Persons

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.

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Persons

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.

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books

Books ! Away With Them !

Perhaps I should create a new category “books”, it would be easier for me to find the last reading list.
Here is what I read over the last few months, time to sort them back in.

SIEBER, Helmut : Oberlausitz. Frankfurt/Main 1968
Where (or what) is the Oberlausitz (Ger., Eng.), you may ask – and I would have asked the same question before I read this little book. It is the Eastern part of Saxony, main towns there are Görlitz and Bautzen. The latter is known (at least for people of a certain age) for the jail, Bautzen II (Ger.). Notable inmates were the writers Walter KEMPOWSKI (Ger., Eng.) and Erich LOEST (Ger., Eng.). Can’t say much about LOEST, all I remember is “realism” and painful honesty. KEMPOWSKI wrote a fictive family history in two (or three) volumes. His last project was called Das Echolot (Ger.). He collages from a wide range of sources and concentrates on various dates, June-December 1941, January/February 1943, January/February 1945 and the end of the war in Germany. Both authors worked their fingers to the bone on this oh-so-German history.
SIEBERs little tome gives a good historical description of the region and brings some nice b/w photographs.

BRANDT, Rüdiger : Konrad von Würzburg. Darmstadt 1987 (Erträge der Forschung, 249)
Konrad (Ger., Eng.) is born in Würzburg between 1220 and 1230. He is one of the twelve masters of minnesang, his œvre includes nearly all literary genres of his age. He lived and died in Basel.
BRANDT gives a concise overview about the history of scholarship dealing with Konrad – of course this book is now thirty years old, but what BRANDT had to say about his predecessors is still valuable and noteworthy.

WUNDERLI, Peter (Ed.) : Reisen in reale and mythische Ferne. Reiseliteratur in Mittelalter und Renaissance. Düsseldorf 1993 (Studia Humaniora, 22)
The university of Düsseldorf had a lecture series (“Ringvorlesung”) in winter semester 1990/91. The chosen topic was “travelling”, travel literature of Medieval and Renaissance times. Very informative. Subjects are maps, the Sinai as entrance to the other world, Brendan’s (Ger., Eng.) navigatio, Marco Polo, Afanasij Nikitin (Ger., Eng.), Herberstein, Kolumbus. Good lectures intended for a mixed audience, well readable and informative.
WUNDERLI (Ger.) is a Swiss romanist.

WIECZOREK, Ulrich : Bayern im Blick früher Flieger und Ballonfahrer. Dachau 1994
As the title says, subject of the small volume is the early ærial image of Bavaria. Major cities, landscape, and natural environments still intact are shown. Additionally the technical development of  ærial photography is explained.
WIECZOREK (died 2010) was professor for didactics of geography at the Augsburg university.

DEROLEZ, R.L.M. : Götter und Mythen der Germanen. Wiesbaden 1976 (originaly : De Godsdienst der Germanen, Roermond 1959)
René Lodewijk Maurits DEROLEZ (1921-2005) (Ger.) was a Belgian Germanic medievalist and runologist. Both his major works, his 1954 habilitation about runes, and this text about Germanic Gods and Myths, are still worth to be read, usable and citable. Good translation by Julie von WATTENWYL.

VANDENBERG, Philipp : Das Geheimnis der Orakel. München 1979
Yes, when a title starts with “The Secrets of …” a little preoccupation may set in, the concoction may be a little sensational. Despite its subtitle on the front page (“Archaeologists decipher the best-kept secret of the ancient world”) this is a well-done piece of travel journalism. VANDENBERG actually visited places like Dodona, Didyma, Klaros, Delphi, Oropos, Epidauros, Lebadeia, interviewed archeologists, used historical sources, and modern literature. I think this is what could be called popular science, the tome even has a register.
VADENBERG (born Klaus Dieter HARTEL, Ger.) writes non-fiction, historical novels and crime.

