The traveller as Landschaftsmaler: industrial labour and landscape aesthetics in Johanna Schopenhauer's travel writing.
This article explores Johanna Schopenhauer's problematic inclusion of industrial labour in the landscape scenes described in her Reise durch England and Schottland. It first discusses the role of staffage in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century landscape aesthetics. Then it focuses on how Johanna Schopenhauer locates and describes the labouring poor in her landscapes, how these figures respond beneath her authorial gaze, and which rhetorical strategies she uses to mobilize readerly sympathy towards them.
In the preface to her novel Gabriele, completed in 1819, Johanna Schopenhauer cast a critical glance over her publications thus far. These largely comprised accounts of her travels to England and Scotland, to the Netherlands, Paris, and southern France and along the Rhine. The scenes depicted in them were, according to her summary:
Abbildungen nach der Natur, mit moglichster Wahrheit wiedergegeben, wie ich sie auffasste. Ich mochte sie Landschaftsgemalde nennen, auf denen ich mich bemuhte, jeden treu kopierten Gegenstand genau an den Platz hinzustellen, wo er in der Wirklichkeit sich befindet, indem ich mich wohl huthete, den Regeln der Gruppirung oder dem Zauber des Effekts das kleinste Opfer zu bringen. (1)
At first sight, these comments serve to reinforce that claim to authentic, accurate observation and description which travel writers had conventionally been making for the past hundred years or more. But Schopenhauer's concern to represent natural scenery 'mit moglichster Wahrheit' also meant that she chose to engage directly with one highly problematic aspect in the representation of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century landscape: the encroachment upon it of industry and industrial labour.
Recent studies have explored Schopenhauer's position within the aesthetic programme of the Weimarer Kunstfreunde, whose Preisaufgaben and periodical, the Propylaen, were devoted to the propagation of an overtly neo-classical doctrine. (2) They have explored her ambiguous self-positioning in relation to the aesthetics of Weimar Classicism and its concept of the autonomy of art, and the place that her travel writing occupies between the empirical accounts characteristic of travel in the Enlightenment and a classicist orthodoxy. This essay argues, however, that her treatment of accessory figures ('staffage') in the landscape, in particular the labouring poor, marks a clear shift away from classical aesthetic ideals that has hitherto been overlooked. A detailed reading of her travel account of Britain, the Reise durch England and Schottland (1813), aims to demonstrate firstly why, according to the aesthetic theories current at the time, the inclusion of industrial labour in landscape scenes was so problematic. It then explores the reasons for which she deliberately chose to invest such interest in these figures and asks how both moral and social constraints on the depiction of the labouring poor affected her aesthetic representation of them. (3)
While she is best remembered as the author of Gabriele, Schopenhauer made her debut not as a writer of literature but as an art critic. Her avid interest in art appreciation, which was already apparent in early articles on contemporaries such as Gerhard von Kugelgen and Caspar David Friedrich, would later develop into the artistic sensitivities displayed in her detailed study of Dutch and Flemish painting, Johann van Eyck and seine Nachfolger (1822). Famous habitues of her Weimar salon while she was compiling her travelogue on Britain included most notably Goethe, but also Heinrich Meyer, director of the Weimar drawing academy, Caroline Bardua, the highly successful portrait and history painter, and the aesthetician Carl Ludwig Fernow. Fernow was one of the closest of Schopenhauer's friends; after his death in 1808 she compiled his biography, not only to discharge her duties as a friend, but also to cancel his debts with his publisher Cotta. In his collection of essays known as the Ro'mische Studien (1806-08) inspired by his prolonged stay in Rome in the 1790s, Fernow included an essay which was one of the most detailed treatises on landscape aesthetics to that date. Thus, the Teegesellschaften held on Thursday and Sunday nights at Schopenhauer's house in Weimar brought together arguably the greatest artistic minds of that time in any of the German states. (4)
Goethe, Fernow, and many like them had been attracted by the form and the light of the Italian countryside. They saw the Italianate scenes by Nicolas Poussin or Claude Lorrain as the embodiment of a classical Arcadian vision, which gave the sense of an ordered, seemingly static and stable, world in which man and nature were at one. However, as the eighteenth century drew to a close, it was increasingly the landscape of Britain that caught the imagination of German travellers. It lured those in search of views that recalled Salvator Rosa's violent depictions of rugged, wild scenery which positively revelled in nature's imperfections. (5) William Gilpin's travel accounts, widely read in German translation, stimulated a vogue for 'picturesque' travel that encouraged the appreciation not just of the wild beauty of Wales and the Lake District, but also of the sublime splendour of Derbyshire. By the third quarter of the century, the lofty crags and gloomy caves of the Peak District in particular had become one of the finest painting grounds for British landscape artists. The works of writers such as Arthur Young and Thomas Gray also expressed a new interest in the barren, mountainous landscape of Derbyshire. In travel narratives on Britain, Karl Philipp Moritz had, as early as 1783, enthralled German armchair travellers with the sublimely terrible caves at Matlock.
