The Friends of Kant Society

 

The “Friends of Kant Society” can be traced back directly to the circle of friends invited by Kant to his house each year on his birthday, April 22. The group met there for the last time on April 22, 1803 before Immanuel Kant’s death on February 12, 1804. Dr. William Motherby, the son of Kant’s friend Robert Motherby and himself a good friend of Kant, invited the participants of the 1803 birthday party to a commemorative party on April 22, 1805. This event was held in Kant's home, which had since been purchased by an innkeeper. Nevertheless, the friends wished to honor his memory in the old familiar environment. According to an account by Dr. Christian Friedrich Reusch in “Kant and his Dining Companions” (Königsberg 1847), the following 25 people were present:

 

  • Professor Christian Jakob Kraus (born July 27, 1753 in Osterode (East Prussia); died August 25, 1807 in Königsberg), philosopher and economist;

 

  • Professor Karl Ludwig Pörschke (born January 10, 1752 in Molsehnen near Königsberg; died September 24, 1812 in Königsberg), philologist and philosopher;

 

  • Professor Johann Gottfried Hasse (born 1759 in Weimar, died April 12, 1806 in Königsberg), Protestant theologian and orientalist;

 

  • Professor Karl Gottfried Hagen (born December 24, 1749 in Königsberg; died March 2, 1829 in Königsberg), public health officer, pharmacist, and naturalist polymath;

 

  • Professor Johann Friedrich Gensichen (born January 30, 1760 in Driesen; died September 7, 1807 in Königsberg), mathematician and librarian at the Königsberg Castle Library; Kant bequeathed his books to him;

 

  • Johann Georg Scheffner (born August 8, 1736 in Königsberg; died August 16, 1820 in Königsberg), Prussian military councillor, author, translator, Enlightenment philosopher, and Freemason;

 

  • Johann Friedrich Vigilantius, government councillor, Kant’s legal advisor, drew up Kant’s will;

 

  • retired government councillor Schreiber;

 

  • Samuel Friedrich Buck (1763–1827), mayor of Königsberg;

 

  • Ehregott Andreas Wasianski (born 1755 in Königsberg; died 1831 in Königsberg), Protestant minister and caregiver to Kant in his last years, author of the biography “Immanuel Kant in his Last Years“ (Königsberg 1804);

 

  • Georg Michael Sommer (1754-1826), minister of the Haberberg Church;

 

  • Dr. med. Johann Benjamin Jachmann (1765-1832), worked as a physician in Königsberg following the completion of his studies in Edinburgh; brother of Reinhold Bernhard Jachmann (1767-1843), theologian and educator, author of the biography “Immanuel Kant Depicted in Letters to a Friend” (Königsberg 1804);

 

  • Johann Brahl, senior municipal inspector;

 

  • Friedrich Nicolovius  (1768 – 1836), bookseller and publisher;

 

  • Friedrich Conrad Jacobi (1752 – 1816), merchant;

 

  • Johann Christian Gädeke (1765 – 1853), merchant, son-in-law of F.C. Jacobi;

 

  • John Motherby (born September 16, 1784 in Königsberg, died October 19, 1813 during the storming of the outer Grimma Gate in Leipzig), lawyer, son of Kant's friend Robert Motherby;

 

  • Dr. med. William Motherby (born September 12, 1776 in Königsberg; died January 16, 1847 in Königsberg), son of Robert Motherby, studied medicine in Edinburgh, physician in Königsberg and agriculturist in East Prussia, founder of the Friends of Kant Society;

 

  • Friedrich August von Staegemann (born November 7, 1763 in Vierraden, Uckermark; died December 17, 1840 in Berlin), police superintendent, Prussian official and diplomat, worked on the Stein-Hardenberg reforms with;

 

  • Johann Gottfried Frey (born March 28, 1762 in Königsberg; died April 25, 1831 in Königsberg), police superintendent, Prussian administrative official, colleague of Baron vom Stein, drafted the principles of the Municipal Ordinance of 1808;

 

  • Dr. med. Laubmeyer;

 

