LESSING Makes Himself At Home

(The following is a continuation of this post.)

We left our hero when he came to Wolfenbuettel (Ger., Eng.). The year is 1770.
The first part of the 1760s LESSING had worked as secretary of the already mentioned Prussian general von TAUENTZIEN. In 1765 he went back to Berlin, back to the existence as free lance writer, critic, man of the theater. In 1767 he goes to Hamburg, with high hopes, to work on the newly founded Nationaltheater (Ger., Eng.). And because he learned a little from his earlier adventures, LESSING becomes partner in a printing house, what is meant as economical basis for his literary work. This also allows him to publish his own writings and a journal. He is back in the saddle, so to speak, after his military detour. The work at the theater leads to his “Hamburgische Dramaturgie” (Ger., Eng., here you go), other publications follow. LESSING arrives in the Hamburgian society, meets people there – he does not inhabit the proverbial ivory tower. Among people he got acquainted with is the family of the merchant KÖNIG.
In 1769 the party is over, LESSING is more or less banquerotte.
He accepts the position as librarian in Wolfenbuettel. I think he is interested in the library itself, but the need for a steady income is also a non deniable factor. His departure from Hamburg gets delayed several times, in the end he has to sell his private library (!) – achGOtt, who can imagine & appreciate what this means to a man whose existence is based on the written word ?
On the other hand is the Herzog-August-Bibliothek waiting, the HAB (Ger., Eng.). But let’s face it : Wolfenbuettel was in the 18th century a tiny town in the Northern marshlands where the proverbial dog is buried. The geographical situation did not change (and the dog was not exhumed), it was the same after WWII, just with the addition of the inner-German border ; and when the famous librarian RAABE (Ger.) came here (in the 1960s) he described (at least in my memory) the fog first. And the wetness. The darkness and the cold. It was not cold and wet when LESSING was presented as librarian there in May 1770 ; but in one of the next winters they could not work, because the ink had frozen in the bottles.
The building itself could kindly be described as a multi-purpose-hall. But one can concisely call it the Marstall (Ger., Eng.), the horse stables, with some galleries for book storing. The famous Rotunde was the arena where horses were trained and moved. Simple creature comfort for librarians was not in the specification book, or at least not high up : Heating, anyone ?
LESSING found himself billeted in the old castle (Ger., Eng.) – the court had moved to Braunschweig, the house was empty since 1753 – and there he lived alone in some rooms for the next seven years.
He found a vast book repository, some old servants, and a secretarius called Karl Johann Anton von CICHIN (1723-1795), he will survive LESSING. I found no biographical information about von CICHIN, but according to all I read about the man, and according to the notes CICHIN left (cited by LESSINGS biographer HILDEBRANDT), he was a very unpleasant character. A Dominican monk, what alone is enough to prod my curiosity – how comes a canis DOmini  to the Protestant court of Braunschweig, and how does he stay there ?
The older idea about LESSING as librarian was not very nice, some even thought that he did more harm than good in this position. But I think nowadays the common persuasion is that LESSING immersed himself into the task, he did draw a plan for cataloguing, but the realisation of this project was torpedoed by CICHIN.
Even in the biographical entry for LESSINGs successor, the first real librarian of the HAB, Ernst Theodor LANGER (1743-1820), the “Unbrauchbarkeit des Bibliotheksecretärs v. Cichin” (the uselessness of secretary v. CICHIN) is mentioned.
But LESSING makes the best from his situation. He works himself into the library and its treasure of manuscripts. The first fruit is his publication about “Berengar Turonensis”. He writes for the theatre, his “Emilia Galotti” comes out and goes over the ramp in 1772. He starts – or better : gets dragged into – his worst public polemic fight with the Hamburgian Pastor GOEZE (Ger., Eng.), about the Fragmente eines Ungenannten, “Fragments of an Unknown’s Text” (Ger.). These “fragments” are not “found in the library”, as LESSING states, in fact he smuggled the manuscript in. It was written by REIMARUS (Ger, Eng.), and can be understood to be one of the most important texts of the age of enlightenment (think : Deism) –  the public fight was pretty ugly, nevertheless.
But the important things are happening outside the Gelehrtenrepublik.
LESSING, past forty in 1770, gets engaged to Eva KÖNIG (Ger., Eng.), the widow of the mentioned Hamburgian merchant, who had died on a business trip in Venezia. They engage in 1771, but it will take some time until they tie the knot, on the 8th of October 1776.
And things get better !
The court decides to ramp up his income. And : They even pay it !
An adequate housing is taken care for : What today is known as Lessinghaus (Ger., Eng.) is cleared, cleaned and modernised for the bibliothecarius and his wife. He gets his own entrance to the HAB.
In the new house they live, here she gives birth to their first son, Traugott, on the 25th of December 1777.
Here the son dies right after birth.
Here Eva dies on the 10th of January 1778.
Here he writes in a letter : “My wife is dead ; now I too had this experience. I am glad that no such experiences are left for me to make ; I am feeling light.”

