Thursday, October 25, 2012

Goethe and Money

Since most of my time in Frankfurt I was working from pretty much dawn to dusk I had been reading through my little tour book feverishly, trying to decide exactly what I wanted to do. I knew that I would really only have one day, and that day was Saturday. After thinking and thinking I decided that the only thing that was appropriate for a person who had studied at Shimer College was to go to the childhood home of Goethe. Goethe, of course, is best known for Faust, an amazing writer, and one that I have always been fond of, so it just seemed like the perfect thing to do.

Before meeting the Engineer, I mentioned that this was in fact the thing that I wanted most to do, and he assured me that he would be happy to oblige. After walking for twenty or so minutes through downtown he pulled out his phone, consulted the map, and made sure we were on the proper way. We made it to the Goethe museum at around 4:00 p.m., which gave us just enough time to take it in. At the museum/house of Goethe there was a special display about money and also the house tour. The Engineer assured me it would be worth the small expense for both, and since this was my big tourist thing, I agreed.

Mephistopheles's promise to Faust was that he could make money out of thin air, and indeed, the convention of paper money was a convention that Goethe predicted would be necessary in order to successfully bring the country into the monetary age. He had been the finance minster for Germany during the latter part of his life, and a concern for keeping accurate accounts and records was always foremost. One of the pieces in the exhibit was an account-record book that was easily twelve inches thick and about two feet across. The money bit was fascinating, but some of the things that fascinated me even more were Goethe’s actions as a writer.

Copyright law being what it was back then, Goethe had very little protection as an author for the works and the money his works were making. Because of this, he began to work almost immediately on securing the rights for his works. In short, during his life he never gave up the copyright on anything he published. He would sell short-term rights to publishing houses, but they would always expire so he could maintain the rights. Along with this, he spent a great deal of time fighting with pirates who were copying his work and selling it without paying him any money. I was fascinated by his troubles in publishing as it seemed all too familiar some two hundred years later.  I was very happy I got a chance to see it. The Engineer kindly did the job of translating everything for me, since the museum signage was mostly in German with only a few bits in English.

One of my favorite English pieces, though was the following quote:

"He had spent the handsome sum of nearly 1/2 million that he received through...inheritance, his salary....and his fees as an author. It was only on this basis that he was able to acquire all that constitutes his personality, he said."

I knew exactly how he felt.

No comments: