Nietzsche's Letters | 1885© The Nietzsche Channel

Nietzsche's Letters


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Franz Overbeck.
Basel, ca. 1880.
From b/w photo by Jacob Höflinger.
Colorized image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Sils Maria, July 2, 1885:
Letter to Franz Overbeck.

Dear old friend Overbeck,

Not hearing from you worries me, and at the very least I hope that your health has nothing to do with this silence — although this year the heat and likewise the memory of the bad, debilitating air of Basel, which I again became familiar with this past June,1 also supplies me with worrisome thoughts accordingly. When I arrived up here, one of the first things I did was to look for your "Teichmüller"; but unfortunately it turned out to be missing — from which it follows that it is in the Nice crate of books: something that I now, with great regret, report to you.2 However, I have here, from your treasury of books, the Mainländer.3 Many thanks for sending the Dürer to my relatives: they have thanked me so much for it that I have to think I have far exceeded the definition "wedding present."4 May the future of the young couple, however, be made more comfortable and full of hope than the eerie picture suggests! Between us, I have a lot of heartfelt concerns—, admittedly also a few curious requests, just in regard to this new world in Paraguay.5 Now, in no time at all, it may be that Europe will be impossible for me; and lo and behold, perhaps I'll even find a tree branch far from home for such a stray bird like me. (As it is written: "I cling to a crooked branch today," etc.6)

Up here I again have the same company, very kind to me, as the previous year; two distinguished Englishwomen7 who live in Geneva and that old lady8 from the Russian court, of whom I wrote that she was one of Chopin's closest students; — her relation to music is no joke, in the previous month she has even composed an intensely powerful fugue. Now in my company is a German lady from Meiningen9 who has come here upon a written invitation on my part for reading and dictation and has accomodated me with great kindness: unfortunately, her time here is ending next week. As for my eyes, my condition now is slightly different from Dühring's10; this sudden, acute, rapid disappearance of eyesight from last summer until now is one of the things for which I do not know the reason. The iodine ointment, which Schiess11 prescribed, was ineffective. — I have dictated 2-3 hours almost every day, but my "philosophy," if I have the right to call what maltreats me to the roots of my being precisely that, is no longer communicable, at least not in print. Sometimes I long to have a secret meeting with you and Jacob Burckhardt,12 more to ask how you avoid this distress than to report news to you. Besides, our age is endlessly superficial; and often enough I am ashamed of myself for having already said so much publicly, which at no time, even in far worthier and profounder ages, would have been appropriate for the "public." In the midst of our century's "freedom and impudence of the press," precisely our taste and instincts have been corrupted; and I hold up before myself the images of Dante and Spinoza, who were better at enduring the lot of solitude; and in the end, for all those who somehow have had a "God" for company, there has not even existed what I know as "solitude." My life now consists in the wish that it might be otherwise with all things than I comprehend, and that someone might make my "truths" appear incredible to me. — —

From my mother I received an anxious message that Schmeitzner has not yet paid13: it would be terrible if the process goes any further; a petition should be filed regarding the subhastation etc. June was the stipulated date of payment. My uncle, who has been handling the entire matter, is on his deathbed.14

Please send me 500 frcs. up here again.15 I heartily commend your admirable wife affectionately

