- Gustav Freytag (1816–1895). Literat – Publizist – Historiker ed. by Hans-Werner Hahn and Dirk Oschmann
Gustav Freytag is not the most exhilarating topic in German literary studies. He had a certain native story-telling ability, but he was a bourgeois writer in the most pejorative sense of the term, insisted on a stubbornly limited apprehension of his world, and managed to get on the wrong side of the issues that concern us today. He continues to be discussed because he took up much literary-historical space in his time, though he may be today perhaps “in the long run […] vielleicht für den Historiker relevanter als für den Literaturhistoriker” (7). That is from Dirk Oschmann’s introduction to a volume of thirteen papers from a conference in Freytag’s refuge of Gotha on the 120th anniversary of his death in June 2015.
The co-editor Hans-Werner Hahn shows that Freytag was committed to an idea of urban bourgeois values of Bildung, family, good will, industriousness, and order that would eventually include the Jews and entitled the bourgeoisie to political participation in the governance of the nation without great conflicts. He held to these views even as the class conflict became more evident. These common interests of the bourgeoisie turned out to be a fiction. He felt that the bourgeoisie had missed its chance, subordinating itself to authoritarianism and falling into luxurious habits. In later years he withdrew gradually from public life. Hahn is also the author of the third paper, on Freytag’s relationship to German liberalism during the formation of the Reich. He was very active in the founding of political associations; he remained loyal to Prussia even though it issued a (temporary) arrest warrant against him, causing him to seek refuge with Duke Ernst II of Gotha, the brother of Queen Victoria’s Prince Albert. Freytag was a constitutional monarchist who thought radicals were important as critics but should not get into power; he believed only the Bildungsbürgertum should lead, as the common people were immature. This is probably why he was opposed to Bismarck’s universal suffrage, which diluted the governance of the bourgeoisie; he also disliked Bismarck’s federalism as contrary to his idea of a united nation.
The second paper by Susan Burger treats Freytag’s reception by the economic writer Karl Braun, a leader of the liberal opposition against the Duke of Nassau and, [End Page 661] along with Freytag, a member of the Congress of German Economists and the North German Reichstag. He wrote in the Grenzboten, arguing for compromise with Bismarck if that would lead to national unity, and reviewed in an economic journal Bilder aus der deutschen Vergangenheit, which influenced his own writing, and in Westermanns Monatshefte Freytag’s biography of Karl Mathy. Freytag was unimpressed by the first of these and gradually became cool toward him. Hans-Christoph Kraus, in an exceptionally instructive paper, writes of Freytag’s relationship with the so-called “Crown Prince party.” Though opposed to the Kaisertum, Freytag, like other liberals, placed great hopes in Friedrich Wilhelm that were to be disappointed. Having observed him in his headquarters in the Franco-Prussian war, Freytag found him personally attractive and kindly, but vacillating and excessively subordinated to his wife, and thought his liberalism a legend, as he was very attached to authoritarian forms and royal prerogatives. After his death as Friedrich III, Kaiserin Viktoria commissioned a memorial from Freytag, which she did not much like, as it turned out cool and critical. Michael Maurer locates Freytag in the cultural historiography of his time, beginning with Herder. Like others he found the formation of the nation in history. Maurer argues that he democratized history with his focus on individuals and vigorously if somewhat questionably defends his support of freedom of the press, religion, and opinion: “eine erfreuliche demokratische Tendenz” (101).
Daniel Fulda puts Freytag’s historical writing into the context of a new mode of historiography, accessible to the reader and...