Greetings to Bahr and Hofmannsthal (Gruss an Bahr und Hofmannsthal)


Greetings to Hofmannsthal[1]

Bayreuth, 16th August 1914,

I only know that you are under arms, dear Hugo, but no one can tell me where, so I will write to you in the newspaper. Perhaps the dear wind will blow it to your campfire, and send you my greetings.

It occurs to me that we were never closer than when you served your year with the dragoons. Do you remember? You used to pick me up me in the evening to go for a walk together. I can still remember how strange it often seemed to me when our conversations soared to ever greater heights, until we were above every peak, and then my gaze, on its return, fell on your uniform again. It really didn’t fit in with our absolutely non-uniform thoughts. That will be twenty years ago in October. Since then, we have become famous. We have lacked nothing, but who would venture to say that these twenty years have been good for us? How they have suddenly become so pale in this sacred moment! It was a time of separation, distance and isolation. We each went our own way, each stood on his own, for himself alone, frozen in place. Now we have been called together again, everyone sticks up for everyone else, in the warmth. Every German, at home or in the field, now wears the uniform. That is the tremendous joy of this moment. May God preserve it for us!

And now everything that deflected us from the path is suddenly gone. We are now all on the one, broad German path again. It is the old path which the Nibelungenlied[2], Minnesang[3] Meistergesang[4], our mysticism, German baroque, Klopstock[5], Herder[6], Goethe[7], Schiller[8], Kant[9], Fichte[10], Bach[11], Beethoven[12] and Wagner[13] followed. Then we lost our way, and took some winding paths, but fate has now put us back on the right path, and we want to prove ourselves worthy of it.

Good luck, dear lieutenant, I know you are happy. You feel the happiness of being part of it all, there is nothing greater than that. And we want to remember that for all time: the important thing is to be involved. And we want to make sure that from now on there is always something which one can be part of. If we do that, we will have reached the end of the German path, und Minnesang, Meistersang, Walther von der Vogelweide[14], Hans Sachs[15], Eckhart[16], Tauler[17], mysticism, baroque, Klopstock, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Fichte, Beethoven and Wagner would then be satisfied. And the great God has granted that to our poor people!

You must soon be in Warsaw! Go straight to our consulate and ask whether the Austro-Hungarian Consul-General, Leopold Andrian, is still there. It is now exactly twenty years ago that Andrian wrote the most promising Garten der Erkenntnis[18]. I don’t doubt that he will keep its promise. One book at twenty, one at forty, one at sixty, and that’s all, but in each of them a full twenty years, then he will be the author of those three books, and that is plenty. And when you are so happily together, the drums are beating outside, and Poldi[19] is striding through the room reciting Baudelaire[20] in his hot, dark voice, don’t forget me. I’ll be thinking of you!

You are doing so well that there’s really no need to imagine that much, is there?

Fare well!

Hermann Bahr[21].

