*Der Teutsche Merkur
Der Teutsche Merkur
German periodical, 1773–1810
Der Teutsche Merkur (The German Mercury) was an 18thcentury German periodical, founded in 1773 and principally edited by Christoph Martin Wieland; it was renamed Der neue Teutsche Merkur during the period of the French Revolution. Usually issued in monthly numbers, the TM was one of the longest-lived (38 years) and most influential journals of the age. Its founder—who established the periodical in loose imitation of the Mercure de France just a few months after settling in Weimar—anticipated that it would serve a twofold purpose: as an educational medium for his melioristic classicalhumanistic ideas and as a source of income that would support him and his family independent of patrons. A secondary, though not insignificant, desire was that such a public forum might aid in spreading the editor’s fame as a poet and novelist. Significantly, Wieland was to shift the emphasis away from his French model’s concern with the theater to ideas and opinions of a broader nature (John A.McCarthy, 1979), especially to contemporary cultural, social, and political affairs.
As both owner and chief editor of the TM, Wieland regarded the entrepreneurial aspect of his role “as if I were an honest weaver or cobbler supporting myself and my family upon the fruits of my handiwork” (A.W.Kurtz, 1956). One of Wieland’s critics, Claude Miquet (1990), makes a convincing case, however, that both entrepreneur and Enlightener were united in the person of the editor and that the commercial aspect of Wieland’s enterprise was far from being its most important. In any event, various prefaces and addresses to subscribers during the first few years of the journal’s life clearly reveal Wieland’s assumption of an audience whose attention and favor must be carefully courted, if his principal goals of instruction and stimulation to thought were to be achieved. In the preface to the first number (January 1773), for example, he avers that only articles of a superior character would be allowed entry, although he also intends to include trifles: “Trivialities, too, can be interesting, and good taste and the heart can often profit more from such than from a heavyhanded seriousness… Nonetheless, these articles will for the most part be appropriate for the intellect of those who think or for the heart of those who feel.”
The novice publisher had great hopes for his venture and wished to reach as large a portion of the reading public as possible, rather than to concentrate on the interests and tastes of a small, elite group. Early on he tried to capitalize on the new-found German patriotism generated by the young Storm and Stress poets, and to make a transregional, integrative appeal to those speakers of German either outside of or otherwise indifferent to the old Reich (S.-A. Jørgensen and others, 1994). Also consonant with this attempt to gain a larger readership was the accommodation he made in 1777 to subscribers who had complained about the recent removal of a feature entitled “Logogryphen und Ratsel” (Logogriphs and puzzles): he conceded that he had been too long prejudiced against such slight divertissements and announced his intention of restoring the feature. A year later he renewed his pledge to spare his readers “dry treatises” and, rather, to provide “essays that will nourish the mind and incite to thought.”
Generally, Wieland aimed for his journal to combine a classical-humanist spirit with matters of interest to the German reading public; the principal means of realizing his goals were the cultivation of “social intercourse and critical insight” (Jørgensen).
Moreover, and in contrast to other famous periodicals of the age, such as Schiller’s Die Horen (The muses) and the Schlegel brothers’ Athenäum, the project was by no means intended to embody any specific literary, philosophical, or cultural program (Friedrich Sengle, 1949). Repeatedly, in the early years, Wieland asseverated that his publication would be successful—in both an entrepreneurial and a more spiritual sense—only insofar as it retained the interest of the average reader. Success, he believed, could best be attained through a nonpartisan, serious, and assiduous search for truth in which the writer and his reader would be firmly and equally allied. Not the least ingredient in this formula for success was the editor’s intention to engage only the best German thinkers as contributors.
Several of Wieland’s critics have concluded that in the end the TM was not a school for high-minded idealists, and that it hardly met the high hopes of some of those early enthusiasts who greeted its first appearance as a possible counter to the Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek (Universal German library), published by the hide-bound and widely resented German Enlightenment philosopher Friedrich Nicolai (cf. Moses Mendelssohn).
Nonetheless, the journal enjoyed an unprecedented success upon first appearance. An initial run of 2500 had to be augmented by a second printing, and even though the next year saw subscriptions drop to 2000, this figure was unparalleled for the time. Ten years after its inception, the number of subscribers had fallen by another 500 or so, with a steady decline thereafter to 800 by 1798. Not until the Romantic age, however, when Wieland redirected his editorial interests, did the TM come to an irreversible end (Sengle).
In spite of the journa’s popular success in the early years, many among the German intelligentsia of the late 18th century were sorely disappointed by the TM’s lack of commitment to criticism, one of the two or three most significant areas of interest during the period. Wieland’s failure to persevere with criticism—despite the promises to his initial subscribers—is explained by some of his later commentators as stemming from faintheartedness in the face of a possible public withdrawal of support for the journal, not
least from his disinclination to assume the role of critic in the first place. Compounding this lack of full dedication was the editor’s often annoying practice of deleting or otherwise altering material from his contributors that he thought either harshly critical, offensive, or beyond the competence of his subscribers. While this practice was inconsonant with the originally announced intention to include a section entitled “Umständliche Beurteilung neuer Bücher” (Detailed criticism of new books), the journal did sometimes offer true and decisive literary criticism in the late 1770s, especially during Johann Heinrich “Mephistopheles” Merck’s tenure as coeditor. Moreover, while it is perhaps a moot point whether Kant’s revolutionary epistemology and writings on aesthetics would have found extensive commentary in the TM without the spur of K.L.Reinhold, Wieland’s son-in-law and Kant enthusiast, there is little doubt on the editor’s part that philosophical contributions which might tax the patience of the general audience had to be handled with circumspection. Prudence was also exercised with contributions in the areas of political philosophy, including those from prominent statesmen of the time—and for essentially the same reason: the disinclination to publish something that might be construed as unfair partisanship. This policy of noncommittal neutrality was to change, at times drastically, during the era of the French Revolution.