F. N.

1. Nietzsche had visited Overbeck in Basel for a couple of weeks in June 1884.
2. Nietzsche had borrowed Overbeck's copy of a work by Gustav Teichmüller, probably Die wirkliche und die scheinbare Welt. Neue Grundlegung der Metaphysik. Breslau: Koebner, 1882.
3. Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie der Erlösung. Berlin: Grieben, 1876.
4. Albrecht Dürer, "Ritter, Tod und Teufel": an etching Nietzsche gave to his sister as a wedding present. She married the anti-Semite agitator Bernhard Förster. (Nietzsche bought a copy of "Knight, Death and Devil" as a Christmas present for Richard Wagner in 1870.)
5. Bernhard Förster's disasterous settlement, "Nueva Germania."
6. The first line of Nietzsche's poem "Prinz Vogelfrei."
7. Mrs. Emily Fynn and her daughter Emily.
8. Zina de Mansouroff (1830-1889).
9. Louise Röder-Wiederhold (1829-?), an acquaintance of Heinrich Köselitz. In 2011, five letters from Nietzsche to Röder-Wiederhold were discovered and donated, along with other material, to the Nietzsche-Haus in Sils-Maria. In a June 1885 letter to Resa von Schirhhofer, Nietzsche describes his relations with Röder-Wiederhold: "Einstweilen habe ich die treffliche Frau Röder-Wiederhold im Hause; sie erträgt und duldet 'engelhaft' meinen entsetzlichen 'Antidemocratismus' — denn ich diktire ihr täglich ein paar Stunden meine Gedanken über die lieben Europäer von heute und — Morgen; — aber zuletzt, fürchte ich, fährt sie mir doch noch 'aus der Haut' und fort von Sils-Maria, getauft wie sie ist, mit dem Blute von 1848." (In the meantime, I have the excellent Frau Röder-Wiederhold in the house, she endures and "angelically" tolerates my appalling "antidemocracy" — because for a few hours every day I dictate to her my thoughts on the dear Europeans of today and — tomorrow, — but recently, I fear, I have driven her yet again "up the wall" and away from Sils-Maria, baptized as she is with the blood of 1848. [An allusion to the German Revolution of 1848.]) In another letter to Heinrich Köselitz on July 23, 1885, Nietzsche relates how perturbed he was with her: "Frau Röder ist seit einem halben Monat fort, bene merita! Aber, unter uns, sie paßt mir nicht, ich wünsche keine Wiederholung. Alles, was ich ihr diktirt habe, ist ohne Werth; auch weinte sie öfter als mir lieb ist. Sie ist haltlos; die Frauen begreifen nicht, daß ein persönliches malheur kein Argument ist, am wenigsten aber die Grundlage zu einer philosophischen Gesamtbetrachtung aller Dinge abgeben kann. Das Schlimmste aber ist: sie hat keine Manieren, und schaukelt mit den Beinen. Trotzdem: sie hat mir über einen bösen Monat weggeholfen, mit der allerbesten Gesinnung." (Frau Röder has been gone for half a month, bene merita! But, between us, she does not suit me, I do not want an encore. Everything that I have dictated to her is worthless; she was also crying more often than I cared for. She is unstable; women do not understand that a personal malheur is not an argument, but least of all can it provide the basis for an overall philosophical assessment of things. But the worst thing is: she has no manners, and swings her legs. Nevertheless: she has helped me get over a bad month with the best attitude.)
10. The blind philosopher Eugen Dühring (1833-1921).
11. Nietzsche's opthamologist and colleague at Basel, Johann Heinrich Schieß-Gemuseus (1833-1914).
12. Jacob Burckhardt, Nietzsche's friend and colleague at Basel.
13. The proceeds from Nietzsche's lawsuit against his publisher Ernst Schmeitzner.
14. Bernhard Daechsel (1823-1888).
15. Overbeck sent Nietzsche his pension.


Franz Overbeck.
Basel, ca. 1900.
Portrait by Fritz Burger (1867-1927).
Colorized and enhanced image ©The Nietzsche Channel.

Nice, Early December 1885:
Letter to Franz Overbeck.

Dear friend,

Your letter1 gives me heartfelt joy: you can see that I "answer" it immediately, although basically nothing is "asked" about anything. It is fortunate that there is not much new to report; what is new usually has a catch. Health is better than under German skies, my head freer, the constant disgruntlement from which I suffered in Naumburg and Leipzig2 (— I tried my best to conceal it —) here at least no longer "permanent." One of the signs of this is that I am again experimenting with accomodations, etc.; I stayed only 3 days in the good Swiss pension,3 but I come back to it often enough — perhaps after, like for two winters now, I have become exasperated through the experiments mentioned. Something independent and appropriate for me must eventually be found: but I doubt more and more that I will find it. Which is why I need people to take care of me. The impracticality of my nature, the half blindness, on the other hand the anxiousness, helplessness, discouragement, which is the consequence of my health, often firmly screws me into situations that almost kill me. —

Nearly seven years of solitude4 and, for the most part, a real dog's life because all necessities for me were lacking! I thank heaven that nobody really saw it up close (counting Lanzky,5 who is still quite beside himself about it.) And to all of this, there was this excess of painful days, at least days of infliction, not to mention the desperate boredom that befalls everyone who does not have the "distraction of vision"! I mean, one must have seen in me a fair degree of pessimism and resignation; but I did not "see it" myself, rather resisted with all my might. (The most intense part of it in which I succeeded was the conditions under which I began my Zarathustra6 and prevailed:— I don't want to go through any day of the last 3 years for the second time, stress and opposition were too great!)

This between us, my dear old friend! There is so much to say "between us"! By letter: I don't know how great my distrust of letters has become. — It occurs to me that I have basically omitted my opinion about Credner7 about your writings8 published by Schm[eitzner]; it was important to me, in the event that Schmeitzner's publishing house was auctioned, that the very respectable Credner also got hold of your writings. Unfortunately, I must say, this auction could not be carried out; and your works and my works are completely buried and unexhumeable in this anti-Semitic dump.9 (That is my insight into the matter: Schmeitzner himself does not think differently about it.) My "literature" no longer exists — with this judgment I have taken leave from Germany, not at all desperately! — rather, I felt how much poppy there is in this oblivio10 and what value it has that I can pursue my very extensive and not innocuous thoughts without the curiosity of an "audience." Nobody in Germany knows (even where people think they know me well) what I want from myself, or that I want something; and that, under the most difficult circumstances, I have even achieved a good deal of it. — I had agreed with Credner on a second edition of Menschl[isches], Allzumenschliches,11 for which I had prepared everything (except for the manuscript) — it took a whole summer of work!12 Schmeitzner put a stop to it by demanding the sum of 2500 marks for the destruction of the remaining copies of the first edition.13 With that, as I understand it, the possibility of second editions is forever shelved. Schm[eitzner] himself now considers my books to be lead (they are reckoned everywhere as "anti-Semitic literature," as the Leipzig booksellers confirm to me — and now the good Widemann14 is even pulling a trick on me, praising me in one breath together with the dreadful anarchists and poison-mouthed Eugen Dühring!15) Not a hundred copies of Zarathustra have been sold (and these almost only to Wagnerians and anti-Semites!) In short, there are reasons to laugh and turn your back. The best thing is that apart from that everything is quite in order again, that Schm[eitzner] has paid16 (not quite as much as I wrote you, but more than 5000 marks), that my relatives love me more than ever, that they are satisfied with my appearance, that my sister now has her hands full, in one direction,17 where for me no malheurs come to light, that Nice and Sils-Maria have been discovered, and that at the moment a kind of halcyon state has been attained, which is one that should not be unfavorable to the development of a philosophy. And you, my dear friend, remember fondly your


Please, if the money18 is in order, send it as usual (possibly French paper) simply récommandé [recommended]! I'm curious how the Basel pension turned out. — Rée's book,19 splendidly clear and lucid, gives me nothing new, where I expected it; — and for him a historical proof of the ancients lacking precisely talent and breadth of knowledge. You have not yet written about the "Kampf um Gott"20 — other than talk about the impression that your dear wife had ("she has respect").21 I am very well informed about your university celebrations,22 they have provided me with the Basler Nachrichten.23

1. Basel, 11-29-1885: Letter from Franz Overbeck to Nietzsche in Nice.
2. In September and October 1885.
3. The Pension de Genève, where Nietzsche usually resided while in Nice, since 1883.
4. Since 1879, when Nietzsche resigned from his professorship in Basel.
5. Paul Lanzky (1852-a. 1940): German poet and former editor of La Rivista Europea. See his entry in Nietzsche's Library. For Lanzky's recollections of Nietzsche, see: "Friedrich Nietzsche nach personlichem Umgang." In: Sphinx 18 (1894), 333-340; "Friedrich Nietzsche als Mensch und Dichter." In: Unsere Dichter in Wort und Bild. Bd. 5. Hrsg. von F. Tetzner. Leipzig: Claussner, 1895, 19-32. Cf. Sandor L. Gilman (ed.), David J. Parent (trans.), Conversations with Nietzsche. A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries. New York; Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987, 172-182.
6. Nietzsche began writing Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) in Genoa in 1883.
7. Hermann Credner (1842-1924): German publisher who took over Veit & Comp. in 1876.
8. Overbeck's works published by Schmeitzner include: Zur Geschichte des Kanons. Zwei Abhandlungen. Chemnitz: Schmeitzner, 1880. PDF. Studien zur Geschichte der alten Kirche. Chemnitz: Schmeitzner, 1875. PDF.
9. Ernst Schmeitzner had fallen into financial misfortune through his anti-Semitic dealings and agitation. From the onset of their relationship, Nietzsche had allowed Schmeitzner to invest his savings (in government bonds), but this arrangement was short-lived, as it appears Schmeitzner invested in long-term real estate schemes, and probably in anti-Semitic enterprises. When Schmeitzner failed to fulfill Nietzsche's request to redeem his savings, a long drawn-out negotiation and legal wrangling occurred. Schmeitzner finally paid off his debt with the assistance of his father. For further information, see William H. Schaberg, "The Lawsuit against Schmeitzner." In: The Nietzsche Canon. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995, 109-119.
10. The "Poppy of Forgetting" used in Greek mythology.
11. Menschliches Allzumenschliches. 2d. edition (1886): Bd. 1; Bd. 2.
12. Nietzsche's dealings with Credner never came to fruition.
13. No correspondence exists to substantiate Nietzsche's claims in this regard.
14. Nietzsche's former student, Paul Heinrich Widemann (1851-1928). His father was the lawyer for Nietzsche's former publisher, Ernst Schmeitzner. Widemann was the author of Erkennen und Sein. Karlsruhe; Leipzig: Reuther, 1885. Nietzsche was annoyed with Widemann's conflation of the ideas of Eugen Dühring with his Zarathustra. See Erkennen und Sein: 239.
15. Eugen Dühring (1833-1921): anti-Semitic German philosopher whom Nietzsche despised.
16. An allusion to his lawsuit against Schmeitzner. See Note 9 above.
17. An allusion to his sister's marriage to Bernhard Förster (1843-1889), a leader of the German anti-Semitic movement in the late 1870s and founder of the failed Paraguayan colony, "Nueva Germania." Förster eventually committed suicide.
18. Overbeck sent Nietzsche his pension.
19. Paul Rée's Die Entstehung des Gewissens (The Origin of the Conscience). Berlin: Duncker, 1885. PDF.
20. Henri Lou [pseudonym of Lou Salomé], Im Kampf um Gott. Leipzig; Berlin: Friedrich, 1885. PDF.
21. Cf. Leipzig, 05-07-1885: Letter from Nietzsche to Franz Overbeck in Basel, responding to a lost letter from Overbeck. "Den 'Kampf um Gott' habe ich nicht gesehn und mag ihn einstweilen nicht sehn; man bezeugt der Verfasserin, von sehr verschiedenen Seiten her, Respekt. Und wenn Deine liebe Frau auf Grund dieser Art Mémoires und Halb-Roman dem Frl. S[alomé] wieder eine etwas günstigere Beurtheilung gönnt, so soll es mir von Herzen lieb sein; zuletzt hat sie genau das ausgeführt, was ich von ihr in Tautenburg gewünscht habe. Im Übrigen hole sie der Teufel!" (I did not see the "Kampf um Gott" and for the time being I do not want to see it; the author is shown respect from very different sides. And if your dear wife, on the basis of this kind of mémoires and semi-novel, grants Miss S[alomé] a somewhat more favorable assessment, it should be dear to me; in the end [Salomé] did exactly what I asked her to do in Tautenburg. Besides, the devil take her!)
22. Discussed in Overbeck's 11-29-1885 letter.
23. Basel's local newspaper.

Nietzsche's Letters | 1885© The Nietzsche Channel

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