Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paul: Stellar Friend

Paul Rée's friendship with Fritz began in 1873 when Paul, visiting Basel for other reasons, chose to attend several of the Herr Professor’s lectures. Paul promptly approached Fritz and soon each was enjoying the other’s company socially. The two stayed in touch and had regular visits. Along with Franz Overbeck and Peter Gast (Heinrich Köselitz), Paul was one of the very few friends with whom Fritz could express total honesty. Gast, of course, did proofing on most of Nietzsche’s published work to date. So, he was closely connected with everything Fritz wrote. Overbeck and Fritz had a very close relationship, as is posted here.

But, with Paul, Fritz could be completely himself. By all accounts, Fritz was witty, able to display brief moments of dexterity in his otherwise near-sighted state, a good listener, possessed an entertaining sense of humor, a great conversationalist on a range of topics, clever with piano improvisations when such was available, enjoyed a good party, and had exquisite taste in clothing, floral decorations, furniture, art, and literature. Paul shared an appreciation of all things with Fritz, only he had far more money.

In addition, Fritz respected Paul’s own philosophic work, though it was much more modest in terms of output. “Rée had nothing to offer. In one of the drafts included in the posthumous compilation Philosophie, he asserted that the main questions of philosophy had been answered. Ethical and religious ideas were known to be social products, while the product of knowledge would seem to be insoluble. So there was no more to be said.” (Small, page 48)

In his work,
Robin Small writes of the Fritz-Paul relationship: “…it is evident that a mutual openness was established, and probably a shared overestimation of their common ground. In reality, Rée needed encouragement to press on with his writing, and stood to receive a greater benefit in this respect from their friendship. Nietzsche was aware of Ree’s dependence on personal support, and he later complained that his efforts had been in vain. At the time, though, he was generous with his praise for what Ree had already done, and in hopes for what might follow.

“As a frequent traveler, Rée had a more cosmopolitan view of the world than Nietzsche: his Psychological Observations include several knowing references to the sexual habits of Parisian society. Coming to know Ree must have brought Nietzsche to realize how limited his view of the world had been.” (pp. 42-43)

“(In October 1873) Nietzsche wrote Rée…his first letter, to tell him how much he had enjoyed the anonymously published Psychological Observations and that he had instantly penetrated the incognito. Rée replied from Paris that he’d always admired Nietzsche from afar and that he would like to be able now to think of him as a friend. Rée visited Nietzsche in February of the following year, and the next month Nietzsche wrote his ‘new-won friend’ of his delight in knowing someone quite different from anyone he knew at Basel, someone with whom he could talk about ‘humanity’. ‘Shall we’, he wrote, ‘make this shared need the basis of our friendship and hope to meet often? It would be a great joy and profit to me if you say ‘Yes’. Let us see, then, how much personal openness a friendship founded on this basis can bear! I do not find it so easy to promise this…But I wish from the heart to deserve your openness…’” (
Young, page 213)
In 1882 Paul was 32 and “the son of a wealthy Prussian landowner. He was interested in philosophy but, bowing to his father’s wishes, he had studied law. However, the Franco-Prussian War, in which he was wounded, had cut short his law career and after his return home he had decided to take up the subject of his choice after all. He had studied philosophy at Halle and had published, anonymously, a small book of aphorisms entitled Psychological Observations which had led to his friendship with Nietzsche, who called him ‘a very thoughtful and talented person, a follower of Schopenhauer.

“All who came into contact with Rée stressed his kindness and generosity. He was unassuming and possessed a gentle ironic sense of humor. His appearance was not distinguished. His soft, roundish face, in which the nose was the most prominent feature, made him look pudgy and squat, an impression that was heightened by his thick neck and stout body. An aura of sadness surrounded him even at times when he seemed cheerful and relaxed. He was Jewish and suffered from an intense, almost pathological, self-hatred.

“As a philosopher Rée started by being a follower of Schopenhauer but went far beyond the latter’s pessimism. Nietzsche called him ‘the boldest and coldest thinker’ he knew. Rée’s concern was with the problem of ethics. He subjected the moral universe to a rigorous scientific analysis and reached the conclusion that it did not exist. ‘Our ideas of good and evil are products of culture, not nature,’ he wrote. There was no innate moral sense. God is an illusion and the Heavenly Kingdom a mirrored image of man and earth. But, man and earth, too, are illusions. They are products of the mind. The object does not exist. Every ‘objective something’ turns out to be something subjective.” (
Peters, pp. 73-74)

In a typical play on words, Fritz called Paul’s thinking “Réealism.” As mentioned before, many readers of Human, All Too Human thought Fritz had been heavily influenced by Paul’s thinking particularly during the
1876-77 Sorrento days together when the first drafts of the book were being written down. But, Fritz’s thought had continued on from there through Daybreak and, soon, The Gay Science. Paul wrote The Origins of the Moral Sensations as Fritz wrote HH during their stay with Malwida in Sorrento. Paul’s book came out ten months before Fritz’s but after that Paul wrote nothing more than notes. His thought did not evolve. Fritz’s did. When Paul gave Fritz one of the first copies of Origins he inscribed it: “To the father of this essay, most gratefully from its mother.” (Kaufmann, note, page 50)

Paul was indeed Fritz’s best friend when the two of them partied in Monaco until Paul, the one with money enough to make the trip happen, gambled away every last penny he had. That was March 1882, about the same time Lou Salomé was moving to Rome and discovering Malwida von Meysenbug’s salon. No doubt they had a great deal of fun, particularly since Fritz had been in comparative good health and high spirits for weeks. I’m sure he kept Paul thoroughly entertained and both enjoyed each other’s personality and mind above all others.

Some measure of the friendship can be found in comparing the overall correspondence between them. “The twenty-six extant (but hitherto largely unpublished) letters Rée wrote Nietzsche up to April 20, 1882, show how asymmetrical a relationship it was, and that Rée was conscious mainly of his own debt to Nietzsche. Rée's letters are of exceptional charm – including the twenty letters he addressed to Elisabeth Nietzsche during that period and the twelve he addressed to Nietzsche’s mother. During the same period, Nietzsche sent Ree twenty-six letters, still extant and mostly shorter than Ree’s; and all these documents suggest that this friendship was among the best things that ever happened to Nietzsche. There was something heavy about Overbeck and Gast, and neither of them could stimulate Nietzsche philosophically. Rée had a light touch and was interested in some of the very same problems that occupied Nietzsche.” (Kaufmann, page 48)

So, in late-March 1882 Paul, fresh from a bankrupting but rousing good time with Fritz on the French Mediterranean, entered the world of Lou Salomé. Paul really wasn’t the romantic type and that may well have been why he and Lou hit it off so well. “Paul Rée, as he had once confessed in a letter to Nietzsche, had emerged ‘disgusted’ from his first love-affair; and it may well have been the reassuring weakness in his character which, no less than the sardonic wit, unconventional agnosticism and gentleness of manner, made him such an agreeable companion for the high-strung, amorously schizophrenic Lou Salomé, torn between romantic desire to ‘live life to the fullest’ and an equally passionate and prohibitive determination not to be dominated by any man – unless, miraculously, he turned out to be of the rare ‘man-god’ species.” (
Cate, page 325)

Paul was anything but “disgusted” around Lou, however. The two connected almost immediately. Lou saw Paul as the intellectual vagabond who had just gotten back from a wild escapade in Monte Carlo. His mind was much brighter than anyone else’s she had met in Rome. Paul, of course, could not believe his luck. Here was a stunning, brilliant, young woman whose expansive mind desired exactly the kinds of conversations Paul and Fritz shared. Paul and Lou began clandestine walks the very night of their introduction.