This letter can now finally be delivered, and published, without violating the confidentiality of the post. The mood of this baptism of fire by correspondence must have a devastating impact today, because back then, when the horror was still sensational, and one paid attention when mortar bombs exploded, it made no impression. But this letter from the literary rogue, who was national at the time, but now speculates in Catholicism, which showed him straight away from the perspective of the kind of stupidity which can ruin the most promising deal, was really, seriously published in the newspapers at the time, here and in Berlin, and was even included by the master himself in a subsequent book, which he called Kriegssegen[22]. This Hermann Bahr, however, enjoyed the happiness of being there at a time in which compulsory military service had not yet been extended to include men between the ages of 50 and 55. But actually, who would ever have feared that one would be considering Herr Bahr‘s service, as long as the lot of a war mug is voluntary? He is not a soldier by a long shout just because he calls the outbreak of war a ‘sacred moment’, any more than that he is a saint because he has written a Catholic novel and called it Himmelfahrt[23]. It is not a matter of his fortune, of which we can be sure that he would put it at the service of any good cause which is currently fashionable, because he is indispensible everywhere, and would never consider any other way of being put to use than the one he has practised so far. It is more about introducing Herr v. Hofmannsthal into the warlike sphere, which is done here in a way not previously experienced in the history of mobilization. As far as the real circumstances in which Herr v. Hofmannsthal is living, and in which he will survive the world war, if not in glory, at least in good health, are concerned, we can only say that there could be no more private matter on this entire bloody earth than whether one is more or less enthusiastic to be where he has to be anyway, and that it is the last private matter that people have these days, and that at most the state, but never fellow citizens, may begrudge someone the undisturbed enjoyment of earthly happiness. But the complete shamelessness with which in this case the certainty that Herr von Hofmannsthal is under arms, and is sitting somewhere, who knows where, at a campfire, to which the wind may blow the greetings of the old master, sitting at home because he is unfortunately no longer allowed to participate, if only he were allowed, was published in the press. Only this exaggerated optimism makes it necessary to point out that even in wartime, which we all know is war, postal communication is more reliable than the wind, because the post can be resourceful, if not too many obstacles are placed in its way, whereas the wind is by nature an unreliable fellow, with no ambition, and is more likely to blow a leaf onto a dung-heap than dung to a campfire at which a patriotic poet, if he happens to have nothing better to sing or say, thinks about his loved ones at home, who may be writing letters to him, which don’t arrive. But if the censor doesn’t interfere, one can build houses on the post, which it then visits one after the other, until it finds the addressee, and the postman could triumphantly prove to Herr Bahr, who once complained that the letters of Cosima Wagner[24] were not delivered, while those from Gabor Steiner[25] arrived, that he had found Lieutenant Hofmannsthal, right at the beginning of, and throughout, the war, at a campfire that burns in the Kriegsfürsorgeamt[26], and where Herr Bahr’s opinion that it is warm, and everyone sticks up for each other, is indeed correct. ‘Who knows where?’ what used to be the melancholy refrain of a soldiers‘ song is, in this case, not even a postal indication, because it is certainly not Feldpost[27], whose work is made more difficult even for deliverable letters, by troop movements, because it is simply not true that there was ever a time, however long, in which nobody knew where Herr v. Hofmannsthal was, even if he was fully armed. He accompanied Herr Bahr twenty years ago, as a dragoon, where Herr Bahr could have found him, because he certainly did not take part in the world war in this capacity. All that occurred to him was that they had never been closer than at that time, but it could have occurred to him that they are even closer now. For example, the typesetter who set these greetings from me, when he saw Bahr‘s greeting, although he already had it in printed form in front of him, incorrectly thought that the phrase that the twenty years have become so pale, was a printing error, and corrected it to how pale you have suddenly become![28] And he did something else as well: he also thought that the phrase in which Herr Bahr talks about the joy of taking part, from the terrible joy of the moment, „May God preserve it for us!” for a printing error, and being well-acquainted with the actual frames of mind of the two gentlemen, he set the words, “May God preserve us!” And why not? They lacked for nothing during the entire twenty years. They had achieved so much, now they want to also deserve the luck of the moment, and indulge in a little heroism, if it doesn’t cost too much. God preserve them. God knows, just as well as the typesetter knows, and the postmen and everyone else know: where Herr v. Hofmannsthal actually experienced the happiness than which Herr Bahr maintains that there is no greater. Only Herr von Hofmannsthal himself hesitated to say it, and because he was too modest to answer the open letter of his mentor immediately, openly, and to explain in every newspaper which had published it that he was in fact not yet in Warsaw, but would remain in Vienna, because he could no longer stay in Rodaun[29], it is permissible to make this correction now, in his place. I don’t want to get in the way of the stormy development from the Nibelungenlied, via Herr Walther von der Vogelweide, mysticism and baroque, Klopstock, Kant, Schiller and Beethoven, up to the expectation, “You must soon be in Warsaw!” which is certainly the correct way. All the same, the sender of the lost, but much read, letter, the author of this confession blown in his own wind, must have been aware that neither on 16th August 1914, nor on the following days, were the Austrians in general yet in Warsaw, and that, in particular, Lieutenant Hofmannsthal would never get that far, unless he was given the opportunity to appear personally and distribute gifts, or in some similarly honourable mission of the Kriegsfürsorgeamt, after this stronghold had been taken. As for Herr Bahr’s other expectation, that Hofmannsthal would take the opportunity, as soon as he entered Warsaw with the Austrian army, to pay a visit on the local Austrian Consul-General, it is so much the kind of idea that the little Moriz[30] has of war, which must on no account be confused with the ideas of big Moriz[31], which we can read daily in his editorials[32], that it is surprising that the typesetters who first set it, Herr Bahr’s setters, who were surely creased up with laughter, didn’t mess it up. I had to keep mine under control, as I have already mentioned. You shouldn’t mess around with typesetters; once they have found a joke in their work, nothing is holy to them. But that the readers, moved by this example of loyalty behind the lines, where even the ageing poet thinks about his time of active service, didn’t laugh, is understandable. There was no limit to what one could expect of those who were ready to make any patriotic, intellectual sacrifice, in such a sacred moment. Herr Bahr, however, who was already over fifty at the time, an age which made him as unfit for military service as for telling fairy tales, seriously thought that the weary victor, Hofmannsthal would head straight for the consulate, which would, of course, be open after 2 p.m. on the day on which the Austrian troops arrived, the moment he entered the city, before he had washed the blood off his hands in the hotel, and enquire whether Poldi, the General Consul, was by any chance available. It is self-evident that when war breaks out an Austrian Consul-General in a Russian stronghold neither runs away nor allows himself to be taken prisoner, he holds his position until the Austrians arrive, whom he is of course waiting to receive, not for ceremonial reasons, but rather to issue the visas required in war-time to the arriving troops. The only remaining question, about which Herr Bahr seems to not be informed, is whether Poldi still holds the post, or has not perhaps already ceded it to Rudi, and is himself now in office in Moscow, where he will still have to wait a little while for the Austrian army to arrive. Bur perhaps Poldi is still in Warsaw. If so, he will certainly stride through the consulate reciting Baudelaire, just like in the good old days, to celebrate the occasion, „while the drums are pounding outside“, and drink a toast to Hugerl[33], their joint benefactor at home, in the pleasant company of his guest from Vienna. But both of them, the Consul-General and the conqueror of Warsaw, will surely „imagine that much“, much more than that which Bahr imagined, and that the newspapers in Vienna and Berlin printed. No, the printers did not burst out laughing, because they were aware of the importance of their mission to deliver the otherwise undeliverable message to Lieutenant Hofmannsthal, who seems to receive letters rarely, but his newspapers always punctually, at his campfire. They have to play the role of the wind, in the absence of the wind, although even they can’t prevent it if, in the future, a proper wind were to blow along a pile of shit, I would believe it were a greeting from Hermann Bahr. One would think that the author from whose pen this flowed would not be able to publish a Himmelfahrt[34] successfully for the rest of his life, because it is unimaginable that the readers would ever again listen to something that such a Salzburger[35] told them. As everyone knows that there are no more hypertrophical forms in the world of appearances than a Christian schmock and a dumb Jew, a combination of these attributes and conditions can hardly produce a stew which is to the taste of the literary gourmets. But then again, what is not to their taste? When an almighty swindler so much as mentions Eckhart[36] and Tauler[37] in a field post letter which he could have had delivered by an envoy in Vienna, they even fall for his mysticism. And when a crafty author speaks of a holy/sacred moment and rises again as a dying Attinghausen[38] to bless the war, and takes leave of his two disciples who take such a prominent part in it, by asking them not to forget him when they go to their deaths while singing Baudelaire, it is bound to bring a tear to more than one eye. If we had, unbidden, the power of imagination of the greatest Moriz[39], we „would be able to imagine Herr Hofmannsthal‘s face“, when he first meets the old mystic again at a soiree at the Schlesinger[40]’s, and he asks how it was in Warsaw. But the two gentlemen, the greeter and the greeted, must somehow have come to an agreement about the glory of battle, because the book containing the letter is still on sale, and they have surely agreed not to have it withdrawn in these great times. At least, it has not come to light that Herr v. Hofmannsthal wrote a field post letter to Salzburg, which at least is part of the extended war zone, saying, “Dear Bahr, don’t worry about me. Far from being in Warsaw, I am in fact in Vienna, I am well, and am working on a Prinz Eugen[41]. If I am happy to be involved? And how! You say, „I know you are happy“. How well you divined that, you connoisseur. And you ask if I am happy! Lots of things occur to me, for example that we were never closer than we are now. I don’t mean physically, you are in Salzburg; I mean our views. You can remember when I was a dragoon, and do you know, that’s the one thing that I had completely forgotten. Yes, you’re right. How did Baudelaire put it? „What a pair of rogues we were twenty years ago!