Saturday 31 January 2015


The Viennese newspaper, Neue Freie Presse, had a daily column bringing its readers up to date on the little things that matter. First, naturally, readers wanted to know
  • What the empress was up to: She was staying in balmy Biarritz till the end of the year. Other members of the royal family apparently preferred Nice, where they stayed at the Hotel des Anglais, in case you are wondering. Next item:
  • Promotions: No doubt you will be interested to know that Hygienic Assistant Dr. Lidemann was promoted Hygienic Concipist, whatever that is. Good for him, I say.
  • Conferences: Representatives of European railroads met and agreed on a train schedule for the summer. Whew, just in time to plan the 1897 summer holiday. Also, they gave out freebies to conference participants: leather briefcases, containing a map and a tourist guide of Vienna.
  • An appeal to the German-Austrian Bicycle club, warning them of “the imminent danger of the club being drawn into partisan politics and its dangerous divisive effects.”
  • A plug for giving the Cross of the Legion of Honour to the actress Sarah Bernard. The president very diplomatically “expressed his admiration for the artist but made no promises.” The columnist of the newspaper, however, noted that
  • Women are not well represented in the ranks of those decorated with the Cross. Only a handful had been honoured so far, but to give the honour to Sarah Bernard! Next thing, less talented actresses will want a Cross too and might get it on account of having friends in high places. “And we know how many friends the ladies in the arts have if they are beautiful. Then the Cross of Honour would turn into a prize for beauty.(Source: Neue Freie Presse,  11 December 1896)

Thursday 29 January 2015


Here is a mixed list. ADP= admirably put, NSAD = not so admirable, CMUM = can’t make up my mind

NSAD. After pressuring Angelika Bijur to marry the mentally ill Horace Fink to keep him from having a nervous breakdown, he warned her “not to repeat to strangers that he advised her to marry…It gives them a false idea of the kind of advice that is compatible with analysis.” It certainly does!
ADP. No one can keep a secret. If their lips are silent, they chatter with their fingertips. Betrayal oozes out of every pore.
CMUM. A psychoanalyst should imitate the surgeon, put aside his feeling, even his human sympathy, and concentrate his mental forces on the single aim of performing as skillfully as possible.
NSAD. To his fiancée and later wife: “I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump. And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a little girl who doesn’t eat enough or a big strong man with cocaine in his body.
NSAD. I have borne my fiancée not grudge for her interruption of my work.
NSAD. After having to retract his molestation theory: "The expectation of eternal fame was so beautiful!"
ADP. It is quite impossible to adjust the claims of the sexual instincts to the demands of civilization.
Source: P. Kramer, Freud. Inventor of the Modern Mind. Kramer comes down on the positive side. Freud, he says,  was “brilliant, self-aware, kindly, patient, intuitive, brave, fierce, vigorous, and imperturbable” -- the very model of a modern man.

Sunday 25 January 2015


Alfred Nobel met Sophie when she worked in a flower shop in Baden, near Vienna. She was his lover for some fifteen years until she got pregnant by another man. Nobel, who perhaps felt responsible for having seduced her and accustomed her to a luxurious life, stayed in touch. In his will he left Sophie an annuity of about $ 150,000 (6,000 florins) a year – not quite as much as she had hoped!  Here is one of her many long, unpunctuated begging letters. Although she was of Jewish descent herself, she did not refrain from anti-Semitic remarks.