But German interest in Britain was not stimulated solely by its topographical delights: rapid scientific and technological advances in England had motivated Germans to travel since the 1750s. To the industrialist, Britain signified progress in the form of Matthew Boulton's Soho tool factory, Erasmus Darwin's and James Watt's steam engine, and Richard Arkwright's spinning jenny. Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, Johanna's merchant husband, set an itinerary which included a tour of the Midlands precisely because it allowed them to visit the mines, furnaces, and rolling mills of Britain's industrial heartland. Indeed, Johanna Schopenhauer herself did not describe her meeting with Boulton at his Soho factory in anything other than the liveliest and most positive of terms. Particularly towards the end of the eighteenth century, the representation of Britain in German travel accounts therefore seemed to undergo something of a tug-of-war: between being depicted as a country of glowing furnaces and steaming engines, or as a picturesque landscape celebrating a rural culture that refused to accommodate the realities of the industrial world. While in European painting manual labour or industry had never played any significant part, English artists appropriated this theme in a way that produced thought-provoking, if not highly dramatic, results. Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Night 0782-83), by Joseph Wright of Derby, showed that the influence of industry on landscape could be benign and unthreatening, if industrial features were introduced into the picture using a sense of scale which kept in check their influence on the landscape. However, not all depictions of the British industrial scene were quite so untroubled. Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg's Coalbrookdale by Night (1801) reproduced the blast furnace as an infernal apocalyptic scene. The incorporation of factories and industrial labour into the landscape was therefore potentially problematic, but the entry of mine, mill, and factory workers into the aesthetic domain raised still more difficult issues about the relationship between the artist and the labouring poor, which addressed complex notions of sympathy and of social criticism.
This article is divided into three sections. The first sketches the climate of German landscape aesthetics at the time that Johanna Schopenhauer was compiling her travelogue on England and Scotland. It focuses in particular on the contribution of Goethe and Fernow to landscape aesthetics and the use of staffage figures, but also explores the wider repercussions of the Ramdohrstreit and the criticism of Caspar David Friedrich's early works on landscape painting. The second section explores Johanna Schopenhauer's description of industrial labour in the English countryside, taking instances from her treatment of mineworkers and twine-spinners in Derbyshire, notably in the Castleton area. It asks why she chose to include these figures in her descriptions and how, rhetorically, they enabled her to construct a more three-dimensional picture of these scenes. The final section offers a comparison of the way in which previous English and German painters and travellers had represented this area, assessing how the representational strategies in Schopenhauer's account diverged from the norm, thereby recording in new and different ways her experience of the foreign.
Goethe, both a practitioner of and a commentator on landscape painting, never seriously questioned the absolute pre-eminence of classical art. Particularly throughout the period of the Preisaufgaben (1799-1805), the classical ideal became the yardstick by which he measured excellence in the arts, acting as a bulwark against the rising tide of Romantic influences such as dilettantism and extreme emotionalism. Two aspects of his theoretical work on art are of particular relevance here: his discussion of the conception of 'Wahrheit' and attendant issues of accuracy in landscape depiction, and the role which he accorded to figures in landscape scenes.
Goethe's essay 'Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, Stil', generally considered to be a manifesto for the central tenets of the Weimarer Kunstfreunde, was first published in Der Teutsche Merkur in February 1789. It focused on the extent to which art could and should be imitative, by looking at three different aspects of the depiction of nature: its 'simple' imitation, representations of it which have 'manner', and those which have 'style'. The simple imitation of nature, performed with superlative mastery, as Goethe noted, by the Dutch flower and fruit painters Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch, was a form of depiction limited in subject matter and scope. Nevertheless, its practitioners could still achieve 'eine hohe Vollkommenheit' by approaching the representation of art in this way. (6) Those artists who chose to sacrifice the detailed particularity of such an approach could do so by inventing their own method and language to express their subject matter, giving it a characteristic form. Although the manner in which an artist portrayed a scene meant that objects were grouped together so that a sense of harmony was created, this method relied on composition according to superficial appearance. The highest level which the artist could achieve was that of 'style', based on an understanding of the essence of things, 'insofern es uns erlaubt 1st es in sichtbaren and greiflichen Gestalten zu erkennen' (p. 227). Goethe placed the notion of simple imitation 'im Vorhofe des Stils' (p. 229) since by careful and calm reflection, and by subsuming individual objects under general concepts, it had the potential to cross the boundary to that higher, more noble, activity of producing a painting with 'style' (p. 229).
What kind of 'truth' was the artist therefore aiming to achieve in his depiction of natural scenes? Written as a dialogue between a spectator and his friend, the essay 'Wahrheit and Wahrscheinlichkeit der Kunstwerke' (1798) (7) elaborated on Goethe's exploration of notions of faithfulness and accuracy in landscape painting. Here he argued that the truth of nature ('das Naturwahre') and the truth of art ('das Kunstwahre') were two discrete entities (p. 504). The artist should in no way attempt to give his work the appearance of nature: indeed, this would debase his very artistry (p. 506). The truth of art was to be found in 'eine innere Wahrheit, die aus der Konsequenz eines Kunstwerks entspringt' (p. 504). It relied on the appreciation of the work of art as a microcosm, in which everything within it was subject to its own laws and judged according to its own terms. A perfect and complete picture was what the artist should seek to give, in accordance with a mind harmoniously developed and formed.
