This essay, written by Heinz Bluhm, was originally published in The Newberry Library Bulletin volume 5, number 5 (1960), under the title “The Newberry ‘Goetheana’: A Preliminary Report on the Chicago Find.”
I should like first of all to express my gratitude to the English Goethe Society and to the Association of University Teachers of German in Great Britain and Ireland for inviting me to address you this morning [note 1]. I wish to assure you that I am sensible of the honour you have done me.
Your gracious and able Secretary has asked me to report to you on the new Goetheana which I found in the Newberry Library in Chicago not long ago. Since new Goetheana are not found every day in our century, you will doubtless wish to know first how I found them. The story is very simple.
I spent the spring and summer of 1957 in Europe, returning to the United States just in time to attend the meetings of the MLA in September in Madison, Wisconsin. In September I was still a Guggenheim Fellow working on Martin Luther and the First Printed English Bible of 1535. I had seen the copies of this important Bible in the British Museum., the Bodleian, the John Rylands, and the Pierpont Morgan in New York City. I knew there was a copy in the Newberry in Chicago. There is hardly anything surprising in my decision to look at it on my way to Madison.
I remember vividly the hot September afternoon on which I walked from the Loop along slightly disreputable North Clark Street to the Newberry Library. After examining the Newberry copy of the Coverdale Bible for an hour or so I asked, just before leaving, the perfectly natural question: “Do you have any rare items in German literature?” I did not really expect anything much because the Newberry is not known for its holdings in German literature. You are all aware, I trust, that the Newberry’s resources in English, Romance, and History are extraordinary. In German there are only a few, though altogether spectacular, treasures, such as Luther’s Septembertestament of 1522 and a full array of the pre-Lutheran Low German Bibles of 1478, 1494, and 1522, not found anywhere else under one and the same roof, I understand. I was shown these magnificent volumes and I greatly admired them. Perhaps my spontaneous and sincere admiration had something to do with what followed. Perhaps what followed was pure chance. I do not know.
My next question was, I believe, as inevitable as my first: “Do you have anything else?” The charming custodian of the Rare Book Room seemed to pause for a moment before she came out with these words: “Oh yes, we do have something else. Ottily … Ottily’s literary remains.” I was speechless. There was only one “Ottily” I really knew anything about. Yet I did not quite dare to associate the Newberry “Ottily” with the one and only. While I was still groping for words, the custodian came to my aid and added the family name, “von Goethe.”
She showed still incredulous me to the mezzanine floor. On a shelf there were six large boxes unmistakable marked Ottilie von Goethe’s Literary Remains. I had only half an hour before my train left for Madison. With a noticeable tremor in my hands I opened the first box and then the other five. My eyes could not really take in what they saw: letters signed Ottilie with references to “der Vater”; diaries of Ottilie with poems to Charles Sterling, Charles Des Voeux, Anna Jameson; manuscripts submitted to Ottilie for inclusion in her journal Chaos; letters signed August von Goethe; letters by Walther, Wolfgang, and Alma von Goethe, by Henriette von Pogwisch to her daughter Ottillie and to Adele Schopenhauer; documents relating to August’s studies at the University of Heidelberg and to August’s and Ottilie’s wedding; a translation into English of more than 600 lines from the First Part of Faust.
I hesitated to put all these treasures back in the boxes, but under the stern eyes of the custodian I did. The Librarian was out of town. The Rare Book Room closed at five, and my train left at five-fifteen. I walked out with my head swimming.
I survived the MLA somehow. I had to return to New Haven right after the meeting. A few days later I received an invitation from the Librarian, Dr. Stanley Pargellis, formerly at Yale, to spend the next summer in Chicago as a Fellow of the Newberry Library.
I did. For three months I had the privilege of handling and examining the six boxes of the Newberry Goetheana, as I soon chose to designate them. I needed all this time to make a survey of the whole material and to get a good start on the publication of some of the most important items.
After several weeks’ work the outlines of the job to be done emerged more or less clearly. I must leave it to you and others to decide whether my proposed arrangement is wise or at least workable. Here it is for whatever it may be worth.
