The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 28, 2014

February 28, 1812

Wurttenburg in Germany's Black Forest, is called to mind by the craft of cuckoo clocks. It includes the village of Nordstetten. This is where the German writer Moyses Baruch Auerbach, who wrote as Berthold Auerbach, (February 28, 1812 to February 8, 1882) was born. His stories about this area in southwest Germany are said to have helped unify northern and southern Germany, a goal which Auerbach fervently promoted. His  stories illuminate that peasant heart which is the world's heart.  

You get a glimpse of his psychological acuity in Edelweiss: A Story (1861, translated by Ellen Frothingham, 1874). The excerpt starts with an old man, confused after being rescued in a blizzard, snow which still in fact, threatens a family, as we glance at the story.

"Where am I?" groaned Petrovitsch; "where am I?"  
"In my house, uncle." ...
"Who brought me here? who took off my clothes? where are my clothes? where is my fur? where is my waistcoat? it has my keys in it. .....

"Be calm, uncle; I will find everything for you. See, here is your fur, and here is your waistcoat."
"Let me have them. Are the keys in the pocket? yes, there they are. Ha, Bubby, are you here too?"
"Yes, uncle, he saved your life."
"Ah, now I remember. We were buried by the snow. How long ago was it? was it not yesterday?"
 "Scarce an hour ago," said Lenz. ..."Keep quiet a few minutes while I go into the other room, and get you something to drink." 
"Leave me the light; bring me something warm."

....He seemed revived by the brandy Lenz brought him, and caressing his dog, who had nestled close to his master's side, said: "Let me go to sleep now. What is that noise? Is there not a raven crying?"
"Yes, one was swept down the kitchen chimney by the snow."
"Very well; let me sleep now.".....

Lenz and Annele sat without in the sitting room, neither speaking a word. ...The monotonous ticking of the clocks was suddenly interrupted by one of the musical works beginning to play a hymn. .....

"If you can pray," said Lenz, "you ought to be able to look into your heart and repent."
"I have nothing to repent of in my conduct towards you; whatever other sins I may have committed, I confess only to God. I have meant nothing that was not kind and honest towards you." ....

Lenz implored her to be kind and peaceable before his uncle. "Your uncle and the raven in the kitchen tell me we must die," she answered as in a dream.

"You are not generally superstitious; I hope, for your sake, you are not going to be so now. It was you who threw the writing .... to the wind, and called on the storm to visit us."

Annele made no answer. After another interval of silence Lenz arose, saying he would go on digging at the place where he had found his uncle, for if he could dig through to the mountain, he should be able to crawl out and summon help. Annele ...
[imagined] the horror of having him buried in the snow, and she and Petrovitsch too weak to dig him out. ..... 

He soon returned, however, and reported the snow to be so loose that every space filled in again as soon as cleared. There was reason to fear, also, that the snow still continued to fall. The best he could do was to shovel out again what he had been obliged to bring into the house, and push a clothes-press against the entrance, where the battered door no longer served as a protection.

His wet clothes had to be changed for his Sunday suit;...."Five years ago to-day," he murmured, "many sleighs stood before the door of the Lion inn; would that the guests were here now to dig us out!"

Petrovitsch had awaked from a short sleep, but still lay quiet in bed in the sleeping-room. He thought over with calmness all that had happened. Haste and complaints were here equally unavailing. Yesterday he had recalled his whole past life, had lived it over again in a few short moments, and here was the end. He accepted it with indifference. How to conduct himself towards those in the next room was the question that chiefly occupied him. At last he called Lenz and asked for his clothes, as he wished to get up. Lenz advised him to remain where he was, for the sitting-room was cold and his clothes wet, there being no way of lighting a fire. Petrovitsch, however, still desired to get up, and asked if there was no comfortable dressing-gown in the house.

"One of my father's," replied Lenz; "will you have that?"
"If there is no other, give me that," said Petrovitsch, angrily, while in his heart was a sorrow, almost a fear, at the thought of wearing what had been his brother's.
"You look quite like my father in it," cried Lenz ; "quite like him, only a little smaller."

"I had a hard youth, or I should have been larger," said the old man, looking at himself in the glass, as he entered the room. The cry of the raven in the kitchen startled him; he imperatively ordered Lenz to kill the bird. Lenz's chief occupation, however, for the time was to keep the peace between Bubby and the cat. The dog betrayed his discomfort by continued barks and whines, till the cat was finally shut up in the kitchen, where she did them good service by silencing the raven. Petrovitsch called for more cherry-brandy, of which Lenz said there were happily three bottles left of his mother's making, at least twelve years ago ; with hot water and sugar he mixed himself a nice glass of grog. "How absurd all this is!" he cried, growing talkative under its genial influence; "I have dragged my body over the whole world, only to be squeezed to death in my father's house. It serves me right; why could I not have conquered that foolish homesickness? ..."


Berthold Auerbach, a man we English speakers should recall. Here are some points from his biography in 
the Jewish Encyclopedia, an article written in 1902. This man who was very famous for his writing, as a youth had

Like others among the student corps, ....manifested something of the democratic spirit; and, as the result of a governmental investigation, he was imprisoned for three months at Hohenasperg (1837)....

[That was the year Auerbach wrote the first of many works on Spinoza] "Spinoza, ein Historischer Roman in Zwei Theilen" (Stuttgart, 1837, ...)

Auerbach's idealism, however, was not to limit itself to heroes of the Ghetto : he was to enter a broader field and do his share in arousing the German people to a sense of national unity long before the battle of Sedan. To familiarize the German of the North with the character and temperament of the German of the South (after having published, in 1841, a German translation of Spinoza's works, with biography, in five vol,...),he published his incomparable "Schwarzwälder Dorfgeschichten,"
[Black Forest Village Stories,1843], which at once gave their author international fame. It was an epoch-making work in the history of German literature, and was translated into almost all European languages. What is particularly noteworthy therein is the success of Auerbach, a Jew, in describing all the depth of the religious life of the Christian peasant. That an atmosphere of "Spinozism" breathed through these most artless tales did not materially detract from their charm....

Attitude Toward Judaism.

Auerbach's attitude toward Judaism receives ample illustration from many a character and passage in his stories. He strove to diffuse the kindliest sentiments among those of all creeds. His world-philosophy was a species of exalted patriotism, conjoined with a pure idealism; but it was destined to suffer a severe shock when anti-Semitism arose in Germany, and, despite the triumph of the German national idea, a wave of pessimism followed closely on the nation's victories. Private troubles may have contributed their share to his unrest: his second marriage had not brought him happiness. He found philosophy and life in ominous opposition, which, to one of his gentle mold, was a deep disappointment. For many years Auerbach, at least publicly, held somewhat aloof from Judaism, though always a Jew in heart and soul. But aroused in his last years, by Theodor Billroth's anti-Semitic work, "Warum Studiren Unsere Juden Medizin?" he openly took up the defense of his coreligionists.

When the blood-accusation was revived in Russia, Auerbach issued an appeal, "An Alle Männer der Wahrheit und Sittlichkeit" ("To All Men of Truth and Morality"), and he also addressed an open letter of thanks to Dr. von Döllinger, president of the Academy of Sciences in Munich, for his courageous speech in behalf of the Jews. In 1880 (July 14) he had the satisfaction of attending the unveiling of the Spinoza monument at The Hague. Auerbach, who had devoted his entire life to the glorification and realization of German ideals, lived to hear himself stigmatized by the Judæophobes as a foreigner, without share or interest in anything German...

So things appeared in 1902. You can read the rest of Edelweiss here.

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