A Brill Calendar: August 26
Few literary techniques to create a sense of historical awareness equal the power of enumerating different events happening on the same calendar day.
August 26 is one such. The theatrical setting is the Leyden Rapenburg Canal in 1910, the day a Friday. After luncheon in restaurant ‘De Vergulde Turk’ (The Gilded Turk) two gentlemen pace to and fro; for hours, in animated conversation and discussion. It is near the end of the Academic holyday season; the old city is quiet.
The elder of the two is the psychologist and medical doctor Professor Sigmund Freud; his companion, some four years his junior, is the musician Gustav Mahler (Kaliste, Bohemia July 7 1860 – Vienna, May 18 1911). The Dutch essayist Martin van Amerongen wrote (almost a century later with precious little documentation to go on) an elegant reconstruction of what may have been said that day: ‘Gusav Mahler’s Via Dolorosa’.
The composer of the ‘Kindertotenlieder’ and ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ had tried a few times earlier – in vain – to consult the famous Doctor of the Soul. It is seldom, that Leyden University and City acted better as a back-drop for an unobtrusive mile-stone in historical time. Since the first year of the twentieth century Cornelis Peltenburg directed the Brill publishing company with a strong hand. And on this very day, the founding father of philosophical pragmatism, William James, died at Chocorua, New Hampshire – aged 68 – survived by his brother Henry, the novelist, creating the mighty myth of the modern American in Europe. The following date, (to be precise August 27 1910) Thomas Alva Edison (1847 – 1931) announced that the days of silent motion-pictures are numbered. All in an age when the very idea of a war between civilized nations could be nothing else but a preposterous idea not entertained by people still ‘compos mentis’.