Amicable Annotation, Part 5 (The Century of Friendship)

[A book that got a whole lot of use in the 18th c. More details at the MCRS Rare Books Blog.]

Nota bene, dear reader: in the next few posts of this miniseries, our ground shifts to the eighteenth century. This post does not address annotation directly until some remarks at the end that attempt to lay out what’s ahead. My hope is that this post will convey something of the new atmosphere in which “friendship by the book” occurs in this time period. Happy reading.

Part 1 is here. Part 2 here. Part 3. Part 4. Enjoy Part 5.


Das Jahrhundert der Freundschaft, “the century of friendship,” so the eighteenth century has been designated by scholars of German literature. Friendship was a pervasive discourse among the lettered in this period, and not only in German-speaking lands. The “century of friendship” seems an apt label for eighteenth-century literary culture in much of Europe, given how many authors, major and minor, reflected on the nature and practice of friendship at length (and, notably, in their native tongues). As evidence of their claim, those German scholars have often pointed to a genre that we might call the “friendly epistle,” by which I mean to signify documents in which men and women do more than simply write to their friends. These are strikingly reflexive documents in which friends exchange not only personal and local news but also reflections on  friendship, particularly the excellence of theirs. The eighteenth century provides reams of examples of this kind of writing, which was sometimes conducted with a passion (and grandiloquence) comparable to–if not, attempting to rival–that of the love letter. Other letter-writers strike a more philosophical pose. The key point for our purposes is how self-conscious, even self-dramatizing, these epistles often are.

As Erasmus had done centuries earlier, and Petrarch still earlier, (both on the model of Cicero’s Epistulae ad Familiares,) some correspondents published their exchanges as stand-alone books so that others might benefit from their friendships’ examples. Perhaps the most notorious of these–in the German context at least–was The Letters of Misters Gleim and Jacobi (1768) by Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim and Johann Georg Jacobi, which contained effusive declarations of friendship amidst, by one scholar’s reckoning, 13,242 blown kisses and 260,022 virtual embraces. If deadpanned by the scholarly set, the book was nonetheless noticed–and worried over by some for its unembarrassed homoeroticism. (One reviewer, however, lamented that the passion runs out over the collection: “Sometimes we believe not to hear two hearts, burning for one another, but two cold-blooded persons that have shouted themselves hoarse, exhausted by frosty hyperbole and empty exclamations.” [from Tobias Heinrich’s article on Gleim]) Publishers clearly believed that there was a taste for “friendly epistles,” and thus we find collections of them published across Europe. For example, nearly all of the major English writers of the century–Swift, Pope, Lord Chesterfield, Locke, Sterne, Defoe–received this treatment, often while still living. There’s even an English translation of Voltaire’s letters to his friends.

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[Title page of Samuel Richardson’s Letters written to and for particular friends, which was published in 1741-the same year that Pamela debuted.]

While an extreme example, of course, Gleim is of further use to us now in his practices of composing and receiving friendly correspondence. In the Halberstadt home in which he lived beginning in 1847, Gleim converted two rooms into a Freundschaftstempel, or “Friendshp Temple.” As the nineteenth-century rendering below shows, Gleim lined the walls with portraits of his friends, including the poets Kleist and Klopstock and the art historian Winkelmann, the collection expanding to 120 images by his death in 1803.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 4.30.49 PMWhen writing to friends, Gleim made a habit of seating himself in front of his correspondent’s picture in a special chair built for the purpose, the Gleimstuhl (shown in the image above). Many of his letters begin by noting that he is gazing at his friend’s picture. In the same chambers, Gleim was known to gather members of his local circle for readings of letters received from friends, the master of the house (or, better said, temple’s priest) positioning himself beside or under the particular correspondent’s portrait. While Gleim might seem an almost outlandish figure, his ministrations offer a helpful reminder that eighteenth-century friendship practices could defy the tidy division that we now (or used to?) assume between the private and public realms. Gleim’s readings are perhaps best characterized as “semi-public” events.  Gleim’s friends, meanwhile, certainly recognized–and perhaps even devoutly hoped–that their epistles would reach an audience larger than their immediate addressee. Intimacy, we might say, here enjoys a wider hearing among these lettered friends, whether through such semi-public airings or wider circulation through print.

Gleim was not the only one to build a Freundschaftstempel in this period, and other examples are also notable for present purposes. Voltaire had broadcast the idea in an allegorical poem “Le Temple de l’Amitié” published in the 1730s. Other imaginary temples of friendship sprung up across the century in the world of European letters. A few wealthy aristocrats had the means to erect their own in stone, such as the English Lord Cobham’s Temple of Friendship–adorned with busts of seven earls, one lord, and the prince of Wales–at Stowe. The most impressive is the Freundschaftstempel built by the Prussing king Frederick II in Potsdam in remembrance of his sister Wilhelmine:

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Voltaire had sent “Le Temple de l’Amitié” to Frederick with a special envoi attached to his ami charmant et sage. Frederick, in turn, acknowledged Voltaire’s influence on his grand project–indeed, the king sent the plans to the poet for his approval–, which is reflected in (among other features) the medallions depicting classical models of friendship. In the poem, Voltaire had written:

En vieux langage on voit sur la façade
Les noms sacrés d’Oreste et de Pylade,
Le médaillon du bon Pirithoüs,
Du sage Achate et du tendre Nisus,
Tous grands héros, tous amis véritables:
Ces noms sont beaux, mais ils sont dans les fables.

[A nineteenth-century rhyming translation puts these lines as follows:

Orestes’ name and Pylades’ appear,
Carved on the front—names still to Friendship dear—
The bold medallion of good Pirithoiis,
Those of Achates wise and mild Nisus.
All these are heroes, and as friends renown’d,
Their names are great, but still in fable found.]

In turn, medallions depicting ancient heroes of friendship appear on columns of the Freundschaftstempel. Orestes hangs, for example, beside Pylades:


Interpretations of the structure have called attention to the fact that the classical figures are all male and linked the medallions to Frederick’s own circle of male friends (and rumored homosexuality). Rather than debating the merits of that and other potential subtexts, I want to concentrate now the image that directly confronts us: Wilhelmine. The temple surrounds a woman reflecting on her reading, which the title and ring of medallions suggest concerns the ideal of friendship. Whatever Frederick’s temple might have meant to those in his inner circle (or those leering in their direction), its public face suggests not a closed world of men but the opening of the classical tradition of friendship (still dominated by male examples, of course) to women. The humanists regularly compared their friendships to those of such proverbial classical male pairs; Frederick suggests that such deep friendships are possible not only for but also with his sister. Here, once again, friendship is defined through shared reading. Friends have a common hold on the book.


These examples suggest that while the Western discourse of friendship remained rooted in classical texts and models–as it had been in humanist times–and remains strongly tied to the book, its style is shifting as its range of possibilities, particularly in regard to friendships between men and women. Regarding the overarching theme of this miniseries, I want to suggest that the eighteenth century helps to trace the changes in the practices of “amicable annotation” noted in the first post–from humanist annotation to that of the “notched” and dog-eared books in Emily Dickinson’s neighborhood. Once again, I noted three major splits: 1. the possibility of friendship between men and women via books; 2. the methodical v. haphazard/pleasure-driven character of the markings; and 3. the size of the friendly circumference in which a BEAU might circulate. Eighteenth-century books transcribe the transition from a male dominated world of book-sharing to one where books facilitate friendship between men and women; from the studiousness of an Erasmus to the muffled geometry of a Dickinson (or is it Sue Gilbert?); from amicable annotation’s role in international networking to more domestic sorts of service.

To continue with this last point: Our story so far has centered on what Walter Ong termed “Learned Latin,” that is to say, the imitation-classical Latin that the humanists exchanged with one another and inculcated in the classroom. The “Friendship: Book” series has had pan-European flavor; to cite a few examples: Erasmus was Dutch, Gillis Flemish, Glarean Swiss, More English, Grolier French, Pirckheimer German, Aldus Italian, etc., etc. As we depart the world of the sixteenth century (particularly before the Reformation and its Counter strained–or cut off– international humanist lines of communication) and enter that of the eighteenth century, we still hear learned men and women chatting about, and sending books into, the “Republic of Letters” (that phrase invented, n.b., by a fifteenth-century Italian). In the new Enlightenment Republic of the long eighteenth century, annotation could still cross borders and serve amicable purposes akin to those of humanist times, and sometimes (as in the case of naturalists) in Latin still.

One of our headlines in this new period, though, is that amicable annotation might happen in narrower circles and vernacular tongues (such as Gleim’s effusive German). Humanist marginalia is sometimes amusingly polyglot–Latin, Greek, and the writer’s Mother Tongue vie for space. In the new species of the eighteenth century, vernacular marginalia adorns vernacular texts. In our new context, friendship-by-the-book can still be an international practice among scholarly types; but, thanks to the growth of vernacular literatures, rising literacy rates, and lower book prices, we can widen our investigation to consider annotators whose friendly “publics” are geographically slimmer, even happily provincial. We want to keep in mind, at the same time, the example of Gleim in which there isn’t a simple division between the worlds of public and private, intimate and social. Annotation that’s more “personal” in character, seemingly designed to be held “just between friends,” might, in fact, have a broader audience in view.  My focus in what follows will be on the latter–more local, or at least national–kind, though I will offer a few notes as well on the persistence of international scholarly friendship by the book.

Click here for Part 6, which discusses of the circulation of amicable annotation between men and women.


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