Nietzsche's Letters | 1869© The Nietzsche Channel

Nietzsche's Letters


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February 12, 1869:
Calling Card to Franziska and Elisabeth Nietzsche.

Spread the word!

Professor extraord[inarius] of Classical
Philology (with 800 Thl. salary) at
Basel University.



Carl von Gersdorff.
From b/w photo, 1873.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Naumburg, April 11, 1869:
Letter to Carl von Gersdorff.

My dear friend,

The deadline draws near, the final evening that I will spend at home: early tomorrow morning it's out into the wide wide world, into a new unfamiliar profession, into a heavy and oppressive atmosphere of duty and work.1 Once again I must take my leave: the golden age of free unconstrained activity, of the sovereign present, of enjoyment of art and the world as a casual or at least scarcely involved observer — this time is gone forever: now the strict goddess Daily Duty rules. "Bemooster Bursche zieh' ich aus!" But you must know that poignant student song. Yes! yes! "Muss selber nun Philister sein!" Somewhere this phrase still contains a truth.2 One can't take up a position of authority with impunity — it's a matter of whether the chains are of iron or of thread. And I still have the courage, occasionally, to rip away the fetters once more and to try the precarious life elsewhere and in other ways. I have yet to suffer from the obligatory hunchback of the professor. To become a philistine, an ,3 a man of the herd — Zeus forfend, and all the muses! But I hardly know how I should go about becoming one, since I'm not one. I have, in fact, drawn closer to a kind of philisterium, the "specialist" species; it's only too natural that the daily burden, the hourly concentration of thought upon certain fields of knowledge and problems, would somewhat blunt unfettered receptiveness and nip the philosophic sense at the root. But I fancy that I will be able to meet this danger with more calm and aplomb than most philologists; philosophical seriousness is already too deeply rooted in me, the true and essential problems of life and thought have been too clearly revealed to me by the great mystagogue Schopenhauer, to have ever to fear an ignominious defection from the "Idea."4 To transfuse this new blood into my science, to convey to my listeners that Schopenhauerian seriousness that is stamped on the brow of the sublime man — all this is my desire, my bold hope. I would like to be something more than a disciplinarian of efficient philologists: the present generation of teachers, the care of the regenerating brood, I have all this in mind. If we once more have to struggle on with our lives, let us try to apply this life in such a manner that, when we have been happily released from it, others will bless it as priceless.

To you, dear friend, with whom I am in agreement on many fundamental questions of life, I wish the luck that you deserve, and to myself I wish your old loyal friendship. Farewell!

Friedrich Nietzsche Dr.

Thank you so much for your substantively rich letter. Pardon my πολυπραγμοσύνη5 if I have thanked you so late. I have written a letter of thanks to Wieseke [sic].6

1. Nietzsche was about to begin his appointment as professor of classical philology at Basel University.
2. The first stanza of a famous song by Gustav Schwab sung by students on graduation. "Bemooster Bursche zieh' ich aus / Behüt' Dich Gott, Philisterhaus! / Zur alten Heimath zieh' ich ein, / Muss selber nun Philister sein." (I go forth as a long-time student [lit. "mossy-headed fellow"]! / Godspeed, house of the philistines! / I am entering that old homestead / I too must be a philistine now!)
3. An illiterate, uncultured person. Cf. Aelian, Varia historia. Lib. iv, xv. (Various History, Book iv, Chap. xv. containing Aelian's remark regarding Gelo.)
4. An allusion to Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea. See the entry for Schopenhauer in Nietzsche's Library.
5. "polupragmosune": being constantly busy, in a pejorative sense. Cf. Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights. Book 11, Chap. 16.
6. Karl Ferdinand Wiesike (1798-1880), affluent merchant, uncle of one of Gersdorff's friends, and devoted follower of Schopenhauer. The letter of thanks to Wiesike was for sending Nietzsche a photograph of Schopenhauer. For more info on Wiesike, see his photograph, the silver chalice he sent to Schopenhauer for his 70th birthday, and an interesting article from 2009 about his decaying mansion.


Portrait of Richard Wagner.
Ca. 1870-75.
By: Franz Seraph von Lenbach.

Basel, May 22, 1869:
Letter to Richard Wagner.

Highly esteemed sir,

How long have I had the intention to express, for once unreservedly, what degree of gratitude I feel toward you; because in fact the best and loftiest moments of my life are connected with your name and I know of only one other man, your great spiritual brother Arthur Schopenhauer,1 whom I think of with equal reverence, indeed religione quadam.2 I am glad that I am able to confess this to you on a festive day3 and do so not without a feeling of pride. For if it is the lot of genius to be for a while only paucorum hominum,4 then these pauci may surely feel themselves especially fortunate and privileged because it is granted to them to see the light and to warm themselves by it, while the crowd is still standing and freezing in the cold fog. Also the enjoyment of genius does not fall into the lap of these few without any trouble, rather they have to fight boldly against powerful prejudices and their own proclivities; so that if, in the end, they are fortunate in battle, they have a sort of conqueror's right to the genius.

Now I have dared to count myself among the number of these pauci, after I realized how incapable almost the entire world with which one associates has shown itself to be, when it is imperative to comprehend your personality as a whole, to feel the consistent, deeply ethical current that passes through your life, writings, and music, in brief, to sense the ambiance of a more serious and soulful worldview such as we poor Germans have lost through all sorts of political calamities, philosophical mischief and obtrusive Jewry. My thanks are due to you and Schopenhauer if I have till now held fast to the Germanic seriousness about life, to a more profound contemplation of this so mysterious and questionable existence.5

How many purely scientific problems have been gradually made clear to me by relating them to your so solitary and remarkably poised personality; I would rather tell this to you one day in person; what I also wish is that I would not have to write everything I have just written. How I would have liked to show up today at your lake and mountain solitude,6 had not the tiresome chain of my profession kept me in my kennel in Basel.

Finally I would also like to express my best wishes to Baroness von Bülow7 and be permitted to sign

as your most faithful
and devoted disciple
and admirer
Dr Nietzsche
Prof. in Basel.

1. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860): German philosopher. See the entry for Schopenhauer in Nietzsche's Library.
2. In a kind of religious manner.
3. Richard Wagner's birthday. Nietzsche had to turn down an invitation to attend the birthday party due to his teaching duties.
4. "For the few." Cf. Horace, Satires, 1, 9, 44: "paucorum hominum et mentis bene sanae" (He's a man of sound mind and few friends). In addition, see Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 2, Preface to the First Edition: "wie man denn, frägt der entrüstete Leser, zu Ende kommen solle, wenn man mit einem Buche so umständlich zu Werke gehen müßte? Da ich gegen solche Vorwürfe nicht das Mindeste vorzubringen habe, hoffe ich nur auf einigen Dank bei diesen Lesern dafür, daß ich sie bei Zeiten gewarnt habe, damit sie keine Stunde verlieren mit einem Buche, dessen Durchlesung ohne Erfüllung der gemachten Forderungen nicht fruchten könnte und daher ganz zu unterlassen ist, zumal da auch sonst gar Vieles zu wetten, daß es ihnen nicht zusagen kann, daß es vielmehr immer nur paucorum hominum sehn wird und daher gelassen und bescheiden auf die Wenigen warten muß, deren ungewöhnliche Denkungsart es genießbar fände." (How are we to reach the end, asks the indignant reader, if we must set to work on a book with so much trouble and detail? As I have not the least thing to say in reply to such reproaches, I hope only for some gratitude from such readers for having warned them in time, so that they may not waste an hour on a book which it would be useless for them to read unless they complied with the demands I make, and which is therefore to be left alone, especially as on other grounds one could wager a great deal that it can say nothing to them, but on the contrary will always be only paucorum hominum, and must therefore wait in calm and modesty for the few whose unusual mode of thought might find it readable.)
5. It is telling that Nietzsche went on to abandon Schopenhauer and all German "seriousness," not to mention his changed opinions on "obtrusive Jewry." One can certainly make the case that this was due in part to his break with Richard Wagner.
6. Wagner's home in Tribschen.
7. Cosima Wagner left Hans von Bülow for Wagner. They had two children while she was still married to Hans von Bülow.


Franziska Nietzsche.
From b/w photo, 1866.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Basel, mid-June 1869:
Letter to Franziska Nietzsche.

Dear mother

Now let your son, the free Swiss, once again tell you some admittedly pleasant and good news, nothing but "milk and wild honey": a metaphor that brings us quite close to our customary Swiss breakfast. Of course it is quite a different life that I live here; no more of that sovereign disposition, of contempt for the quotidian. Rather, I feel quite clearly how even the most desirable activity, when it is conducted "officially" and "professionally," is a chain on which we sometimes pull impatiently. And then I really envy my friend Rohde, who wanders about the Campagna and Etruria, free as a wild animal.1 Most annoying to me, as you can imagine, are the horrible masses of "esteemed" colleagues who try dutifully to invite me night after night: so that I am already inventive in declining invitations in a very clever way. As for the rest, people are well disposed towards me. And whoever has received my arrival on site with some resentment,2 has now either accepted the inevitable or even on closer acquaintance with me felt the reason for his resentment vanish. Especially important in this respect was my inaugural address that I gave just recently in front of a very full auditorium, namely on "The Personality of Homer." As a result of this inaugural address people here have been convinced of various things, and among them my appointment, as I clearly recognized, was assured. — I would be much more content if I had my friend Rohde here: because it's annoying having to reacquire an intimate friend and counselor, as a requisite of my household.

