Columbia, this month in Aruba has not led to many posts. I have been working on a book, but it is not specifically about Goethe. And since this blog is mostly restricted to Goethe and to 18th-century related postings, there have been few posts. Lots of thoughts on world literature, as international tourism seems to be of relevance but I have been too occupied with my book to gather my thoughts into anything coherent.

I am returning to New York tomorrow, so this seems like a good time to post some pictures. (Click on photo to enlarge.) So here goes.

Carnival in Aruba

Do I look like I know what I am doing?

Goethe Girl's paddleboarding pals

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Goethe at Ilmenau

Jan Luyken, Gold and Silver Mining in Hungary (1682)
This posting is also a bit of an odd and end. My friend Barbara flew down to join me for a few days in Aruba. She is a picture researcher and has recently been set loose studying the collection of the Rijksmuseum, which is making all of its images (in time, anyway) available to the public. Yesterday she drew my attention to the above image, which shows a silver and gold mine in Hungary in the 17th century.

Alto Vista Chapel, Aruba
Today also marks the day in 1784, when work at the Ilmenau mine was officially inaugurated, a ceremony at which Goethe addressed the dignitaries and workers. (See my earlier post on this subject.)

We went out to view the Alto Vista chapel, first built in 1750. It is located on Aruba's rugged north coast.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Goethe odds and ends

Thoas, Iphigenie, and Orestes
For a couple of nice posts on Goetheana, go to the German site übergoethe. One is a short video of a visit to "the Roman house" in Weimar, which looks like nothing so much as a deserted home. Very spectral.

Scrolling further down is a link to a playmobile animation of Iphigenie auf Tauris in 9.5 minutes. Very cute. It is part of a publishing project by Reclam called "Sommers Weltliteratur To Go." Michael Sommers is the impresario.

And in between is a review of Rüdiger Safranski's Goethe: Kunstwerk des Lebens. I have also reviewed this book, to appear in the next volume of Goethe Yearbook, along with a review of two very good volumes presenting Goethe as a correspondent: Albrecht Schöne's Der Briefschreiber Goethe and Lotte meine Lotte: Die Briefe von Goethe an Charlotte von Stein, 1776–1786.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Goethe's Venetian Epigrams

Protestant cemetery in Aruba
 This is a subject I have posted on several times (e.g., here and here), and now my thoughts have again been drawn back to Goethe in Venice. I brought with me on this trip to Aruba a folder of Goethe articles that I had not previously had time to consider, one of which was Gustav Seibt's review in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of Dan Wilson's Goethes Erotica und die Weimarer "Zensoren," which appeared in 2015. (Gustav Seibt is always worth reading in connection with Goethe.

Tomb of Segundo Jorge "Boy" Ecury

This post is in the way of acknowledging the continuing contributions Dan Wilson makes to Goethe studies, especially in less traveled areas (homosexuality, censorship), and which demonstrate his immersion in archival work, an example for all of us. My earlier posts have mentioned the early "editorial" mangling of the epigrams, because of their explicit sexual content and the criticism of the rulers of Venice. Drawing on unpublished archival material, Wilson has documented the meddling that occurred before the first "official" publication of the epigrams in volume 53 of the Weimar edition of Goethe's works in 1915.

Ecury family memorial
As Seibt writes: "Etliche der Epigramm-Handschriften waren mit Radiergummi, Messer und Schere behandelt worden, ganze Texte abgeschabt, einzelne Versgruppen herausgeschnippelt worden." Grand duchess Sophie was among those suspected of this "Textmassaker." Having inherited Goethe's manuscripts, she was the first who would have gone through them. Wilson has shown that the matter is not so straightforward. He tells what Seibt calls "eine windungsreiche, teilweise irrsinnige Geschichte, die bei Schillers und Herzog Carl Augusts Bedenken beginnt." (Seibt says that Wilson's use of "censorship" here is "nicht ganz glücklich.") The negotiations concerning the manuscripts also involved Eckermann, Riemer, and Kanzler Müller, as well as the fate of a case of "brisanten Manuskripte" that turned up in Müller's attic. Finally there was "die peinlich gequälte Arbeit berühmteste Germanisten und Archivare."

 Grand Duchess Sophie is absolved of having "geschabt und geschnippelt." More likely, if Wilson is correct, it was Goethe's grandson Walter before 1885, and then one of the directors of the archive around 1910, either Carl August Hugo Burkhardt or Bernhard Suphan.  Although, as Seibt writes, this cannot be conclusively proven ("im strengen Sinn"), no one can have come closer to the truth than Wilson. One thing in particular to be regretted: apparently Grand Duchess Sophie destroyed a letter of Goethe to Napoleon.

Note Vatican order on tombstone
Concerning Schiller's reaction to the Roman Elegies, Wilson plausibly demonstrates ("in minutiösen Fassungsvergleichen") that it was not "die Freizügigkeit an sich" that disturbed Schiller, but "Goethes unverblümte Feier sexueller Lust um ihrer selbst willen, auch ohne dauerhafte Beziehung." Other contemporaries were also offended, recognizing behind the "antikizierenden Gewand," the real person of Goethe. At the same time, those capable of discerning judgment realized that the Elegies were "ein überwältigend gelungenes Meisterwerk," with Herder commenting, "Goethe habe 'der Frechheit ein kaiserliches Insiegel aufgedrückt.'"

 One thing that surprised me was Seibt's continual remarking on Wilson's diligence. In conclusion, he writes of "Wilsons akribischer, gelegentlich pedantischer ... zuweilen auch überziehender Untersuchung." Are American scholars outshining German ones?

Goethe Girl goes touring
As mentioned in my previous post, I am in Aruba. The pictures here (click on images to enlarge) are from the Protestant Cemetery in Oranjestad. I was particularly touched by the words on the tombstone of Boy Ecury, whose appears to have come from one of Aruba's leading families. Indeed, the Archaeological Museum here is the former family home of the Ecurys. It seems that Boy was sent to study in Holland in 1937. When the Germans attacked that country he joined the resistance movement and with other resistance fighters sabotaged railway lines, blew up supply trucks, and assisted Allied pilots. He was captured and executed by the Germans in 1944, and his body was returned to Aruba for burial in 1947.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The lawyer Goethe

Goethe Girl in Aruba
 I am in Aruba for the month of February, living in a small cottage discovered through Airbnb, which does not cost a fortune. The weather is uniformly sunny and windy (thus, hardly any mosquitoes). In leaving New York for a while, I can indulge in my desire to read and write — on the back porch is a table and chairs, where I take my morning tea and read —  without many distractions. Hardly anyone emails me now; it is as if, by leaving NYC, I have no existence. Some mornings I go out for stand up paddle boarding. (More pictures to come.)

I brought with me a folder of articles and clippings about Goethe that I had not previously had time to read. One of them is “Goethe as Lawyer and Statesman,” by Arthur Lenhoff  (Washington University Law Review 51, 2 [1951]). In recent years,  since the publication of the “amtliche Schriften,” there has been much scholarship on Goethe the Weimar administrator. Lenhoff’s article was published before the appearance of that edition, and thus he draws on a few older publications (e.g., J. Meisner, Goethe als Jurist, 1885) and on Goethe’s non-administrative writings: e.g., Poetry and Truth, Maxims and Reflections, the "Ephemerides" (the latter showing the large number of law books Goethe read, including those by Anton Schultingh, Christian Thomasisus, Samuel Stryk, and Augustin Leyser). Goethe’s legal career is not an area on which I have concentrated, but, although this is an old article, my understanding of Goethe was broadened, especially his relevance to what is now called the “public intellectual.” First to the law part.

Plaque at birthplace of Goethe's great-great-grandfather

My first surprise concerned the “legacy” of lawyers Goethe inherited, on his mother’s side. For instance, his maternal great-great-grandfather, Johann Wolfgang Textor (1638–1703), was a professor of law in Heidelberg, until the destruction of the town by the armies of Louis XIV in 1689, which led him to relocate to Frankfurt, where we became the corporation counsel of the city. This Textor, according to Lenhoff, was famous for his enormous memory, “a quality which certainly distinguishes men of genius.” He wrote a book on the then international law under the title Synopsis of the Law of Nations, which is actually still in print. His son Christian Heinrich Textor was also a lawyer, likewise the latter's son, Goethe’s grandfather, also named Johann Wolfgang, who graduated in 1715 with a Doctor Juris from the University of Altdorf. He later became the schultheiss in Frankfurt. And his son, the brother of Goethe’s mother, was also a lawyer.

Goethe's father, Johann Kaspar, did not hail from a family of lawyers.  His folks were the inn keepers.

Concerning Goethe’s practice as a lawyer on his return to Frankfurt from Strassburg, Lenhoff notes that of the twenty-eight cases he handled, he never argued a matrimonial or criminal case; the cases concerned business transactions or surrogate work. Lenhoff writes that “his pleadings and briefs were at times lacking in objectivity and [were] insulting in tone.” For those of us familiar with Goethe’s pre-Weimar days, the passion of these writings are characteristic of the subjectivity of Sturm and Drang writers. The aggressiveness of Goethe’s writing, however, is part and parcel of a lawyer who is serious about defending his clients. Lenhoff quotes from Sprüche in Prosa: Goethe wrote that, for both mathematics and eloquence, “form is the essential thing; the content is a matter of indifference. Whether mathematics computes pennies or guineas, whether eloquence defends what is right or what is wrong, is unessential.” Consider some of the more provocative and contentious legal cases of our day (e.g., O.J. Simpson), and see that Goethe is, for better or worse, part of this fraternity.

Aruban lizard

Lenhoff discusses some of the legal problems that engaged Goethe throughout his life. One of these was the legal relation between state and religion. The Reformation introduced “confessions,” as well as the role of the state in adjudicating these. The state chose the country's religion; not the citizens. Although Goethe would abandon the idea of a civic religion (as per Rousseau), he continued to wrestle with the connection between education and religion in producing good citizens. Lenhoff draws here on Wilhelm Meister’s Travels, which he considers “one of the great repositories of Goethe’s socio-political ideas, particularly in the parts called ‘Lenardo’s Diary.’” Goethe's enormous experience in public administration can be seen in the passages about cotton manufacture and the textile industry and the competition faced by artisans from mechanization. In that novel, the solution was for workers to emigrate, but, as we know, that was only a temporary solution; today it is the jobs that emigrate.

Another area was criminal law, which, ultimately, is about who has the right to punish. For Goethe, the state was the only entity that was the legitimate source of violence. Thus, even in his 1771 dissertation in Strassburg, he wrote that “Capital punishment should not be abolished.” Later, in the Maxims and Reflections, he remarked:

“If one could abolish death, we certainly would not object to it; but it will be difficult to abolish death sentences. If society renounces its power of execution, people will immediately take the law in their own hands, blood revenge (vendetta) will rap at the door.”

“The emergence of written law” and the problems of its interpretation are a third area. Goethe wrote (quoted by Meissner) that “Statutes should be formulated so as to be terse in words and rich in reason.” Even in The Sorrows of Young Werther, one sees a dislike for hairsplitting; or, as Faust says to Wagner: “Und wenn’s Euch Ernst ist was zu sagen,/ Ist's notig, Worten nachzujagen?”

Lenhoff attributes to Goethe an understanding of the “enormous significance of historical evolution in the realm of legal science.” Which is not surprising in “the man who apprehended by intuition the laws of heredity and evolution in the realm of the physical world.” Lenhoff goes so far as to to say that Goethe was a predecessor of the “historical school of jurisprudence,” which conceives of law as a historical product. Thus, society must “infer the necessity for [law’s] alteration and change along with the changing needs of the ages.” The later formulation of this concept can be see in the work of Frederick Karl von Savigny, who “draws heavily on Goethe" in his System of Modern Roman Law (1840), even quoting verses from Faust (“Es erben sich Gesetz und Rechte, / Wie eine ew’ge Krankeit fort”) to illustrate  the “deadening effect inherent in the cult of precedent … or the principle of stare decisis.”

And now to the second observation I take from this article. Even in his own lifetime, Goethe was criticized for his "politics," especially in the years after the "restoration." There are two things to note about this criticism. First, his critics clearly believed that poets were “legislators” (as per Shelley in “A Defense of Poetry”). If the role of criticism from the Renaissance to the 18th century was to shape standards of literary taste, since the 19th century it has become very encompassing.

America's "foremost public intellectual"?
I am reminded of the full-page ads in The New York Times and other newspapers in support or opposition to some public issue, with the signers listed by their academic department, as if professors, even one of English or chemistry, had more standing than an ordinary citizen on the issue. Or how about movie stars appearing before Congress to testify?

Second, unlike most “public intellectuals” today or in the past two centuries, Goethe actually had played role in political and legal administration, and it may have been that experience that made him hesitant about formulating a  “political philosophy,” unlike contemporary opinion makers.

Lenhoff mentions that Goethe, like his great-great-grandfather, was a proponent of “positive law” and thus rejected “the natural law movement.” (In his Synopsis, the latter also gave a summary of arguments pro and con on why natural law does not condemn polygamy.) This rejection was the influence of the writings of Justus Möser, whose book Patriotic Fantasies convinced Goethe that, although a constitution may rely on the past, it cannot be an obstacle for “movements and changes in things that cannot be hindered.”  Goethe also “loved the idea of building up a free, self-governing body politic from below,” no doubt the influence of Möser’s “fantasies” about small social units, linked by unselfish devotion, forming the basis for a good society. America in the 1820s, when Wilhelm Meister's Travels appeared, seemed a possible location for such a community. In the real world, his “government experience” probably restrained Goethe from writing an explicit political treatise. His vision of "good government" was embodied in his literary works.

Picture credit: Diomedia; The Atlantic