The influence of the English eighteenth-century satirists on G. Ch. Lichtenberg and the Nachtwachen von Bonaventura


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The influence of the English eighteenth-century satirists on G. Ch. Lichtenberg and the Nachtwachen von Bonaventura
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ix, 398 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Katritzky, Linde, 1928-
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Comparative literature -- English and German   ( lcsh )
Comparative literature -- German and English   ( lcsh )
Satire, English -- History and criticism   ( lcsh )
English literature -- History and criticism -- 18th century   ( lcsh )
English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1988.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Also available online.
Statement of Responsibility:
by A.J. Dietlinde Katritzky.
General Note:
General Note:
Thesis (Ph. D.)-- University of Florida, 1988.
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Copyright 1988


A. J. Dietlinde Katritzky


For this, my late second opportunity to enter

academia, I am indebted to the American university

system, and in particular to the College of Liberal

Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida; to

its Dean Dr. Charles F. Sidman, and to the many

professors, colleagues and friends there, who have

helped and encouraged me over the past seven years.

My special thanks go to the Department of

Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures where I

started my research on Lichtenberg and the

Nachtwachen in 1983 under the guidance of Dr.

Christian J. Gellinek, where Dr. Hal Rennert always

provided helpful advice, and where the new chairman,

Dr. Alexander Stephan, gave much-appreciated counsel

and backing.

In 1984 I was fortunate enough to be accepted,

together with my research interests, by the

Department of English. I wish to express my deep

gratitude to its Chairman Dr. Melvyn New, and to Dr.

Richard E. Brantley, Dr. Alistair M. Duckworth, and

Dr. Brian R. McCrea, not only for agreeing to serve

on my committee, but also for providing me with new


and valuable perspectives on my work. The interest

these specialists in English eighteenth-century

literature took in G. Ch. Lichtenberg was a great

encouragement to my belief in the close affinity

between Lichtenberg, the Nachtwachen and English

satire. During my long searches for relevant links

my chairman, Dr. Brian R. McCrea, gave unstintingly

of his time and expertise: he patiently read numerous

drafts, and always provided penetrating and

constructive comments.

I also thank Dr. Sidney R. Homan, Jr., for his

helpful reading of my chapter on Shakespeare, and

Donald Ball for drawing my attention to M. Bakhtin

and his theory of the menippea.

Grateful acknowledgement is due to the

Lichtenberg-Gesellschaft, its Chairman Dr. Wolfgang

Promies and, among other members, Dr. Peter Brix, Dr.

Fritz Ebner, Dr. Hans Ludwig Gumbert, Ulrich Joost,

Drs. Georg Christoph and Astrid Lichtenberg, to Otto

Weber and Werner Wegmann. While not all are yet

convinced by my hypothesis, everybody was most

helpful and supportive.

I am also indebted for valuable help in locating

documents and references to Mr. N. H. Robinson,

Librarian to the Royal Society of London, to Mr.

Helmut Drubba, Hannover, and to Dr. Horst Fleig,


Dr. James A. Deyrup, who initiated me into the

mysteries of word processing, and who repeatedly

rescued me with remarkable patience and good humor

from seemingly desperate situations, deserves special


Last, not least, I thank my husband, Dr. Alan R.

Katritzky, for advice and active support with

research problems, and for putting up cheerfully--

most of the time--with life with a graduate student.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ............................. iii

ABSTRACT.................................... vii



HIS LIBRARY AND READING ................ 18



IV. ROBERT BURTON (1577-1640)

V. JONATHAN SWIFT (1667-1745)

VI. ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)
AND THE SCRIBLERIANS................... 210




CONCLUSION................................... 373

BIBLIOGRAPHY.................................. 384

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................... 397


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate
School of the University of Florida in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



A. J. Dietlinde Katritzky

August 1988

Chairman: Brian R. McCrea
Major Department: English

In 1804 the Nachtwachen. Von Bonaventura was

published anonymously in Germany. Hardly noticed at

first, the slender volume has attracted increasing

acclaim and critical attention. Uneasily assigned to

the romantic period, it was attributed to a large

number of possible, and often mutually incompatible

authors alive and active in 1804.

Striking parallels exist, however, between

Bonaventura and G. Ch. Lichtenberg's variously and

extensively documented thought processes. If

attributed to Lichtenberg (1742-99), and analysed

from the viewpoint of his literary values and habits,

the penumbral world of the Nachtwachen is illuminated

by the enlightened concerns of the eighteenth

century, and in turn reflects German and English

intellectual life and development during that period.


Lichtenberg was an active participator and catalyst

in this important cultural interchange, and his

appreciation of contemporary English literature was

based on a thorough knowledge of the English

tradition. In this study I attempt to demonstrate

that Bonaventura shared this background.

Comparison with the English eighteenth-century

satirists shows that the Nachtwachen are a menippea,

a sub-species of the satire, which evolved in

antiquity from the Socratic tradition. While satire

is mainly concerned with criticism of present

conditions, menippean satire refrains from attacking

singular events or particular situations, and

questions basic problems. It deals with life in the

universal sense, its proper conduct, purpose and

ultimate eschatological consequences. The menippea

can therefore be defined as serio-comic summary of

mankind's philosophical achievement, and as such was

particularly congenial to the Age of Enlightenment.

To reflect the human condition in its entirety,

the menippea incorporates extremes which range in

style from formal rhetoric to vulgarisms, and in

subject matter from the absurd and distorted to the

sublime, and Lichtenberg, a leading German anglophile

and the most accomplished satirist of his time,


perfected his skills by studying English models,

especially Swift, Pope, Fielding, and Sterne.

The primary aim of viewing the Nachtwachen

through his perspective is not to establish the true

identity of Bonaventura, but to arrive at a valid

interpretation of his intricate, multi-meaningful,

and exceedingly condensed text, and its significance

in the context of the late eighteenth century.


One of the most controversial books in German

literature are the Nachtwachen. Von Bonaventura. This

work appeared anonymously in 1804 in the publishing

house of Ferdinand Dienemann in Penig, Saxony, a firm

which specialized in novels, mainly of a trivial and

ephemeral nature.1 Established in 1802, the business

went already bankrupt in 1806 during the upheavals of

the Napoleonic Wars, when all its stock and documents

were dispersed and lost.

Initially the Nightwatches was hardly noticed.

The only documented contemporary reaction is a letter

by the novelist Jean Paul (1763-1825).2 He suggests

that Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775-1854) must be

1 Nachtwachen. Von Bonaventura is the original
title. As it is ambiguous, many different versions
are in use. Unless these are quoted, I refer to the
work as Nightwatches, because the page numbers given
in this study are taken from the English version in
Die Nachtwachen des Bonaventura: The Night Watches of
Bonaventura. Edinburgh Bilingual Library. Transl. and
intr. Gerald Gillespie (Austin: University of Texas
Press), 1971.
2 Letter by Jean Paul to Paul Thierot, dated
January 14, 1805. Cited by Wolfgang Paulsen, ed.,
Bonaventura. Nachtwachen (Stuttgart: Reclam, 1984),
pp. 162-63.


hiding behind the pseudonym Bonaventura,

becauseSchelling had used it previously to publish a

poem in the Athenaum. Jean Paul also draws attention

to Bonaventura's indebtedness to his own style and


The assumed authorship of Schelling remained

unchallenged until 1903, when the critic Wilhelm

Dilthey declared that it was not possible for

Schelling to have written the book.3 Since then

scholars have proposed many names without resolving

the controversy for long. Among the most famous of

these are E.T.A. Hoffmann, Clemens Brentano, and

recently Jean Paul himself. Many minor and even

obscure literary figures were also seriously


3 Paulsen, p. 165.

4 The following works refer particularly to
these authors: Rudolf Haym, Die Romantische Schule.
Ein Beitraq zur Geschichte des deutschen Geistes
(Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1870). A foot-
note calls the Nightwatches without doubt one of the
most ingenious productions of Romanticism (p. 636).
Haym connects E. T. A. Hoffmann for the first time
with Bopnaventura, but finds influences of Jean Paul,
too, who is now also suggested by Andreas Mielke,
Zeitgenosse Bonaventura (Diss., Yale University,
1981). Erich Frank proposed Brentano as author and
published the book as: Clemens Brentano: Nachtwachen
von Bonaventura. Ed. and intr. Erich Frank
(Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1912).
E. T. A. Hoffmann has again been proposed by
Rosemarie Hunter-Lougheed, Die Nachtwachen von
Bonaventura: e. Fruhwerk E.T.A. Hoffmanns?
(Heidelberg: Winter, 1985). This work contains an
up-dated and extensive survey of the publishing

First of these was Caroline Schlegel-Schelling,

the daughter of the Gottingen Professor of Oriental

Languages, Johann David Michaelis (1717-91). Hermann

Michel proposed her in 1904 as co-authoress with her

husband.5 In Schelling's persistent silence

regarding the authorship, Michel saw an overriding

desire to avoid any further embarrassment after the

controversies in which marriage with the divorced

wife of August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845) had

embroiled him. This judgement was partly based on

the vehement and controversial opinions to which the

nightwatchman gives voice, but more so on his

unsqueamish references to illicit love and body


Among other candidates Friedrich Gottlob Wetzel

(1779-1819) was promoted because he wrote a poem in

which he related mind and stomach in ways similar to

history of the Nightwatches and of most of the
assumed authors in Chapter I, 1: "Rezeptions- und
Forschungsgeschichte", pp. 13-45. Among recent
summaries: Gerhart Hoffmeister. "Bonaventura:
Nachtwachen (1804/05)." Romane und Erzahlungen der
deutschen Romantik: Neue Interpretationen (Stuttgart:
Reclam, 1981), pp. 194-212; Jeffrey L. Sammons, "In
Search of Bonaventura: The Nachtwachen Riddle 1965-
1985." The Germanic Review, LXI, 2, 1986, pp. 50-56;
Ruth Haag. "Noch einmal: Der Verfasser der
Nachtwachen von Bonaventura". Euphorion, LXXXI, 3,
1987, pp. 286-97.

5 Nachtwachen von Bonaventura. Intr. Hermann
Michel. Deutsche Literaturdenkmale des 18. und 19.
Jahrhunderts. Vol. 133 (Berlin: Behrs, 1904; rpt.
Liechtenstein: Kraus, 1968).

Bonaventura.6 Owing to his general obscurity his

claims were hard to disprove. They were only

seriously challenged when Jost Schillemeit proposed

Ernst August Friedrich Klingemann (1777-1831), an

able dramatic producer, but a writer of limited

talents.7 The hypothesis raised many doubts, but

stimulated a wave of renewed interest in the elusive

Bonaventura. Independently Horst Fleig had also

arrived at the conclusion that Klingemann and

Bonaventura were identical.8

The mere fact that a reasonable and, at least in

part, convincing case can be made for each of these

"authors" as well as for many others, testifies to

the unusual depth and diversity of this extraordinary

book, and confirms the claim of its protagonist to be

a representative of mankind (". . me, who am called

man," p. 167). This diversity is further revealed by

the incompatible and divergent ways in which literary

6 Die Nachtwachen des Bonaventura. Ed. and
postscr. Franz Schulz (Leipzig: Insel, 1909),
pp. 154-59.
7 Jost Schillemeit, Bonaventura. Der Verfasser
der "Nachtwachen" (MWinchen: Beck, 1973).

8 Horst Fleig, Zersprungene Identitat.
Klingemann-Nachtwachen von Bonaventura) (Tubingen:
Rohmanuskript Promotion, 1974), and Literarischer
Vampirismus: Klingemanns 'Nachtwachen von
Bonaventura'. Studien zur deutschen Literatur,
Vol. 83 (Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1985).

critics tend to view the slender volume. The

Niqhtwatches has been interpreted as a trivial novel,

as the autobiographical relevations of a failed poet,

and as a dazzling work of genius compared to which

the Faust of Goethe and Byron pales.9

The assignation to trivial literature accords

with the profile of the Dienemann publishing house,

but hardly with the nature of the work. It is

characterized by frequent shifts in style, mood and

time, digressions which are thematically but not

structurally integrated, satirical ambiguities and

difficult philosophical allusions. All these stand

in opposition to the generic requirements of the

trivial novel, which call for clear and consecutive

narration, a conventional and predictable plot,

undemanding vocabulary, uncontroversial opinions and

a satisfying conclusion.

Most critics have balanced their assessment of

the book. They acknowledge flashes of brilliance,

but pronounce the whole uneven, capricious and rather

9 Franz Heiduk, "Bonaventuras 'Nachtwachen'.
Erste Bemerkungen zum Ort der Handlung und zur Frage
nach dem Verfasser." Aurora. Jahrbuch der
Eichendorff-Gesellschaft, XXXXI, (1982), pp. 143-165.
This highly favorable opinion was given by Ernst von
Lasaulx in a letter to Joseph Gorres of March 28,
1831. Often quoted, e.g. Hunter Lougheed, p. 20.

reckless.10 From such judgements grew the conviction

that the book must have been written by a person of

great promise in his unrestrained youth.

Further problems are presented by the genre.

The Nightwatches has been reluctantly classified as a

novel.11 Jeffrey Sammons, however, drew attention to

the work's structure, which is so sophisticated that

it escapes the notice of the reader whose

expectations are conditioned by conventional novels.

Sammons discovered five interconnected narrative

cycles within the framework of the Sixteen

Nightwatches in which the nightwatchman Kreuzgang

relates his thoughts and adventures.12 These

unconventional numbers led Rita Terras to interpret

the structure of the NiQhtwatches as a homage to

10 Jean Paul's judgement initiated this
approach. It was followed by Karl August Ludwig
Varnhagen von Ense who wrote into his diary on August
17th, 1843 that he had read the novel by Schelling.
His criticism was strongly tinged by his antagonism
to the presumed author. He found the book "immature,
arbitrary, unorganic, also talented, glittering and
full of promise, and no lack of cheek. Altogether,
however, an incredibly weak production and too
insignificant for Schelling." (Quotations from German
sources are translated by Linde Katritzky, unless
otherwise stated). Varnhagen's letter is quoted in
most of the secondary literature on Bonaventura, e.g.
Hunter-Lougheed, p. 23.
11 Paulsen, p. 180: "Whoever was Bonaventura, he
must have been a young man . .", pp. 172-73.
12 Jeffrey L. Sammons, The Nachtwachen von
Bonaventura. A Structural Interpretation (The Hague:
Mouton & Co., 1965).

