Johann Gottfried Herder in the Tyrol – Letter to his children

August 7, 2006

Bozen. September 1st, 1788.

All my dear children: Gottfried, August, Wilhelm, Adelbert, little Luis and Emil!

I am now near to the borders of Germany and have nearly crossed the great highlands of the Tyrol. The mountains are high, on several there has been much snow, and the so-called “Portal” or “Cell” through which one passes into the Tyrol is especially beautiful, splendid and wild. We also came by Martin’s Wall where the Emperor Maximilian got lost, and in Innsbruck we saw a very beautiful memorial to him, of which I will tell you in person. I am now in Bozen where today there is a terribly great mass of people; 19,000 children are to be confirmed, since the bishop has not confirmed for many years. In front of our lodging-house, in the sun, there is a fruit market the like of which you have never seen in your life; there are pears, plums, grapes, nuts, figs; for figs do grow here. Soon we will come to the region where quinces and lemons grow. O, if only you were with me here, or that I could send you a basket of such fruit! But the lovely fruit would go bad on the way, just as lovely human hopes sometimes rot from the inside out. — Already there are flat roofs here, of which there are said to be many in Italy, where one can see a long way in all directions; and the air is entirely gentle, warm and mild. In the Tyrol highlands we saw chamois leaping, in Innsbruck we also ate one, and saw a tame one, entirely charming, that followed its provider, a farmer’s wife, everywhere. It was as agile as I wish you all to be. I would that you had been there with me and seen it, and I wish too, that you may one day see the mountains of the Tyrol and journey through them in gladness.

Apply yourselves to your studies with industry, and behave yourselves well; also, do learn to draw, for I regret very much that I cannot. The region is entirely too beautiful, and between the mountains there are a thousand waterfalls made by a stream, the Etsch. It flows very rapidly and particularly in the diocese of Brixen has beautiful trees on its banks: poplars, birches and willow-trees. For many hours we travelled far beside it. Seek it out on the map, you will be able to find our path. Tomorrow we arrive at Trento, perhaps I will have news of you there. Keep well, dear children, hold me in your affection and be healthy, and live in good accord with your mother and the rest of the household! It is late and no doubt you will be sleeping in your beds. Sleep tight!

Translated from the German (c) by Marc Hiatt. (6.08.06)

Reprinted in H G Fiedler (ed.), Das Oxforder Buch Deutscher Prosa von Luther bis Rilke (1943) Oxford.

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