The Phillips Family
OLD DAYS IN WEIMARBy Mariquita Phillips Moberly
It has been said somewhere by a German writer that, when one reaches middle age, life is but a graveyard of past memories.
Now although that is, alas, to a great extent true, I do not like visiting tombs. My friends are not there; they themselves, the kindliness, the goodness, the nobility, the great deeds or the small services live on and rivet an endless chain of sweet remembrances. Maeterlinck's beautiful idea in 'The Blue Bird' surely appeals to us more strongly and whenever we think of our so-called 'lost' friends truly do they live again around us, vivid and fresh.
To revive a few of the old childish memories of my beloved Weimar home, where we met with so much kindliness and made such enduring friendships, and especially to recall my remembrances of the old Goethe-house, where we spent such happy years, is the object of the following pages.
In 1849 my mother, Jane Atkins, then quite a young girl, went to Weimar for a year, taking with her, among other introductions, one to Gräfin (Countess) Ulrike von Pogwisch, sister of Ottilie, Goethe's daughter-in-law. This was the foundation of a life-long friendship. She showed great kindness to my mother, who was in constant correspondence with her until her death, and although, alas, all the letters have vanished, I well remember them coming, with their big Thurn and Taxis (a German noble family who pioneered postal services in Europe) stamps on them. There were always loving messages for the children, and my earliest attempts at German writing were small letters to 'Tante Ulla'. She became in her later years Lady Prioress of a Protestant Cloister for high-born ladies in Schleswig-Holstein, a delightful home, where my mother visited her in 1875.
In 1861, when I was 5 years old, my mother went with her husband, John Phillips, for a short visit of two or three weeks to Weimar to see her old friends, and took me with them. Being very small, I cannot recall anything very definite except the exquisite delight of having breakfast out of doors under the orange trees at Frau Charlotte von Stein's old house, where my mother had stayed as a girl, and which was then occupied by Fraulien Marie Schwabe, a most gifted and delightful woman.
From that time dates also my acquaintance and friendship with the well-known writer, Helen Boehlau, and her family. My mother dressed a doll like an English baby for her and I was presented by Frau Therese Boehlau with a German Wickelkind (baby in arms), beloved of my heart and treasured for many years.
It was then that I first met Gräfin Ulrike von Pogwisch and her nephews, Walther and Wolfgang von Goethe, then living with her in Weimar. (There is a legend still current in Weimar that I, who was nicknamed 'Birdie', was requested to sing to Tante Ulla. But the imp of perversity seized me, and instead of 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star', or some such proper performance, I insisted on dancing round and singing the old nigger song, "Hoop do dooden do," to the huge delight of Baron Walther and the rest of the company.) I cannot tell whether my mother had met him before, but at any rate the friendship then was firmly cemented and not long after he became godfather to my youngest brother, Walter Alison Phillips, who was named after him.
In 1871 my mother, left a widow with four boys and myself, was persuaded by her old friends in Weimar to go and settle there for a time, and as soon as peace was declared between France and Germany we did so and found ourselves in the midst of a strenuous and most interesting literary and artistic life. Liszt was living there, his long gaunt form in Abbé's dress and his striking and intellectual face to be seen daily in the street. I only came once into personal contact with him. It was soon after our arrival, when we were living in Professor Friedrich Martersteig's house, that a strange lady called, having heard me sing through the window, and asked if I would join a chorus to perform two pieces of Liszt's on his birthday in the Roman Catholic Church. The choruses we practised were 'O Salutaris Hostia' and 'Ave Maris Stella'. But, when the day came, either we had not practised sufficiently or the good lady waxed nervous and lost her head. The performance was execrable and the lady in tears. But the Abbé came up and with his inimitable graciousness thanked us for the compliment and said that if we liked he would conduct it himself the following Sunday. Our spirits rose, we had a good practice at this house, and next Sunday all went like a marriage bell!
He then invited the whole crowd to his weekly matinée. There were several performers, Theodor Winkler, an excellent flautist, and others whose names I forget; but what I have not forgotten was the heavenly music under the Abbé's long fingers as he sat and dreamed over the notes, the lovely air of the 'Salutaria Hostia' wandering through exquisite variations. In an ecstasy of delight I listened, entranced, when a whisper came from Miss Betham Edwards: 'I have left my fan at your house', and my mother, ever ready to help: 'Oh, Mariquita will fetch it for you', and my dream was shattered and my ecstasy fallen to earth. Never before or since I believe have I run so fast as I did to fetch that fan, but still I lost much of the music, a loss over which I grieve to this day, for I never went there again!
