Printer Friendly

Kleist's letter of 1 April 1801.

Heinrich von Kleist's letters provide a main source from which to reconstruct his life and thoughts and offer keys to the interpretation of his creative works. They have consequently been minutely examined and interpreted from almost every conceivable angle. (1) Yet his letter of 1 April 1801 to his half-sister Ulrike, which concerns us here, has attracted only rare and cursory comment. In it, Kleist reckons for Ulrike's benefit the anticipated costs of a journey to Paris similar to the one they were shortly to undertake together. It consists almost entirely of sums that appear of scant interest to the biographer or literary scholar who may understandably be content to describe it as a 'lettre bourree de calculs meticuleux'. (2) One commentator has, however, declared that these calculations show that the mathematician in Kleist had been reawakened. (3) This remark must be treated with caution. It is by no means certain that Kleist had at this date neglected or suppressed his interest in mathematics, nor is it self-evident why this display of basic arithmetic should mark either a significant stage in his attitude to mathematics or a decisive point in the mental life of the future creative writer. More persuasive is the same critic's observation that Kleist's sums were craftily designed to persuade Ulrike, who would be paying for the trip, that it would be less expensive to travel with a carriage and horses of their own than could realistically be supposed (Brahm, p. 34). I shall argue that the letter is not quite so deceitful as that comment suggests. However, it does omit a considerable portion of the foreseeable costs and cannot therefore be construed, as it is by one editor, as an attempt to dissuade Ulrike from joining him, by translating into hard figures his warning in his letter to her a week earlier (23 March) that the journey would be very costly indeed. (4) What, then, can be made of this letter and its sums? The following commentary establishes the function of Kleist's estimates, examines their meticulousness, discovers them at variance with facts which Kleist could have checked, and then asks how this reflects his state of mind at the time of his 'Kantkrise' in early 1801. I shall conclude by suggesting that Kleist's recourse to mathematics here as a means of feigning certainty is to be found again in pieces he wrote for publication almost a decade later. That tactic is relevant to a reading of the passage on infinity in his much-admired essay 'Uber das Marionettentheater'.

To understand the letter itself it is helpful to be aware of its relation to Kleist's previous letter to his sister. On 23 March Kleist wrote to ask Ulrike for 300 Reichsthalers to finance a trip, which he proposed to undertake alone for anything up to nine months, across Germany to France and Switzerland, mostly on foot. A few days later he was to write to his fiancee Wilhelmine von Zenge of a 'Fussreise', 'ein grosser Spaziergang', though also of going 'auf der Post' (Briefe, pp. 204, 208). Acknowledging, however, an earlier promise that Ulrike should accompany him on a journey to foreign parts, he extended her an invitation to join him, but one so expressed as to discourage its acceptance. He was desperate to leave almost immediately. She would therefore have to drop everything and hurry to Berlin. If she did come, the journey would cost her a great deal more than 300 thalers, as it would not be made on foot or by ordinary post wagon, but in a chaise of their own.

Kleist assumed that Ulrike would not wish to walk the roads of Europe with him for months on end like a poor student. A young lady, even one who was something of a tomboy, could indeed scarcely be expected to arrive in Paris on foot, her luggage on her back, nor would Kleist want to expose her to such indignity. A person of her means would also wish to avoid the discomfort of undertaking long distances by fahrende Post, in the German post wagons of which Samuel Taylor Coleridge observed: 'An English dust-cart is a piece of finery, a chef d'oeuvre of mechanism, compared with them.' (5) In northern Germany they were uncoffered carts (offene Post) with rough benches. The passengers were exposed to the elements. A contemporary travel guide, to which I refer further on several points, warned: 'Reisen mit dem Postwagen sind beschwerlich und angreifend.' These conveyances trundled and jolted along day and night, pausing to change horses and for basic meals. The passengers had to be prepared to tolerate 'das unbequeme, enge Sitzen', 'das langsame Fortrutschen mit phlegmatischen oder schlafenden Postillionen, die oft schmutzige und schlechte Zusammensetzung der bunten Reisekompagnie' and to undergo 'harte Prufungen der Geduld' at each halt at a posting house. Furthermore, post wagons carried consignments of money and on occasion attracted the attention of robbers. (6)

Ulrike von Kleist would naturally prefer to travel in a manner more suited to her station in life, in a chaise of her own, but that was much more expensive. In that spring of 1801 Thomas Holcroft, the financially embarrassed dramatist, novelist and translator, travelled with his wife and children slowly and uncomfortably, often for a day and a night together, by post wagon or diligence from Hamburg to Paris. On setting out to return to England in 1803 he observed, 'we came without a carriage of our own, and were resolved so to depart: for persons, who had no loose hundreds to throw away, to purchase one would have been a folly.' (7) Ulrike did have some hundreds, but would she 'throw them away'? The following week (9 April) Kleist assured Wilhelmine that he had imagined that the 'ausserordentliche Kosten' involved and his insistence on starting within a few days would indeed deter his sister (Briefe, p. 208). He did not add that he had proposed buying 'ein paar alte ausrangierte polnische Husarenpferde' to pull their carriage and had stressed that in his present mood he would make a dispiriting companion. However, Ulrike was not to be put off and nor was he entirely confident that she would be. Though he told Wilhelmine he had not envisaged all the consequences if his sister were to join him, he had, before receiving her reply, enquired about the need for passports. The contemporary guidebook insists that to enter France one needed a pass issued by a French embassy (PRD, p. 461). Yet Kleist was informed, he says, that if he went alone he could venture forth with a student identity card, perhaps the matriculation document he had obtained in Leipzig under a false name the year before (Briefe, p. 208). He was frustrated, but can scarcely have been surprised, to discover that it would be most unwise to attempt a journey with his sister without a proper pass.