Juvenal, whose sixteen satires are divided into five

books.13 The implications of her ingenious inference

were never seriously pursued, mainly because the

Nightwatches has always been judged within the

context of German Romanticism which did not favor

satire as a genre. The nightwatchman himself,

however, uses the word "satire" and its derivatives

repeatedly, and calls himself at the beginning of his

first round a "satirical Stentor" (p. 31). The

metonymic use of the Homeric hero, whose voice

equalled that of fifty others, emphatically and

unequivocally identifies Kreuzgang as a satirist, but

is atypical for a German romantic protagonist.

Nevertheless, valid reasons exist for an

allocation of the work to the romantic period apart

from the date of publication. Many of the concerns in

the Nightwatches are identical with romantic themes

or at least close to them. Comparison with English

satirists will show, however, that these romantic

leitmotife could derive from the tradition of

menippean satire as well. The book contains

references to Dr. Erasmus Darwin and the London

clockmaker Samuel Day on both of whom articles

13 Rita Terras, "Juvenal und die satirische
Struktur der 'Nachtwachen von Bonaventura'." German
Quarterly, LII, (1979), pp. 18-31.

appeared in Germany in 1804.14 Consequently it was

taken for granted that the work could not have been

written prior to these publications, and that

Bonaventura must be an author active during 1804.

This thesis attempts to demonstrate:

1) that the Nightwatches are a menippean satire

written in the tradition of eighteenth-century

British literature, particularly that of Swift, but

softened by the feeling which Addison, Johnson, and

especially Fielding added to the genre, and by the

sentiment contributed by Sterne;

14 The journal Der Freimathice carried a
supplement on "English Literature" on March 2nd,
1804, which contained information about Erasmus
Darwin's The Temple of Nature. Though Darwin's Temple
of Nature appeared posthumously in 1803, the two
aspects of it which are used in the Nightwatches were
favorite ideas of Dr. Darwin and are mentioned in
both his previous major works, The Botanic Garden
(1789) and Zoonomia (1794-96), see Linde Katritzky,
"Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, F.R.S." Notes and
Records of the Royal Society of London, XXXIX, Nr. 1,
1984, pp.41-49. Another supplement which also
appeared at the beginning of March described the
night clock by Samuel Day, to which a footnote in the
Nightwatches refers at the end of the Sixth
Nightwatch, see Schillemeit, p. 72. An anonymous
article about the same clock is also in the Magazin
aller neuen Erfindungen, Entdeckungen und
Verbesserungen, IV (Leipzig: Baumgartnerische
Buchhandlung, n.d.). Hermann Michel, p. xvi, assumes
that the year of publication is 1804. For
connections between Darwin and the Lunar Society with
this clock see Adrien Burchall, "The Noctuary or
Watchman's Clock: Its Introduction and Development."
Antiquarian Horology. Proceedings of the Antiquarian
Horological Society, XV, Nr. 3, 1985, pp. 231-51.

2) that the book is not the result of impetuous

inspiration but designed with unusual complexity and

profundity; it reveals exceptional erudition, and is

grounded in wide reading which includes English

literature and philosophy of the eighteenth century;

3) that the text accords with the opinions and the

range of learning of the acknowledged master of German

satire, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-99), one of

the prominent representatives of the late

Enlightenment and a leading German Anglophile.15

An assignment of the Nightwatches to the late

Enlightenment should also lead to a better

understanding of the interaction between the German

classic and romantic literary movements, and

strengthen the conclusions of Anglo-American literary

criticism that the differences between these two

epochs are not as distinct as has been traditionally

maintained in German literary history.16 Proposing

the Anglophile, enlightened thinker Lichtenberg as

the probable author of the enigmatic Nightwatches

15 These chronological problems are discussed in
Linde Katritzky, "Eine Untersuchung der Eigennamen in
den Nachtwachen von Bonaventura und bei Georg
Christoph Lichtenberg." Thesis for the Degree of
Master of Arts, Gainesville: University of Florida,
1984; pp. 38-49.
16 E.g. M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp:
Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1953).

should therefore imply that the literary habits and

the scientific thinking of eighteenth-century England

played a considerable part in the origins of German

romanticism. It is hoped that this thesis may

contribute toward clarifying some of these issues,

though it will deal primarily with the relationship

of the Nightwatches with English satirists of the

eighteenth century.

As Bonaventura's text is woven from an unusual

wealth of material, and infused with allusions and

associations gathered from the entire range of

European eighteenth-century experience, I cannot hope

to deal with the full extent of the implications,

ambiguities and coded references. I follow Northrop

Frye in considering this exceptional richness and

variety not as incidental embellishment, but as one

of the generic characteristics of menippean satire.

Frye describes this sub-genre as "a combination of

fantasy and morality" and defines "creative treatment

of exhaustive erudition" as its organizing principle.

He sees Plato as "a strong influence on this type".17

17 Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism
(1957; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973),
3rd. paperb. ed., pp. 310-11. It is worth noting that
Plato's theories are quoted in the Nightwatches (p.
37). The thought is repeated without mention of Plato
on pp. 123, 213.

In his Anatomy of Satire Gilbert Highet sees

Bion Borysthenes, a follower of the Socratic

tradition, as the true originator of what became

known as the Menippean satire, for he was the "first

to dress philosophy in the flowery clothes of a

prostitute." By this is meant that he was the first,

or at least the first who is known, who explained

important philosophical problems in the crude terms

which could be readily understood even by the lowest

and most illiterate. Bion, a freed slave who was

born around 325 B.C., thus spread the achievements of

Greek philosophy among the uneducated, who could

profit from them though they were unable to deal with

abstract concepts.18

This combination of profound thoughts with the

free discussion of those aspects of life which are

usually avoided in polite society became one of the

distinguishing characteristics of the menippea.

These were carefully categorised in a penetrating

study of the genre by Mikhail Bakhtin.19 He

18 Gilbert Highet, The Anatomy of Satire
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp.

19 Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's
Poetics. Ed. and transl. Caryl Emerson (1984;
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986). Chap.
IV, "Characteristics of Genre and Plot Composition in
Dostoevsky's Works", p. 101-80, esp. p. 112-19.
Bakhtin's work appeared first with the title Problems
of Dostoevsky's Art, Leningrad, 1928. It was expanded

credits Bion Borysthenes with first mingling

philosophy with "crude slum naturalism," (Problems,

p. 115) and enumerates fourteen particular

characteristics of the menippean satire, noting

especially its free interplay of opposite features:

fact and fantasy; the serious and the comic;

philosophical universalism and trivialities; wisdom,

absurdity and insanity. "All sorts of violations of

the generally accepted and customary course of events

and the established norms of behaviour and etiquette"

are classified as part of the menippean concern to

unmask the deceiving appearances of life and to get

closer to ultimate truth (Problems, p. 117). "Sharp

contrasts and oxymoronic combinations . abrupt

transitions and . wide use of inserted genres:

novellas, letters, oratorial speeches, symposia, and

so on", widen the scope of the menippea to involve

the full paradox of life (Problems, p. 118). Bakhtin

calls the levels traditionally explored by the

menippea: "Olympus, the nether world, and earth"

(Problems, p. 133). Every part of the menippea serves

as "moral experimentation" (Problems, p. 152), which

is the connecting principle of the genre. The

frequent flights into fantasy and the "creation of

for a second edition, Moscow, 1963, and did not
become available to the West until twenty years later.

extraordinary situations" are therefore not subject

to whim, but are carefully designed to serve "as a

mode for searching after truth, provoking it, and,

most important, testing it." Thus "the fantastic is

subordinated to the purely ideational function,"

(Problems, p. 114) and the possibilities of human

experience in every extreme are invoked in a quest

for the essence and purpose of life. This search is

also the motivation of Kreuzgang, Bonaventura's

protagonist, and the organizing principle of his

sixteen nightwatches.

In regard to this unlimited variety of subject

matter Bahktin remarks that "while possessing an

inner integrity, the genre of the menippea

simultaneously possesses great external plasticity

and a remarkable capacity to absorb into itself

kindred small genres, and to penetrate as a component

element into other large genres" (Problem, p. 119).

This loosely connected narrative form is operative

throughout the Nightwatches and was supposedly

practised by the Greek cynic Menippus. His works

have not survived, but among his followers were the

Greek Lucian and the Roman Varro, and later Petronius

and Apuleius. At first the genre used a mixture of

prose and verse, and for this reason a French

collection of political satires which appeared

anonymously in 1594 took the title Satire Menippde,

for it used a medley of styles and languages.

As the menippea brings together different

elements which are taken from a large variety of

other genres, it is not very stable and has no pure

form. It "has baffled critics, and there is hardly

any fiction writer deeply influenced by it who has

not been accused of disorderly conduct."20 Precisely

this accusation, levelled against the early work of

Dostoevsky, led Bakhtin to investigate Dostoevsky's

poetics, to define the genre and to detect the

pattern of intellectual purpose and structural

organisation. His conclusions apply also in

remarkable degree to the Nightwatches, a work which

has likewise attracted a large share of criticism for

nonconformity to the generic demands of the novel.21

Similarities between Dostoevsky's early work and

the Nightwatches have already been noted by Rado

Pribic in his study, Bonaventura's "Nachtwachen" and

Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground." Pribic

calls this: "A Comparison in Nihilism," and

20 Frye, p. 313.

21 E.g. Jeffrey L. Sammons, "In Search of
Bonaventura: The Nachtwachen Riddle 1965-85." The
Germanic Review, LXI, Nr. 2, 1986, p. 50: ". .
failures of coherence not only indicate haste in
composition but make me doubt that the book was
written by a major author of the time."

interprets both the Niqhtwatches and the Notes from

the Underground from this perspective. He gives a

plausible explanation why Dostoevsky could have been

familiar with the German work, of which many copies

were left unsold in St. Petersburg, when Dienemann

collapsed in 1806.22

The author of the Nightwatches has deliberately

structured his text as a menippea. Numerous

references indicate intentional adherence to its

standards. Comparison with English eighteenth-

century satire shows that he followed the examples of

Swift, Fielding, Sterne and others. The Nightwatches

also reveals its author to be well aquainted with

German thought. Echoes of Lessing's work are

particularly noticeable, especially the "69. Stuck"

of the "Hamburgische Dramaturgie."23

Conscious choice of genre is an eighteenth-

century attitude and one of the conventions and

restrictions which the Sturm und Drang in Germany

tried to sweep away, and against which the romantic

writers also revolted. It is therefore a

22 Rado Pribic, Bonaventura's "Nachtwachen" and
Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground." A
Comparison in Nihilism. Slavistische Beitrage, Vol.
79 (Minchen: Otto Sagner, 1974), p. 10.
23 Gotthold Ephraim Lessings samtliche
Schriften. Ed. Karl Lachmann (1894; rpt. Berlin:
Walter de Gruyter, 1968), Vol. 10, "Hamburgische
Dramaturgie, '69. Stuck'," pp. 76-80.

characteristic which sets the author of the

Niqhtwatches apart from these literary movements.

Nevertheless the romantic period was rich in

menippean elements which, as Bakhtin notes, were

especially prominent and influential in E.T.A.

Hoffmann (Problems, p. 155). An investigation of the

Niqhtwatches reveals the English contribution to this

development, and shows that the paradox of the

exceptional originality of this work, within a

crowded reference system of constantly recalled

literary works of outstanding merit, was achieved in

accordance with Edward Young's prescript on how to

imitate the masters properly: "Let us be as far from

neglecting, as from copying, their admirable


This aspect of Young's conjectures on

originality was brushed aside by the German

enthusiasts who only followed Young in extolling the

merits of genius. Bonaventura, however, as did

Lichtenberg, also listened to Young's further advice:

"It is by a sort of noble contagion, from a general

familiarity with their writings, and not by any

particular sordid theft, that we can be the better

for those who went before us." Like Lichtenberg

after him, Young also stressed the importance of

imitating methods, which are of universal importance,

rather than works, which are relevant to conditions

of the past. Thus he pointed out: "He that imitates

the divine Iliad, does not imitate Homer; but he who

takes the same method, which Homer took, for arriving

at a capacity of accomplishing a work so great."24

Bonaventura, like the German writers of the

Storm and Stress, and of the romantic period,

disdained imitation of previous texts, but unlike

these contemporaries did not reject the past, but

studied the methods and aims of outstanding previous

writers in depth. This thesis traces the influence

of the English eighteenth-century satirists on his

text, and also attempts to demonstrate that

Bonaventura, in taking their methods, also studied

the sources of their inspiration.

24 Edward Young, "Conjectures on Original
Composition." Critical Theory since Plato. Ed.
Hazard Adams (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1971), pp. 340-341.



Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, whose patterns of

thought show striking parallels to those of

Bonaventura, was born in 1742 in Ober-Ramstadt, a

small town near Darmstadt. He was the seventeenth and

last child of a Lutheran pastor who came from a

family with a strong pietistic tradition. Such views

were favored by the court in Darmstadt at the time

and in 1750 Konrad Lichtenberg was therefore

appointed Superintendent of Church affairs for the

principality. He died, however, the following year,

leaving his widow in straitened circumstances. From

early youth his youngest son suffered from a spinal

weakness which eventually dwarfed and crippled him.

A natural liveliness and inclination to socialize

notwithstanding, this handicap imposed on him the

position of an outsider, and as such he developed and

perfected his unusually keen gifts as an observer.

His talents were fostered at the Grammar School

in Darmstadt. He left in 1761 with an excellent

record, but had to wait until 1763 before he could


enter the university in Gottingen, for he was

dependent on a stipend from his sovereign, which

could only be obtained with difficulty.