Of all the crowd there, my mother and I were the only ones he invited to come again, and I shall never forget the sweetness of his voice and the gracious courtesy of his manner. I was then taking music lessons of Herr Gottschalg, a pupil of his, and for long after I continued to receive messages through him from the Abbé to ask why the English ladies did not come again. In these days it seems strange that anyone should put what appears to be a slight on such a great man, but there were, in my mother's eyes, two excellent reasons for our keeping away. His matinees were held every Sunday at 11 a.m., the hour of our English service, then held in the great hall of the Buergerschule, and, as I played the harmonium, led the singing, chose the hymns, found dear old absent-minded Dr. Wilson's places in his books, and generally conducted the business part of the service, I could not very well be spared.
The other reason was that Frau Ottilie von Goethe was very much against my being introduced to that circle, and perhaps it was not a very good one for an enthusiastic 'schwaermerischter Backfisch'i like myself. I certainly might have ranked with his adorers, who made themselves often very ridiculous in the little town. I once travelled in the same train with the Abbé, when there were thirty ladies to see him off at the station, each one with a bouquet!ii
Frau Ottilie von Goethe had returned to Weimar in the previous year and was then living with her two sons in the upper storey of the Goethe-house, in the same suite which she and her husband occupied after their marriage in 1817iii. Although the rooms were small, there were many of them, and they were very cosy and much more comfortable and cheerful than the larger ones below.
Ottilie was very small, not such a pretty lady as her sister Ulrike, but very intellectual-looking, with bright eyes, alert and vivacious. I think she loved having us children about her and she certainly had a great affection for my mother. I have vague recollections of being very often in the house and whenever anyone of note came to her open evenings, a few lines from her would come around to ask us to go in. I was greatly favoured, being the only young person I ever found there. Unfortunately my knowledge of German at that time was very slender, but I sat silent, trying to take in as much as possible of the wonderful conversations. I was much impressed by meeting Hermann Grimm one evening with his wife, a daughter of Bettina von Arnim. The Grand Duke, Carl Alexander, used to come in often, but I was rather frightened of him when I had to pour out his tea. We learnt to know him well enough later and to discover how kind and genial and sympathetic he was. Another intimate friend we often met was Allwine Fromann, a clever and delightful old lady, who had been reader to the Empress Augusta for forty years.
The receptions were of the simplest character. Frau Ottilie held open house every evening, and always sat in the same chair behind a large round table at which her guests assembled and were regaled with tea and cakes. The conversation never flagged, for, added to the fact that they were mostly clever and intellectual people who were to be met there, Frau Ottilie had the great gift of bringing out the best conversational powers of her guests. She possessed an autograph album with a page and a motto for every day in the year. In this were, of course, a great number of well-known names, and I remember seeing a small musical sketch of Mendelssohn's in it. I have often heard Baron Walther speak of Fanny Mendelssohn and looked with reverence on the chair in which he said she generally sat when there. He also told me that she composed many of the 'Lieder ohne Worte,' notably the first, a favourite and very beautiful one. Another name often on his lips was that of Mme. Schumann, but always as 'Clara Wieck.'
One day he told me this following story. He was at a musical reception at which a certain great singer had been asked to sing a song by a young unknown composer. But when the evening came the singer refused, saying that the song was not worth hearing. However, when it was discovered that the music, tied round with a peculiar knot, had never been opened, the host insisted on its being sung. It was the 'Erlkoenig'! An immense sensation followed, the audience were enthusiastic, and applause vociferous, and from that night onward the name of Schubert was no longer unknown.
One of the greatest losses which befell the family was that of Goethe's charming and gifted grand-daughter at the early age of seventeen. She was always mentioned with a tender reverence by her brothers as 'our sister Alma' and often a quick look up at the large picture of her sweet face crowned with roses which hung over the place where their mother sat. Frau Ottilie took a great interest in our small doings and I have a charming letter of hers inviting my three little brothers to tea with a small godson and asking them to bring some toys (soldiers etc), or books, because I am not sure that I have much what would amuse them.' Her sons also, I think, must have enjoyed the young people running in and out, bringing innocent sunshine into their otherwise colourless lives. They were dreadfully 'Menschenshau'vi and withdrew themselves, after their mother's death in 1872, entirely from society. It was not from want of asking. My mother and their staunch and faithful friend Frau Charlotte Hardtmuth, as well as others, endeavoured to the best of their ability to induce them to forsake their hermit-like existence, but it was useless. They were very much liked and were both interesting and charming clever men, but the shadow of their titanic grandfather seemed to have oppressed them all their lives and they never were able to shake it off.
