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Part II of the Dury series: Katharina Dury's Diary

July 23, 2019

If you read May's blog post about the Dury family, here is part II of the series that takes a sharp look at Katharina Dury's 19th-century diary. 

As promised in my previous blog post about the Dury family, there would be a part II with Katharina Dury's diary and here it is. If you haven't read the first part of this series, I'd recommend at least glossing over it (yes, it's a long blog post). It's not necessary to read it before reading this one, but it provides some background information on the Dury family and business.

This blog post delves into the diary of Katharina Dury (George's wife). The diary was written in an old German script called Kurrent (later called Suetterlin). It dates from 1849 when they left Bavaria for the U.S., to approximately 1899, from what I can tell. 


The cover of Katharina Dury's diary.

And besides all the information I have written here, the majority of this blog post is written by someone else. We received some tremendous help transcribing the diary from a fellow NPL staff member - Christine Irizarry, Library Associate at the Green Hills Library.

Some of it was previously translated prior to Christine's work with it, and you can read some of the translations in the previous blog post as well. 

Just to give you a little background information on Christine, she was born in Germany but moved to the United States in 1981. She has worked around libraries and publishing for quite some time now, including the H.W. Wilson Co. (the publishers of Reader's Guide) from 1995-99, and then the Tennessean newspaper from 2003-2009. 

Like the Dury family, Christine's family also immigrated to the United States after the revolution of 1848 with her grandfather, Oswald Heinrich. He left his hometown of Dresden because he felt he no longer had a future there, despite being trained as an engineer. Oswald met Christine's great-great grandmother when he moved to Richmond, Virginia (after becoming a widower from his first wife). What brought her family back to Germany, you ask? Her great-grandfather, Richard Heinrich, moved the family (including her grandmother Charlotte) when he took a job with an American company in Berlin. 

The letters that were written back and forth between the family in Richmond and the family in Berlin were essentially a catalyst for why Christine is able to translate Katharina's diary. She was intrigued by these letters that were written in both English and German, and even some recipe cards that were written in the old Kurrent or Suetterlin script. So from 2009-2012, Christine had the chance to return to school in Berlin, where she took classes in book and publishing history, as well as courses in reading and transcribing the Suetterlin script. 

At long last, she can find out not only what her old family members wrote, but also what other folks wrote as well, using this script. In fact, Christine is eager to discover any old German correspondence in Nashville that she can help decipher and transcribe.

Without further ado, the rest of the text below will be word-for-word from Christine's translations and interpretations. Enjoy!

The Dury Diary in the Nashville Metro Archives at the Nashville Public Library

Pages from the diary with birth and death announcements.

In the diary she kept on and off over several decades, Mrs. Katharina Dury, wife of George Dury, noted births and deaths. She also copied poems from books or journals in a very beautiful German handwriting, using the then common Kurrent (later called Suetterlin) script that was discontinued during the Nazi dictatorship for propaganda reasons.

Examples of Kurrent or Suetterlin can be seen in a blog post by Transparent Language, a language-learning application that is also available on the Nashville Public Library website  

Although Katharina’s handwriting is beautiful and fairly easy to decipher, it is time-consuming to transcribe it page by page and then translate it. Some pages have in fact already been translated and typed: this typescript is available at the Metro Archives, kept in a folder together with Katharina’s diary. My plan now is to transcribe and translate the entire diary within the not-too-distant future.

Today, I’d like to highlight just a couple of passages in the diary by giving a draft transcription and draft translation of them, which I plan to revise, correct, and finalize later.

Katharina copied poems, aphorisms and quotes from writers she read in books, newspapers, or journals. Some of these writers are obscure now, some are still known. Internet searches make it possible to find most of them.

She copied a poem by Goethe in her diary, which we can find translated in a book scanned and searchable in Google Books.

The text from the diary, pg. 34:

Page 34 of Katharina Dury's diary.