Other than that I probably already mentioned to you my colleague Bur[c]khardt, a brilliant art historian and likewise the political economist Schönberg,3 commonly known as estimable men.

Of utmost importance, however, is that I indeed have the most sought-after friend and neighbor in Lucerne, admittedly not close enough but only so far that every day off can be used to get together. It is Richard Wagner, who as a man is absolutely of equal greatness and singularity as an artist. Together with him and the brilliant Frau von Bülow (Liszt's daughter), I now have spent several happy days, e.g. this past Saturday and Sunday.4 Wagner's villa, located on Lake Lucerne at the base of Mount Pilatus in an enchanting lake and mountain solitude, is, as you can imagine, splendidly furnished: we spend time there together with the most stimulating conversation, in the most amiable family circle and quite removed from ordinary social triviality. It is a great discovery for me.

That's it for today. I would be very grateful if, through your substantive and affectionate letters, you would keep me well informed about your health and all that concerns me: because I live on an island. My best regards to my dear relatives in whose midst you live, the same to cousin Rudolf.5 I await a note about Lisbeth's birthday wishes.6

F. N.

1. Erwin Rohde spent over a year in central and southern Italy, engaging in philological pursuits. See Otto Crusius, Erwin Rohde. Ein biographischer Versuch. Tübingen; Leipzig: Mohr, 1902:33-37.
2. Nietzsche was appointed without a doctorate.
3. Gustav von Schönberg (1839-1908) was appointed professor of economics at Basel in 1868.
4. During which time Siegfried Wagner was born.
5. Franziska Nietzsche's sister Ida Schenkel (1833-?); her husband Moritz (1834-1909), pastor at Cainsdorf, near Dresden; his brother Rudolf Schenkel (1844-1889), a lawyer. Franziska Nietzsche was also the aunt of Emma Patz, Ida's daughter, who lived in Oelsnitz with her husband Robert.
6. His sister's birthday was July 10.


Wilhelm Pinder.
From b/w photo, 1863.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Basel, July 4, 1869:
Letter to Wilhelm Pinder.1

Dear Wilhelm,

The first sign of life that you receive from me now in Basel is indeed a birthday letter.2 Here one can see what a demoralizing influence such an office3 has: one learns to neglect one's most sacred duties, the duties of friendship. Today, however, when a glance at the calendar makes me realize the injustice I have committed, I feel compelled to ask you for absolution, which of course I would like best to do verbally and personally, bearing in mind that solemn Rütliscene4 on the Naumburg pavement and the mutual promise made there to meet again in Basel as soon as possible for the purpose of a good breakfast and other serious matters.

Today during dinner let us make a toast to this refreshing prospect, each with the wine of his homeland.5

I should think that after the storms and excitement of your profession,6 you should often long to take a break in an alpine valley, away from murderers and other rascals. But you must always inform me of such plans first: for I am now the Alpine Guide for all my friends, who will receive them at the Swiss border and who will make it his business to present his new fatherland with its beauties in the way it deserves.

I make these recommendations in this new capacity, at the same time with best wishes for your well-being and our friendship, finally with many affectionate greetings to Gustav and your dear relatives

I am
Your old friend
Dr Fritz Nietzsche
Professor in Basel.

1. Wilhelm Pinder (1844-1928): Nietzsche's childhood friend in Naumburg, and member, with Gustav Krug (1844-1902), of their literary society "Germania." See Nietzsche's Writings as a Student. The Nietzsche Channel, 2012. This letter was recently put up for auction in September 2020, but went unsold, failing to meet a reserve price. The Nietzsche Archive only has a transcription.
2. Pinder's birthday was July 6.
3. Nietzsche was the newly-appointed professor of classical philology at Basel University.
4. An allusion to the oath taken at Rütli by the representatives of the three founding cantons of Switzerland in 1307. Probably refers to Nietzsche, Pinder, and Krug — who as boys took an oath for the founding of "Germania" — planning to get together in Basel to celebrate Nietzsche's professorship.
5. Nietzsche gave up his German citizenship in order to work in Switzerland.
6. Pinder became an attorney in Naumburg.

Nietzsche's Letters | 1869© The Nietzsche Channel

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