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This biography looks at the life of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche from his birth in 1844 to his mental and physical breakdown in 1889 and his final death in 1900. The events sof Nietzsche's life and his chronic ill-health after a fall from a horse when he served as a medical orderly during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Early retirement and roaming around northern Italy and Switzerland in the summers, he dedicated himself to his writing as his madness worsened. The events of the man's life and the forces that shaped him gave rise to a poetic edifce of books and essays, making him one of the great philosphers of all time.
 
 

 

University of Bonn

(1864-1865)

Chapter Three

University Years

Deussen joined us at our house in Naumburg with my mother and sister, spending the weeks after the examinations lounging with free time eager to start our first year of post-secondary education at the University of Bonn. Elizabeth now, at seventeen years of age, was blooming like a flower and was adept socially to entertain us high school graduates until we left for Bonn. As charming as she was, Elizabeth showed none of the depth of personality that she would later have in her life when she and her husband Bernard Förster established the German colony of Germania on the river in Paraguay. Instead she played hostess with my mother Fräu Pastor Nietzsche in our elegant upper-middle class social class, introducing the young Deussen to privy counselors and other noted men in positions of power. Being two young scholars, we were joined by my friend Erwin Rohde. We were setting out on a new chapter in our lives, and reveled in the discussions of career and academia and professors of note, fostering in me single-mindedness to my studies and in my loyalty to Professor Ritschl, the head of philology at the University in Bonn.

Letting Fräu Pastor Nietzsche and Elizabeth outfit me down to the cufflink and pant-leg cuff, I was given clothes befitting a serious scholar, well-prepared and of sound mental character to undertake my philosophy and arguments into the big leagues, exchanging ideas in earnest with professional thinkers. The blonde hair was cut and the budding moustache trimmed but still given perch on the upper lip.

Deussen and I set out westwards on a journey, beginning with a night in Elberfeld where relations of Deussen put us up for the night and where we met with his cousin Ernst Schnabel.[1] A lively and exceedingly reckless young man, Ernst Schnabel in his exuberance and newfound love in his life let his spirits fly in cheery carousing and laughter so that the three of us traveled to Königswinter in a fervor of youth, landing in the town and hiring horses to get to our next destination: the Drachenfels.

"You want to hire horses to the Drachenfels?" asked Deussen, senses stirred at possible danger from the reckless Schnabel.

"It'll be more fun," said Schnabel. "Besides it will enable us to romance the women when we get there." To this Deussen had no rebuttal, the honor and virtue of such a noble quest beyond reproach by any reliable mind.

"Ever been on a horse Fritz?" I stared at the horse in front of me, my myopic eyes slightly out of focus as if looking just in front of the beast. But in fact I was more interested in the size of the horse's ears.

"You know," I said, my hand outstretched to the horse's ear. "These ears might be long enough to be donkey ears."

Schnabel paid the man and mounted his horse first.

"The only donkey around here is you Fritz. Bet you can't ride that thing." Unphased by the challenge, being twenty-years old, I rode a horse for the first time, riding with my companions in a symbolic journey into the unknown. After years of oppressive discipline and strict code of ethics at an all-boys school, we as young men with the world at our fingertips enjoyed bottles of wine on our way to town where we wooed women from the balconies along the main street. I  sang ‘Fein's Liebchen, fein's Liebchen," and Schnabel crooned an old tale of a Rhine boy begging for shelter. Deussen, awkward and shy in the presence of the opposite sex was silent, terror-stricken perhaps. The wine loosened our lips and our laughter carried our high spirits through the open windows of the street's buildings, until a man ran out of a door chasing us away with cursing and invective. The next day, as if to do penance for the previous night's escapades, we ordered a bottle of wine in the lounge of the Berliner Hof and I composed some piano pieces, a modest offering to the people who had endured our high jinks the night before.

Continuing our journey west we reached Deussen's hometown in Oberdreis where we stayed for weeks in the company of Deussen's family and friends. Immersed in friendship and warm days of leisure, Schnabel, Deussen and I spent the rest of the summer living in the protected mountainous region of the Westerwald, and the pure mountain air. We celebrated my birthday on October 15th, the same day as Deussen's mother. Right after my birthday we descended the Westerwald highlands for the Rhine Valley and Neuwied where we took a boat down the Rhine to Bonn.

Initially Deussen and I had planned to share an apartment to cut costs but when we checked out Bonn accommodations we found it was cheaper to take single rooms. Both strapped by slim finances, we were forced to live of about 25 thalers a month, or barely enough to pay for a room and food. I was using my inheritance from my father's estate so it was very important for me to execute my studies with poise and hard work. Taking an apartment on Bonngasse, my window opened to a nearby church bell tower, where I would often say I would one day take a room in the bell tower to be farther away from the noise. I always hated the racket. For me the noise of the street was always interruptive to my music in my thinking.

Deussen was some blocks away in his new apartment but we both took our noon meal together at the Oldag's House, which was where I stayed. There a young Rhineland woman who showed the exuberance and rosy-cheeked health of the local populace, served us. Soon she often joined us for a meal. This was the base we operated from in the next days when we began our university careers. Having both enrolled in theology, I only lasted one semester. I then switched from the theology faculty to faculty of philosophy. It took Deussen four semesters to reach the same conclusion as me, but from the first our focus was the study of classical philology. And in classical philology there were two stars in this area at the university: Jahn and Ritchl. Deussen and I were able to have letters of introduction to both professors, which we duly presented to each. Upon meeting Professor Jahn, he flicked his hand dismissively.

"Just contact me, if I can help you in any way" he said to me. But upon presenting the letter to Professor Ritchl, we were welcomed with alacrity.

"Welcome to the university my young friends!" he said. "And how are those old cods at Schulpforta? Ah, my old friend Niese! What's he doing these days? Is he all right? So Deussen is your name? Well, visit me very soon any time."

I was overlooked so I spoke up:

"There are, my dear professor, two names in the letter."

"Ah yes! That's true," cried Ritschl. "There are two names, Deussen and Nietzsche. Good, good. Well, gentlemen, visit me again very soon."

Somewhat disheartened by the lukewarm response, I proceeded to leave the final letter under the door of philosophy professor Schaarschmidt, who subsequently invited us to his home for dinner. Jovial and full of moxie, Schaarschmidt was downright mercurial on his opinions and overwhelmed us as young scholars, making an indelible impression on us of what a philosopher was. It was Professor Schaarschmidt who was the one who helped me the most. He invited us into his family, enrolled us in his history of philosophy course, gave us a tutorial on Plato and who lent a willing ear to our concerns. He made sure we attended Ritschl's lectures on miles gloriosus, and Jahn's lectures on Plato's Symposium, and some classes on theology, which we eventually stopped attending due to the extreme boredom of the classes.

I focused on the Greek lyricists, choosing to explore many rather than one or two. This gave me much fodder to discuss, armed with many insightful points of Greek philology, including Socrates, Homer, Simonides' Danaë Song, and Diogenes Laertius among others. I expanded my Theognis essay into a seminar paper, coming fully armed for discussion and footnotes. On this academic side of my new university life, I pursued with vigor but another side to my university life came to the fore.

Deussen and I had discussed fraternities at the university but had both shown considerable resistance to the idea because it would interfere in our studies, but when a fellow classmate Stöckert, a former Pforta student and member of the Franconian fraternity, invited us to accompany him to that fraternity's tavern, we went. Also invited that evening were five other Schulpforta alumni. The atmosphere, being very lively, gave rise to frenetic jubilation so that Haushalter declared he was joining the fraternity, followed by a second and third, until all seven including me and Deussen had pledged to become brothers of Franconia. When we went to bed that night we had little idea of what door we had opened and how it would play out in our lives.