KOLLER, Liselotte : Wohnkultur mit Serienmöbeln. München 1969
Of course there must be a book about ameublement. This picture book shows how the rooms in an appartement were tastefully furnished at the end of the Sixties. From living room and dining table, via sleeping room to balcony and garden, it is all there. Even children’s room, garderobe and “Our Unterhaltungsgeräte as furnishing problem” are treated. The Unterhaltungsgeräte in question are tv-sets (with blinds !) radios and lp-players, together with the fitting relaxing chairs, floor-standing ashtrays included. Oh dear, some images look all too familiar.
Ms KOLLER, about whom I could find no more information, seemingly specialised in the topic of interior design in the Sixties, I saw at least two other titles by her from the late Sixties.

HILDEBRANDT, Dieter : Lessing. Eine Biographie. Reinbek 1990 (first : Lessing. Biographie einer Emanzipation. München Wien 1979)
This is what I am actually reading, after some tries. HILDEBRANDT (Ger.) is a promoted literary scholar who made his living by writing critiques and essays, in short with journalistic work. His biography of LESSING is refreshing, still after nearly forty years, because of his view on the man, his live work & thinking, without the philological, scientific point of view. He shows the oh so great LESSING (I say this in true admiration without any irony !) as human being, shoving him from the piedestal where too learned veneration installed him over time. It is a witty, learned, insightful text that comes close to the person LESSING – who, btw, was born in Kamenz (Ger., Eng.), a town in (you guessed it !) the Oberlausitz : The circle is completed.

Perhaps some of these texts can be a little prod for your own further reading.

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books

Vom Nachttisch Geräumt

Time to collect the books that are balancing in a heap on the bedside stand and to put them back into the shelves. Here is a list of the titles I read over the last few months.

FULD, Werner : Walter Benjamin. Eine Biographie. Reinbek September 1990 (zuerst : München, Wien 1979)
If one studies the intellectual European history of the last century, chances are good that one sooner or later meets Herrn W. BENJAMIN (Ger., Eng.). Or an image of BENJAMIN created by admirers or critics. Undoubtedly BENJAMIN is an important intellectual, but that does not mean that he always was recognised as one. Like other European writers of the first half of the bloody twentieth century he was forgotten after 1945, re-discovered, and of course en-grossed (vereinnahmt) by different people – the fact that his magnum opus (Passagenwerk, Arcades Project (Ger., Eng.)) is a ruin makes such an usurpation a lot easier. Interestingly a lot of interpretations & secondary literature was published about BENJAMINs works, but there was no biography until Werner FULD (Ger.) published the first one in 1979. And what a life it was. BENJAMIN was notoriously late – in all, an expert in missing chances & taking unneccessary detours. En passant FULD points to where BENJAMIN may have taken suggestions from, and who took (not necessarily mentioned) suggestions from BENJAMINs writings (STERNBERGER, who always denied it ; ADORNO, who said nothing). The last years were miserable in the Paris exile, he became severely ill. Finally he tried to flee over the Pyrenees. On the 12th of September 1940 young Golo MANN had pulled his old uncle Heinrich and his wife, accompanied by the married couples WERFEL & FEUCHTWANGER, over the mountains into Spain – BENJAMIN on the 26th was late, he and the group he travelled with learned that the border station was closed. So he sat down and swallowed the morphine tablets he had (25 from originally fifty, he had given the rest to Arthur KOESTLER), it seems not to be clear whether he died on that mountain or later in Port Bou. Someone bought a grave for him, but there was no marker, after five years it was cleared anyway. I find it remarkable that (according to FULD) BENJAMIN gave to one member of the group, a woman called Gurland, a farewell-letter to ADORNO : She read it and then burned it. Say chutzpà.

ANDRASCHKO, Ferdinand : Schloß Schwarzenberg im Wandel der Zeiten.
In : Schwarzenbergische Archive (Hg.) : Schwarzenbergischer Almanach XXXII (1959), Murau 1959 (133-242)
Just what it says in the title, a history of the castle Schwarzenberg (Ger.). I can not say much about Dr. ANDRASCHKO (about), I do not understand Czech. He worked for more than forty years in the archives of the Schwarzenberg family, his article is very well written.

