Nietzsche's Letters | 1871© The Nietzsche Channel

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Friedrich Nietzsche.
Spring 1871.
From b/w photo taken by:
Grato Brunel (1840-1920), Lugano, Switzerland.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Lugano, after March 22, 1871:
Letter to Franz Overbeck.

My dear friend and colleague, are you not wondering about the excess of my wretchedness in corresponding? Not to have written to you for so long! I wonder about it a lot! At least believe me how I have truly thought of you and how gratefully I have remembered the many instances of your compassionate sick care.1 Thanks to you, thanks to your fur coat, this time I got off unscathed — in every sense of the word.2 It was certainly high time; for it now seems to me, while reflecting about this January in Basel,3 as if I were walking around in a dream, in a constantly jittery nervous state, and in this state was certainly not very pleasant for you. And you put up with me then and went on walks with me etc. etc. As a reward for that you should be transported at once to this blue lake — only not today, for heaven's sake, with abominable North-German cloudy skies and fog heavy as fur! But maybe tomorrow or the day after tomorrow! Then together we could look for the first flowers of spring and they are perhaps just as surely to be found here as in Dresden, which I believe you are visiting for the holidays. If we could find a warm spot on the lake, then we could settle down there, among small snakes and lizards: although I think the land around Plauen4 can also provide these delights. If we wanted to be very courageous, we could even allow ourselves to be put on a boat and driven around on the lake, though not without footmuffs and with the likelihood of catching a cold.5 You will see that we also have a few North-German paroxysms6 here, perhaps more than in northern Switzerland, which has resulted in the establishment of "Germanophobia,"7 maybe even republican, to be achieved by a referendum, and in any case not by North-German weather conditions. Here they tend to favor Prussia: indeed we were recently allowed to celebrate, without a murder, Kaiser Wilhelm's birthday8 and staged a tableau "vivant" without fear of being shot. Yes there are harmless Germans here who even dare to play the zither, indeed you should even know that two, since yesterday 4, disguised Prussian officers are living here, who walk around the lake without any weapons and even pass the holidays without their uniform. All together a state of well-being is to be found in Lugano, which certainly exceeds the one in Basel and is perhaps exceeded only by the state of well-being in every German city, at least the one in Dresden. So it would be a poor reward if, from here to Dresden, an enchanting spell would be cast on you for your demonstrated benevolence to me: which is why I thought of expressing to you my gratitude in another way. Here is the first photograph of me that shows only to the slightest extent that I am getting better, but it just doesn't show the most important changes in the ganglionic and lymphatic system, since the coat covered those areas.

With this, as well as with your fur coat I remain who I was, cold and shivering and thinking of you warmly

Your grateful friend,
comrade and colleague, indeed fellow human being
Friedr. Nietzsche

1. In February, due to poor health, Nietzsche took a leave of absence for the rest of the semester, and went to Lugano along with his sister. This is the first letter Nietzsche wrote to Overbeck (they lived in the same boarding house in Basel). During his six-week stay in Lugano, Nietzsche worked on his manuscript "Ursprung und Ziel der Tragödie" (Origin and Goal of Tragedy), which he would later refashion into the Birth of Tragedy. Overbeck, on the other hand, spent time in Dresden visiting his family after the semester ended.
2. "bin ich diesmal noch so leidlich weggekommen — in jeder Bedeutung des Wortes." Nietzsche was suffering from a variety of ailments, including stomach and intestinal problems, according to his letter to his mother and sister written on 02-06-1871.
3. That is, when he started feeling ill.
4. A southwestern part of Dresden.
5. At the Hotel du Parc in Lugano, Nietzsche and his sister met Adolph von Moltke (the brother of Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke) who was staying there with his family. Moltke, while taking a boating trip around the lake, caught pneumonia and died on April 7.
6. Anwandelungen.
7. See April 2, 1871 letter to Cosima Wagner.
8. March 22.