His fight with GOEZE heats up over the following months, but I insist that it is GOEZE who takes the argument ad hominem & leaves the factual level, who starts real nastiness. In the course of events LESSINGs exemption from censorship is revoked by the court, he can not publish freely any more.
In this situation he writes his “Nathan” (Ger., Eng.), the avowal, the affirmation to tolerance, not only religious tolerance, but tolerance as a value in general. Published in April 1779 it was first not successful with the audience – too intellectual, too much reflexion. Only IFFLANDs and GOETHEs stagings after 1802 made it a success.
After that he declines. Still writing & publishing, visitors to the library, but his vigor … the end comes in the form of some strokes (“Steckfluss” they call it) at his secondary home in Braunschweig, in the house of the merchant ANGOTT – you can not criticise this man for having a bolthole at a wine merchant’s !
Present are his step-daughter Amalia KÖNIG, he dies in the arms of a young Jewish man called DAVESON, determined, serene, voll Besinnung bis in den letzten Augenblick.
What a life. What payne, what struggle – the struggle to be one self, to define oneself, to think independently – to be free.


LESSING Enters the Building

If one visited a German school for some years, and had to study the school subject “Deutsch” / “German”, chances are very good that one encountered Mr LESSING (1729-1781) (Ger., Eng.). A classic *. It is possible that our imaginary student read Sara Sampson (Ger., Eng.) (1755), and it is possible that he remembers the “Ring-Parabel” from LESSINGs Nathan (Ger., Eng.) (1779).
What would be a good thing, and I’d call it a success.
But what does it mean to be “a classic” ?
It is a label pinned onto some people, artists, writers, public intellectuals avant la lettre, right after they have lived their lives. Later generations of scholars reach a consensus, and finally agree that this one or that one embodies something that goes further than his own reach, something that is significant for an epoch, or a generation. Being labeled “a classic” afterwards, post festum, when already dead, and hence unable to discuss the reasons for this label, seems to be a little unfair. Flattering of course. Why do I talk about this here, when I want to tell about Mr LESSING ? Would he strongly reject to be called “a classic” ? Would he love it ?
I do not know. I have no deep enough knowledge about the man to make a serious suggestion, but I think one thing is for sure : He would not “just accept” it and smile. LESSING was not afraid of a public argument, in fact he was a flamboyant polemicist – and he was always – always – “marching to his own drum” **. This meant that he was not saving people he called friends from his public critique, even when this led to, well, unfriendly feelings. I think in the end, verity was the most powerful and true value for him, and of course the ability to think for oneself. And this makes him a classic of the age of enlightenment. And he formed the new or modern German theatre of the eighteenth century.
He was born in Kamentz in the Oberlausitz, right into a family of protestant orthodoxy. Conservative to the bone. His father loved him, and recognised himself in this son. LESSING years later – when his father had died – realised how similar they were, especially in their irascibility. Only after the death of my father I realised how similar I am to him, not a shock, but something that makes one think. Old LESSING wanted his son to study and made it possible by asking for a stipendium for his son, which was granted. And the son went and skipped the studies and wrote for the theatre, ach what a shame : THEATRE ! Whores, gays, polymorphous pervertism !
And the string of disappointments went on and on (money ! marriage ! family !) ; they both must have felt terrible at times.
LESSING went to Leipzig. Later to Berlin. Than to Hamburg – where he worked on the theatre again and wrote his famous Hamburgische Dramaturgie (Ger., Eng.) between 1767 and 1769. I skip dates – if you are interested in the time line, see the linked articles please. For some years he went away from it all – simply vanished without notice. Only months later he resurfaced in Breslau as secretary of the Prussian general Bogislav von TAUENTZIEN (Ger., Eng.) (1710-1791). He did the general’s letters, administration etc. and spent his free time playing cards and drinking : He (the classic !) lived as a gambler through these years, and even later seems to have had a weak spot for this kind of amusement.
I want to focus on his time in Wolfenbüttel.



* For the following I use & refer heavily on HILDEBRANDT, Dieter : Lessing. Eine Biographie. Reinbek 1990 (first : Lessing. Biographie einer Emanzipation. München Wien 1979)
** Many thanks to LẌ for clarifying in his comment to this post from where the expression origins.



Long and boring bla ahead, sorry. If you like, skip the artsy fartsy stuff & go to the music at the end of this post. It is not that much uplifting.

The ever venerable Dianhmow posted about a kind of contest here, gently providing a link to the winners here. Here is the link to a pdf showing all entries / finalists of the “2016 LIBRIS AWARDS”.
Dinahmow had photographed one of the entries – please see it at the bottom of her blog post. It is described as “Winner of the Regional Artists’ Award. May-Britt Mosshammer. “Tapping the Knowledge.” Books, bronze, paper”. I steal the pic and put it next – wait a minute …


Mosshammers Tap


… here we are. “Tapping the Knowledge”.
And there it drips. Or flows. Or whatever.

For me – do I have to declare that here on my blog I talk about meself only (btw I know that it’s the wrong form, I stole it from Søren Knudsen) – books are tools. Books are a lot of things to a lot of people, even for those who do not read. They are means of escape, they are respected as holy, persecuted as and understood as dangers to faith, virginity, public order … a text, written or printed, distributed in a bound form, hence transportable and most of all reproducable can be seen as dangerous, as revelation, as simple means for “fun” and “recreation”, as transport for knowledge (what ever this may be) … it is a book.
I grew up with books, and some dogs, but at some point the dogs had to go and the books stayed. Reading was in the household of my parents a normal activity, regardless whether it was the newspaper, a more or less funny novel for distraction or a historical text, regardless of the latter’s quality. My parents were not historians. Education, what translates in visiting a “good” school, was seen as the means to better the situation in general, and reading was apart of it, of the job. My education was very good, I went to a traditional humanistic German Gymnasium, and of course we were reading, well, books. History was (my) the main topic (I was fortunately in one of the early years that could pick out their individual topics – if I had to do the last examination (Abitur) in something like chemistry I would have ruined all of my grades, so it was Latin and history and I survived) and our teacher (all of them, but especially the last) was very good. In fact when I went to university and attended the first obligatory “Einführungsseminar”  / introductionary seminar I thought I was in 12th grade again.
Reading books was always essential. Using a real library at a university, where you could have texts at your hand within some hours, where you could see images with a short delay – and this was all before the digitalisation and the web – was a great experience that in this form will never come back. Best was – in the eighties – that you could even have originals sent from Munich or the HAB (a place I still today, despite my anger over the scientific business & all, would crawl on my legs & arms to to have a job in the depot) within days : You actually had’em in your hands !
And of course the magazines. They held a lot of printed stuff you never knew existed until you found it in a catalogue, or somewhere cited. All this was done by grey sheets of terrible printed paper that you filled out, either by hand or with a type writer – and all this became better and better with the digitalisation : Nowadays you can read stuff at a workstation within the campus that was unreachable twenty years ago. (There is a large danger to it too, but I am not willing to talk about this now.)

The book as it is, is first of all a tool for me. Then it is also an object – I do not want to say of desire. There are no books I really wanted to possess simply because they are books. But there are objects that come in the form of a book that I very much like – because of the paper, the binding, the typography. A car can bring you from place A to place B. It can be a Dacia 1.5 Diesel, it can be a … Dodge Charger SRT – no I do not want to digress on cars, the Dodge has to be enough. Paper alone is such a large and rich field – in the region is a papermill, and the man (whom I know of course) makes some very fine examples of paper for different uses ; printing – oh my ! – ; binding – there is so much nonsense that can be done in this respect – and who ever invented the glue-thing shall rot in hell eternally ! And I will not start about typography – I keep venerating some housegods like TSCHICHOLD, and that is enough.
A friend is an acknowledged artist, one of her techniques is printing, I stand in awe about the possibilities – and I dare to say sometimes that I do not like the outcome. But this is a very rare thing to occur, and I basically know what to do different. (And we once were invited to take part in one of her œvres, so I reclaim something of a “Vorschuss” !)
My taste is conservative regarding typography – I f.e. always try to use something that is Garamond-related as font – I know that one of my most favourite readers (‘a friend’) does not like this type of font family, but I am sorry, can’t without.

Much bla about nothing so far. Terrible introspection into an empty stomach, perhaps filled with hot air only. Ein Windbeutel.
So what about this object up there ?