The main division I made is between materials written before and after Goethe’s death. The things written while Goethe was still alive are obviously the most important. This does not mean, of course, that the pieces written after 1832 are without major interest. They are not. Though Goethe’s name may not be mentioned on every page or even every other page, it is always, or almost always, Goethe around whom things still somehow revolve. It is Goethe above all who gave at least some meaning and coherence to the strange existence of his daughter-in-law and of his grandsons till they departed this life in the 1870’s and the 1880’s. In short, Goethe is omnipresent throughout the Newberry Goetheana extending from 1815 to 1885.
Still, our main interest naturally attaches to the records dating from before Goethe’s death. I should like to say a few words on these first. I shall ask you not to expect too much. There is not a single line in Goethe’s own hand. But there is a goodly number of new letters by Goethe’s son, which throw a certain amount of light on Goethe himself. Apart from the important new Ottilie materials, it is these August letters which represent the most significant addition to our knowledge. I have been in correspondence with Ernst Grumach about them. I gather from him that the number of known August letters has been just about doubled by the Newberry find. That in itself is a noteworthy fact. But it is perhaps even more important that among August’s letters are his earliest to Ottilie von Pogwish. As a matter of fact, the Newberry Goetheana have yielded a whole new unit of August letters, entirely unknown thus far—letters August wrote to Ottilie during their engagement, from the beginning of January to the middle of June, 1817. These Verlobungsbriefe antedate all the hitherto known letters of August to Ottilie [note 2].
You will naturally want to know what sort of picture of August emerges from these letters. Let me state quite frankly that he was hardly a romantic lover. Knowing Ottilie as I now do on the basis of all available sources, both published and unpublished, I shall say immediately that he could never have hoped to satisfy her ultra-romantic demands. But then who could? Charles Sterling and perhaps Charles Des Voeux might have done so, but both proved to be inconstant and fickle. August had no chance at all. He was pedantic, pedestrian, stolid. Besides, he hid behind his father’s coat-tails altogether too long, until it was too late. One could even hold that the ambitious Ottilie never really married August in any responsible sense. She married Goethe the father in Goethe the son. August was the unfortunate and unhappy third person between Ottilie and Goethe.
A major aspect of the tragedy of August’s life is unmistakably suggested in these Newberry letter: his life revolved, or rather was made to revolve, altogether too much around his demanding father. Goethe dominated everybody around him perhaps August more than anyone else. August, in a very real sense, had no life of his own. He held a position in the administration of the grand duchy, and he had regular duties to perform at court. These posts were really all he could handle with ease. Yet the moment he came home he had to work—nolens volens—for his father. He was drawn into the ever expanding circle of Goethe’s far-flung empire of the mind. Though August’s assignments were routine and even menial, they had to be performed, and he executed them faithfully if reluctantly. He apparently did not dare to speak openly to Goethe about them. Even in the early letters there is an undertone of rising resentment over having no life of his own. August, whether he admitted it or not, was beginning to hate the old man. But the heavy burden had to be borne for many a year; the Italian venture of 1830 was but a final, desperate measure to free himself from the shackles of his strained existence in his father’s house. His deep-seated resentment found expression in a revealing passage in one of the Newberry letters.
But let me first explain that there is another set of letters of August to Ottilie besides the engagement letters. The second set dates from the middle period of his marriage, between 1823 and 1825. It is in this second series that the complaint against Goethe occurs.
“…alles in diesem leider sehr grossen Haushalt kommt an mich…da mich aber Gott einmal so gestellt, so will ichs erdulden bis—es anders wird.” (25 July, 1824).
“Until there is a change.” August was apparently waiting for his father’s death. The burden was just too heavy. Besides, his marriage was by this time beyond saving. Ottilie and he were simply incompatible. The Newberry letters bear this out. Even the engagement letters point in that direction, not to mention the letters from 1823-1825. August was soon disillusioned about his marriage; Ottilie became interested in other men. According to her own words, she had been ready to divorce August as early as 1818, within a year of their ill-starred marriage. In addition to August’s own letters the Newberry also contains a few important letters of Ottilie to August. These make it all the more evident that the two young people just could not get along with each other.
