News , Treasures of the MGH Library and Archive | 24. Feb. 2024

Treasures of 200 years MGH history, Nr 21: An elegant invitation

In unordered sequence, this series presents a selection of rare objects, historically interesting documents and papers from our archive and library that offer insights into 200 years of MGH history, including the dark years of Nazi rule.

139 years ago, MGH president Georg Waitz invited the members of the central board of directors to the annual sitting with a calligraphically written letter1. His invitation to Wilhelm Wattenbach was reused as a cover and landed in the MGH archive under the administrative acts; as such, it survived the Second World War in the cellar of the Berlin university, was transferred to the Geheimes Staatsarchiv in Berlin-Dahlem in 1946, and was handed back to the MGH in 1975.

Both the sender and the addressee are familiar names in German historical studies. The former, Waitz, is perhaps best known for his revision of the bibliographical compendium of sources and literature on German history: "Quellenkunde zur deutschen Geschichte", henceforth commonly known as „Dahlmann-Waitz“, and his monumental study of German constitutional history: "Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte"; the latter, Wattenbach, for his opus magnum „Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter“. Similarly, both worked for the Monumenta since their early twenties. Since 1836, Georg Waitz was employed as a so-called „gelehrter Gehilfe" (learned aide) for MGH director Georg Heinrich Pertz. The taking of this position was a turning point in his life, as can be seen in a letter the young Waitz wrote shortly before entering work for the MGH: „... actually, I live very frivolously only for the moment, thinking of the immediate future and leaving everything else to chance, or whatever one may call it. I now think of writing my Ph.D. in summer, and will probably do so here; my main consideration would be to win a few more years for my education and to let my studies ripen without further burdening my parents. (...) Ranke [i.e. Leopold von Ranke] is trying to convince me to join Pertz and participate in his work; I am certainly not adverse to the idea, but any other suggestion would probably please me just as well. In any case, I am undecided.“ („(...) ich lebe eigentlich sehr leichtsinnig in den Tag hinein, nur für die nächste Zukunft bedacht, das folgende dem Zufall, oder wie man es nennen will, überlassend; ich gedenke nun im Sommer zu promovieren, vermutlich hier, es käme mir dann darauf an, einige Jahre zur weiteren Ausbildung und zur größeren Reife meiner Studien zu gewinnen, ohne doch länger meinen guten Eltern zur Last zu sein. (...) Ranke spricht viel davon, ich solle mich mit Pertz zur Teilnahme an seinen Arbeiten verbinden; an Lust fehlte es mir dazu gewiß nicht, aber ob nicht an allem andern? Jedenfalls mag ich darüber nicht entscheiden“] (Georg Waitz to Johann Martin Lappenberg, 19.3.1836, as cited in: Bresslau S. 221).

In 1843, Wilhelm Wattenbach succeeded Waitz, who had in the meantime taken a professorship in Kiel, as learned aide to Pertz. Six years younger than Waitz, he remained in the position after completing his Habilitation in 1851 until, after a number of unsuccessful applications, he became director of the Silesian provincial archive in Breslau (now Wrocław in Poland). During this time, Georg Waitz engaged himself in politics as a national-liberal in Kiel debating the question of whether the Duchy Schleswig should belong to Denmark or the German Confederation. In 1848, he was elected as a delegate to the National Assembly in Frankfurt – which was a matter of pride for him in later years2.

Both Waitz and Wattenbach pursued further academic careers: Wattenbach took a professorial chair in Heidelberg and later in Berlin, while Waitz went to Göttingen, where he began an „exceptionally productive teaching activity with international resonance“ (Schieffer, Waitz). Many of Waitz’ students went on to become archive directors and university professors. At the same time, both Waitz and Wattenbach continued their editorial work for the MGH. In 1875, Pertz‘ increasingly autocratic directorship was brought to an end with the collaboration of the scientific Academies in Berlin, Vienna, and Munich, and the MGH were reorganised (see Treasures no 9: The Difficult Transition From a Scholarly Association to a Research Institution). The newly formed central board of directors elected Georg Waitz as its first chairman. In his history of the MGH, Bresslau paid tribute to him as „the first employee of the old board of directors and the first head of the new“, who for 50 years had dedicated „a good part of his working life “ to the Monumenta (Bresslau, p. 617). Wattenbach for his part as a member of the new central board of directors, head of the section „Epistolae“, and chief editor of the journal Neues Archiv „contributed importantly to the positive development of the MGH in the era Waitz“ (Schieffer, Wattenbach).

As much as the sender and addressee of our invitation had in common in their professional lives, so little did they share in their private lives. Leaving aside a more comprehensive comparison of their scholarly achievements, such as may be read elsewhere (see the literature listed at the end of this page), let us turn our attention to Waitz‘ and Wattenbach’s private situations.

At the time Georg Waitz (1813-1886) wrote the invitation, he had already turned 71 – as had his co-members of the board Giesebrecht, Hegel, and Euler. In 1842, he married Clara Schelling, a daughter of the philosopher Friedrich Schelling, with whom he had seven children. After Clara died in puerperium in 1857, Waitz remarried in 1861 at the age of 47, espousing the 30-year old Helene Franziska Friederike von Hartmann; their marriage remained childless. In 1877, at the age of 20, Waitz‘ youngest daughter married an older man, Ernst Steindorff, aged 38, an ex-student of her father. Of Waitz‘ many publications, possibly the most singular is his two-volume edition of a woman‘s correspondence. The reasons for this particular interest are partly familial: The woman, Caroline née Dorothea Caroline Albertine Michaelis (1763-1809), was not only an outstanding female figure of the early Romantic Age, but was also the spouse of Waitz‘ first wife, the philosopher Friedrich Schelling, whom she married in third wedlock. Caroline was not only remarkable for the cultural and social influence she exercised through the work of her husbands, but also led a highly unconventional life in her relationships and political attitudes. Waitz, who himself had been politically active as a delegate to the Frankfurt National Assembly, was possibly more interested in Caroline for her political engagement than for her familial ties. He had already begun gathering material for the edition during his first marriage, as he reports: „I have been collecting these letters for twenty years, a part of which I have thankfully received from the living children of their addressees, with whom I have the honour of being related“ (Waitz, Caroline, p. VI)..

By contrast, Wilhelm Wattenbach (1819-1897) long seemed a confirmed bachelor, living together with his sisters Sophie and Cäcilie. It was not until 1885, after the deaths of Sophie, aged 58, in 1866 and Cäcilie, aged 68, in 1883, that Wattenbach, himself now 65 years of age, finally espoused his cousin Marie Theresia Antonie von Hennings, thirty years his junior. They married nine days after the sitting of the MGH central board of directors, to which Wattenbach had received Waitz‘ invitation. Their marriage was to remain childless and Wattenbach’s wife outlived him by 35 years.

After Georg Waitz died unexpectedly in 1886, somewhat more than a year after the afore-mentioned sitting, Wilhelm Wattenbach provisionally assumed the chair of the MGH central board of directors, but was not instated in office by the ministry (Reichsamt des Inneren). After a protracted struggle, Wattenbach’s protegée Ernst Dümmler (1830-1902) ended up being appointed as chairman of the board in 1888.

Now as then in 1885 - or more correctly: regularly again since 1946 - the central board of directors of the MGH convenes every March to its annual sitting.

1 The members of the central board of directors in 1885 were, besides Georg Waitz himself, Theodor Mommsen, Heinrich von Sybel, Julius Weizsäcker und Wilhelm Wattenbach, all of whom lived in Berlin, Wilhelm von Giesebrecht in Munich, Karl Hegel in Erlangen, Ludwig Euler in Frankfurt am Main, Ernst Dümmler in Halle, and Theodor von Sickel and Friedrich Maassen in Vienna. Ernst Dümmler, aged 55, was the youngest member; Georg Waitz, Wilhelm von Giesebrecht, Karl Hegel and Ludwig Euler, all aged 71, were the eldest.
2 In 1881, Georg Waitz noted in his memorial album: „The Frankfurt Parliament was a school for every individual person just as for the German Volk as a whole, and its members will always believe in its salutory influence." (Das Frankfurter Parlament war eine Schule für den Einzelnen wie für das Deutsche Volk, an deren wohlthätigen Einfluss die Mitglieder immer glauben werden) (MGH Archive B 851/3,4).

Annette Marquard-Mois

Transcription MGH-Archiv 338/55

Berlin, February 24, 1885.

I beg the honour of humbly inviting you to this year's plenary assembly of the central board of directors of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica on Monday, March 30. The first sitting will begin on the said day at 11 a.m. in the rooms of the Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften. (Zur diesjährigen Plenarversammlung der Centraldirection der Monumenta Germaniae beehrte ich mich auf Montag den 30 März ganz ergebenst einzuladen. Die erste Sitzung wird an dem genannten Tage Morgens 11 Uhr in dem Local der Königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften stattfinden.)

Der Vorsitzende der Centraldirection der Monumenta Germaniae
G. Waitz

Harry Bresslau, Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae historica im Auftrage ihrer Zentraldirektion (1921)

Enno Bünz, Die Monumenta Germaniae Historica 1819-2019. Ein historischer Abriss, in: Mittelalter lesbar machen. Festschrift 200 Jahre Monumenta Germaniae Historica (2019) S. 15-36

Horst Fuhrmann, „Sind eben alles Menschen gewesen“. Gelehrtenleben im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Dargestellt am Beispiel der Monumenta Germaniae Historica und ihrer Mitarbeiter (1996)

Herbert Grundmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica 1819-1969 (1969)

Rudolf Schieffer, Waitz, Georg, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 27 (2020) S. 268-269 [Online-Version]

Rudolf Schieffer, Wattenbach, Wilhelm, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 27 (2020) S. 452-454 [Online-Version]

Georg Waitz (Hg.), Caroline. Briefe an ihre Geschwister, ihre Tochter Auguste, d. Familie Gotter, F. L. W. Meyer, A. W. und Fr. Schlegel, J. Schelling u.a. nebst Briefen von A. W. u. Fr. Schlegel u.a. (1871)

Georg Waitz, Ueber die Zukunft der Monumenta Germaniae historica, in: Historische Zeitschrift 30 (1873) S. 1-13

Kurt Wattenbach, Wattenbach – Stammfolge aus Mittelfranken in Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg und London, in: Blätter für fränkische Familienkunde 25 (2002) S. 101-124

The handwritten protocoll of the eleventh plenary sitting of the central board of directors is preserved in the MGH archive (MGH-Archiv 338/38; digitalised from p. 159).

Georg Waitz, Bericht über die elfte Plenarversammlung der Central-Direction der Monumenta Germaniae. Berlin 1885, in: Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für Ältere Deutsche Geschichtskunde 11 (1886) S. 1-8