How he spent the intervening years can be

surmised from a letter he wrote to Johann Arnold

Ebert (1723-95) in 1794. He calls him his teacher of

thirty-three years ago and recalls the endless

nocturnal hours he was then devoting to Young's Night

Thoughts, a work which Ebert had vigorously promoted

and translated several times.1

Lichtenberg developed and maintained a close

relationship with the man from whose work he had

profited in his autodidactic efforts to acquire a

knowledge of English and England. Ebert played a

prominent part in the change of German cultural

orientation from France to England at a time when

French was still the leading foreign language in

Germany. English literature was mainly known through

French mediation, notably by Voltaire, whose Letters

Philosophiques (1734) first aroused continental

interest in English affairs, and by Diderot. Ebert

was himself a minor poet, and John Louis Kind gives

him much credit for subordinating his own creativity

1 Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Schriften und
Briefe, 5 vols. Ed. Wolfgang Promies. Vol. IV,
Briefe (Munchen: Hanser: 1967), p. 893, Letter to
Johann Arnold Ebert, July 31, 1794.


to the promotion of English writers, especially

Edward Young (1683-1765). While his own work

received little notice, "all contemporary writers,

commentators, and periodicals join in the universal

acclamation and praise over the zeal, scholarship,

and merit of the 'foremost and greatest English

scholar and genius', the translator of the 'Night


From 1751 onwards, Ebert published translations

of the "Night Thoughts," as well as of Young's other

works, and he revised them until the year before his

death. Kind calls him "one of the ablest German

translators of English writers in the eighteenth

century." Ebert "devoted the best part of his life

to the works of Young, learned English early and read

all the foremost British authors in the original."

While he ardently admired Young, he also saw his

weaknesses, and the merits of Young's fellow-


Ebert had belonged to a group of young Leipzig

students who had gathered round Christian Furchtegott

Gellert (1715-1769), one of the leading literary

figures of the German enlightenment. They became

2 John Louis Kind, Edward Young in Germany (New
York: AMS Press, 1966), p. 82.
(Quotations are documented at the end of the
relevant passage.)


interested in eighteenth-century English literature,

which they originally studied in French translations,

and they contributed to a journal inspired by

Addison's example, the Neue Beytrage zum Vergnugen

des Verstandes und des Witzes, usually called the

Bremer Beytrage. The journal flourished from 1745-

1748 and showed a strong interest in English

literature, introducing, for instance, the works of

Prior, Glover and Thomson to German readers. The

contributors admired Pope and Swift, and adopted the

organization of the Scriblerus Club. They met in a

Leipzig coffee house and cooperated on unsigned

articles.3 To this circle belonged also men of such

distinction as Klopstock, Lessing and his cousin

Christlob Mylius, the brothers Johann Elias and

Johann Adolf Schlegel, and Gotthelf Abraham Kastner

(1719-1800), first Lichtenberg's professor and then

his colleague in Gottingen. Kastner was as celebrated

for his satiric epigrams as for his brilliance in

mathematics, and Lichtenberg's personal acquaintance

with leading members of this group of distinguished

Anglophiles, such as Lessing and Klopstock, appears

to be due to Kastner.

3 Leonard Marsden Price, English Literature in
Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1953), p. 59.


Ebert had originally planned to translate all

the most important English works, but, starting with

the first seven "Nights" of Young, he soon found his

energies fully absorbed in the task "of translating,

annotating, and expounding from his chair in

Braunschweig the works of Young alone."4

Lichtenberg developed a specially close bond to this

thorough scholar, and kept up a lifelong exchange of

ideas with him.

The easy familiarity with English literature,

which Lichtenberg had already acquired when he

started his notebooks in 1764, prepared him perfectly

for the life in Gottingen, to which he came as a

student of mathematics and astronomy in 1763. With

the exception of two visits to England and several

minor excursions in Germany, he remained there for

the rest of his life. The University of Gottingen

had been founded 1734-37 by King George II, who was

also the Elector of Hanover, and thus the new seat of

learning was destined from the start to become a

particularly active center of Anglo-German cultural

exchange. The exceptionally liberal conditions which

the absent ruler had created for his new institution

attracted many of the brightest scholars, both as

teachers and students. A constant influx of young

4 Price, English Literature in Germany, p. 115.


Englishmen, eager to finish their education in their

sovereign's foreign domain, ensured continuing

contact with the latest intellectual developments in


Lichtenberg visited England for the first time

in 1770 as a guest of Lord Boston, the influential

father of one of his earliest students, and was

introduced by him not only to the social and

intellectual leaders of London society, among them

Joseph Priestley, but also to the king himself. As a

result of this meeting, Lichtenberg came to London

again in 1774, this time the personal guest of King

George III and Queen Charlotte in their royal palace

at Kew.5

Lichtenberg freely shared his impressions from

this journey in lively communications which were

widely read already during his own lifetime, for even

in an age in which letter writing had been perfected

as an art he was acclaimed as a correspondent of

outstanding wit and brilliance. He was always attuned

to the status and concerns of his addressees, ranging

from Marie Tietermann, housekeeper of the Osnabrick

inn at which he stayed during 1772/73 while surveying

5 Hans Ludwig Gumbert, "Der 22.April 1770." Das
Lichtenberq-Gesprach in Ober-Ramstadt 1977. Ed. Otto
Weber (Ober-Ramstadt: Verein far Heimatgeschichte
e.V., 1982), pp. 5-16.


the country in the service of the king, to leading

scientists and high officials. His letters display

not only his stylistic versatility, but also afford a

particularly comprehensive overview of the concerns

of his times, traits in which Bonaventura, too,

displays particular competence. To keep abreast of

current issues and affairs was one of Lichtenbergs

foremost aims, for he followed his own advice "Bemuhe

dich. nicht unter deiner Zeit zu sein."6 His keen

observations, deeply reflected experiences and

penetrating opinions are also preserved in his

writings on a large number of subjects, and in his

voluminous private notes, started in 1764, which

record his intellectual pursuits. All these give

insight into one of the leading minds of the late

enlightenment and into the interchange of ideas which

shaped the epoch. The extent to which Lichtenberg

contributed to the intellectual and scientific

6 Promies, Vol. I, p. 302, D 474.
Lichtenberg's posthumously published notes, his
so-called aphorisms, are numbered according to the
letters assigned by himself to his notebooks. The
individual notes were given consecutive numbers by A.
Leitzmann in 1902, who, however, omitted many of the
notes which were considered of minor importance at
the time, especially those with scientific content.
Promies published the entire notes for the first
time, and though he retained Leitzmann's system, he
he had to change the numbers. All quotations conform
to his usage.


concerns of his age is only now revealed by recent

editions of his entire works.7

Access to this material has resulted in a

growing awareness of the importance and topical

relevance of Lichtenberg's thoughts, which is also

reflected in the publication of the contents of his

library.8 Though their variety is impressive, the

large number of books Lichtenberg owned at his death

is by no means indicative of all his reading. Only

Hesperus by Jean Paul (No. 1614) is listed, for

instance, while notebook entries show that

Lichtenberg knew and critically appraised all the

works of this writer which appeared during his own

life time (L 87, L 514, L 581, L 592, L 615).9

7 Besides the authoritative Promies ed. (1968-
74) there is Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Schriften
und Briefe, 4 vols. Ed. Franz H. Mautner (Frankfurt:
Insel, 1983); Briefwechsel. Ed. Ulrich Joost and
Albrecht Schone (Munchen: C. H. Beck), Vol. I, 1983,
Vol. II, 1985. The planned 5 vols. will bring
together the 1650 letters still known to exist.
(Previously 1215 of Lichtenberg's letters were
printed in 65 different publications, Vol. I, p. XV).
The documents concerning the two visits to
England are found in Lichtenberg in England.
Dokumente einer Begegnung, 2 vols. Ed. Hans Ludwig
Gumbert (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977).
8 Bibliotheca Lichtenbergiana. Katalog der
Bibliothek Georg Christoph Lichtenbergs. Ed. and ann.
Hans Ludwig Gumbert (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz,
1982). Nos. in the text follow Gumbert.

9 Lichtenberg's notebook entries are numbered
in chronological order, the letters denoting his
diaries. I quote according to Promies, Vols. I and II.


Much similar proof of Lichtenberg's critically

astute and wide-ranging reading exists. Only a few

selected examples, which throw special light on his

interests and habits, can therefore be given in this

preliminary survey, but more information from the

Bibliotheca Lichtenbergiana will be provided in

following chapters. In view of the remarkable overlap

with the concerns of Bonaventura, it is noteworthy

that Lichtenberg kept his library up to date until

shortly before his death on February 24th, 1799, in

spite of his rapidly declining health. Investigation

of the proper names in the Nightwatches has

correspondingly shown that Bonaventura uses up-to-

date information until 1798, with a particular

concentration of remarks and allusions connected to

scientific progress made during the last decade of

the century.10

The four decisive centers of English influence

on German letters during the eighteenth century were

Hamburg, Zurich, Leipzig and Gottinge,11 and

Lichtenberg was personally involved with events in

all of them. In Gottingen he was himself the leading

10 Katritzky, "Untersuchung der Eigennamen," pp.

11 Leonard Marsden Price, English>German
Literary Influences (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1919), pp. 159-61.


Anglophile, and close to many of the intellectual

leaders who emerged from the Leipzig circle, though

he kept modestly quiet about his prestigious

connections. Only one sentence in a letter of July

31st, 1794, relates Young's and Ebert's lasting

impression on Lichtenberg's mind,12 and a single,

tantalizingly terse note witnesses to his only

recorded meeting with Lessing, on March 8th, 1777:

"Lessing called" (F 406).

Such glimpses have to be supplemented with

information gleaned from other sources. In Lessing's

case many remarks reveal a high regard, which shows

itself also in efforts to find a befitting epitaph

for a genius who was so greatly neglected and ill

rewarded for his great contributions to German

letters (J 239 and 313). Lichtenberg was well versed

in Lessing's works and owned several, among them

Ernst and Falk. Discussions for Freemasons (1778).

On August 31st, 1778, he reported to Heinrich

Christian Boie that he had read the manuscript of

this treatise, which he called one of the best works

he had seen in a long time, adding that if freemasons

are the people described by Lessing it must be a sin

12 Promies, Vol. IV, No. 665. An Johann Arnold
Ebert, p. 893.


against human nature not to be counted among them.13

This positive view of freethinkers is shared by

Bonaventura.14 The first three of the discussions

between Ernst und Falk had been published by Johann

Christian Dieterich (1722-1800), Lichtenberg's friend

and landlord, whose connections with men of letters

extended and reinforced Lichtenberg's own contacts.

Two volumes of Lessing's Hamburgische Dramaturgie

were also in Lichtenberg's library. In this major

work of mediation between English and German culture

"Part 69" is concerned with serio-comic writing and

starts with a reminder of the strong Spanish

influences on this genre. Lessing quotes here at

length from the satiric New Art of Comedy Writing, in

which Lope de Vega acknowledges classic sources for

the intermingling of serious and ludicrous aspects,

and arrives at the conclusion: "Nature itself teaches

us this diversity, and in this her beauty partly


In the same article Lessing also pleads in

favour of the Hanswurst, the clown banned from the

German stage by the strict Johann Christoph Gottsched

13 Ed. Joost, Briefwechsel, Vol. I, No. 521, p.
14 Nightwatches, pp. 31-36.

15 Lessinqs samtliche Schriften, Vol. X,
"Hamburgische Dramaturgie, '69. Stuck'," pp. 76-80.


(1700-1766) for disorderly behaviour and free use of

unseemly language. Lessing suggests satirically that

the antics of this popular character should be

confined to the stage, and not in future be witnessed

so frequently in real life. Stage metaphors--a

recurring device in tragi-comedy--are used by Lessing

in various ways in this article, as when he deplores

that in plays as in life the most important roles are

so often allocated to the worst actors.

Correspondingly the Hanswurst in the Fourth

Nightwatch "excuses the marionette director for

having ordered things like our Lord God and entrusted

the most important roles to the least talented

actors" (p. 75). The "marionette play with Clown"

(p. 73) contains also various other references to the

theory of tragi-comic writing as explained by

Lessing, whom Bonaventura singles out with Kant,

Goethe and Schiller (pp. 179, 181).

This puppet interlude in the Fourth Nightwatch

with its heroine Columbine, is also linked to Justus

Moser (1720-94), with whom Lichtenberg was personally

acquainted, and whose books he kept in his library.16

Chief justice of the criminal court in Hanover, privy

councilor and councilor of justice, Moser was expert

in various subjects, notably law and history. He was

16 Bibliotheca Lichtenberqiana, Nos. 1164 and 1883.


also keenly interested in literature and literary

criticism, which he regarded in accordance with the

English Enlightenment as a means of educating the

public. He wrote a treatise in defense of Harlequin

in which he commented on the commedia dell'arte. To

him this genre represented a world where the

grotesque is part of a peculiar circle or microcosm

to which Columbine and other traditional characters

belong. Literary use of such standard characters he

commended as a convenient shortcut and abbreviation,

as their universally known traits obliterate the need

for detailed exposition.17

Gottingen provided excellent opportunities to

keep pace with intellectual developments in Germany

and was the ideal place to contact those in England

who, under George III, actively continued the liberal

cultural policy of the founder. Lichtenberg had only

a very meager stipend when he started his career in

Gottingen, but his exceptional linguistic competence

assured him the post of tutor to young English

noblemen, and by this means he continued to

supplement his income during most of his life. Many

17 Justus Moser, Samtliche Werke, Vol. II. Ed.
Oda May (Oldenburg: Gerhard Stalling, 1981).
"Harlekin oder Verteidigung des Grotesk-Komischen"
(1761), pp. 306-342. Mikhail Bakhtin. Rabelais and
His World (1965; Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press,
1968). Bakhtin comments on "Harekin's" influence on
tragi-comic writing, pp. 35-36.


years later, when the younger royal princes were sent

to study in Gottingen, Lichtenberg was appointed

their tutor and they came to live in his house.18

Though a third visit to England never materialized,

the constant influx of students and visitors from

England enabled Lichtenberg to keep in close touch

with the newest thoughts and developments there, and

in 1793 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society

of London, with which he had already been in close

contact since his first acquaintance with Priestley.