“ Otherwise, not much has changed. As far as Poldi, whose voice you can vaguely remember from those days, is concerned, I can tell you that not much has changed either, except that the circumstances prevented him from becoming the Consul-General in Warsaw, so I wouldn’t have met him even if I had been at the gates, so it’s a good thing I wasn’t there. The book which he should have written at forty has not yet been published, and he says that he still has time for the one at sixty. But to not completely destroy your illusions, you dear fantasist, he did recite Baudelaire recently, while the military band were playing in the castle. He has hung on. The times are grave, but the mood is optimistic. And with that, farewell.“ This is more or less how Herr v. Hofmannsthal could have expressed himself, without being forced in the least to even imply that by comparison with the role which he plays in the war, working in the military archives in the der Mariahilferstraße[42] is dangerous, not to mention the heroic war correspondents who frequently have to inhale the smoke of the cafes inside war zones, and certainly not those reckless female correspondents who would rather not have to keep their hands in their lap when the men are out for conquest. But the service that Herr v. Hofmannsthal has chosen to provide does have the advantage that the official remains comfortably incognito, so he gains no laurels, but the possibility that he is standing at the gates of Warsaw is neither explicitly confirmed nor denied. Had Herr v. Hofmannsthal shown himself to be worthy of the good fortune, or however you want to refer to the patronage that has made him invisible, by resolving to also be inaudible for the duration, I would have been happy to refrain from increasing the embarrassment which Herr Bahr’s tactless greeting caused him. Nobody would have held the fact that he, who once performed his year’s service as a dragoon at Bahr’s side, forego the happiness of taking part, in a relatively hidden subsidiary of the war, against him. All he had to do was to live up to the bold assertion with which he introduced his Austrian Library, “There is something speechless about Austria”, himself. He need have done nothing other than keep quiet, at a time in which some of his colleagues who had not performed their military service, but had a deeper, when not so distinguished, relationship to words than he, had to sacrifice them to the deed to which they had not been born! In the moment in which he started publishing literary annuals for the year 1916, and black and yellow books, and began to exploit the undeniable popularity of the Prince Eugene march for literary purposes, any discretion about the great distance between his impeccable views and the place at which they would be appropriate, became superfluous. As soon as he made an appearance, it was obvious that he was not in Warsaw. There was no need to deny it. He didn’t have to deny the theatre news, which reported his marching off to the front. He could accept the honour paid to him by Bahr’s manifesto! Everyone knew, and could tell him to his face, that he was in Vienna, which is not disreputable in itself, if it weren’t for the insistence of a war welfare which wants to organize a war for the others, while being content with literature itself. I really must insist that someone who is to be found in the anti-chamber of a welfare organization at the outbreak of war, with the slight pallor of contemplation, someone who, in such a sacred moment looks as decrepit as a memory from twenty years ago, should desist from any proximity to Prince Eugene, for the duration of hostilities, although he would also not have found the world war to his taste, but even today, and despite the alliance with Turkey, wouldn’t have understood bridge-building to mean building one directly into the war welfare department! It is undignified to accept best wishes from a professional well-wisher, when one knows, and can confirm for oneself every day, that one has had the good luck to have landed in an office job. In this situation, one should reply to, „I know you are happy“, with a simple and audible yes, just as though one were standing in front of a different altar than that of the nation. Nobody expected acts of courage in the Dolomites from people like Bahr and Hofmannsthal; not from Hofmannsthal, because he is too well-bred, and not from Bahr, although the elderly tone of one who can no longer actively participate, but does not want to be forgotten by the vigorous youth, taking his leave, should not hide the fact that conventionality can also carry arms, and that even older mountain folk have gone to this war. Which is to say that one was never so heartless as to miss the names of these two gentlemen in a list of casualties, although they had already contained more valuable, less verbose people, and not many whose survival was likely to have less favourable cultural consequences. But the presumption which, not content that the luck of the moment will last a lifetime, still daily craves to appear in the sad list of victories behind the lines, is truly the unpleasant other side of the courage which one is not called upon to display. Herr Hofmannsthal should have first issued a denial, and then been patriotic, or kept quiet for the duration of the war! If he didn’t make it to Warsaw, he should not have gone to Berlin and there, apart from speaking approvingly of „Hindenburg‘s victory march to Warsaw“,make a speech referring to the war against Italy as “our war”, and so to tempt the already confused Bahr to ask him whether he will soon be in Venice, namely at the Lido, where Bahr himself has already caused a sensation by appearing in the most colourful uniforms. But no one has given Herr v. Hofmannsthal, with whom the betrayal of Italy has