Frankly, I … do not like it.
And, as already said in a comment on Dinahmow’s blog, I am not really sure about the “why”.
What do you have on tap – is a question one expects in a tavern. I have a problem with “knowledge” in general, as differenced from information. There are texts in the form of a book, like “Der Schattenfotograf” by Wolfdietrich Schnurre that in my humble opinion keeps a lot of insight and meaning – but that can not be “tapped”. There is a lot of knowledge, imho wisdom even, in this text (and this man), but there is nothing to be tapped – for all and everyone. There is nothing that runs out when you turn the spigot. There is no spigot. Even to the Bible or the Koran no spigot is attached.
Books create books, it can be a bit of an inbred, especially in historical matters. What runs out of the spigot depends always and only on the one who turns it.
Perhaps my idea of “art” is terribly outdated – I do not know. All I know is that Art is what one sees as Art. This thing above in my eyes is a joke, it is in my humble opinion a first involvement with the idea of the book and its history, given my education and more or less “intellectual” background”. This is a thing that is okay in the first-year-seminar. It is a joke, a light shot from the hip, more or less funny, but I would not give it an award. Yes, of course, it is just me, and my “idea” of what a book is and can be.
It is half-done. Put something under the spigot, like a bucket and fill it with something you like : A mirror (ach ja, die Selbsterkenntnis, good old self-awareness), a piece of crap if you like, overflowing shredded paper, or a flower – I am not the artist, and of course it is absolutely arrogant from me to judge this thing, but I am allowed and free to say what it causes in me. The initial anger is gone, but I do not take this thing serious, and I would not have given it an award.

Vanitas vanitatum – here’s the soundtrack :




Persons, Places

Get a Fix

As we all know – at least those of my venerable readers, who grew up listening to German Schlager (“hits”) -, es gibt kein Bier auf Hawaii, there’s no beer on Hawaii. XL may know better, and feel free to correct me please, but this is my level of information.
But there is (Bavarian) beer in Greece. The oldest trade mark is “Fix“. According wikipedia (Ger., Eng.) it is the greekisied version of the German name “Fuchs”. In the 1830s Johann Georg FUCHS started a small brewery in Athens, later the enterprise grew and became a de facto monopolist right through to the 1980s. The family came originally from the Bavarian (better : Franconian) Spessart.
Why Greece ? Because they followed the newly appointed Greek king OTTO (1815-1867) (Ger., Eng.), former Bavarian Prince & second son of king LUDWIG I. of Bavaria (1786-1868) (Ger., Eng.). OTTOs reign (1832-1862) was, after all, unsuccessful, and – with all due respect – I find his father the more interesting historical figure & personality.
But why would a Bavarian king put his second born, under-age son on a newly installed throne in a foreign country an der Schwelle zum Orient, at orient’s threshold ?
Because he loved Greece, or better : the idea of it.
This leads us back to Rome (where else ?) and in the Café Greco in the Via Condotti (Eng.). (Open bottle of red now.) *

LUDWIG went on his first major travel in autumn 1804. His youth had been a bit of an up-and-down, but he received a good education. He did not become a galant adventurer, a mercenary-type, or a glory-seeking condottiere (think of Friedrich II. of Prussia, who started a long war right after sitting on the throne, just because of his hunger for “Gloire” ; at least he had the insight to regret his deeds afterwards.) ; LUDWIG was a Schöngeist with a real interest in art, a serious Schwärmer, an enthusiast. Art became his escape – the politics he was thrown into were not to his liking, especially because his strong dislike of Napoleon BUONAPARTE. Sadly his father had made peace with NAPOLEON already in 1801, had formed an alliance with the destroyer of worlds, and was richly rewarded for this after the end of the old Reich – the more or less average Bavarian dukes were made kings.
The ink was not yet dry on the document when the newly made Kronprinz, crown prince, was sent to Paris in January 1806. And his sister AUGUSTA (Ger., Eng.) was married to the son-in-law of the French monster (at least it was a happy marriage). LUDWIG used the opportunity to visit the large (stolen) art collection of the self-styled “emperor”, and was impressed.
LUDWIG became a Philhellene  par excellence (Ger.,  Eng.) – WINCKELMANN had founded this new cult ; WIELAND had sung about a kind of “Rokoko-Arkadien”; HEINSE propagated an idea of Greek beauty; GOETHE (there is more to old Wolfie as just the nonsense they told us in school) projected an enlightened ideal of humanism back into the classical age ; HÖLDERLIN, well, was Hölderlin, and BYRON finally wrote travelogues & died romantically. The classical age of Greek art & civilization became a large canvas for ideals of the romantics of the day.

But it had a pretty material side too. Mr Thomas BRUCE, later Lord ELGIN (Ger., Eng.), had received a ferman (Ger., Eng.) that allowed him (or his agents) to measure classical sites, paint pictures of those sites, and make plaster casts of figures & statues in reach. Also the agents should have the chance to acquire “transportable antique works of art”. This went reasonable well at the first expedition of ELGINs people, namely under his main representative, the Neapolitan painter Don Giovanni Battista LUSIERI (Eng.). For the second expedition into the Greek wilderness ELGIN received a second Firman that basically allowed him to “help himself”. LUSIERI interpreted the term “transportable” now as “being possibly made portable” with the help of saws, levers, cranes and whatever needed. He filled some ships with the old stuff (more than thirty), the nasty French tried to capture them unsuccessfully, a commission was established. Finally they gave ELGIN thirtyfive-thousand pounds, what was not covering his expenses, and he had his place in modern art history. “Quod non fecerunt Gothi – fecerunt Scoti”, as BYRON put it. Roughly : The Goths did not dare, but the Scots.
This had happened in 1801. So when LUDWIG came to Rome in 1804 Greece was en vogue among all art enthusiasts ; 1806 he saw what NAPOLEON had brought from Egypt. Later (1807) the crown prince engaged the help of a certain Johann Martin (von) WAGNER (Ger., born in Würzburg) as agent, always asking for Greek sculptures, or at least drawings or casts.

Some night in 1810 (open 2nd bottle of red now) the regulars in the Café Greco had the idea of a “greek expedition” : Why not go there and look for themselves ? Why not go there and search for the wonders ? So they threw their Pausanias in the Rucksack, grabbed the pistols (all those robbers !), and visited the godforsaken village in the middle of nowhere called Athens in 1810 : Baron Karl Haller von HALLERSTEIN, Otto Magnus von STACKELBERG, Jacob LINKCH (Ger.), sorry if I forgot one. The Athens of these day was dusty, ugly and far from its former classical glory. Venetians had bombed the acropolis, in the Erechtheion the Pascha’s harem was established, magnificent ruins nevertheless, perhaps a bit like Rome before the Pope came back from Avignon. They lodged in LUSIERIs house, and two Englishmen joined the group, Charles Robert COCKERELL, an architect, together with his friend John FOSTER.
In April 1811 they had measured Athens and COCKERELL, HALLER, FOSTER & LINCKH deceided to visit a small island called Aegina – there shall stand a well-preserved temple (Ger., Eng.). They dig a bit around to be able to take the correct measurements, only to stumble over some very fine sculptures : They had accidentally found the crashed down gable with its group of figures. A lot of “Bakschisch” is handed to the local Turkish commander until the sculptures are brought to Athens unscathed – and it is clear that the “Aigineten” (pics) are a European sensation. There must be a solution found, and finally it is agreed that the sculptures will be auctioned off in Zante (Italian for Zakynthos (Ger., Eng.)) under the auspices of the colourful Georg Christian GROPIUS (Ger.), consul of this and that. HALLER lets LUDWIG know what they are sitting on, who in turn sends carte blanche (Zvgmv ?) to WAGNER in Rome, and a helpful bill of exchange over seventy-thousand Gulden. While WAGNER is on his way to Athens the director of the British Museum is also on his way, sending ahead the brigg “Paulina”, her captain ready to collect those old marble-stones. The group of friends who discovered the sculptures receive some unethical offers, remarkably none accepts, they seem – as a group – to be able to survive this and safe their friendly relations amongst each other.
The sculptures are brought to Malta – the greedy French again ! – while the auction is held in Zante. WAGNER arrives just in time, looks at the plaster casts, and slams the seventy thousand on the table – good enough for GROPIUS, and that’s it. WAGNER redeems the sculptures in Malta, makes it through a terrible storm near Stromboli, and finally reaches Naples. THORWALDSEN (Ger., Eng.), one of the regulars at the Greco, and assigned by LUDWIG for the reconstruction, is besides himself. The Russians offer cool hundred-thousand Dukaten, the English have a word with COCKERELL, but he had done nothing wrong. Today the sculptures are shown in LUDWIGs Glyptothek in Munich.

All this just illustrates the role of art in those days, the worship of the idealised Greece, and gives an idea about the world of ideas of the Bavarian king LUDWIG, who has a bust of HOMER in his study and reads the gospel in the Greek urtext every evening. When “Greece” all of a sudden is not just marble past any more, but becomes bloody present reality in 1821 (Ger., Eng.), he will not retreat in his library and write some poems – he does, yes – , but he will link the Greek fight for independence against the Sultan (Ger., Eng.) with the German struggle for unity, and he will use a lot of (own) money for equipment, ransoms (to buy back prisoners of war) et cetera, and finally he will sent his son to be king of Greece.

* I use for this scribblings the enjoyable and well-written book by SEIDL, Wolf : Bayern in Griechenland. Die Geburt des griechischen Nationalstaats und die Regierung König Ottos. Erweiterte Neuauflage, München 1981 (first 1965 ?), especially chapter one (17-42), and pages 337-355.