From 1765 onwards, Lichtenberg wrote his

assorted thoughts into notebooks, for which he

himself suggested the English word "wastebooks" (E

46). The expression is taken from the language of

merchants and refers to a rough ledger into which

everything is entered as it occurs, without the order

which is imposed during a later draft. The term

therefore indicates the intention to utilise these

thoughts for further writing, and many were indeed

used by him for this purpose in miscellaneous ways.

When they were posthumously published, the editors

18 Mautner, Vol. IV, pp. 484-85, letter to
Samuel Thomas Sommering, June 2nd, 1786. Adolf
Friedrich was in Gottingen 1786-1791, August
Friedrich 1786-90, Ernst August 1786-1791.


added numbers to the notes, which became collectively

known as aphorisms.19

Franz H. Mautner starts his discussion on the

themes of the early notebooks with the statement:

"The most frequent object of Lichtenberg's

observations, of his thoughts and therefore also of

his ideas is man".20 As Mautner shows, Lichtenberg's

notes mirror the tendency of his age to unite all

intellectual disciplines into a "science of man," a

task in which Lichtenberg himself was actively

engaged. The attempt to work towards an

"understanding of man in all levels of society" (F

37) constituted, indeed, the unifying idea behind the

multifarious interests and investigations, to which

Lichtenberg's work as professor of natural philosophy

and astronomy inevitably led. Through his passion for

knowledge and constant application "he became the

leading German expert in a number of scientific

fields, including geodesy, geophysics, meteorology,

astronomy, chemistry, statistics, and geometry, in

19 The first edition aiming at some sort of
comprehensiveness was undertaken by Albert Leitzmann,
who chose the name Aphorismen, though only part of
the notes belong to this genre which made Lichtenberg
famous. Georg Christoph Lichtenberqs Aphorismen. Ed.
Albert Leitzmann. Deutsche Literaturdenkmale (Berlin,
1902-08; rpt. Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus, 1968).
20 Franz H. Mautner, Lichtenberg. Geschichte
seines Geistes (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1968),
p. 10.

addition to his foremost field and prime interest--

experimental physics.1"21

Bonaventura combines these diverse interests in

his metaphors and images, as in his whole outlook on

life. The description of Don Juan "all in flames like

a volcano, through whose millenary layers the inner

fire all at once found its vent" (pp. 91 and 93), is

but one of many examples, while signifying themes

from natural history permeate the entire work, like

the recurring references to Versteinerung--

petrification, fossilization--or the persistent

descriptions of thunder and lightning.22

Lichtenberg's pioneering electrical experiments

were famous. In 1780 he erected in Gottingen one of

the first lightning conductors, and his innovations

attracted the attention of Allessandro Volta (1745-

1827), who visited him in 1784 and 1785. With the

leading work of Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) in this

field, Lichtenberg was, of course, familiar, but

characteristically he did not restrict his interest

21 Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol.
VIII (New York: Scribners, 1973).
22 The decisive importance of the understanding
and demystification of thunderstorms is pointed out
by Engelhard Weigl, "Entzauberung der Natur durch
Wissenschaft--dargestellt am Beispiel der Erfindung
des Blitzableiters," Jahrbuch der Jean-Paul-
Gesellschaft, XXII, 1987, pp. 7-39. Lichtenberg's
contribution is highlighted, esp. pp. 21-22.


in Franklin to the professional aspect alone. He

reported to J. A. H. Reimarus in 1792 that whatever

Franklin wrote was distinguished by bons sens, and

that in his writing, be it on the constitution of a

new nation or the cure of smoky chimneys, the quid

was as instructive as the quomodo.23 The epitaph

which Franklin had composed for himself Lichtenberg

copied down in English:

The body of/Benjamin Franklin, Printer/(like a
cover of an old book/its contents worn out/and
stript of its lettering and gilding)/ Lies
here, food for the worms;/yet the work s h a 1 1
not be lost/For it shall (as he believed) appear
once more, in a new and most beautiful
Edition,/corrected and revised/by the author.
F 738

As Lichtenberg himself was actively involved in

the publishing business of his friend Dieterich,

metaphors taken from the printers' language had, as

to Bonaventura, a special appeal for him, and like

the author of the Nightwatches he was obsessed by

thoughts about eternity. The entry D 372, for

instance, states in one of the tantalizing

compressions which often baffle commentators:

23 Mautner, Schriften und Briefe, Vol. IV, p.
608. Lichtenberg refers to: "A Letter from Dr. B.
Franklin, to Dr. Ingenhausz, Physician to the
Emperor, at Vienna, on the Causes and Cure of Smokey
Chimneys in Transactions of the American
Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Vol. II, p. 1-
Material from Franklin's letter is used in two
entries in the so-called Goldpapierheft, Nos. 38-39,
Promies Vol. II, p. 219.


"Message to the book-binder regarding the immortality

of the book." A note from the last wastebook claims:

"The art of printing is indeed a Messiah among the

inventions" (L 667). In a similar vein, Bonaventura

has his poor poet start his "Letter of refusal to

Life" in Franklin's terminology: "Man is good for

nothing. Therefore I am striking him out. My Man has

found no publisher, neither as persona vera nor

ficta; for the last (my tragedy) no book dealer is

willing to advance the printing costs" (p. 133).

Franklin's sentiments are even more closely

paraphrased in the call to the "Beloved fellow

citizens!" during the faked judgement day, when

Kreuzgang declares in exasperation: "Behind you lies

the whole of world history like a silly novel, in

which there are some few tolerable characters and a

legion of wretched ones. Ah, your Lord God made a

mistake only in this one regard, that he did not

himself elaborate it but left it up to you to write

at it. Tell me, will he indeed consider it now worth

the effort to translate the botched thing into a

higher language or must he not rather, when he sees

it lying before him in its whole shallowness, tear it

to shreds in wrath and deliver you with all your

plans over to oblivion?" (p. 105).


Bonaventura, like Lichtenberg, will develop and

rephrase his models rather than quote them, because

both are stimulated to develop their exceptionally

original ideas by pondering on and reacting to the

accepted canon. Lichtenberg urged readers to

"endeavour to stay abreast of your time" (D 474),

Bonaventura"s agreement with this maxim is revealed

by the ease with which he draws analogues from the

wide range of eighteenth century epistemology. The

large number of Lichtenberg's letters24 and his

notebooks provide much clearer insights into the

development and applications of his thoughts than are

available for most other thinkers, and they also make

it possible in many instances to trace where and how

they originated. A further and invaluable source for

this information is the catalogue of Lichtenberg's

library. This has been assembled by Hans Ludwig

Gumbert by adding to the inventory of books that were

auctioned, the list of the works which friends put

aside for the family after Lichtenberg's death, and

the handwritten record of those books which

Lichtenberg lent to others between September 18th,

1785 and January 1799. Though Gumbert has

accumulated by such means 1911 entries, many

24 Unfortunately nothing has survived of letters
to and from England, though there is much indirect
evidence in his writings that many were written and received.


including several volumes, he also cautions that a

complete catalogue of Lichtenberg's library can never

be reconstructed.25 This is mainly owing to

Lichtenberg's extensive lending habits, which

resulted from his conviction that good books must be

circulated as much as possible. Thus his own reading

preferences contributed significantly to the

intellectual climate of his age.

Starting already with D 9, Lichtenberg, for

instance, repeatedly mentions that he was reading,

and striving to understand, Jacob Bohme. Yet nothing

can be traced in his possession of this mystic, who

is considered a specially formative influence on the

romantic epoch.26 Liberal lending habits may well

account for this gap. They may also be responsible

for the lack of any works by Hans Sachs (1494-1576)

to whom Lichtenberg referred with familiarity during

his early years.27 Of the Dutch philosopher Frans

25 Bibliotheca Lichtenberqiana, pp. xi-xii.

26 Fritz Martini, Deutsche Literaturgeschichte
(Stuttgart: Alfred Kroner, 1968), p. 333: "The
mystical tradition of a Meister Eckhart, Tauber and
Jakob Bohme merged during the romantic epoch with a
speculative natural science that searched for magical
and subconscious depths." Also Adams, pp. 216 and 218.
27 Ed. Joost, Briefwechsel, Vol. I, Letters Nos.
102, 103, 108, written at the end of 1772. Hans
Sachs is also regarded as a rediscovery of the
romantics, because of their love for the Middle Ages,
see Martini, p. 327.

Hemsterhuis (1721-90)--likewise mentioned by

Bonaventura and another favourite of the romantic

age--Lichtenberg owned five volumes; two, the Oevres

philosophiques, a present from Friedrich Heinrich

Jacobi, who had translated some of Hemsterhuis'


An unusually large number of Lichtenberg's books

were gifts received from authors and publishers, and

also from well-wishers, among them George III. While

unsolicited contributions to the library somewhat

complicate the question of what Lichtenberg actually

read, they reflect in themselves his wide contacts,

and the esteem in which he was held by the learned.

Though Lichtenberg could not afford to spend much on

books and died at a comparatively early age, Gumbert

judges his collection as of the highest possible


A special feature is its comprehensiveness;

mathematics and natural sciences comprise catalogue

numbers 1-951, while 952-1911 cover the other fields

of knowledge, with a particularly strong emphasis on

philosophy and literature. Here as elsewhere English

works, both in the original and in translation, are

strongly represented, as are the classic authors upon

28 Bibliotheca Lichtenbercriana, Nos. 1307-1310.

29 Bibliotheca Lichtenbercriana, pp. xv-xvi.

whom English eighteenth-century criticism relied so

heavily that Ian Jack regards the Augustan Age, with

its faith in classical theory, as the last epoch of

the Renaissance.30

Jack's concern is with satire, and in this field

Lichtenberg's library was especially well stocked.

He owned the works of Horace in Latin and English,

among them the prestigious edition by Baskerville,

1762 (Nos. 1516-1522). He owned a selection of

dialogues (No. 1523) by Lucian, a German translation

of Juvenal and a volume of satires by Juvenal and

Persius (Nos. 1728-29). The Satiricon of Petronius

is represented in a Latin, a German and an English

edition (Nos. 1746-48). Only fragments of this Roman

satire have survived. They come from the 15th and

16th part, subdivisions which are numerically

reflected also in the Nightwatches.31

Only in his first published satire, Timorus

(1771), did Lichtenberg give vent to his own

sarcastic criticism of the legal apparatus; for while

such attacks had become part of English satire and

had always been a strong ingredient of the menippea,

30 Ian Jack, Augustan Satire. Intention and
Idiom in English Poetry. 1660-1700 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1952), p. 156.
31 The Works of Petronius Arbiter (1736; rpt New
York: AMS Press, 1975).


in Germany they were not tolerated. Consequently his

remarks in this area are mainly confined to his

private notes, and to reflections that in Germany

only private themes, particularly the world of

learning, remained safe subjects for satire (e.g. J


Lichtenberg's concern with the procedures of law

was, however, strongly represented in his library by

Nos. 1208-1238a, which include a work on a case of

infanticide (No. 1227) by Gottfried August Burger

(1747-94), who lived for a while also in Dieterich's

house, and was helped and befriended by Lichtenberg.

A man of many parts, he became most famous for his

ballad "Lenore" (1774), which is cited as an example

for love transcending the boundaries of life in the

Tenth Nightwatch (p. 161). No. 1213 is a compendium

on German Civil Law by the Gottingen professor H. M.

G. Grellmann (1756-1804), who also wrote a book on

gypsies, in which he attempted to investigate their

history, way of life and tribal constitution

(No.1839). This work was printed by Dieterich in

1783, and Lichtenberg had a copy of the second

edition (1787) in his library. The author of the

Niqhtwatches uses the authentic gypsy term for people

outside their tribe, Blanker (p. 234), a sign that he

was well versed in gypsy ways and lore.


From another professorial colleague, C. F. G.

Meister, brother of Lichtenberg's teacher,

predecessor and friend, A. L. F. Meister, there are

the first two parts of a voluminous work on criminal

law (No. 1231). Though such books were usually gifts

from author or printer, there is evidence that

Lichtenberg actually used them, for legal analogies

are often employed in his writings.

A specially remarkable feature of Lichtenberg's

library is the number of English books in all its

many subdivisions. Among the law titles ten works

fall in this category, two of them in German

translation. No. 1233 includes "The whole

Proceedings of the King's Commission of the Peace .

held at Justice Hall in the Old Bailey. Taken in

Short-Hand. London, 1775-90." How much Lichtenberg

actually owned of this extensive series remains

doubtful, as he lent parts of his collection to

friends, among them Burger.

Lichtenberg's extensive knowledge and use of

English books is so well attested that Hans Ludwig

Gumbert was first alerted to the incompleteness of

the library auction catalogue through its lack of

works by Pope and Fielding.32 These were then

located in the list of books kept for the family. Few

32 Bibliotheca Lichtenbergiana, p. 208; p. xi.


of the leading English authors of the eighteenth

century were found to be missing, and of many

important works there is more than one edition, and

frequently a German translation as well.

Of Shakespeare (No. 1796-1801), for instance,

there are nine volumes of the London edition of 1760,

and ten volumes of the London edition of 1773, the

latter with notes by Samuel Johnson and George

Steevens. There is also a German translation by

Johann Joachim Eschenburg (1743-1820), an Anglophile

whom Lichtenberg knew well and with whom he

corresponded. Only volumes VI and VII of this 1775-

77 edition could be found in Lichtenberg's

possession. Gumbert assumes that the others were lost

in lending.33 Of the separate copies which

Lichtenberg owned, King Lear and Timon of Athens were

published by the Theatre-Royal in Drury Lane, while

Hamlet and Macbeth were from the Johnson edition

(Nos. 1796-1801). Wieland is represented by Nos.

