Supplementary Appendix: Friedrich August Eschen

Friedrich August Eschen [*]

I. Concerning the locales and even the location of Eschen’s monument and grave (see below), see H. Keller, Reisecharte der Schweiz. Carte routière de la Suisse (1819):


II. Josef Hamel seems to provide the most detailed account of Eschen’s death: [1]

The Tragic Death of Herr Eschen
in an Ice Crevasse on Mont Buet

On 6 August 1800, Herr Eschen, known for his translation of Horace’s odes, undertook a journey from Servoz to Mont Buet [3096 m in the Giffre Massif] accompanied by his friend Zimschen and a guide hired out arbitrarily in [the commune] Chamonix[-Mont Blanc].

[Mont Blanc: (1) frontispiece to John Auldjo, Narrative of an Ascent to the Summit of Mont Blanc, on the eighth and ninth of August, 1827, 2nd ed. (London 1830); (2) Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1810; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung]:



They spent the night in a shepherd’s hut in the Villy Valley. Early on the morning of the 7th, they had already advanced quite far up the glacier when they saw two chamoix hunters resting on the summit. Herr Eschen, seized by that inexplicable sensation one feels at such a high altitude, hastened his steps that he might arrive more quickly among the hunters, when suddenly his companions, following close behind, no longer saw him.

[Friedrich Steger, ed., Edward Whympher’s Berg- und Gletscherfahrten in den Alpen in den Jahren 1860 bis 1869 (Braunschweig 1872), 107]:


The snow beneath him, masking a crevasse, had collapsed beneath his feet, and he had plunged into the crevasse.

[Friedrich Steger, Edward Whympher’s Berg- und Gletscherfahrten, plate following p. 142]:


After his friend and guide had spent quite some time calling out futilely into the abyss, whose bottom they could in any case not discern, they were forced to leave the locale and return to Servoz, where Herr Zimschen hired the guide Marie Deville to find and bury his friend’s body if possible.

On the 8th, the prefect of the Lemans Department, Count von Eymar, on his way from Geneva to Chamonix, chanced to pass through the village Servoz accompanied by Professor [Marc-Auguste] Pictet. Along the way they had met Herr Zimschen, albeit without knowing who he was, who was on his way to Geneva, and had noticed his reflective, crestfallen countenance. Once the prefect had been informed of the accident, he officially charged Deville with losing not another moment before taking along the requisite number of men and the necessary equipment on a search and to report the results of these efforts immediately.

When the prefect and Herr Pictet returned to Servoz from Chamonix on the 12th, the corpse had just been brought back. Deville gave the following account of his expedition. Having had a large iron hook forged and having secured the necessary ropes, and accompanied by his two sons, Johann Claude and Bernard, and the German innkeeper Joseph Ettle, he had journeyed to Mont Buet.

[The Strubel Glacier in the Canton of Bern, in Gottlieb Sigmund Gruner, Reisen durch die merkwürdigsten Gegenden Helvetians, vol. 1 (London 1778), plate following p. 190; note the collapsed ice field]:


They arrived at the glacier at dawn after having journeyed through the night. Not far from the summit, near the slate hut constructed during Herr Professor Pictet’s journey (which guides call “Pictet’s Castle”), where the accident had allegedly occurred, they did indeed find signs of a crevasse hidden by snow — but no opening.

[A similar crevasse: Friedrich Steger, Edward Whympher’s Berg- und Gletscherfahrten, plate following p. 334]:


Only after hours of searching did Deville discover an opening of two square feet, though he could not see the bottom. A stone tethered to a rope, serving as a probe, seemed to touch a foreign body at a depth of a bit more than 100 feet. Although the hook they lowered would not catch, it did chance to bring up some hair, whereupon Deville’s son Bernard suggested that he be lowered into the crevasse by rope.

Once he was hanging at a depth in the increasingly narrow crevasse where the walls were hardly 8 inches apart, he was able to touch the corpse’s head with a 5-foot rod beneath him; but because he himself was so tightly constricted that he could hardly move, he had to be pulled back up. Repeated attempts with the hook yielded little more than shreds of clothing and a hat. Night approached, it was cold, and the team soaked, so they turned back to the huts at Villy, arriving toward 10:00 in the evening.

