Supplementary Appendix 12.1

Rudolf Ischer, Johann Georg Zimmermann’s Leben und Werke. Litterarhistorische Studie (Bern 1893), 151–52, 319–22

Ischer explains in Johann Georg Zimmermann’s Leben und Werke, 151–52:

He [Zimmermann] acquired a new friend during this period [1776] in the person of the natural scientist De Luc, who was currently in the service of the English and was spending several weeks in Hannover but who had to return to London on 16 December [1776]. Zimmermann carried on an intimate correspondence for many years with De Luc, whom in a letter to Lavater he called a “man of angelic goodness,” “stoic self-denial,” and “Herculean strength.”

Indeed it was on De Luc’s account that several years later (1779) Zimmermann became involved in a literary dispute with Kästner. Zimmermann himself initiated the attack by asserting in an anecdote published in the Hannoversches Magazin that the “Gottschedians” loved Kästner because he occasionally took pot shots at respectable men whom they themselves did not dare attack.

Zimmermann’s anecdote, “Liebe für Kästnern [Love for Kästner],” Hannoverisches Magazin (1779) 39 (Friday, 14 May 1779), 613–14, read as follows:

Love for Kästner

Our Gottschedians love Kästner because he occasionally takes pot shots at respectable men whom the Gottschedians themselves are too spineless to needle. I, too, love Kästner. But I love him because in one of his writings I found perhaps the most sublime notion a human being has ever conceived. “It is certainly not a matter of indifference,” Kästner says, “if I view the starry heavens as an alley with lanterns, or if I understand that the tiniest object I see there is myriad times larger than the earth — and he who made all that, and governs it, hears my prayer.”

Ischer continues in recounting the dispute:

Kästner demanded an explanation, and Zimmermann adduced as one such respectable man whom Kästner had assailed precisely De Luc, whose book Kästner had not reviewed particularly favorably in the Göttinger Gelehrte Anzeigen. Kästner dismissed this charge, and an unpleasant literary feud ignited whose details we will discuss in part two.

In part two, 319–22, Ischer continues:

. . . he [Zimmermann] could also get personal even when he was in fact not in the right, for example, in his behavior toward Kästner, which drew him into a literary feud with the well-known epigrammatist. We touched on the occasion for this feud earlier. One recalls that an essay in the Hannoversches Magazin with the title “Liebe für Kästner” provided the point of departure, since in it Zimmermann had maintained that the “Gottschedians” loved Kästner because he occasionally took pot shots at respectable men.

Kästner demanded a more specific explanation, to which Zimmermann responded, in his own name, that the name of the Gottschedians was Legion [Mark 5:8–9 (NRSV): “For he (Jesus) had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.'”] and that the quite respectable man whom Kästner had attacked was De Luc. . . .

Kästner’s challenge and Zimmermann’s response were published in the Hannoverisisches Magazin at the end of issue 41. The editors simultaneously declared the matter closed as far as the magazine was concerned.

Kästner, however, was of a different opinion. He directed a “missive” to Zimmermann on 29 May 1779, first rejecting as a bad joke the assertion that the name of the Gottschedians was Legion. Gottsched, so Kästner, had already lain at rest for so long that his name simply no longer provided occasion for farce. He rejected the charge that he had attacked De Luc, saying that many of the essays in the magazine were too inferior even for a collector of vade mecum, and finally demanding, with an allusion to Zimmermann’s poor health, that he should in the future sign such essays as “Zimmermann in doloribus scripsit,” an allusion to the painting of Friedrich Wilhelm I.

Zimmermann in his own turn responded with a twenty-four-page flyer on 28 October 1779. He began with a plea for forgiveness for having remained silent for so long, praised Kästner’s merits, and said he was pained to hear that students no longer considered it worth their while to attend Kästner’s lectures, and that he was similarly sorry to hear that the students were bringing back merely epigrams from Göttingen rather than a knowledge of mathematics.

He then continued, “A declaration of love I publicly expressed to you was the cause of our dispute.” He mocks the “grand vizier” tone of voice in which Kästner demanded that his query be published in the magazine, then asserts that Kästner’s entire anger was prompted by the misuse of Gottsched’s name.

Kästner, he says, was accustomed to “supplying a kick in the derrière with epigrams.” He then accuses him of carrying on disputes with Röderer, Schlözer, and Hollmann, three Göttingen professors. He then again brings up Kästner’s review of De Luc’s Lettres physiques et morales sur les montagnes et sur l’histoire de la terre et de l’homme: adressées a la Reine de la Grand-Bretagne [Switzerland 1778; 2nd ed. 1779], charging him with attacking De Luc in an epigram, and then cites one of the latter’s letters in which De Luc asks him to abandon the dispute. Then he asks with respect to his own essays why Kästner “cried out so pitifully” when, after all, all he found in those essays was the joke of a Göttingen schoolboy.

Finally, he reproaches Kästner’s (admittedly indelicate) allusion to his, Zimmermann’s, illness. “If I may entreat you, please never make fun of someone else’s illness.” No longer, he says, will he respond to Kästner’s responses. “Trumpet as much as you like,” he writes, “today people will bark approval at all your noisiness, and tomorrow they will yawn at all your malice.” With these words Zimmermann abandoned the feud.

Kästner, however, was not yet satisfied. He answered in January 1780 with a rather extensive flyer, An Herrn Hofrath und Leibmedicus Zimmermann (Altenburg 1780), which can be summarized quickly. It is nearly twice as long as Zimmermann’s last rejoinder and relatively moderate. First he defends himself against what Zimmermann alleges to have heard concerning students, rejects the charge of his “grand-vizier” tone of voice, and, since Zimmermann brought up the subject of epigrams, adduces those addressing Zimmermann himself to demonstrate that they were rather harmless in any case [e.g., “My, but does this physician ever threaten / To write me into a state of illness and even to death! / Yet quite healthy and very much alive will I remain / If he but refrain from prescribing a remedy!”].

He then addresses in detail the old disputes with Röderer, Hollmann, and Schlözer, pointing out that he had in the meantime completely reconciled with Röderer, indeed had even delivered his eulogy as Röderer himself explicitly requested before his death. By contrast, Hollmann was genuinely in the wrong, whereas he, Kästner, had long been on good terms with Schlözer again. Hence all these old references were in truth empty.

He similarly adduces the epigram about De Luc, saying that no one, not even De Luc himself, had given it as distorted an interpretation as had Zimmermann. Kästner points out as an aside that he had since become personally acquainted with De Luc, and that Zimmermann seemed to be paying little attention to his friend’s own requests by not following De Luc’s request. And that was that.

The dispute was now extinguished, Zimmermann himself remaining true to his declaration not to respond, though the result was that general opinion held him to be the vanquished party in the whole affair. It might be pointed out that Zimmermann’s irritability and hot temper doomed him to come up short against Kästner’s cold-blooded, calculating personality. The dispute as such, however, did not particularly commend Zimmermann, and Kästner thenceforth remained his irreconcilable enemy.

Translation © 2011 Doug Stott