Even so, articles on such subjects as art history and musicology, Shakespeare, theoretical physics and chemistry, archaeology, and orientalism found good representation in the journal (Thomas Starnes, 1994).
Wieland’s interest in the French Revolution was prepared long beforehand by his general preoccupation with matters French. Indeed, as Sengle has pointed out, Wieland propagandized throughout the history of the TM for France as the best model for the Germans to follow in their efforts to achieve a higher civilization. The French, he argued, simply had the most modern and most exemplary of those European cultures that were based on classical antiquity. In fact, he enthusiastically opened the pages of his journal to French affairs in the decade of the 1780s, publishing, for example, a series of essays on French women writers, and several articles on balloon flight in France (especially by the brothers Montgolfier). During the 1790s the TM stood out among the periodicals of the age in placing the French Revolution center stage in reports and observations. Moreover, Wieland’s journal offered the most percipient and intelligible commentary among popular and widely-read German periodicals. Indeed, Wieland’s own contributions on the questions raging around that event—e.g. democracy vs. monarchy; how the Germans should react to the Revolution; what would be its upshot—constitute by far the most important and interesting matter in the TM during the 1790s. They were also among Wieland’s own most forthright and lasting contributions to the essay genre: for example, his acceptance of only one part (fraternité) of the Revolutionary triadic slogan, and his famous Napoleon prophecy (McCarthy, 1979). However, he eventually felt himself incapable of comprehending the events sweeping over his old European order, and finally turned away from French affairs to devote himself to the translation of works from classical antiquity, and with that the establishment, in 1796, of another journal, the Attisches Museum (Attic museum).
Though Hans Wahl (1914)—as Sengle maintains—has made a sincere effort to show that the TM was a well-integrated whole during most of its existence, the journal was, nonetheless, not “the development of a program of a living idea, and displayed rather a constantly changing relationship between the publisher and his age.” In tracing its history, Sengle notes that the first three years were relatively balanced, with the editor even attempting to fulfill his responsibility as critic, though ironically and with stiff resistance to the clamorous demands and challenges of the Storm and Stress poets. In the second half of the 1770s, the journal was stamped primarily by Merck’s literary criticism, Wieland’s essayistic ruminations on the nature of art, and the inclusion (usually in serial form) of his own poetry and literary works such as the romance tale Oberon (1780). The 1780s witnessed something of an ebb tide, with criticism giving way to all manner of popular subjects (e.g. divination, magnetism, travelogues, magic); this preoccupation is countered only somewhat by Johann Gottfried Herder’s brief appearance as contributor in 1781–82. Beginning c. 1783, in his fifties, Wieland fell into a profound resignation concerning both his literary career generally and the fortunes of the TM specifically. As noted, the French Revolution revivified him. In the second half of the 1790s, however, he began more and more to leave the direction of his journalistic enterprise to others, notably F.J.Bertuch, a Weimar publisher and writer, and K.A.Böttiger, antiquarian director of the Weimar Gymnasium and later head of the Dresden Museum. One of the most notable contributions during the final years of the periodical was Wieland’s essay on euthanasia (1805). The journal appeared for the last time in 1810.
Ultimately the TM’s importance inheres essentially in its longevity as a vehicle for the spread of popular culture, for the many important essays that Wieland himself contributed, and for its list of supporting contributors and coeditors (among them Goethe and Schiller, Herder, the Schlegel brothers, Reinhold, Ludwig Gleim, Merck, and Novalis). Goethe noted in 1825, long after the journal’s demise, that “all the upper classes owe their style and taste to Wieland” (McCarthy, 1979). While the journal began in large part as a commercial enterprise, it provided a valuable service for the general reading public in German-speaking lands in bringing that public to a greater awareness of the world outside the limited perspective of strictly German experience. Perhaps more important than any particular contribution made by the editor himself was the pervasive spirit of curiosity, openness, and toleration which he consistently and fervently tried to inculcate in his audience. Always dominant in his mind as editor and writer was the need to spur his readers to intelligent thought and discussion. In opening his journal to virtually all areas of popular interest, and even frequently—in spite of his misapprehensions as an entrepreneur—to controversial political questions and philosophical subjects, he most of all strove to educate his fellow Germans to a citizenship as true Europeans.
Jørgensen, S.-A., H.Jaumann, John A.McCarthy, and H.Thomé, Christoph Martin Wieland: Epoche, Werk, Wirkung, Munich: Beck, 1994
Kurtz, A.W., C.M.Wieland and the “Teutscher Merkur” (dissertation), College Park: University of Maryland, 1956
McCarthy, John A., Christoph Martin Wieland, Boston: Twayne, 1979
McCarthy, John A., “The Poet as Journalist and Essayist: Chr. M. Wieland, Part One—A Descriptive Account,” Jahrbuch für internationale Gertnanistik 12, no. 1 (1980):104– 38
Miquet, Claude, C.M.Wieland: Directeur du “Mercure Allemand”, 1773–89, Berne and New York: Lang, 1990
Schulze, Volker, “Der Teutsche Merkur (1773–1810),” in Deutsche Zeitschriften des 17.
bis 20. Jahrhunderts, edited by Heinz-Dietrich Fischer, Pullach: Dokumentation, 1973
Sengle, Friedrich, Wieland, Stuttgart: Metzler, 1949
Starnes, Thomas C., Der Teutsche Merkur: Ein Repertorium, Sigmaringen: Thorbecke, 1994
Wahl, Hans, Geschichte des Teutschen Merkur, Berlin: Mayer & Müller, 1914
Wieland, Christoph Martin, Wieland’s Werke, edited by Heinrich Düntzer, Berlin: Hempel, 1879
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