Cosima Wagner.
Ca. 1870-72.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Tribschen, April 2, 1871:
Letter from Cosima Wagner.1

Most esteemed Herr Professor,

I have come from the train station where I accompanied my mother,2 who has spent eight to ten days here at Tribschen. The poor woman has been wandering since the outbreak of the war;3 she finally got home to Tribschen, but the latest news from Paris makes it impossible for anyone to plan anything. The French — I mean the poor souls4 — are truly pitiable, there is not even any help for them, and they have to endure this disintegration of their country like a natural event, earthquake or flood. I had not seen my mother for seven years, momentous years for her as for me; I was afraid of the reunion, but then, to my surprise, I found her spry and cheerful, and recognized in her the beautiful French character trait of the past, heroic frivolity. When Wagner sang the prayer from Lohengrin to her,5 she burst into tears, it was to me as if she felt that this force absolutely had to be victorious. Tribschen has made a great impression on her, she said it was life as she had dreamed it. Now I have let her go; when and how will we meet again?

This visit has been the only change at Tribschen; the children and I, we have worked, and the master, as you can see, has composed a "Kaisermarsch,"6 I have sent you the proofs for its choral finale, so that you have them in advance. You are also in such good German company that you will certainly like to "Hail" the Emperor: am I wrong, or have your sentiments changed considerably? It seems to me we should now easily agree about Alsace. I envy your acquaintance with the "brother," it seems to me that everything bearing the name Moltke is commendable;7 perhaps you will even bring joy to this family with the "Emperor's Song," which my children sing very well, and with which they absolutely wanted to delight their old grandma.8 You have judged Sultzer quite correctly, he has repeatedly given proof of his honesty, which must seem like the head of Medusa in a thoroughly untruthful world; he has especially alarmed the Swiss, to whom the nonsense of A. Escher was much more welcome.9 I was moved by S[ulzer] again, and I realized the reason for the friendship between two so different characters like he and Wagner, is the implacable truthfulness of both. How the master's truthfulness will be perceived in the German Empire, we will see soon enough. We're thinking of departing here (admittedly with difficulty) on the 15th of April. First destination is Augsburg, then Bayreuth for an inspection, thereafter Leipzig and finally! Berlin where W[agner] will hold a lecture at the academy on "The Destiny of Opera."10 We have made plans down to the last detail, and we will be ready to see how things must be out there. I am just looking forward to Leipzig; Ottilie Brockhaus delighted us again with a letter recently; the appointment was met with satisfaction there and they asked us to thank you especially, because you handled it "like a true friend" and it holds out the prospect of visiting the entire family.11 But what about our reunion? If I understand you correctly, your return home coincides with our departure, but if you begin your journey before the 15-20th, it goes without saying that you are welcome at Tribschen.12 But the weather may be turning bad, the fresh blades of grass peeping through the snow give an odd coloring to the landscape and a melancholy mood. You will surely stay as long as possible in Lugano where you have yet to recover. But if you pass by Tribschen during our absence, why not visit the children to whom I have made such a promise, and who will really be feeling lonely. Shall I say in closing that I am not satisfied with your photograph? Why did you have to have the hat and the defiant pose that I have never seen you with before? Nevertheless, I have to thank you kindly for sending it to me. I don't know what else to tell you, the weather conditions are ever so trying, children with persistent coughs, and my eyes are getting weaker and weaker, but that's life. —

Have you seen Bellinzona? An even prettier spot where I got my initial impression of Italian people from an old postmistress dismissing me with a barrage of blessings. Well, farewell and recuperate properly; the "Emperor" sends regards to you and your friends; please accept from me my best wishes.

C. Wagner

Kindest regards to your charming sister. Richter is staying with us; the theater director from Pest composes operas!13 That says it all, and R[ichard] doesn't belong there. We have played a lot of music for mother, "unknown music," and also a quartet.

1. Cosima Wagner destroyed all her correspondence from Nietzsche. However, we still have the following entries from her diary about Nietzsche at this time:
03-26-71Brief von Pr. Nietzsche aus Lugano. (Letter from Pr[of]. Nietzsche in Lugano.)
04-03-71Bei unsrem Frühstück meldet man uns plötzlich Pr. Nietzsche, welcher von Lugano ankommt und hier einige Tage zubringen wird. Er scheint sehr leidend. (At our breakfast Pr[of]. Nietzsche is suddenly announced, who comes from Lugano and will spend a few days here. He appears very run down.)
04-04-71Schöner Aufsatz über den "Beethoven" in einer englischen Zeitung (Academy), der Verfasser ein deutscher (Franz Hüffer), Bekannter von Pr. Nietzsche, ein früherer Gegner R.'s. (Nice article on "Beethoven" in an English periodical (Academy), the author a German (Franz Hüffer), acquaintance of Pr[of]. Nietzsche, a former opponent of R.)
04-05-71Pr. N. liest mir aus einer Arbeit vor (Ursprung und Ziel der gr. Tragödie), die er R. widmen will; große Freude daran; man sieht hier einen sehr begabten Menschen von R.'s Gedanken auf eigene Weise durchdrungen. (Pr[of]. N. reads to me from a work (Origin and Goal of Gr[eek] Tragedy) which he wants to dedicate to R.; great delight over that; in it one sees a gifted man imbued with R.'s ideas in his own way.)
04-08-71 Pr. Nietzsche verabschiedet sich, nachdem er die Kinder mit einer grünen Schlange beglückt hat. (Pr[of]. Nietzsche departs, after making the children happy with a green snake.)

2. Marie Catherine Sophie Gräfin d'Agoult (1805-1876): mistress of Franz Liszt, and Cosima Wagner's mother, who wrote works under the pseudonym Daniel Stern. See her ca. 1861 photo, and her entry in Nietzsche's Library.
3. The Franco-Prussian War began on July 19, 1870.
4. "die guten."
5. Opera by Richard Wagner. See Lohengrin, I, iii: "Mein Herr und Gott, nun ruf ich dich, ...."
6. The "Imperial March" composed to celebrate Prussia's victory and occupation of Paris. "Wagner finished the Orchestral Sketch of the Kaisermarsch on the 25th [of February 1871], and completed the full score on the 15th March [1871]." See Ernest Newmann, The Life of Richard Wagner. Vol. 4. 1866-1883. New York, Knopf, 1946: 279.
7. At the Hotel du Parc in Lugano, Nietzsche and his sister met Adolph von Moltke (the brother of Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke) who was staying there with his family. Moltke, while taking a boating trip around the lake, caught pneumonia and died on April 7.
8. Wagner's "Kaiserlied":

Heil dem Kaiser! Konig Wilhelm!
Aller Deutschen Hort und Freiheitswehr!
Höchste der Kronen,
wie ziert dein Haupt sie hehr!
Ruhmreich gewonnen
soll Frieden dir lohnen!
Der neuergrünten Eiche gleich,
erstand durch dich das deutsche Reich:
Heil seinen Ahnen,
seinen Fahnen,
die dich führten, die wir trugen,
als mit dir wir Frankreich schlugen!
Feind zum Trutz,
Freund zum Schutz,
allem Volk das deutsche Reich zu Heil und Nutz!
Hail to the Emperor! King William!
The treasure and defender of liberty of all Germans!
Loftiest of crowns,
How it adorns thy august head!
Gloriously won
Peace shall be your reward!
Like the oak, newly turned green,
The German Empire rose through thee:
Hail to its forefathers,
To its ensigns,
Who led thee, which we carried,
When we, with you, defeated France!
Defier of foes,
Guardian of friends,
The German Empire is for the salvation and benefit of all people!

For the lyrics sung by the children, see Ernest Newmann, The Life of Richard Wagner. Vol. 4. 1866-1883. New York, Knopf, 1946: 276.
9. Alfred Escher (1819-1882), Swiss railway titan, politician and financier (founder of Credit Suisse). Johann Jakob Sulzer (1821-1897), Swiss politician (Sulzer took over the position of Cantonal Secretary from Escher) and financier (founder of UBS). An old friend and patron of Wagner from his time in Zurich, Sulzer was now the president of his native city of Winterthur. According to Cosima's diary entry for April 16, Sulzer explained that the events in Zurich were the result of "Germanophobia." See the details about the so-called Music Hall Riot in The New York Times report of March 12, 1871; and the more recent November 26, 2013 article in the Tagblatt der Stadt Zürich. Read the original "invitation" that sparked the entire ordeal. Sulzer appeared before the Cantonal Council on March 14 and spoke about Germanophobia being the possible cause of the riot. Escher dismissed the claim as "groundless and unreasonable" (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 21. März 1871).
10. Über die Bestimmung der Oper (On the Destiny of Opera), a lecture delivered on April 28, 1871 to the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin.
11. Ottilie Brockhaus, wife of Professor Hermann Brockhaus, was Richard Wagner's sister. Nietzsche had sponsored their son and Wagner's nephew, Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus (1838-1895), for a position at Basel University. At the time, he was a law professor at the University of Jena. See Cosima's diary entry for 01-03-71: "Brief an Pr. Nietzsche, welcher die Berufung unsres Neffen Fritz Brockhaus nach Basel erwirkt hat." (Letter to Pr[of]. Nietzsche, who has been instrumental in getting our nephew Fritz Brockhaus called to Basel.)
12. See 1.
13. Hans Richter (1843-1916) was the principal conductor of the Budapest National Theater from 1871-1875.


Erwin Rohde, Carl von Gersdorff, Friedrich Nietzsche.
October 1871.
From b/w photo taken by:
Ferdinand Henning, Naumburg.1
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Naumburg, October 20, 1871:
Letter to Erwin Rohde.

My dear friend,

Today I send you just a few remarks2 on the companions in the [Leipzig Trade] Fair photograph, which, to my delight, Henning delivered the day before yesterday. Aforesaid photographer still wants 1 thaler from us, which for each of us still comes to the amount of 10 srg. In the meantime, I have paid it. In this photograph we stand a bit out of place, and I, in particular, "hideously hunched" with a stupified look, which speaks to the utter stupidity of the Fair along with its spirits.3 At any rate — senza frivolita4 — we were still the happiest Fair Jews5 in Leipzig, for we might have dished out the roles from Lumpacivagabundus6 among us, for which I lay claim to the shoemaker part, due to delirium tremens clemens demens.7

In the meantime, the lost "Faust" has now been found by me and Gustav Krug back on the Knabenberg, at a spot where Gersdorff had rested: which I call a splendid omen.8 The first part that I opened to in the book was: Altmayer: "Now try and tell me not to believe in miracles!"9 Thus I was vividly reminded of our Fair miracle and the Advent miracle of our life in Leipzig.

"My! Should the wine still be flowing?"10

I almost believe, my dear friend, that our ghostly apparition in Leipzig was no sleight of hand.11 We were there and will be there:12 how the Jew, in the words of Jehovah, would express it. Lord, remember the red room!13

May Saint Pythagoras bless you, Saint Frit[z]sch bless me, and the thing-in-itself bless all of us!14

I return to Basel tomorrow, drawing myself up from the table of my holiday delights like a sated reveler. I have never spent such a festive and exuberant time and I know I have my friends to thank for it. But even more, all the demons to which we in one future hour will bring an offering of thanks: by means of which we will also brilliantly confirm the ideality of space and time.15 Next Monday evening at 10 o'clock, each of us will raise a glass of dark red wine and pour half of it into the black night, with the words ,16 and drink the other half. Probatum est. Gesegn' es Samiel! Uhu!17 — I notified Gersdorff.18

Thanks, my dear dear friend!