It was like a melding of minds within philosophical musings. A striking thought of this friendship’s first imagery. “It was a beautiful, starlit night with spring in the air and it seemed a pity to go straight home. They decided to keep walking, across the
Square San Pietro in Vincoli and the Monks of Lebanon. They strolled past the Forum and the Colosseum and watched the moon in the distance silhouetting the Aqua Paola on the Janiculum. And they talked, they talked incessantly, each trying to outtalk the other.” (Peters, page 76)

“One walk followed another, and in the course of these clandestine nightly excursions several things happened. Lou saw many aspects of Roman life that no young lady of her class would normally see. So this was the night life of the big city: elegance and squalor, virtue and vice, magnified under the cloak of darkness. Street vendors and streetwalkers, revelers in evening dress, middle-class matrons accompanied by their stout husbands, bohemians of both sexes, drunken soldiers, couples on park benches making love, and everywhere ancient monuments proclaiming the glories of Imperial Rome…” (Peters, page 77)

These clandestine walks went on a couple of weeks before Lou hatched a scheme without realizing (or caring, for that matter) that Paul had, in all this time, fallen in love with her. Nietzsche scholars disagree as to whether Paul actually went so far as to propose marriage to Lou, but my opinion is that he was probably too timid to rush into such a matter. Instead, Paul became terrified of the situation. Then Lou transformed his terror into surprise.

“He was in love with Lou. How could he be her friend? As far as he could see there was only one course of action of him – flight. He had to get away from her, far away. When Lou learned of Rée’s plan, she got very angry and called him a coward. What was wrong with men? Were they incapable of friendship with women? Could they only be lovers or husbands? Then she told Rée of a dream she often had. She dreamt that she was sharing a large apartment with two friends. There was a study and a library in the center, filled with books and flowers, and bedrooms on either side. They were all three living and working together in perfect harmony and it made no difference at all they were men and she was a woman.” (Peters, page 79)

It was Lou that proposed to Paul, but she never offered marriage. Still, Paul was taken aback by such an unthinkable arrangement and eventually went to Madame von Meysenbug for advice. Malwida treated him to a stern lecture. When Madame von Salomé discovered the secret walks and the ridiculous plans of her daughter she desperately appealed to none other than Hendrick Gillot back in St. Petersburg. This quickly turned into a war of words between an ever-defiant Lou and her former tutor/lover.

Paul wrote his letter of invitation to Fritz shortly before this emotional rollercoaster started (and, perhaps, before he had fallen in love with Lou). Paul was genuinely interested in Lou meeting his best friend and for Fritz to join in their philosophical musings. For her part Lou wanted to meet “the Herr Professor” as well. Not only had Paul and Malwida both spoken highly of Fritz, but Lou seemed to think that it was just possible for a published, retired university professor to add an air of respectability to her idea of an intellectual ménage a trios. In addition to Paul’s letter, Malwida wrote Fritz as well, encouraging him to pay her a visit and meet this young woman. She felt Lou was “a promising pupil” and, further, “Ree and I agree in the wish to see you two together with this extraordinary being.” (Small, page 137)

In Paul’s alert and anxious mind, it would be wonderful to watch Lou and Fritz interact. In Lou’s insatiable and somewhat naive mind, she desired to meet this interesting professor who was the best of friends with Paul. In Malwida’s mind Lou was remarkable enough to warrant a visit by Fritz, to the benefit of everyone and perhaps to ease the anxiety Paul was experiencing. Everyone had their private agenda for the circumstances of a visit by Fritz.

Meanwhile, Fritz: “In a letter to Overbeck March 17, 1882, after complaining about his defective typewriter and his failing eyesight, and adding the comment that he would be well-served by a ‘reading machine,’ he went on to say: ‘I need a young person around me who is intelligent and educated enough to be able to work with me. I would even agree to two years of marriage for this purpose – in which case, of course, a few additional considerations would apply.’” (
Safranski, page 250)

This was the intimate complexity of things when Fritz visited Rome in April 1882.