“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, June 21, 2010

Places and people: bored Europe

The year 1831 in Strasbourg, according to the city chronicle written by Charles Staehling, saw the return of reaction after the liberal revolution that had put Louis-Philippe in power. Strasbourg had been a hotbed of liberalism under Charles X; its chief notable, Frederic Turckheim, had allied himself with Benjamin Constant. But in 1831, Turckheim, who had been appointed mayor of the city by the king, tried to deflect the liberal momentum, for instance by advocating the disbanding of the national guard, and then, when that didn’t work, operating to elevate reactionary officers. Of course, the university – and especially the medical students – were notoriously to the left. Surely they took part in the charivari that greeted Turckheim in the summer of that year, when he and his associates – the respectable middle class – took to calling themselves the Juste-Milieu, after a phrase of the King’s.

And this is a scene from the year of the juste milieu, preserved in amber by Staehling:

“The brasseurs of Strasbourg sent to Paris three delegates, MM. Schott of the Tigre, JJ Lauth of the Chain and Wagner of the Ostrich in order to complain about certain vexing measures of indirect taxation. Presented by the baron Athalin, deputy of the Bas Rhin, they were admitted to an audience with the king who, says the journal, welcomed them with much beneficence and expressed very flattering sentiments for their department.”

The juste milieu could not hold from the very beginning. The king and the restauranteurs, brought together by a Balzacian baron, are a sort of omen that the order cannot last. The Lord, it says in Revelations, spews the lukewarm out of his mouth.

But even if the liberal momentum was stopped, romantic nationalism, with which a certain liberalism was associated, wept its tears that year for the aborted revolt in Poland. A Polish general, Ramorino (who, it turned out from evidence supplied later, had probably been paid off by the Russians) was feted in Strasbourg as he passed through on his way to Paris. The liberals mixed up sentiment for defeated Poland and sentiment for the defeat of liberalism in the celebration accorded to the general. Which is where I will start this parenthesis. With a letter written by an 18 year old medical student that detailed these events to his parents: Georg Buechner.

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