The “Museum” reading society in Munich
During Caroline and Schelling’s stay in Munich, Schelling and through him Caroline kept up with current military, geopolitical, and social developments both in Munich and in Europe at large by taking advantage of the holdings of the “Museum” reading society, whose facilities were located at Prannerstrasse 220 (later number: 20), shown here on an 1809 map of Munich. The Schelling’s lived at Karlsthor 7, at bottom left; Prannerstrasse 220 is several streets over, at upper right, but still on the west side of town (Königlich Baiersche Haupt und Residenzstadt München am 1. Januar 1809 [Munich 1809]; Bayerisches Landesvermessungsamt München, Nr. 558/03):
Here with the original street number “220” on the previous map from 1809:
The following information comes from the history of the society in its Festschrift published for its 100th anniversary in 1902, “Geschichte der Gesellschaft ‘Museum,'” Die Gesellschaft Museum in München: Festschrift zur Hundertjahr-Feier 1802–1902 (Munich 1902), 1–46.
At the end of the 18th century, difficulty in securing foreign newspapers, periodicals, and books in Munich prompted the formation of reading circles consisting of five or six men each who then tried to secure such reading material on a regular basis; to access all the material, however, a person had to become a member of each circle. It was obvious that a larger circle was necessary, but the name “society” (Gesellschaft) for some reason seemed too suspicious as the primary name to those who founded the organization.
In any event, its mission statement resolved to establish
a society that draws into its circle everything in the area of literature and politics that as a new publication is worthy of being made generally accessible. In the society’s reading rooms, one finds the most noteworthy German and foreign periodicals and newspapers, important products of local literature, and the better occasional pieces that deal with things of universal interest to the present in an appropriate fashion, all made accessible for the use of the society’s members. . . . Literature is absolutely the primary focus.
Accordingly, during the early years the primary task was to procure books and subscriptions to newspapers and periodicals. Although there were not yet “thousands” of periodicals and newspapers and such available in the Museum’s reading rooms, its holdings were already impressive; a board report in 1807 remarks:
Since the highest possible comprehensiveness of the literary holdings appropriate to such a society continues to remain the most important concern, the board has been especially keen on satisfying every reasonable request or indeed even to anticipate it, and believes it can say with some justification that hardly any periodical or political newspaper of note is missing from the society’s holdings. Our catalog includes for the current year 70 journals, 30 political and 8 scholarly newspapers, 8 periodicals of mixed content, 12 governmental publications and Intelligenzblätter, not to mention occasional flyers and circulars. In 1805 the society spent 1865 Gulden 23 Kreuzer; in 1806 1744 Gulden 12 Kreuzer.
It is worth noting that at the beginning, some of the reading material was procured from church properties that had been secularized. In 1818, when the society moved into a new building around the corner at Promenadestrasse 12, their Katalog der Bibliothek des Museums zu München (Munich 1818) does indeed enumerate on pp. 5–140, under 22 headings, almost 1500 individual publication titles.
From the beginning, the society, which was initially for men only, was also intent of providing a social element, and included such offerings as music, gaming and card rooms, billiards, chess, and even a room set aside for smokers, though also a map collection, art exhibitions, and lectures by artists and scholars (Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki , Das Billardspiel, die Spieler, die Zuschauer, der Aufwärter,, in the Kupfersammlung zu J[ohann] B[ernhard] Basedows Elementarwerke für die Jugend und ihre Freunde: Erste Lieferung in 53 Tafeln. Zweyte Lieferung in 47 Tafeln von L bis XCVI [Leipzig, Dessau, Berlin 1774], plate VII d; second illustration [chess]: N´importe! ; Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum; Museums./Signatur DChodowiecki AB 3.158; third illustration: Les effets de la sensibilité sur les quatre différens Temperaments [ca. 1767]; Los Angeles County Museum of Art):
From the outset, these offerings attracted the aristocracy, nobility, military, city officials, citizens, businessmen, artists, and not least officials from foreign embassies, including the French, Russian, English, Austrian, Sardinian, Saxon, Westphalian, and those of Württemberg and Electoral Mainz. Later members included Caroline’s earlier adversary and detractor Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring, who joined in 1810, after her death. To gain access to the Museum’s offerings, Schelling would, of course, have had to be a member; new members had to be proposed and sponsored by an existing member, though we do not know who sponsored him.
