Sunday, January 5, 2014

Johann Georg Jacobi

2014 is a year of anniversaries: the outbreak of the First World War (100 years), the beginning of the Second World War (75 years), the Fall of the Berlin Wall (25 years), and many others. Yesterday evening Red Baron took part in a rather unspectacular anniversary: the unveiling of a commemorative plate on Herrenstraße 43 for Johann Georg Jacobi who died in this house on January 4, 1814.

The still veiled commemorative plate on Herrenstraße 45
Jacobi was a poet of the Enlightenment and the elder brother of the philosopher Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. He was a friend of Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim who procured Johann Georg a sinecure at the Halberstadt cathedral to have him near to him. Naturally, Jacobi followed his mentor Father Gleim in writing anacreontic lyrics that Johann Gottfried Herder called tasteless nonsense. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock laughed about Jacobi, my admired physics colleague Georg Christoph Lichtenberg called him a doctorem jubilatum, and a somewhat jealous Johann Wolfgang von Goethe asserted that Jacobi's success was merely due to "gentlewomen" who just think about sentiments and tingling verses but not about the true content.

Jacobi's life took a decisive turn when in 1784 and in an act of forced Enlightenment Emperor Joseph II  appointed Jacobi, a Protestant, professor of belles-lettres at the Catholic University of Freiburg paying him a yearly salary of 1000 guilders. Initially, the faculty members were appalled but slowly gentle Jacobi earned their confidence so that in 1791 they unanimously voted him Rektor (university director) for the year 1792.

Freiburg's citizens, in particular women, stormed his university courses. Jacobi's Teekränzchen (tea parties) in his house on Herrenstraße were famous. Maria Therese von Artner, a poet herself, wrote to a friend: Was wir also in unserem Kränzchen thun? Wir versammeln uns um den geselligen Theetopf, schlürfen seinen dampfenden Abguß, plaudern dieß und jenes, sind auch nicht ein bißchen altklug, und ich darf so viel und herzlich lachen, als es Lust und Laune zugiebt, tout comme chez nous … (So what do we do at our parties? We gather around the sociable teapot, slurp its steaming brew, chat about this and that, we are not a bit precocious, and I may laugh so much and at my heart's content like being at home ...)

Tea party at Jacobi's house
For the district government, Jacobi's Protestant faith and the fact that he had written a letter to the French National Convent in his excellent French made him suspicious of supporting the ideas of the Revolution. In 1792 the Habsburg president for the Breisgau Joseph Thaddäus von Sumerau wrote to his government in Vienna about Jacobi asking whether the university would not do better without him:  Er ist ein pur Poet und Belletriste und ein dummes Organ des bekannten markgräflich badenschen Hofrats Schlosser, (der Schwager Goethes), welcher sich unter andrem vorzüglich durch seine demokratischen Gesinnungen bey seinem Hof verhaßt machte ... Ich wünschte auch, Jacobi wäre mit seiner Ästhetik in Halberstadt verblieben (He is a pure poet and fiction writer and a stupid voice of the known margravial privy councilor of Baden Schlosser (Goethe's brother-in-law) who made himself hated at court in Karlsruhe in particular due to his democratic attitudes ... I only wish Jacobi had stayed in Halberstadt with all his aesthetics).

When under Napoleon the mostly Protestant Grand Duchy of Baden annexed the Catholic Breisgau belonging to the House of Habsburg Jacobi was one of the first to hail this as an essential unification alluding to the Zähringen roots of the ruling grand duke: Die seit Jahrhunderten getrennten Schilde / vereinen wieder sich, und eines Fürsten Milde / wird nun der guten Bürger Seelen /getrennten Ländern gleich / vermählen (Those coat of arms separated for centuries are now united again and your prince's kindness will marry the good citizens' souls, separated countries alike).

In founding a Lesegesellschaft in Freiburg in 1806 the Baden Besitznahmekommissär (commissary of seizure) Karl Wilhelm Ludwig Friedrich von Drais von Sauerbronn brought his newly arriving Protestant civil servants from Karlsruhe in contact with Freiburg's Catholic intelligentsia. "Reading societies" were popular in Germany at the time when books, newspapers, and journals were expensive but could now be shared by many. Jacobi not only was a founding member of the Freiburger Lesegesellschaft but one of its most fervent readers too.

When Jacobi died on January 4, 1814, everybody was sad, students carried his coffin to Freiburg's Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery), an enormous crowd formed the funeral cortege, and his scholar Karl von Rotteck held the eulogy.

Group shot in front of the illuminated plate.  On the left Mayor Ulrich von Kirchbach,
on the right University Rektor Hans-Jochen Schiewer, framing the organizers.

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