As Kleist writes to Ulrike on 1 April he knows that she will be in Berlin within a few days. He asks her to bring his hatbox and has arranged accommodation for her: 'Du kannst bei den Glogern, Verlorene Strasse, Nr. 22, absteigen.' It is clear that in announcing her arrival she has declared her willingness to pay for a journey together in a carriage of their own. However, she has evidently questioned whether they might not travel more economically by hiring post horses from stage to stage rather than, as he proposed, with their own horses and driver. He is responding to her doubts about his assertion of 23 March, 'das Wohlfeilste wurde sein, mit eigner Equipage zu reisen' (Briefe, p. 203). He accepts that Ulrike, having agreed to finance the trip, must decide how they will travel. Perhaps she has also suggested omitting Switzerland from the itinerary, for his calculations, which, he says, she may consider on her way to Berlin from Frankfurt an der Oder, concern the relative costs of the two methods of travel to Paris and back, with their own horses or by Extrapost. The 'Dagegen' that opens his fourth numbered paragraph marks the point where he moves from the one mode of travel to the other. He is not now attempting to frighten Ulrike by magnifying the probable expense, even if he does reject her proposal that they could take a third person who would share the cost.

On the contrary, this letter might appear to suggest Kleist's desire to conceal a potentially frightening total from her. He takes no account of the expense of purchasing a carriage, in the region of one to three hundred thalers if it was a new chaise (PRD, p. 133), nor does he allow for its maintenance or for repairs after any accident (such as they were to incur at Butzbach, for which see Briefe, pp. 240-41). He does not consider the tolls, dues and obligatory tips to postmasters and 'Wagenmeister' which so exasperated English travellers in Germany, (8) nor does he include the expense of the boat excursion on the Rhine from Mainz to Cologne that he explicitly mentions in this same letter, nor the tips to local guides or to the custodians of places they might visit (the equivalent of today's entrance charges to tourist sites). Most importantly, he omits the cost of food and accommodation, which would be large items. These omissions go some way to explain why his estimates amount to scarcely more than the 300 thalers he had sought for a journey on his own. Such a total is clearly quite unrealistic. When William and Dorothy Wordsworth, no spendthrifts, travelled in 1799 from Hamburg to stay in the Harz mountains they spent forty pounds in nine weeks, offer twenty thalers a week. (9) That would suggest that the Kleists would need in excess of 600 thalers for the six months, as do the forty-two thalers it cost Henry Crabb Robinson to reach Frankfurt am Main from Hamburg by Extrapost in May 1800, even though he shared the carriage with three or four others. On his subsequent extensive but extremely frugal walking tours of Germany in the years 1800 to 1805 Crabb Robinson found that he needed about five guineas or close to thirty thalers a month. (10) For two people, 360 thalers were therefore likely to be needed for the simplest of meals and accommodation for the six months. Even allowing that their expenditure could be less in France, especially if they rented furnished rooms for any considerable time in Paris, Kleist has ignored a very large part of the probable costs. However, the items he omits are (with the important exception indicated below) irrelevant to his comparison. They would be incurred regardless of whether they bought horses or hired them. We cannot, therefore, conclude from these omissions that Kleist was deliberately concealing the full costs of the trip from his sister, or indeed that he thought her so easily deceived.

His sums suggest it will be no more expensive to take two horses of their own than to hire post horses. This conclusion is, however, not evident from the two columns of figures which stand out in the letter:
Also    20 Fr.dor.   Also   150 Rth.
        36 -                50 -
         5 -                30 -
Summa   61 Fr.dor.          230 Rth.

They seem to indicate that the cost of travelling 'mit eigner Equipage' (61 Friedrichd'or, i.e. 305 thalers) is likely to be one third higher than that of Extrapost. (11) The prominence of these columns and the insistence that the larger figures in the first (20 and 36 Fr.dor.) are minima ('wenigstens [...] wenigstens') may reflect Kleist's acknowledgement that Ulrike was not completely foolish to question his bold claim that it would be cheaper to buy horses. However, the 230 thalers is not his final total for posting. The postilions' Biergeld must be added, so that his 230 become 300. Even that figure, which he declares is a maximum, does not yet exceed the estimate for taking their own horses and driver. However, he continues, to those 300 thalers they should surely add part of the cost of taking a servant (the balance would be saved on tips): 'nicht viel mehr als die Halfte' of twelve Friedrichd'or (thirty-five thalers?). With that, the 305-thaler estimate for taking their own horses has finally been exceeded, though only marginally as far as it affects Ulrike's pocket, since Kleist offers to pay half the cost of the servant without saying whether, or from what source, he is proposing to provide more than the thaler-a-day he had declared the week before to be the limit of his own possible contribution.

