Saturday, June 20, 2009


“A few months after Nietzsche had settled in Basel, Franz Overbeck arrived from Jena to take up the chair of ‘critical theology’. Overbeck, who was born in 1837 and was thus seven years Nietzsche’s senior, became the one permanent friend Nietzsche had whose friendship was founded on a purely personal, instinctive basis. Although he became for a while a keen Wagnerian under Nietzsche’s influence, he was for most of his life quite at variance with Nietzsche in his opinions…But his closest friend for most of his life was Nietzsche, whom he met when he took up lodgings at No. 45 Schutzgraben. His account of his friendship is an unqualified expression of thanks for the experience. ‘Our friendship was without any shadows,’ he writes. At the same time, he is not sparing in his criticism, which he had certainly voiced while Nietzsche was still able to understand it; but in this instance criticism did not constitute a ‘shadow’. As the years passed, Overbeck moved away from Nietzsche philosophically, and with Nietzsche’s last works he was quite unable to agree; at the same time, however, he moved closer as a friend, so that in the last years he and his wife were, apart from Gast, Nietzsche’s only real intimates.” (Hollingdale, page 53)

It was Overbeck who knew Rohde through Nietzsche and suggested the provocative title After-Philology to Rohde’s splendidly written defense of Nietzsche’s polemic against David Strauss. In spite of drifting apart philosophically – with Overbeck changing very little and Nietzsche changing (or clarifying) much – Overbeck was a staunch supporter of Nietzsche's early works.

Franz Overbeck was the perfect compliment to Fritz’s personality. He was an intellectual of high regard, appreciative of the arts – particularly music, broad-minded, honest, caring, reliable, genteel, and reserved yet steadfast in his opinions. “Of him Nietzsche wrote: ‘Overbeck is the most serious, candid, personally lovable, and least complicated person and researcher one could have wished for in a friend. At the same time, he has this radicality I need to have in all people with whom I associate.’ Many years later he would confess to Overbeck that Overbeck’s loyalty and friendship had in fact saved his life: ‘In the midst of life I was ‘surrounded’ by my good Overbeck – otherwise that other companion would perhaps have risen to greet me: Mors.’”(
The Good European, page 73)

The “radicality” to which Fritz refers came in the form of a critical academic tract entitled On the Christian Quality of Theology Today, which “came out simultaneously with Nietzsche’s ‘untimely’ essay on Strauss – and his friends considered their two attacks on the zeitgeist as twins. Overbeck’s later works were scholarly rather than polemical.” (
Kaufmann, page 30, note) One can easily imagine the two discussing their respective works in progress over evening meals. It is not too conjectural to assume their mutual interest in the “zeitgeist” and the way their respective works were viewed by their shared friends was a fundamental basis for the solidification of their closeness.

For his trouble, Overbeck’s work in theology eventually forced him and his wife from the Church, something that certainly Fritz could relate to in terms of his own personal break from Christianity some years beforehand. “Overbeck’s ‘shocking’ thesis was that it was impossible to reconcile Christian theology, which had evolved over the centuries as a distinctly intellectual interpretation of the Gospels, with the primitive faith of Jesus’ disciples, who had lived in naïve expectation of the end of the world and the ‘second coming’. But what had particularly annoyed his publisher was Overbeck’s critique of David Strauss’s best-selling apologia of a popular, positive and painless Christianity. He had refused to publish such an iconoclastic work for fear of offending ‘German public opinion’. (
Cate, page 174)

But, as mentioned, there was far more to their friendship than simply the academic, intellectual level. Franz “surrounded” Fritz in a globe of relative security. Franz tended to Fritz often when Fritz was ill. When Fritz traveled away from Franz, Franz would reliably act as a coordinator of telegraphs and letters to Fritz’s other friends making management of Fritz’s activities easier. We should not underestimate the simple physical fact that for years these two men sat down regularly at evening meals and lived in the same place together. The bonding aspect of such regular, frequent encounters was in and of itself unique to Fritz outside of his child and student years with his sister Elizabeth and his mother.

Franz helped Fritz at the keyboard for several weeks in 1871 with Fritz’s musical composition and Christmas gift to Cosima Wagner (simultaneously a second copy given to Elizabeth and his mother) Nachklang einer Silvesternacht. Franz greatly assisted (along with von Gersdroff) Fritz with the completion of Nietzsche’s essay on History. Franz totally connected with Fritz on Wagner’s Bayreuth project. Overbeck was at the opening of the Ring in 1876, enjoying the festivities that Nietzsche suddenly found so decadent. When Fritz wasn’t running away ill he enjoyed Overbeck’s company in the socializing aspects of Bayreuth.

Franz’s marriage to Ida Rothpletz (see post of May 10, 2009 for Ida’s first intimate impressions of Nietzsche) must have created a huge void in Fritz’s personal life. His closest friend of regular contact became part of a couple of regular contact. A different dynamic completely. His friend had a woman but Nietzsche did not. Perhaps this is why Fritz was briefly attracted to the married Louise Ott. Trying to compensate for the void.

“It is difficult, I think, to exaggerate the psychological impact that this ‘happy event’ – Overbeck’s betrothal, announced in early January (1876) – had had on Friedrich Nietzsche. Franz Overbeck was clearly succeeding where Carl, Fritz, and even Erwin Rohde had so far failed. On April 4 Overbeck wrote to Nietzsche from Zurich in an effort to cheer him up. He too was not happy at the prospect of soon having to return to Basel, and of being separated from his beloved Ida. ‘I can only say to you, find yourself one like her and let this aim too…incite you to good health.’ There followed a description of his fiancée’s keyboard talents, ably developed by an expert pianist, Robert Freund, who had once been the pupil of Tausig and Liszt.” (Cate, page 218)

Fritz was unable to bring himself to attend Franz’s wedding in August 1876.

Their relationship, unlike with any of Fritz’s other friends, was often mundane and entirely ordinary. Therefore, surprisingly little evidence of the course of their daily associations exists. But Overbeck’s friendship affected Nietzsche as evidenced when Nietzsche surveyed the first ten years of their friendship in a letter to Overbeck in 1880: “You will be deep in your work, dear friend, but a few words from me will not disturb you. It always does me good to think of you at your work; it is as if a healthy natural force were blindly working through you, and yet it is a force of reason which operates in the subtlest and most tricky material, and which we have to tolerate whenever it behaves impatiently and doubtfully for letting me watch the spectacle of your life from so close at hand – indeed, Basel has made me the gift of your image and of Jakob Burckhardt’s; I think it is not only with regard to knowledge that these two images have been very useful to me. The dignity and grace of an original and essentially solitary way of living and knowing – this is the spectacle which was ‘delivered to my door’ by favor of destiny, a favor which I cannot overestimate – and consequently I left that house a different person from the one who entered it.” (
Selected Letters, pages 173-174)

Interestingly enough, this letter, though mailed obviously in Nietzsche’s often difficult to read handwriting, was unsigned.

1 comment:

The girl with far away eyes said...

No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. I love this quote-really speaks to me in the place I currently reside~