Contributor: Anne Bohnenkamp, Frankfurt am Main (Deutsches Romantik-Museum
Location: Frankfurt am Main (Germany)
Description: Letters belong to the most important media of the Romantic era. Apart from the general rise of private correspondence in the eighteenth century, which was marked by profound social, political and technical change, specific characteristics of the Romantic movement are responsible for the growing importance of letters in this period. These include characteristic tendencies of border transgressions – such as to abolish the distinction between life and art, to declare life a work of art and art as life, so that the distinction between private letters and works of art begins to blur. Last but not least emerging forms of female authorship frequently operate with the medium of the letter because it allows the author to disguise their claim to produce a literary work, which was still considered to be a very inappropriate aspiration for women. Today, the letters of the Romantic period give us intimate insights into the communication between the protagonists of this era.
This letter that Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau in Frankfurt am Main wrote on July 16, 1834, is addressed to “Frau von Arnim / née Fräulein Brentano / frey / in Berlin.” This handwritten inscription can be found on the reverse of the sheet shown here. The recipient of the letter – Bettine von Arnim, née Brentano – is one of the most important female authors of Romanticism in the German-speaking world. Her published work consists almost exclusively of ‘letter books’. Her “epistolary worlds of desire” combine a documentary impression with imaginative inventions forming “fantasy correspondences”, which are based in part on letters that were actually exchanged.
Continue reading “Bettine! (Or a Letter Without Text)”
Contributor: Robert Samuels
Location: Beethoven-Haus Bonn (Bonngasse 24-26, 53111 Bonn)
Description: The deaf composer is perhaps the most perfectly Romantic image of the transcendent genius. His music exists in his thought – his thought is, indeed, entirely musical. But this music exists only in the mind. The composer has no need to hear it in the phenomenal world, because he hears it already, perfectly, with the inner ear of the intellect.
Four hearing aids made for Beethoven in 1813 reside today in the Beethoven museum in Bonn, the city of his birth. They symbolise the most important element of the myth of Beethoven, a myth that was created and cultivated assiduously by the architects of Romanticism. Victor Hugo, no less, commented of Beethoven’s symphonies that ‘these marvels of euphony have sprung from a head whose ear is dead. It is as if we saw a blind god who creates suns’. As physical objects, however, the ear trumpets also testify to the pathos of an individual who today we would describe as having ‘additional needs’ rather than ‘transcendent powers’.
Continue reading “Beethoven’s Ear Trumpets”
Contributor: Cian Duffy
Location: Falun, Sweden (60°35.56N’ 15°36.44’E)
Description: Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, Falun Mine, in Dalarna, Sweden, was, during the eighteenth century, one of the largest copper mines in Europe and a key locale for the development of mining technology. Many British Romantic-period travellers to Sweden wrote about visits to the mine and descents into its depths, although not Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97). Swedish visitors of note included the theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) and the natural philosopher Carl Linnaeus (1707-78). However, Falun is probably now best known to scholars of the Romantic period as the setting for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s (1776-1822) story ‘Die Bergwerke zu Falun’ [The Mines at Falun] (1819), which Theodore Ziolkowksi, in his pioneering study German Romanticism and Its Institutions, describes as the ‘culmination’ of ‘the obsession with mines’ in German Romantic-period cultural texts (p. 55).
Continue reading “Falun Copper Mine [Falu Gruva]”
Contributors: Nick Hearn and Susan Reynolds
Location: Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, UK
Description: The Taylor Institution Library has many treasures – chiefly books — but among the many rare and valuable items in the Rare Books Room one stands out. It is the item recorded in the catalogue with the shelfmark MS.8º.G.26. It is not a book or a manuscript as the shelf-mark would suggest but a lock of hair – supposedly a lock of Goethe’s hair! So it would seem that in the Taylor Institution Library, not only do we have an extensive collection of works by and about the greatest of all German poets, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), but in the depths of the library in our Rare Books Room, we have a lock of the great man’s hair! It is most likely the slip of paper with the portrait which has been classified. The little portrait, an oval piece of paper with a simple line drawing of Goethe added later is, however, an understated minimally delineated presence possibly sketched by the same person who put the sprig of hair in that gilded frame.
The star attraction – the main event — is that elongated wispy sprig of hair delicately piercing the backing paper below and itself framing a faded bloom. There are two inscriptions accompanying the lock of hair – one of them, the older one, mentions the time of year – March. It seems likely, as Professor Henrike Laehnemann notes, that the dried flower is a violet, given the time of year mentioned on the accompanying inscription. It is an intriguing ensemble – portrait, violet, lock of hair accompanied rather like some medieval relic by two inscriptions testifying to its authenticity like a secular equivalent of the medieval cedula where the name of a saint was noted and then tied to the relic.
What is the origin of these items? What do they mean? Can it really be true that this is a lock of Goethe’s hair? How did the Taylor Institution Library come by a lock of Goethe’s hair? Is it authentic? To begin to answer these questions we must look at the inscriptions.
Continue reading “A Lock of Goethe’s Hair”
A Lock of Goethe’s Hair
(cut on 2nd March 1823, now in the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford)
Clear as melt-water, the March air flows into the room,
Carrying the delicate notes of the birds’ first thin calls
In that garden in Weimar. The Herr Geheimrat, propped high
On his bulwark of pillows, the doctor dismissed at last,
Waits for his barber. Time to be tidy and kempt,
Fit for the salon, although his condition is still
Fragile as Meissen, and weaker than camomile tea.
The cold blade slides down his neck, gliding, and with it there falls,
As his dead hair scatters, the years of his well-worn past –
Italy, Frankfurt, the court and the theatre, the verse –
`One lock – as a favour?’ Yes – far in the past, those old Greeks,
They cut off a curl of their hair as a gift to the dead,
And the Roman boys severed a strand at their coming-of-age…
Outside, Frau von Goethe, her wholesome cheeks shiny and scrubbed
As a winter apple, goes bustling, shuffles and scolds.
Excellent woman! He thinks of Charlotte von Stein –
Her pale smile, ironic, her manners, that filigree cage
Of etiquette, trapping a passion that fluttered and cried…
Whose are those voices? Next door, or much farther away,
One, like a violin, springs in a light curving arc
While Mozart’s viola responds in its full rolling tone:
`…cut from the head of the poet as he convalesced…’
The barber is gleaning the scatterings in a white towel,
Murmurs excuses – but under the crop that remains
New rhythms and phrases are stirring, as down in the park
The tentative fronds are uncurling around the oak’s roots.
Yes, one slip of hair is a sacrifice he can afford,
In thanks to the Fates who have spared him their shears – just for now.
by Susan Reynolds
Read the blog post on Goethe’s Hair here.
Contributor: Clare Brant
Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London
Description: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: the first line (and proper title) of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils (pub.1807) has epitomised Romantic poetry for generations of English schoolchildren (and for some, created resistance to it.) What made clouds Romantic? Why did poets and artists across Europe follow William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and John Constable (1776-1837) in making them subjects of Romantic poems and paintings?
Continue reading “A Cloud”
Contributor: Barbara Schaff
Location: Göttingen, Germany
Description: This elaborate mourning dress, or heva, stands out as a particularly magnificent example of Tahitian artisanship among the approximately 2000 ethnographical objects which were either received as presents or tokens of exchange by Cook or members of his crew during Cook’s three Pacific voyages. It is one of only six complete surviving mourning costumes of its kind and testifies to an elaborate mourning practice, also called a heva, which would, with the coming of Christianity, soon become a thing of the past on Tahiti. Brought back to England, it was purchased by the British Crown from the London dealer in ethnographic specimens, George Humphrey, in 1782. It was then sent on to the ethnographic collection of Göttingen University, where it remains. As the only German university founded by a British king in the context of the Personal Union between Hanover and Britain, the scientific contacts between Göttingen, the Royal Society and the British Crown in the eighteenth century were excellent, as this handsome gift evidences. Its passage from Tahiti through London and on to Germany was also marked by the impression it made upon the late eighteenth-century cultural imagination. The heva was to become one of the most widely circulated images of Tahitian culture in late eighteenth-century Europe.
Continue reading “A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook”
Contributor: Wolfgang Bunzel
Location: Freies Deutsches Hochstift/Frankfurter Goethe-Museum, Grosser Hirschgraben 23-25, D-60311 Frankfurt/M., Germany
Description (English): In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there were folding travel desks, often equipped with bottom drawers (cp. folding travel desk in the Beethoven-Haus Bonn from the collection of H. C. Bodmer) enabling travellers to work during their journeys. Suitable for excursions and journeys, Bettina von Arnim’s handbag, foldable from both sides, adopts exactly this design principle. It has a drawer underneath with a removable long wooden box, which served as storage for writing utensils (ink pot and several quills), drawing tools (pencil and chalk) and different needlework (knitting- and sewing-needles as well as fixing pins). Thus, the authoress was always provided with the necessary writing material while travelling. Continue reading “Bettina von Arnim’s handbag”