1631- 33, though not by his Shakespeare translation.

Lichtenberg had a specially high esteem for this

author, whom he aligned with Shakespeare and Sterne

(B 322).

Johnson was regarded by Lichtenberg as a

particularly significant writer, and valued

33 Bibliotheca Lichtenbergiana, p. 284.


especially for his clarity of thought and the

apparent facility with which he explains moral and

abstract precepts in simple parabolic metaphors (J

788). Johnson's writings are densely dotted with

memorable maxims and aphorisms, in which everyday

experience is distilled into precepts of general

validity, a mode of expression which was to bring

acclaim to Lichtenberg too. They shared other

attitudes, notably a rejection of the prevailing urge

to construct intellectual systems, partly because of

their confining narrowness, but even more so because

they are inconsistent with the everchanging realities

of life and do not take into account the inadequacy

of human knowledge. Though they saw no virtue in the

mere accumulation of knowledge, they upheld the value

of tradition, but stressed the limitations of human

understanding and hence the necessity to keep options

open. Neither attempted therefore to record his

philosophy in a systematic manner.

Jean H. Hagstrum shows that Johnson approached

literature as the representation of the available and

universal experience of life, and that he expected

literature to lead back again to life and

experience.34 Lichtenberg shared this view, and like

34 Jean H. Hagstrum, Samuel Johnson's Literary
Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
(1952) 1968), pp. 174, 179.

Johnson derived his intellectual decisiveness from

his consistent endeavour to apply the lessons

enshrined in philosophy and literature to the

practical problems of life. Both men regarded

subjectivism as dangerous escapism and tried to stem

its tide.

Lichtenberg's many different ventures into

publishing were directed by the desire to counteract

diffuse and wishful thinking with empiricism, and his

wish to publicize Johnson's work in Germany appears

as part of this strategy. In 1782 he prepared for

the Gottinqische Magazin, of which he was founder and

main editor, a report on Pope's life and works, which

he had translated and adapted from Johnson's Lives of

the English Poets.35 He promised a sequel on Pope's

characteristics as an author at the end of the

article, and planned to bring further lives of

English poets from Johnson to the attention of his

readers. Nothing came of this, as the magazine ceased

publication in 1784. Lichtenberg therefore suggested

that Dieterich should print the whole edition of

Johnson's English poets.36 Lichtenberg spent much

35 Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Vermischte
Schriften, Vol. V. Ed. by Lichtenberg's Sons
(Gottingen: Dieterichsche Buchhandlung, 1844), pp.
33-70. (Rpt. from Gottingisches Magazin, Part 3,
No.l, 1782).
36 Briefwechsel, Vol. II, Nos. 1044 and 1097.

time on this enterprise and also took over the final

revision. It proved, however, unprofitable and

Dieterich abandoned the ambitious venture after only

two volumes.37 Though Lichtenberg was alert to

Johnson's occasional limitations and sometimes

deviated from his judgements, especially in regard to

Fielding (J 807), he considered the Lives of the

Poets as a masterpiece in which the fusion of life

and literature was achieved on the basis of the

Horatian precept of educating while entertaining.

Horace recommends this mixture of the useful

and the pleasant in his Ars Poetica which was much

consulted by the literary critics of the

Enlightenment. Johnson discussed these poetic

instructions in depth and quoted frequently from

them.38 Ars Poetica, also known as the Epistle to

the Pisos, is several times evoked by Bonaventura and

quoted by Kreuzgang, the protagonist of the

Niqhtwatches (p. 195), who also aspires to the

Horatian ideal "to unite the useful with the

pleasurable" (p. 219). Even in his scientific

37 Personal information from Frau Elisabeth
Willnat, Gottingen, from an unpublished dissertation
on Dieterich's Publishing House.
38 James Boswell, Life of Johnson (1791). Ed. R.
W. Chapmann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980),
pp. 120, 140, 158, 360, 443, 693, 771-74, 939, 1034,


writing Lichtenberg adhered to this maxim to such a

degree that his entertainingly presented ideas were

widely disseminated among the general public, but

were not always taken seriously by specialists. He

owned Horace's works in several editions in Latin and

in English, including the much admired Baskerville

edition of 1762, plus a German translation of a Dutch

work on Quintus Horatius Flaccus as Citizen of Rome,

(Nos. 1516-22).

Lichtenberg owned, and frequently consulted,

Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, in the

London edition of 1773 (No. 1460). Several of his

notes attest to exceptional interest in the meaning

of words, and to his exceptional command of the

English language. For example:

In Johnson's Dictionary the words: Predilection,
respectable, descriptive, sulky, mimetick,
isolated, inimical, decompose have been omitted
by oversight. (J 836)

Similar concern is shown in J 811 and in J 822, and

he noted that "in the word abandon in Johnson's great

Dictionary credulity should have been used instead of

cruelty" (J 1041). Besides two different editions of

Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Lichtenberg also owned

a separate edition of the Life of Savage--a

celebrated eighteenth-century account of the

sufferings of a poor poet--and the Milton volume of


Dieterich's abortive Johnson series which Lichtenberg

had edited himself (Nos. 1651-53, 1659).

The works catalogued in the Bibliotheca

Lichtenbergiana indicate thorough and solid reading

habits. In conjunction with the notes and remarks in

letters, the contents of the library demonstrate that

Lichtenberg investigated the topics which

particularly concerned him in considerable depth.

Though "the difficulty of access to the large and

varied canon of his writings," is as formidable in

the case of Johnson39 as it is for Lichtenberg, the

thoughts and methods of both authors are

exceptionally well documented: for Lichtenberg,

through the self-testimony of his notebooks and in

lesser measure through his correspondence; for

Johnson, through the meticulous preservation of his

conversations by James Boswell (1740-1795). The

minutiae which these testimonies contain were a

deliberate contribution to the "science of man,"

acute observations towards a true and rounded concept

of human personality.

Boswell's attention to seeming trivia accords

with the opinion of Johnson, whom he reports as

having said: "The great thing to be recorded . is

39 Samuel Johnson. Ed. Donald Green (Oxford:
Oxford University Press), 1984. Introduction, p. xii.

the state of your own mind; and you should write down

everything that you remember, for you cannot judge at

first what is good or bad; and write immediately

while the impression is fresh, for it will not be the

same afterwards."40

To this principle Lichtenberg adhered all

through his adult life, and to the same end: to study

the human condition and the workings of the mind. He

also shared Johnson's conviction that the key to

human behaviour can be found anywhere, in common life

as well as in noteworthy historic events. He is not

joking when he attributes his own considerable

psychological understanding to observations at

weddings, christenings and university feasts (E 189)

and he held that family life mirrors great political

incidents with its miniature wars and peace treaties,

resolutions, reforms and power struggles (L 106).

Like many of Lichtenberg's ideas, which are

crowded together in his notebooks without context,

introduction or follow-up, this suggestion might

appear as the whimsical inspiration of the moment.

It does, however, echo one of Johnson's Rambler

essays, which states that "no nation omits to record

the actions of their ancestors, however bloody,

40 Boswell, e.g. pp. 25, 868, 997, 1013, 1023,
1088; p. 513.


savage and rapacious" and then goes on to claim: "The

same disposition, as different opportunities call it

forth, discovers itself in great or little things."

Johnson therefore offers to relate "the history and

antiquities of the several garrets" in which The

Rambler has resided.41 He ends with the "observation

of Juvenal, that a single house will show whatever is

done or suffered in the world," thus pointing back to

a source which was particularly popular with the

English eighteeenth-century satirists, Lichtenberg

included (Nos. 1728-29). For Bonaventura, too, the

microcosm of common or particular events represents

the world (p. 143).

Johnson and Lichtenberg share a heritage of

classical satire; among its major themes are

madness, suicide, superstitions and dreams. These

reflect general trends in a time which based its

epistemology on the study of classical authors.

Nevertheless, the serious intensity with which

Johnson and Lichtenberg approached these darker

problems was exceptional, and several parallelisms

show that Lichtenberg based some of his thoughts on

Johnson's work.

41 Samuel Johnson, pp. 239-42, p. 239, Rambler,
No. 161, Tuesday, October 1, 1751, "A Rooming-House


In the Socratic effort to "know thyself"

Lichtenberg habitually dissected and rationalized

his dreams, and he tells how once in a dream he

related an incident to someone else, who then

reminded him of a detail he had entirely forgotten.

How, he asked himself, could that happen, as it was

his dream, and he himself must therefore have

reproduced everything in it (L 587). Similarly,

Johnson "related, that he had once in a dream a

contest of wit with some other person, and that he

was very much mortified by imagining that his

opponent had the better of him." On reflection,

however, he found that the wit of this supposed

antagonist by "whose superiority" he felt himself

depressed, was also furnished by himself.42

Besides literary themes the two men also shared

many acquaintances, as Lichtenberg moved partly in

the circles which Johnson frequented. He kept

modestly quiet about most of his social experiences

in London, but recorded that he dined with General

Paoli.43 As he refers to Boswell's description of

him (E 269), he must have been familiar with

Boswell's Account of Corsica (1768), though it was

42 Boswell, p. 1069.

43 Ed. Gumbert, Lichtenberg in England, Vol. I,
p. 92, March 15, 1775.

not in his library. Neither did he own Johnson's

Journey to the Western Islands (1775) or Boswell's

Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785), though his

own visit to the Isle of Heligoland in 1773 recalls

Johnson's celebrated excursion, and was not less

trend-setting.44 Interest in the Hebrides was also

kindled by the Ossianic controversies, which aroused

even stronger passions in Germany than in England, as

enthusiasm for Ossian had stimulated "a lyric genre

which flourished for a brief time under the name of

bardicc' poetry."45

Though Lichtenberg emphatically opposed these

effusions, he refrained from taking sides in the

Ossian question, possibly because several writers he

valued, like Gerstenberg, von Haller and especially

his friend Eschenburg, were filled with admiration

for McPherson's Celtic imitations, the more so as the

ancient Celts were freely equated with the Germanic

tribes. Lichtenberg himself was interested in the

religious aspects of Ossian's songs, as they seemed

to him an uncanny anticipation of modern thoughts on

God and nature. He even had agreed to get some

44 Wolfgang Promies. "Der Deutschen Bade-
Meister: Georg Christoph Lichtenberg und die
Wirkungen aufgeklarter Schriften." Photorin, IV,
1981, pp. 1-15 (pp. 2-3).
45 Price, English Literature in Germany, p. 126.


additional Ossianic poems printed, which were offered

to him as authentic by Edmund de Harold.46 Probably

he soon identified them as forgeries, because nothing

came of the plan. He also noted that there was no

mention of the wolf in Ossian, an observation which

Boswell likewise records. Additionally he mentions

that the cock occurs, though introduced into Europe

much later. Johnson regarded Ossian as a fraud,

because McPherson could not show him any original

manuscripts. His verdict that "a man might write

such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to
it"47 sums up Lichtenberg's often voiced opinion on

German neo-bardic poetry.

Ossian's supposed father was the legendary

Fingal, and his famous cave on the Scottish island

Staffa is mentioned by Kreuzgang as one of the

desirable places to which a beggar might gain

entrance (p. 217). Johnson and Boswell came close to

it, but did not include Staffa in their itinerary.

It had, however, been visited in the previous year by

46 Ed. Joost, Briefwechsel, Vol. II, No. 1097.

47 Boswell, p. 615, probably emanating from
Thomas Percy; p. 1207.

Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) whose description first

drew attention to this wonder of nature.48

Lichtenberg was introduced to Sir Joseph Banks

and his companion on the journey round the world with

Captain Cook, Dr. Daniel Solander (1730-1781), in

March 1775, and they in turn acquainted him with

Omai, the native from Tahiti who frequented London

society until he returned to his native island with

Captain Cook on his third and last voyage.49 All

three were also acquainted with Johnson and

Boswell.50 Sir Joseph Banks joined Johnson's

Literary Club in 1778,51 and he was President of the

Royal Society when Lichtenberg was admitted. Such

48 Significantly Kreuzgang talks of a "free pass
to nature," but the three places he mentions are all
distinguished by literary and philosophical
connections. His experience of nature is thus in the
tradition of the Enlightenment: evocative of
incidents and literary precedent. This attitude is
also exemplified by Johnson and Boswell, who on their
Scottish tour expressed their responses to nature by
quoting passages from literature, especially from

49 Mautner, Lichtenberg. Geschichte seines
Geistes, p. 132.

50 Cf. Johnson's opinions on Omai, Boswell, p.
723, April 1776. Lichtenberg had met him at a dinner
given by Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal
Society and personal physician to the Queen, who had
acted as an intermediary between him and Lichtenberg;
see Letter to Ernst Gottfried Baldinger, 10th January
1775, ed. Joost, Briefwechsel, Vol. I, No. 269, pp.
51 Boswell, p. 1005: "Mr. Banks desires to be
admitted; he will be a very honourable accession."


connections intensified Lichtenberg's interest in

Johnson, which is reflected in his reading in the

winter 1789/90 of Sir John Hawkins' Life of Samuel

Johnson.52 He also read Mrs. Thrale-Piozzi's

Anecdotes (1786) on Johnson, shortly after he

finished with Boswell's Life, probably because

Boswell discusses Mrs. Thrale and her work so

frequently. Boswell also comments on the affair of

the hapless Rev. Dr. W. Dodd, who was hanged in 1777

for embezzlement. Johnson's unsuccessful

championship of his case turned it into a cause

cdlebre to which Lichtenberg referred in his article

"Uber Physiognomik" (1778).53 Lichtenberg's interest

in Soame Jenyns' View of the Internal Evidence of the

Christian Religion (No. 1325), may also be due to

Johnson who reviewed this work in: "A Free Inquiry

into the Nature and Origin of Evil." (1757). Many of

Johnson's ideas on life and afterlife, which are

otherwise widely diffused in his writings in the form

of general maxims and observations, are distilled in

this essay. Jenyns himself offers little more than a

summary of current thoughts, including the concept of

the universe as a system of beings descending by

52 See Promies, Vol. I, notebook entries
beginning with J 199.

53 Promies, Vol. III, pp. 256-95, p. 272, also F


insensible degrees, from infinite perfection to

absolute nothing, with man on probation to find a

place commesurate with his achievements.

Such ideas go back to antiquity, especially to

Pythagoras, but in the eighteenth century they had

been reactivated through contact with the East. Hence

Johnson speaks of the "Arabian scale of existence."

He confesses to have often considered such a system

himself, "but always left the inquiry in doubt and

uncertainty."54 Lichtenberg held similar views.

Thoughts on a celestial hierarchy surface in his

notes over many years, and in D 412, for instance, he


I can hardly believe that it will be possible to
prove that we are the work of a highest being,
and not have rather been assembled by a very
imperfect one to while away the time.

This tormenting impossibility of arriving at a

definitive conclusion becomes a central quest for

Kreuzgang, who resembles Johnson and Lichtenberg also

in this, that the search for eternity does not

deflect his mind from the realities of everyday life.

Johnson was an active observer and judge of the

political contentions which stirred his times, and,

when the controversies with the American colonies

reached their height, he produced "An Answer to the

54 Samuel Johnson, pp. 522-43, p. 539; pp. 524-25.


Resolutions and Address of the American Congress"

that was intended to calm tempers and support law and

order: Taxation: No Tyranny (1774). Lichtenberg

owned an anonymous answer to it: Taxation Tyranny

(1775, No. 1123). According to diverse notes and

excerpts, Lichtenberg was also a regular reader of

the Gentleman's Magazine, which Johnson had helped

"to convert from a rather dreary collection of

reprints from current newspapers to the prototype of

the modern 'intellectual' journal, designed to inform

and stimulate the minds of the educated and

educatable general public."55

Johnson's and Lichtenberg's comprehensive

knowledge and understanding of the enlightened

concerns of their time fuelled their passionate

intellectual preoccupation with the problems of

progress. They were also farsighted enough to

recognize human limitations, and this acceptance

resulted in a strong sense of responsibility towards

the public. Hence they were both convinced that "the

only end of writing is to enable the readers better

to enjoy life or better to endure it."56

Even a brief comparison of the contents of

Lichtenberg's library with his reading and writing

55 Samuel Johnson, Introduction, pp. xi-xii.

56 Samuel Johnson, p. 536.


shows that his wish to make Johnson more accessible

to German readers was based on thorough study and an

exceptionally systematical and comprehensive

knowledge of eighteenth-century English writers.

Bonaventura shares this background and has also this

in common with Lichtenberg, that while his

inspirations may seem spontaneous and often

effervescent, closer investigation will prove their

enlightened and farsighted intent which begins to be

fully appreciated only in present times.



Pursuit of English literary influences on the

Niqhtwatches reveals strong parallels to

Lichtenberg's reading, his thoughts, interests and

preferences; Kreuzgang's references to Shakespeare

demonstrate the same thorough and unusual knowledge

of the English dramatist's works that distinguished

Lichtenberg. Kreuzgang, too, values Shakespeare's

insight into the human condition, and he commands

Lichtenberg's exceptional paraphrasing techniques:

his gift to absorb the best thoughts of others and

turn them to his own purpose. When Klaus

Bartenschlager observes of Bonaventura's methods:

"Shakespeare is not discussed, but integrated into

the perspective of the narrator,"1 he also describes

the methods of Lichtenberg.

1 Klaus Bartenschlager, "Bonaventuras
Shakespeare: Zur Bedeutung Shakespeares fur die
'Nachtwachen'." GroBbritannien und Deutschland.
Festschrift fur John Bourke (Munchen: Goldmann,
1974), pp. 347-71, p. 348.

Bartenschlager concentrates his investigation

mainly on the virtuosity with which this integration

is achieved. As the Shakespearean absorption of the

Niqhtwatches surpasses the contemporary German norm

in intensity and extent, even at a time when

admiration of Shakespeare was at a peak,

Bartenschlager treats the Nightwatches in comparative

isolation. Where he refers to literary context he

does so in general terms, and restricts himself to

German literary criticism. Thus he refers to Herder,

Goethe, Tieck and Schlegel,2 all of whom, however,

had evolved their views directly or indirectly from

the English literary critics who were led and

stimulated by Dryden into a growing realisation of

the unusual genius their country had produced.

John Dryden's Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668)

heralded a shift of focus from Ben Johnson to

Shakespeare, and based the claim for the latter's

superiority on the daring presentation of "mirth

mixed with tragedy." Acceptance of Dryden's views

was facilitated by his patriotic opinion that the

English, and foremost Shakespeare, "have invented,

increased and perfected a more pleasant way of

writing for the stage, than was ever known to the

2 Bartenschlager, p. 348.

ancients or moderns of any nation, which is tragi-

comedy. ,3

Shakespeare is therefore praised as the

unsurpassed master of mixing serious scenes with

merry interludes, and to this technique, which after

all mirrors the hazards and unpredictable changes of

life itself, he added the perception that while both

aspects of the human existence may remain

irreconcilable, they can nevertheless illuminate each

other. Dryden sees Shakespeare as "the man who of

all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the

largest and most comprehensive soul.''4 The renewed

interest in Shakespeare's plays which resulted from

Dryden's praise led to various new editions, notably

those of Pope (1725) and Johnson (1765).

Pope proclaimed that

if ever any Author deserved the name of an
Original, it was Shakespeare; his poetry was
Inspiration indeed: he is not s o m u c h a n
Imitator, as an Instrument, of Nature; and 'tis
not so just to say that he speaks from her, as
that she speaks thro' him.
His Characters are so much Nature her self,
that 'tis a sort of injury to call them by so
distant a name as Copies of her...every single

3 Hazard Adams, Critical Theory since Plato (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), John Dryden,
"An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," pp. 228-257, p. 244.

4 Ed. Adams, "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," p. 247.

character in Shakespear is as much an
Individual, as those in Life itself."5

Kreuzgang's appreciation of Shakespeare is

similar. Klaus Bartenschlager sees it as part of the

controversy over creating versus imitating, a

persistent late eighteenth-century theme in

aesthetics which, in his view, for Bonaventura's

generation was insolubly linked with Herder's

exhortation of Shakespeare's genius.6

Lawrence Marsden Price found in Herder's essay

"echoes of Pope, Warburton, Johnson, and Young, who

had extolled Shakespeare's knowledge of the human

soul or even called him creator," and he suggests

that "for verbal parallels couched in like effusive

tones we must turn to Henry Home." With all these

authors, including Herder, Lichtenberg was quite

familiar.7 He also contributed actively to the

5 Poetry and Prose of Alexander Pope. Sel. and
intr. Aubrey Williams (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1969), "Preface to the Works of Shakespeare," pp.
460-472, pp. 460-61.
6 Bartenschlager, p. 348.

7 Price, English Literature in Germany, p. 246.
Lichtenberg owned: Complete Works of Alexander Pope,
with his last correction. Together with the notes of
William Warburton, London 1764, 6 vols. Bibliotheca
Lichtenbergiana, No. 1662; a German prose translation
of Warburton's Pope edition by Johann Jacob Dusch,
1784, No. 1663; a German translation of Henry Home's
Elements of Criticism (1762) in 3 vols., Leipzig
1763-66, No. 1316; Johann Gottfried Herder Briefe zur
Beforderung der Humanitat. Riga 1793 (No. 1311), and
Ursachen des qesunkenen Geschmacks bei den


reception of Shakespeare's works in Germany, for he

valued the Elizabethan poet above all as an inspired

interpreter of human nature, and held him up as an

example to young writers, because his characters were

not copied from literature but from life, and thus of

permanent and general value. With this validity in

mind he himself used Shakespeare's works as the ideal

against which to test thoughts and emotions. He had

already integrated Hamlet into his way of thinking

when he wrote on December 2nd 1770, in one of the

suicidal moods which tempted him throughout his adult


Luckily under the circumstances I still have a
good conscience, otherwise I would already have
gone, the sooner the better to the rest, from
which Hamlet shrank because of the dreams which
he feared would disturb it. (B 338)

Long before Wilhelm Meister was published (1787-88),

from which the German romantics took their cue,

Hamlet had already become part of his way of


A strong influence on Lichtenberg's sense of

Shakespeare was Johnson's "Preface to Shakespeare,"

first published in 1765 in Johnson's eight-volume

edition of Shakespeare's plays. This essay follows

verschiedenen V61olkern. da er qebliihet. Berlin 1775
(No. 1775) and Vom Erkennen und Empfinden der
menschlichen Seele. Bemerkungen und Traume. Riga
1788, a work on dreams and the soul, (NO. 1313).

Pope in criticism of various details and methods in

Shakespeare's works. Johnson confirms and enlarges

Dryden's patriotic views regarding the serio-comic

genre, and he declares Shakespeare to be "above all

writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet

of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a

faithful mirror of manners and of life." Nature

equates to human nature, as it does throughout the

enlightenment, and Johnson admires "practical axioms

and domestic wisdom" and believes "that from his

works may be collected a system of civil and

economical prudence." Johnson was convinced that:

"Nothing can please many and please long, but just

representations of general nature." Shakespeare's

ability to create characters "which are the genuine

progeny of common humanity," revealed him therefore

as a poet in the original sense of the word, a


When he talks of Ophelia, Kreuzgang evaluates

Shakespeare in the same terms. After "the mighty

hand of Shakespeare, that second creator, had seized

her violently," he witnesses at first with critical

and later with passionate fascination a

8 Ed. Adams, "Preface to Shakespeare", pp. 329-
336, p. 330.


"transformation of the real into a poetic person"


Johnson's "Preface to Shakespeare" became a

touchstone of English literary criticism. It was not

much noted in Germany,9 but it left traces in

Lichtenberg's satirical attacks on literary and

intellectual abuses. The best known of these, "On

Physiognomy against the Physiognomists" (1778), is

preceded by a quotation from Henry V (Act 11,2) and

he uses also various examples from Antony and

Cleopatra,10 plays which Johnson had singled out in

his "Preface."

Never content with mere citation, Lichtenberg

merges comments from both works to express his own

praise of Shakespeare, "who was able to combine for

his purpose distant concepts, which perhaps never

before had met in a human mind, and who could call

9 In the 69. Part of the Hamburgische
Dramaturgie, which was published in December 1767,
Lessing does not mention Johnson by name, but
attributes to "one of our most recent writers" the
view that Shakespeare has been censured for his
tragi-comic vein, though this should instead be
regarded as a virtue, as it imitates the natural
process of human existence. Besides the English
claims for priority in this field--championed by
Dryden and Johnson--Lessing acknowledges the strong
Spanish influences on the mixed genre, and draws
especial attention to Lope de Vega's satiric New Art
of Comedy Writing. Lessings samtliche Schriften, Vol.
X, pp. 77-78.

10 Promies, Vol. III, "uber Physiognomik; wider
die Physiognomen." pp. 256-95, pp. 256, 279, 281.

the world an 0 and finally the stage a wooden O," a

view which equates the world with nothing.11

Lichtenberg demonstrates here a technique which

Bartenschlager finds especially characteristic for

Bonaventura,12 and also shows his thorough

familiarity with a tradition which is not only

important to Shakespeare's imagery, but is an

integral part of tragi-comic writing, especially of

menippean satires from Lucian onwards.13

11 Promies, Vol.111, p. 279. Lichtenberg
amalgamated Antony and Cleopatra, V, 2: "His face was
as the heavens; and therein stuck/ A sun and moon,
which kept their course, and lighted/ The little 0,
the earth," and Henry V, Chorus,I: "can this cockpit
hold/ The vasty fields of France? or may we cram/
Within this wooden 0 the very casques/ That did
affright the air at Agincourt?"
12 Bartenschlager, p. 359: "Das bisher Gesagte
zeigt den strengen Perspektivismus des
Nachtwachendichters in der Wahl seiner Shakespeare-
Motive und ihre kunstvolle Integration in die
Weltsicht des Protagonisten, durch Auswahl,
Teilidentifizierung, Kontrastierung, Parodie und
originelle Umwandlungen verschiedener Art."
13 Lucian. "Icaromenippus" in Towards
Excellence. Ed. Vincent Milosevich (New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973), e.g. p. 23: "some
relieve the Gods of all care, as we relieve the
superannuated of their civic duties; in fact, they
treat them exactly like supernumeraries on the
stage;" p. 27: "Well, friend, such are the earthly
dancers; the life of man is just such a discordant
performance; not only are the voices jangled, but the
steps are not uniform, the motions not concerted, the
objectives not agreed upon--until the impresario
dismisses them one by one from the stage, with a "not
wanted;" p. 32: "their model is the tragic actor,
from whom if you strip off the mask and the gold-
spangled robe, there is nothing left but a paltry
fellow hired for a few shillings to play a part."

When Kreuzgang speaks of "Cleopatra's flower

basket, among the roses of which the poisonous snake

lay in wait" (p. 69), he refers to the same scene in

Antony and Cleopatra from which Lichtenberg took the

simile of life, seen as an empty stage. By filling

the basket of figs with flowers,14 Bonaventura

moulds the metaphor closer to his own purpose and to

the German environment in which Kreuzgang operates.

Just before the entrance of the "rural fellow"--

one of Shakespeare's tragic clowns--Cleopatra has

envisaged her fate in captivity as that of an

"Egyptian puppet," and she fears that there "the

quick comedians extemporarily will stage us." The

clown delivers the fatal basket with a melancholy

discourse on worms and death, the gods and the devil.

The fifth act of Antony and Cleopatra abounds in the

key words which permeate the Niqhtwatches.

