THE WORKS OF JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
THOMAS CARLYLE HENRY W. LONGFELLOW SIR WALTER SCOTT BAYARD TAYLOR
EDWARD CHAWNER CHAS. J. SPRAGUE LEOPOLD NOA HENRY DALE
JOHN OXENFORD THEODORE MARTIN W. E. AYTOUN E. A. BOWRING
A. J. W. MORRISON G. H. LEWES J. S. DWIGHT ANNA SWANWICK
THE GOTTINGEN EDITION OF JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE'S WORKS IS LIMITED TO ONE THOUSAND COPIES, OF WHICH THIS IS NUMBER 976
TRUTH AND FICTION RELATING TO MY LIFE
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
TRANSLATED BY JOHN OXENFORD
PHILADELPHIA AND CHICAGO J. H. MOORE AND COMPANY
BY THOMAS CARLYLE.
It would appear that for inquirers into Foreign Literature, for all men anxious to see and understand the European world as it lies around them, a great problem is presented in this Goethe; a singular, highly significant phenomenon, and now also means more or less complete for ascertaining its significance. A man of wonderful, nay, unexampled reputation and intellectual influence among forty millions of reflective, serious and cultivated men, invites us to study him; and to determine for ourselves, whether and how far such influence has been salutary, such reputation merited. That this call will one day be answered, that Goethe will be seen and judged of in his real character among us, appears certain enough. His name, long familiar everywhere, has now awakened the attention of critics in all European countries to his works: he is studied wherever true study exists: eagerly studied even in France; nay, some considerable knowledge of his nature and spiritual importance seems already to prevail there. [Footnote: Witness /Le Tasse, Drame par Duval,/ and the Criticisms on it. See also the Essays in the /Globe,/ Nos. 55, 64 (1826).]
For ourselves, meanwhile, in giving all due weight to so curious an exhibition of opinion, it is doubtless our part, at the same time, to beware that we do not give it too much. This universal sentiment of admiration is wonderful, is interesting enough; but it must not lead us astray. We English stand as yet without the sphere of it; neither will we plunge blindly in, but enter considerately, or, if we see good, keep aloof from it altogether. Fame, we may understand, is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such; it is an accident, not a property, of a man; like light, it can give little or nothing, but at most may show what is given; often it is but a false glare, dazzling the eyes of the vulgar, lending by casual extrinsic splendour the brightness and manifold glance of the diamond to pebbles of no value. A man is in all cases simply the man, of the same intrinsic worth and weakness, whether his worth and weakness lie hidden in the depths of his own consciousness, or be betrumpeted and beshouted from end to end of the habitable globe. These are plain truths, which no one should lose sight of; though, whether in love or in anger, for praise or for condemnation, most of us are too apt to forget them. But least of all can it become the critic to 'follow a multitude to do evil' even when that evil is excess of admiration; on the contrary, it will behoove him to lift up his voice, how feeble soever, how unheeded soever, against the common delusion; from which, if he can save, or help to save any mortal, his endeavours will have been repaid.
With these things in some measure before us, we must remind our readers of another influence at work in this affair, and one acting, as we think, in the contrary direction. That pitiful enough desire for 'originality' which lurks and acts in all minds, will rather, we imagine, lead the critic of Foreign Literature to adopt the negative than the affirmative with regard to Goethe. If a writer indeed feel that he is writing for England alone, invisibly and inaudibly to the rest of the Earth, the temptations may be pretty equally balanced; if he write for some small conclave, which he mistakenly thinks the representative of England, they may sway this way or that, as it chances. But writing in such isolated spirit is no longer possible. Traffic, with its swift ships, is uniting all nations into one; Europe at large is becoming more and more one public; and in this public, the voices for Goethe, compared with those against him, are in the proportion, as we reckon them, both as to the number and value, of perhaps a hundred to one. We take in, not Germany alone, but France and Italy; not the Schlegels and Schellings, but the Manzonis and De Staels. The bias of originality, therefore, may lie to the side of censure; and whoever among us shall step forward, with such knowledge as our common critics have of Goethe, to enlighten the European public, by contradiction in this matter, displays a heroism, which, in estimating his other merits, ought nowise to be forgotten.
