I see grey banks of clouds drift over the land, now and then one comes to my place for a quick visit. The light changes, wind gusts (I think I heard glass splitter two hours ago somewhere in the house), cold rain gushes ; twenty minutes later it’s over and only the drops on my grimy window pane testify that the cloud attack really took place. Two hours ago it even rained down Graupel, very fittingly called soft hail.
What a strange word. I wonder about its origin. Perhaps it was named after Fréderic GRAUPÈL, a French chemist, physicist and meteorologist of the 18th century … his biography needs to be written.
Another strange man’s biography is at least roughly known, I speak about Karl Julius WEBER (Ger., Eng., short bio German only) (1767-1832 ; he died in the same year as GOETHE, but was 18 years younger than Wolfie).
WEBER was born in Langenburg (Ger., Eng.), one of the Duodezresidenzen of the old Reich, in the middle of the magical land of Hohenlohe. A fictional thing this Hohenlohe – let’s say, one loves it or not ; for some people it’s the epitome of boring, for others it’s a treasure trove of hidden gems.
His father was an official at the local court, his mother worked as Kammerjungfer. He was sent to the local school, later to the Gymnasium in Öhringen (Ger., Eng.), and finally to Erlangen to study law, later in Göttingen until 1790. All this sounds innocent enough, but in the times of the great revolution, and Göttingen being the hotbed of enlightenment, things could become a bit difficult. WEBER first was a friend of the revolution, but watching closely the descend into slaughter and violence made him find a more critical position. He aimed at a juridical professorship, but it failed and he went away from Göttingen, pretty hurt as it seems.
So he took the dreaded job of a Hauslehrer, a private tutor – what in some cases could equal hell on earth, but for WEBER it was a good time: He worked for a rich Genevan family, they travelled in France – these two years in France and Switzerland changed him : French literature, French esprit, a kind of savoir vivre and savoir voir, a way to look at things, accompanied him for the rest of his live.
Back in the steadily self-liquidating Reich in 1792 he worked at those petty courts like the one he was born into. In 1792 he became secretary of the chancellor of the Deutschorden (Ger., Eng.) in Mergentheim count Christian zu Erbach-Schönberg. After the count’s death 1799 WEBER became first Hofrat in that county, 1804 he switched as leading administrator to the administration of Ysenburg-Büdingen – and this was a severe mistake. To make a long story short – in April 1804 he left this position, as it seems pretty broken, disillusioned, hurt again : Large promises were not kept, intrigues were spun ; his character, seemingly a bit on the choleric-sanguinic side, did not help to ease things out ; he seemingly developed, perhaps from stress, hypochondriac tendencies.
He turned home. And home means the household of his married sister ; he lived in Jagsthausen, Weikersheim, Künzelsau and Kupferzell – all across the Hohenlohe. It took him some time to unwind, books helped a lot – at the end of his live he had amassed a library of 11.000 tomes. He spent his time reading, writing, smoking his pipe – and once a year he travelled.
The Hofrat vanished, a smiling philosopher, Demokritos, replaced him. From 1818 onwards (he’s in his early fifties) his historical works about “the Monks”, and “The Knights” were published. Later the Briefe eines in Deutschland reisenden Deutschen (Letters of a German travelling in Germany) followed – and this book (in six tomes in the end) was a success – Mr. Biedermeyer (Ger., Eng.) used it as travel guide. Still today this is worth a read, he writes a good style, and a certain serenity, peace of mind can be felt.
WEBER died in 1832 in Kupferzell, he is buried there and his gravestone is still standing. His major work Demokritos, oder hinterlassene Papiere eines lachenden Philosophen (Demikritos, or, Papers Left Behind by a Laughing Philosopher) started to be published in the year of his death, it became pretty successful. He worked on this text for nearly thirty years – with longer pauses – and it is a kind of encyclopedia of the ridiculous. WEBER is a forefather of the modern feuilletonistic essay, and like the great MONTAIGNE he does not shy away from opening up his inner thoughts, his character in great and small traits, his surroundings, with a smile.
The success (15 editions until the 1920s) came with critique, the accusation of being rude, shallow, hunting for anecdotes etc. did not prevent the German liberal bourgeoisie of the second half of the 19th century to buy, read and like the smiling philosopher.
WEBER choose as sepulchral inscription:
Hier liegen meine Gebeine.
Ich wollt’ es wären Deine.
Roughly: Here lie my bones, I wish it were yours. The family disapproved, so on his gravestone now we can read:
Jocosus vixi, sed non impius / Incertus morior, nec perturbatus / Humanum est nescire et errare / Ens entium, misere mei !
I have lived with joy, but not impious ; I die insecure, but not without confidence ; It is human not to know and to go wrong ; Supreme being, have mercy on me.
WEBER is the most important writer Hohenlohe produced, and pretty forgotten these days. A bit like the land he came from.