Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seume Two

In Seume who? I introduced you to Johann Gottfried Seume, the German writer, soldier, editor, frequent traveler and late enlightener. In the meantime I read his journal titled Mein Sommer im Jahr 1805 (My Summer in the year of 1805) containing his impressions of his journey to the Nordic countries around the Baltic Sea from April to September 1805. Take the blog Seume Two as a natural follow-up of Seume Who?.

Like in 1802 when Seume had made his famous hike to Syracuse he again had chosen a rather peaceful year although during 1805 Austria was preparing to battle Napoleon for a third time trying to lure Russia into the adventure. Napoleon had crowned himself emperor in 1804 and war eventually broke out in fall 1805. When in the Battle of the Three Emperors on 2 December Austria suffered a crushing defeat at Austerlitz Seume was already back home in Leipzig.

Starting out from there in April of 1805 Seume visited Dresden, Breslau, Warsaw, Kowno, Riga, Reval, Saint Petersburg with a detour to Moscow although most of the time he did not hike but rather used the stage coach. Following a longer stay in Saint Petersburg he then continued to Turku, Uppsala, Stockholm, Helsingborg, Copenhagen, Kiel, and Hamburg back to Leipzig.

Actually he visited only five countries: Saxony, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark for Poland had ceased to exist in 1795 when Prussia, Austria, and Russia occupied the rest of what had been left of the kingdom following the first and the second partition of Poland in 1772 and 1793. Seume had participated in the third partition of Poland as a Russian officier and adjutant of General Igelström in 1794.

Finland's situation occupied by Sweden and Russia was ethnically even worse than that of Poland for the border Seume crossed split a homogeneous population speaking neither a Slavic nor a Germanic idiom posing the risk that the Finnish language might become extinct.

A page of  Uppsala's Codex Argentus (Wikipedia)
Writing about Germanic idioms: Most impressive for me was that Seume was allowed to take in his hands the Wulfila Bible or what remained of it in Uppsala's University Library. Already in the 4th century Bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) had the Bible translated into Gothic. The Bible text of the Codex Argenteus kept in Uppsala was written in Italy in the 6th century with silver letters on parchment. Of the original 336 folia the former Benedictine abbey of Werden (near Essen, Rhineland) had 187 remaining. Emperor Rudolph II interested in scholarship bought the pages and kept them at his imperial seat in Prague. When the Swedes occupied the city in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War they took the pages to Sweden as war booty from where they found their way to Uppsala rather than to Gothenburg.

Below is the Lord's Prayer in Gothic that English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish-speaking people are still able to understand at least in parts:

atta unsar þu in himinam,
weihnai namo þein.
qimai þiudinassus þeins.
wairþai wilja þeins,
swe in himina jah ana airþai.
hlaif unsarana þana sinteinan gif uns himma daga.
jah aflet uns þatei skulans sijaima,
swaswe jah weis afletam þaim skulam unsaraim.
jah ni briggais uns in fraistubnjai,
ak lausei uns af þamma ubilin;
unte þeina ist þiudangardi jah mahts jah wulþus in aiwins.
amen.

Note that the letter þ stands for the "th" that in German frequently changed into "d".

All in all Seume's diary about his travel around the Baltic Sea is less entertaining than his book about his hiking tour to Syracuse. Was this the reason that no publisher wanted to print the manuscript? No, the reason was that the keen observer Seume had well noticed the misery of the peasants during his travels and had written it down. Throughout his text he criticizes the feudalistic society and outspoken passages as the one below about the superiority of the Napoleonic soldier compared to his German counterpart were politically dangerous:

Without any distinction a Frenchman fights for his country that has become his love, that not only keeps him and his family in view of all the advantages but offers these benefits in reality. In France a man is taken for what he is, in our country a man is estimated according to his entry in the Church register, the weight of his father's moneybag or what the Lord Stewart's office prescribes. For whom should a German grenadier throw himself on batteries and into bayonets? He stays what he is, carries on his knapsack, and hardly earns a friendly word from his grumpy ruler. He shall look death in the eye, while in drudgery at home his old, weak father is plowing the fields of a merciful Junker doing nothing, paying him nothing and rewarding him with maltreatment. The sweating old man brings in the harvest of the Court and has often let rot his own crop outside. However, he has the miserable honor of being the only coolie of the State, an honor that is better not recognized! Why should a soldier fight courageously only to enjoy such happiness later himself? He shall be brave while his sister or girlfriend are forced to serve at Court, for eight Gilders annually, year by year without any perspective in their lifetime; and his old, sick aunt barely living on dry bread must spin her allotted pile of flax for the Court lest she be forced to live on alms; and his little brother must serve as a messenger-boy running for a dime, day in, day out in cold and in heat. It is the small peasant who drives and pulls and gives; on the large farms no hoof will stir and no wheel will turn without him. That is what you call State, good order, and justice. Are you still wondering where the public unhappiness comes from?

I hope my translation has retained a little bit of Seume's emotional style.

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