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The Author of the Tales

Subject: Harvey Hewett-Thayer, author of Hoffmann: author of the tales (1948). A visit to Princeton University (1985).

Harvey Hewett-Thayer

Hewett-Thayer, Harvey. Hoffmann: author of the tales. Princeton University Press, 1948.

1 March 1985. I was at Princeton University today: I asked after Harvey Hewett-Thayer. The woman, neither young or old, at the desk of the German Language Department looked perplexed when I asked her: "Have you been working here long?" I next asked her if Harvey Hewett-Thayer used to work in that building, because I had come to the University for no other reason than to see where Hewett-Thayer had taught.

There is a picture of "Harvey Thayer", as the professor I then met called him, in the University library, in a seminar room BJ3 -- although I was turned away at the door of the library. When Harvey Hewett-Thayer taught, he taught in the History Department; there was no German Language Department in those days.

The professor I briefly spoke with, kindly enthusiastic, recommended I call Bernhard Ulmer [1907-1999] who is "very nice" and would "like to talk about the old days". However, being very shy and not liking to bother people, I didn't call him. (And very sorry I am to be shy in that way.)

Next door to the Carlisle Building, the present History Department, there is a lecture hall in McCrow (I think that's the name), a grand wooden hall with a high ceiling and a balcony. I don't know whether "Harvey Thayer" lectured there, but it's certainly old enough for him to have (It appears to have been there since before electric lights).

17 September 1985. I went to the Princeton University library today -- to see the photograph of Hewett-Thayer. I had written to the library's director to ask for permission to enter the library. I had written of the profound decency (This form of expression was of course a parroting of Wittgenstein's form of expression) -- using those very words -- of Hoffmann: author of the tales, and said that since there was a picture of its author, I would like to see it.

17 September 1985. When I saw Harvey Hewett-Thayer's portrait in the Princeton library, I was surprised I admit. He looked bright, "dapper", dressed in tweeds like a British country gentleman. Had I expected a careworn face, with sad eyes?

A man's "style" of writing shows the man's character (according to Wittgenstein, but I don't think that is always true).

Should Hoffmann have looked like ein burlesk phantastischer Elfe (Thayer, p. 9n)? Or should I have expected a careworn face, with sad eyes? I think of his books, and so of him, as being alive with energy.

Do I have a careworn face with sad eyes? (It is a very strange experience rereading these words I wrote more than thirty years ago. What I wrote about logic of language would not be much different now, but as to all the rest ...)

The entry for "Heinrich von Ofterdingen" in The Encyclopedia Americana, 1954, was written by Harvey W. Thayer.

14 February 1986. I found this heading on a catalog card: Hewett-Thayer, Harvey Waterman, 1873- ... Then he would have been about 75 in 1948.


Brahms kept a thick blanket on top of his piano, so that he would not disturb his landlady when he was composing. (Cf. CV p. 64. That is what I too experience.)

Dostoyevsky wanted to publish a journal under the title "Truth", and so he applied to the government, but the Russian government refused to allow this title, on the grounds that it was pretentious.

"The Enemy of Music"

E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a story in 1814 called Der Musikfeind in which a young boy was so deeply affected by music that he ran from the house whenever it was performed (which it was at home in those days). Those who did not understand therefore regarded him as an "enemy of music".

That is my account from memory of twenty years ago (see Hoffmann: Author of the Tales p. 283).

Not apropos of that: the thoughts, of many years later, about Der Sandmann.

Dostoyevsky's Review of E.T.A. Hoffmann

People call him [Poe] the equal of Hoffmann. We have already said that this is not true. Moreover, Hoffmann is immeasurably greater than Poe as a poet. With Hoffmann there is an ideal, indeed not always explicit, but in this ideal there is purity, there is real beauty, genuine, peculiar to the man.... We have not yet spoken of his best production, Kater Murr. What genuine, mature humor, what vigor of realism, what malice, what types and portraits, and with all of these -- what thirst for beauty, what bright ideal!

... the fantasy, for example, of Hoffmann [who] personifies the forces of Nature in forms: he introduces into his stories sorceresses, spirits, and sometimes even seeks his ideal beyond the earth, in some extraordinary world, accepting this world as a higher thing, as if he himself believed in the actual existence of this secret, enchanted world.

(From "an unsigned editorial preface [to Three Tales of Edgar Poe in the journal Time [Vremya], January, 1861] which has since been identified [by L.P. Grossmann (p. 191n7)] as Dostoevski's", quoted and apparently translated by Charles E. Passage in Dostoevski the Adapter (Chapel Hill, 1954), p. 131, 191)

Last revised: 24 February 2006 : 2006-02-24 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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