  • Professor Karl Daniel Reusch (1735 – 1806), physicist;

 

  • Dr. Christian Friedrich Reusch (born 1778 in Königsberg; died 1848 in Königsberg) son of Prof. K. D. Reusch, administrative lawyer, author of the book: “Kant and his Dining Companions” (Königsberg 1847);

 

  • Professor Dr. med. Christoph Friedrich Elsner, Kant’s family physician and rector of the university at the time of his death;

 

  • Johann Michael Hamann (born September 27, 1769 in Königsberg; died December 12, 1813 in Königsberg), lyricist and educator, son of Johann Georg Hamann (born August 27, 1730 in Königsberg; died June 21, 1788 in Münster).

 

The painting Kant and his Dining Companions, by Emil Doerstling (reproduction dated 1892), shows Kant sharing a midday meal with seven friends, although all were never with him at the same time.

Emil Doerstling: Kant and his Dining Companions

The painting depicts Kant’s closest friends, respected citizens of Königsberg with whom he regularly socialized. At the far left of the table, next to Kant, sits the merchant Johann Conrad Jacobi (1717 – 1774); to Kant's right, the English-born merchant Robert Motherby (December 23, 1736 – February 13, 1801); next to him, Johann Georg Hamann; behind him stands Professor Christian Jakob Kraus; next to him sit Johann Georg Scheffner and Karl Gottfried Hagen; Ludwig Ernst Borowski (June 17, 1740 - November 10, 1831), Protestant church dignitary and first biographer of Kant, sits in front of the table to the right and next to him is Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel the elder (January 31, 1741 – April 23, 1796), lord mayor of Königsberg and author.

 

During the first commemorative feast on April 22, 1805, Kant’s friends decided to have a festive meal in his honor each year on his birthday. This decision was the basis for founding the society, which was later christened the “Friends of Kant Society.” The group gathered at Kant’s residence, which had become an inn in 1805, until 1810. Beginning in 1811, it met at the “Deutsches Haus” in Königsberg.

 

When one of the dining companions passed away, the group was supplemented by electing a new member. New members of the society were selected based upon the same principle as that which Kant himself used to choose his dining companions, namely that “the most diverse social and professional groups” should be represented.  Membership was initially limited to 30, but rose to 77 in 1905 and varied between 90 and 100 by 1932. The society had no bylaws. The members considered it their responsibility to preserve the memory of Immanuel Kant in his native city. In 1814, the astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784-1846) proposed that the person to deliver the address for the following year should be selected by means of a silver bean hidden in a cake served as dessert. Thus was established the tradition of the “Bean King.” The Friends of Kant Society has since been known as the “Bean Society” and the festive meal on Kant’s birthday is now called the “bean feast.” One member of the society, the historian Friedrich Wilhelm Schubert (born May 20, 1799 in Königsberg; died July 21, 1868 in Königsberg) laid down the rules for the “bean speech” in 1846: “The purpose of the speeches is to present information about Kant’s life or to discuss topics closely related to Kant’s philosophy and its further dissemination.”

 

The Bean Society was an important cultural institution in the city for 140 years, until the destruction of Königsberg in 1945. The first large public event in the life of the society was the dedication in 1810 of the Stoa Kantiana portico, a funerary chapel with a bust of Kant in the Königsberg Cathedral. The society celebrated the philosopher’s 100th birthday in 1824 in a dignified manner. In a bean speech to the Friends of Kant Society on Kant’s birthday in 1836, Karl Rosenkranz (born April 23, 1805 in Magdeburg; died June 14, 1879 in Königsberg), successor to Kant’s academic chair, proposed the publication of the philosopher’s complete works. From 1838 to 1840, he collaborated with Friedrich Wilhelm Schubert to make this a reality.  

 

The Friends of Kant were also involved in the construction of the Kant memorial by Daniel Rauch in 1864. In 1857, society member, theologian, author, and politician Julius Rupp, grandfather of Käthe Kollwitz, published the essay “Immanuel Kant: The Character of his Philosophy and its Relationship to the Present” with the explicit note that “profits [from the publication] are intended for the Kant memorial in Königsberg.”  The society participated in a large celebration in Königsberg on the 100th anniversary of Kant’s passing in 1904.