To us they were goodness itself; they never forgot our birthdays, and I have a vivid recollection of a large bouquet of lovely flowers which Baron Walther brought me on one of mine. The scene is very clear to me. The exquisite flowers on the piano, he sitting behind listening while I in gratitude sang to him 'Blind Nydia's Song,' at that time a great favourite, the refrain of which ran: 'Bring more flowers'; which rather illustrates the old proverb, 'Gratitude consists in a lively sense of favours to come.' When I realized what I had done, confusion covered me.
After the death of Frau Ottilie her sons, who were about the most unbusiness-like men imaginable, seem to have consulted my mother about their affairs. They had no idea of their income and we always thought them exceedingly poor. Certainly it was from no miserliness that they stinted themselves, but from sheer want of business faculties.
The feeling of Pietatv towards both grandfather and mother was very strong and nothing was ever altered nor any re-arrangement made. My mother at length persuaded them to let her a suite of rooms which was standing empty and only getting more and more dilapidated, and after it was put in order we moved into the Goethe-house in the late summer of 1873 and lived there until our return to England in April 1876. The entrance to our rooms was at the top of the grand staircase.
The door opened straight into the yellow salon, a long, narrow, uncomfortably-shaped room with two windows to the street; leading out of this was the blue room with a classic frieze and vaulted ceiling painted with garlands. This room was really a covered bridge from the front part to the old rooms at the back across the courtyard; being open to the air on two sides as well as top and bottom it was bitterly cold in winter, and, as there were no means of heating, it was useless except in summer. Beyond the blue room was a little entrance painted duck's-egg green, and beyond that a little arched wooden platform and steps leading to the garden. In the summer the vista from the yellow salon looking through was very charming.
The colours of these rooms when they were done up had to be matched very carefully so as to preserve the effect as Goethe meant it to be (I always understood that it had something to do with his Farbenlehre)vi , and I was greatly surprised when I visited the house lately, as it is now turned into a museum, to find that the blue was a much harsher shade of colour and that it had been carried through into the little entry beyond. In this latter there was a mysterious door without a handle, papered like the wall but not locked. We children managed to open it, moved a few of the books on the shelves that filled the door recess and got into an enchanted land, a whole suite of rooms looking on to the garden, fully furnished in quaint old style, even to a piano and music. These were Baron Wolf's rooms but rarely inhabited by him. I went through them once by the legitimate door, when I found old Minchen doing some cleaning, badly wanted.
This was one of the many mysteries of the old house. Another was a dark cupboard on one of the back staircases containing Goethe's firewood, which had never been touched since his death and was covered with dirt and cobwebs!
Our empty boxes were stowed in part of an old attic partitioned off by wooden slats. Through these we saw all sorts of treasures, boxes, papers, old furniture etc and once I saw into a locked room on the ground floor and have a dim vision of shelves, tables and floor covered with books and papers, bales and bundles and piles of them, and over all a fine layer of dust. We also penetrated, without any difficulty, into the recesses of the two garden pavilions, and studied the minerals lying about. Fortunately we had been brought up with reverence for books, antiquities and other people's possessions generally, else the consequences might have been disastrous.
Leading out of the yellow salon, the Juno room (so called from a huge bust of that goddess which it contained) and those beyond were then in museum order and locked, but the door to the right led into a comfortable large square room heated by a tall white Berlin stove; beyond that the alcove room and, still further, a large bedroom with the end door leading to the back quarters. This room had a most peculiar and unpleasant odour of its own, which no amount of ventilation would move. When the house was thoroughly done up after the death of the last of the family the flooring beams and joists were found to be a mass of mildew and dry-rot, and it is a wonder that we had not fallen through.
The house faces north and no sunshine ever penetrated into the front rooms, which were very cold, especially the yellow room, in spite of stoves and double windows. It was delightful in summer and although we were not allowed to alter a single thing in the garden, a certain bed was allotted to us, which was brilliant with flowers.
In one of the cellars, down a dark mysterious flight of steps, was a well of the purest coldest water imaginable, very hard and quite useless for tea-making or washing, but as a summer drink delicious. Inside the right hand large door leading into the courtyard, at the back, was the coach house, containing a huge and ancient coach, hung on leather straps, moth-eaten and decayed: it looked as if it had stood there for half a century without being touched.
Minchen, to whom reference has been made, was an old and faithful creature who had been in the family practically all her life and remembered Goethe in his old age. She and another old crony, Johanna, lived on the ground floor in the rooms to the left of the entrance, and served the Barons with the greatest zeal and affection. They were both very dirty, but we loved them all the same and the feeling was reciprocated, except when we came in with dirty boots and forgot to wipe them, when Johanna came out like a dragon. Minchen wore a dreadful brown wig which seemed in a subtle way to accentuate the dirt in the wrinkles. One day the dear old thing was ill and my mother, going up to see her, discovered her with beautiful silky white hair. On inquiry why she covered it all up she answered: 'You see, gnaedige Frauvii, Frau C. gives me her old wigs and I must wear them out of gratitude.'
The two Barons, Walther and Wolfgang, lived above us in the Mansarde (attic) and we saw the former very often. The latter was a good deal away and when in Weimar suffered terribly from neuralgia, to which he was a lifelong martyr. They were both very musical and we often used to hear 'Onkel Walther' playing. Every now and then Baron Wolf would come down and play duets with me, generally Beethoven's 'Symphonies,' but he was terribly shy, and I see him now, waiting in the doorway to know if he were really welcome. He had the most beautiful eyes I ever saw, large, dark brown, very bright and melancholy, like a dog's eyes.
The garden had in those days a peaceful secluded air, several large trees, amongst them a magnificent copper beech, giving cool and grateful shade; and at the west end in the open sunshine were lovely roses, a row of them with other sweet old-fashioned flowers right under the study windows.
As I stood there not many days ago and looked round, a crowd of memories surged over me. The walks were the same; the roses under the study window bloomed as of old; the trees had only grown out and gave more shade; the old high hedge with its yellow blossom still guarded the mysterious walk where I always pictured the great master walking up and down composing some of his works. But although house and garden are kept and preserved with loving and reverent care, to me an air of desolation lay over all and the peaceful seclusion had departed. Great tall modern houses flaunted themselves, peering over the wall, as if to see what was the attraction in that world-famed corner, and the hoot of motor-cars desecrated the silence.
And the old house, so full of the keenest life and intellect, whose walls echoed with love and laughter, wit and brilliancy, tears and sorrow - a cold museum! The cosy pretty rooms of the Mansarde, bare and deserted - a dead place! I looked in vain for the round table where Frau Ottilie sat, and the favourite chair of Fanny Mendelssohn, Baron Walther's beloved piano and the portfolios full of treasures. All have vanished, and only the sweet and warm memory of those days remains.
Mariquita J. Moberly
adoring, doting teenager
This is a letter written by Jane Atkins to Ottilie apologizing for this incident:
Dear Baroness de Goethe,
I cannot free my mind from the feeling of having apparently slighted your kind advice, but really I had no such intention or indeed intention at all. In the first place I did not realize what the reasons were which should have obliged me to avoid any introduction to Dr. Liszt. I thought you meant that it would not be well for Mariquita to be drawn into his musical circle. When first asked to let her sing in the Catholic Church, there was no idea of Liszt having anything to do with it. The only argument used to induce me was that an English girl, one of Fraulein Giannisch's boarders and one of Professor Martersteig's pupils, was going to sing and they were short of one voice. I declined at first but ultimately yielded. When the singing was all over we all came out together, Miss Edwards with me, and together we were all asked to go into Dr. Liszt's house where we heard some splendid music and then Miss Edwards, Mariquita and I took our leave, the others of those who sang all leaving at the same time, no one being individually introduced excepting Miss Edwards. Therefore I think I may safely feel that we were only soprano voices, not Kirch Plaz Ilmenau individuals. Mariquita wanted at once to tell you where we had been but I told her I would rather tell you how it all came about; we both evidently had a feeling that you would not like it, nor did we, in our heart of hearts, as I tried to escape by pleading the necessity of attending the English church but unfortunately was then informed that there was no service. Please do not tell my dear old friend the Prioress of my indiscretion, as that would add considerably to my present regretful feeling. I return 'Hand and Glove' with many thanks - you would admire 'Hitty' (which I know to be by the Miss Edwards now in Weimar. I fancy the style is quite different.) I cannot express our admiration of this lovely neighbourhood, we walk 5 or 6 hours daily and always find new beauties, all is so totally un-English. I had intended remaining but one week, but as Bevan is not strong and we have very roomy airy lodgings, I have decided to remain until next Friday week. Begging you to excuse my troubling you with so long an account of my misdemeanour and hoping that you are feeling stronger and better. I remain, Your sincerely obliged Jenny Phillips. Mariquita sends her love
Evidently in 1816, just after Christiane von Goethe, Goethe's wife and mother of August, died, Ottilie tried in vain to break off her engagement with August.
shy (the brothers almost seemed to have a social phobia!)
respect, reverence, deference
Colour Theory: It was Goethe's idea that colours produce a certain atmosphere and emote a special feeling in people. He tried to prove this scientifically, but was not successful. He tried to show that white light is not a combination of all colours, but rather colours are produced by an interaction of light and darkness. This theory was discounted by scientists. It is interesting that Goethe considered himself more of a scientist than a poet. It's good that we know him as the greatest German poet!
together with Frau, means "madam"