„South America is bent.“ Joh. Aug. Galletti (1750-1828)
Recently, while researching for my opus Haemorrhoids in the History of the Prussian Royal Family, I was leafing pensively through the catalogue of the National Library, a most pleasant occupation, when after just four pages my well-trained philologist’s brain had already forgotten what I had actually come for, and I sank, smiling to myself, into the sea of scribble. I even once came across myself. A Hannovarian peasant, watching the pranks of the students, once said, “The things they get up to, students!” Really, the things they get up to… When the Germans weren’t arguing about points of order, they seem to have been writing books. It‘s nice and quiet here in the library. Outside, the trams are rattling, in here, short-sighted professors rummage in weighty tomes, friendly, if big-footed, girls march backwards and forwards, the librarians look annoyed, as though they wanted to eat up all the students who don’t know the right answers. An oasis of the blessed.
And as I was leafing, I came across Gallettiana. What is that? Who is Galletti? A typo of Valetti? I asked for the book.
The title of the book is Gallettiana. Unintentional Humour in the Sayings of Professor Joh. G. Aug. Galletti. With a Portrait of Galletti.
Galletti was a professor at the Gotha Gymnasium, and the verbal fruits which fell from his lectern are collected in this little book. It‘s wonderful.
Do you remember? We sat there, slowly but carefully pouring a long stream of ink along the desk, with our fingers solemnly up our noses, bored to death. One couldn’t decently look at the time all the time. Twenty-five past, that was the signal. If the oldest living German men talk about their schooldays, they usually present a waxworks of cranks and oddballs, who are incidentally gradually dying out. Those of today are not nearly as colourful. But we don’t want to speak about German schoolmasters, we want to talk about Galletti. About the Galletti whom we all knew, because there was one in every school. And it was like this:
He loved surprising statements: “Gotha is sabre-shaped.” Bang. There you have it. And one can clearly hear the buzz that goes through the class when the brain out there at the front overflowed and produced the following, “When Humboldt climbed Chimborasso, the air was so thin that he could no longer read without his spectacles.” These are not jokes, this is really the atmosphere of these classrooms, which is incidentally captured best in the humourous tale Der Besuch im Karzer, which, together with Meyerias, is a masterpiece of the genre. Galletti again, „The Afghans are a very mountainous people.“
He didn’t just make the usual slips of the tongue, he produced sentences which were worthy of Nestroy. “The Cimbrians and the Teutons are actually descended from each other.“ Quite right, too. And it was particularly nice when he mixed papierdeutsch with a misunderstanding, „Karlmann mistook mortality for spirituality, and died.” One couldn’t put it better. And was, „Maria Theresia had many enemies when she ascended to the throne: the Prussians, the Russia and the Austrians” meant ironically? No, Professor Galletti was undoubtedly just the loyal, unpolitical subject the government needed, and it would never have entered his mind to joke about such serious matters. This book is not nearly as deep as that which the teachers say to Hanno Buddenbrooks on his only school day, that day which captures the entire German education system; this is just a verbal tumbler. And surely even the worst troublemakers must have stopped their horseplay at that point, because they had to laugh.
„Maximilian the First hoped to see the throne on his head.“ Obviously he wanted to say to sit on the crown, but mistakes happen. „They got hold of Grumbach, tore the heart out of his body, hit him over the head with it, and let him go.” And that is only outdone by the incontrovertible piece of wisdom that, „Had Caesar not crossed the Rubikon, it is impossible to know where he would have ended up.” By God, isn’t that the truth?
And apart from the fact that it sometimes gets a bit wild: „Julianus killed first himself, then his father, and then himself,“ and, „Richard the Third had all his successors executed“, the „prodigious teecher” (as our Professor Michaelis always referred to himself, and we to him, and God bless him if he reads this!), the stellar Galletti shines brightest and is most strongly manifest when he gets personal. Then he is unbeatable.
„The teacher is always right, even when he’s wrong.” Don’t laugh, all Prussian teachers believe that, and this is how it goes, „As I saw you in the distance, Counsellor Ettinger, I thought that you were your brother, the bookseller, but as you approached, I saw that you were yourself, but now I see that you are your brother after all!” What would Shakespeare make of that? „I’m so tired that one leg can’t see the other.” Take that, Nestroy! And then, quite the Pallenberg, »I postulate, with Kant, not more than two categories of our intellect, lace and spime, I mean spate and thyme.” And when the class can only gasp for air, he adds, „Me, Professor Uckert and I, we three undertook a journey,” then even the teacher’s pet has to splutter all over his desk. Until the teacher arises, announces that, „Next Tuesday is equator”, and leaves the room.
Many other howlers also blossomed in his little inky garden, „The locusts were to the Israelites what oats are to us“ is one, and, „A lot of toys are manufactured in Nuremberg, including Jews”, a deep truth, that one. But Professor Galletti was also a philosopher, „ Pigs earn their name, they are very dirty animals.” Holy Mauthner, what about that? That it’s just as the great Lichtenberg said? And, „The goose is the most stupid of animals because it only eats as long as it can find something” takes the biscuit.
That‘s how it was. Of course it has nothing to do with proper books about schooldays, not with my favourite book, Philippe Monnier‘s Le Livre de Blaise, not with the school stories of Heinrich Mann, not with Freund Hein, not with Hermann Hesse. Galletti was just an idiosyncratic human character.
Excuse me if I have distracted you. I’m sure you have things to do, please don’t let me put you off. I recently read, to my great pleasure, something by Alfred Polgar, „The Berliners are all very busy being busy.” I’m sure you are, too. And I also must be going. I will immediately abandon these extraneous matters and return to my serious work, to the haemorrhoids and their Hohenzollerns, a subject worth dealing with. I mean, into what do German historians most like to poke their noses?
 A Visit to the Student Prison, by Ernst Eckstein https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Eckstein
 Liteally ‘paper German’, something like legaleze or officialeze, complicated official language
 https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freund_Hein._Eine_Lebensgeschichte,_1902. Not available in English