 

The celebration of the philosopher’s 200th birthday in 1924 saw the dedication of Kant's new tomb, built by the Königsberg architect Friedrich Lahrs at the Königsberg Cathedral. Instead of the usual small group that attended the bean feast, approximately 300 people gathered in the Königsberg city hall as “Friends of Kant” on April 22, 1924.

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Kant’s tomb

In addition to giving the bean speech at the bean feast in 1936, the Bean King, Königsberg architect Friedrich Lahrs, also presented the Friends of Kant Society with a gift of eight drawings entitled “The City of Kant” and depicting 18th-century Königsberg (https://www.freunde-kants.com/bohnenrede-lahrs).  

 

From its inception, the society also collected Kant relics, known as “Kantiana.” This collection was used to create four Kant rooms in 1924 and a Kant Museum was established in the Königsberg Municipal History Museum in 1938. The Kantiana were destroyed during the British air bombardments of Königsberg on August 26/27 and 29/30, 1944. In 1926/27, the society proposed expanding the “Kant cottage” at the Moditten forester’s lodge as a Kant memorial site. Kant had often visited his friend Herr Wobser, who was the forester in Moditten, and it was there that he wrote his essay “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime.” The exhibition pieces from the Kant cottage were evacuated to the Berlin palace at the end of 1944. The cottage itself was destroyed during the battle for Königsberg in 1945.

 

Prominent members of the society included philosophers such as Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) and Karl Rosenkranz; philologists such as Ludwig Rhesa (1776-1840), Karl Lehrs (1802-1878), and Ludwig Friedländer (1824-1909); theologians such as Julius Rupp, the founder of the Königsberg Free Protestant Congregation, and August Johannes Dorner (1846-1920); German philologist Oskar Schade (1826-1906); art historian Ernst August Hagen (1797-1880), son of Kant's friend Karl Gottfried Hagen; physicists and mathematicians Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, Franz Ernst Neumann (1798-1895), and Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894); historians Wilhelm von Giesebrecht (1814-1889) and Franz Rühl (1845-1915); lawyers and politicians Heinrich Theodor von Schön (1773-1856), Rudolf von Auerswald (1795-1866), and Eduard von Simson (1810-1899); the Königsberg physician and politician Johann Jacoby (1805-1877); two lord mayors of Königsberg, Karl Selke (1836-1893) and Siegfried Körte (1861-1919); lawyers and authors Ernst Wichert (1831-1902) and Felix Dahn (1834-1912); and Kant researchers Emil Arnoldt (1828-1905) and Rudolf Reicke (1825-1905).

 

The Friends of Kant Society pursued the goals of its founding members in the great philosopher’s native city until the destruction of Königsberg in 1945. The last Bean King, who was to have given the festive speech on April 22, 1945, was Königsberg teacher and historian Professor Bruno Schumacher (born December 2, 1879 in Strasbourg; died March 1, 1957 in Hamburg), the last headmaster of the Collegium Fridericianum. On February 12, 1945, as Soviet artillery fire rained on the city, he laid a wreath on Kant’s tomb at the Königsberg Cathedral, following the custom on Kant’s death anniversary. The cathedral itself had been reduced to a burned-out ruin by the British bombing at the end of August 1944. By some miracle, the only structure to remain intact in the inner city of Königsberg was Kant's tomb.

 

The Königsberg records of the Friends of Kant Society have been missing since the end of the war. Nevertheless, the philosopher Rudolf Malter (1937-1994) published a collected volume of Kant speeches in Königsberg from 1804 to 1945 (Erlangen 1992) entitled “But let us consider ourselves obliged...” and in the introduction to this work, he described the Kant tradition in Königsberg from 1804 to 1945 with extensive citations from the literature. 

 

Several members of the Königsberg society met in Göttingen in 1946 and decided to resurrect the annual bean feast. This was held in Göttingen from 1947 to 1973 and later in Mainz. Following German reunification, the society met in Halle, where the Kant Society had been founded in 1904 (http://www.kant-gesellschaft.de/), as well as in other locations in the new German federal states.