The two estimates are so close that the comparison is in effect inconclusive. Kleist's claim of the previous week has been modified, yet it is clear that he sticks by his view that it would be sensible to take horses and a driver of their own. Now, it seems, Ulrike is free to make her decision, not on grounds of cost but of preference for speed of travel or for independence. With their own equipage they would be free to choose their own itinerary and to stop as and when they liked. Those advantages would be clear enough to Ulrike, who would also surely realise that it was such freedom he desired. (Another unmentioned advantage would be the fillip to his self-esteem provided by travelling in such style.)

The notion that that it was no more expensive to use one's own horses was an astounding one, which contradicted the common knowledge of the time. Those who journeyed thus could be assumed to be rich and were likely to be offercharged everywhere. Our contemporary guidebook explains other important factors: 'Das Reisen mit eigenen Pferden ist immer kostbar. Man muss das Futter bezahlen, man muss oftere Mittagshalte und Nachtlager machen; der Kutscher weiss den Weg nicht, man muss also oft Boten nehmen; das Risiko des Krank- oder Lahm-Werdens der Pferde nicht zu erwahnen.' It stresses the link between speed of travel and expenditure: 'Denn der grosse Gewinn des Extrapostreisens ist Ersparnis der Zeit und der Zehrkosten. Eben darum sind Reisen mit eigenen Pferden langweilig und kostspielig' (PRD, pp. 102 and 30). Kleist recognizes this. They would, he writes, be able to coffer greater distances each day when using relays of post horses and thus spend less on food and accommodation. However, his estimates are misleading because they do not itemize and include that potentially significant saving. His fundamental assumption that the time factor alone was decisive in costing the trip with 'eigener Equipage', and distance the sole consideration if they used post horses, is unsound, and some of the figures that do feature in his reckoning are also at some remove from reality. Equally notably, they do not represent a consistent attempt to arrive at two totals that will justify his original daring claim that it would be cheaper to take their own horses and driver.

In the first calculation Kleist costs a journey of six months with 'eigener Equipage'. That time scale corresponds neither to his original suggestion of anything up to nine months, nor to the actual journey undertaken, which was broken off (as a joint venture) after seven and a half months but could, according to Ulrike's later account, have included a whole year in Paris if he had so wished. (12) Was he deliberately attempting to conceal the cost of a more extended journey, or had Ulrike proposed a time limit of six months or requested an estimate based on that period? Did he still dream of visiting Switzerland, and did he know that post horses could not be hired there (PRD, p. 102)? Whatever the answers, by his method of reckoning each further month would add thirty thalers to the cost if they took their own horses and driver; if they went by Extrapost without a servant further mileage, not greater time spent travelling, would increase the expense.

The driver, their servant, would have to be paid, and he and their two horses fed. In his second numbered paragraph Kleist turns to these costs. It becomes clear towards the end of his letter that he allows sixty thalers for the servant's wages and food. Karl von Zenge's man Johann had agreed to accompany them, presumably at a wage in the region of eight thalers per annum or four thalers for half the year. (13) That leaves fifty-six thalers, or just under seven-and-a-half groschen per day for the servant's food, drink and lodging for 180 days. It is not an obviously unrealistic allowance. In 1803, citizens of Hanover complained that it cost them eight to ten groschen a day to feed a French soldier quartered on them (it was twice as much for a French officer). (14) Yet they almost certainly exaggerated, and in any case a servant would make no great culinary demands and his lodging might consist of a heap of fresh straw. However, Kleist allows only ten thalers a month for keeping a horse, the same as for the servant, which is almost certainly an underestimate. Fodder was a major item of expenditure (PRD, p. 201, cited above): moving around France from inn to inn in 1778 and 1779, Arthur Young paid from fifteen to twenty-five sous for his mare's fodder each day, sixty-six to ninety per cent of the price of 'a good meal with wine' for himself. A meal in a cheap German inn in the Harz region cost around twelve groschen, in a better hotel in a larger town twice as much or even more. (15) Kleist's ten thalers per month represent eight groschen per day, which is only sixty-six per cent of the cheapest meal. This probable under-reckoning more than offsets the possible overestimate for the servant. However, any expectation that, having already excluded food and accommodation, Kleist will deliberately underestimate every other item in the cost of taking their own equipage is thwarted in his first numbered paragraph by his allowance for a depreciation in the value of the horses.

Kleist presupposes that the capital outlay on horses is unimportant and includes in his sums only a figure ('20 Fr.dor', i.e. 100 thalers) for the probable loss on their resale. Because horses are in demand by the military as Prussian troops move to occupy Hanover, the army will not, as he had assumed a week before, be selling off animals surplus to its requirements. He therefore supposes they will cost some 250 thalers: 'die Pferde zu 50 Fr.dor gerechnet [...] wenigstens 10 Fr.dor mehr [...] als [...] unter gunstigeren Umstanden'. (16) He is taking the normal price of a suitable pair of horses to be 200 thalers. On this matter Kleist could easily have consulted Karl von Zenge whose lodgings he shared in Berlin and who kept a horse. Should they expect, on selling the horses after six months, to lose twenty-five per cent of the normal price, and sixty per cent of what he supposes they will have paid for them? In July Kleist was to report from Paris that the horses they purchased in Dresden were sold in the French capital for about eighty-seven thalers, a loss of only two thalers: they had evidently been a bargain at eighty-nine thalers each (Briefe, p. 237). Horses doubtless fetched higher prices in Paris than in Berlin. Nevertheless, his estimate of 100 thalers for the probable loss on resale (at seventy-five thalers each) on return to Berlin looks a generous one, although he is dealing with a matter which could not be foreseen with any accuracy and would depend on the age and condition of the horses on resale.

Kleist allows that they may need to replace a horse during the journey. The chance of this, he says with inexplicable or tongue-in-cheek certainty, is one in ten. Then he allows one-tenth of the price of two horses, enough to buy one-fifth of a horse! Thus, if, as he suggests, they should allow for replacing a horse, and we assume that one could be acquired for 100 thalers, he omits eighty thalers from his estimate. Would they be fortunate and not need to replace a horse, or perhaps doubly unfortunate and have to replace both? We note that Kleist's application of arithmetic may not always be sound, and we may begin to suspect that he is playing with the expectation that figures guarantee precision and certainty. Is he hinting that some things cannot be known and that therefore no estimate can be a reliable one? This suspicion is strengthened by an examination of the second of his estimates, his costing for posting. There, as we set his statements against the information on distances and costs given in the contemporary travel guide, it becomes increasingly difficult to match his figures with reality.

Kleist calculates the expense of Extrapost as a function of the distance travelled. It is therefore surprising, if we assume that he was intent on maximizing the probable cost of using post horses, that he takes the distance from Berlin to Paris as only 120 Meilen. This is, to the nearest round number, the true distance (as the crow flies) of 121 Meilen. The shortest distance by road from Berlin to Paris, via Koblenz and Trier, was 129 Meilen, but the itinerary which would allow the excursions mentioned in Kleist's letter, to the Brocken and from Mainz by boat to Koblenz and back, is the route from Berlin to Mainz via Brandenburg, Magdeburg, Halberstadt, Goslar, Gottingen, Kassel, and Frankfurt am Main: sixty-five-and-a-half Meilen. (On their real journey, as distinct from this one on paper, Kleist and his sister joined this route at Halberstadt after going to Dresden.) From Mainz to Paris via Metz was eighty-four-and-a-half Meilen. (17) That makes a total of 150 Meilen from Berlin to Paris. With his 120 Meilen Kleist is apparently about to underestimate the cost by twenty-five per cent. In other words, before looking at his other figures and without supposing that they might for various reasons add a detour or two, it seems that his total, even for Extrapost, should not be 300 thalers but 375.

The erroneous distance of 240 Meilen for the return journey provides a number very congenial to calculations in thalers of twenty-four groschen. A further simplification making for ease of arithmetic occurs when Kleist divides the distance into one half, where they would be required to take three horses at an average cost of ten groschen each per Meile, one quarter, where they could take two at that price, and one quarter where they could take two farm horses at six groschen. He has averaged two prices, twelve and eight groschen, to arrive at the cost for three-quarters of the distance. The twelve groschen applies, he says, 'in preuss. Staaten', the eight groschen in France, but what about the other German states? On the route described, the Kleists would leave Prussian territory before they had coffered one quarter of the distance, when passing beyond the bishopric of Halberstadt. It appears that he took ten groschen as the probable price through Hanover and the other states north of the Main, and then eight groschen for the left bank of the Rhine where they would be in French-occupied territory. It appears, too, that he did not know for certain that in France there would be no requirement to take more than two horses. Three horses were, however, indeed required by law for a light carriage with two passengers in Prussia, Hanover and Hessen, that is on most of the route they would traverse between Berlin and Mainz (PRD, pp. 141-42). He perhaps reckoned three horses for three-quarters of the route, including a large stretch in France, because he wanted to maximize the cost of posting and also knew that in Germany, if the road was very bad or if they fell foul of a grasping postmaster, they could be obliged to take a fourth horse offer some stages.

Yet the figure of twelve groschen 'in preuss. Staaten' is problematic. The guidebook dated 1801, but published in 1802, gives the price per Meile as ten groschen in Prussian Brandenburg, and in Hessen too, but twelve in Brunswick and Hanover, in every case recently and temporarily raised from eight (PRD, p. 139). It is difficult to explain how Kleist arrives at twelve groschen for Prussia, except by positing that he had heard rumours of a price increase and that in his disillusionment with the Prussian bureaucracy he was inclined to believe it would be very substantial. His aim was, of course, to arrive at a high total cost for posting.

Kleist states that posting in France costs eight groschen per Meile. He does not say how he knows this, and whether or how he has converted from French currency. When in Paris he was to explain to Karoline von Schlieben in his letter of 18 July 1801 that thirteen louis d'or (312 francs) were worth about eighty-seven Reichsthaler (Briefe, p. 237). Taking one thaler as three francs, sixty centimes, 312 francs are eighty-seven thalers (to the nearest whole number). That rate of three point six francs to the thaler corresponds to the value of the groschen, fifteen centimes, given by an 1807 edition of our travel guide, which also states the cost of hiring a post horse per stage as ten sous, or one-and-a-half francs in the post-revolutionary currency, which translates into ten groschen. (18) Setting the number of stages on the routes between Mainz and Paris, and Strasbourg and Paris, against the respective distances in lieues, and then converting into Meilen, we discover that an average French stage was considerably more than a German mile. The ten groschen per stage therefore quite reasonably becomes Kleist's eight groschen per Meile.

However, Kleist arrives at his total of 300 thalers for posting by supposing that they could cut expenses by hiring farm horses at six groschen per Meile offer part of the route in France that amounted to one quarter of the whole distance. Thus they would save twenty thalers. Whether or not this was a practical proposition, that procedure would not be compatible with the speedy progress that he declares is the advantage of travelling by Extrapost. Perhaps he cunningly supposed that Ulrike, recognizing this, would discount the twenty thalers saving and arrive at a new total that would exceed the 305 thalers he estimated as the cost of travelling with their own horses.

We have already noted that the 300 thalers for posting also include seventy thalers for 'das Biergeld fur Postillione'. That allowance is, Kleist says, a deliberately generous one, large enough to ensure that his final total is not an underestimate. How realistic was this proportion of about thirty per cent of the hire of the horses? In northern Germany the regulation 'tip' was three or four groschen per Meile, about fifteen per cent of the cost of three horses, but those who offered this minimum could expect very poor service. Based on the motto, 'Wer gut schmiert, der fahrt auch gut!', the usual tip was twenty-five per cent, or six groschen per Meile (PRD, pp. 144-45). More was advisable if one suspected the postmaster would attempt to make the traveller hire extra horses unnecessarily. In France the postilion's regulation tip before the Revolution was ten sous per stage, sixteen per cent of the cost of two horses, but generosity was the order of the day there too and by 1807 it was fixed at seventy-five centimes (twenty-five per cent). (19) A good thirty per cent for the journey as a whole was therefore generous, but obviously Kleist's seventy thalers may have been inadequate if his costing for the hire of horses proved to be too low.

Curiously, we might think, Kleist misses the opportunity to increase the total for posting further by not noting that with a servant they would be three passengers and would have to take four horses when in Prussia, Hanover and Hessen (PRD, pp. 141-42). He has clearly not allowed for this, although 'Ein Pferd mehr oder weniger vor einem Wagen, macht auf Reisen gar einen betrachtlichen Unterschied im Kostenaufwand aus' (PRD, p. 129). Using Kleist's own figures of ten groschen per Meile, offer the one half of his supposed route of 120 Meilen, we see that he should be adding another fifty thalers to his estimate. The grand total for Extrapost would then approach 400 thalers.

Any estimate of travel costs is, of course, only an estimate, and the contemporary guide advises that a sensible person will certainly prepare one carefully, but should then add a quarter to the total to allow for any inaccuracy and for the unforeseen (PRD, p. 29). Kleist makes no such adjustment. His mistaken figures for the distance to be coffered and for the cost of post horses in Prussia suggest that his estimate for posting is a very rough guess, but how unreliable was it? This may perhaps be tested by a rough calculation for posting from Berlin to Paris using the guidebook data: return distance 300 Meilen; eight groschen per horse per Meile in France, and (supposing that the increases in Prussia, Brunswick, Hanover and Hessen were operative) eleven groschen (the average of ten and twelve) in Germany west of the Rhine and north of the Main. Such a calculation produces a figure of 365 thalers for posting without a servant, as compared with Kleist's 300; with a servant the difference is even greater, for then the total without accommodation and meals becomes 424 thalers. (20) However, we cannot place too much faith in these figures. The travel guide disconcertingly tells us that in northern Germany mileages are not measured properly and does not say whether it gives distances in standardized 'deutsche Meilen' or in the various local Meilen (see Bruford, p. 332). On posting charges it warns: 'Wahrend des Revolutionskrieges haben diese Preise in manchen Landern eine momentane Erhohung erlitten.' Its preface, dated June 1802, announces that the author is delaying a revision of his Guide des Voyageurs en Europe until times are more settled (PRD, p. 124; preface, p. iii). Nevertheless, the evidence points in one direction: Kleist's estimate for posting is too low. Given that travel with one's own horses was known to be dearer, his estimate for that must be very wrong indeed.

We may, however, assume that Kleist did not think the calculations very meaningful. His estimates presuppose Paris as the destination, yet his plans for the journey were very vague indeed and his letter to Wilhelmine of 9 April suggests that he was reluctant to be tied to any firm itinerary. Is that why it did not occur to him when doing his sums that they could dispense with horses while in the French capital, as they did that August? There is other evidence that he was not committed to heading straight for Paris. Nearly thirty years later Ulrike was to record that when she joined her brother in Berlin he did not know where he wanted to go (Lebensspuren, p. 46, no. 54a). Of course Paris was named in his letter to her of 23 March: 'Mein Wille ist durch Frankreich (Paris), die Schweiz und Deutschland zu reisen' (Briefe, p. 204). Nevertheless, Kleist complained to Wilhelmine that the expectations of others when he said he was going to Paris, the need to explain the purpose of his journey when applying for travel documents, and Ulrike's decision to go with him threatened the very nature of his journey, and he had considered abandoning it altogether (Briefe, p. 209). Circumstances were forcing Paris--'gewiss die merkwurdigste und sehenswurdigste Stadt fur jede Klasse von Reisenden' (PRD, p. 461)--upon him as the main or even sole destination. It is possible that by the time Ulrike arrived in Berlin he regretted having mentioned that city at all. In reality he had no fixed geographical goal. His object was to escape from Berlin in order to find his true self, truth and happiness, the meaning of life, and his role in the world. Perhaps he hoped to recover his earlier convictions formed in the mould of the late Enlightenment. (21) Yet his was to have been a Romantic journey of individual self-discovery; the time and place of its completion could not be predicted. He knew that he could not explain his real motives as almost everyone would think him mad, so he felt obliged to claim a more rational purpose, the pursuit of scholarly studies in Paris. Yet Kleist's love for 'Wissenschaft' had not sustained him during his brief experience of the Prussian 'Manufaktur-Kollegium' and its 'Technische Deputation', which was, he had discovered, concerned not with knowledge itself but with its commercial application. His experience of the civil service had convinced him that he could not commit himself to work except on terms that corresponded to his own notion of his individual purpose in life. However, his vision of that purpose had been destroyed. His reading of 'der neueren sogenannten Kantischen Philosophie' had made him despair of ever attaining 'Bildung' and 'Wahrheit', his only and highest aim in life (Briefe, pp. 199-201). Furthermore, he was now almost convinced that external circumstances, chance or fate ruled his life, and that any plan he made and any decisions he took were pointless. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he treats the estimate of costs as a meaningless task and an unwelcome one. Were not Ulrike's financial considerations dictated by those base demands of prosaic life that he rejected? He sees his projected journey disappearing from view as 'das Schicksal einen Strich durch die Rechnung macht' (Briefe, p. 209). There was for him little consolation in the thought that the 'Rechnung' he prepared for Ulrike would prove similarly unrealistic, but since that was so, he would not waste much time offer it. How could one pretend to foresee what would happen on an extended journey in foreign parts and to predict the costs? In those days that was a very meaningful question, even for those whose plans were clearer than Kleist's.

Travel by ordinary fahrende Post had one advantage: for any journey one paid a fixed and relatively cheap price ascertainable in advance (PRD, p. 118). If one took one's own carriage, the expenses were by no means as certain. Some reasons for this have already been indicated, but there were others. Broken axles and other mishaps were not infrequent. With horses of one's own, much would depend on their fitness. The cost of fodder varied from place to place and from season to season. When posting one could not be sure how often extra horses would be needed or forced upon one, or whether there would be a long wait before horses were produced. Even their availability could not be taken for granted, as one traveller discovered: 'It was the latter end of the harvest, and horses being so busily employed in loading corn, that I could not without difficulty procure any.' (22) In response to travellers' complaints about delays at post houses, the Prussian government found it necessary to issue detailed 'Extrapostverordnungen' in October 1800: horses must be kept prepared at every post house; passengers must be conveyed at certain minimum speeds (from three to five English miles per hour) depending on road conditions; the postilion must not stop unnecessarily (PRD, pp. 141-42). Such edicts (another was promulgated in October 1810, for which see Matthias, 1, 76) were no guarantee that all would proceed as the travellers might wish and that they would not be deceived by a rascally postmaster or postilion. No planned timetable could be adhered to exactly, and every delay brought with it expense. On the other hand, in early 1801 the greater uncertainties created by war were no longer a significant factor. The Peace of Luneville had been signed and everyone expected England too to reach agreement with France. Rampant inflation was no longer a problem in France so there was no reason to fear too many sudden price rises, though no information could be up to date. The existence of the many different currencies in the German states created another problem. The unwary Thomas Holcroft was taken aback to find that 'the silver coin of Hamburg is not the currency of Bremen' (Holcroft, p. 31), and it was a clever man indeed who ensured that, on crossing a border, he had in his pocket no coins which could not be spent in the next state. The French louis d'or and the French ecu of six livres, known in Germany as a Laubthaler, were accepted everywhere, as were several gold and larger silver coins, but postmasters and others took foreign specie 'nach dem coursmassigen Agio' (Matthias, 11, 27). In other words they acted as moneychangers. In such transactions and on presenting a letter of credit to a merchant or banker the traveller would discover that his money was not worth its face value nor its standard equivalent in Reichsthaler. Its current value fluctuated offer time and from one foreign town to another: 'Nach diesem Kurrentfuss galt z. B. vor kurzem der Louisd'or statt 5 thlr zuweilen 5 rthlr 8 gr. in gutem oder Conventions-und 5 rthlr 17-18 gr. in schlechtem oder Currentgelde' (PRD, p. 236). This applied to all gold and silver coins: 'Der Werth dieser Munzen steigt und fallt nach Lokal-Verhaltnissen, und nach dem grossern oder geringern Aufgelde' (PRD, p. 238). These variations were not enormous, but it was not easy to discover what any currency would be worth when exchanged for another. Great caution was advisable. Preferably one should make discreet enquiries on the spot:

Bey dem so bunten und schwankenden deutschen Munzkurs, und dem Steigen und Fallen des Aufgeldes vieler Munzsorten, sollte man sich uberhaupt in jeder Stadt bey unpartheiischen und dabey uninteressirten Personen nach dem Verhaltniss des kursirenden Geldes zu dem bey sich habenden erkundigen. Doch nie verrathe man diese seine Unsicherheit gegen den, welcher wechseln soll. (PRD, p. 210)

Letters of credit were subject to the vagaries of discounts and banker's charges too, as Crabb Robinson soon discovered: 'One thing wch makes everything dear is the loss one suffers by the Exchange. A pound Sterling in the common estimation is worth 11 fflorins or Guldens--But I have received only 10' (Crabb Robinson, p. 58). However, uncertainties about costs and exchange rates would not have prevented every traveller from preparing estimates more meticulously than Kleist did. If, as it seems, he made few enquiries before putting pen to paper, it was because he was disillusioned and depressed.

His letter to Wilhelmine a few days later seems to imply that he wrote to Ulrike on 1 April almost immediately after receiving her announcement of her arrival within three days (Briefe, p. 209). It may be that he had little time to make detailed enquiries on the costs of the proposed journey, yet if he had been determined to present Ulrike with more reliable estimates he could have delivered them to her on her arrival. Instead it seems he was impelled to deal with her query at once and in haste. That haste is reflected in his curt tone, the absence of any tendency to practise literary style, and in the failure to continue the numbering of paragraphs.

A refusal to accept facts as restrictions on the power of creative consciousness was perhaps typical of Kleist. It is certainly to be seen in his reluctance to acknowledge that travel with carriage and horses of one's own was more expensive than posting. The letter may be considered beside other indications that he was not the best person to entrust with financial planning, but it reveals something of his attitude to figures too. Here he parades a facility in reckoning which might persuade Ulrike, impressed by this apparent arithmetical prowess, that he had the necessary data at hand and was dealing seriously and dependably with facts. To him, the effect rather than the substance of the figures was paramount. (23) Significantly, he has a character in his drama Die Familie Schroffenstein (1.1.128-29) comment on the persuasive force of statements that are 'leichtfasslich, unzweideutig, Wie eine runde Zahl'. His awareness of that power in figures was expressed in 1809 in his attack on its abuse in the French press ('Lehrbuch der franzosischen Journalistik'). I have noted elsewhere that in 1810 Kleist used facts and figures with wilful carelessness and advanced some mathematical nonsense for purposes of his own, in particular to mock those who lacked the imagination to see that factual and scientific accuracy and a political or poetic vision were different things. Yet it is because he believed that, at a higher level, they need not be different that his fascination with possible analogies between the physical world and the world of the spirit led him into dangerous waters. (24) It is such an analogy, where the physical factor is represented by the parallel postulate of classical geometry, that is invoked when Kleist asks the readers of his 'Uber das Marionettentheater' to imagine human consciousness progressing until it passes through infinity and returns to prelapsarian grace. He is wondering whether the supposition that the physical world and the moral universe were subject to one set of rules could point to a higher reality, and thus to a possibility of discovering and recreating a universal harmony. The letter of 1801 operates on the very different level of simple arithmetic and offers no prospect that an imaginative application of mathematical logic might solve an existential problem. Yet, whether or not we assume that its dating marks it as an Aprilscherz (whose black humour would hardly have amused his sister), this letter may be seen as a distant relative of the later essay. In both, an escape from an imperfect reality is linked with a playful and unscientific application of mathematics.

(1) See Heinz Ide, Der junge Kleist (Wurzburg: Holzner, 1961), p. 12.

(2) Roger Ayrault, Heinrich von Kleist (Paris: Nizet & Bastard, 1934), p. 34.

(3) Otto Brahm, Heinrich von Kleist, 2nd edn. (Berlin: Allgemeiner Verein fur Deutsche Literatur, 1885), p. 54.

(4) Heinrich von Kleist, Werke und Briefe in vier Banden, ed. by Siegfried Streller (Berlin: Aufbau, 1978), IV, 554. Henceforth Briefe.

(5) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. by J. Shawcross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 11, 168.