Known for its free and wild behavior and traditions based in ancient ritual, Deussen and I could not throw our selves too far into the melé, choosing to be observers a bit removed from the more passionate devotees. We went along with what our pledge master told us to do but all the time grumbling under our breath at the ridiculous nature of the tasks, with its mandatory drinking that degenerated into many forms of immature behavior and mischief. I became aware of my noticeably cosmopolitan perspective in relation to the jocks and fencers at Franconia. It was when we were forced to skip a Sunday lecture every week to attend meetings at the fraternity that our hearts fell out of the esprit de corps with the Franconians, but not without first me becoming carried away with fervent zeal. The Franconians had been dueling with the Alemanians for centuries in the old traditions within the university. Many fraternity members bore scars from dueling on their face that they received in the far-away barn outside the city. Here I first learned about dueling with my fellow Franconians on the weather-beaten floor. Showing the same type of dedication and extremism that had marked my young life, I spent hours practicing my fencing skills until I was challenged to a duel. The day after I had been challenged, he told Deussen:

"Yesterday, after the tavern evening, I went to the market for a walk. An Alemanian joined me; we had a very lively discussion on all kinds of topics in art and literature, and upon parting I asked him most politely to ‘hang one' on me. He agreed, and as soon as possible we'll have a go at each other." It was not immediately clear to Deussen whether I was aware of what I had done. Deussen was aware that it was not my zeal that was in question; it was my corpulence and myopia that would work against me in such an endeavor.

Deussen duly joined me to the duel in the barn where the fight lasted barely three minutes. The more coordinated and agile Alemanian out-footed and out-struck me, ending the battle when his saber slashed a diagonal gash along the lower bridge of my nose. Blood dripped off the tip of my nose as I shook hands with the fellow and shared a cup for our honorable battle. All was sufficient to atone for all past injury.

I was a trooper, bearing my wounds with poise, bandaged and in pain upon my return to my apartment, where Deussen kept away visitors. He kept me resting until three days had past and the scar had taken on its own hue. I noted with objectivity that the diagonal scar was pink enough to see and suited him as a dueling scar and marking of a fraternity member, a swashbuckling reminder I had for the rest of my life. Even later in life when I was a professor at the University of Basel, it was a mark of respect given to me by my young students. Indeed, Professor Nietzsche was one of us!

My fellow Franconians gave me the nickname of Gluck when I was rushing with the fraternity. Verses written in my honor have survived. In these handed-down records it is written:

                    Gluck has composed and set to music

                    The tragedies and romances he delights in;

                    When he comes home evenings, a red mouth kisses him;

                    From sheer tea and pastry he'll go to the dogs;

                              And with a hurrah-sassah the Franconians are there!

                              The Franconians are jolly, they shout hurrah!

For Deussen, they named him Master:

                    Rubbing his nose Master sits at home.

                    Studying seventy-seven languages, puffing seventeen pipes;

                    Whenever he has been drinking and someone addresses him,

                    He answers in Greek, the very learned man.

                              And with a hurrah-sassah the Franconians are there!

                              The Franconians are jolly, they shout hurrah!

Deussen could still remember these lines years later, thinking that he was astute when he smoked his pipe while I ate pastries. We teased each other whenever we saw each other throughout our lives.

It was at this time in February of 1865, during my association with the Franconians, that I went into Cologne where I asked the taxi driver to take me to a restaurant, but I was dropped off at a brothel. The following day I told Deussen of my misadventure:

"I found myself surrounded by half a dozen creatures in tinsel and gauze, looking at me expectantly. I stood speechless for a while," I said. "Then I instinctively went to a piano as if to the only soul-endowed being in the place and struck a few chords. That dispersed my shock and I escaped into the streets." Perhaps still too young to take the bull by the horns, or maybe an example of my shyness trumping any initiative, one can wonder whether I got up from the piano bench or if I was taken by the hand and ushered upstairs for a lesson in ancient gymnastics?

Some after this both Deussen and I left the raucousness of fraternity life. Deussen was first to leave due to the pressuring from his parents, leaving the fraternity with the designation "associated drinking partner." I left Bonn in August 1865 without informing the fraternity of my departure or returning my insignias. The Franconians soon dissolved my membership, much to my indifference.

After surviving the disturbances of fraternity life, we settled into the our studies, with me getting deeper with philology and the readings while Deussen crept further away from the grammar and footnoting of philology and more towards theology and fine arts. We visited Gürzenich where we attended the Lower Rhine Music Festival near Cologne. These days were light and full of optimism, minds and hearts full of wonderment and enjoying the limitless possibilities we saw before us. Neither of us knew as our first year of university came to an end that we would soon be apart. The rivalry between Ritschl and Jahn had grown to a boiling point so that Ritschl announced he was moving to the University of Leipzig, where he was offered the Chair of Philology. When this was announced many students followed Ritschl to Leipzig, including me. Deussen for his part, not as interested in Philology as me, pledged he would join me in Leipzig after his summer break in the Westerwald with his family. Unbeknownst to Deussen, and much at the bidding of his persuasive brother, Deussen would not join me and Ritschl in Leipzig, choosing to study theology with his brother in Tübingen.

I made it clear I thought Deussen was making a mistake but it took another year for him to see that I was right. Everywhere Deussen went in Tübingen he encountered close-mindedness and dogma. He quickly missed the stimulating open-mindedness within Philology and around me.


[1] The Maria Sturmer story as backstory for Deussen and his marriage later in life.

 

University of Leipzig

(1865-1869)

Chapter Four

Finding My Niche

The separation from my old friend Deussen was a serious blow, but as it turned out my old friend Erwin Rohde arrived in Leipzig at the same time to join me under Ritschl. Soon the Ritschl Society was formed that numbered ten the first semester but growing significantly in the following years. I was asked by my professor to join the society but I didn't because I didn't want to appear as his disciple, or be labeled in anyway. My fierce independence prevented me from becoming too involved with the group, which attracted the cream of the crop of philology students from around Europe.

To young students arriving at the university, I already had a reputation so students sought me out to pick my brain and test my knowledge. Already I was an intellectual heavyweight, having studied the books required to become a professor and fluent in the culture of academia, at ease with the demands of being a student. Outwardly my trademark large moustache had taken form that added to the seriousness of my look, penetrating mind and earnest disposition. As an active member of the Philology Club, students were allowed to give lectures to fellow students, a place where I first met young Heinrich Stürenburg.

Already regarded as an old timer due to my association with the well-known Ritschl, I seldom gave lectures at the Philology Club anymore but when I did the greenhorns made a point to listen to what I had to say. Stürenburg's first experience of one of these lectures left him in awe of the philosophical strength and force of ideas he heard from a young man whose years were still too few to have bestowed such intellectual confidence. In my lecture I had formulated the core idea of individual's being born of an ethos from which great artists were born, impossible without the underlying currents of literature, history and myth. Ideas of folk-poetry that had emerged during my studies in Leipzig were to become the core underpinning of my first lecture in Basel the following year.

In Leipzig under Ritschl, I flourished. I developed my language and ideas within the traditions and scholarly framework of philology, soon finding my footing among the big players. I stayed the course and wrote the papers and was preparing for my doctoral dissertation when the news arrived February 2, 1969 that I had been offered a position as full professor at the University of Basel.

Overjoyed, I sent a telegram to my mother and sister in Naumburg:

Friedrich Nietzsche

Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel

(Salary: 3000 Francs)

Fräu Pastor Nietzsche was ecstatic with the news, her child making good on his promise and education. Even the newspapers had print expressing the surprise at a twenty-four-year old being appointed full professor without having earned his doctorate.

For many it made sense since I had been such a dynamic student, contributing to the discussion more than others, but to my old friend Deussen, it rankled. When he wrote me to congratulate me on my appointment, envy and resentment at my early success was sensed between the lines. Aware that I was overworked, overtired and overwrought from my intense studying and trying to complete my doctoral dissertation and preparing for its oral defense, Deussen received a nasty letter in return:

"Dear Friend, unless perhaps accidental mental disturbance was to blame for your last letter, then please consider our relations to be over. F. N." The words I knew would burn within the breast of Deussen. I would be momentarily confused by his friend's rejection but equally tasked to correct this wrong, immediately writing me a reply. After some back and forth, Deussen was left with what I had told him: "to speak of me with more respect."

 
 

 

 
 
 

 
 

"With his truly unique sensitivity, which turned him, the philosopher, into a poet,

just as it had made a musician of him, he had always loved everything quiet,

elegant, calm, well-measured, even in external surroundings."[1]


[1] Gilman, p. 90

 
 

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