After August’s early death in Italy, in 1830, Ottilie and her three children continued to live in Goethe’s house. There were strains and stresses most of the time, but Goethe’s urbanity kept the inevitable frictions to a bearable minimum. Ottilie remained a hopeless housekeeper, and Goethe decided he had to supervise the household himself.
Yet Ottilie was the woman to whom, in January, 1832, he read the Second Part of Faust aloud. Goethe’s letters especially his diaries record the almost daily reading. But they do not tell the whole story. It is rather the Newberry Goetheana that reveal the full extent of Ottilie’s behavior during the last few months of Goethe’s life. Here we learn, for the first time I believe, that Ottilie during the very weeks when she was privileged to hear the Second Part of Faust from Goethe’s own lips was actually scheming to leave Weimar, Goethe, and her children, all for the purpose of running away to a rendezvous on the Rhine with Charles Sterling. This, I repeat, we did not know, so far as I can tell, before the Newberry Goetheana.
This startling matter is contained in important letters written by Ottillie’s mother, Henriette von Pogwisch, to Adel Schopenhauer, sister of the philosopher. Henriette was greatly shocked by Ottilie’s behavior. But she felt almost helpless vis-à-vis her headstrong daughter. She was quite aware that Ottilie did not listen to her mother. From these letters it is abundantly clear that Ottilie’s whole family, from her stern grandmother, Gräfin Donnersmarck, down, were most unhappy about Ottilie’s plan to meet Charles Sterling. Their combined opposition apparently succeeded in dissuading Ottilie from going through with her original intentions. However, we do not know this from the Newberry letters which sound quite pessimistic about the chance of stopping Ottilie. We know it from Goethe’s own diaries: Ottilie did not go this time, much as she wanted. However, it is perfectly clear that her heart was not it Weimar with her old farther-in-law but with her young lover on the Rhine. It is, incidentally, quite possible that Goethe himself put his foot down as he was wont to do upon occasion. Let us remember that he had threatened to disinherit his daughter-in-law if she remarried.
It is in this noteworthy series of letters written by Ottilie’s mother in 1832 that I came upon a very moving document on Goethe himself: the first letter, outside of a brief medical report, about Goethe’s death, written on the very day, 22 March. The earliest letters known so far date from the day after Goethe’s death. Ottilie, broken down after her long vigil, unable to write herself even to her closest friend, asked her mother to do this for her. Henriette did, within hours after the event.
Ottilie’s life after Goethe’s death became even more unsettled and involved. With the old man’s restraining hand and civilizing influence out of the way, Ottilie followed every impulse so far as possible. What she did not quite dare to do in the last months of Goethe’s life, she now did. She soon left Weimar for the previously planned rendezvous with Charles Sterling. He had been, ever since she first met him in 1823, her declared favorite. August had tried in vain to stop the affair. It was only after Goethe’s death, however, that Ottilie gave full rein to her passion for Charles Sterling. During another rendezvous in the summer of 1834 Ottilie became pregnant. Charles Sterling disappeared and was not even heard from. Ottilie returned to Weimar. She could not remain very long. It would have been impossible to bear Charles Sterling’s child in Goethe’s town. Her faithful and self-sacrificing friends Anna Jameson and Sibylle Mertens were the only people in the world who came to her aid in her distress. It was decided that Ottilie should go to Vienna to have her child. Here little Anna, named for Anna Jameson, who went with Ottilie to Vienna, was born in March, 1835. The child was boarded with a Vienna family. Anna Poiwisch, as her name was entered in the birth register, died before she was two years old. Ottilie had already returned to Weimar.
We have known of these unhappy matters more or less for a number of years, especially since Needler’s edition of Anna Jameson’s letters to Ottilie (1939) and since Eduard Castle’s research in the Vienna city records (1935). The Newberry Goetheana fill many lacunae in our actual knowledge. They also record Otillie’s inability, almost to the end of her days, to forget the events of 1834 and 1836. There are many entries in her diaries for years to come on the anniversaries of little Anna’s death.
