Thursday, November 26, 2009

On the Beach

"On the morning of January 1, 1877, I took a beautiful walk along the seashore alone with Nietzsche, and we sat down on an outcropping of rock that jutted far out into the deep blue sea. The weather was beautiful as a spring morning; a warm breeze was blowing and on the shores gleamed the golden fruits of the green orange-trees. We were both in a peaceful, harmonious mood; our pleasant, meaningful conversations stood in harmony with the auspicious beginning of the year, and we finally agreed that the real goal of life had to be to strive for truth. Nietzsche said that for the real human being everything had to serve *that* purpose, including suffering, and that to this extent he also blessed the past year of his life, in which he had suffered so much.

"How mild, how conciliatory Nietzsche was then, how much his kind, amiable nature still held the balance with his analytical intellect. How cheerful he still could be, how heartily he could laugh, for despite all seriousness, our little circle was not lacking in humor and joy."(Conversations with Nietzsche, page 83)

Frl. von Meysenbug enjoyed the company of many brilliant thinkers of her day, but none more so than Nietzsche. Between his perpetual bouts of recurring illness, she found Fritz was funny, insightful, innovative, and a superb conversationalist on a wide-range of topics.

"In early spring Ree and Brenner left, each one returning to his hometown. Nietzsche stayed on alone, somewhat distressed because of our evenings, since we both, with our eye ailments, were now deprived of our excellent readers. But Nietzsche said cheerfully: 'Well then, let us converse all the more.' And so it happened, for there never was a lack of rich material for conversations. Thus we discussed among other things, 'The Bride of Corinth,' and Nietzsche remarked that Goethe had had the old vampire legend in mind, which the Greeks had already known in antiquity, and he had wanted to use it to show graphically how the mores and myths of antiquity were darkened into specter like things in the Christian world and how the dark turn which Christianity took very soon distorted the free sensory world of the Greeks and changed a flourishing natural life into a moldy smell and cult of the dead.” (page 86)

As his stay in Sorrento extended into late the spring of 1877, Frl. von Meysenbug came to treat his presence in a more motherly fashion, attempting to offer guidance to his seemingly drifting life. The subject of marriage came up several times in their intimate conversations. Frl. von Meysenbug felt that it was important for someone of Nietzsche's abilities, handicapped by his poor health, to find a help-mate - marriage being the best strategy for Fritz to remain functional and continue with his writing.

Fritz had, in fact, already proposed marriage on two previous occasions. Once, clumsily in by letter to a woman he had just met, which was understandably – if politely - refused. The other time he had fumbled around in his socially inept way and waited too late, what little chance there was in the opportunity had passed to another suitor. For all his artistic and intellectual social skill, when it came to interpersonal matters Fritz was incompetent.

It was around this time that Nietzsche decided to share with von Meysenbug some nearly completed sections of his next major work that he had apparently dictated to Brenner and Ree before their departure.

"One day Nietzsche arrived carrying a large bundle of written pages and told me to read them sometime, they were thoughts that occurred to him during his solitary walks; in particular he identified to me a tree under which, whenever he stood there, and idea always fell down to him. I read the pages with great interest; there were splendid thoughts among them, particularly such as related to his Greek studies; but there were others that puzzled me, that did not at all fit Nietzsche as he had been till now and proved to me that the positivist tendency whose slight beginnings I had already observed during the past winter was starting to take root and to give his ideas new form. I could not avoid telling him about it and urging him to leave these writings aside and to re-examine them after a longer passage of time before releasing them for publication. I told him that, especially in regard to women, he ought to make no final pronouncements yet, since he still really knew far too few women." (page 88)

Although she was somewhat alarmed by what she read, von Meysenbug could not bring herself to believe that this bright and spirited man would ultimately pursue the course upon which his life was about to take. After reading the passages he shared with her she wrote: “…but my faith in Nietzsche's high talent was too solid to regard all this as more than a passing phase of his development, from which his ideality would emerge victorious." (page 89)

In the end, Nietzsche found little respite in Sorrento. For a few weeks it appeared as if his dream of being part of a small spiritual and intellectual “high culture” experiment might become a reality. But, this passed with the departure of Ree. Frl von Meysenbug had higher hopes for Fritz when he originally accepted the invitation to vacation at her villa.

"It was infinitely sad that his health had not improved at all, indeed, the attacks of his ailments, the horrible head- and eye-aches, became even more frequent as the weather got warmer and often forced him to lie in bed day and night in endless torment. His confidence in the South was extinguished, and with the same fervent confidence with which he had looked forward to this journey, he now looked forward to his return to the icy regions of the Alpine world, and moved his department date ahead. I was painfully moved by this failed hope, but could not hold him back, since even the most loving care had proved powerless against this mighty disease and so one had to share his hope that the change might perhaps bring some improvement." (page 89)

It was because of his precarious health that a plan was hatched for Fritz’s immediate future. Hollingdale writes: "After Ree and Brenner had left on the 10th April Nietzsche and Malwida must have got down to considering Nietzsche's future career seriously. Two things seemed at the time to be quite clear: he must leave Basel and he must find a wife. He had already spoken to Elizabeth on the latter topic; and on the 25th April he wrote again:

"'Now, the plan which Frl. von M. thinks we should keep immovably before our eyes, and in which you must help, is as follows: We are convinced that in the long run I shall have to give up my Basel university life, that if I continued there it would be at the cost of all my important designs and would involved a complete breakdown in my health. Naturally, I shall have to remain there during next winter, but I shall finish with it at Easter 1878, provided we bring off the other arrangement, i.e. marriage with a suitable and necessarily well-to-do woman....This project will be pushed ahead this summer, in Switzerland, so that I could come back to Basel already married. Various persons have been invited to come to Switzerland...'” (page 109) Fritz proceeded to list names of such candidates as if he were planning to conduct a kind of pageant.

Hollingdale: "All this seems definite enough; but none of it was to be carried through. Nietzsche was due to return to Basel in the autumn (of 1877), and it was clearly his (and more probably Malwida's) idea that he should pass the intervening time in Switzerland where, through Malwida, he would meet various young ladies and inspect them with a view to making one of them his wife. There is no evidence that he did this; on the contrary, in a letter to Malwida of the 1st July, after he had been traveling in Italy and Switzerland for six months or so, he says he still has that 'pleasant duty' before him." (page 109)

Fritz procrastinated. Frl. von Meysenbug’s plans came to naught. That summer and fall, even as his health slowly got even worse, he finished what would become the first great work of his unique philosophy. After that nothing would ever be the same.