These processes of selection and composition which Goethe described evidently did not propound a realism of the kind glimpsed in Schopenhauer's textual description of labouring figures in the landscape. What significance did figures peopling a landscape scene hold for Goethe? In a short essay, 'Etwas fiber Staffage landschaftlicher Darstellung', published in the Propylaen (1800), he argued that the inclusion of historical or mythological characters in landscape was altogether difficult 'well sie die Aufmerksamkeit, vom Ganzen ab, auf sick ziehen'. In so doing, they disturbed the balance of the painting. (8) They pointed to issues that lay outside it and were therefore not inherent in the landscape before the viewer's eye. While less illustrious individuals could people a landscape, it was vital that 'Figuren womit Landschaften staffiert werden nicht als Hauptsache, sondern als untergeordnete Dinge zu betrachten sind' (p. 790). Human figures should therefore not dominate a natural scene but should rather be seen to blend into the landscape. Examples of the appropriate use of staffage might, he proposed, be the inclusion of fishermen on the banks of rivers and lakes or cattle grazing under trees (ibid.).
Goethe's short essay 'Ruysdael als Dichter' (1816) (9) gives his clearest signal regarding the significance that should be ascribed to staffage in a landscape setting. His description of Ruisdael's Ruined Monastery by a River touches briefly on the men herding cattle, the shepherds and the travellers in the picture. Their movement through the shallow water, recorded in the gentle ripples, adds to the painting's charm (p. 634). But what particularly intrigued observers, Goethe suggested, was the draughtsman in the foreground sitting with his back towards them. This figure was not the 'so oft missbrauchte Staffage' but rather someone whom they beheld 'mit Ruhrung hier am Platze so bedeutend als wirksam'. He was, Goethe suggested, Ruisdael himself:
Er sitzt hier als Betrachter, als Reprasentant von Allen, welche das Bild kunftig beschauen werden, welche sich mit ihm in die Betrachtung der Vergangenheit and Gegenwart, die sich so lieblich durch einander webt, gern vertiefen mogen. (p. 635)
Unlike the fisherman and the herders who were going about their business, this small, but key, foreground figure was, like the spectator, taking stock of the scene. He thus occupied a liminal position between being in the scene and observing it. By considering this draughtsman representative of all future spectators, Goethe implied that as we beheld the painting, we implicitly projected ourselves into this figure, who acted as our entry point into the scene. He served as a surrogate beholder in the picture for the observer outside the painting. Through this agent we allowed ourselves to enter into the world of the painting, disregarding the fact that it might not be topographically accurate, and appreciating it precisely because it represented the 'Kunstwahre'.
Carl Ludwig Fernow opened his essay on landscape painting in the Romische Studien by distinguishing between 'Prospektmalerei' and the 'Darstellung idealischer Naturscenen'. (10) This tension was likewise between the mechanical imitation of nature and a more essential, poetic representation of landscape. While in itself no ideal of a beautiful scene existed, Fernow argued, the artist could compose ideal landscapes by selecting from the store of images he held in his own imagination, each containing separate elements faithful to their own natural character. Thus he could arrive at a representation of a natural landscape that remained true to nature and like it and yet at the same time avoided being a slavish and uninspired copy of it. Fernow also emphasized that his response to the scene he was representing was of paramount importance in re-creating it effectively. To evoke a certain aesthetic mood in the viewer, he must have been in a similar frame of mind himself: 'die Saiten, die der Kunstler in uns harmonisch ruhren will, mussen in seinem eigenen Gemuthe harmonisch getont haben' (p. 21). Landscape painting should therefore not only aim to 'transport' the viewer to the same spot where the artist had set up his easel. In making the ultimate claim to the comprehensive representation of experience, it argued for both the spatial and the affective elision of artist and viewer.
In his attempts to raise the status of landscape art, Fernow was forced to concede that historical paintings potentially carried greater interest for the heart and mind because of the drama inherent in them. Nevertheless, as vivid as they might be, their audience 'nehmen [...] an ihrer Handlung doch immer nut als Zuschauer Theil' (p. 21). Where viewers could therefore only ever appreciate historical canvasses from a respectful distance, landscape painting permitted far greater involvement in the scene:
Eine schone Landschaft dagegen ladet uns durch ihre Anmuth ein, selbst in ihren Grunden zu wandeln, durch ihre reizenden Fernen zu schweifen, in ihren kuhlen Schatten auszuruhen. Wir sind nicht mehr blosse Zuschauer; wit befinden uns selbst in der Naturscene, die she uns darstellt. (ibid.)
In favouring the observer's absorption into the landscape, Fernow categorically rejected the notion of distanced spectatorship. This promoted the commanding 'prospect view' that empowered the observer to look out across and down into the landscape rather than situate himself in it. Fernow, by contrast, advocated a far more intimate relationship between the viewing subject and the natural landscape. Indeed, it was one so close that in what he proposed, the boundaries began to blur between the landscape artist being external observer and being the subject of his own brush.