Dear Alfred, It is very bitter to have to talk of money, because I am being treated like a common whore, especially by that common, nasty Jew who is known all over Vienna and whom you would find an arrogant and vulgar dog, if I judge you correctly, so I have to tell you that I am quite determined to marry and if you want to pension me off, dear Alfred, I beg you to give me 200,000 florins, then you have the assurance that I and my child are looked after and can make ends meet, you can invest the money with a bank, so that I get only the interest, it would in any case only be 8000 florins, how one would make economies, considering how I have lived so far, it would mean setting all luxury aside. But I will gladly do it because it is better to be dead than to lead a life like this, and I will show up that vulgar Jew. I curse him and his children right to the grave. Today I heard that you don’t agree with my travelling to Budapest, I have to go there, I can’t marry here, and I can’t remain unmarried and live alone with my child, I don’t want that, I want to be a decent woman in future and not exposed to such hangmen, to suffer indignities, I am going to bare my teeth to that miserable fellow. You hired him, I suppose, to pay the woman who lived with you for fourteen years, not to insult me, I find that quite ignoble and everyone I tell my story will think the same.
Dear Alfred, you are in a pretty situation, entrusting yourself to them, that can’t bring anyone luck to treat a helpless woman like that. Nor do I think it was your intention to have me treated like a whore. I cried so much, and God will avenge me, believe you me!
What I have suffered over the last three weeks is indescribable! Yes, I have done wrong, but even so I’m not the worst or a vulgar woman, no one can say that who knows me, but to surrender me to that vulgar Jew that’s a sin, I didn’t deserve that, I have wasted my whole youth and must be glad now that the Captain marries me, although I would deserve a more loving husband. No one wants a wife who has been the mistress of another and lived with him for so long, believe you me.  That is why you must be reasonable and not so hard on me.

(Source: Correspondence between Hess and Nobel, my translation)

Thursday 22 January 2015

Beatrice Cenci -- from Nobel's collection

Alas, no. But if there was a prize, Alfred Nobel made the qualifications clear:
  • Without decency and human dignity a woman cannot be a true wife or mother. Okay, we won’t quarrel about that, but if dignity is such a big deal, why does he call his lover my little toad and signs his letters Your grouchy-bear?
  • The ideal woman will keep busy.  Female craziness…has no other reason than a lack of occupation or a lack of company.  Hmm. And male craziness?
  • Nobel never married, perhaps because he couldn’t find anyone who sweetened a man’s life, as a woman should do. A woman, however, should marry and become a good wife and fulfil the purpose of her life.
  • First and foremost, women should be sensitive. The secret of winning hearts is in the ability to understand the feelings and aspirations of others.
  • Of course the ideal woman should be educated. I don’t demand perfect all-round education, I’m not even partial to that, but I don’t want to be embarrassed by every word a lady utters…At the first public display of vulgarity, I’m off.
  • In a word, the ideal woman must be reasonable and forget stupid nonsense. On this point, however, Nobel can’t quite make up his mind. Be a dear good little toad, he writes to his mistress, and be reasonable. Well, you and reasonable! That idea makes me laugh. The nice thing about you is the complete absence of reason. 
Next post (Sunday): How the "little toad" treated her "grouchy-bear.' I'm surprised Nobel didn't turn into a complete misogynist.
(Source: Nobel’s correspondence, my translation. For more quotes see Kenne Fant, Alfred Nobel: A Biography)

Sunday 18 January 2015


This ad ran in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, November 1922:

Distinguished widower, Isr., in his forties, in independent reputable position, good character, altruistic, feeling lonely in his free time, longs for honourable connection with an independent, cultured, and selfless lady of natural beauty, medium height, full-figured, handsome, with beautiful teeth. Financial situation and religious affiliation unimportant, but absolute beauty, grace, and sensitivity are essential. If our characters harmonize, and we feel mutual sympathy and true affection, a future marriage is not excl., but as a decided aesthete I am so demanding that I will only consider a lady who has, without exception, all the above mentioned traits and virtues. It is not enough if she thinks she is beautiful. She has to be beautiful. Send replies under “Therefore examine  24465” to the editorial offices.

OMG, that’s so me: beautiful, gracious, and sensitive! Too bad I wasn’t around in 1922.
Wonder how the aesthetic gentleman made out?
Karl Kraus comments: Let’s hope she isn’t too critical and will accept him even if he doesn’t have beautiful teeth.

(Source: Karl Kraus, Die Fackel, Nov 1922; my trans) 

Thursday 15 January 2015


Some people said the Boston merchant Robert Keayne got his estate by unjust dealing and wronging of others.  A court fined him for unfair business practices. Whatever. Other people did not think highly of him, but he made up for it by thinking highly of himself.

