Eleanor Alexander
The Letters of
Hedwig Pringsheim-Dohm

(1901 - 1919)

Hedwig Pringsheim and Fritz Mauthner had been good friends when they were both "young and gay;" I do not know where and how they met. Her daughter Katia, the wife of Thomas Mann, wrote in her autobiography, Meine Ungeschriebenen Memoiren (My Unwritten Memoirs), "My father was Professor of Mathematics at the University in Munich, and my mother was a very beautiful woman." She was also highly intelligent and a strong advocate of women's rights. Her mother, Hedwig Dohm, was a well-known author of romances and one of the first advocates of women's rights.

The Pringheims had a very active social life and many writers, painters and composers were among their friends. Richard Strauss often came to visit. There were many scientists in the Pringsheim family. While in Rolandia, Brazil, I met Agathe Carst, the aunt of my pupil Bodo, and we soon became good friends. She was a scientist who had worked in a pharmaceutical company and she had just visited in Princeton where her cousin Pringsheim was a much respected Professor of Physics at the University.

Katia Mann had always refused to write about her life because she felt that there should be someone in the family who did not write, but in 1973, when she was ninety years old, her son Michael came to visit her in the Engadin in Switzerland and talked to her about her life. He urged her to write down a few things about her life, which she did. Michael Mann was a professional violinist, but when he was almost forty years old he decided to study German literature at Harvard. During his years at Harvard he taught German to Ann, then a Radcliffe student. He was a Professor of German literature when we came to Berkeley, and I audited a fascinating course on "Sturm und Drang" that he gave together with a professor in the Music Department. I have the happiest memories of this course; in the last session I read a German piece to the large class.

I have strayed a long way from the correspondence between Fritz Mauthner and Hedwig Pringsheim which fortunately is preserved in the archives of the Leo-Baeck-Institute in New York. Although they had known each other already when they were young, she always uses the formal "Sie" in her letters and never calls him by first name.

She is amazed at his achievement and very proud of him, but she believes that she is not really able to judge. My nephew John Alexander gave me a secondhand copy of Fritz Mauthners "Die Sprache," published by Martin Buber in 1906 in a series "Die Gesellschaft", now beautifully rebound by the Peterborough library. My reaction to Mauthners book was similar to Hedwig Pringsheim's. I was overwhelmed by the commitment and the passion, the originale, and able to read only a few pages at a time.

When the first two volumes of "Contributions to a Critique of Language," were published, Hedwig Pringsheim wrote a letter to Fritz Mauthner congratulating him, admitting also that she had been a little bit surprised. I wrote in "A Bit of Family History": "Volume I of his language critique appeared in 1901 and came as a surprise to Mauthner's readers, colleagues and acquaintances."


June 29, 1901

Dear Mr. Mauthner,

I feel a bit shy writing to you beeause I am not sure that I will be able to do justice to your work.

I know of no other way of expressing my feelings except in words, in the language that you consider such a miserable vehicle of expression. But yet, I am very happy to write to you. I want to speak to you of the picture that I have formed in my mind, a picture that has changed since I started reading your book. I confess right away that I have gotten only to page 150, since I started reading it only a few days ago. lt is not always easy for me to follow your argument, and it is impossible to read your book in a superficial manner. I do not attempt to read more than twenty pages at a time and tire easily because I take you very seriously, and I think it would be wrong not to.

Well, Mr. Mauthner, you know that I was always very fond of you. I always considered you a very gifted writer, an excellent writer of literary essays, a bright intellect. I was flattered that all through the years you have shown a friendly interest in me, but I never knew that you were a deep thinker, a creative philosopher and a desperately, yes, desperately serious guy. lf I had realized this earlier, I would not have felt flattered, but terribly proud that you liked me and remained my friend all these years.

You will not, my dear Mr. Mauthner, expect me to write a shallow letter praising your work. That is not my way because I am modest when faced with a serious work. I have the deepest respect for you and your work and admire the bitter, bitter seniousness with which you face the world. I hope that reading your book will improve my way of thinking and increase my knowledge. I have already received much stimulation in the 150 pages that I have read. I already look forward to the third volume with pleasure, as you believe it will be the best.