1. From Oct. 12-14, the three friends spent time in Leipzig, and attended the Leipzig Trade Fair; on the 15th, they celebrated Nietzsche's 27th birthday in Naumburg, where Hennig took their photograph.
2. nur ein Wörtchen (literally, "just a little word"). The following was written on the back of the photo: "To commemorate 3 happy days spent in Leipzig on the 12th, 13th, and 14th October 1871, this likeness was begun in a fair booth [Meßbude] and completed in Naumburg o[n] t[he] S[aale]. Dr. Friedrich Nietzsche, Professor Ord[inarius] of Class[ical] Philology at the University of Basel (prophet on the right); Dr. Erwin Rohde, Lecturer of Class[ical] Philology at the University of Kiel (prophet on the left); Carl von Gersdorff, Cameral Tribunal Referendary [i.e., an attorney] (the child of the world in the middle)."
3. Leipzig's large commercial fair was rife with, among other things, radicals, con artists, spiritualists and booze.
4. "In a frivolous sense."
5. Meßjude: a pun on Meßbude (see 2. above). Jews had participated in the Leipzig Trade Fair since 1598, while being subjected to various indignities levied upon them, as opposed to the fairs in Frankfurt, which treated them as equals. Once freedom of domicile was granted to all Prussian citizens in 1812, Jewish immigration to cities increased dramatically. See Michael A. Meyer, Michael Brenner, German-Jewish History in Modern Times. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1996-98. 1:133-34; 2:23-28.
6. Der böse Geist Lumpazivagabundus oder Das liederliche Kleeblatt (The Evil Spirit Lumpazivagabundus, or the Dissolute Trio), is a farce by Johann Nestroy about three vagabonds.
7. Delirium tremens clemens demens: DTs and mild dementia (from which Knieriem, the chronic drunk shoemaker in Nestroy's play, suffers).
8. Carl von Gersdorff's copy of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust.
9. Cf. Goethe, Faust, 1:2336: "ALTMAYER. Nun sag' mir eins, man soll kein Wunder glauben!"
10. Ibid., 1:2332: "[ALTMAYER.] "Mein! Sollte wohl der Wein noch fließen?"
11. Leipzig at the time was a hotbed of spiritualism.
12. Cf. Exodus 3:14: "God said to Moses, 'I am who I am. [Alternatively: 'I will be what I will be.'] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I am has sent me to you.'"
13. Probably alluding to a place they visited while in Leipzig, perhaps a tavern.
14. The Pythagoras reference alludes to the first part of Rohde's "Die Quellen des Iamblichus in seiner Biographie des Pythagoras (The Sources of Iamblichus in his Biography of Pythagoras)." In: Rheinisches Museum für Philologie. N.F. Bd. 26 (1871), 554-576. The one to Fritzsch is regarding Ernst Wilhelm Fritzsch, to whom Nietzsche gave his manuscript of The Birth of Tragedy for publication. As for the allusion to the Kantian "thing-in-itself (Ding an sich)," Rohde's birthday present to Nietzsche was a small box with a humorous poem inside about his search for a suitable gift. The poem concludes with the lines: "'Nun rath,' o Fritze, kennst Du mich?' / (An dieser Stelle öffnet sich das Kästchen und ein Teufel schnellt empor mit einem Zettel in der Hand): / Es gratulirt 'das Ding an sich'!" ("Now, guess, O Fritze, do you know me?" / (At this point the box opens and a demon pops up with a note in its hand): / Wishing you 'the thing-in-itself'!")
15. Another allusion to the transcendental idealism of Kant.
16. "Khairete diamones!" (Hail, demons!) See 18. below.
17. "It's approved." "Bless it, Satan! Eagle owl!" Cf. Carl Maria von Weber, Der Freischütz, 2, vi.
18. Rohde and Gersdorff complied with Nietzsche's wishes, and at the appointed hour made the "offering" to the "demons" that had been watching over them during their celebratory reunion. Nietzsche did the same, at the home of Jacob Burckhardt, who joined in.

Nietzsche's Letters | 1871© The Nietzsche Channel

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