 

In 2005, Kaliningrad/Königsberg celebrated the 750th anniversary of its founding and Kaliningrad State University was renamed as “Kant University.” To mark the occasion, several members of the University and other Kaliningrad intellectuals founded a society known as the “Friends of the Bean King,” borrowing from the Königsberg tradition of the bean feasts and bean speeches. In 2007, Gerfried Horst, a member of the Kant Society, proposed to once again celebrate a bean feast in Immanuel Kant’s native city together with this Russian society. So it was that on April 22, 2008, Russians and Germans celebrated the first joint bean feast in Königsberg/Kaliningrad. This event has been held on April 22 every year since then. Participants come not only from Germany and Russia, but increasingly from other countries as well. This fulfills the wish of Rudolf Malter, the “Chancellor of the Friends of Kant Society, formerly of Königsberg (Prussia),” who wrote in August 1991 in the introduction to his published collection of Königsberg Kant speeches 1804 – 1945:

 

“It would be a good sign of international understanding if one day, friends of Kant from many nations were to gather at a bean feast in the Königsberg of the present in memory of Immanuel Kant, a philosopher of peace.”

 

(In: Rudolf Malter (ed.), “But let us consider ourselves obliged...,” Königsberg Kant speeches 1804 – 1945, Erlangen 1992, p. 13).  

 

On February 12, 2011, the anniversary of Kant’s death, the society “Freunde Kants und Königsbergs e. V.” (Friends of Kant and Königsberg) was founded in Berlin. Its goal is to revive the old Königsberg tradition of the bean feast in Kant’s native city, present-day Kaliningrad, in a community of Kant admirers from Germany, Russia, and other nations. The society also wishes to preserve Königsberg’s spiritual heritage and make Kant’s teachings accessible to a modern audience. The society’s members include several direct descendants of Kant’s friends in Königsberg and it therefore rightly bears the name “Friends of Kant and Königsberg”. It organizes an annual multi-day trip to Kaliningrad/Königsberg, usually from April 18 to 23, with side-trips, lectures, and concerts. The highlight of the program is always the celebration of Kant’s birthday on April 22. The society is involved in erecting memorial plaques for Kant and other Königsberg citizens, as well as further expanding the Kant Museum in the Königsberg Cathedral. It has installed permanent exhibits there on Kant’s friends, including: the Motherby family in 2013, Karl Gottfried Hagen and the “Königsberg family of scholars” in 2014, Kant’s friends Johann Conrad Jacobi and Johann Christian Gädeke in 2015, Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel the elder and Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel the younger in 2016, Friedrich Leopold Freiherr v. Schrötter and his brother Carl Wilhelm Freiherr v. Schrötter in 2017, and Countess Charlotte Caroline Amalie von Keyserlingk and her husband Count Heinrich Christian von Keyserlingk in 2018. Each of these exhibits was inaugurated by direct descendants of these friends of Kant. In the municipal museum in the Königsberg Cathedral, seven descendants of Friedrich Lahrs also dedicated a permanent exhibit on the builder of Kant’s tomb. 

 

Following the reconstruction of the former parsonage in Judtschen (today: Veselovka) and its dedication on August 16, 2018 as the “Kant House,” a branch of the Kant Museum in the Königsberg Cathedral, the society donated a number of exhibit pieces, including first editions of Kant’s works, pictures, and busts. Descendants of the Huguenot family Loyal, who had come to Judtschen in the 18th century, donated funds for the reconstruction of the ferryboat used by Kant to cross the Angerapp River in those days.  

 

Thus, just like the “Friends of Kant Society” in old Königsberg, this society has also become a cultural institution in the city of Kaliningrad/Königsberg and the surrounding region. Reports on its activities in German, Russian, and other languages can be found on the society’s website at https://www.freunde-kants.com/.  

 

© 2020 Gerfried Horst

 

Translation: Terence Coe

© 2020 FREUNDE KANTS UND KÖNIGSBERGS e.V.

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