Autograph letter signed, 4pp.
Martius, Karl Friedrich von
Martius, Karl F. P. von (1794-1868). A.L.s. in German to an unnamed correspondent. Munich, July 17, 1848. 4pp. 262 x 218 mm. Creased along folds, a few small tears along creases, a few words blurred but still legible, traces of former mounting in left margin of first leaf. Transcription of the text, together with English translation, provided.
From the German botanist Martius, author of the 15-volume Flora Brasiliensis (1840-1906; continued after Martius's death by Eichler, Urban and others) and other important works on Brazilian flora, fauna and ethnology; he is also known for having discovered the cause of the devastating European potato blight of the 1830s and 1840s. In 1817 Martius formed part of the Austrian scientific expedition to Brazil, an event that laid the foundations of his future success:
. . . as a result of the expedition [Martius] was appointed a member of the Royal Bavarian Academy and assistant conservator of the botanic garden. In 1826, when King Ludwig I had transferred Landshut University to Munich, Martius was appointed professor of botany, and in 1832, when Schrank retired, he was named principal conservator of the botanic garden, institute, and collections (DSB).
In the present letter, written to a young Protestant clergyman being considered as a tutor to Martius's 10-year-old son, Martius discusses the spiritual and educational requirements of the post, and alludes to the political unrest that was affecting the German states and other parts of Europe at the time. An English translation of the letter follows:
Most Esteemed Sir,
First and foremost, my sincere thanks that you were compelled by our brief meeting to contact me in writing. Thank you furthermore for doing this with the sort of noble candor that is not lacking in the character of an independent, confident person such that it has awakened spirited sympathies in me and challenges me to be just as sincere. You manifest the fermentative elements of a youthfully zealous spirit interested in reform. In and of itself I can find no criterion by which this would prove unsuitable for that which I am seeking. For who is to say that a young man of 23 or 24 years should not still rank among the seekers? Indeed, who at that age has already declared himself to be so consummate, that he could promise to change nothing more in his views on the essence of our nature and our spiritual purpose? And yet there is one thing from the description that you present me of your spiritual life, dear Sir, which must be clear between us before I could entrust my only son to you with confidence. A certain exuberant striving - a general inclination to that which is far away, the unknown, probably for the most part the unknowable - is found in all highly gifted, pure, masculine temperaments. But it must - at least I think so of a young protestant clergyman - have a counterweight, a balance against that restless, centrifugal spiritual activity: not simply in a general philosophical belief in God, but in a quite specific Christian faith. I will not conceal it from you: the testimony of your letter reminded me of my own battles and brought me to tears, but on that one matter, it has not yet set my mind at rest. Therefore, I will formulate my fundamental question as follows:
Can you look me in the eye and with firm conviction - be it through the happiest of all spiritual gifts, the capacity of that perceptive spark within us, or through suffering and trials - state with your hand on your heart: for me, Christ is God? If this wonderfully holy manifestation is for you the approachable God of mankind, with whom you can converse, on whom you can rely, and whom you can consult for advice, while the unapproachable majesty of the Father can never be reached through philosophy, rather only through the Savior, then I believe you can instill in my son that love and reverence for Christianity, that gentleness and civility with which I seek to enrich him the most; - even if you are not yet firmly established in the details of the dogma that have been developing in dazzling complexity for millennia. Thus, that is the first point, the most important one. I am further compelled by the candor of your letter to make mention of a second point as well.
Do you believe your teaching methods to be so reliable that we will not subject the spirited boy to any more experiments than those he has already endured? Above all, I would like to know whether you can continue to instruct him in the fundamentals of arithmetic (I hesitate to call it mathematics) in which he has achieved some degree of facility. I greatly value that, because I feel that I myself have been disadvantaged by one-sided training in classical languages. My 10-year old son is a practical person. He is attentive to everything in his immediate surroundings. He displays mechanical aptitude much more than any inclination to meditation. He learns and comprehends quickly, and forgets quickly. Rote memorization (a useful activity) is difficult for him and he has difficulty concentrating. Instead of a contemplative, introspective, quiet temperament, he is simply high-strung; his focus goes in many directions. For that reason, I believe he is just not easy to manage; but if he perceives his teacher as a friend who shows him love and no weakness, then he will be manageable. Having little interaction with other boys, at present he is sometimes wild and ornery, but his behavior is not coarse. Moreover, I believe that he will become more mellow, if there is someone to supervise and sway him to that end. He currently feels restrained in many ways in his rambunctiousness when around his mother and sisters.
That should be enough to describe to you the essential nature of the job for which I am seeking someone. As for the time you would need to devote to him, this would involve the periods of time when he is not at school or with his music teacher or with the family in the evenings. Whether or not he will be able to start school now is yet to be determined by Headmaster Beilhack. Perhaps we will have to keep him at home for another half year yet. As for the other employment conditions, they are modest. I would consider you a member of my family. You would have lodging, meals, heat, light, and laundry provided free of charge, and a yearly salary of 200 guilders. That is all that I can do under the circumstances with the current troubling political situation.
You see, dear young friend, I am as forthright as you, and so we are already on a first-name basis, for you can already see the whole person based on what I have written you, and the fact that this person presents himself to you shows that he expects a good relationship between two human beings. Nevertheless, even though I have such a good feeling about this, I do not want us immediately to be obligated to each other; I therefore propose to you that we try each other out for one or two months, assuming you are able to make other arrangements in F. I usually go with my family to Schlehdorf am Kochlsee in August and stay there until October. You are not familiar with the Alps. From there you would have an opportunity to make excursions and see the real Bavarians. Should you find that we are not right for each other, or should I do the same, at least you will have had the experience (I flatter myself) of living with an innocuous family that enjoys art and nature, an experience that in the future should prove to be a pleasant memory.
In the case that we are not suitable for each other, it is understood of course that you would be compensated for the time of your stay just as though you were employed with us. I think that a probationary period like this will give us both more flexibility. Each can see what he's getting and say what he needs. Patti chiari, amizia lunga!
I am reading over my letter and find nothing more to add other than that I naturally expect your involvement with my son for Christian instruction in particular (Bible stories, reading the Holy Scriptures, and so forth) for 3-4 hours weekly, because this is something he can get only with you.
If you are in agreement to my proposal, then I ask that you let me know as soon as possible, so that I can tell you when we will be here and when we will already be in Schlehdorf. In the latter case, you can travel there via Augsburg without passing through Munich. If you are not busy the end of August, so much the better.
I now wish you farewell! We will see how things turn out.
With sincere esteem,
Munich, July 17, 1848 (6 o'clock p.m.)
Book Id: 26725