Monday, November 30, 2020

Goethe's Harz Journey


On Nov. 28, 1777, Goethe wrote in his diary: "besorgt ich noch aller ley." What is being referred to are his preparations for a long trip, which began the next day, Nov. 29, and which would continue until December 15. He was traveling by horse, and stopped in such places as Greußen, Ilfeld, Elbingerode, Baumannshöhle, Wernigerode, Goslar, Clasthal, Altenau, and Eisenach. (Some of these are so small that they are not captured on images of the Harz mountains.) The high point of this journey would be his Brocken expedition, leading him, in the middle of winter, to ascend on Dec. 10 the high peak of the Brocken, of which it was said that no one climbed it in winter. On Dec. 12 he noted in his diary that he was working on the poem that would become known as "Harzreise im Winter."

Because the diary entry for November 29 is so long, I will not post it on the Goethe Twitter feed, but instead will break up here the contents of that day, which was quite a journey itself. First the setting off during a hailstorm (Schlossen), but feeling peaceful:

Früh gegen sieben ab übern Ettersberg in scharfen Schlossen 20 Min. auf 1 in Weissensee. stürmisch gebrochen Wetter, reine Ruh in der Seele, Sonnenblicke mit unter Abends nach 4 in Greusen.

In Greusen he decided to stop. The commentary to Goethe's diary makes it sound as if Goethe hears an anecdote from a teamster (Fuhrmann) he met there about a preacher (Seelsorger) who (apparently) sent a load to 3 blacksmiths who didn't wish to shoe it because it was too big. (This is a total guess: please correct me who knows what it is meant here. The diary commentary volume is not very revealing):

Musste schon Halt machen es brach die Nacht ein. NB. Wie der Furhmann erzählt von seinem Seelsorger wie der ein Maas zu 3 Schmieden schikt dies nicht beschlagen wollends so gros ist. Aber er wills so haben.

In any case, the anecdote ends with a Biblical reference (Deut. 25, 14: Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small):

Wenn wird der zehende aufhören und ein Epha -- ich weiss wohl was steht.

The diary for December 1 is even longer. It describes a very arduous journey:

Sonnt. früh nach sechsen von Greusen mit einem Boten ab. War scharf gefroren und die Sonne ging mit herrlichsten Farben an. Ich sah den Ettersberg, den Inselsberg, die Berge des Thüringer Waldes hinter mir. dann in Wald und im heraustreten, Sondershausen das sehr angenehm liegt. Die Spizze des Brockens einen Augenblick, hinter Sondershausen weg auf Sundhausen Schöne Aussicht die goldne Aue vom Kyffhauser bis Northhausen herauf.Mit einigen Invaliden die ihre Pension in Ilefeld hohlten. Fütterte in Sundhausen. Dann bey Northhausen weg. es hatte schon gegen Mittag zu regnen angefangen. Die Nacht kam leise und traruig. Auf Sachswerben, wo ich einen Boten mit einer Laterne nehmen musste, um durch die tiefe Finsterniss hierher Ilefeld zu kommen. Fand keine Stube leer. Sizze im Kämmergen neben der Wirthsstube. War den ganzen Tag in gleicher Reinheit.

I have posted this early portion of the diary and will continue with further stops on the route on the Twitter feed, after which I plan to post on the interpretation of Goethe's Harz poem and my own thoughts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

What Wilhelm Meister Might Have Seen on His Travels

Matsumura Goshun, Woodcutters (detail), ca. 1790

The two images here are details of paintings I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the other day. The title of this post is thus misleading, as the details are from Japanese works. Yet, similarly laboring people would have been encountered by a wanderer in German lands in the 18th century: men carrying loads of straw or wood or a basketweaver. Both Anton Reiser and Jung-Stillings Lebensgeschichte describe encounters with such figures. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Matssumura Keibun, A Garden of Pictures (1814)

The Wanderjahre is of course less of a realistic work than those two novels, but such comparisons are helpful as they show the difference in Goethe's preoccupations. Goethe is always intent on describing the flowers and the foliage, and the Japanese illustrator also does that in the charming woodblock below, combining both the labor and the cherry blossoms.

Matssumura Keibun, A Garden of Pictures (1814)


Images: MMA 2015.300.2061; 2013.873

Monday, November 16, 2020

Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre

Julius von Leypold, Wanderer in the Storm

My earliest work on Goethe concern the poetic production of the young, pre-Weimar Goethe. My dissertation dealt with the subject of how Goethe, like most writers of his generation, steeped in the classics and in French literature, transformed the early literary influences, especially the traditional genre of the idyll, into something new. In other words, it was about "how Goethe became Goethe" or the Goethe we know today. In recent years, I investigated his concept of world literature and published an essay on the subject, focusing on Fritz Strich's groundbreaking writings on world literature. Now I am back to the early Goethe, in this case Goethe of the early Weimar years. I have been Tweeting his diary entries for 1777. In fact, just a little over a week ago, November 7, marked Goethe's second anniversary in Weimar.

The diary entry for yesterday's date, November 14, was very long, and I Tweeted only the part that mentioned his activities for the day: a meeting of the Council, lunch with the duke, Charlotte von Stein's new apartment. But there is in the diary a long appendix to that day, which is as follows. (Again, if necessary, cut and paste into Google Translate.)

Heiliges Schicksaal du hast mir mein Haus gebaut und ausstaffirt über mein Bitten, ich war vergnügt in meiner Armuth unter meinem halbfaulen Dache ich bat dich mirs zu lassen, aber du has mir Dach und Beschräncktheit vom Haupte gezogen wie eine Nachtmütze. Las mich nun auch frisch und zusammengenommen der Reinheit geniessen. Amen. Ja und Amen winkt der erste Sonnenblick d. 14 Nov.

Acht in der Haushaltung keinen Ritz zu eng, eine Maus geht durch.

One can hear Biblical echoes here; Goethe was well steeped in the Bible. I like the homeliness of the sentiments, especially the part about the night cap. Many of the diary entries of past months have concerned household tasks, and this seems to mark progress in settling in.  Domesticity meant a lot to Goethe, his comfort in any case, and that it was succeeding so well no doubt contributed to his satisfaction with his new life there, even if at times there was dissatisfaction, which is also often expressed in the diary entries, usually in connection with his relationship with Charlotte von Stein.

Yesterday I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and came across the painting that is pictured at the top of this post. Its title is Wanderer in the Storm. The painting is dated 1835, a few years after Goethe's death, and the painter was Julius von Leypold. I couldn't help thinking of Goethe in his early years in Weimar when I saw Leypold's painting. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Wandering forms the backdrop to a number of 18th-century German novels. This summer, in connection with my interest in exploring Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung, I have also read Anton Reiser by Karl Philipp Moritz, and Lebensgeschichte by Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling. The protagonists of these novels wandered all over the place! Anton Reiser wore the soles of his shoes out walking from Hanover to Erfurt. Jung-Stilling walked back and forth from his village to one village after another in search of employment. Goethe's protagonist, Wilhelm Meister, was not quite wandering or walking. He moved about on horseback, and wherever he went there was a meal waiting for him, usually at an inn, where he met with a true vagabonds, peripatetic actors.

After reading the Ur-Meister, I decided I had to re-read the Lehrjahre. The wandering part is not so extensive in this work, and Wilhelm spends most of his time in one place or another working on his theatrical practice. The Wanderjahre, which I never thought I would re-read in this lifetime -- but I am now doing so -- is truly about Wilhelm's wanderings, and he does so on foot for the most part. The book opens with a scene of Wilhelm and his son Felix climbing a mountain path. Indeed, because of his oath to the Tower Society, he can no longer stay in one place for more than three days, so he is always on the go. The restriction is done away with by the end of Book 2, as he seems to have settled on a profession, which will probably keep him in one place. (Only one more book to go!)

Because of the lack of realism in the Wanderjahre (the final version of which appeared in 1829), one does not have the sense of the difficulties and various trials of true wandering. Wilhelm covers a large area, including Germany, Italy, and the so-called Pedagogical Province, the last a pretty big place. The in-between stages are omitted, and Wilhelm, as if on a magic carpet, simply arrives. So, the painting above does not really give an indication of Wilhelm's wanderings, although it does suggest how much the theme resonated in Germany, especially for the Romantic poets.

Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art;

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Museum visit

My friend Barb and I made a trip to the Metropolitan Museum today. She is photo researcher and a colorist of historical photos and an all-around expert at computer imaging. Herewith a cool photo manipulation of us in the Cypriot galleries of the museum.