Thursday, 8 February 2018

A House for Mr. Immanuel Kant

A recent picture of Kant's House near Kaliningrad
After living in rented quarters for most of his adult life, Immanuel Kant purchased a house of his own at the age of 59 (on December 30, 1783). Renting a house meant occasional moves, at times at the insistence of the landlord, and therefore Kant felt that a house of his own would provide him certain amount of security, especially in his declining years.

In Kant: A Biography, (Chapter: “The All Crushing Critic of Metaphysics"), Manfred Kuhen offers an account of Kant’s journey into his own house. Here’s an excerpt:
The house Kant bought had belonged to a portrait painter named Becker, who had recently died. Hippel, whose own property bordered on Becker's, was instrumental in the deal. He told Kant that the property was for sale, and he wrote to Kant on December 24, the day before Christmas, that he had found out that the house was not yet sold, and that if Kant were to make an offer, he would probably be successful. Kant acted right away. Indeed, he wrote down notes and questions about what had to be done on Hippel's very letter. Thus he asked whether there was only one stove in the house, where precisely the borderlines of the property lay, whether he should take out a wall between two smaller rooms and the room that was to become the lecture room, and when the house would be free. The answer to the last question was: "in March." Kant made notes about the costs of the necessary renovation on the back of a short letter, dated February 21, 1784. Work appears to have begun at that time….
Kant was able to move into his new house on May 22, 1784. Kuhen also offers an excerpt from Johann Gottfried Hasse’s idyllic vision of Kant’s house:
On coming closer to his house, everything announced a philosopher. The house was something of an antique. It stood in a street that could be walked but was not much used by carriages. Its back bordered on gardens and moats of the castle, as well as on the back buildings of the many hundred years old palace with its towers, its prisons and its owls. But spring and summer the surroundings were quite romantic. The only trouble was that he did not really enjoy them .. . but only saw them. Stepping into the house, one would notice the peaceful quiet. Had one not been convinced otherwise by the open kitchen, with the odors of food, a barking dog, or the meowing of a cat, the darlings of his female cook - she performed, as he put it, entire sermons for them - one might have thought the house was uninhabited. If one went up the stairs, one would have encountered the servant who was working on preparing the table. But if one went through the very simple, unadorned and somewhat smoky outbuilding into a greater room which represented the best room, but which was not luxurious. (What Nepos said of Attics: elegant, non magnifies, was quite true of Kant.) There was a sofa, some chairs, upholstered with linen, a glass cabinet with some porcelain, a secretary, which held his silver ware and his cash, and a thermometer. These were all the furnishings, which covered a part of the white walls. In this way, one reached through a very simple, even poor-looking, door a just as destitute sans-souci, into which one was invited by a glad "come in" as soon as one knocked. (How fast my heart beat, when this happened for the first time!) The entire room exuded simplicity and quiet isolation from the noises of the city and the world. Two common tables, a simple sofa, some chairs, including his study-seat, and a dresser, which left enough space in the middle of the room to get to the barometer and thermometer, which Kant consulted frequently. Here sat the thinker in his wooden chair, as if on a tripod…
Johann Gottfried Hasse was Kant’s colleague at the University of Königsberg. Kant did not like dining alone, he usually invited one or two table companions, whose number, on special occasions, could be increased to five or six. Hasse was one of the frequent dinnertime guest at Kant’s house. 

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