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Institute of German Studies - Edition Johann Caspar Lavater

Genesis and conception

Although Lavater's name plays a role in the history of ideas, theology and literature in German-speaking Europe, his works are hardly available. Until the present day, only three editions, all containing selections only, have been published posthumously: Georg Gessner, Lavater's son-in-law, compiled the first one, five volumes of Lavater's posthumously published works (1). Although unannotated, these volumes demonstrate the width and breadth of Lavater's work. The mid-nineteenth century saw the appearance of an eight-part edition by Johann Kaspar von Orelli, an edition that was reprinted several times (2). The pieces that are included in this edition are, for the most part, not printed in complete form. No mention is made of the origin of the texts, nor are the omissions clearly indicated. Moreover, there is no introduction to each particular "selected text", nor are these acccompanied by appropriate critical apparatus. Ernst Staehelin compiled a third edition in four volumes in 1943 (3). This edition shows how many different scientific areas and domains Lavater's works touch upon. Unfortunately here too, the texts are only abridged or in excerpt form. Each individual text is preceded by a short introduction, but annotation does not go beyond indicating the most rudimentary references to literary, biblical and personal sources. These three editions - Georg Gessner's, Johann Kaspar von Orelli's and Ernst Staehelin's - were not primarily destined for an academic, specialised public. They were rather intended as a type of "reader", making selected texts by Johann Caspar Lavater accessible to a broader lay readership. In addition to these three editions, there are also more recent, individual Reclam editions (4) or texts (5). The existance of these editions increased the demand for an edition that would meet present day academic requirements.

Lavater's letters - over 20,000 of them - are to be found in the Central Library in Zurich. Yet most of them are editorially practically still untouched, although this body of correspondance, within which the central religious and intellectual themes of the day were discussed, is an epistolary network of fascinating depth and breadth covering nearly all of Europe.

The last few years have witnessed a revival of interest in this fascinating and contradictory person, doubtless the best-known figure of 18th century Zurich. Certain correspondance has been edited (6) and earlier travel diaries and others which Lavater himself did not make public have been published (7).

In June 2002 , the manuscript Department of the Central Library of Zurich also presented all letters to and from Lavater in collaboration with IDC Publishers (Leiden). The register appeard 2007 as second supplementary volume of Johann Caspar Lavater selected works in historical critical edition (8).

On the occasion of Johann Caspar Lavater's 250th birthday, the "Zwingliverein Zurich" and the "Historische Kommission zur Erforschung des Pietismus" (Berlin) organized a symposium in Zurich in which aspects of Lavater's works and activities were examined from several different academic perspectives (9). This symposium made it absolutely clear that no further research into Lavater could be done before a new edition of his most important works had been undertaken and published. During his lecture, Prof. D. Dr. Gerhard Ebeling, formerly of the Faculty of Theology at Zurich University, was most emphatic on this point (10).

Prof. Dr. Rudolf Dellsperger took the initiative and on 12th June 1992 well-known academics from both Switzerland and abroad, and most of whom had already participated in the above-mentioned symposium, came together for the first time to discuss the planning of a historico-critical edition of Lavater's works. Participants included Prof. D. Dr. Gerhard Ebeling †, Prof. Dr. Helmut Holzhey, Prof. Dr. Alfred Schindler and Minister Dr. Hans Stickelberger † (all from Zurich), Prof. Karl Pestalozzi and Prof. Dr. Christoph Siegrist, both from Basle, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Im Hof † from Berne, Prof. Dr. Horst Weigelt from Bamberg, D. Dr. Gerhard Schäfer † from Stuttgart and Minister Dr. Martin Sauer from Wiesbaden. From this initial planning group emerged the circle of editors which today still includes nearly all of those mentioned above. Prof. D. Dr. Gerhard Ebeling and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Im Hof have retired. The editorial circle was joined in 1995 by Dr. Conrad Ulrich (President of the Johann Caspar Lavater Research Foundation), in 1999 by Dr. François de Capitani, from 2000 till 2004 by Prof. Dr. Silke-Petra Bergjan, in 2002 by PD Dr. Daniel Tröhler, from 2004 till 2012 by PD Dr. Peter Opitz (all from Zurich) and in 2007 by Prof. Dr. Simone Zurbuchen (Fribourg) and from 2012 onwards by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Horst Sitta.

Johann Caspar Lavater's collected works number over 400 titles, proportions that cannot really be fully embraced. For this obvious reason, it was decided from the onset not to include all the works that Lavater had given for publication in the new historico-critical edition. The decision to limit the edition to selected works was also one justified for reasons of content. After fundamental principles had been established, Dr. Ursula Caflisch-Schnetzler was put in charge of the planned edition in 1994.

