(BLSB) - On 'Memnon' by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs

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Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–1895). Engraving from the Yearbook for Intermediate Sexual Types (Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen), Vol. 1 (1899).

From Karl Heinrichs Ulrichs: Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement by Hubert Kennedy (San Francisco: Peremptory Publications, 2002).

Ulrichs’s concern is to establish the fact that Urning-love is inborn. This he does by actual examples, many taken from his own life, of the various hints of Urning-love and femininity going back to earliest childhood. Furthermore, the condition is continuous, and so cannot be acquired. In this way he answers what he sees as the principal arguments of his opponents, those who suppose that an early, pleasant homosexual experience gave the child a taste for it, or that a sentimental friendship became transformed into passionate love. For Ulrichs, the latter is simply impossible, since “a soul cannot be loved, only a body” (Memnon, 2: 59). Plato’s doctrine that “one should only love the soul” is therefore only a spook. He concludes:

What produces love in you is the simple sight of a being who belongs to the sex for which you were born, as soon as that person is endowed with the bodily development that corresponds to your sensitivity or need for love. (Memnon, 2: 59)

We may note—though Ulrichs does not point it out here—that with his insistence on bodily love and appearance, he has opened the door to love between Urnings. This possibility is further strengthened by his observation that, when one considers all Urnings, Mannlings and Weiblings, then the male figures that attract them show as much variety as the male and female figures that attract men and women combined (Memnon, 2: xix). He was certainly aware by now that some Urnings were attracted to other Urnings, but he gave little attention to this in his discussion, partly because it furnished no moral problem. For example, in showing that the young Dioning’s honor is not injured when he allows himself to be loved by an Urning, Ulrichs adds in a footnote: “We are speaking here of the case where the allowing beloved is not himself likewise an Urning—for then the matter is simple enough—but rather when he is a true man” (Memnon, 1: 34).

Ulrichs accepted the maxim that “opposites attract” and pointed out how it could apply not only to love between men and women, but to love between Urnings as well: “Just as between man and woman, so too between the virile Mannling and the girlish Weibling, in the appropriate age group on both sides, there is a completely mutual sexual attraction” (Memnon, 1: 16), adding in a footnote: “For here too a female soul is attracted by a male body, not a soul by a soul or a body by a body.” That he does not pursue the matter is probably due to this being outside his own experience, as well as to his acceptance of the principle that “opposites attract.” This principle was well illustrated in Ulrichs’s case, since he was attracted to markedly masculine young men and saw himself as somewhat effeminate. He evoked this principle to explain the fact that some Urnings were attracted to young boys. He notes that Mannlings and Weiblings are also distinct in the ages to which they are attracted. For Weiblings, just as for women, the range is around eighteen to thirty-six. For Mannlings, however, the range is from nineteen down to the earliest signs of puberty, and even beyond (Memnon, 2: xv–xvi). Ulrichs was surprised when he first learned of this, for: “This whole matter of Mannlings is foreign to my personal experience” (Memnon, 2: xviii). He can only explain this by the masculine Urning being attracted to his opposite, i.e., to girlishness (Memnon, 2: xix). But he adds parenthetically: “With regard to the prepubertal, I would nonetheless take such a sexual inclination to be a sickness.”

Also outside Ulrichs’s own experience is the love of the Urning variety he labels “disjunctive Uranodioning,” i.e., who feels only “tender-sentimental” love for his male love-object. To illustrate this he quotes at length from the letter of a 26-year-old Czech who wrote to Ulrichs on 25 October 1867:

I feel my strongest, purest desire in the sight of charming boyish features…. The only thing that disturbs my illusion is, when the beautiful boy grows older and a beard develops; then my passion becomes more sober. That my inclination is natural is guaranteed by the fact that it does not decrease. In addition, only quite young, tender, shy girlish boys attract me, not strong and robust ones, and indeed only those with decent and pure hearts. How I would like to often press the beautiful boy to my heart and cover his pure eyes with hot kisses: and yet I dare not! (Memnon, 2: 88–89)

Ulrichs must have shown in his reply that he approved the man’s love, for he wrote again on 29 November:

What a consolation it is for me, my very dear friend, my only confidant, to be able to talk of my secrets. If you knew how like a child I act in regard to Karl, you would—but no, you would not laugh. Recently I spied in his hat a hair from his beautiful Apollo head: I stole it away and guard it as a sacred relic. And how much have I not already suffered for the sake of this good child. (Memnon, 2: 89)

This is a classic expression of boy-love. The young Czech was certainly not alone, for this is a common feeling of very many men. Even if it was outside of Ulrichs’s personal experience, how could he simply report this without comment? Had he not already given many examples from Greek and Roman poetry of just such expressions of love? The explanation appears to be that Ulrichs interpreted those literary examples in the light of his own experience: “Puer is not (or only in a poetic sense) to be translated as ‘boy,’ but rather ‘youth’” (Memnon, 1: 13).

It appears that Ulrichs did not see the boy-lover as a distinct variety of Urning. When he gives an example of the mutual love between a man and a boy, it is primarily to show that Urning-love awakens early. The following report of a Viennese Urning is such an example:

I was fourteen years old when I first discovered the wonder of love. My brother was a hussar cadet. To request a leave for him, I once went to his riding master, whom I did not know. He was a stern, handsome man, with a wonderful build, about thirty years old, with a mustache and blond hair. When he spoke, I thought I heard metallic tones. He asked me in a friendly way to sit down and he sat beside me. When he spoke in a friendly way to me, I no longer found him so stern. But he looked at me so penetratingly I could not bear his look. When he touched my hand, I began to tremble in my whole body; and when he moved still closer to me, my teeth chattered from a blissful thrill. Finally he pressed a kiss on my lips and asked why I was so anxious. Then it happened to me. Crying, I threw myself on his breast. With each new kiss I was thrilled to the marrow. From that moment on I idolized him in my heart. He was my only thought. (Memnon, 2: 53)

Ulrichs merely comments: “Here we find a love union based on true mutual love between two Urnings, between Mannling and Weibling” (Memnon, 2; 53). It is clear from this example that Ulrichs approved of such a union. It is only the seduction of a prepubertal child that he thinks is dangerous (Gladius furens, 26).

Abduction of Ganymede by Zeus in the Shape of an Eagle. Bronze folding mirror, c. 360–350 B.C. Amphissa, Greece. Berlin, Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen, Misc. 7928.