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Goethe meets Silm from Hamburg


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The book is titled „Beziehungen Goethes zu Hamburg“ (Goethe's relationship with Hamburg), written by Johannes Kießner in 1912, senior teacher at a secondary girls' school in Hamburg. It is well known, and is confirmed by the author, that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has never visited Hamburg. What an omission! However, the Prince of Letters indulged in a few days of recreation in the Fichtelgebirge mountains, close to the Bohemian border. There one met with other vacationers, among them the painters Mosnier, Waagen, and Kaaz, as well as one Mr Silm from Hamburg whom the author thought to be an artist of the brush, too. However, during the 500 years of family history there was only one painter, and he lived in England in the 19th century. But we have an inkling who this gentleman was. But let's hear first what Goethe had to say.

On the 25th of August, 1808 "I crossed the bridge over the Eger and took a footpath to Fischern where I met Kaaz together with one Mr Silm from Hamburg and Stoll the Elder from Dresden, and conversed especially with Silm who walks a lot for fear of becoming portly."

If you have looked already at the History page of our Web site and learned a few things about Jerôme Sillem under the heading "A great banker" you may be interested to know that the couple owned, besides its city mansion, an estate in the countryside. One Karl Friedrich Zelter who headed a Singing Academy in Berlin that was well-reputed at the time, informed his friend Goethe 15 years afterwards of a journey to the Netherlands, and wrote, among other things, the following:

"... I had hardly arrived in Amsterdam when I sat at the dining table at the side of one Mr Sillem, a partner in Hope ... As you are not unfamiliar with the (banking) house of Hope and Compagnie ... you will understand that this is the first night in Holland where I did not freeze to death. My Mr Sillem is a man of fifty-five. An able walker. Our first job yesterday ... was a promenade on the dunes of the North Sea..."

As for "becoming portly", the portrait of Jerôme Sillem tells us that his enthusiastic walking did not achieve its proclaimed aim.


©  Copyright 2012  Martin Sillem  -  Last update: 28 August 2007