In his will Keayne left money to build a Town House comprising a market place, court room, gallery, library, granary and armory.

As for the library, he got it off to a good start with some writings of his own: 3 great writing books which are intended as an exposition or interpretation of the whole Bible. Right. We all know that the Bible is the all-time bestseller. Besides, as he said: All these books are written with my own hand. And that’s gotta be worth something.

In fact, one of his manuscripts was so valuable that he couldn’t leave it to the public library. He left it to his son, hoping that he would appreciate its value. It was a commentary on I Corinthians, a little thin pocket book bound in leather, all written with my own hand which I esteem more precious than gold and which I have read over, I think, 100 times.

Then there were the books and manuscripts which he had marked with diverse leaves turned down thick in them. They are only such choice places which I intended to transcribe, but didn’t get around to. I should be glad if some ingenious young scholar that hath a good, legible hand and a ready and willing mind that delights in writing and reading were requested to do this work.

Keayne also planned on leaving money for the purpose of teaching Indians to write and read and to learn the English tongue…and also that some of our scholars or young students might be encouraged to study and learn the Indian tongue (so that they could convert them to Christianity), but alas a certain Mr. Eliot disgruntled him by trying to run things his own way, and so Keayne cancelled that bequest.

There. Let that be a lesson to people like Mr. Eliot, lest by too much stiffness to have their own will and way, they hinder many good works.

(Source: The Apologia of Robert Keayne, ed. B. Bailyn)

Sunday 11 January 2015


Here is why you should read poetry:
The poet makes things better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew…The world is made of brass. The poets deliver only gold.
Some people don’t see the filthiness of evil. They need it spelled out in the great foil of comic verse. Then they’ll perceive the beauty of virtue.
Poetry is the mother of lies, you say? Come on now, the poet never maketh any circles around your imagination to conjure you to believe for true what he writes. He citeth no authorities. The poet’s persons and doings are but pictures of what should be.
But, you say, poetry infects us with many pestilent desires. No, it’s your pestilent mind that's at fault. It’s not that poetry abuseth man’s wit, but that man’s wit abuseth poetry. – Poetry is full of virtue-breeding delightfulness.
But of course you can’t appreciate poetry if you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry.

(Source:Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. F.G. Robinson)

Thursday 8 January 2015


You don’t have time to read Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion? OK, here are the most quotable tidbits.

To maintain our civilization we are obliged to do many things we don’t particularly like to do: (a) work, (b) listen to reason. You see, the problem is:
Humans are not spontaneously fond of work.
And arguments are useless against passions.
But eventually we get used to the demands of civilization: Coercion gradually becomes internalized and the super-ego takes over.
Art could console us, but unfortunately it remains inaccessible to the masses who are engaged in exhausting work.
Legalizing theft would also help. What a string of satisfactions life could be, if you could help yourself to your neighbour’s assets! Until he takes yours. So maybe civilization is preferable.
Civilization has little to fear from educated people and intellectuals. It’s the uneducated masses that endanger it. As long as they have religion, they are kept in check by the fear of Hell, Freud says, but invariably they will begin to doubt the existence of God – even if this piece of writing of mine is not published.

Great stuff, eh? Memorize it, and you’ll be the light of the next party.

Saturday 3 January 2015

IS THIS FOR REAL? 1922 experiment to dye the roots of beech trees.

What the…?  I came across this bit in Karl Kraus’ Die Fackel, November 1922.

A few days ago… a lumber company demonstrated a method to dye trees to the Saxon state minister Buck and a number of invited guests. In that context the reader may be interested to know that a similar process is already being used…near the city of Uslar. Several hundred square meters of a beech wood have been fenced off. A container with red and blue dye is attached to each tree. The dye is conducted to the roots through a rubber hose, using electricity. From the roots the dye spreads to the outermost branches, even as far as the leaves. A sizeable trunk will be completely dyed in about four weeks up to a height of 28 meters. At that point it dies and is cut up. Most of the wood will be used for the manufacture of furniture.

Tell me it ain’t so. But it was. The information can also be found in The Children’s Newspaper, Oct 14 1922. Great stuff to tell your children!