writer (1883–1924). Autograph letter signed (“Kafka”). Prague. 8vo. 3½ pp.
$ 134,712 / 120.000 €
A deeply personal, eloquently critical letter to his friend Franz Werfel (1890–1945), who had just visited him. Written in German from his sickbed, the letter, which was probably never sent, contains a discussion Werfel’s play Schweiger, which had been a severe disappointment to Kafka: “Dear Werfel, After the way I behaved at your last visit, you could not come again. I realized that. And I would surely have written to you before this were it not that letter-writing has gradually become as hard for me as talking, and that even mailing letters is troublesome, for I already had a letter all written for you.
But it is useless to go over old things. Where would it end, if one were never to stop defending all one’s old wretched mistakes and apologizing for them. So let me only say this, Werfel, which you yourself must know: If what was involved here was only an ordinary dislike, then it might possibly have been easier to formulate and moreover might have been so unimportant that I might well have been able to keep it to myself. But it was a horror, and justifying that is difficult: One seems stubborn and tough and crossgrained, where one is only unhappy. You are surely one of the leaders of this generation, which is not meant as flattery and cannot serve as flattery of anyone, for many a man can lead this society, so lost in its bogs. Hence you are not only a leader but something more (you yourself have said something similar in the fine introduction to Brand’s posthumous works, fine right down to the phrase ‘joyous will to deception’) and one follows your course with burning suspense. And now this play. lt may have every possible merit, from the theatrical to the highest, but it is a retreat from leadership; there is not even leadership there, rather a betrayal of the generation, a glossing over, a trivializing, and therefore a cheapening of their sufferings. – But now I am prattling on, as I did before, am incapable of thinking out and expressing the crux of the matter. Let it be so. Were it not that my sympathy with you, my deeply selfish sympathy with you, is so great, I would not even be prattling. – And now the invitation; in written form, it assumes an even realer and more magnificent appearance. Obstacles are my illness, the doctor (he definitely rules out Semmering once again, though he is not so definite about Venice in the early spring), and I suppose money too (I would have to manage on a thousand crowns a month). But these are not the chief obstacles. Between lying stretched out on my Prague bed and strolling erect in the Piazza San Marco, the distance is so great that only imagination can barely span it. But these are only generalizations. Beyond that, to imagine that for example I might go to dinner with other people in Venice (I can only eat alone) – even the imagination is staggered. But nonetheless I cling to the invitation, and thank you for it many times. Perhaps I will see you in January. Farewell [...]” (translation).
Provenance: auctioned at Stargardt in 1999 (sale 671, 30 March, lot 222), and again in 2001 (sale 675, 13 Nov., lot 226). Last in the Collections Aristophile.
¶ Published (with departures from the original) in Briefe (ed. Max Brod), S. Fischer 1958, pp. 424 f. English translation published in: Letters to Friends, Family, and Editor (NY, Schocken Books, 1977)..