October 30, 2013

This week in 1913: Rilke wants a divorce, King Otto is declared insane, and “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is coined


Just before one of its darkest moments came the twentieth century’s most exciting year . . .

It was the year Henry Ford first put a conveyer belt in his car factory, and the yearLouis Armstrong first picked up a trumpet. It was the year Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie contract, and Coco Chanel and Pradaopened their first dress shops. It was the yearProust began his opus, Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, and the first Armory Show in New York introduced the world to Picasso and the world of abstract art. It was the year the recreational drug now known as ecstasy was invented.

It was 1913, the year before the world plunged into the catastrophic darkness of World War I.


October 31: Rilke sets off in haste back to Paris. From there he writes on 31 October that he wants to file for divorce from Clara.

November 1: Rilke sits in Paris, thinking distractedly about summer and autumn in Germany. As he traveled uneasily back and forth between all his wives and über-mothers, between Clara, still his wife, his ex-lovers Sidonie and Lou, his summer love Ellen Delp, his mother, his helpless admirers Cassirer, von Nostitz and von Thurn und Taxis. Keep everything open, don’t go down any one path, wherever it may lead: that is what Rainer Maria Rilke is thinking on 1 November. As an attitude to life it’s disastrous. As poetry it’s a revelation:

Paths, open

That this no more before me lies,
failing, I rein myself back:
paths, open, heavens, pure hills,
leading past no dear faces.

Oh, the pain of love’s possibilities
I have felt day and day after night:
to flee to one another, slip from one another’s grasp,
nothing has led to joy.

On 1 November, King Otto of Bavaria is officially declared insane. The doctors diagnose the “final stage of a long-lasting psychical illness.” This makes the accession to the throne of the Prince Regent Ludwig as Ludwig III a legal possibility.

Date unknown: The phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” appears in England for the first time in 1913. It comes from the book Rustic Speech and Folklore, by Elizabeth M. Wright.

Still no sign of the Mona Lisa.