Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung

Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung

1826, July – 1898
with: Literarischer Anzeiger
Edited by Heinrich Brockhaus and others

(Culture – Literature – Politics ; 17)

118,400 pages on 949 microfiches, 2004, ISBN 3-89131-454-X
Diazo negative: EUR 5,900.– / Silver negative: EUR 7,080.–

As the Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung first appeared in July 1826 it was not actually the launch of a new periodical. The paper had had a turbulent past. The beginnings are to be found in August Friedrich Kotzebue’s Literarisches Wochenblatt, which he founded in 1818, and in which he fought against democracy, freedom of the press and other aims of the student fraternities, which led to his being murdered in 1819. The publisher
Friedrich A. Brockhaus restarted the journal in 1820, but was forced to change the title twice, in several disputes with the Prussian Government. It was first in 1826, under the editorship of Heinrich Brockhaus, that the paper found its long term form of appearance. The largest change in the next 73 years was probably the move from a daily to a weekly paper in 1853.

Important elements in the contents of the Blätter were advertisements and summaries of interesting journal articles – also foreign ones. Apart from this the magazine dealt with cultural politics, theatre and fine art. It also printed critical essays about complete areas of literature and biographical sketches of prominent contemporary figures. These were often intended for secondary use in Brockhaus’ Konversationslexikon.

Above all, however, the Blätter reviewed new publications from home and abroad, printed extracts and provided a platform for literati. It was indeed normal practice that the critic remained anonymous, but this gave occasion for ridicule. So for Heinrich Heine, who must have detested the, in Kotzebue’s spirit, conservative and anti romantic attitude of the Blätter: «These are the caves where the unhappiest of all German scribblers languish and groan,those who descend here lose their names and receive a number». Nevertheless the «scribblers» had influence on the reputation of their review objects. The writer Wilhelm Hauff let a complete round of poets protest over their treatment in the Blätter, whereby a dramatist sighed «I can’t swear about the Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung, I still have three tragedies lying there which have not been reviewed yet». The Blätter thanked their determining function in the discourse, their solitary position in a time of change. They survived the demise of other literary journals around 1850, as the leading review organ, and despite the growth of production by the publishers even claimed total coverage for many years – as opposed to the developing feature pages of «normal» newspapers.

The Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung are therefore an irreplaceable source for the history of literature, press and publishing in the 19th Century. Beyond this they also contain, alongside contributions by and about contemporaries, hundreds of texts on older authors from Abraham a Sancta Clara to Ulrich Zwingli that provide valuable insights into the history of their reception. The words of editor Rudolf Gottschall on the occasion of the 50th birthday of the paper are still totally valid: «For the historian of literature each year of publication contains a treasure, which he can only ignore at his own peril.»