Nietzsche's Letters | 1877© The Nietzsche Channel

Nietzsche's Letters


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Carl Fuchs.
By: Ernst Ulrich.
From b/w photo, 1869.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Rosenlauibad, end of July, 1877:
Letter to Carl Fuchs.

Dear Doctor, I was away from Rosenlaui for a few weeks: upon my return I found myself so richly rewarded by you that I had to let two to three days pass before raising the entire treasure.1 Everything you write to me goes straight to the heart and mind; I thank you especially for the description of the "evening" and the preparations for it,2 I even think it made me shed tears in the process; I'm just telling you this in order to prove that my position is not very far from yours, whatever may have happened and been said.3 Anyway, it seems to me something good has come out of all this from back then, from what I did in such an unpleasant and harsh way: my heart has lightened, for I now feel quite clearly that my sentiment toward you has changed into a hopeful and happy one. (A skeptic would say: now you see how a few grains of injustice can be of use in a scale pan.) The rest we will leave for a personal encounter, which hopefully is to be found in the not too distant future. When I come to Basel (early September, I think), I will also be addressing a few words to Volkland4 personally. It was doubtful whether I would go back again: because even this spring, I had seriously to consider if I should give up my position in Basel; even now I get anxious about next winter and its activity: it will be a test, a final one. From October to May, I was in Sorrento, along with three friends5 — and my headaches. I [should] tell you about the dear friend6 who took care of me there like a mother: she is the author of the anonymously published "Memoirs of an Idealist" (please read this quite excellent book and give it to your wife!).7

Your counting of rhythmical beats is an important find of pure gold, out of which you will be able to mint a great deal of good coins. It reminded me that, when studying ancient rhythms in 1870, I was on the hunt for 5- and 7-beat phrases and counted through Die Meistersinger and Tristan: in the course of which I realized a few things about W[agner]'s rhythms.8 He is in fact so averse to the mathematical and the strictly symmetrical (as is shown on a small scale with his use of triplets, I actually mean the excessive use them) that he prefers to prolong 4-beat phrases into 5-beat ones, 6-beat ones into 7-beat ones (in Die Meistersinger, Act III, there is a waltz: see if it is not governed by seven-beat phrases). Sometimes — but perhaps this is a crimen laesae majestatis — it reminds me of the style of Bernini,9 who can also no longer tolerate simple columns but makes them, so he thinks, come alive with volutes from top to bottom. Among the dangerous consequences of W[agner], it seems to me that one of the worst is "wanting to make things come alive at any price": for in a flash, it becomes affectation, manipulation.

I've always wished that someone who was capable would one day simply describe Wagner's various methods throughout his art, and put it in a purely historical way how he does it here, how he does it there. It was then that the excellent scheme that your letter contains raised all my hopes: precisely in such a simple fashion should it be effectively described. Others who write about Wagner basically say nothing more than that they were greatly pleased and therefore wish to be grateful; we learn nothing. Wolzogen does not seem to be enough of a musician; and as a writer he is laughable, with his muddle of artistic and psychological language.10 Could one not, by the way, say "symbol" instead of the unclear word "motif"? That's what it is, after all. — When you write your "musical letters," use the terms of Schopenhauer's metaphysics as little as possible; for I think — forgive me! — I think I know that his metaphysics are wrong and that all wrtings that bear its stamp will soon be unintelligible. More about that later, but not in writing. — I would also like to tell you about some of my impressions of Bayreuth concerning fundamental aesthetic problems, so that you can, to some extent, reassure me. I look forward to your "letters" with such hungry anticipation that I cannot even decide whether I would prefer to have in hand your insights about Beethoven's style, rhythm, dynamics, etc. first or your instructive and guiding thread11 through the Distress of the Nibelungen12 (for distress sums up everything about the Nibelungen). Best of all would be to eat both at the same time, and then I would gladly lie down in the sun like a boa, to digest for a month in silence.

But now my eyes say: enough! Can you do without your pages for a while yet? Or is it better that I send them to you at once? I will be staying in Rosenlaui for another four weeks.

More than ever before

F. Nietzsche.

1. In the second week of July, Fuchs wrote Nietzsche a letter that was 60 pages long!
2. The "evening" was in regard to a concert conducted by Fuchs for the fourth assembly of the musical society in Hirschberg, a society which Fuchs founded. The details of the event are summarized by Fuchs in his long letter. The program included: the Novelletten by Niels Wilhelm Gade, and Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. The previous event for the third assembly of the Hirschberger Musikverein took place on January 25, 1877. A synopsis of that program is available in Urania: Musik-Zeitschrift für Orgelbau, Orgel- und Harmoniumspiel, Jhrg. 34 (Nr. 5. 1877). Erfurt: Kôrner, 1877: 73.
3. They had a personal dispute in the past, stemming from an encounter at the first Bayreuth Festival in the summer of 1876, at which time Nietzsche vented his frustrations about Fuchs hanging around Wagner merely to get ahead professionally and purely out of self-interest. Fuchs was greatly offended and this led to a break in their correspondence.
4. Alfred Volkland (1841-1905): conductor in Basel. Fuchs was trying to obtain a position there.
5. Malwida von Meysenbug (1816-1903), Paul Rée (1849-1901) and Albert Brenner (1856-1878).
6. Malwida von Meysenbug, author of Memoiren einer Idealistin. Stuttgart: Auerbach, 1876.
7. Fuchs married the singer Clara Werner in 1868.
8. On this rather arcane subject, see James I. Porter, "Being on Time: The Studies in Ancient Rhythm and Meter (1870-72)." In: Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 2000.
9. Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680): Italian architect and master of the baroque style.
10. Hans von Wolzogen (1848-1938): editor of the Bayreuther Blätter.
11. Lehr- und Leitfaden.
12. Nibelungen-Noth. "Der Nibelungen Not" is the title of a medieval poem (a/k/a Das Nibelungenlied) upon which Richard Wagner based his opera Der Ring des Nibelungen.


"Pollice Verso."
By: Norman Lindsay.
Pen and ink, 1904.1
Enhanced image The Nietzsche Channel.

Munich, September 26, 1877:
Letter from Baroness von Seydliz.

Dear Herr Professor and very dear friend of my son, please adjudicate a dispute which has recently arisen among acquaintances.2

Does "verso pollice" for the fallen gladiator mean his outright death or a sign of mercy. I have browsed through various books without finding anything certain. Would you be kind enough to tell my son about it,3 I'm staying here for just three days.

With best regards and wishes for your health.
Baroness von Seydlitz
b. von Gumperts

1. View Lindsay's work in TNC's Friedrich Nietzsche in Words and Pictures. Part 7. Death and Influence: 1900-present.
2. The letter was attached to a 09-26-1877 letter from Reinhardt von Seydlitz.
3. See Nietzsche's 09-28-1877 reply.


Reinhart von Seydlitz.
From b/w photo, ca. 1875.
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

[Basel, September 28, 1877]:
Postcard to Reinhardt von Seydlitz.1

Did you get my card, dear friend? Don't blame me if no letter arrives from me today. Most sincere thanks to your esteemed mother, that she affords me an opportunity to be a philologist (sometimes I forget).2 pollice verso means: "thumb pointed toward the chest": the gesture by which the people demanded the killing of the gl[adiator]; pollicem premere literally "to press one's thumb": i.e. "make a fist and hide one's thumb" is the same as our "Jemandem den Daumen halten,"3 as a sign of goodwill. By raising the index finger the gl[adiator] pleaded for the mercy of the people; the granting thereof by the said gesture was called missio.4 Warm greetings from the two of us5 to the three of you.6

1. The original postcard was sold at auction in October 2014 for $31,409.
2. See 09-26-1877 letter from Baroness von Seydlitz.
3. Literally, "to press one's thumb for someone," i.e., "to keep one's fingers crossed for someone."
4. Reprieve.
5. Nietzsche's sister was living with him at the time.
6. Seydlitz, his wife, and his mother.

Nietzsche's Letters | 1877© The Nietzsche Channel

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