Having emphasized the importance of landscape as a genre, the main thrust of Fernow's argument in 'Uber die Landschaftmalerei' turned to staffage. In landscape painting sensu stricto, human figures should never rise in status from being merely accessory details in the landscape to form the focal point of the action:
Es giebt abet ein Verhaltnis der Figuren zur Landschaft, wo jene aufhoren, Staffirung zu seyn, and wo these Scene and Fond ihrer Handlung wird. Zu diesem Verhaltnisse darf es in der Landschaftmalerei nie kommen, weil Gemalde der Art aufhoren warden, Landschaften zu seyn. Menschliche Figuren interessiren schon durch sich selbst mehr, als landschaftliche Gegenstande, besonders wenn sie durch ihre Bedeutsamkeit oder durch ihr Handeln noch ein besonderes Interesse erhalten. (p. 9'7)
Since figures in a scene were intrinsically more interesting than features in the landscape, they had to be used with caution: they could all too easily draw the eye away from the natural scenery which had been the central focus of the painting. However, a landscape which showed a delightful but unpopulated scene without any trace of human habitation would also be dissatisfying:
so wird eine Landschaft bedeutender, ihr Karakter wird bestimmter, ihr Inhalt reicher and poetischer, ihr Eindruck klarer and befriedigender, mit einem Worte: die Darstellung einer idealischen Naturscene wird asthetisch-interessanter, wenn sie, wie die wirkliche Natur, als ein Aufenthalt lebender Wesen erscheint; wenn sie durch Menschen and Thiere, durch Kunstprodukte der Kultur, durch interessante Ereignisse and Auftritte belebt wird. (pp. 31-32)
Natural landscape still remained a place of (limited) human activity which gave the scene added aesthetic value. Goethe always maintained that a landscape should be peopled with figures, however insignificant. However, Fernow went further than Goethe in stressing the importance of narrative within landscape painting. He more readily acknowledged the value of human figures in constructing meaning in scenic description.
These essays by Goethe and Fernow kept the debate on landscape painting and staffage quietly rolling during the opening years of the nineteenth century. By the end of the first decade, however, an impassioned debate suddenly erupted which was to jolt ideas about landscape painting onto a very different course. This debate was prompted by the exhibition of Caspar David Friedrich's Das Kreuz im Gebirge at Christmas 1808. It depicted a metallic crucifix reflecting the rays of the setting sun, surrounded by ivy and evergreen foliage, standing on the summit of a hill. The frame itself was equally emblematic, with the Eye of God painted in the centre and references to the Eucharist made at either side. A simple landscape had now been transformed into an altarpiece. This horrified Friedrich Wilhelm Basilius von Ramdohr, a Dresden critic of pronounced conservative taste, who wasted little time in launching an offensive against it in the Zeitung fur die elegante Welt in January of the following year. Ramdohr posited an ideal of landscape painting that was based upon principles derived from artists with a canonical status such as Poussin and Claude. Polemicizing as much against Friedrich's composition as against the use of landscape to represent religious allegory, Ramdohr essentially compared Friedrich's work with examples of 'good' (classical) landscape painting, and inevitably judged it sadly wanting. A group of other artists, including Gerhard von Kugelgen, Christian August Semler and Ferdinand Hartmann, rallied to Friedrich's defence and made the debate as much about the radical novelty of Friedrich's painting as about the nature and role of art criticism in that period. Kugelgen's query was simple: 'Warum soll nun Herr Friedrich nicht nach seiner Idee, nach seinem Gefuhl, welches man doch erkennt, auch die aussere Form auf seine Weise bilden durfen?' (11) More pointedly, he asked, 'Wenn nun die Alten es auch immer beim alten gelassen hatter, ware die Kunst darn fortgeschritten?' Johanna Schopenhauer, commenting on Der Monch am Meer (1808-09) and Die Abtei im Eichwald (1810), likewise defended Friedrich on the basis that genius had the right to tread a unique path. (12) The Ramdohrstreit therefore represented a confrontation between a normative classical aesthetics in which the artist should strive towards beauty and harmony in accordance with clearly defined notions of judgement and taste, and a subjective approach that emphasized a painting's impression on the individual viewer's senses and heart, that would signal the transition to Romanticism.
If William Gilpin had enthused about the 'sublime and wonderful scenes' in the vales around Matlock in Derbyshire, the 'wild scenes of the Peak' were a landscape, he noted bluntly, that he 'left without regret'. (13) But the wild desolation, the giant rocky outcrops, the eerie caverns, mines, and caves of the area around Castleton in North Derbyshire were a major attraction. Above all, those of a more Romantic persuasion willingly fell victim to the tourist trap that the show caves at Castleton had already become by the late 1780s. The Peak Cavern, with its vast entrance set in a gorge beneath the ruins of Peveril Castle, was a particular favourite. Its chambers led down into a series of galleries and an underground canal tunnel which had been excavated by lead miners in the 1770s. (14) The Blue John Cavern had passages leading into inlets where Blue John fluorspar continued to be mined to the end of the eighteenth century, to feed the fashion for fluorspar vases and ornaments. Tree Cliff Cavern, within the same cave system, led to an inner series of caves profusely decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. It was also the geological singularity of the location--the limestone was rich in fossil specimens of aquatic animals--that in particular drew more cool-headed scientists such as Joseph Banks ('discoverer' of Fingal's Cave) and Alexander von Humboldt to explore the richness of its depths.
In her description of Derbyshire scenery in the Reise durch England and Schottland, Johanna Schopenhauer placed the initial emphasis on the sublime power of the natural setting, the 'kuhne uberhangende gleichsam drohende Felsen', to which Kant had referred: (15)
Ein enges, schauerliches Thal empfieng uns: kein Baum, keiner Spur von Vegetation, nur nackte and steile Felsen, zwischen denen wir uns angstlich hindurchwinden mussten, die jeden Augenblick den Weg zu versperren schienen. (16)
The scene was constructed in such a way that the reader was not, to use Fernow's expression, a 'blosser Zuschauer'. It was also invested with a dynamism that drew readers into the landscape as it gradually unfolded around them, rather than formally presenting a scene in beautiful stasis. The rhetoric of the sublime that implicitly evoked the negative pleasure of terror invited the reader to empathize with the danger felt by the travellers. It mobilized a series of emotions that reinforced the inferiority of the aesthetic subject in the face of nature: the fear instilled in the travellers as they traced a route between the steep-sided cliff faces that threatened to halt their progress, the solitude, the austerity of the sheer drops of rock with no trace of vegetation to soften their harshness.
