The Wötzel Puzzle

The word ‘declamation’ is likely to evoke negative associations — pompousness and a swollen tone. It was no different two centuries ago. At least in the German-speaking world, where, despite a widespread anti-declamatory prejudice (or sensible aversion) declamation as a stage art boomed around 1800.

This has been the subject of my research of the past few months. And that’s how I came across Dr. J.C. Wötzel’s Outline of a General and Comprehensible Doctrinal Edifice or System of Declamation (1814). It took me some time to get through its 840 pages even in hop-skip-and-jump fashion. For Wötzel uses three words were anybody else would use one.

Wötzel 1814It took a while too before I found out the reason: it’s that Dr. Wötzel wrote his books by copying from those of others, wötzling them into his ‘own’ simply by adding words. Unnecessary, redundant, superfluous words. I realized this when a paragraph looked all too familiar — indeed it had been copied from a well-known earlier work on declamation, Outline of Bodily Eloquence, by Hermann Heimart Cludius (1792). It even shows in the title: Cludius’ Grundris der körperlichen Beredsamkeit: für Liebhaber der schönen Künste, Redner und Schauspieler becomes Wötzel’s Grundriß eines allgemeinen und faßlichen Lehrgebäudes oder Systems der Declamation nach Schocher’s Ideen, für Dichter, Vorleser, Declamatoren, Redner, Lehrer und Kunstschauspieler aller Art, für deren Zuhörer und Zuschauer zur richtigen Würdigung der Erstern.

I’m always curious about the man or woman behind the book (see my previous post on Gustav Anton von Seckendorff), but Wötzel was something special. In fact, he had been exposed as a plagiarist years before he pasted his Outline together. More recently an American scholar has revealed that he illegitimately carried the title Dr., had appropriated the name of another, more famous author (J.C. Wezel), and had heaped ridicule upon himself with an ‘experiment’ in spiritism, Veritable Appearance of My Wife After Death (1804).

Ghost stories and fraud — it looks like an entertaining mixture. In fact any reader of Wötzel is likely to be discouraged by the sheer amount of empty verbiage he pours over any subject he lays hands on. Still, unravelling the Wötzel web makes for an interesting story, and I’ve told it in a short article that I’ve just put online.*

Cludius, one of the many victims of Wötzel’s plagiarism, is also an interesting subject for man-behind-the-book studies, and I will add a few words about him. Cludius was a Lutheran pastor and dean in Hildesheim who grew fruits as a hobby, and his name lives on in four apple cultivars. His Outline (Grundris) stands out from the mass of similar works by its scrupulous references. And yet Cludius too was a sort of con artist or con scholar, but a nice one. Whereas Wötzel may have incorporated a lost work by Wezel into his own, Cludius actually wrote an original work masquerading as another author’s lost book, the fourth book of Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods. It was published in Latin (a very decent Ciceronian Latin, it seems) by a ‘Pater Serafinus’, after a manuscript allegedly found among the rubbish in a book stall. Its true authorship has long remained uncertain, but the ascription to Cludius has recently been confidently made by its German translator. The deceit is quite transparent, and no doubt satirical: Cicero is made to utter views strangely resembling Roman-Catholic doctrine, views that can never have been his, nor those of the Lutheran pastor.

* Schocher’s Ideas and Wötzel’s Words: Notes Along a Sidetrack
— Alternative location.