Still, Ottilie returned to an active life very quickly after this blow. She did not remain in Weimar very long. Since she was incapable of living just for her children, she was ready for new adventure. In Leipzig she became acquainted with Karl Kühne, editor, novelist, poet of sorts. She was very fond of him, but he soon tired of her and married, to Ottilie’s horror, a much young woman. Before the Newberry Goetheana we knew only the barest outlines of the Leipzig episode. Now we know much more. Among the Newberry materials is a thick notebook entitled Gedanken-Saarg. Here most of the story of her new love is related in great detail. But not only her new love: her old loves are also probed. We are given many glimpses into her association with Charles Sterling and Charles De Voeux and Captain Story, as well as with Karl Kühne. Although Anna Jameson scolded her bitterly and called her “the most strange piece of womankind I ever encountered,” Ottilie seemed helpless in each new situation. It was always the pathetic case of an older woman almost pursuing younger, sometimes much younger, men. She always wanted passionate love leading to marriage, but all she ever got was short-lived passion and then the offer of friendship, for which she felt very little enthusiasm. After the Leipzig interlude she went back to Weimar. In 1840 she left Weimar for good except for a very few years toward the end of her life.
Of the second half of her life, specifically since the death of Goethe, we have thus far known relatively little. Aus Ottilie von Goethes Nachlass does not take us beyond the end of 1832. H. Houben’s Ottilie von Goethe takes the story, but only partially, to the death of Sibylle Mertens in 1857. H. G. Needler’s edition of Anna Jameson’s letters to Ottilie furnishes some valuable background material from 1833 to about 1860. But the information contained in these publications is very fragmentary. How fragmentary can best be seen, I suppose, by a closer look at all the biographies of Ottilie, down to the latest, written in 1948 and 1949. They deal with Ottilie in great detail to 1832; after that year they have not very much to say for the simple reason that the records thus far available have been quite inadequate.
All this, I submit, will be changed by virtue of the Newberry Goetheana. In fact, the bulk of the Ottilie materials in Chicago is post-1832. There are first of all the letters of Ottilie’s mother to Adele Schopenhauer in the transitional year of 1832, beginning before Goethe’s death and extending to the end of the year. Then there are a number of important letters Ottilie wrote to her mother between 1834 and 1839. In these letters the later chapters of Ottilie’s unhappy affair with Charles Sterling are set forth in greater detail than we have known before. The years 1835 and 1836 are surely among the darkest in Ottilie’s strange life. There is also the first indication we have ever had, at least so far as I know the literature on the subject, of a new chapter in the relationship of Ottilie and Charles Sterling, with another rendezvous as late as 1838.
Important as all these letters and diary-like documents from 1832 to 1839 manifestly are, the largest single block of new Ottilie von Goethe materials is doubtless her diaries from 1840 on, twenty-six individual notebooks. It is in these above all that the second half of Ottilie’s life unfolds before us in all its aspects. And beyond that, or as part of it perhaps, the life of her two sons, Walther and Wolfgang, and of her daughter Alma is related in amazing detail. Most of it is a sad story and does not make for edifying reading. But for anyone acquainted with her earlier life to 1832 it is a moving account of an ageing, disappointed, yet always excited and exciting woman, for so many years a resident in Goethe’s house. There are brief reminiscences and quick glimpses of Goethe. There are, on the personal side, annual dirges on Charles Sterling’s birthday, the man she never forgot.
Besides the diaries there are several notebooks filled with Ottilie’s own writings and personal reflections, including the previously mentioned Gedanken-Saarg. It became the repository of some of her most intimate thoughts from about 1834 to 1868. Here her relationship to the English author Edmund Phipps is written down in almost embarrassing detail. After Karl Kühne, Edmund Phipps entered the arena to do battle with Ottilie. She tried very hard to turn this affair into a permanent bond. She used all the weapons in her arsenal. The high point was probably when for the first time in years, she unlocked the door to the poet’s Sterbezimmer. Edmund Phipps had the honour of being admitted. But this was more than a gesture of friendship. Ottilie undoubtedly had a flare for the dramatic. Here, in this hallowed spot, she was going to reveal her past to Phipps, with the obvious hope that he would forgive and ask her hand in marriage. But he did neither. Instead he left Ottilie and following in the footsteps of Charles Des Voeux and Karl Kühne married somebody else. This story has a sequel. Ottilie complained bitterly that Phipps made use of this experience in a novel of his. After hunting for this novel, the name of which she does not mention at any time, I finally found it in the British Museum. It is called The Fergusons (1839) and deals with the adventures of a young Englishman, William Ferguson, on the Continent. He has a letter of introduction to a Signora Bassano in Verona. When he called on her, he became quickly enamoured of the mysterious lady. Here are some relevant passages from the novel:
“Signoral Bassano had, after the melancholy end of her husband, remained with her father-in-law, to cheer his declining years by her society, … He was not gathered to the quiet grave of his ancestors, leaving behind him a high frame, which rested securely in his works of art.”
