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Review of Leo Spitzers Briefe an Hugo Schuchardt

posted July 23rd, 2010

Leo Spitzers Briefe an Hugo Schuchardt. Ed. by Bernhard Hurch. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006. Pp. 432. ISBN 9783110180398. $192 (Hb).

Reviewed by Keri Henley, University of Texas at Arlington

Letters between two European intellectuals during World War One provide insight into the political and cultural environment of this critical period in history. For instance, Leo Spitzer observes that in the German community ‘the silence of the highly intellectual supports Hitler’ (294). Bernhard Hurch’s compilation of letters written by Romanist Leo Spitzer to Romanist and linguist Hugo Schuchardt exposes the human side of linguistics and language: a glimpse into the men’s personalities reveals a view of humankind during World War One. Topics such as etymology, German language variation, and philology were raised throughout the letters in addition to other literary and linguistic themes.

H compiled the book in a way that is manageable and enjoyable to read: the first of its seven sections provides contextual information and character profiles of both Schuchardt and Spitzer and includes a history of the colleagues’ roles in their respective societies and personal communities. A younger Spitzer begins tentatively writing the older, more seasoned Schuchardt, and the letters sketch the development of not only their relationship but also the development of each man as well. Written in German, the letters expose the Viennese intricacies of their author and reflect not only personal correspondence but also of the difficulties of a politically and socially difficult era.

The correspondence spans from February 1912 to February 1927 and consists primarily of letters from Spitzer to Schuchardt. In the first letter, Spitzer begins with utmost formality, requesting permission to correspond with Schuchardt. As the letters progress, it is intriguing to see how familiar the two men become with each other’s lives and careers, simply through this correspondence. This is reflected in the relaxed manner in which Spitzer writes, especially how he adjusts to addressing Schuchardt less formally as time passes.

The content of the letters varies widely, ranging from questions about linguistics and family, to political views and current events. Spitzer incorporates his daily life, thoughts, and interactions in his letters, which seem to function almost as a journal. Although no significant correspondence from Schuchardt is provided, the reader may hear his voice from what is reflected in Spitzer’s return correspondence. The letters continue until February of 1927, just a few months before Schuchardt’s death in April of that year.

H has produced a well-organized and succinct presentation of the correspondence between the two scholars and friends. An extended index details the people to whom Spitzer refers. With this personal and contextual information that H provides, the reader is able to fully grasp the multifaceted layers of life and history that these letters reveal.