The society officially opened on 4 November 1802, with 165 members, in their rented space at Prannerstrasse 220 belonging to Imperial Count von Seeau, renting the second story of the stately house for 500 Gulden, the third story for 350 Gulden, and paying 800 Gulden for access to what was known as the redoute hall in the edifice at the rear of the property, a hall the royal theater had been renting for years (the Museum seems to have sublet or shared the lease; redoute, Fr., a masked assembly where there is dancing, card playing, and other entertainment, though also the locale itself) (Der Gesellschaftswagen/ Ein unterhaltendes Taschenbuch . . . Zum neuen Jahr gewidmet [n.d.]):
Members were assessed 22 Gulden annual dues and 11 Gulden as an annual entry fee to the reading rooms. Here the edifice at Prannerstrasse 20 (the later house number) (1) in 1845, (2) ca. 1880 (with street numbers 17, 18, and 19 on the left, 21 on the right), and undated (illustration 1: from anonymous, Acht Tage in München: Eine kursgefasste Beschreibung der in dieser Hauptstadt befindlichen Sehenswürdigkeiten, 4th ed. [Munich 1845], 19; illustration 1: print by an unknown artist; illustration 3: Stadtmuseum München):
In 1804 the society instituted “quartet evenings” as entertainment offerings, with members of the royal orchestra providing the music, as well as Thursday dinners costing 1 Gulden 21 Kreuzer. In 1805 Maximilian von Montgelas was offered the presidency, and efforts were made to explore uniting the Museum with a purely social organization already existing in Munich, “Harmony”; because these efforts failed, the society reconsidered its earlier men-only policy, and, since
this winter has taught us that concerts and social gatherings cannot flourish without the participation of the fairer sex, the board resolves (1) to maintain its lease from next Saint George’s Day [23 April] on the second story of the Redoute house for the purpose of using it for social entertainment; (2) to invite ladies as well to the concerts this winter; and (3) to give occasional balls.
On 27 May 1806, just after Caroline’s arrival in Munich on 24 May, Maximilian I’s birthday was celebrated in these facilities as the highest patron of the Museum with a concert, dinner, and an evening ball in the redoute hall (illustration: “Geschichte der Gesellschaft ‘Museum,'” 7; here depicting the meeting of parliament after the Museum no longer used the building):
By using the second story exclusively for social gatherings, the society attained at least to a certain extent its two original goals: sociality and literature. But now the Museum went even further and opened its sanctuary — previously untouched by “feminine feet” — to women. Several quite successful balls finally effected the previously “impossible unification of two separate institutions by uniting at least their two goals.” It is to these entertainment offerings that Schelling and Caroline would have had access.
In July 1808 the facilities and house were purchased by the state, thus ensuring the society had access to adequate facilities on a more stable basis. In 1818, however, when the king granted Bavarians a constitution, the state canceled the royal theater’s and the Museum’s leases and designated the building and its facilities for use by the new parliament. This particular use extended till 1848, which is why on maps from the period the building is often called either the Parliament Building or the Estates Building (StändeHaus; on Pranner-Gasse), here the shaded building with that designation on a map from 1837, while the parliament was still using the facilities (H. Widmayr, Plan der Könige Haupt-und Residenz-Stadt München im Jahre 1837 [München 1837]; Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans):
On 27 April 1819 (Schelling was still in Munich), the society finally purchased its own building, the Palais Portia, at Promenadestrasse 12, dedicating it with a ceremony and ball on 31 December 1819. It was still using that facility in 1902 on its 100th anniversary.
Translation © 2018 Doug Stott