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German Intellectuals and Politics, 1789–1815: The Case of Heinrich von Kleist

  • Gordon A. Craig (a1)

In January 1949, Thomas Mann wrote to a correspondent: “I must acknowledge the arrival of your book on Kleist and assure you of my earnest attention to it. Of loving attention I cannot speak, since much about this writer, even in your incisive study, strikes me as really dreadful; and, after reading it, I find I can warm to his genius less than ever… In the Hermannsschlacht…one can see what a hysterical—Goethe said hypochondriacal—spirit he was on the whole, and one recoils in horror.”

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1. Heinrich von Kleists Nachruhm: Eine Wirkungsgeschichte in Dokumenten, ed. Sembdner, Helmut (Bremen, 1967), p. 468.

2. See, for instance, his letters to Christian Ernst Martini in von Kleist, Heinrich, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, ed. Sembdner, Helmut (2 vols., Munich, 1961), II, 472–86. (Hereafter cited as SW).

3. Hamburger, Michael, Reason and Energy: Studies in German Literature (New York, 1957). p. 113.

4. Anderson, Eugene Newton, Nationalism and the Cultural Crisis in Prussia, 1806–1815 (New York, 1939), pp. 123, 127, 133.

5. SW, II, 719.

6. See, for instance, SW, II, 718–21; and Mayer, Hans, Heinrich von Kleist: Der geschichtliche Augenblick (Pfullingen, 1962), p. 38.

7. SW, II, 735, 737; Mayer, Kleist, p. 34; Joachim Maass, Kleist: Die Fackel Preussens, pp. 92f.

8. Wolff, Hans M., Heinrich von Kleist als politischer Denker (“University of California Publications in Modern Philology,” XXVII, No. 6, Berkeley, 1947), p. 459.

9. SW, II, 760–61.

10. Blöcker, Günter, Heinrich von Kleist oder das absolute Ich (Berlin, 1960), pp. 87f.

11. Anderson, , Nationalism and the Cultural Crisis, p. 127; and Kohn, Hans, Prelude to Nation–States: The French and German Experience, 1789–1815 (Princeton, 1967), p. 195.

12. Benn, Gottfried, Das gezeichnete Ich: Briefe aus den Jahren 1900–1956 (Hamburg, 1962), pp. 32, 35;Delling, Manfred, “Irrtum und Fehltritt des Gottfried Benns,” Die Welt Welt (Hamburg), 05 30, 1963.

13. SW, II, 771.

14. Ibid., p. 815.

15. On Humboldt and Müller, see, inter alia, Bonjour, Edgar, Studien zu Johannes von Müller (Basel, 1957), p. 198; on Voss, see Epstein, Klaus, The Genesis of German Conservatism (Princeton, 1966), p. 669, and Droz, Jacques, Le romantisme allemand et l' État: Résistance et collaboration dans l'Allemagne napoléonienne (Paris, 1966), pp. 98f., III.

16. Heinrich von Kleists Lebensspuren, ed. Sembdner, Helmut (2nd ed., Bremen, 1964), p. 165.

17. SW, II, 782.

18. Kleists Lebensspuren, pp. 285f.

19. It had, indeed, been further inflamed by the fact that, as a result of one of the absurd incidents that recur in Kleist's life, he had been arrested by the French during a trip from Königsberg to Berlin early in 1807, and imprisoned for four months at Châlonssur–Marne on suspicion of espionage, a charge of which he was entirely innocent.

20. SW, II, 782.

21. See Fichte, J. G., Reden an die deutsche Nation, ed. Schneider, Herman (Leipzig, 1924), especially Addresses 8 and 12.

22. SW, I, 585 (Die Hermannsschlacht, lines 1496–1503).

23. See ibid., II, 675 (to Adolfine von Werdeck, July 28/29, 1801).

24. Wolff, , Kleist als politischer Denker, pp. 474ff.

25. See Kleists Nachruhm, p. 356. The critic was Arthur Eloesser.

26. SW, I, 585 (Die Hermannsschlacht, lines 1482–89).

27. Ibid., p. 593 (lines 1698–99).

28. Ibid., pp. 615–21 (Scenes 15–19). Kleist explained to Dahlmann that Thusnelda was a simple girl, like many of those taken in by the French, whose reaction was violent when the scales fell from their eyes. Kleists Lebensspuren, p. 301. One can imagine the “young country maiden from the Mark” in Kleist's second Satirical Letter acting in somewhat the same manner as Thusnelda. See SW, II, 368ff.

29. As was the anonymous reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement, Aug. 21, 1953, who described Hermann and Thusnelda as “slyer and more brutal than those whose badness was supposed to be demonstrated.” Cited in Kleists Nachruhm, p. 474.

30. SW, I, 608 (Die Hermannsschlacht, lines 2096–98).

31. Ibid., pp. 28–31.

32. Ibid., p. 28.

33. Ibid., pp. 26f.

34. SW, II, 354f.

35. Ibid., pp. 380–82.

36. Kleists Lebensspuren, pp. 293f. On the Emperor's jealousy of his brother, see Craig, Gordon A., War, Politics and Diplomacy: Selected Essays (New York, 1966), pp. 68.

37. Maass, , Kleist, p. 218.

38. SW, II, 828.

39. SW, I, 32 (“Das letzte Lied”).

40. Berliner Abendblätter, herausgegeben von Heinrich von Kleist (Facsimile edition, with epilogue by Helmut Sembdner, Stuttgart, 1965), issues of Oct. 1 and 22, 1810.

41. Maass, , Kleist, pp. 239–53; Kleists Lebensspuren, pp. 370, 382f., 385f., 416. On Hardenberg's policy at this time, see Thielen, Peter Gerrit, Karl August von Hardenberg, 1750–1822 (Cologne, 1967), pp. 245ff.

42. SW, II, 857.

43. The story of the Berliner Abendblätter is told with great detail, but often with tendentious interpretation, in Steig, Reinhold, Heinrich von Kleists Berliner Kämpfe (Berlin, 1900). More accurate is Helmut Sembdner, Die Berliner Abendblätter Heinrich von Kleists (Berlin, 1939). See also Rogge, Helmut, “Heinrich von Kleists letzte Leiden,” Jahrbuch der Kleist–Gesellschaft 1922 (Berlin, 1923), pp. 3450.

44. SW, II, 871.

45. von Kleist, Heinrich, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, ed. Samuel, Richard in collaboration with Dorothea Coverlid (Berlin, 1964), introduction, pp. 2628.

46. SW, I, 704 (Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, lines 1750–52).

47. Ibid., p. 707 (Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, line 1830).

48. For his earlier views on these things, see SW, II, 584f., 626f., 681; Wolff, Kleist, pp. 363f.; and Hohoff, Curt, Heinrich von Kleist in Selbstzeugnissen und Dokumenten (Hamburg, 1958), p. 38.

49. See Droz, , Le romantisme allemand, p. 232.

50. Prinz Friedrich von Homburg (Samuel ed.), introduction, p. 10.

51. Blöcker, , Kleist, p. 202.

52. Kleists Nachruhm, p. 330.

53. SW, I, 698 (Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, lines 1575–1587).

54. Historische Zeitschrift, LXXXVI (1901), 89ff.; and the comments of Ritter, Gerhard, Stein: Eine politische Biographie, Stuttgart, 1958), pp. 336f.

55. SW, I, 545 (Die Hermannsschlacht, lines 332–35).

56. Pertz, G. H. and Delbrück, H., Das Leben das Feld–Marschalls Grafen Neidthardt von Gneisenau (5 vols., Berlin, 18641880), II, 112ff.

57. Kleists Lebensspuren, pp. 441–43; SW, II, 879.

58. Thielen, , Hardenberg, p. 272.

59. Craig, Gordon A., “Wilhelm von Humboldt as Diplomat,” in Studies in International History, 3rd ed.Bourne, K. and Watt, D. C. (London, 1967), pp. 85f.

60. Pertz, , Gneisenau, II, 191ff.

61. SW, II, 878.

62. Ibid., p. 884.

63. Wallensteins Lager, “Prolog,” lines 65–66.

64. Hamburger, , Reason and Energy, p. 113. Compare Anderson, Nationalism and the Cultural Crisis, pp. 141–42.

65. Brecht, Bertolt, Gesammelte Werke (Suhrkamp, ed., 20 vols., Frankfurt am Main, 1967), IX, 723 (“An die Nachgeborene,” lines 6–8).

66. See, for instance, his letter of late November 1805 to Rühle von Lilienstern, where he asks: “Wo soll die Unbefangenheit des Gemüts herkommen, die schlechthin zu ihrem Genuss nötig ist, in Augenblicken, wo das Elend jeden, wie Pfuël sagen würde, in den Nacken schlägt.” SW, II, 761.

67. See Droz, , Le romantisme allemand, pp. 231f.

68. On the Expressionists, see Craig, Gordon A., “Engagement and Neutrality in Weimar Germany,” Journal of Contemporary History, II, No. 2 (1967), 4963.

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Central European History
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