nothing to do (he should be able to cope with it privately, because it does not prevent him from making Goethe’s third Italian Journey[43]), no one has given him, as well as the war welfare office, the office of representing the nation. He may well, it is not difficult, be more honest than d’Annunzio[44], but it is pure megalomania which drives him into artistic and political rivalry with him, because, quite apart from the fact that he can’t achieve anything like the same effect in Austria with a bit of aesthetic stuff, than his rival can achieve in Italy, with his melodic opulence, d’Annunzio will end this war with his vision slightly impaired, but Herr Hofmannsthal has already got away with it with just a black eye. If one sits in the war welfare office instead of before the gates of Warsaw, or stands on the stage of the Berlin Academy of Singing, instead of having explosive success in Venice, and publishes an illustrated Prince Eugene in the Musket press, instead of occupying Belgrade, then even one who would be the last to make an accusation out of what someone has failed to do, is entitled to say so. The old path which the Nibelungenlied took, is anything other than the one which Herr Hofmannsthal has taken, although the old mentor is certainly right to doubt whether these twenty years which have become so pale as though they were to be retained, were good for us. That which his Telemach, from the Greek: Telemachos, he who fights from a distance, has done, is at most to try to always have something with which you can join in, or at least accompany. One should certainly not hold it against him that he spent the great times just being faithful to the cause and motivating the patriotism of others: he was involved, among other difficult bunches[45], again with the one for whom he writes the libretti, and he did not waste the opportunity to ignite intellectual fireworks in honour of Shakespeare, in which the ideas exploded before they illuminated, causing a certain amount of irritation. He spoke about how, “these days knows of no deeper urge than to transcend themselves“. The best of luck! And if Shakespeare was, until now, the intellect who said everything „which a nervous disposition hides in its heart at moments of terrible events,“ then “Shakespeare would fall dumb, were he to encounter a different race of men”. While Shakespeare would certainly have been capable of representing the disposition of a time in which there is nothing more terrible than the contrast between fearfully hidden thoughts and arrogant deeds; but we would be satisfied in the meantime with avoiding the noisy Hofmannsthal while we are waiting for a dumb Shakespeare, because he in particular is one of the outstanding examples in the army of creative writers who were sent out to glorify events which they didn’t want to experience at any price, and who had lots to say about the war. He thought about his reputation, which was so wobbly on its feet that it is now entirely fit for service. The war has destroyed false values through the attraction which it has on intellects without a centre of gravity, on pseudo-humanity, on the decorative emptiness, and at least to this extent had something positive about it. Herr Hofmannsthal, who expected that his fatherland didn’t call upon him when he dreamt of battle honours, but that it honours him like Grillparzer[46]when he awakes, he who was never more than a capable translator of foreign values, or their artistically educated representative, never more than the agreeable placeholder of a cultural standard with which nature was not at ease, and that existed before him. This Hugo Hofmannsthal has lost that little which he had, more than almost anyone in the horde of intellectual refugees. Austria always makes the mistake of seeing someone who just happens to be clever enough to wrap himself in the national colours at the moment, as its spiritual representative. It should revoke his licence to speak with greater right to credibility about patriotic things than any journalist, and expel him permanently into the editorial offices, out of places which ensure the welfare of authors in wartime, into one of those private concerns in which words have to serve attitudes which have not been experienced. If only so that Herr Bahr, whose availability for military service was not taken advantage of, despite the physical examination which he voluntarily underwent in the Lido, and whose national efforts are less appropriate to the political arena than the circus one, knows where he can find him and like-minded others, and not look for him vainly at the campfire, and not find him there!


















[18] Garden of Knowledge. No English page.

[19] Common abbreviation of Leopold



[22] The Blessing of War

[23] The Ascension


[25] no English page

[26] War welfare office

[27] Forces post office

[28] The difference is only making one letter upper-case, in German

[29] A suburb of Vienna in which Hofmannsthal lived

[30] Moritz is a boy’s name, commonly-used to depict a naïve perception, perhaps like little Johnny

[31] Kraus considered Benedikt to be a warmonger. He plays a prominent role as a hyena in Kraus’ anti-war drama The Last Days of Mankind.

[32] In the Neue Freie Presse, the leading Viennese liberal newspaper, of which Benedikt was the editor.

[33] Abbreviation of Hermann (Bahr)

[34] Bahr’s most successful work. The title means The Ascension, but is also used metaphorically in German.

[35] Bahr grew up in Salzburg



[38] Character in Schiller’s William Tell, who makes a long death-bed speech


[40] Common Jewish family name in Vienna


[42] One of the main roads in Vienna



[45] An untranslatable play on words. Strauss means bouquet, or bunch of flowers. Hofmannsthal wrote the libretto for several of Richard Srauss’ operas.

[46] He is referred to as Austria’s national poet.

Published in:  KrausWeltgericht Kraus Judgement Day I

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