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 his 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 him a sinecure at the Halberstadt cathedral to have Johann Georg 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 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 such 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 in 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 assemble around the sociable teapot, sip its steaming brew, chat about this and that, we are not a bit precocious, and I am allowed to laugh at a whim much and heartily, remaining entirely among our own ...)

Tea party at Jacobi's house
For the district government Jacobi's Protestant faith and the fact that he in his excellent French had written a letter to the French National Convent led to his being suspected of supporting the ideas of the Revolution. In 1792 the Habsburg president for the Breisgau Joseph Thaddäus von Sumerau wrote to his governement 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 bellestriste, the 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 wished Jacobi, with all his esthetics, had remained in Halberstadt).

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 und 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 the 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, and in the middle the organizers.

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