Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Key Texts of Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776-1810) on the Science and Art of Nature

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Key Texts of Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776-1810) on the Science and Art of Nature

Article excerpt

Jocelyn Holland, Key Texts of Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776-1810) on the Science and Art of Nature. Leiden: Brill, 2010. xiv + 713 pp.

Johann Wilhelm Ritter is not included among the pantheon of notable natural scientists. A brief mention by Goethe (HA 10:452), a friendship with Clemens Brentano, and an influence on Novalis have not rescued him from the general obscurity to which the circumstances of limited opportunity relegated him. Nor have Walter Benjamin's positive opinions of him managed to pull Ritter into a wider reception. A few scant paragraphs in the omnivorous Wikipedia locate him generously as a "chemist, physicist and philosopher" but make evident that he was at best a peripheral figure. One can only hope that the present excellent edition of the German texts, with fine English translations by Holland and introduced by her essays, may to some extent correct the harsh judgment of contemporaries and posterity.

As the title indicates, the book consists of editions of Ritter's key texts, with translations on the facing pages. Indexes of names and of subjects, one in English and one in German, will make the material readily accessible as well. The texts are divided into three sections. Part 1, the longest, consists of Ritter's Fragmente aus dem Nachlasse eines jungen Physikers (Heidelberg, 1810), a collection of his aphorisms or scattered thoughts on a wide range of topics in physics. Overall, it is apparent that although Ritter kept up with the relevant literature in the field and was open to many possibilities, his speculations overshadowed the role of experiments. …

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