In a first phase, the most important works to have been published in Lavater's lifetime were assembled and their exact modern typographical proportions calculated. The works were then selected according to the following criteria: Works considered had apparent relevance to Lavater's life and work and for his theological and intellectual development. The writings should record Lavater's theological, patriotico-political, psychological, pedagogical and poetic works. An additional criteria for selection was the history of contemporary reactions, that is, those writings of Lavater's were chosen that were felt to be of particular relevance for the history of culture, intellect and religion of the 18th and 19th centuries. Lavater's probably best-known work, Physiognomische Fragmente, zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntniß und Menschenliebe (1775-1778), is not to be included in the planned ten-volume edition. Its format and the complicated history of the work necessitate the edition of four separate volumes. However, Lavater's theoretical work Von der Physiognomik (1772) will be included in JCLW, volume IV.

Indexes and registers were also drawn up when the fundamental principles of the edition were established. Work on the edition cannot ignore the unpublished handwritten scripts and writings. For this reason it was imperative to put in order and computerize the catalogue of Lavater's manuscripts kept in Zurich Central Library. Together with the Lavateriana in other librairies and in private collections, this file constitutes an important worktool. The first three months of work were financed by the "Freiwillige akademische Gesellschaft" (Basle), the time after that by the Baugarten Foundation (Zurich).

In January 1997, Prof. Dr. Alfred Schindler and Dr. Conrad Ulrich founded the Johann Caspar Lavater Research Foundation. On 1 October 1997, this was a first request to the Swiss National Science Foundation for the promotion of scientific research for three half-time posts. This request was granted, so that the historical critical edition as of 1 April 1998 under the direction of Prof. Dr. Alfred Schindler in addition to Dr. Ursula Caflisch-Schnetzler could commit new Dr. Bettina Volz-Tobler and Dr. Martin Ernst Hirzel. Two more applications were submitted by Prof. Dr. Silke-Petra Bergjan in the Swiss National Science Foundation and granted in 2001 and 2003. Rev. Dr. Klaus Martin Sauer and Prof. Dr. Christoph Siegrist as freelancers for volumes JCLW,IX (poems) and JCLW,X (sermons) complement the Edition. In July 2002 was Dr. Dominik Sieber as successor of Dr. Bettina Volz-Tobler, in August 2003 Dr. Christina Reuter as successor of Dr. Martin Ernst Hirzel on the Edition. From April 2004 till summer 2012, Prof. Dr. Peter Opitz was the leader of the edition of Johann Caspar Lavater, since autumn 2012 it is headed by Prof. em. Dr. Dr. Horst Sitta. Five further applications have been submitted to the Swiss National Science Foundation. From July 2010 till September 2012 Daniela Kohler was as successor of Dr. Dominik Sieber on the edition. In June 2013 Dr. Thomas Richter was engaged to edit volume VII/2, and in 2014 he additionally took over volume VII/1. These two volumes will be released in 2019. In September 2013 Dr. Yvonne Häfner was engaged for volume VI/2, which will also appear in 2019. From December 2013 till April 2016 Dr Heidi Schindler-Wallinger and Dr. h.c. Hans-Jürg Stefan worked as a freelancer in the Edition, editing volume IX (poems). Volume V, edited by Ursula Caflisch-Schnetzler, was published in October 2018.

In the course of these years and cooperation, the team responsible for planning the Ausgewählte Werke Johann Caspar Lavater in historisch-kritischer Ausgabe (JCLW) has actually developed into an editing team. Its members assist the editors themselves and accompany the editing activities. Upon the setting up of the Johann Caspar Lavater Research Foundation, this planning team became a legal structure.

In addition to the printed volumes of the Lavater Edition creates an each updated PDF Edition.

Closely with the plant Edition it appears supplementary and study books funded on private foundations by the Research Foundation. The supplemental volumes pick up still unpublished texts by or about Johann Caspar Lavater and complement the Lavater Edition with important compilations. Prof. Dr. Horst Weigelt (Bamberg) was working on assembling all works printed by and attributable to Lavater in Germany. Dr. Niklaus Landolt (Basle) was appointed to deal with such works in Switzerland. The first supplementary volume of the Edition comprises this bibliography. It was published in 2001 as first supplementary volume of Lavater Edition. 2007 appeared as the second supplementary volume: Johann Caspar (1741-1801). Records of correspondence and of the estate in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich, edited by Christoph Eggenberg and Marlis Stähli. 2011 followed as third supplementary volume the anecdotes from lavater's life by Anna Barbara von Muralt (1727-1805), edited by Ursula Caflisch-Schnetzler and Conrad Ulrich commissioned by Anton Pestalozzi and Regula Pestalozzi-Rapp.

The study books Edition collect important research results to Johann Caspar Lavater. A first volume published under the title in the light of lavater's. Readings for the 200th anniversary of the death in 2003 by Ulrich Stadler and Karl Pestalozzi initiated lectures during the large Lavater Exhibition 2001 at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

Author: Ursula Caflisch-Schnetzler, Translation: Hania Bociek




(1) Johann Caspar Lavater's nachgelassene Schriften, hg. von Georg Gessner. 5 Bände, Zürich 1801/1802.

(2) Johann Caspar Lavater: Ausgewählte Schriften, hg. von Johann Kaspar Orelli. 8 Bände, Zürich 1841-1844.

(3) Johann Caspar Lavaters Ausgewählte Werke, hg. von Ernst Staehelin. 4 Bände, Zürich 1943.

(4) Johann Caspar Lavater: Von der Physiognomik, Leipzig 1772. Neuauflage, hg. von Karl Riha und Carsten Celle, Insel-Taschenbuch 1991. - Johann Caspar Lavater: Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntniß und Menschenliebe. 4 Bände, Zürich 1968/1969 / Hildesheim (Olms) 2002 (Faksimile der Erstausgabe von 1775-1778). - Johann Caspar Lavater: Unveränderte Fragmente aus dem Tagebuche eines Beobachters seiner Selbst, bearbeitet von Christoph Siegrist (Schweizer Texte 3), Bern/Stuttgart 1978 (Reprint der Ausgabe Leipzig 1773; teilweise darin enthalten: Geheimes Tagebuch. Von einem Beobachter seiner Selbst, Reprint der Ausgabe Leipzig 1771). - Johann Caspar Lavater: Sämtliche kleinere prosaische Schriften vom Jahr 1763-1783. 3 Bände in 1 Band, Hildesheim (Olms) 1987 (Nachdruck der Ausgabe Winterthur 1784/1785). - Johann Caspar Lavater: Vermischte Schriften, Hildesheim (Olms) 1988. (Reprint, 2 Bände in 1 Band der Ausgabe Winterthur 1774/1781). - Johann Caspar Lavater: Pontius Pilatus. Oder Die Bibel im Kleinen und der Mensch im Großen. 4 Bände, Hildesheim (Olms) 2001 (Reprint der Ausgabe Zürich 1782-85). - Johann Caspar Lavater: Schweizerlieder, Hildesheim (Olms) 2009 (Reprint 4. verb. und verm. Auflage, Zürich 1775). - J.C. Lavaters Fremdenbücher. Faksimileausgabe. 8 Bände (6 Fremdenbücher, 1 Band Besucherkärtchen und 1 Kommentarband), hg. von Anton Pestalozzi, Mainz 2000.

(5) Johann Caspar Lavater: Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe. Eine Auswahl mit 101 Bildern, hg. von Christoph Siegrist, Stuttgart 1984 (Universal-Bibliothek, Nr. 350).

(6) Gisela Luginbühl-Weber: Johann Kaspar Lavater - Charles Bonnet - Jacob Bennelle. Briefe 1768-1790. Ein Forschungsbeitrag zur Aufklärung in der Schweiz. 2 Halbbände, Bern 1997. - Ursula [Caflisch-]Schnetzler: Johann Caspar Lavaters Tagebuch aus dem Jahre 1761, Pfäffikon 1989 (contains: Briefwechsel Lavaters mit Heinrich und Felix Hess). - Horst Weigelt: Aspekte zu Leben und Werk des Aufklärungstheologen Martin Crugot im Spiegel seiner Korrespondenz mit Johann Kaspar Lavater, in: Jahrbuch für Schlesische Kirchengeschichte, 73(1994), S. 225-311.

(7) Johann Kaspar Lavater. Reisetagebücher hg. von Horst Weigelt. 2 Teile (Texte zur Geschichte des Pietismus, Abt. VIII, Band 3 und 4), Göttingen 1997. - Oskar Farner (Hg.): Lavaters Jugend von ihm selbst erzählt, Zürich 1939. - Ursula [Caflisch-]Schnetzler: Johann Caspar Lavaters Tagebuch aus dem Jahre 1761, Pfäffikon 1989.

(8) Johann Caspar Lavater. Ausgewählte Werke. Ergänzungsband: Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801). Verzeichnis der Korrespondenz in der Zentralbibliothek Zürich, hg. von Christoph Eggenberger und Marlis Stähli, bearbeitet von Alexa Renggli und Marlis Stähli aufgrund des Standortkatalogs und unter Verwendung der Vorarbeiten von Ursula Caflisch-Schnetzler, Zürich 2007.

(9) Karl Pestalozzi / Horst Weigelt (Hg.): Das Antlitz Gottes im Antlitz des Menschen. Zugänge zu Johann Kaspar Lavater (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Pietismus, Band 31), Göttingen 1994.

(10) Gerhard Ebeling: Genie des Herzens unter dem Genius saeculi - J.C. Lavater als Theologe, in: Das Antlitz Gottes im Antlitz des Menschen, hg. von Karl Pestalozzi / Horst Weigelt (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des Pietismus, Band 31), Göttingen 1994, S. 23-60.