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Eighteenth-Century Studies 33.4 (2000) 609-611

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Book Review

Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808): Briefwechsel

Caroline von Humboldt und Christian Daniel Rauch: Ein Briefwechsel 1811-1828

Elisabeth Décultot et al, eds. Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808): Briefwechsel (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1999). Pp. VI + 762. DM 400.00 cloth.

Jutta von Simson, ed. Caroline von Humboldt und Christian Daniel Rauch: Ein Briefwechsel 1811-1828 (Berlin: Gebrüder Mann, 1999). Pp.431. + 69 black and white illus. DM 158.00 cloth.

While publishers often hesitate to accept new editions of eighteenth-century literary texts as they tend to aim at very specialized academic audiences, editions of correspondence and autobiographies, such as Magdalene Heuser's "Ich wünschte so- gar gelehrt werden ..." Drei Autobiographien von Frauen des 18. Jahrhunderts. Texte und Erläuterungen and Friederike Brun's Wahrheit aus Morgenträumen, are flourishing. The highly readable nature of firsthand accounts explains their popularity both among eighteenth-century circles and among today's non-specialist readers, who find personal correspondence of any century accessible and interesting. Many editions were published during or shortly after the lifetime of the correspondents, with new editions appearing occasionally ever since. However, we are still far from having exhaustively researched or even partially edited all of the great correspondence, circulating documents, and memoirs from the eighteenth century. In addition to critical editions of the canonical authors and their circles, interest is now growing in epistolary, autobiographical and memorialistic documents written by women writers and male and female non-literary figures, especially politicians and artists. In German scholarly publications, for example, this interest produced a new edition of letters by Louise Gottsched, "Mit der Feder in der Hand." Briefe aus den Jahren 1730-1762. Reflecting parallel interest, Heide Hollmer is preparing a complete edition of the correspondence of Anna Amalia, [End Page 609] Duchess of Saxe-Weimar, whose letters from Italy are already available. The number of editions grows each year, and there are now good editions of the correspondence between the writers Anna Louisa Karsch and Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim ("Mein Bruder in Apoll." Briefwechsel zwischen Anna Louisa Karsch und Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim), between Karl Viktor von Bonstetten and the members of his circle (Bonstettiana. Historisch-kritische Ausgabe der Briefkorrespondenzen Karl Viktor von Bonstettens und seines Kreises 1735-1832), and between Catherine II and Voltaire (Monsieur-Madame. Der Briefwechsel zwischen der Kaiserin und dem Philosophen). It will be interesting to watch the development of ambitious plans to make eighteenth-century correspondence accessible on the Internet in coming years and to see how electronic editions might influence the book market in this literary sector.

This review considers a pair of informative recent editions of the correspondence of two German-speaking artists whose connections and networking throughout Europe shed light on yet another set of enlightened relations within the European republic of letters. Both works reflect the highest standards of critical edition preparation. In addition to publishing the letters in the original language and spelling, these editions provide thoughtful introductions, valuable commentaries, and extensive bibliographies. Each volume offers its commentary in a reader-friendly format, with footnotes or line references appearing after each letter.

Wille's French-language correspondence edited by Elisabeth Décultot et. al., provides German-language summaries of the letters. This edition has a very comprehensive introduction that elucidates the significance of the letters while underscoring Wille's contribution to German-French art and cultural history. The epistolary exchange between Wille and the Leipzig translator, Michael Huber, provides the basis for a reevaluation of their friendship. Simson's introduction to the correspondence between Humboldt and Rauch is presented to a broader audience, focuses on biographical aspects of each epistolary partner, and is much less extensive, deferring the content analysis to future scholarship. The letters themselves invite inquiries into Humboldt's correspondence as reflections of her emancipated and unconventional views, her role as art connoisseur and patron, and her meditations on friendship between men and women.

The first edition to be considered here is the D&eacute...


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