Clara, the lady’s first name, had a dark secret which she wanted to communicate to William before he, as she confidently hoped, would ask her hand in marriage. She chose to reveal her past in ‘the apartment in which my father-in-law died’.
“…I have never revisited that room. I ordered it shut up, and thus it has remained ever since. There you will learn the dreadful secret. She unbolted the door to a small bedroom, with a plain looking bed in it, and by its side a large armchair. There! she said, seizing him by the arm, it is there he died, and there she said, pointing to the armchair, there is the place where I used to attend on him in his last illness… Here her voice broke…Then she produced a piece of paper folded as a letter. Here, she said, here is written my dreadful secret. Read it in this room as soon as I have left it. You will find me in my room. And with the look of one whose fate hangs on a thread, she left him alone.”
The episode does not end without an eloquent tribute to Clara-Ottilie, as fine a description and appreciation of Ottilie as may be found anywhere:
“All her fine and noble qualities, here enthusiasm, her eloquent feelings, her innate modesty, combined with the most warm-hearted tenderness; and then her misfortunes, her wrongs, and …that commanding intellect and brilliant talent which distinguished her from all around.”
The novel ended on the same note as the actual event: “And yet he was not in love with her.”
It is next to impossible to give anything like an adequate survey of the wealth and variety of the twenty-six Newberry diaries. Let me mention just a few matters that I recall from my first reading of last summer. I shall make no effort to put them in any order at this time.
Among the names that occur are Hebbel, Grillparzer, Liszt, Strauss, Lanner, Düntzer, Baron Hügel, Baron Cotta.—July is always a month filled with painful memories: 1 July, was Sterling’s birthday: “Mit dem Gedanken an ihn erwacht. Fühlt sein treuloses Herz keine Treue?” 4 July was the day on which Sterling’s little daughter Anna died. 6 July was the date on which she was buried. These three days recur regularly throughout the years, far more regularly than Goethe’s birthday and death. –Ottilie was always without funds: “Den ganzen Tag in Rechnungen zugebracht” is a constant refrain. During a short visit to Weimar she allowed her Vienna Hausfreund, Dr. Romeo Seligmann, to arrange “die naturwissenschaftlichen Sachen des Vaters.” Eckermann and Riemer were also invited. She sided with Walther and Wolfgang, who opposed Kanzler von Müller’s wish to open the collections to the public. –Then there is the pathetic outburst of the ageing Ottilie: “Es fehlt mir an Männern.” She declared frankly that she preferred the company of men to that of women. Occasionally she even remembered August’s birthday. She was prodigal with Goethe treasures: “Ich verschenkte das jugendliche Bild des Vaters.” –In Rome she attended the première of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. –She realized with growing sadness that Wolfgang faced the future without any hope whatsoever. –When she was in Rome she did go to August’s grave and decorated it was flowers. –On 7 November she remembered Goethe’s arrival in Weimar in 1775. –Walther was just as hopeless a Wolfgang. He talked to her about “sein ganzes verlorenes Leben.” –With all these trials and troubles, Ottilie herself was growing older, but without resignation: “Das Alter [she was fifty-eight] begreife ich nicht, diese allmähliche Verstümmelung.” –Suddenly she heard that Sterling was still alive, in charge of a small church in Ireland. But he failed to write to her: “Er fragt nicht einmal, was aus Anna geworden.” –In 1854 she learned by accident of Eckermann’s death. She had been in such dire financial straits that she could not afford, she claimed, to send him a letter before he died. –Ottilie had just read the Grand Duchess’ description of Naples. She did not hesitate to remark that it had “mehr Leben als die (Bescreibung) von Papa.” –She was offered a box to see Faust. Walther refused to go: “Gott sei mit meinen Söhnen!” –On 28 August, 1855, she saw Egmont “zur Feier des Geburtstages des Papa.” –On 23 March she wrote: “Gestern oder heute was der Todestag meines Schwiegervaters. Die leuchtende Menschensonne ging unter.”
Wolf had another case of nerves. This reminded her of “die qualvollen Nächte, in denen August zu sterben glaubte. Warscheinlich erbte Wolf dies Übel von seinem Vater, wie es ein Übel des Papa war.” –The shadows lengthened: “Keine Elastizität, kein Lichtstrahl mehr.” Horrified she put down: “Ich habe weisse Locken.” –She had Hebbel’s Gyges and Ludwig’s Zwischen Himmel und Erde read to her. –The publisher Cotta called on her. Ottilie dressed up for the occasion: “Diadem, Krone und Purpurmantel.” Cotta wanted unpublished things: Goethe’s diaries, for instance. But Wolfgang and Walther were mortally afraid of overhasty action. –In Rietschel’s studio she inspected the Goethe and Schiller monument. This was her judgment: “Des Vaters Kopf ist etwas zu heiter, zu wohllebend und zu rund.” –She was underhoused and found it difficult to receive visitors “weil mein Bett in der (einzigen) Stube stand.” –Now that men had really deserted her, Goethe loomed ever larger in her memory: “Was für ein Mann war mein Papa, er allein war grossartig, gut, sorgend wie eine Frau, helfend und fördernd.” –She had also strictly physiological heart trouble. On her sixtieth birthday she experienced difficulties in breathing. She still took an interest in books about her father-in-law. The woman who was the first and only person to listen to Goethe’s reading of the Second Part of Faust objected strongly to George Henry Lewes’ attack on the Second Part. But there were also evenings when she was bored and had to resort with her sister and Wolfgang to social games “um über den Abend hinwegzukommen.” –Ottilie was sick at heart and weary unto death. –Occasionally the Grand Duke dropped in for a formal call. Once Wolfgang did not even open his mouth during such a visit. Vanity of the vanities, all is vanity. This was the burden of the last years of her life.
There are several other things of interest in the Newberry Goetheana. I should mention especially a large number of manuscripts submitted to Ottilie for publication in her strange periodical Chaos. It will now be possible to identify more authors of the anonymous pieces in the Chaos as well as to examine her editorial policy for the first time. There are many other poems in manuscript sent her by their authors, including, for example, “Sie sollen ihn nicht haben, den freien deutschen Rhein.” Perhaps the item of most interest to this group is an unknown translation into English of some 600 lines from the First Part of Faust. I have looked at it rather closely, and I believe it is superior to anything I have yet seen in this difficult area. The translator must have been no mean poet. What a pity he did not finish the job!
I despair of mentioning more details. I am far from exhausting the list. After all, there are six boxes. But I hope I have given you at least some idea of the nature of the Chicago find.
- Originally read July 16, 1959. The Editor wishes to thank Professor Elizabeth M. Wilkinson, Honorary Secretary of the English Goethe Society, for permission to reprint the article from that organization’s “Publications”, Vol. XXVIII (1959). The Herman Böhlau Verlag will publish in the near future Vol. I of the Newberry ‘Goetheana,’ the love letters of August von Goethe and Ottilie, edited by Dr Bluhm, Leavenworth Professor of the German Language and Literature at Yale. The Newberry Library, which will distribute the book in the U.S. and the British Commonwealth, will be pleased to send details on publication to those requesting them.
- Aus Ottilie von Goethes Nachlass. Schriften der Goethe-Gesellschaft, Wolfgang von Oettingen, XXVII and XXVIII (1912 and 1913).
Call our reference desk at (312) 255-3506 with questions on our holdings, or contact a librarian with research questions.