Keins von Allen

Wen[n] du dich selber machst zum Knecht,

Bedauert dich Niemand, geht’s dir schlecht;

Machst du dich aber selbst zum herren,

die Leute sehen es auch nicht gern;

Und bleibst du endlich wie du bist,

So sagen sie, daβ nichts an dir ist. (Göthe)

A translation is available:


(SOURCE: J. W. von Goethe, The Minor Poetry of Goethe: A Selection from His Songs, Ballads, and Other Lesser Poems, translated by William Grasett Thomas [Butler 1859], p. 323; via Google Books, accessed 2019-06-25)

Katharina read German and English publications. She clipped articles and inserted or pasted them into the notebook, news accounts about her husband and other topics as well.


A page from the diary showing the German and English news clippings.

As I transcribe the diary, I find that most pages contain content that more than meets the eye; threads leading to other people, mysteries, and historic events. Names of obscure as well as better known writers appear as well.

The name Carl Sahm appears alongside a long poem titled ‘O Welt, wie bist du trüb’ und öde!’ (O World, you are so troubled and drab!)


The text from the diary, pg. 28:

O Welt, wie bist Du trüb’ und öde!


O Welt, wie bist Du trüb’ und öde!

Wie scheinst Du, Sonne, matt und kalt!

Die Ruhe flieht, selbst wen[n] ich bete.

Der Hoffnung Blätter welken bald.

Der Vater und die Mutter liegen

Auf stillem Friedhof unterm Gras,

Ihr Kind muβ hartem Wort sich fügen,

Das froh zu ihren Füβen saβ.


Kein Freund kom[m]t mir die Hand zu drücken,

Mich traut und liebreich anzusehn;

Zum Horizont nur mag ich blicken

Und nach den schnel[l]en Wolken spähn.

O Gott, sei gnädig deinem Kinde,

Schick’ einen leisen Hoffnungsstrahl,

Send’ mir im Hauch der Abendwinde

Den Glockengruβ aus meinem Thal!

Carl Sahm.


(Gedicht zu eine[m] engelschönen Frauengesicht in welchem

sich der höchste Schmerz oder Heimweh ausdrückt -

in Überland und Meer).


Des Lebens ungemischte Freude, wird keinem Sterblichen zu theil.


Dury diary translation:

O World, you are so troubled and drab!

And you, Sun, shine so dull and cold!

Peace is gone, even when I pray.

The leaves of hope soon fade.

Father and Mother lie

Under the grass of the quiet graveyard,

Their child must submit to harsh words,

While he once used to sit contented at their feet.


No friend comes to hold my hand,

Or to look at me with trust and love;

I just want to look toward the horizon

And follow the racing clouds.

O God, be gracious with your child,

Send me a quiet ray of hope,

Dispatch in the breath of the evening wind,

A salutation from the church bell of my valley!

Carl Sahm.


(Poem for a woman’s face beautiful as an angel on whose

face the strongest pain or homesickness is expressed –

overland and beyond the ocean).


The unmixed joy of life was given to no mortal.



The last sentence is in fact a quote from F. Schiller: “Des Lebens ungemischte Freude ward keinem Irdischen zuteil,” in his ballad ‘Der Ring des Polykrates’ [ Accessed 2019-06-25]. The ballad is also available in an English translation, rendering the sentence as follows:


(SOURCE: Schiller, The Poems and Ballads of Schiller, Volume 1 [Blackwood 1844], p. 55; via Google Books accessed 2019-06-25)

When I tried to trace the Carl Sahm poem, I came across a blog post from Switzerland that attributes it to a completely different person - a Swiss woman named Rosalia Veronika Meier-Moser (SOURCE:  Accessed 2019-06-25). We can speculate that Meier-Moser wrote it and Sahm composed music for it, since this poem is listed in a Lieder index (SOURCE: , accessed 2019-06-27).

There is more than one possible Carl Sahm but one of them was a musician:


(SOURCE: Deutsch-Amerikanisches Vereins-Adressbuch fuer das Jahr... German-American Directory Publishing Company, 1914, VIA Google Books, accessed 2019-06-27)


Page 107 from the diary.

The text from the diary, p. 107:

In ein Stammbuchblatt, schrieb der berühmte Liederdichter Christian Fürchtegott Gellert

am 11 März 1746 die hübsche Strophe welche leutet:

Ich habe gehabt – ist ein armes Wort,

Ich hätte gern – ist thörig;

Ich werde haben – ist auch kein Hort,

Ich habe – das klingt gehörig.

Denn was Du hast, das nimm für viel, (Wie wahr)

Bei Hoffen und Wünschen gibt’s kein Ziel.


Julir 29t 1896.


…….. Die groβe Menge hängt

Mit gröβerer Verehrung nur an dem, was sie nicht sieht,

Und was sie nicht begreift, das schätzt und glaubt sie um so mehr.

[Pencil] Im Leiden genossen zu haben – das ist wohl

über all und zu allen Zeiten als ein Trost em=

pfunden worden. [Inserted] Wie kan[n] Einem And’rer

Unglück, Trost sein? Mir mehrt es

Blos meinen Kummer. – [End of insertion] Aug. [?] 1864[?]


“Studieren nur und raste nie, du kom[m]st nicht weit mit

deinen Schlüssen; das ist das Ende der Philosophie:

Zu wissen, daβ wir gar nichts wissen –

“Eitel sind die Dinge, und das Leben blos ein [??]

Was nützt das Streben nach Ruhm – jeder Sterbliche wird

einmal doch vergessen.”


Geschrieben am 3t April 1897.

Dury diary translation:

The famous songwriter Christian Fürchtegott Gellert wrote on a printed leaf

dated March 11, 1746 the pretty verse which goes like this:

I have had – is poor wording,

I’d like to have – is silly;

I will have – is not for hoarding,

I have – that sounds proprietary.

For what you have, take it as plenty, (How true)

With hopes and wishes there is no ending.

July 29th, 1896.


… The great masses cling

with much veneration only to what they do not see,

and what they do not grasp, they value and believe all the more so.

[Pencil] To have felt pleasure in suffering – this might be

everywhere and at all times felt to be a

consolation. [Inserted] How can the misfortune of another

be a consolation? For me it only augments

my grief. – [End of insertion] Aug.[?] 1864[?]


“Just study and never rest, and you won’t come far with

Your conclusions; that is the end of philosophy:

To know, that we know nothing at all –

“Vain are all things, and life is but a [??]

What use is striving for fame – every mortal will

one day be forgotten.”


Written on the 3rd of April 1897.

“Just study and never rest…” [“Studiere nur…]: This poem, in quotes toward the bottom of the page, is attributed to Emanuel Geibel and appears in publications directed at high schools:


(SOURCE: Zeitschrift für das Gymnasialwesen: im Auftrage und Mitwirkung des Berlinischen Gymnasiallehrer-Vereins, Volume 10, p. 446; via Google Books, accessed 2019-06-28)

“Vain are all things, and life is but a shadow” [“Eitel sind die Dinge…”]: this phrase appears in various journals and magazines from the 19th century. The beginning of the sentence is also commonly cited from an 18th-century German translation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Katharina’s tone, her familiarity with authors, philosophers, and culture; her dismissal of the large, unknowing masses (“groβe Menge”) are striking. She seems to see herself as part of a cultured elite, as is typical of what Germans to this day refer to as the “Bildungsbürgertum,” the “cultivated bourgeoisie” part of the middle class that defines itself through its devotion and pursuit of culture as opposed to (mere) business or money. Not only is she keeping this diary, she is also rereading and annotating what she wrote at different times, leaving a lasting record of her intellectual life.


The first page of Katharina's diary.

As I continue to transcribe Katharina Dury’s diary, I plan to continue to share my findings and possibly integrate them in library programming. I plan to organize an event in the framework of the Travel Chats series, around German political refugees in Nashville, after 1848, 1870, the 1930's and 1940's.

Many thanks to Ken Fieth, Metropolitan Archivist, and archivist Sarah Arntz for allowing me very carefully to handle Katharina Dury’s fragile 19th-century diary.

From Sarah in response to Christine's post - thank you! We enjoy sharing our records with everyone, especially when it means we're able to learn so much more about the content. Looking forward to reading more of the translations!

To continue learning more about this diary, check out part III!

lucille ball


Sarah is a Program Coordinator with Metro Archives. Her interests and areas of expertise are history, reading books (of any kind), music, travel, Harry Potter, and bingeing a good comedy series. When not in Archives, she is either nose-deep in a book or planning her next trip. Learn more about the fascinating materials found at Metro Archives through their website.