Today the sun shines, bright and golden. Erich's little dog lies at my feet - I look after him with devotion during my son's year of service; outside the bells are ringing. One could almost believe that the world is beautiful.

Warmest greetings from your old friend Hedwig Pringsheim


Munich, Arcisstrasse
October 9, 1902

Dear Mr. Mauthner,

I should like to thank you very much for your kind note; your decision of a private ceremony changes my feelings; therefore I should be very glad to be present at the ceremony honoring Maximilian Harden [a prominent literary critic]. I have sent a note to Mrs. Wanderberg accepting the invitation.

Is Mr. Harden so ill that you speak of "the present state of his health"?

You may have thought nie unfriendly or careless, dear Mauthner, because I did not write a word about the second volume of "Contributions to a Critique of Language," in my last letter. But no, for heaven's sake, no, you are wrong. I do think that your work is too important for some conventional kind words. I consider it immodest and offensive to praise you with shallow sentiments like "charming," "interesting ... .. important," or "excellent," when you have achieved something truly distinguished. In addition, I am not competent to judge - why should you care for my comments? Perhaps, since your field of study is the interpretation of language, you might have been able to guess what I meant.

You will understand that it was important for me to tell you about my admiration for your work, (perhaps also, you will forgive me, a bit of a surprise) as well as my gratitude. We have known each other for ? ? years - and still know so little of each other.

For today only the friendliest and heartfelt greetings,

Your friend of our youth, Hedwig Pringsheim


May 7, 1919

My dear Mr. Mauthner,

Many thanks for your friendly and warm letter with your acceptance; it aimed with surprising speed. (I am still getting letters mailed in April.) I hope that your health will be improving, since the sun is shining so brightly now. I understand so very well the shock which the death of your friend caused you. Only when I received your letter did I realize that Mr. Landauer was identical with the well-known Gustav Landauer of whom I had often heard but whom I did not know personally. In the last two winters my sister Else attended his philosophical lectures at the house of Therese Simon Sonnemann which Mrs. Sonnemann had arranged to help Landauer financially, as he was living in most difficult circumstances. My sister was delighted to be able to hear his talks.

His political work was certainly disastrous, but in spite of it every sensitive person, including myself, must have deplored his terrible death. For he was a man of high principle who wanted the best, but went about it in the wrong way. I read a few days ago a declaration by the Republic of the Soviets
written by Landauer which was excellent in tone and form and with which everyone who is not a narrow-minded bourgeois could have agreed. His death is one of the many horrible events of the last weeks. He was not blameless, but may the one among us who is without guilt throw the first stone.

I hope to receive permission to travel to Berlin next week to go to the grave of my father with my sisters on the 24th - my poor little mother, almost 88 years old, deathly ill and distraught after the last terrible weeks, longs for me with all her heart.

Wishing you a steady improvement of your health and with the warmest wishes for you and your wife, I remain

Your Hedwig Pringsheim - Dohm


November 19, 1919

Dear Mr. Mauthner,

I want to be among the many friends congratulating you on your seventieth birthday, offering you my warmest wishes on this important day. My congratulations will be short because there will be so many wishing you well, but heartfelt because we have known each other for such a terribly long time - we were always so very fond of each other. Dear Mauthner, how young and beautiful we were (at least I was), and now you are seventy! It is hard to believe, but all the papers say so and, as we know, they do not lie.

Do remain young in spirit and brave and yourself and keep a friendly memory of our young years, as I do. For what is left to us at this time except memories.

My best regards and most affectionate greetings from your old friend,

Hedwig Pringsheim - Dohm


When Hitler came to power the Pringsheims stayed in Munich, but they had to move to a smaller house and lived a very restricted life. Finally, in 1939 the family persuaded them to leave and join them in Switzerland. They lost everything and had a very hard life in Switzerland, but it was better to be poor in Zurich than occupy a palace around the corner from Hitler's.

Hedwig Pringsheim died in 1942.

LITERATUR - Letters to Fritz Mauthner, Translation by Eleanor Alexander, Winter 2001