As they travelled on, leaving imposing factory buildings behind them, they entered a landscape bereft of human habitation which lacked the harmony of natural beauty:
Zu Anfange sahen wit noch zwischen durch ansehnliche Fabrikgebaude von grossem Umfange; auch these verschwanden. Wir durchreisten jetzt die traurigste, odeste, schauerlichste Gegend in England, die Bleiminen von Derbyshire. (p. 191)
Wild, desolate, and terrible, this landscape seemed to embody those features which characterized paintings by Salvator Rosa. But Schopenhauer was not content to focus solely on scenery. Impressive though the natural phenomena of this area were, on her 1canvas' she would not permit the human figures inhabiting it to be rendered insignificant, as was so often the case in pictures which sought to emphasize the aesthetic impact of the scenery. Instead, she allows Castleton's impressive scenery to fade into the background, making it a backdrop for groups of workers who are sketched in as occupying the foreground:
Es waren deren unzahlige von allen Seiten zu sehen, zwischen durch die armlichsten, aus Feldsteinen aufgethurmten Hutten, vor ihnen langsam wandelnde bleiche Gestalten, Bewohner dieser Oede, von der schrecklichen Arbeit in den Bleiminen entkraftet. (ibid.)
Her landscape description is not composed as one free of human interest. Wraith-like figures move to and fro in the foreground, placing themselves at the centre of the observer's attention. These pale spectres who drift back and forth before her gaze are more than mere staffage figures suitably located to emphasize the awesome grandeur of the scene: they imbue it with a sense of narrative. Their exploitation by the mining industry is inscribed upon their bodies, rendering them 'bleiche Gestalten', dehumanized, sapped of their energies by industry and by the mine.
As the travellers progress into the mouth of the Peak Cavern, Schopenhauer's concern switches back to the natural singularity of the location:
Vor der Wolbung hangen ungeheure, bizarr geformte Tropfsteine; wildes Gestrauch rankt dazwischen, Epheu umwindet she and flattert in leichten Kranzen datum her. Felsenstucke hangen herab, Untergang drohend dem Haupte dessen, der vorwitzig in die Geheimnisse der Unterwelt dringen will. (p. 192)
Using description that seems to draw heavily on the visual vocabulary of the Gothic novel, she already forewarns the reader that they are entering an 'Unterwelt' that seems governed by different laws. As they walk into the first cavern itself, once again it is less the sublime natural surroundings that catch Schopenhauer's eye than the figures of women and children, members of a group of twine-spinners who live underground:
Wir traten in die Hohle; die dunkle Nacht ward dem allmahlich sich daran gewohnenden Auge zur Dammerung. Bald unterschieden wir daran eine Menge Weiber and Kinder, amsig spinnend, die armlichsten Gestalten, welche die Phantasie nur erdenken kann. Gnomen gleich hoc ken sie in dieser kalten feuchten Dunkelheit and fristen kummerlich ihr armes Leben; [...] Dies ist die unterirdische Stadt, von der mancher Reisende gefabelt hat. (pp. 192-93)
The scene is not constructed as a static landscape. The reader must wait for the traveller's eyes to grow accustomed to the gloom in the interior of the caves, in order to make out the figures as they loom up out of the darkness. These gnome-like, deformed creatures could not be further from the classical beauties of Claude Lorrain or the pastoral fresh-faced labourers in a landscape by Aelbert Cuyp. Like the wraith-like figures who work in the lead mines, there is something eerie, if not grotesque, about them. Their presence deliberately jars, disturbing any sense of harmony between man and nature. But here the darker side of the industrial revolution is punctuated by moments of extraordinary empathy with individuals working in what Schopenhauer clearly implies are inhumane conditions. The inhabitants of the 'underworld' survive in the cold, damp darkness that is so obviously the converse of the sunlit warmth of the environment in which they should naturally be living. These 'armlichste Gestalten' are described in a way that evinces an urgent concern with the material conditions of existence of the poor in England. In locating these figures within the landscape, she refuses to uncouple aesthetic value from practical use by inserting them into some sterile, bucolic tableau. Her barbed criticism of previous travellers who exploited the drama of the scene, while turning a blind eye to the realities of social inequality, likewise challenges conventional scenic tourism.
Schopenhauer's description of the workers is more than earnest criticism of the plight of industrial labour. It is a calculated attempt to evoke in the reader a sense of sympathy with these figures, to draw readers into the scene by calling on their powers of imagination to project themselves into the figures of the workers. This construction of an affective bond between the spectator and the worker explicitly queries the social and moral justification for the spinners to be labouring under such conditions. But her critique is, paradoxically, tempered in the same breath by the rhetoric of her gaze. The workers do not look back at her and respond. They are not singled out for individual treatment, they are not given names or family histories. The identity assigned to them remains that determined by their profession. They are kept collectively anonymous, at a certain emotional distance.
