Monday, April 20, 2009

“For me it is different, heaven knows…”

Nietzsche’s appointment to his professorship at the University had one rarely considered consequence; it left him without friends his own age. All of his student years he had enjoyed close friendships with classmates, Fritz was not a social hermit (though he already claimed to be an “intellectual” one) until many years later.

“What Nietzsche most missed in Basel was the stimulating theater and concert life he had first encountered in Cologne and later relished in Leipzig. The old patrician town lacked a concert hall that could stand comparison with the famous Gewandhaus, while it’s stage offerings were so wretched that Nietzsche stigmatized Basel as being a place that was ‘hostile to the Theater-Graces’. In Leipzig he had been surrounded, stimulated and consoled by a circle of young friends…but in Basel he had no close friends or colleagues who were at all close to his age. The historian Jacob Burckhardt was twenty-six years older.” (
Cate, page 91)

Among anyone at Basel: “It was Jacob Burckhardt…who developed the closest ties to Nietzsche. Burckhardt…felt drawn to the brilliant young scholar; they shared passionate interests in music, art, and cultural questions generally. To be sure, Burckhardt remained a champion of Weimar classicism: if the young Nietzsche favored the music of pathos over ethos, emotion over mood, and thus Wagner and Beethoven over Haydn and Mozart, Burckhardt instinctively held to the classical scheme. In later years Nietzsche would send Burckhardt every book he published, and Burckhardt would read and admire them all, without claiming to understand them. During their years together in Basel, each of the two knew how to appreciate their association without confusing it with the Aristotelian ‘friendship of equals’.” (
The Good European, p. 69)

Burckhardt was acquainted with both Erwin Rohde and Carl von Gersdorff but he was not an intimate friend of the other two gentlemen. Jacob knew the other two only through Fritz. Burckhardt, as a professor of history was impressed with The Birth of Tragedy. He defended it as an important scholarly work. “…Nietzsche’s tragico-musical interpretation of Greek cultural history was more illuminating in its insights than the classic vision of the Greeks as a race of serene, beauty-and-harmony-loving optimists. But Burckhardt’s open-mindedness was not shared by most of his university colleagues.” (Cate, page 144)

Fritz and Jacob were probably not on a first name basis. But, Burckhardt was initially Nietzsche’s only friend at Basel. They enjoyed long walks together and Fritz was particularly intrigued with Burckhardt’s extensive knowledge of Greek cultural history. Burckhardt helped Nietzsche interpret current events like the Franco-Prussian War. Their conversations were intense and Nietzsche greatly valued Burckhardt’s experience and perspectives.

In December 1871, Nietzsche wrote Rohde regarding Burckhardt. This demonstrates the basis for the connection of some of his friendships. “I have spent some good days with Jakob Burckhardt, and we have many discussions about Greek matters. I think that one could learn a great deal about such matters in Basel at present. He has read your Pythagoras essay with great interest and has copied out parts for his own use; what you say about the whole development of the Pythagoras image is certainly the best that has been so far said on this very serious subject.” (
Selected Letters, page 85)

Fritz was a fellow student of Erwin’s at the University of Leipzig. It was a curious friendship. “Their particular interests and judgments often differed greatly, generating heated arguments. But Nietzsche appreciated his friend’s stubborn defense of his opinions and the ironic scorn he felt for the pedagogical vanities of teachers and student colleagues. To this must be added a final cementing factor: a joint veneration of Schopenhauer, often ascending to mystical heights of hero worship….The two ‘Prussian patriots’ spent many evenings together at the local rifle club, where they indulged in target practice.” (Cate, page 76) The two also took riding lessons together.

Being separated from Erwin, Fritz maintained a large correspondence with him. A letter from 1868 reflects the well-known basis for most of Fritz’s friendships. “Let us think of Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, of the indestructible energy with which they kept faith in themselves throughout the hullaballooing of the whole ‘educated’ world; and if it is not permissible to invoke any deos maximos, we always have the consolidation that eccentrics cannot be denied the right to exist and that two eccentrics of one mind are a happy spectacle for the gods.” (SL, page 41)

In 1870, Rohde went with Nietzsche to Tribschen and spent several days with Wagner. The three discussed art, music, drama, and, of course, Schopenhauer. Erwin, like Fritz, an ardent supporter of Wagner’s Bayreuth project, accompanied Nietzsche at a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as part of the laying of the foundation stone ceremony at Bayreuth in 1872. The two obtained special seating by Wagner in honor of being considered “his” (Wagner’s) two professors. Rohde became a professor of philology at the University of Kiel that same year.

Fritz confided to Rohde something he, perhaps, could never admit to Burckhardt, his professional colleague at Basel, in March 1871: “From philology I feel exuberantly remote in a way which is quite disgraceful. Praise and blame on that side of things, even all the highest glories, make me shudder. Thus I am gradually habituating myself to being a philosopher, and already I believe in myself, I would even be prepared for it if I were to become a poet.” (SL, page 79) Even before the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche viewed his profession with increasing distain. Though he was considered a prodigy in the subject, it brought him no genuine satisfaction. He longed for more metaphysical pursuits and Rhode knew it.

Like all of Fritz’s most intimate friends, Erwin was a stanch supporter of The Birth of Tragedy when it appeared. He composed an extensive 48-page response to some attacks made on the work, itself boldly entitled Afterphilologie. The two friends were guests once more of Wagner’s in 1873, visiting both the composer’s unfinished new home and the far from completed opera house. Visions of future grandeur danced in both their minds.

In 1874, Nietzsche excitedly wrote to his friend with an update on Wagner’s cash-strapped vision. “Now about Bayreuth! From Frau Wagner we know – and it is meant to be a secret among Wagner’s friends – that the king of Bavaria is supporting the project in the form of subsidies up to 100,000 talers, which means that operations (machines, decorating) will be vigorously speeded up. Wagner himself writes that the deadline is 1876; he is in good spirits, and believes that the undertaking is now in the clear. God grant that it may be! This fearful waiting is hard to recover from; sometimes I really had quite given up hope.” (SL, page 123)

The distance between the two friends grew wider as the years past. Rohde pursued his own career at Kiel. But the two continued to correspond regularly. In 1876, Rohde informed Nietzsche that he was to be married. Fritz’s response to the news was tinged with an introspective sadness. “May it be for the best, dear loyal friend, the news you have sent me, really for the best: I wish you this with the fullness of my heart. So you will be building your nest, then, in the year of grace 1876…I shall even be able to think of you with greater assurance, even if I should perhaps not follow you in taking this step. For you needed so badly a completely trusting soul, and you have found her and have found therewith yourself on a higher level. For me it is different, heaven knows, or does not know. It does not seem to be all that necessary, except on rare days. Perhaps I have here a bad gap in myself. My desire and my need are different – I hardly know how to say it or explain it.” (SL, page 145)

Indeed for Fritz it was very different. Surrounded, as we shall see, by friendships and good companions, nevertheless his thoughts took him places no one else could seemingly follow. Even as he encircled himself with fascinating people of intellectual wit and artistic merit he found himself ever more alone. Alone.

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