After discussing what was to be done, they decided to return to the glacier at daybreak, this time with several pieces of wood and several ropes from the huts. They constructed a kind of winch over the opening by means of which Deville (the father) was lowered into the crevasse, though he got no farther than his son. Having taken along a hatchet with a short handle, he tried to enlarge the passage downward to the side of the cadaver lest the ice shavings cover it. He eventually reached the deceased’s belt; he tried to move the body, but in vain, since it was wedged tightly between the crevasse walls.

He carved away the ice around it and eventually genuinely did succeed in freeing at least the upper torso enough to tie a rope around the arms. The deceased man was standing upright in the crevasse, his arms raised upward, his face turned toward his left shoulder. He was frozen stiff.

Deville called up for his companions to try to lift the body, but it would not budge. So he continued to hack away the ice round about the body, and it was only after three more hours that he finished this difficult task. Having first had himself pulled up, he finally also had the others pull up the corpse itself, toward 5:00 in the afternoon.

[A climber whose end was similar to that of Eschen: Friedrich Steger, ed., Edward Whympher’s Berg- und Gletscherfahrten, 500; note that climbers regularly wore essentially normal clothes on such climbs):


In the deceased’s pockets they found 78 francs, the volume of [Horace-Bénédict de] Saussure’s Journeys containing a description of Mont Buet, the beginning of a letter to the deceased’s father, and his passport, which read: Friedrich August Eschen, born in Eutin in the bishopric of Lübeck, 23 years old. They fashioned a kind of sled from the pieces of wood they had brought along and pulled the body up to the edge of the glacier.

Then the Deville brothers, one after the other, carried it on their shoulders as far as the Villy shepherds’ huts, where they did not arrive until 10:00 that evening. After resting for an hour, they loaded the deceased on an ass and arrived in Servoz between 5:00 and 6:00 the next morning. Mr. Deville’s younger son, Bernard, was so exhausted that he had to remain behind in the hut; his father was also completely exhausted.

The prefect and Herr Pictet tried to determine through an examination of the cadaver whether the unfortunate man had suffered long after his fall. Three of his ribs were broken, and his chest bone severely bent inward. Even his watch was crushed flat. All this was the result of his more than 100-foot fall into the crevasse that was increasingly more narrow and wedge-shaped toward the bottom. His facial features were not distorted, and one could discern no signs of suffering.

The prefect took the unfortunate man’s personal effects that he might return them to his family; a vial of his hair was added. He then ordered that the burial take place immediately, which he and several other strangers attended. They chose a location close to the road not far from the village Servoz where strangers journeying from Geneva to Chamonix first catch a glimpse of the valley’s glaciers. There a small stone marks Eschen’s burial site.

III. Only twenty-four years old, Eschen was planning to become engaged to Luise Reichardt, who reciprocated his love. See Henrik Steffens, who was married to Luise’s sister: [2]

It was quite natural that at the center of her comely siblings, a girl as interesting as she, disfigured though she was by pock marks, was nonetheless quickly noticed by the young men, and that she elicited a particularly strong inclination among them. And indeed, when she sang from the depths of her soul, or, seized by her emotions, spoke about something or other, the scars covering her face were transformed into a delicate, transparent veil through which one could discern the graceful beauty and intelligent depth of her facial features; and her unblemished, splendid eyes seemed to possess the power to lift that transparent veil and to allow the entire magic of her charming disposition to emerge. One young man in particular, Eschen from Eutin, appeared one day as a guest in the Reichardt house.

He developed a strong affection for Luise, which was mutual and which promised to turn into a more inward connection. He journeyed to Switzerland. People expected much of him. Voss valued him as one of his best students. Several charming poems he had already published were received quite enthusiastically. He departed with considerable optimism. But the terrible death he suffered later drew everyone’s attention. He wanted to climb Mont Buet near Geneva; between ice fields, misled by an ignorant guide, he came upon a loose snow bridge that collapsed beneath his feet, plunging him into a crevasse more than a hundred feet deep.

Because this region of the glaciers was not really considered dangerous, there was no one around to help bring him up, nor even any ropes available. One friend who accompanied him was thus forced to hasten six hours to Servoz. They later found the young man physically unscathed from the accident but stuck between the ice, his hands over his head; in his desperation he had tried to dig his fingers into the ice walls and as a result tore his fingernails off. He had frozen to death.

A granite column along the road near Servoz commemorates the grief at his death and serves as a warning for all travelers in the area. The frequent journeys to Switzerland have continually renewed the memory of the death of this young man, to whom it was not granted to provide attestations of the meaning of his existence while still alive. The news of this gruesome death plunged poor Luise into a profound melancholy she never quite got rid of.

The poet Friedrich von Matthisson traveled to Switzerland in 1801 and saw the memorial marker: [3]

Near Servoz, Matthison came across several workers erecting a grave monument consisting of a commemorative granite column with a marble pedestal. Matthison was told that this simple monument, right next to the road, covered the remains of the worthy and talented Eschen.

Schiller writes to Goethe on 5 September 1800 (illustration: Mont Blanc viewed from the Chamouny Valley (Berlinischer Damen-Kalender auf das Gemein-Jahr 1810; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung): [4]

Poor Eschen, Voss’s pupil, whom you know as the translator of Horace, has lost his life in the valley of Camnouni Valley.


He slipped while climbing and fell down a precipice among huge masses of snow and was never seen again. I am very sorry that the poor fellow has quitted the world in such a wretched manner.

Concerning the memorial marker, see John Cam Hobhouse Broughton: [5]

On arriving at Servoz we went to look at the monument of the Saxon literatus, naturalist, and poet, Enschen [Eschen], who fell into a crevasse of the glacier of Buet. The monument is pyramidal and plain, recording the event as happening under the magistrature of Buonaparte, Cambaceres, and Le Brun, Consuls of the French Republic — one of the few remaining records of those times. The right side contains advice to travellers to take careful guides, and the left an encomium on the French Republic for her hospitable reception of strangers and her protection of genius in all people.

The inscription (originally in French):

This monument raised 21 Fructidor, in the year 9, under the magistracy of Bonaparte, Cambacérès, Le Brun, Consuls of the French Republic, to the memory of Friedrich August Eschen, naturalist, literatus, poet, swallowed up in a crevasse of the glacier of the Buet, 19th of Thermidor, in the year 9 [5 August 1799]. Recovered from that abyss by J.-M. Devillaz, J.-Claude, and Ebernard, his two sons, and J. Otil. Buried in this place by the efforts of A.-M. Deymar, Prefect.

Here the marker in an unidentified photograph and in a photograph from 1858–59 by Adolphe Braun:



See Charlotte Otth, née Wiedemann, “An Friedrich Eschens Grab zu Servoz im Chamounythale,” Zeitung für die elegante Welt (1807) 194 (Friday, 4 December 1807), 1547:

At Friedrich Eschens Grave at Servoz in the Chamounix Valley

From hard stone's cold womb
Dead spring meanders, rushing,
Roaring into depths, wave upon wave,
Losing itself in valley moss.

West winds play with delicate sprouts
Of young blossoms rising silvery bright
From black crevice, light and quick
Like day from womb of gloomy night.

Alas, what is dead lives in this valley,
True life alone found its grave,
From bright heights down into night.
Sadly grieving, at this monument to the dead, I linger,
Though tears flow, alas, their course
Wakes not the dead from death.


[*] Concerning Eschen in general, see also August Eschen, “Friedrich August Eschen. Ein verschollener Dichter aus der Zeit unserer grossen Classiker. Lebensbild,” Archiv für Literaturgeschichte 11:4 (1883) 560–81; idem, “Briefe von Johann Friedrich Reichardt,” Archiv für Literaturgeschichte 12 (1884) 554–64; idem, “Briefe von Johann Heinrich Voss,” Archiv für Litteraturgeschichte 15 (1887) 361–79. Back.

[1] , Beschreibung zweyer Reisen auf den Montblanc unternommen in August 1820 (Vienna 1821), 39–42. Present editor’s illustrations. Back.

[2] Was ich erlebte, 6:92–94 Back.

[3] Heinrich Döring, Friedrich von Matthisson’s Leben. Nach den zuverlässigsten Quellen bearbeitet (Zürich 1833), 174–75. Back.

[4] Correspondence Between Goethe and Schiller 2:334. Back.

[5] John Cam Hobhouse Broughton, Recollections of a Long Life, 2 vols. (New York 1909), 2:168. Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott