Johannes von Müller (1752-1809). A gay man born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Müller was the most important Swiss historian of the 18th century.
Müller was born of modest means and whose father was a clergyman and rector of the gymnasium. In his youth, his maternal grandfather, Johannes Schoop (1696–1757), roused in him an interest in the history of his country.
He was respected and liked by many major intellectuals, including Goethe, Herder, Gleim, and Bonnet. Friedrich Schiller relied on his History of the Swiss Confederation for the writing of William Tell.
In 1773, Müller fell in love with the Swiss nobleman Karl Viktor von Bonstetten, with whom he remained friends until Müller’s death. A mutual friend, Friederike Brun, indiscreetly published Müller’s early love letters to Bonstetten in 1798. The letters document a literary tradition of male-male love, and indicate an awareness of their imitation of Winckelmann.
JOHANNES VON MÜLLER TO CHARLES-VICTOR DE BONSTETTEN
8th August, 1776
Any mistakes I may make in the future will be your fault; that is only if you neglect your letter-writing – your friendship can never grow cold – might I let myself be surprised by a passion. Tell me why I love you more as time passes. You are now incessantly in me and around me. My dearest friend, how much better it is to think of you than to live with the others! How is it possible to desecrate a heart that is consecrated to you? I need you more than ever; over and above these immutable, laudable plans for a useful life and an immortal name I have forsworn everything that is considered to be pleasant and delightful – not only pleasure but love, not only revels, but good living, not only greed, but ambition. B. is everything to me, you make all my battles easy and all abstinence sweet. Thus you live in my mind and especially in my heart. You write to me often, but it does not seem enough to me; you often address only the historian, and do not embrace your friend often.
Later in life, Müller was the dupe of an elaborate scheme to defraud him by exploiting his homosexuality. One of his former pupils (and perhaps lovers) invented a Hungarian Count Louis von Batthyani and penned letters to Müller in which the Count expressed his love and inclination.
Müller responded with letters of unfettered passion and an awareness that this friendship and its depiction in letters far exceeded his earlier relationship with Bonstetten, possibly the purest expression of eighteenth-century homosocial desire that exists.
After a year and more than a hundred letters, when the fiction could no longer be sustained, Müller was financially and psychologically destroyed. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was one of several friends who helped him recover