HASENFUß, Josef ; ENGLERT, E.A.; SCHÜLL, G.S.H. ; ROOS, A. ; BILZ, O. : Hafenlohr, Windheim und Marienbrunn. Aus der Vergangenheit in die Gegenwart zur 650 Jahrfeier. Ohne Ort 1974
Just one of these small publications published in celebration of an anniversary, here 650 years Hafenlohr. And because HASENFUß (Ger.) and his contributors are professionals, it is a well researched little history of said village and its surroundings.

BÄCHLER, Hagen ; SCHLECHTE, Monika : Sächsisches Barock. Aus der Zeit von Matthes Daniel Pöppelmann. 3. Auflage, Leipzig 1990 (zuerst Leipzig 1986 ; Die Schatzkammer, Sonderband)
Someone who “likes” “the baroque” must look into the Saxonian works of arts, the “Dresdner Barock” (Ger.) especially. Most of this was built by Matthäus Daniel PÖPPELMANN (Ger., Eng.). BÄCHLER (Ger.) is a German art historian specialised in this field.

GROSCH, Wilhelm : Blaufuss. Ein Dorf der Gold- und Münzstadt Kremnitz. Entstehung, Untergang und Neubeginn. Stuttgart 1996
Kremnica (Ger., Eng.), German Kremnitz, is a mining town in Middle or Central Slovakia. In the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period it was an important gold mining area. I think there still is mining. The town incorporated some villages, one of these was called Blaufuß (“blue foot”), today Krahule (Ger., Eng.). Herr GROSCH was born in this village in 1932 and published the history of his native place.

WIRSING, Karl-Heinz : Geselligkeit im Würzburg des Biedermeier. Mainfränkische Hefte 73 (1980)
A little history of the social life of Würzburg in the first half of the 19th century. “Biedermeier” (Ger., Eng.) is the time between 1815 and 1848, between the new organisation of Europe at the Viennese Congress, it’s “restauration”, and the revolutionary activities of the 1840s. This age of political stagnation in Central Europe produced a style of its own in the arts, home decoration etc. WIRSING (1907-1999 ; Ger.) was a Franconian art historian specialised in the history of his hometown.

KUHN, Rudolf : St.Achatius zu Grünsfeldhausen. Würzburg 1964
The church of St.Achatius (Ger.) in the village Grünsfeldhausen is an octogonal building that dates back into the 12th or 13th century. It is pretty likely built by a noble person, a knight, who took part in the crusades (most likely the third, (Ger., Eng.)) and had seen the Grabeskirche, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Ger., Eng., tour) in Jerusalem. This kind of architecture is not too common, and it is pretty unique that in a small area four of these octogonal churches can be found, with those in Oberwittighausen and Standorf still standing, while the one in Gaurettersheim sadly was demolished.

SCHÄFER, Werner : Straubing im Ersten Weltkrieg. Ein Beitrag zur Vorgeschichte der Revolution von 1918/19 in Bayern. In : Beiheft zum Jahresbericht des Historischen Vereins für Straubing und Umgebung, 80 (1977/78)
Yes, there was a revolution in Germany after the end of WWI, Bavaria became a “Räterepublik”. But what was before ? How did people live, what fuelled the tension that finally erupted into revolutionary action ? Straubing (Ger., Eng.) is a provincial town in Lower Bavaria next to the Danube river. Nothing fancy, really. But one of the first towns in Bavaria where the Novemberrevolution (Ger., Eng.) took part, they must have been really fed up – or precisely not, but hungry and damn angry. And Herr SCHÄFER, about whom I could not find more information, describes how it came together. A microhistory.

GOEZ, Werner : Gestalten des Hochmittelalters. Personengeschichtliche Essays im allgemeinhistorischen Kontext. Darmstadt 1983
The first time I understood why bishop Adalbero of Würzburg was important. History is made by people, humans act. I think it is more important to learn as much as possible about those who acted – how, when and why – than to speak about abstract ideas that may have made someone come to a decision, or not. Of course it depends on the sources, and their critique. And one needs a broader knowledge of time and age, of the whole æra the historical person lived in. The professor for Medieval History Werner GOEZ (Ger.) was such a man with an overview, and he wrote nicely. GOEZ (1929-2003) was first professor in Würzburg and then from 1969 until 1997 in Erlangen.

Perhaps you can find something interesting or motivational for own study ; if not, excuse me for boring you stiff.

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