(6) H. A. O. Reichard, Der Passagier auf der Reise in Deutschland und einigen angranzenden Landern (Weimar: Godicke, 1801), pp. 117-18 (henceforth PRD).

(7) Thomas Holcroft, Travels from Hamburg, through Westphalia, Holland and the Netherlands, to Paris, 2 vols (London: R. Philips, 1804), 11, 499.

(8) 'Damm-, Brucken-, Geleits-, Chaussee-, und Wegezolle', 'Schlagbaum-, Thor und Sperrgeld', 'Wagenmeistergeld', 'Schmiergeld': see Wilhelm Heinrich Matthias, Darstellung des Postwesens in den Koniglich Preussischen Staaten, 2 vols (Berlin: Dieterici, 1812), 11, 26, 30, 32.

(9) Kenneth R. Johnston, The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy (New York: Norton, 1998), p. 654.

(10) Crabb Robinson in Germany 1800-1805. Extracts from his Correspondence, ed. by Edith J. Morley (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), pp. 78, 178-79. I have, like Morley, taken the thaler to be worth 3s 6d.

(11) Five thalers = 1 Friedrichd'or. I have ignored, as Kleist seems to have done, the distinction between the Reichsthaler, a 'purely imaginary' unit 'generally made use of in keeping their accounts' (Anon, A Tour through Germany. Containing Full Directions for Travelling in that Interesting Country (London: C. & G. Kearsley, [?1805]), p. 4), and the Prussian thaler, although the Friedrichd'or was worth a little more than its nominal value of five 'rixdollars'(see Briefe, p. 583, note on Kleist's letter of 26 Aug. 1800).

(12) Helmut Sembdner, Heinrich von Kleists Lebensspuren, 5th revised edn (Frankfurt a.M.: Insel, 1984), no. 58, p. 48.

(13) 1 [pounds sterling] 10s was a typical servant's wage; see W. H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century. The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 331.

(14) W. von Hassell, Das Kurfurstentum Hannover vom Baseler Frieden bis zur preussischen Occupation im Jahre 1806 (Hannover: Carl Meyer, 1894), p. 340.

(15) Arthur Young, Travels in France and Italy during the years 1787, 1788 and 1789 (London: Dent, 1915), pp. 54, 102, 151; Letters of Dorothy Wordsworth: A Selection, ed. by Alan G. Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), pp. 35, 36; Crabb Robinson in Germany, p. 16.

(16) On the brief Prussian occupation of Hanover in 1801 see Hassell, pp. 38-49.

(17) Reichard, PRD, 3rd edn (Berlin: Godicke, 1806), p. 309, and his Guide des Voyageurs en Europe, 2nd edn (Paris: Langlois, 1807), I, XIX, II, 60; the distances for the various sections are given in the itineraries and tables in this Guide. French lieues have been converted using the formula given there (I, viii): 25 lieues are 15 Meilen. The mileages may also with greater difficulty be discovered from F. L. Gusselfeld, Postcharte von Deutschland/Carte itineraire de l'Allemagne (Weimar: Verlag des geogr. Instituts, 1811) which serves as Atlas Portatif et Itineraire de l'Europe pour servir d'intelligence au Guide des Voyageurs par Mr Reichard.

(18) Reichard, Guide des Voyageurs en Europe, 1, 51, 11, 160.

(19) PRD, p. 168; Guide des Voyageurs en Europe, 1, 144. In the France of 1801 the old duodecimal system ran alongside the new decimal system. The franc of 100 centimes was for practical purposes identical in value with the old livre of twenty sous. There were twenty-four livres or francs in a louis d'or; napoleons of twenty and forty francs were introduced in 1804.

(20) One hundred and thirty M (Berlin-Mainz-Berlin) with 3 horses at 11 gr.: 4290 gr.; plus 170 M with 2 horses at 8 gr.: 2720 gr. = 7010 gr.; plus postilions' tips at 25%: 8762 gr. = 365 thalers. With servant: fourth horse offer 130 M: 59 thalers; total 424 thalers.

(21) See Hans Joachim Kreutzer, Die dichterische Entwicklung Heinrichs von Kleist (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1968), pp. 49-76.

(22) J. G. Seume, A Tour through Part of Germany, Poland, Russia, Denmark etc. during the Summer of 1805, translated from the German (London: R. Philips, 1807), p. 101.

(23) Compare Kreutzer, p. 62: 'Er fragt auch nicht, ob ein Satz wahr oder falsch ist, sondern er fragt nach seiner Wirkung.'

(24) See my 'Heinrich von Kleist's Report on Heligoland', German Life and Letters, 51 (1998), 431-42, and 'Hot Air offer Berlin. Kleist, Balloon Flight and Politics', Colloquia Germanica, 31 (1998), 37-53.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Modern Humanities Research Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hibberd, John
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Date:Apr 1, 2001
Previous Article:Postmodernism, history and social critique in post-dictatorship Argentine cinema: a reading of Eliseo Subiela's 'El lado oscuro del corazon'.
Next Article:'Wahrhaft das Sacrament': Hofmannsthal's 'Der Schwierige' and the sacrament of matrimony.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |