Thursday, August 13, 2009

Letters to Naumburg

Fritz’s relationship with his sister was a complex one. Of course, many brother and sister interactions are. Generally speaking they were very close during the period of his life up to 1876 and remained close afterwards though there were increasingly periods of unrest between them.

His relations with his mother remained on a more even keel. She continued to lovingly wish the best for her son and to harbor hopes that he might one day return to his lost Christian faith. Franziska stayed in Naumburg for most of Nietzsche’s life. Elizabeth was often with her mother, though she traveled a bit more.

Friedrich Nietzsche loved his sister and his mother. For a time, his sister lived with him at his residence at Basel, keeping his modest home in order and attending to various chores. Elizabeth would often take dictation for Fritz when his eyes were too strained to see. She would read to him in the afternoons and evenings. They cohabitated on a very mundane level.

Therefore, he opened up to his sister and his mother in ways he couldn’t to his more intellectual friends. The result is a collection of correspondence which show’s how Fritz lived his days and felt about life beyond his artistic, rational and academic pursuits. These letters present us with a more fleshed out view of who Nietzsche was as a human being.

A letter to Elizabeth dated June 11, 1865, reflects the happy times he had while studying at Bonn University, in this case traveling with choral friends to Cologne where Fritz sang under Ferdinand Hiller: “In the evening we gentlemen from Bonn were setting off to visit the bars together, but were invited by the Cologne Men’s Choral society to dine at the Gurzenich restaurant and stayed there amid carnivalesque toasts and singing, in which the Cologne people blossom forth, amid four-part choruses and mounting enthusiasm. At three in the morning I got away with two acquaintances; and we wandered through the city, ringing doorbells, but found nowhere to sleep, even the post office did not accept us – we wanted to sleep in the delivery vans – till finally a night porter opened the Hotel du Dome for us. We collapsed on the benches in the dining room and were asleep in two seconds. Outside, the sky was brightening. After and hour and a half the house boy came and woke us, for the room had to be cleaned. We left in a state of humorous desperation, walked across the railway station toward Deutz, had breakfast, and went in very subdued voice to the rehearsal, where I fell asleep with great enthusiasm (and obbligato trumpets and drums). I was all the more lively at the afternoon performance from six to eleven, for my favorite things were performed: Schumann’s Faust music and the A Major Symphony of Beethoven. In the evening I was longing for somewhere to sleep, and wandered around to about thirteen hotels, where everything was full of overfull. Finally, in the fourteenth, after the owner assured me that all rooms were full here as well, I told him cold-bloodedly that I would stay here and he had better give me a bed. And it was done – camp beds were set up in the dining room, costing twenty groschen for the night. On the third day the last concert took place at last, in which a number of smaller things were performed. The best moment was the performance of the symphony by Hiller, with its epigraph, 'Spring Must Come.' The musicians were unusually excited, for we all thought most highly of Hiller. After every movement there was immense jubilation and after the last a similar scene, only even more so. Hiller’s podium was covered with wreaths and bouquets. One of the musicians placed a laurel wreath on Hiller’s head, and the orchestra played a threefold flourish. The old man covered his face and wept, which profoundly moved the ladies.” (Selected Letters, pages 9-10)

From May 29, 1869: “Dear Lizbeth: Later that I would have liked, I now have time and opportunity to thank you for your letter and tell you in more detail about my experiences here. First of all, I was glad to hear that you feel comfortable in Leipzig and that you will perhaps find it as useful and pleasant as you had hoped. Certainly it is a stimulating change, and one that will offer you new ideas, compared with the slow rhythm of life in Naumburg.” (page 54) Here we see that Fritz found a more cultured setting largely preferable to the purely pastoral and rural places of his youth.

Fritz might have felt a tad guilty for preferring to spend the Christmas of 1871 with Wagner rather than his family. But, his mind was filled with appreciation for the beginnings of his own ideas and the joy of soon sharing them with the world. He wrote to his mother and sister on December 27: “Well, so now we have reached the limit of the year. I think of the past year with reassurance and level it with gratitude. You will be seeing how it has been, in a certain sense, an epoch-making one for me. My book will soon appear; with it I shall begin the new year, and now people will know what I want, what I aspire to with all my strength – my time of activity begins. Good moments they were in which this book was written; it was a good year, despite its doubtful beginning. Soon health returned; and what lovely warm times in Lugano and Basel and Naumburg and Leipzig I now see in my mind’s eye!” Fritz uses an exclamation point. He understood that with the publication of The Birth of Tragedy his life would change forever, though it obviously turned out differently from his hopes and visions.

In the high autumn of 1872 Fritz wrote to his mother one of the more revealing accounts of the pleasure he found in hiking through the countryside. “It is a peaceful Sunday in Chur, in an afternoon mood. Feeling quite at ease, I mount the road into the country; everything is spread out before me, as on the previous day, in a goldish autumn glow. Glorious views when I look back, the views on either side continuously changing and more spacious. After half an hour a little side path, which brings me into lovely shadow – for till now it has been quite warm. Now I came into the gorge through which the Rabiusa roars, a place I cannot marvel at enough. I walk on, over bridges and on small paths leading along the Cliffside, for about half an hour, and now find, marked by a flag, the springs of Pasugg. At first it disappointed me, for I was expecting a pension, and found only a modest inn, though it was full of Sunday visitors from Chur, of families comfortably feasting and quaffing a lot of coffee. At first I drink three glasses at the saline soda spring; then soon my changed head permits me to add a bottle of Asti spumante – you remember? – and some very soft goat cheese. A man with Chinese eyes, who is sitting at my table, has some of the Asti too; he thanks me and drinks, feeling himself flattered. The innkeeper’s wife hands me a whole mass of analyses of the waters and so on; finally, the owner of the springs, Sprecher, an excited man, conducts me around the property, whose unbelievably fantastic location I have to acknowledge. I drink again, and in good quantities, from the three quite different springs; the owner promises other chief springs besides, and offers me, noticing my interest, the chance to become shareholder in the new hotel – the mockery of it! The valley is entirely charming, for a geologist it has an inexhaustible variety, even capriciousness. There were veins of graphite as well as quartz with ocher, and the owner even had stories to tell of gold deposits. Late, toward sundown, I walk back, very delighted with the afternoon, although my thoughts were often of my arrival – or non-arrival – at Naumburg. (page 110)

Fritz’s health continued to deteriorate after opening of the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth. He was more violently ill than at any time in his recent history. Finally, matters became so bad that he could not even lecture or research. He was bed-ridden most days. The University of Basel granted him one year's medical leave in the fall of 1876. Fritz, along with Paul Ree, a close intellectual friend and admirer of Nietzsche, traveled as companions to stay with Malwida von Meysenbug (more on this in the next post), arriving October 28, 1876. He immediately wrote his mother and sister a short note:

“Here we are, in Sorrento! … Sorrento and Naples are beautiful – people have not been exaggerating. The air here is a mixture of mountain and sea air. It is very soothing for my eyes; from my terrace I look down first on a big green tree garden (which stays green in winter), beyond that the very dark sea, beyond that Vesuvius. Let’s hope. Love and devotion, Your. F." (pages 149 - 150)