Once the spinners apprehend that the travellers are there, they surround them, begging vociferously. At this point, the social dynamics of the scene change drastically:
Ungestum bettelnd umgaben sie uns, sowie sie uns gewahrten; wir waren froh, nach dem Rate der Wirtin in Castleton, eine Menge Kupfergeld eingesteckt zu haben, um uns loszukaufen. [...] Die Warme der Hohle im Winter, die ein eigentliches Hans entbehrlich macht, der kleine Gewinn, den die neugierigen Fremden ihnen gewahren, besonders abet die Freiheit von Angaben, welche nut auf der Oberwelt, im Sonnenlichte gefordert werden, bewegt these Armen, eine so unfreundliche Wohnung zu wahlen. (P. 193)
The nature of the affective involvement changes with it. Where before, the travellers were presented as active spectators looking upon passive workers, now the subject of their gaze rounds upon them clamouring for money. Here, as it becomes clear that the travellers have the wherewithal to offer charity, notions of affective identification break down and spectator and worker being observed withdraw to socially defined roles. At this point Schopenhauer appears to make an affective volte-face as these positions crystallize. The cave which the spinners inhabit, previously dark and dank, is now warm enough to serve adequately as a home; the few pennies they gain by begging or by showing visitors round the caves are now income on which they avoid paying the necessary dues.
This seemingly abrupt withdrawal of emotional investment by the author in the scene is related to the highly complex series of codes according to which sympathy operates. Sympathy is essentially a form of affective transport that momentarily transcends social distance. It works on the assumption that social distinctions are momentarily suspended and that spectators consider themselves to be on the same level as the suffering subject they observe. The moment of virtual, or actual, bodily contact as the labourers surround the travellers to beg seems to catalyse a shift in perception and representation on Schopenhauer's part. It is as if she is jolted out of her role as painter of this 'cameo', stepping back from the scene to assume once again her position as a travel writer and as a woman making the (albeit rather unwilling) gesture of charity. A play of proximity and distance is at work in these descriptions which culminates in her acceptance of that polarity between the 'Fremder' and the 'Autochtonen' which Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling had alluded to in his Philosophie der Kunst (1802):
In dem angenommenen Fall, wo die Landschaftsmalerei ihre Schildereien mit Menschen belebt, muss dock eine Nothwendigkeit in ihr Verhaltniss zu denselben gebracht werden. [...] Die Menschenmussen daher entweder als gleichsam auf der Stelle gewachsen, als Autochtonen geschildert werden, oder she mussen auch durch die im Verhaltniss zu der Landschaft fremde Art ihres Wesens, Aussehens, ja selbst der Bekleidung, als Fremde, als Wanderer dargestellt werden. (17)
This he had seen as a key difference to be underlined in establishing the relationship of figures in scenic description to the landscape itself. Its application to Schopenhauer's landscape composition raises the question of just who is 'fremd' and who 'autochton' in this scene. The miners are portrayed as carrying out work that seems so unnatural that it is almost they who are the 'strange' forces fighting nature, while it is Schopenhauer, the scenic traveller, who is--elsewhere at least--seeking unity with the natural world. Then again, it is the practicalities of financial 'Nothwendigkeit' that force these 'armlichste Gestalten' into this distorted relationship with their environment. Material necessity locates them, unwilling subjects, within the landscape. Their spectator, by contrast, is the free spirit, the 'Wanderer', who is not shackled by demeaning labour at the service of money. This distinction between 'formd' and 'autochton' here demarcates boundaries of authority, rather than simply of belonging, which demonstrate the partiality (an implicit negation of disinterest) of the spectator and her account.
How had other travellers viewed the same scene and in what way was Schopenhauer's approach so very different? In his Tour through Different Parts of England, Scotland and Wales, made in 1778, Richard Joseph Sulivan described the Peak's Hole thus:
Being arrived at the entrance, which is forty-two feet high, and one hundred and twenty feet wide, the attention is caught by cottages scattered up and down in this dark abode, and a multitude of women and children spinning at wheels. (18)
While he did not choose to ignore the spinners, he offered a dispassionate account of these workers at the mouth of the cave. Karl Philipp Moritz's narrative of his journey through England some twenty years earlier referred only in passing to the community of spinners living underground, describing them as 'vergnugt and frohlich', since the day on which he visited was a Sunday and they could play with their children in front of their huts. (19)
The Reverend Richard Warner's account, A Tour through the Northern Counties of England, and the Borders of Scotland (1802), showed greater sensitivity to the peculiarity of the combination of manufacturing and nature that was being carried out in the cave:
At the foot of that [a dark and gloomy precipice] to the right is seen a gulph forty-two feet high, a hundred and twenty wide, and about ninety deep, formed by a depressed arch of great regularity. Here a singular combination is produced-human habitations and manufacturing machines (the appendages of some twine-makers, who have fixed their residence within this cavern) blending with the sublime features of the natural scenery. (20)
He still referred to the mathematical dimensions of the cave to convey scientifically a sense of its size. But he also concentrated specifically on the twine-spinners for just one moment, acknowledging the strangeness of the combination of industry and nature. Warner's final remark that the twine-spinners blend well into the sublimity of the cave surrounding does not seem entirely consonant with his initial assessment of the scene as 'singular'. Underneath his controlled description lies an awkwardness, a sense that these spinners are out of place, but no real attempt is made to identify with their condition.
Perhaps the most relevant visual and dramatic rendering of the Peak Cavern that bears similarity to Schopenhauer's account is that of the stage designer, painter, faith healer, and bibliophile Philippe Jacques (or James) de Loutherbourg. In 1778 de Loutherbourg made a series of sketching trips to Derbyshire and Kent which were to become the basis not only for theatre scenery but also for paintings. His importance for this discussion of the representation of Castleton and in particular the Peak Cavern is twofold. Firstly, the Cavern features in one of the scenes of his play The Wonders of Derbyshire, first performed in Drury Lane in 1779. Secondly, an aquatint of Peak's Hole was reproduced in The Romantic and Picturesque Scenery of England and Wales (1805), a series of paintings accompanied by short textual descriptions recording a selection of sites of interest or beauty. Schopenhauer certainly did not witness the theatrical performances (she first set foot on British soil in 1787). Nor is there any hard evidence to show that Goethe, for all his interest in stage design and scenery, knew of de Loutherbourg's ground-breaking work. It is possible, but not demonstrable, that Schopenhauer saw the aquatint in the collection published in the year that she left England. We can therefore only draw parallels between de Loutherbourg's forms of representation and hers. Nevertheless, a comparison between these two approaches is useful in helping us to understand more about the way in which Schopenhauer conceived of the mine scene and the figures occupying it.
When, on 8 January 1779, David Garrick's Drury Lane Theatre held the opening night of the pantomime The Wonders of Derbyshire; or, Harlequin in the Peak, it met with a tumultuous reception. Nothing quite like it had been seen in British theatre. It was, the Morning Chronicle enthused, 'in the truest sense of the words, a wonderful work, and superior to any thing the stage has presented to the publick eye'. (21) The play, which included scenes from Chatsworth, Dove-Dale, the lead mines, and the Peak Cavern, became a staple of the Drury Lane repertoire in the 1780s. A curious London audience had certainly been kept on tenterhooks awaiting the opening night of this play, which was delayed on several occasions because the costly scenery took seven months to complete. (22) Two things were technically ground-breaking about the stage sets: firstly, the use of a whole series of 'flats', or pieces supported by braces placed on the stage, which broke up the scene into a series of small elements, thus enhancing its depth and distance and adding a greater sense of perspective; and secondly, the reform in lighting, which enabled more subtle transitions to take place which could broaden the range of effects.
As a maquette of his stage set of the scene depicting the Peak Cavern demonstrates, the cave walls and ceiling were constructed in such a way as to frame the action presented on stage. As such, it offered a unified whole, reinforcing the notion that this was the explicit creation of a natural scene in which the effects were carefully studied and arranged as in the work of a painter or landscape gardener. (23) The arrangement of the flats also meant the construction of theatrical space in a way that demanded a new relationship between the actor and the scenery. Where opera had called for close interaction between the performer and the setting because of its emphasis on spectacle, in pre-Romantic drama scenery was very much kept 'in its place' by performer and stage architect. The performers on stage and the scenery were now more closely integrated in a symbiotic relationship. If de Loutherbourg could ally painting and scenery in his radically different scenic vision of the Peak Cavern, Schopenhauer allied painting and textual description in travel writing in order likewise to aim at attaining the three-dimensional representation of this scene in the mind of the reader. Once she had placed the labourers in front of the backdrop she had previously sketched in, her description also took on the character of a performing painting, a lebendes Bild. Seeing the workers in these terms goes some way to understanding why it was that she found it so startling that they should beg. These figures, held by the spectator's gaze as if they were within a painting, stepped out of the 'frame' as they came to demand money, becoming alarmingly mobile against the wishes of the beholder.
The tension between light and darkness was exploited by de Loutherbourg to great effect in his paintings. The theatrical performances which he oversaw were no exception. His Eidophusikon, a miniature stage which moved its scenery by means of pulleys and produced the illusion of changing sky effects by a moving backcloth lit from behind, demonstrated the range of visual effects possible with different types of coloured lighting. The stage set of the cave at Castleton had been broken up into a series of two-dimensional planes which were carefully illuminated in such a way that they merged into each other to give a sense of three- dimensionality, and without casting a shadow on the plane behind. (24) In the aquatint of the Peak, as Rudiger Joppien points out (p. 221), the viewer's gaze is drawn into the interior of the cave because the walls of the cave are structured in greater detail. This is primarily brought about by the play of light and shadow on the individual surfaces of rock. In Schopenhauer's scene, the concern is less with the natural surroundings than with the figures. Here, light and shadow are used to allow the figures to loom up out of the darkness. As 'spectators' of this scene, 'our' eyes acclimatize only gradually: 'die dunkle Nacht ward dem allmahlich sich daran gewohnenden Auge zur Dammerung'. (25) The sense of movement in this scene comes not only from the figures who people it, but also from the play with light and lack of light, which echoes the moment in modern theatre where the house lights dim and the figures on stage are illuminated. Thus Schopenhauer's textual description of the twine-spinners in the Peak Cavern appears to borrow from the theatre in its attempt to construct for the reader a vital, dynamic, and also sympathetic picture of the labouring poor in England.
In the Reise durch England and Schottland Schopenhauer was therefore concerned to describe the British landscape in terms which railed against the potentially more trivial nature of picturesque tourism. Her work challenged in particular the tenets of disinterested contemplation and the independence of the aesthetic domain from moral, political, or utilitarian concerns and activities that had hitherto characterized German aesthetic discourse. If Goethe, Fernow, and Ramdohr sought to create works of art which propounded classical ideals of beauty and harmony, Schopenhauer was concerned precisely to show that man and nature were not at one. In the interests of industry, the relationship between labouring figures and their natural environment had become exploitative, energy-sapping, dehumanizing. Nature and its representation in the landscape aesthetics to which she subscribes therefore came to be suffused with a certain moral and social criticism, making it a site of ideological conflict. Schopenhauer endeavoured to draw the reader into the scene by the construction of an affective, 'interested' bond between the spectator and the workers being observed. A feeling of sympathy with them was constructed according to the notion that we should be able to project ourselves into the same space that they occupied. We would thus sense at greater proximity the harshness of the environment in which they lived and worked, losing, if only momentarily, the notion that there was a dividing line between observer and observed. While Johanna Schopenhauer's response to the needs of the figures in the landscape was not unambiguous, she nevertheless insisted on the acknowledgement in landscape aesthetics of the harsher realities of the industrial world.
The author wishes to thank Margaret Rose, Joachim Whaley, and Wim Wemans for their detailed readings and comments on earlier versions of this text.
(1) Johanna Schopenhauer, Gabriele, 3 vols (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1821), 1, Vorwort (unpaginated).
(2) See Anke Gilleir, Johanna Schopenhauer and die Weimarer Klassik: Betrachtungen fiber die Selbstpositionierung weiblichen Schreibens (Hildesheim: Olms, 2000), esp. pp. 107-78, and her earlier article 'Tussen burgerlijkheid en esthetiek: de reisverhalen van Johanna Schopenhauer', Feit en fictie, 4 (1998), 75-90.
(3) See John Barrell, The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 17301840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).
(4) As Schopenhauer herself boasted to her son Arthur in a letter of 28 November 1806, 'Der Zirkel, der sich Sonntags and Donnerstags um mich versammelt, hat wohl in Deutschland and nirgends seines Gleichen; konnte ich dich doch nur einmahlherzaubern!' (Die Schopenhauers: Der Familienbriefwechsel von Adele, Arthur, Heinrich Floris und yohanna Schopenhauer, ed. by Ludger Lutkehaus (Zurich: Haffmans Verlag, 1991), p. 123).
(5) See John Dixon Hunt, The Figure in the Landscape: Poetry, Painting, and Gardening during the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), esp. Chapter v, 'The Landscape of Sensibility', pp. 196-245.
(6) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Asthetische Schriften 1771-2805, Samtliche Werke, ed. by Friedmar Apel [hereafter DKV], 40 vols (Frankfurt a.M.: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1998), I: 18, pp. 225-29 (p. 226).
(7) Ibid., pp. 501-07.
(8) Ibid., pp 789-91 (p. 789)
(9) DKV I: 19, pp 632-36.
(10) Carl Ludwig Fernow, 'Uber die Landschaftmalerei', Romische Studien, 3 vols (Zurich: H. Gessner, 1806-08), II (1806), pp. 11-130 (p. 12).
(11) Bemerkungen eines Kunstlers fiber die Kritik des Kammerherm von Ramdohr, ein von Herrn Friedrich ausgestelltes Bild betreffend', Zeitung fur die elegante Welt, 49 (10 March 1809), repr. in Caspar David Friedrich in Briefen and Bekenntnisse, ed. by Sigrid Hinz (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1968), pp. 175-77 (p. 175).
(12) 'Uber Gerhard von Kugelgen and Friedrich in Dresden', Journal des Luxus and der Moden, November 1810, pp. 682-93.
(13) William Gilpin, Observations, Relative Chi fly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, on Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland, 2 vols (London: R. Blamire, 1786), II, 225.
(14) Trevor D. Ford, 'Speleogenesis: The Evolution of the Castleton Caves', Geology Today, 12 (1996), 101-09.
(15) Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790), in Werke, ed. by E. Cassirer, II vols (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1973), v, 271-568 (p. 333)
(16) Johanna Schopenhauer, Reise durch England und Schottland, in Sammtliche Schriften, 24 vols (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1830-31), xv (1830), 190-91.
(17) Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Philosophie der Kunst, in Sammtliche Werke, 14 vols (Stuttgart and Augsburg: Cotta, 1856-61), v: 1 (1859), 355-736 (P 546).
(18) Richard Joseph Sulivan, Tour through Different Parts of England, Scotland, and Wales, in The British Tourists; or, Traveller's Pocket Companion through England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Comprehending the Most Celebrated Tours in the British Islands, ed. by William Mavor, 6 vols (London: Newbery, 1798), III, 1-152 (p. 102).
(19) Karl Philipp Moritz, Reisen eines Deutschen in England im Jahr 1782, in Werke, ed. by Horst Gunther, 3 vols (Frankfurta. M.: Insel, 1993), II, 101.
(20) Richard Warner, A Tour through the Northern Counties of England, and the Borders of Scotland, 2 vols (London: G. and J. Robinson, 1802), 1, 167.
(21) Morning Chronicle, 9 January 1779.
(22) See Rudiger Joppien, 'Die Szenenbilder Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourgs: Eine Untersuchung zu ihrer Stellung zwischen Malerei and Theater' (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cologne, 1972), esp. pp. 209-23.
(23) See Christopher Baugh, 'Philippe James de Loutherbourg and the Early Pictorial Theatre: Some Aspects of its Cultural Context', in The Theatrical Space, ed. by James Redmond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 99-128 (p. 110).
(24) Joppien, 'Die Szenenbilder Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourgs', p. 118.
(25) Schopenhauer, Reise durch England and Schottland, p. 192.
ALISON E. MARTIN
CHRIST'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
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|Author:||Martin, Alison E.|
|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2004|
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