The Taschenbuch Collection

The Professional Writer & Lesesucht

Rheinisches Taschenbuch 1855.

As the market for writing flourished, there arose, for the first time, the professional writer – one who lived by means of the proceeds generated from his or her published work. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, featured in many of the volumes within the Taschenbuch collection, is generally considered the first professional writer of Germany, and, not coincidentally, the first one who wrote explicitly for the new, female audience and sensibility. Despite this professionalization, however, many writers still depended on benefactors to support them because of the troublesome lack of a copyright standard.

Alongside this rise in literacy and publishing, grew in the late 18th century the phenomenon known variously as Lesesucht [Reading Mania], Lesewut [Reading Craze], and Leseseuche [Reading Plague]. As these terms suggest, the phenomenon was not always seen positively, some contending that these new readerly desires were hampering productivity and giving middle-class Germans ideas above their station. Nevertheless, the appetite for reading had become voracious, and there came to be a mass of literature and journals that sought to fill this void. These volumes were widely criticized by the literary class of the German-speaking world. Indeed, Goethe, himself, wrote a poem “Musen und Grazien in der Mark” [“Muses and Graces in Brandenburg”], taking aim at one of the most popular Taschenbuch volumes, of which the University has a copy, Calender der Musen und Grazien für das Jahr 1796, lamenting how “die Poeten / Die verderben die Natur” [“The poets, they spoil nature”]. These ‘mass-market’ editions, which, for that time, could have print runs of about 6000 copies, did not always feature good or worthy poetry according to those critics like Goethe. The Romantic poet and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel criticized the Taschenbuch as “embryonic” and sugary like children’s candy for its literary merits and its material form, especially for its small size and the seeming disconnect between the text and images alongside it.

Alpenrosen: Ein Schweizer-Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823: Titled “View of Uffnau Island on Zurich Lake,” fold-out engravings like this one were quite common in the Taschenbücher, often showcasing, as in this case, sublime vistas and quaint rural life. The images, in addition to the vast amounts of Romantic poetry, found throughout the Taschenbücher volumes by the likes of Schlegel, von Tieck, and others, suggest something of the Romantic idyll that persisted in Germany well into the 1820s and shaped a material culture in addition to a literary and philosophical one.

Moreover, there was still a taboo in German culture surrounding art in the marketplace. Indeed, Goethe claimed in Dichtung und Wahrheit that taking money for one’s poetry was then considered “almost simony,” almost sacrilegious. The old view of art championed by the likes of Goethe and Schiller, titans of late 18th century German literature, the so-called Goethezeit [The Age of Goethe], had come to be at odds with this new commercial landscape. Despite their efforts, though, the author had entered into the process of production, no longer left to merely produce “something sacred,” as Goethe would have it, but also something consumable by the literate masses.

Scroll to Top