Bartenschlager regards as "the sum of the plays

of which Kreuzgang takes note: Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth,

with a reference to the Tempest and possibly also to

Troilus and Cressida." All are plays which deal with

primary concerns of the nightwatchman, and the first

14 Act V, Sc. II: Guard: "Here is a rural
fellow . he brings you figs."


three made a lasting impression on Lichtenberg, while

he was in England.15

The allusions to the Tempest and to Troilus and

Cressida occur when Kreuzgang compares the antique

ideal of beauty with an ugly reality, exemplified by

Caliban and Thersites (p. 195). Thersites in Troilus

and Cressida is, according to Robert C. Elliot,

"unquestionably the greatest master of scurrilous

abuse among characters of this type" in Shakespeare;

a pharmakos who suffers for the evils of the

community; a provoker, a "railer who is privileged to

abuse whom he will;" a figure with general traits for

which Thersites has been metonymic since Homer.16

Kreuzgang with his sarcastic despair is one of his


The mocking and bitter aspects of Shakespeare's

fools, which the acerbic Thersites represents, occupy

the center stage in Timon of Athens. The Greek

satirist Lucian of Samosata had devoted one of his

Dialogues to Timon, and Robert C. Elliot sees

Shakespeare approach closest to satire in this play.

He counts Shakespeare's Timon with Moliere's Alceste

15 Bartenschlager, p. 359; Ed. Gumbert,
Lichtenbercg in England, Vol. II, p. 274.
16 Robert C. Elliot, The Power of Satire: Magic,
Ritual. Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1960), pp. 136-39.

and Swift's Gulliver among "the great misanthropes of

literature: a satirist satirized, with "full

cognizance of the dreadful power of the extreme."

Humour, though much of it bitter and even invective,

softens the impact of human limitations and

imperfections in this black comedy. Yet "the

denunciation of man is frightfully powerful and it


This basic attitude is not the only reminiscence

of Timon in the Nightwatches. A central symbol in

Timon is "eating roots," which epitomizes reliance on

nature rather than on the fickleness of man. Already

in Act I, Sc. II Apemantus, a churlish philosopher

and a more stoic double or alter ego of Timon,

declares at the end of an apostrophe to the immortal

gods: "Rich men sin, and I eat root." Moderation,

frugality and self-sufficiency are the virtues which

he wants to promote by this symbolic action. Timon

learns to aspire to these virtues only in Act IV,

when he has lost his immense riches and with them his

sycophantic friends, and decides to retreat into the

wilderness of self-imposed exile. Cursing the earth,

asking for universal discord by imploring that

"twinned brothers of one womb" should be set against

each other through different fortunes, (an event of

17 Elliot, p. 167.


which the Fourth and Fifth Nightwatches tell), he

finally calls out "Earth, yield me roots" (Act IV,

Sc. III). While he digs he finds a treasure of gold,

but finally recognizing and despising its potential

for evil he casts it aside and persists in looking

for roots. When thieves beset him, he advises them:

"Why should you want? Behold the earth hath roots."

"That nature, being sick of man's unkindness/

Should yet be hungry!" he exclaims and then

apostrophises nature in the words which Kreuzgang

uses repeatedly: "Common Mother thou," and he

implores nature to

yield him, who all thy human sons doth hate
From forth thy plenteous bosom one poor root.
(Act IV, Sc.III)

Equivalent events occur in the Fifteenth

Nightwatch. After one of his misanthropic outbursts

of "aggravated hatred for all the men of reason" (p.

217) Kreuzgang calls himself, like Timon, a beggar

and rejoices that "the earth still had roots in her

lap which she did not deny," and calls her "this

ancient mother" (p. 219). The root he digs out

constitutes the only sustenance of which he partakes

during a narration abounding in metaphors of eating

and digestion. Further indication of the symbolic

nature of this meagre meal is a preceding reference

to Horace's advice in the letter to the Piso Family

"to unite the useful with the pleasurable", for it

breaks the illusion of a romantic enjoyment of nature

by drawing attention to deliberate artistic devices.

Like the Niqhtwatches, Timon of Athens ends on a

note of despair. Timon dies, declaring

oxymoronically, and with significance for the last

words in the Nightwatches: "My long sickness of

health and living now begins to mend and nothing

brings me all things." This "nothing," reminiscent of

Kreuzgang's final words, is one of the many uses of

the word in Shakespeare.

Timon promises that his gravestone will be an

oracle to those who survive him (Act V, Sc. I). After

some difficulties in deciphering the words, his

epitaph is finally found to declare

Here lies a wretched corse, of wretched soul
Seek not my name; a plague consume the wicked
caitiffs left!
Here lie I, Timon; who alive all living men did
Pass by and curse thy fill; but pass and stay
not here thy gait.
(Act V, c. III)

Elliot interprets "Timon's last words from out

the nothingness he coveted" as a snarl.18 They

contain, however, several indications which leave

room for optimism: body and soul are taken as

separable and only temporarily united entities, and

18 Elliot, p. 160.

death is therefore bereft of finality; and the twice

repeated exhortation "pass" implies that a better

place can be reached by those who are prepared to

move on. Shakespeare sows these seeds of hope almost

imperceptibly and they can be easily cast aside or

overlooked, and Bonaventura hides his clues with

similar care.

The Niqhtwatches also tell of hidden treasure,

but there is a change of emphasis from Timon: instead

of sterile metal a young child is found, unencumbered

by any worldly possessions but "already a quite

complete citizen of the world" (p. 61). Goethe's

ballad Der Schatzgraber (1798) a genie similarly

conveyed the message that life and active endeavour,

not gold, constitute real riches. Bonaventura does

not deliver such advice; he relies on hints and

implications, and expects the reader to find a

meaningful pattern in them, as he will have to do in

reality, if he desires life to make sense.19

The Fifth Nightwatch ends with Timon's wish,

that two "brothers of one womb" should be divided by

strife and scorn each other (Act IV, Sc. III). Their

19 The Christian child-symbol was secularized by
the romantics, as epitomized in the painting of
Philipp Otto Runge (1777-1810): Der Morgen (1805).
Kreuzgang's symbolic conception during Christmas
night affirms the allegorical character of his family


catastrophe compresses in a few paragraphs the

complicated intrigues of Othello, with lago's

fabrication and manipulation of misleading evidence,

and the desperate regret of the husband, who

understands the truth too late and follows the murder

of an innocent wife with suicide. The melodramatic

aspects of this scenario are subordinated to the

human paradox that loss or threatened loss

intensifies the wish to possess, and enhances what is

otherwise not valued enough. Bonaventura writes:

Ponce only awoke when she died, and now for
the first time he seemed to love, because he had
lost love, and to feel a loving heart so as to
pierce it through. (p. 97)

The gory end is left to the imagination of the

reader: "Silently he was remarried with Ines," and

the full extent of the tragedy is merely mirrored in

the survivor's reaction: "Don Juan stood mute and

insane among the dead."

The opinion that life attains its value through

the fear of death was shared by Lichtenberg with

Shakespeare and recurs in the Nightwatches. Among

his first notebook entries Lichtenberg claimed: "To

make us more receptive to our good luck when it is

losing some of its lustre we have to imagine that it

has been lost and that we had received it only this

very moment" (A 72). This thought he presented later


in a polished and often quoted aphorism: "Lasting

luck looses lustre merely by its length" (F 6).

In Much Ado About Nothing it is the Friar, the

exponent of moderation and good sense, who offers

this insight:

That what we have we prize not to the worth
While we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost,
Why, then we rack the value, then we find
The virtue that possession would not show us
While it was ours. (Act IV, Sc.I)

This bitter comedy presents tragic themes, but

transposes them into a key that allows a lighthearted

final solution, as if to demonstrate the arbitrary

fickleness of life. While in Othello Shakespeare

dispenses with comic relief, he varies the theme with

the lago-like traitor Don John in Much Ado About

Nothing, which has tomb scenes reminiscent of Romeo

and Juliet, misunderstandings and pretended death,

and hovers dangerously close to real tragedy. The

constant masking and unmasking creates no

lighthearted or festive spirit, but rather an

atmosphere of uncertainty where happiness or horror

can gain the upper hand at any moment, and may result

in bliss or destruction according to the whim of

circumstances. Bitter love and "enraged affection"

(Act II, Sc.III) add to the ambivalence as they do in

Kreuzgang's intense and unromantic wooing.


The play also contains a group of nightwatchmen

led by their constable Dogberry, whose blundering

ignorance mingles with sound instinct, and

paradoxically solves enigmas which confound shrewder

minds. His instructions foreshadow some of the

decisions Kreuzgang takes on his nightly rounds, as

for instance, when Dogberry counsels: "If you meet a

thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office,

to be no true man; and, for such kind of men, the

less you meddle or make with them, why, the more is

for your honesty" (Act III, Sc. III). When Kreuzgang

makes a similar decision he seems as whimsical and

ineffective as Dogberry, but he too, like

Shakespeare, is commenting on the helplessness of

well-meaning people faced with the injustice of this


Dogberry's conclusions are distilled from

experience, as well as from his own peculiar logic

and thus he leaves his men with the exhortation: "The

watch ought to offend no man; and it is an offence to

stay a man against his will." The men respond by

deciding to "sit here upon the church-bench till two,

and then all to bed," an example followed by

Kreuzgang. "Among the favorite places in which I am

accustomed to stop during my nightwatches," he


reports, "belongs the ledge in the old Gothic

cathedral" (p.59).

On his second visit to England, Lichtenberg

recorded that he had seen Much Ado About Nothing on

December 10th, 1774, with the actor John Lee in the

lead. Less than a year later, on November 7th, 1775,

he noted that he had seen Garrick as Benedick for the

seventh time. He had been to Othello during his

first and shorter stay in England, and when he came

to London next in 1774/75 he saw King Lear, Macbeth,

and Hamlet repeatedly.20

The fame of London theatrical life, and in

particular of its most celebrated actor, David

Garrick (1717-79), had spread to Germany, and

visitors were eager to bring back news of his

outstanding performances. On his second visit to

England, Lichtenberg was able to see the admired

actor, now very near the end of his career, in

several of his most famous roles, and on October

15th, 1775, he was introduced to him by the favorite

page of his host in London, the King. Garrick paid

20 Ed. Gumbert, Lichtenberq in England, Vol. II,
pp. 58, 196, and 274.


him the compliment to declare that he had never heard

a foreigner speak so free of accent.21

Admiration for Garrick's brilliance led

Lichtenberg to analyse not only the craft by which he

achieved his effects on the stage, but also the roles

in which he starred. As Garrick specialised in

expressing even minute and detailed changes in human

thoughts and motivation, Hamlet became the part with

which he was most identified. Lichtenberg saw him

twice in this character. When his friend in

Gottingen, the Anglophile Christian Heinrich Boie

(1744-1806), asked for an account of this experience,

Lichtenberg produced a penetrating analysis of

Garrick's craft, and centered his report on the

Hamlet performance.

Boie was an influential critic himself, and the

editor of the journal Deutsches Museum, which

contributed much to the formation of German public

opinion in literary matters. Altogether Lichtenberg

wrote three letters for his friend, and in his usual

thorough manner not only described the actor for whom

the readers had indicated so much interest, but also

the plays in which he excelled and even the whole

21 Ed. Joost, Briefwechsel, Vol. I, p. 569,
Letter No. 289 to Johann Andreas Schernhagen, Oct.
16, 1775.


English theatrical scene, as the background which

made his perfection possible.

To gain a better understanding of the reasons

for Garrick's outstanding success, Lichtenberg also

went to watch the actor Henderson as Hamlet.22 The

letters show passionate interest in the plays, and

demonstrate the importance of Garrick for the growth

of general interest in Shakespeare.23 The precise

and almost cinematic descriptions are the best record

of Garrick's acting techniques which has ever come to


The influence of Hamlet on German literature

became considerable, especially after Goethe

integrated the role into the educational scheme of

his Bildunasroman, Wilhelm Meister, on which he

started work after Lichtenberg's letters appeared in

the Deutsches Museum. Goethe's ideas on Hamlet, and

the stage direction which Wilhelm Meister envisages

22 Ed. Joost, Briefwechsel, Vol. I, p. 802,
Letter No. 475.
23 Lichtenberg's Visits to England As Described
in his Letters and Diaries. Tr. and annot. Margaret
L. Mare and W. H. Quarrell. Oxford Studies in Modern
Languages and Literature (1938; New York: Benjamin
Blom, 1969).
24 George W. Stone, Jr. and George M. Kahrl,
David Garrick. A Critical Biography (Southern
Illinois University Press, 1979), p. 485.

for the part,25 are so consistent with Lichtenberg's

report in the Second Letter that Goethe's views must

have been influenced either by Lichtenberg or else by

other accounts of Garrick's acting.

Goethe's discourse on Hamlet in Wilhelm Meister

aroused much enthusiasm for the play in Germany and

exerted strong influence on romantic writers.

Wilhelm Meister is therefore mentioned by Klaus

Bartenschlager as a source of inspiration for the

Nightwatches. Though Bartenschlager discusses the

work in a romantic context and arrives at a

nihilistic interpretation, his overall conclusions

are surprisingly compatible with the author profile

of Lichtenberg. He notes particularly Bonaventura's

exceptional handling of quotes and references, which

cause him to call the Niqhtwatches "a literary echo-

gallery in which references and allusions--with and

without indication of sources--abound." Accordingly,

a particular trademark of the author is that

"Shakespeare is not discussed or merely quoted, but

integrated into the narrative perspective and

functionalised creatively for the narration." As an

example of this technique, the metonymic use of the

25 Goethes Werke. Ed. by command of the Grand
Duchess Sophia of Saxony (Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus
Nachfolger, 1899), Vol. XXII, Wilhelm Meister, Book
IV, Chap. xiii, pp. 73 ff.

three witches in Macbeth is given; they are evoked to

describe the fearful apparitions disturbing the

dignity of the freethinker's death in the Second

Nightwatch. Bartenschlager comments: "After

Bonaventura has chosen the analogy of the Macbeth-

witches, associations seem to crowd in on him."26

Lichtenberg was an avid advocate of associative

thought, and he had studied David Hartley's theories

in this field in some depth, as they were propagated

by his friend Joseph Priestley.27 Talking of himself

in the third person, Lichtenberg vividly describes

his habit of thinking in associations:

Before anyone can even recite the Lord's Prayer
he can enumerate ten aspects [of a problem], his
thoughts arrive as if brought to him by a
hobgoblin. (D 120)

The full extent of these associations was always

difficult to comprehend, as Lichtenberg's

comprehensive knowledge exceeded that of most of his

contemporaries, and it cannot easily be recovered

26 Bartenschlager, p. 349, p. 353.

27 David Hartley (1705-57) attributes the
evolution of higher concepts to association of basic
ideas. His Observations on Man, his Frame, his Duty.
and his Expectations was published in 1749, but
acquired a wider readership when Priestley edited and
republished it in 1774 as Hartley's theory of the
human mind on the principle of the association of
ideas with essays relating to the subject of it.
After his return from the second sojourn in England,
Lichtenberg's Notebook E shows intensive reading of
this work, E 453 ff.


now, when so much of the eighteenth-century

epistemology is no longer generally accessible. But

where it is possible to follow Lichtenberg's thoughts

in some detail, their depth is shown to derive from

the habitual comparing and super-imposing of various

ideas, and by this method he manipulates common

concepts to yield multifaceted meaning. Bonaventura

masters the same technique, and it enables him to say

much with an exceptional economy of words. The

Macbeth-witches are a case in point.

On his nocturnal rounds Kreuzgang notices "three

figures . creeping like carnival masks along the

churchyard wall." Notwithstanding a hint of

carnival, a sinister impression is created by a

preceding flash of lightning as well as by the

cemetery location, and the feeling of doom is

confirmed when "the three had dissolved into the air

like Macbeth's witches" (p. 39). Later "the air cast

bubbles, and the three Macbeth ghosts were suddenly

visible again, as if the storm wind had whirled them

there by their pates. The lightning illuminated

twisted devil's masks and snaky hair and the whole

hellish contrivance" (pp. 41 and 43).

Paucity of invention can hardly account for the

repetition of a metaphor by an author of Bonavenura's

complexity, especially as the second passage


demonstrates that when he uses few words it is not

for want of finding apt expressions. According to

Boswell, Johnson said of Shakespeare's witches: "They

are beings of his own creation; they are a compound

of malignity and meanness, without any abilities."28

These negative qualities characterize exactly the

evil apparitions in the Nightwatches and their

mixture of destructiveness and intellectual

impotence. To consider such passages in tandem is

like reading the text through a three-dimensional

viewer: it yields a depth of perception which remains

hidden from the unaided eye. Bonaventura uses the

insights accumulated by Shakespeare and Johnson to

gain access to an enlarged view of existence, but he

directs the focus onto new and different aspects.

This "strong perspectivism" is commended by

Bartenschlager, who notices that only such

Shakespearean motifs are used as are compatible with

Kreuzgang's philosophy. Such emphasis is achieved by

"selection, partial integration, contrasting, parody

and various quite original variations."29 All these

devices unite to create new issues out of

Shakespeare's plays in which, however, Hamlet is

constantly discernible as the dominant voice.

28 Boswell, p. 1017.

29 Bartenschlager, p. 359.


Hermann Michel saw in this leitmotif a borrowing from

Hamlet.30 Bonaventura, however, does not lift ideas

from other authors without thorough scrutiny; and

during the process he transforms and revises what he

has found. Consequently Kreuzgang does not quote

Hamlet, but relives relevant aspects of his

experience, and thus the references to Shakespeare

are code-words which can be used to understand

Kreuzgang's deeper motives and aims.

The information that Kreuzgang "was once playing

Hamlet, as guest role, in a court theatre" (p.199)

seems inconsistent with the casual aside that he also

"limped by nature and did not have the best

appearance" (p. 53). The role-playing should

therefore be accepted on a higher level, where it can

explain various of the nightwatchman's rather

confusing characteristics, such as his intellectual

and ineffectual reactions to evil, his self-analysing

despair of the world and of his own indecisive

helplessness, his dread of the unknown beyond the

grave, his unsatisfied need to understand what is

going on around him and what part he should take in

the proceedings.

Kreuzgang's reactions to the ills of the world,

or rather his lack of them, find their explanation in

30 Michel, Einleitung, pp. xxviii-xxix.


Hamlet's words when these are taken in their

entirety. The few hints and quotations in the text

of the Nightwatches act merely as signposts to the

fuller information which is contained in

Shakespeare's works. Like the doomed Prince of

Denmark, Kreuzgang is basically an idealist with a

rational, sophisticated mind which perceives with

uncompromising clarity the wrongs of the world. But

at the same time his thoughtfulness prevents him from

attempting any remedial action, for his exceptional

intelligence recognizes clearly that the results of

any human enterprise, however well meant and planned,

are destined to elude human control. Hamlet's

introspective anguish and emotional conflicts are

therefore as much a part of the nightwatchman's

nature as his consequent alienation from his fellow

men, for they regard as madness what in truth is a

form of higher, though frustrated and impotent


Shakespeare furnishes rich examples of those

types of madness which constitute extreme states of

the human mind. This dimension of his work is

highlighted when Kreuzgang is confined to the lunatic

asylum, for he assumes the pseudonym Hamlet for an

exchange of letters with the love of his life, who in

turn has so intensely identified herself with the

role of Ophelia that she has assumed the name and

gone mad herself. Unconventional love letters result

and are presented in the Fourteenth Nightwatch. The

unexpected change in genre baffled critics until Rita

Terras found a correspondence between the structure

of the Nightwatches and Juvenal, who employs the

epistolary form in his Twelfth and Thirteenth

Satire.31 In the tightly structured context of

Kreuzgang's self-revelations, the parallel should be

considered as an indication that the letters are to

be read in a satirical, self-mocking context and that

the world of Juvenal is never far from the author's


A connection like this removes the love affair

with a crazed actress in the lunatic asylum from

grotesque melodrama to the menippean realm of a

search for absolute truth and final meaning, while

the names under which the correspondence is conducted

alert the reader to interpret Bonavnetura with

Shakespeare in mind. At the same time this role-

playing reinforces a leitmotif of the menippean

tradition, that the world is a stage on which

everybody has been allotted a part without being

given a choice in the selection. Shakespeare has

varied this metaphor again and again; the best known

31 Rita Terras, p. 25.


version is delivered by Jaques, the fool in As You

Like It, which Lichtenberg saw performed in London on

October 18, 1775:

All the world's a stage,
And all men and women merely players;
They have their exits and entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
(Act II, Sc. VII)

Following this famed statement Jaques traces man's

transformation from hopeful infant through youth and

manhood to the "pantaloon," the fool, and finally to

his "second childishness and mere oblivion/sans

teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything," thus

paraphrasing the "nothing" with which Kreuzgang's own

narration comes to an end.

The constant allusions to Shakespeare in the

Nightwatches alert the reader to the nature of

Kreuzgang's predicament. He is not wrestling with

purely personal problems, but with questions which

have agitated profound minds throughout history, and

for which Shakespeare has found the most vivid and

memorable, and at the same time generally accessible


Kreuzgang approaches the quest freshly and with

some new insights, notably from Kant's critical

inquiries into the potential of the human mind, which

are especially evoked in the exchange of letters with

Ophelia. As such profound questions admit of no

definite responses, he cannot be expected to advance

further than Shakespeare, and therefore follows

Jaques' conclusions:

It is all role, the role itself and the
playactor who is behind it, and in him in turn
his thoughts and plans and enthusiasm and
buffooneries--all belong to the moment
and swiftly flee, like the word on the
comedian's lips. (p. 209)

When he concludes his last letter: "Love me, in a

word, without further pondering," (p. 211) the

seeming flippancy reveals in fact the wisdom which

recognizes love as the one experience by which man

can transcend his isolation in space and time.32

The epistolary interpolation in the Fourteenth

Nightwatch provides one of the numerous examples of

Bonaventura's virtuosity in blending ideas from the

full range of sources from which Western civilisation

drew its inspiration and strength. This creative

approach to outstanding works of the intellect

accords with the precepts of the enlightenment which

Lichtenberg endeavoured to promote. To him the

inevitable prerequisite for meaningful artistic

32 Cf. Eccl. IX, 9: "Live joyfully with the wife
whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy
vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all
the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in
this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under
the sun." Like Shakespeare's insights, those of
Ecclesiastes also run consistently through the


achievement was familiarity with the views held by

the great thinkers of all ages, combined with

personal probing into the methods by which they

arrived at their conclusions. These he wanted

constantly tested, for he agreed with Johnson in the

"Preface to Shakespeare"

What mankind have long possessed thy have often
examined and compared; and if they persist to
value the possession, it is because frequent
comparisons have confirmed opinion in its

Shakespeare, that "comprehensive genius" as Johnson

calls him,33 is constantly used in the Nightwatches

as a touchstone with which Kreuzgang tests the

validity of his own opinions.

Bartenschlager describes the work as somber, and

as the most nihilistic prose work of the German

Romantic Epoch, as well as that of the greatest

genius.34 Its romantic and despairing elements are,

however, already present in Shakespeare, especially

in those works which are quoted or alluded to by

Kreuzgang, who knows and uses them in the

assimilatory way which Lichtenberg recommended and


33 Ed. Adams, "Preface to Shakespeare,"
pp. 329, 336.

34 Bartenschlager, p. 347.


Most of the plays which are worked into the

fabric of the Nightwatches were made memorable to

Lichtenberg through the sensitive interpretations of

Garrick, and he wrote about this experience: "To act

like Garrick and to write like Shakespeare are the

effects of very deep-seated causes." He elaborated

this thought at various times, for he wanted to

recommend the art of these men as an example to those

idealistic young German writers who expected genius

to inspire them as if they were possessed and without

much effort on their part. He therefore stressed

about Garrick:

Almost all the newer English authors, who are so
much read, imitated, and aped by us, were his
friends. He helped form them, while they in
their turn helped to form him. Man was his
study, from the cultured and artificial denizens
of the salons of St. James, down to the savage
creatures in the eating-houses of St. Giles. He
attended the same school as Shakespeare, and
like the latter, did not wait for inspiration,
but worked hard (for in England all is not left
to genius, but worked hard for); by this school
I mean London, where a man with such a talent
for observation can learn as much by experience
in a year as in a whole lifetime spent in some
little town, where all have the same hopes and
fears, the same subjects for wonder and gossip
and nothing is out of the ordinary.35

As Lichtenberg shared the eighteenth-century

belief that literature is the repository of man's

accumulated wisdom, he regarded all its

35 Ed. Mare, Lichtenberg's Visits to England,
pp. 11, 8.


manifestations with seriousness. His certainty about

the importance of literature turned him into one of

the first and foremost who saw the inherent dangers

in German idealism, which centered more and more on

grand and sublime concepts and progressively lost

touch with reality.

The literary controversies into which this

attitude involved him vibrate through various parts

of the Niqchtwatches, notably in the "Dithyramb on

Spring" (p. 189), and in passages where the

playwrights Iffland and Kotzebue are ridiculed. One

such text follows directly on an exclamation in which

Kreuzgang couples Hamlet's famous question "To be or

not to be" with an invocation of the devil, showing

that even when Bonaventura uses common expletives he

remains conscious of literary precedent, for

Shakespeare often uses the devil to indicate

spontaneous or emphatic speech.

Hamlet, for instance, when reminded that his

father died four months ago and that it is time to

cease mourning, calls out: "Nay then, let the devil

wear black, for I'll have a suit of sables" (Act III,

Sc. II). The effect of that single dark figure among

colourful courtiers is vividly described by

Lichtenberg. The stranger in black, the enigmatic

"tall manly figure, wrapped in a cloak" who "strode

through the arch and stood on a grave stone" in the

Fourth Nightwatch (p. 76), brings Hamlet to mind all

the more, as Kreuzgang continues:

I always step before an alien unusual human life
with the same feelings as before a curtain
behind which a Shakespearean drama is to be
produced; and I like it best if the former as
well as the latter is a tragedy, for, besides
genuine seriousness, I can suffer only tragic
jest and such fools as in King Lear; precisely
because these alone are truly audacious and
carry on their clownery en qros, and without
regard, over the whole of human life. (p. 67)

As Kreuzgang himself identifies with Hamlet,

projection of that figure onto another character

should be an indication that Kreuzgang sees himself,

or part of himself, in the strangers he meets during

his watch. He achieves the association by various

means. When he introduces the poet he tells of

having been just such a poet himself (p. 31), in

other cases the connections are more circumspect.

When he calls a vagrant, of whom nothing else is told

but that he is dying in poverty and solitude, a

Joseph, whom "the brothers have cast out," it must

be remembered that Kreuzgang sees himself as such a

Joseph figure, spurned by others for the superior

qualities of his intellect. He watches as this

pathetic "beggar with neither house nor home fights

against slumber, which wants to lay him so sweetly

and enticingly in death's arms," and his fear of

consequences prevents him from interference. It is

then that he repeats Hamlet's question: "Shall I

cheat death of a beggarly life? By the devil, I

really do not know what is better--to be or not to

be!" (p. 159). Hamlet, in the same predicament

decided for life, because he feared that existence

after death might be worse. Kreuzgang elected to let

the beggar die, for "the brothers are not worthy that

Joseph walk among them!--Let him sleep away." With

Hamlet's situation in mind, his judgement would

indicate at least a strong hope for a better

existence after death, though like Hamlet, Kreuzgang

cannot be absolutely sure and thus leaves the

question open.

Such associations abound in the text, but they

are not revealed at first sight or by casual reading,

just as it is not likely that the beginning of the

Nightwatches will immediately be identified with the

first scene of Hamlet. Yet in both works a

nightwatch establishes the dark and sombre mood in

which the plot is to unfold, in both a watchman

starts his round of duty, and a ghost is almost

instantly mentioned.

Kreuzgang introduces spectres in a seemingly

irrelevant aside, remarking that he has protected

himself "against the evil spirits with the sign of

the cross" (p. 29). Lichtenberg shared an interest