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Telling the Same Story of Nietzsche’s Life, Mark Anderson

In the spring 2011 issue of this journal there appeared a review of Julian Young’s recent and well-received Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography. The author of the piece, Daniel Blue, writes from the perspective of one of the book’s very few detractors.[1] His objections, however, mainly concern the philosophical-interpretive chapters of Young’s book. Regarding the biographical material, Blue judges that the book provides “a lively and intellectually bracing account of Nietzsche’s life.”  On this point I would not like to contradict Blue’s opinion. I am, however, inclined to lay a critical finger upon his remark that Young “[o]f necessity…tells the same story as [Ronald] Hayman and [Curtis] Cate,” two of the more ambitious among Nietzsche’s English-language biographers. Taking the point as Blue no doubt intends it, his remark is unobjectionable. Nietzsche lived only one life; his biographers, therefore, have in a general way only one story to tell. They distinguish themselves, as Blue correctly indicates, by providing their “own emphases.” I would elaborate upon this point by noting that apart from being a meticulous compiler and collator of dates and information, a successful biographer must also be something of an artist.  And I would add that the biographer’s art is manifest, not in his chronological ordering of the events of one year after another, but in his particular selection of facts, in his narrative interpretation of these facts, and, perhaps most of all, in his prose, his language, which, after all, is the only medium at his disposal for characterizing his subjects, communicating their attitudes and moods, and for attracting us to them, or repelling us from them, as individual personalities.

We agree, then, that Nietzsche’s many biographers must in a general way tell the same story. Having conceded this point, however, let us consider Julian Young’s brief history and description of Nietzsche’s boarding-school, Pforta:

Originally a Cistercian abbey called Porta Coeli (Gate of Heaven), Pforta (‘Gate’—now to education rather than heaven) had been transformed into a school in 1543 by the Prince-Elector Moritz of Saxony…Pforta, or Schulpforta (Pforta School), as it is known today, is about an hour’s walk from Naumburg—Fritz sometimes walked home for the holidays. It lies just south of the ambling Saale River in a wooded valley that extends from the western edge of Naumburg to the narrow gorge of Kösen. The school estate comprises some seventy-three acres of gardens, orchards, groves of trees, buildings, and cloisters, protected from the outer world by a thick twelve-foot-high wall, which forms an almost perfect rectangle. A branch canal of the Saale flows through the middle of the enclosure, separating the work buildings and gardens and most of the teachers’ houses from the school itself. (Young 2010, 21-22)

Now compare this to the following passage from the late Curtis Cate’s biography, Friedrich Nietzsche [2]:

Originally a Cistercian monastery bearing the Latin name, Porta coeli (Gate of Heaven), it had been transformed in 1543 into a ‘Prinzenschule’ by the Protestant Prince-Elector Moritz of Saxony. Situated slightly south of the Saale river in a wooded valley extending from the western edge of Naumburg to the narrow gorges of Kösen, Pforta or Schulpforta, as it is known to this day, consisted of some sixty acres of gardens, orchards, groves, buildings and cloisters, protected from the outer world by a thick twelve-foot-high wall, which formed an almost perfect rectangle. A branch canal of the Saale flowed through the middle of the enclosure, separating the vegetable and other gardens, the ‘household’ barns and workshops and most of the teachers’ houses from the school buildings and quadrangles. (Cate 2005, 17)

These two passages are strikingly similar; they are much closer to one another than either is to the corresponding passage in Ronald Hayman’s Nietzsche: A Critical Life, which reads: “Built in the twelfth century as a Cistercian abbey, with walls twelve feet high and two-and-a-half feet thick, [Pforta] was isolated in a valley about four miles from Naumburg” (Hayman 1982, 27). Hayman tells the same story as Cate and Young, to be sure; but his version of the story is unique. How shall we explain the parallels between Young’s story and Cate’s?

Many of the relevant details appear in Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I, page 98 (wherein Förster-Nietzsche quotes Pforta’s rector’s brief history of the school and description of its grounds).  Since Cate cites pages 98-100 of Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I for facts in the paragraph prior to that in which his history and description of Pforta appear, it is reasonable to conclude that he has drawn his material from this source. But Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches does not appear in Young’s bibliography. Young cites pages 74-75 of The Young Nietzsche—not specifically in relation to his history and description of Pforta (in fact, the first endnote of the chapter comes in an entirely different section), but nevertheless in a related context—and this book includes Förster-Nietzsche’s own brief history and description of Pforta. Yet the pertinent information in The Young Nietzsche does not appear on pages 74-75, but on pages 73-74; nor is the account in The Young Nietzsche a precise repetition of the passage in Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I—it is, rather, Förster-Nietzsche’s paraphrase of the words of the rector whom she quotes in her earlier work. Moreover, The Young Nietzsche does not appear in Cate’s bibliography (although Förster-Nietzsche’s original text, Der junge Nietzsche, does appear there[3]). Neither of Förster-Nietzsche’s books, therefore, can be the common source [4]. Might the source then be Curt Paul Janz’s Friedrich Nietzsche: Biographie? Both Cate and Young acknowledge their having made use of this work, and on page 65 of volume one of Janz’s book there appears information regarding Pforta evidently drawn from Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I. Yet neither Cate nor Young cites Janz in this connection and, besides, the relevant passage in Janz does not account for the similarities of detail and phrasing presently under consideration. To judge from their bibliographies, then, Cate and Young have not worked from a common source that explains the parallels that concern us here.

From these facts we can draw two conclusions. First, Curtis Cate has most likely based his history and description of Pforta upon the rector’s words as quoted in Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I. I say “based upon,” for Cate’s words are not the product of a literal translation or a paraphrase of the rector’s words; the specific facts he has selected, his arrangement of these facts, and the prose in which he has presented them, are all his own. Second, Julian Young has either worked from sources other than or in addition to both the sources he has cited and those he has not cited but that I myself have consulted and reported, or else he has borrowed Cate’s words without acknowledgement. We shall have to bear this conclusion in mind while in the course of this essay considering the several other parallels between these two biographies.

One of the most notable events in Nietzsche’s early life is his being offered a position as Professor of Classical Philology at Basel University. Ronald Hayman captures something of Nietzsche’s excitement by noting that he “spent the whole afternoon walking and singing melodies from Tannhäuser” (Hayman 1982, 102). Both Cate and Young repeat this story; but note how Cate’s writerly attention to detail evokes an even deeper sense of Nietzsche’s youthful elation:

At last able to spread the good news, Fritz penned a series of short notes on a dozen visiting cards, adding underneath his printed name: ‘Professor extraord[inary] of Classical Philology at Basel University’. (Cate 2005, 88)

There is something in the specificity of Cate’s expressions that brings the scene before one’s eyes with a remarkable realism. Cate is successful, too, in conveying the young Nietzsche’s mother’s wild and joyous relief at her son’s unexpected good fortune when he writes that “[t]he good tidings...brought tears of bewildered happiness to Franziska Nietzsche’s eyes...” (Cate 2005, 89). Not “tears of joy,” the typical cliché; nor even “tears of happiness,” which would at least have the merit of being a variation on the standard expression; no, but rather “tears of bewildered happiness.” With this one word, “bewildered,” Cate sums up a swirling confusion of emotions.

Cate’s depiction of this episode, reconstructed from correspondence, is a fine example of what I have called the biographer’s art. Every biographer must indeed tell the same story of Nietzsche’s being called to Basel; but the art is in the telling, in the specific selections one makes from among the available facts, also in the subtleties of vocabulary, tone, and accent. With this in mind, consider Young’s portrayal of the same events:

Then he announced the good news by penning a series of short notes on a dozen visiting cards which he sent to friends and acquaintances, adding, underneath his printed name: ‘Professor extraord[inary] of Classical Philology at Basel University’. His mother burst into tears of bewildered happiness. (Young 2010, 79)

Young cites no sources for this passage.[5] Nietzsche’s visiting card and his mother’s joy are mentioned in Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I, page 296, The Young Nietzsche, page 197, Janz I, page 257, and Friedrich Nietzsche: Chronik in Bildern und Texten [henceforth, Chronik], pages 188-189; yet even if Young had cited one or more of these texts, we could not account for the similarities between his and Cate’s words. Compared to the relevant sources, Cate’s phrasing is absolutely original.

I have implied that there are several other parallels between these two biographies. Indeed there are, parallels of various kinds in fact—and by various kinds I mean that the parallels range from simple similarities of phrasing to longer and more complex parallels of narrative structure. Before providing examples of the latter variety, I should give some further indication than I have already done of the number and type of the former. Compare, then, (a) the title of chapter six of Cate’s biography:

With the Beer-drinkers of the Rhine (Cate 2005, 40)

to (a′) the heading of the second section of Young’s chapter three:

Beer-Drinking on the Rhine. (Young 2010, 53)

My German and German-speaking colleagues assure me that these phrases derive from no German idiom or expression, and I have yet to encounter them in any other source.

Now compare Cate’s (b):

There was no further talk of Brahms; and that evening, after playing a number of piano pieces by Auber, Wagner formally buried Brahms’s composite-leather Triumphlied by playing his own, infinitely more pompous and ‘superior’ Kaisermarsch (Cate 2005, 208)

to Young’s (b′):

The remainder of the day saw no further talk of Brahms. In the evening, after playing some pieces from operas by Auber, Wagner finally formally buried Brahms’s piece of jingoism by playing his own, by implication, infinitely superior version of the same thing, the Kaisermarsch. (Young 2010, 193)

Cate has relied primarily on Janz I, page 585, but the sequencing of events and the phrasing is his own. Young’s source, Chronik, pages 321-322, quotes Cosima Wagner’s diary entry, the same entry that appears in Janz. Neither Cosima’s diary nor Janz’s elaboration accounts for the parallels.

After this, compare Cate’s (c):

For the next six weeks, despite the consoling presence of his sister, he suffered acute eye-aches and headaches, and convulsive stomach upsets, some of them so protracted that blood came up with the vomit… Nietzsche’s friend, Professor Immermann, seemed to be at his wits’ end as to how to deal with this new crisis… (Cate 2005, 214)

to Young’s (c′):

For the next six weeks, despite the consoling presence of Elizabeth, he suffered acute eye-aches, headaches and terrible stomach convulsions, some of them so violent that blood came up with the vomit. His friend and doctor, Professor Immermann, at his wits’ end… (Young 2010, 207)

For his version of these events, Cate cites several letters. Young has no citation, nor does Janz I, page 611 account for them.

Also compare Cate’s (d):  

...[Lou Salomé] was the pampered daughter of a Baltic German who in the pro-German climate of St Petersburg—both Nicholas I and Alexander II had German wives as well as mothers—had risen to become a general and a well-paid senior official in the Tsarist Army’s General Staff... She worshipped her handsome father—an ‘affectionate tyrant’ and god-on-earth figure—as much as she detested her mother, Louise, who vainly sought to discipline her (Cate 2005, 322)

to Young’s (d′):

Lou was the daughter of a Baltic German who, in the pro-German atmosphere of late-nineteenth-century St. Petersburg (both Tsars Nicholas I and Alexander II had German wives and mothers), had risen to the rank of general in the Tsar’s Army. She loved her handsome father as much as she detested her anxiously bossy mother, Louise... (Young 2010, 339)

Cate cites Rudolph Binion’s Frau Lou, Part I; Young, again, has no source. The relevant sections in Binion, pages 5, 6, and 12 and Janz II, pages 111-112 do not account for the parallels.

Finally, compare Cate’s (e):

The wedding of the two rabid Wagnerians was due to take place in Naumburg on 22 May—the late composer’s birthday (Cate 2005, 461-462)

to Young’s (e′):

The wedding of these two rabid Wagnerians occurred in Naumburg on May 22 of that year—the deceased composer’s birthday. (Young 2010, 400)

Cate has gathered his information from Nietzsche’s correspondence. Young has no citation. In Janz II, pages 386-389 there is information relating to these events, including the wedding date and the fact of its coinciding with Wagner’s birthday, but Janz does not account for the parallels.

Notice that these five instances of parallel passages come from various sections of Cate’s and Young’s biographies, ranging from near the beginning to near the end of each. The same holds for the other passages discussed in this essay. The problem that confronts us involves more than just a few short lines, and it is not isolated to only one or two chapters.

So far we have considered parallel passages that display similarities of phrasing more starkly than similarities of structure (yet there are indeed small-scale structural parallels in many of the foregoing examples). The following two passages, although presenting but minor verbal parallels, are nevertheless of particular interest for revealing Young’s occasionally awkward relation to his sources and for exhibiting notable structural similarities between his work and Cate’s. The context is Resa von Schirnhofer’s recollection of a disturbing encounter with Nietzsche in Sils Maria in the summer of 1884.

When, after vainly waiting for a whole day for him to appear at the Hôtel Alpenrose, she went to the grocer’s house to find out how he was, she was taken upstairs to a tiny dining-room. Suddenly a door opened and a haggard, wild-eyed, almost white-faced Nietzsche appeared. Leaning against the door-jamb, he told her that he could not sleep, that the moment he closed his eyes he found himself surrounded by a fantastic whirl of flowers… He stopped, and looking at her intently with his deep, dark, and now fearful eyes, he asked her in a soft, disturbingly insistent voice, ‘Do you think that this condition is a symptom of incipient madness? My father died of a brain illness.’ Not until later did it occur to Resa von Schirnhofer that these hallucinations were probably caused by the chloralhydrate ‘sleeping powders’ which, as he explained, he had obtained at Rapallo and elsewhere on the Italian Riviera to combat insomnia, by writing out his own prescriptions and signing them ‘Dr Nietzsche’. (Cate 2005, 452-453)

So Cate has it. Now compare Young’s account of the same episode:

One day, puzzled by Nietzsche’s non-appearance at the Alpenrose, Resa walked round the corner to the Durisch house to find out where he was. Since, in Nice, he had appeared to be in vibrant good health, she was terribly shocked when he eventually appeared, leaning against the frame of the half-open door to his room, with a pale and haggard face. He began straight away to speak of his sufferings. He said that he could not sleep and that as soon as he closed his eyes he saw fantastic arrays of flowers. Then, with ‘dark terrified eyes’ fixed on her, he asked if this could be the beginning of madness, recalling that his father has [sic] died of a brain disease. Not until later did it occur to her that the hallucinations could be the result of chloral hydrate and other drugs, possibly including hashish, that he had obtained in Rapallo, mostly by the simple expedient of signing a prescription with ‘Dr. Nietzsche’, his credentials never once having been questioned. (Young 2010, 392)

To deal first with Young and his sources[6]: The word “haggard,” which these two passages have in common, does not appear in Young’s source, Conversations with Nietzsche, pages 161-166, which describes Nietzsche as having “a distraught expression on his pale face.” The German text, which Cate has from Begegnungen mit Nietzsche, pages 492-4, reads “hatte einen verstörten Ausdruck im bleichen Gesicht.” One might very well translate the “verstörten” with “haggard,” as Cate has done; but we have no reason to believe that Young has done the same, for according to his citation he did not work from the German text.[7] Now consider Young’s relation to his source when describing Nietzsche’s eyes. Young has placed the expression “dark terrified eyes” in quotation marks, but his source characterizes Nietzsche as having “large, dark eyes.” Von Schirnhofer’s original account reads “seine grossen, dunklen Augen angstvoll auf mich gerichtet…” Here the “angstvoll” functions as an adverb, which one could translate as “anxiously” or “fearfully,” or which one might, by stretching the grammar, treat as an adjective modifying “eyes.”[8] Cate has chosen to take a minor liberty with the grammar, presumably for dramatic effect, thereby arriving at “fearful.”

Begegnungen mit Nietzsche does not appear in Young’s bibliography, but he could have found von Schirnhofer’s reminiscence excerpted in Janz II, pages 318-319 & 323 or in Chronik, page 590. Might it be, then, that rather than having borrowed Cate’s “haggard” and derived his “terrified” from Cate’s “fearful,” Young has corrected his source by consulting the original? This seems unlikely if we take into account other features of these two passages that are much closer to one another than to von Schirnhofer’s original. In both Cate and Young, von Schirnhofer recalls Nietzsche’s failing to appear one day at the Alpenrose. In Young’s source, however, she recalls not seeing Nietzsche for “one and a half days” (von Schirnhofer’s original has “anderthalb Tage”), and she does not mention the Alpenrose. This brings us to the structural similarities. Young follows Cate in not following the sequence of events as von Schirnhofer has related them. Von Schirnhofer’s account of Nietzsche’s obtaining drugs in Italy precedes her account of her meeting with Nietzsche, not vice versa as in Cate and Young. Therefore, naturally, von Schirnhofer does not herself write “not until later did it occur to me…”[9] Moreover, in the passage concerning Nietzsche’s obtaining drugs, von Schirnhofer mentions his means of obtaining them prior to mentioning the drugs themselves, not vice versa as in Cate and Young.[10] In short, von Schirnhofer has the pattern prescriptions-drugs-encounter, whereas Cate has encounter-drugs-prescriptions, and in this Young follows Cate rather than von Schirnhofer.[11]

The following parallel passages present problems akin to those we have just considered, namely small-scale structural similarities and a puzzling relationship between Young and his source. We begin with Cate’s account of Nietzsche’s daily routine in Sils-Maria during the summer of 1884:

With a Spartan rigour which never ceased to amaze his landlord-grocer, Nietzsche would get up every morning when the faintly dawning sky was still grey, and, after washing himself with cold water from the pitcher and china basin in his bedroom and drinking some warm milk, he would, when not felled by headaches and vomiting, work uninterruptedly until eleven in the morning. He then went for a brisk, two-hour walk through the nearby forest or along the edge of Lake Silvaplana (to the north-east) or of Lake Sils (to the south-west), stopping every now and then to jot down his latest thoughts in the notebook he always carried with him. Returning for a late luncheon at the Hôtel Alpenrose, Nietzsche, who detested promiscuity, avoided the midday crush of the table d’hôte in the large dining-room and ate a more or less ‘private’ lunch, usually consisting of a beefsteak and an ‘unbelievable’ quantity of fruit, which was, the hotel manager was persuaded, the chief cause of his frequent stomach upsets. After luncheon, usually dressed in a long and somewhat threadbare brown jacket, and armed as usual with notebook, pencil, and a large grey-green parasol to shade his eyes, he would stride off again on an even longer walk, which sometimes took him up the Fextal as far as its majestic glacier. Returning ‘home’ between four and five o’clock, he would immediately get back to work, sustaining himself on biscuits, peasant bread, honey (sent from Naumburg), fruit and pots of tea he brewed for himself in the little upstairs ‘dining-room’ next to his bedroom, until, worn out, he snuffed out the candle and went to bed around 11 p.m. (Cate 2005, 451)

Compare this to Young’s version:

…With the Spartan self-discipline ingrained since Pforta, he would rise well before dawn, wash himself in cold water from the pitcher, and after drinking some warm milk, work uninterruptedly until eleven. A two-hour walk around one of the lakes would be followed by a solitary lunch at the Alpenrose. Long after Nietzsche had been overtaken by madness, Herr Krämer, the owner of the hotel, who, like Durisch, regarded Nietzsche as ‘one of us’, judged that his guest had had ‘no faults’ save for eating too much meat.

After lunch, dressed in a long, well-cut brown jacket, he would be off on an even longer walk, either alongside one of the lakes or up the Fex Valley as far as its majestic glacier. Sometimes he would be accompanied by a visitor but was more often alone, armed always with a notebook, a pencil, and a grey-green parasol to shade his eyes. Returning home between four and five, he would immediately begin work again, sustaining himself on biscuits, peasant bread, honey, sausage, ham, and fruit, with tea to drink which he brewed in the little upstairs kitchen. At 11 o’clock he would retire to bed with a notebook and pencil by his side to capture night thoughts should they arrive. (Young 2010, 390-391)

Consider Young’s use of the one and only source he cites in relation to the above two paragraphs, Chronik, page 594. The relevant endnote comes at the end of the first paragraph and apparently is meant to account for the two quotations from “Herr Krämer”—or is the first quotation supposed to be from Durisch? The line is ambiguous, or so it seems to me; but I believe I can explain the ambiguity. Young’s source excerpts the published recollections of Eugenie Galli, who tells of a trip to Sils Maria in search of memories and memorials of Nietzsche.[12] Upon her arrival, Galli met and spoke with the “Gastwirt” (innkeeper) of the hotel Alpenrose, who directed her to the little grocery store and residence of Gian Rudolf Durisch, in a room on the top floor of whose establishment Nietzsche was accustomed to stay when summering in Sils. At this point in her narrative, Galli reports an exchange between herself and “Der ältliche Krämer,” whose words Young quotes in the ambiguous sentence. Taking this Krämer to be someone other than Durisch—for, after all, Herr Krämer cannot very well be Herr Durisch—and finding no clear indication in the text of just who this individual might be, Young assumes he is the Gastwirt mentioned earlier. And the fact that this innkeeper speaks (as reported by Galli in Young’s source[13]) with such passion and concern about Nietzsche’s eating habits probably explains Young’s reporting that he identified Nietzsche’s one fault as overeating. But Young’s report is inaccurate: This Krämer cannot be the Gastwirt, for Galli explicitly contrasts him with the Gastwirt (“Der ältliche Krämer war von feinerer Art als der dicke Gastwirt”). Nor can he be someone other than the shopkeeper Durisch, for “Der Krämer” means, not “Herr Krämer,” but rather “the shopkeeper.” It appears that Young has been confused by his source’s frequent interruption of Galli’s narrative (indicated by no fewer than eight ellipses), which has resulted in his attributing Durisch’s memories of Nietzsche to the Gastwirt. But the memories are in fact Durisch’s, and what Durisch remembers is not that Nietzsche ate too much, but rather that he worked too much (“zu grossen Fleisses”[14]). There is no ambiguity on this point in the original source, especially considering that Durisch immediately elaborates upon his remark by recounting many of the details of Nietzsche’s daily work routine that appear in the parallel passages above. Yet none of these details appears in Young’s source, for they have all been replaced by an ellipsis. But if this is so, how did these details wind up in Young’s narrative? Cate has the facts from the complete text of Galli’s recollection as it appears in Begegnungen mit Nietzsche, pages 500-502. For other facts—for example, “in a long…threadbare brown jacket”—Cate cites the recollections of Emily Fynn, which he has from Begegnungen mit Nietzsche, page 495. There is no mention of a jacket—either threadbare, as in Cate, or well-cut, as in Young—in Young’s source. 

We turn now to examine even longer examples of structural parallels. For material included in the following excerpt, Cate’s sources are a letter from Nietzsche to Wagner, Cosima Wagner’s diary (with reference to a letter from Carl von Gersdorff), and a letter from Erwin Rohde to Nietzsche:

But shortly after the start of the second university semester and the resumption of his tedious Pädagogium classes, Nietzsche began to suffer blinding eye-aches…

…With each passing day Nietzsche’s agonizing eye-aches grew more intense. By the time his sister Elisabeth reached Basel on 5 June, he could no longer read or write letters, even to close friends like Erwin Rohde, Cosima or Richard Wagner. He was forced to wear dark glasses every time he ventured out of the Schützengraben house, and much of his time was spent indoors in a room with the curtains carefully drawn to reduce the daylight to a minimum...

By early July Nietzsche’s condition had deteriorated so drastically that his doctor friend, Professor Immermann, told him that he would have to cease his Pädagogium classes before the end of the school year and undergo a cure of total rest in some secluded mountain village. (Cate 2005, 174-175)

Now compare Cate’s selection, arrangement, and expression of these facts with the following excerpt from Young:

In May 1873, there was a dramatic deterioration in Nietzsche’s eyesight. He experienced agonizing pain in the eyes and by the time his sister came to visit on June 5 he could no longer read or write. He was forced to wear dark glasses whenever he ventured out of doors and in fact spend most of the time indoors behind drawn curtains…

By early July, Nietzsche’s condition had deteriorated so rapidly that his medical friend, Dr. Immermann, told him that he would have to cancel his grammar-school teaching before the end of the school year and undergo a rest cure in some secluded mountain village… (Young 2010, 171)

Nothing in Young’s sources accounts for either the specific details included in this part of his narrative or the language with which he has expressed them. His citation of KGB II.3 313 with reference to facts in the first paragraph is relevant only to the inclusion therein of a characterization of von Gersdorff as Nietzsche’s “left eye” and “right hand.” His citation of Chronik, page 307 with reference to a sentence immediately following the last sentence of the second paragraph that I have quoted is relevant only to the facts in that sentence, which facts occurred in December of 1873, not in July, as might appear from the context of the paragraph. Information concerning the events related in these paragraphs appears in The Young Nietzsche, pages 298-300 and Janz I, pages 516, 539, & 541, but the formulations in question appear to be Cate’s own.

When introducing these two passages, I suggested that we would examine longer structural parallels than those we have examined so far. The relevant texts are much too long to quote in full, but I direct my readers’ attention to the immediate sequels of the passages in question (Cate 2005, 175-176; Young 2010, 171-172). Until the conclusion of the section in which the two paragraphs I have quoted from Young appear, “Rest Cure in Flims,” Young follows Cate closely, even down to matching Cate’s “On 8 August the first bound copies of Nietzsche’s anti-Strauss booklet were brought to the chalet-pension by the postman” (Cate 2005, 176) with “On August 8th, the first bound copies of the Straussiade arrived in Flims by post” (Young 2010, 172). This line appears in Young’s narrative at precisely the point at which it appears in Cate’s.  Although Young’s narrative consists of quotations from Chronik, pages 299 & 300, whereas Cate writes in his own voice while citing five letters (three of which are in Janz I, pages 541-544), Young’s excerpted quotations parallel the narrative structure of Cate’s account. The relevant events are recounted in The Young Nietzsche, pages 298-302 and Janz I, pages 541-544. It is true that in The Young Nietzsche, page 301 we find the line: “At last on the 8th of August, the first advance copy of the book reached Flims”—but Young does not cite this here and, besides, this line does not explain the expression “first bound copies” or Cate’s reference to “by the postman” and Young’s to “by post.” No such line appears in Janz or in Young’s cited source, Chronik, although in the latter (page 300) there is (in a letter from von Gersdorff to Erwin Rohde) “…heute sind hier die ersten Exemplare [der “Anti-Straussiade”] angekommen,” which, however, accounts for neither the “bound” nor the “by post.”

Such large scale structural similarities are not easily explained by any necessity to tell the same story. Ronald Hayman manages to tell his version of Nietzsche’s story according to his own narrative structure. He recounts Nietzsche’s eye-troubles and his stay in Flims (as in Cate and Young immediately above), for example, but he does so according to a plan that shares nothing at all in common with the corresponding sections of Cate’s and Young’s biographies.[15] Nor was Cate, for his part, moved to adopt Hayman’s narrative structure when composing his version of the events surrounding Nietzsche’s 1876 visit to Sorrento (Hayman 1982, 191-194; Cate 2005, 226-240). But compare Young’s selection of facts, the narrative interpretation he applies to them, and the language in which he relates them (Young 2010, 229-235), with Cate’s version of this story:[16]

(a) At Bayreuth Malwida von Meysenbug had renewed her generous suggestion that Nietzsche spend the first part of his sabbatical vacation with her in southern Italy… he would be accompanied by one of his former students in classical philology, Albert Brenner, a delicate young scholar-poet… (Cate 2005, 226)    

(a′) In Bayreuth, Malwida von Meysenbug had renewed her suggestion that, for his health, Nietzsche should join her in Italy… he…arranged to be accompanied by a favorite former pupil, the delicate Albert Brenner… (Young 2010, 229)'

 (b) His sister Elisabeth having decided to return to Naumburg after a year-long stay in Basel, Fritz moved back to his old bachelor lodgings on the Schützengraben, where his favourite student, Adolf Baumgartner, now occupied the quarters previously inhabited by Franz Overbeck. From Bayreuth, Overbeck had taken his young bride, Ida, to his parents’ home in Dresden. (Cate 2005, 226)

(b′) Since Elizabeth, after a year as his housekeeper, had gone back to Naumburg, he returned to his old bachelor digs in Baumann’s Cave. Overbeck was in Dresden with his new wife, Ida, and so Nietzsche’s favorite student, Adolf Baumgartner, took over the rooms he had vacated… (Young 2010, 229)

(c) Five days later Nietzsche followed his friend to Montreux, where Rée’s affluent mother was spending the summer. After which [they] spent two restful weeks enjoying a lovely autumn in the town of Bex… (Cate 2005, 227) 

(c′) On October 1 Nietzsche set off to pick up Rée from Montreux, where he had been visiting his affluent mother in her holiday resort. From there they went to nearby Bex, southeast of Lake Geneva. After two delightful autumn weeks amidst the golden leaves of this wine-growing region… (Young 2010, 230) 

(d) …together they boarded the evening train that was to take them through the new Mont Cenis tunnel to Turin, and from there on to Genoa. (Cate 2005, 230)

(d′) From there they took the evening train through the new Mont Cernis tunnel to Turin and thence to Genoa. (Young 2010, 230)

(e) He found himself sharing a first-class compartment with two exceptionally intelligent  ladies—Claudine von Brevern and her slightly younger traveling companion, Isabella von der Pahlen, with whom Nietzsche struck up a long, lively conversation. (Cate 2005, 230)

(e′) In the first-class compartment…Nietzsche struck up a conversation…with a remarkable young woman, Isabella von Prahlen…, and her slightly older companion, Baroness Claudine von Brevern… (Young 2010, 230)

(f) … Reinhart von Seydlitz, whom Nietzsche had lured southward by sending him a lyrical description of… turned up in Sorrento with his attractive Hungarian wife. (Cate 2005, 238) 

(f′) …Baron Reinhart von Seydlitz… Nietzsche had lured him and his attractive Hungarian wife south to Sorrento with lyrical descriptions of… (Young 2010, 235)

(g) The trip from Sorrento to Naples was made in the company of his new friend Reinhart von Seydlitz and his Hungarian wife, who took care of the dockside porters and saw to it that all of Nietzsche’s trunks and suitcases, containing his precious notes and books, were safely stowed on board the steamship that was to transport him to Genoa. The voyage up the Tyrrhenian coast was as stormily rough and rainy as the southbound trip had been calm and enjoyable. Nietzsche, again suffering from acute headaches, was so violently seasick and disgusted that he was forced during two days and nights to change his place eight times to escape the nauseating odours, the small talk and the sight of table companions who kept ‘tucking it in’ with Rabelaisian gusto. (Cate 2005, 240)

(g′) On May 8 the von Seydlitzs accompanied him to Naples to board the ship to Genoa and saw that his bags and books were safely stowed. The journey northwards was rough, so that, in addition to terrible headaches, Nietzsche suffered violent seasickness; eight times during the three-day voyage he had to change his place on the boat to avoid nauseating odours and the sight of other passengers ‘tucking in’ with horrible gusto. (Young 2010, 235) 

Young’s citations are as follows: for (a′), he has none. Von Meysenbug’s invitation is alluded to and Brenner mentioned in Janz I, pages 732-733, and Brenner is mentioned in this connection in The Lonely Nietzsche, page 14, but these passages do not account for the parallels between Cate and Young. (Cate has reconstructed the events from Nietzsche’s, Brenner’s, and von Meysenbug’s letters.) For (b′), again, Young has no citation. Some reference to these events may be found in The Lonely Nietzsche, page 4, but they do not at all account for the parallels. (Cate cites Overbeck’s letter to Nietzsche of 8 September.) For (c′), (d′), and (e′), the only possible source among Young’s cited sources is Janz I, page 742, later cited for an exchange between Nietzsche and Isabella von Prahlen (—I discuss these three passages in the next paragraph). For (f′), Young cites KGB II.5 599, though one might also point to Janz I, pages 751 & 757, which, however, Young does not cite and which, moreover, does not account for the parallels. (Cate cites Nietzsche’s and von Seydlitz’s correspondence.)[17] For (g′), yet again, Young has no citation. Janz I, page 769 relates these events (partly by way of a letter from Nietzsche to von Meysenbug, cited by Cate), but not in a manner that accounts for the parallels.

It is illuminating to compare Cate’s account of the events described in (c), (d), and (e) with his various sources, and then to compare Young’s account of these same events with, first, the single source he cites (Janz I, page 742), and then with Cate. Young usually follows Cate even in those details that either do not appear or appear differently in his sources. Information relevant to (c′) (relevant, but still not accounting for certain specifics, which more closely resemble Cate and the correspondence he cites) may be found in Janz I, page 741, not cited by Young, and to (d′) in a footnote in Janz I, page 742, which Young does cite, but not for this detail, which is odd considering that this is the one place where his account is not obviously closer to Cate than to a cited source. As for (e′), in Janz I, page 742 (Young’s only cited source), Nietzsche’s meeting von Prahlen is related as an event distinct from, and is reported several lines and a paragraph break prior to, their conversation; there is no mention of a “first-class compartment”; no verb properly translated as “struck up” appears, nor does any phrase resembling “slightly older” or “slightly younger companion.” Cate, whose sources are the original letters and Isabella von Prahlen’s (later Ungern-Sternberg) Nietzsche im Spiegelbild seiner Schrift, has compressed the meeting and the conversation; he has the detail of “first-class compartment” from Ungern-Sternberg’s book; the “struck up” is his, as is the expression “slightly younger traveling companion.” Young follows Cate, rather than Janz, in collapsing the meeting and the conversation and in adding the detail of “first-class compartment” (which detail appears, quoted from Ungern-Sternberg, in Chronik, page 380, a favorite among Young’s sources, although he does not cite it in this instance); he repeats Cate’s “struck up”, and he repeats but reverses the pattern of “a and the slightly younger b” to produce “b and the slightly older a.”

I close with the following example, which exhibits similarities of both phrasing and narrative structure between Cate’s biography and Young’s. In the winter of 1887, Nietzsche was staying in a hotel in Nice when an earthquake struck the area. Cate introduces the event this way: earthquake, which during the early hours of 24 February emptied Nice’s hotels and pensions of their panic-stricken clients. (Cate 2005, 493)

Young has this:

In Nice, it emptied the hotels and pensions of their panic-stricken guests in the early hours of February 24. (Young 2010, 451)

Young cites KGB III.5 807 for specific quotations from Nietzsche that follow the sentence in question, but nothing in the letter accounts for the phrasing of the sentence itself—nor is the phrasing explained by the accounts of the earthquake and its aftermath as related in The Lonely Nietzsche, pages 275-276 (also mentioned on page 323), Janz II, page 514, and Chronik, pages 657-659. But there is more. These parallel lines appear in the context of longer sections that have been laid out according to an identical narrative structure (Cate 2005, 491-493; Young 2010, 450-451). The sections, which have no parallel in The Lonely Nietzsche or Janz II, are in each book divided into three distinct subsections, each subsection covering a single specific event in Nietzsche’s life at this time.[18] The first subsection in each book tells of Nietzsche’s attending a recital of the prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal; the second recounts Nietzsche’s discovery of Dostoevsky; and in the third is the occurrence of the earthquake in Nice. Cate introduces the second and third of these events with the words “The second major surprise of this winter… The third surprise of this winter…” (Cate 2005, 492 & 493); Young has “The second event… The third, strangely cheering event…” (Young 2010, 451). Both authors characterize Nietzsche’s reaction to the third event—the earthquake—as in some way gleeful (“almost gleefully”: Cate 2005, 493; “positive glee”: Young 2010, 451),[19] and they do so immediately prior to quoting from the same letter to von Seydlitz, the text of which letter they interrupt at precisely the same point to interject, before quoting the same final line, “Nice, he reported, seemed to have been transformed overnight into a military bivouac” (Cate 2005, 493) and “Nice, he continues in his letter to von Seydlitz, looked as though it had been transformed overnight into a military bivouac” (Young 2010, 451). Other similarities follow, but rather than detail them here, I shall advise interested parties to compare pages 493 through 495 in Cate to pages 452 and 453 in Young—and to supplement this reading with pages 304 and 305 in Hayman,[20] from which one may conclude that although a biographer must of necessity adhere to an accurate chronology of events, nothing compels a specific selection of facts, quotations, or vocabulary.[21]

Belmont University


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Binion, Rudolph. Frau Lou: Nietzsche’s Wayward Disciple. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Blue, Daniel. "Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 41 (2011).

Cate, Curtis. Friedrich Nietzsche. Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 2005.

Chelstrom, Eric. "Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." Metapsychology 14.40 (2010).

Cybulska, Eva. "Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." Philosophy Now (2011).

Finken, Bryan. "Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." Philosophy in Review 30.6 (2010): 467-468.

Förster-Nietzsche, Elisabeth. Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches, vol. 1. Leipzig: C. G. Naumann, 1895.

Förster-Nietzsche, Elisabeth. Der junge Nietzsche. Leipzig: Kröner, 1912.

Förster-Nietzsche, Elisabeth. The Young Nietzsche. Translated by Anthony Ludovici. London: Heinemann, 1912.

Förster-Nietzsche, Elisabeth. The Lonely Nietzsche. Translated by Paul Cohn. London: Heinemann, 1915.

Fukuyama, Francis. “'Nietzsche: A Philosophy in Context.' Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." New York Times, May 7, 2010.

Gilman, Sander L., ed. Begegnungen mit Nietzsche. Bonn: Bouvier, 1981.

Gilman, Sander L., ed. Conversations with Nietzsche. Translated by David J. Parent. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche: A Critical Life. New York: Penguin, 1982.

Huenemann, Charlie." Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (2010).

Janz, Curt Paul. Friedrich Nietzsche: Biographie, vols. 1 and 2. Munich: Hanser, 1978.

Morrison, Iain. "Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." Journal of the History of Philosophy 49.1 (2011): 129-130.

Nietzsche Online. Berlin—New York: de Gruyter, 2011. doi: 10.1515/NO

Schrift, A. D. "Review of Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, by Julian Young." Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 48.2 (2010): 306.

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Young, Julian. Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.


[1] Compare Chelstrom 2010, Cybulska 2011, Finken 2010, Fukuyama 2010, Huenemann 2010, Morrison 2011, and Schrift 2010.

[2] Originally published in the UK by Hutchinson in 2002, Cate’s biography was published in America by the Overlook Press in 2005.

[3] Those who consult the relevant section of Der junge Nietzsche (pages 81-82) will agree that even if we count this book and The Young Nietzsche as a single, common source, we will not be able explain the parallels.

[4] Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsches I, page 98 and Der junge Nietzsche, page 82 both measure the grounds of Pforta at 73 morgen. The Young Nietzsche, page 74 has 73 acres. This provides further evidence that Cate has worked from one of the German sources (converting morgen to acres) while Young has followed the unconverted translation in The Young Nietzsche.

[5] Young’s reference to “Deussen’s memoirs” and his citation of Nietzsche Briefwechsel: Kritische Gesamtausgabe I.4, page 561 are relevant only to Nietzsche’s temporarily ending his friendship with Deussen, which Young mentions later in the paragraph. (Cf. de Gruyter’s Nietzsche Online database for the relevant correspondence here and throughout.)

[6] Perhaps it is appropriate here to call attention to the paucity of Young’s sources in comparison with Cate. Young’s standard practice is to cite precisely one source for his version of events. Cate regularly cites multiple sources, especially when working from Nietzsche’s correspondence.

[7] Hayman’s translation of the original reads, “…a stricken expression on his pale face” (Hayman 1982, 275). 

[8] Hayman has “…with his great, dark eyes fixed on me anxiously…” (ibid.).

[9] Cate introduced the “not until later...” because of his sequencing of events. Janz has divided von Schirnhofer’s reminiscence into distinct parts, resulting in her account of Nietzsche’s obtaining drugs appearing a few pages after her encounter with Nietzsche. Here, then, Janz’s sequence is similar to that which we find in Cate and Young rather than to that in von Schirnhofer’s original.  However, Janz has written nothing resembling “not until later did it occur to her…” Moreover, unlike Cate and Young, Janz has constructed a discontinuous narrative of these events: in his second volume he places von Schirnhofer’s encounter with Nietzsche on pages 318-319 and her recollection of Nietzsche’s obtaining drugs, in a related but distinct context, on page 323. The excerpt in Chronik retains von Schirnhofer’s sequence, although it omits any mention of specific drugs.

[10] Janz retains von Schirnhofer’s sequence.

[11] In Janz the order is encounter…prescriptions-drugs. In Chronik the order follows von Schirnhofer’s original while omitting drugs, thus: prescriptions-ellipses in place of drugs-encounter. Therefore, Young is closer to Cate than to either von Schirnhofer’s original or Janz’s reordering of the original.

[12]  Galli spoke with the innkeeper and Durisch years after Nietzsche’s collapse. Their recollections of the philosopher are not necessarily specific to the year 1884, but this date has come to be associated with them from Galli’s remark that she identified Nietzsche’s signature on a page in the registry of the hotel Alpenrose dated to this year.

[13] Young omits these details because of the ellipses in Chronik, but they appear in the passage I have quoted from Cate.

[14] A fuller version of Galli appears in Conversations with Nietzsche, pages 169-172. Had Young consulted this text, he might have avoided these errors.

[15] Hayman 1982, 162 & 165.

[16] I have labeled the parallel passages alphabetically for ease of reference. The first of each pair is from Cate, the second from Young. In Young’s text, the passage I have labeled “(a′)” follows the passage labeled “(b′).”

[17] Like both Cate and Young after him, Hayman describes von Seydlitz’s wife as “attractive” (Hayman 1982, 193).

[18] Cate cites several letters for the details in each of these sections.

[19] These three events are neither so closely associated nor presented in the same order in either The Lonely Nietzsche or Janz. The order in The Lonely Nietzsche is: earthquake, pages 275-276 and again on page 323; Parsifal, page 349; Dostoevsky, mentioned indirectly on page 403. In Janz the order is: Dostoevsky, pages 505-507; Parsifal, pages 510-511; earthquake, page 514.

[20] Nietzsche’s attendance at the performance of the prelude to Parsifal in Monte Carlo appears on page 243 of Hayman.

[21] My thanks to my colleague Andrew Davis, whose assistance with the German sources has been invaluable, and to Paul Loeb and Daniel Blue, whose meticulous attention to detail kept me focused on clarity and specificity.

Published in JNS 42 (Autumn 2011)