Our own view of the case coincides, we confess, in some degree with that of the majority. We reckon that Goethe's fame has, to a considerable extent, been deserved; that his influence has been of high benefit to his own country; nay more, that it promises to be of benefit to us, and to all other nations. The essential grounds of this opinion, which to explain minutely were a long, indeed boundless task, we may state without many words. We find, then, in Goethe, an Artist, in the high and ancient meaning of that term; in the meaning which it may have borne long ago among the masters of Italian painting, and the fathers of Poetry in England; we say that we trace in the creations of this man, belonging in every sense to our own time, some touches of that old, divine spirit, which had long passed away from among us, nay which, as has often been laboriously demonstrated, was not to return to this world any more.
Or perhaps we come nearer our meaning, if we say that in Goethe we discover by far the most striking instance, in our time, of a writer who is, in strict speech, what Philosophy can call a Man. He is neither noble nor plebeian, neither liberal nor servile, nor infidel nor devotee; but the best excellence of all these, joined in pure union; 'a clear and universal Man.' Goethe's poetry is no separate faculty, no mental handicraft; but the voice of the whole harmonious manhood: nay it is the very harmony, the living and life-giving harmony of that rich manhood which forms his poetry. All good men may be called poets in act, or in word; all good poets are so in both. But Goethe besides appears to us as a person of that deep endowment, and gifted vision, of that experience also and sympathy in the ways of all men, which qualify him to stand forth, not only as the literary ornament, but in many respects too as the Teacher and exemplar of his age. For, to say nothing of his natural gifts, he has cultivated himself and his art, he has studied how to live and to write, with a fidelity, an unwearied earnestness, of which there is no other living instance; of which, among British poets especially, Wordsworth alone offers any resemblance. And this in our view is the result. To our minds, in these soft, melodious imaginations of his, there is embodied the Wisdom which is proper to this time; the beautiful, the religious Wisdom, which may still, with something of its old impressiveness, speak to the whole soul; still, in these hard, unbelieving utilitarian days, reveal to us glimpses of the Unseen but not unreal World, that so the Actual and the Ideal may again meet together, and clear Knowledge be again wedded to Religion, in the life and business of men.
Such is our conviction or persuasion with regard to the poetry of Goethe. Could we demonstrate this opinion to be true, could we even exhibit it with that degree of clearness and consistency which it has attained in our own thoughts, Goethe were, on our part, sufficiently recommended to the best attention of all thinking men. But, unhappily, it is not a subject susceptible of demonstration: the merits and characteristics of a Poet are not to be set forth by logic; but to be gathered by personal, and as in this case it must be, by deep and careful inspection of his works. Nay Goethe's world is everyway so different from ours; it costs us such effort, we have so much to remember, and so much to forget, before we can transfer ourselves in any measure into his peculiar point of vision, that a right study of him, for an Englishman, even of ingenuous, open, inquisitive mind, becomes unusually difficult; for a fixed, decided, contemptuous Englishman, next to impossible. To a reader of the first class, helps may be given, explanations will remove many a difficulty; beauties that lay hidden may be made apparent; and directions, adapted to his actual position, will at length guide him into the proper tract for such an inquiry. All this, however, must be a work of progression and detail. To do our part in it, from time to time, must rank among the best duties of an English Foreign Review. Meanwhile, our present endeavour limits itself within far narrower bounds. We cannot aim to make Goethe known, but only to prove that he is worthy of being known; at most, to point out, as it were afar off, the path by which some knowledge of him may be obtained. A slight glance at his general literary character and procedure, and one or two of his chief productions which throw light on these, must for the present suffice. A French diplomatic personage, contemplating Goethe's physiognomy, is said to have observed: /Voila un homme qui a eu beaucoup de chagrins./ A truer version of the matter, Goethe himself seems to think, would have been: Here is a man who has struggled toughly; who has /es sich recht sauer werden lassen./ Goethe's life, whether as a writer and thinker, or as a living active man, has indeed been a life of effort, of earnest toilsome endeavour after all excellence. Accordingly, his intellectual progress, his spiritual and moral history, as it may be gathered from his successive Works, furnishes, with us, no small portion of the pleasure and profit we derive from perusing them. Participating deeply in all the influences of his age, he has from the first, at every new epoch, stood forth to elucidate the new circumstances of the time; to offer the instruction, the solace, which that time required. His literary life divides itself into two portions widely different in character: the products of the first, once so new and original, have long either directly or through the thousand thousand imitations of them, been familiar to us; with the products of the second, equally original, and in our day far more precious, we are yet little acquainted. These two classes of works stand curiously related with each other; at first view, in strong contradiction, yet, in truth, connected together by the strictest sequence. For Goethe has not only suffered and mourned in bitter agony under the spiritual perplexities of his time; but he has also mastered these, he is above them, and has shown others how to rise above them. At one time, we found him in darkness, and now he is in light; he was once an Unbeliever, and now he is a Believer; and he believes, moreover, not by denying his unbelief, but by following it out; not by stopping short, still less turning back, in his inquiries, but by resolutely prosecuting them. This, it appears to us, is a case of singular interest, and rarely exemplified, if at all elsewhere, in these our days. How has this man, to whom the world once offered nothing but blackness, denial and despair, attained to that better vision which now shows it to him, not tolerable only, but full of solemnity and loveliness? How has the belief of a Saint been united in this high and true mind with the clearness of a Sceptic; the devout spirit of a Fenelon made to blend in soft harmony with the gaiety, the sarcasm, the shrewdness of a Voltaire?
Goethe's two earliest works are /Goetz von Berlichingen/ and the /Sorrows of Werter/. The boundless influence and popularity they gained, both at home and abroad, is well known. It was they that established almost at once his literary fame in his own country; and even determined his subsequent private history, for they brought him into contact with the Duke of Weimar; in connection with whom, the Poet, engaged in manifold duties, political as well as literary, has lived for fifty-four years. Their effects over Europe at large were not less striking than in Germany.
'It would be difficult,' observes a writer on this subject, 'to name two books which have exercised a deeper influence on the subsequent literature of Europe, than these two performances of a young author; his first-fruits, the produce of his twenty-fourth year. /Werter/ appeared to seize the hearts of men in all quarters of the world, and to utter for them the word which they had long been waiting to hear. As usually happens, too, this same word, once uttered, was soon abundantly repeated; spoken in all dialects, and chaunted through all notes of the gamut, till the sound of it had grown a weariness rather than a pleasure. Sceptical sentimentality, view-hunting, love, friendship, suicide, and desperation, became the staple of literary ware; and though the epidemic, after a long course of years, subsided in Germany, it reappeared with various modifications in other countries, and everywhere abundant traces of its good and bad effects are still to be discerned. The fortune of /Berlichingen with the Iron Hand,/ though less sudden, was by no means less exalted. In his own county, /Goetz,/ though he now stands solitary and childless, became the parent of an innumerable progeny of chivalry plays, feudal delineations, and poetico- antiquarian performances; which, though long ago deceased, made noise enough in their day and generation: and with ourselves, his influence has been perhaps still more remarkable. Sir Walter Scott's first literary enterprise was a translation of /Goetz von Berlichingen/; and, if genius could be communicated like instruction, we might call this work of Goethe's the prime cause of /Marmion/ and the /Lady of the Lake/, with all that has followed from the same creative hand. Truly, a grain of seed that has lighted on the right soil! For if not firmer and fairer, it has grown to be taller and broader than any other tree; and all the nations of the earth are still yearly gathering of its fruit.
'But overlooking these spiritual genealogies, which bring little certainty and little profit, it may be sufficient to observe of /Berlichingen/ and /Werter/, that they stand prominent among the causes, or, at the very least, among the signals of a great change in modern literature. The former directed men's attention with a new force to the picturesque effects of the Past; and the latter, for the first time, attempted the more accurate delineation of a class of feelings deeply important to modern minds, but for which our elder poetry offered no exponent, and perhaps could offer none, because they are feelings that arise from Passion incapable of being converted into Action, and belong chiefly to an age as indolent, cultivated and unbelieving as our own. This, notwithstanding the dash of falsehood which may exist in /Werter/ itself, and the boundless delirium of extravagance which it called forth in others, is a high praise which cannot justly be denied it.'
To the same dark wayward mood, which, in /Werter/, pours itself forth in bitter wailings over human life; and, in /Berlichingen/, appears as a fond and sad looking back into the Past, belong various other productions of Goethe's; for example, the /Mitschuldigen/, and the first idea of Faust, which, however, was not realized in actual composition till a calmer period of his history. Of this early harsh and crude, yet fervid and genial period, /Werter/ may stand here as the representative; and, viewed in its external and internal relation, will help to illustrate both the writer and the public he was writing for.
At the present day, it would be difficult for us, satisfied, nay sated to nausea, as we have been with the doctrines of Sentimentality, to estimate the boundless interest which /Werter/ must have excited when first given to the world. It was then new in all senses; it was wonderful, yet wished for, both in its own country and in every other. The Literature of Germany had as yet but partially awakened from its long torpor: deep learning, deep reflection, have at no time been wanting there; but the creative spirit had for above a century been almost extinct. Of late, however, the Ramlers, Rabeners, Gellerts, had attained to no inconsiderable polish of style; Klopstock's /Messias/ had called forth the admiration, and perhaps still more the pride, of the country, as a piece of art; a high enthusiasm was abroad; Lessing had roused the minds of men to a deeper and truer interest in Literature, had even decidedly begun to introduce a heartier, warmer and more expressive style. The Germans were on the alert; in expectation, or at least in full readiness for some far bolder impulse; waiting for the Poet that might speak to them from the heart to the heart. It was in Goethe that such a Poet was to be given them.
Nay, the Literature of other countries, placid, self-satisfied as they might seem, was in an equally expectant condition. Everywhere, as in Germany, there was polish and languor, external glitter and internal vacuity; it was not fire, but a picture of fire, at which no soul could be warmed. Literature had sunk from its former vocation: it no longer held the mirror up to Nature; no longer reflected, in many-coloured expressive symbols, the actual passions, the hopes, sorrows, joys of living men; but dwelt in a remote conventional world in /Castles of Otranto/, in /Epigoniads/ and /Leonidases/, among clear, metallic heroes, and white, high, stainless beauties, in whom the drapery and elocution were nowise the least important qualities. Men thought it right that the heart should swell into magnanimity with Caractacus and Cato, and melt into sorrow with many an Eliza and Adelaide; but the heart was in no haste either to swell or to melt. Some pulses of heroical sentiment, a few /un/natural tears might, with conscientious readers, be actually squeezed forth on such occasions: but they came only from the surface of the mind; nay, had the conscientious man considered the matter, he would have found that they ought not to have come at all. Our only English poet of the period was Goldsmith; a pure, clear, genuine spirit, had he been of depth or strength sufficient; his /Vicar of Wakefield/ remains the best of all modern Idyls; but it is and was nothing more. And consider our leading writers; consider the poetry of Gray, and the prose of Johnson. The first a laborious mosaic, through the hard stiff lineaments of which little life or true grace could be expected to look: real feeling, and all freedom of expressing it, are sacrificed to pomp, to cold splendour; for vigour we have a certain mouthing vehemence, too elegant indeed to be tumid, yet essentially foreign to the heart, and seen to extend no deeper than the mere voice and gestures. Were it not for his /Letters/, which are full of warm exuberant power, we might almost doubt whether Gray was a man of genius; nay, was a living man at all, and not rather some thousand-times more cunningly devised poetical turning-loom, than that of Swift's Philosophers in Laputa. Johnson's prose is true, indeed, and sound, and full of practical sense: few men have seen more clearly into the motives, the interests, the whole walk and conversation of the living busy world as it lay before him; but farther than this busy, and to most of us, rather prosaic world, he seldom looked: his instruction is for men of business, and in regard to matters of business alone. Prudence is the highest Virtue he can inculcate; and for that finer portion of our nature, that portion of it which belongs essentially to Literature strictly so called, where our highest feelings, our best joys and keenest sorrows, our Doubt, our Love, our Religion reside, he has no word to utter; no remedy, no counsel to give us in our straits; or at most, if, like poor Boswell, the patient is importunate, will answer: "My dear Sir, endeavour to clear your mind of Cant."
The turn which Philosophical speculation had taken in the preceding age corresponded with this tendency, and enhanced its narcotic influences; or was, indeed, properly speaking, the loot they had sprung from. Locke, himself a clear, humble-minded, patient, reverent, nay religious man, had paved the way for banishing religion from the world. Mind, by being modelled in men's imaginations into a Shape, a Visibility; and reasoned of as if it had been some composite, divisible and reunitable substance, some finer chemical salt, or curious piece of logical joinery,—began to lose its immaterial, mysterious, divine though invisible character: it was tacitly figured as something that might, were our organs fine enough, be /seen/. Yet who had ever seen it? Who could ever see it? Thus by degrees it passed into a Doubt, a Relation, some faint Possibility; and at last into a highly-probable Nonentity. Following Locke's footsteps, the French had discovered that 'as the stomach secretes Chyle, so does the brain secrete Thought.' And what then was Religion, what was Poetry, what was all high and heroic feeling? Chiefly a delusion; often a false and pernicious one. Poetry, indeed, was still to be preserved; because Poetry was a useful thing: men needed amusement, and loved to amuse themselves with Poetry: the playhouse was a pretty lounge of an evening; then there were so many precepts, satirical, didactic, so much more impressive for the rhyme; to say nothing of your occasional verses, birthday odes, epithalamiums, epicediums, by which 'the dream of existence may be so highly sweetened and embellished.' Nay, does not Poetry, acting on the imaginations of men, excite them to daring purposes; sometimes, as in the case of Tyrtaeus, to fight better; in which wise may it not rank as a useful stimulant to man, along with Opium and Scotch Whisky, the manufacture of which is allowed by law? In Heaven's name, then, let Poetry be preserved.
With Religion, however, it fared somewhat worse. In the eyes of Voltaire and his disciples, Religion was a superfluity, indeed a nuisance. Here, it is true, his followers have since found that he went too far; that Religion, being a great sanction to civil morality, is of use for keeping society in order, at least the lower classes, who have not the feeling of Honour in due force; and therefore, as a considerable help to the Constable and Hangman, /ought/ decidedly to be kept up. But such toleration is the fruit only of later days. In those times, there was no question but how to get rid of it, root and branch, the sooner the better. A gleam of zeal, nay we will call it, however basely alloyed, a glow of real enthusiasm and love of truth, may have animated the minds of these men, as they looked abroad on the pestilent jungle of Superstition, and hoped to clear the earth of it forever. This little glow, so alloyed, so contaminated with pride and other poor or bad admixtures, was the last which thinking men were to experience in Europe for a time. So it is always in regard to Religious Belief, how degraded and defaced soever: the delight of the Destroyer and Denier is no pure delight, and must soon pass away. With bold, with skilful hand, Voltaire set his torch to the jungle: it blazed aloft to heaven; and the flame exhilarated and comforted the incendiaries; but, unhappily, such comfort could not continue. Ere long this flame, with its cheerful light and heat, was gone: the jungle, it is true, had been consumed; but, with its entanglements, its shelter and its spots of verdure also; and the black, chill, ashy swamp, left in its stead, seemed for a time a greater evil than the other.
In such a state of painful obstruction, extending itself everywhere over Europe, and already master of Germany, lay the general mind, when Goethe first appeared in Literature. Whatever belonged to the finer nature of man had withered under the Harmattan breath of Doubt, or passed away in the conflagration of open Infidelity; and now, where the Tree of Life once bloomed and brought fruit of goodliest savour there was only barrenness and desolation. To such as could find sufficient interest in the day-labour and day-wages of earthly existence; in the resources of the five bodily Senses, and of Vanity, the only mental sense which yet flourished, which flourished indeed with gigantic vigour, matters were still not so bad. Such men helped themselves forward, as they will generally do; and found the world, if not an altogether proper sphere (for every man, disguise it as he may, has a /soul/ in him), at least a tolerable enough place; where, by one item or another, some comfort, or show of comfort, might from time to time be got up, and these few years, especially since they were so few, be spent without much murdering. But to men afflicted with the 'malady of Thought,' some devoutness of temper was an inevitable heritage; to such the noisy forum of the world could appear but an empty, altogether insufficient concern; and the whole scene of life had become hopeless enough. Unhappily, such feelings are yet by no means so infrequent with ourselves, that we need stop here to depict them. That state of Unbelief from which the Germans do seem to be in some measure delivered, still presses with incubus force on the greater part of Europe; and nation after nation, each in its own way, feels that the first of all moral problems is how to cast it off, or how to rise above it. Governments naturally attempt the first expedient; Philosophers, in general, the second.
The Poet, says Schiller, is a citizen not only of his country, but of his time. Whatever occupies and interests men in general, will interest him still more. That nameless Unrest, the blind struggle of a soul in bondage, that high, sad, longing Discontent, which was agitating every bosom, had driven Goethe almost to despair. All felt it; he alone could give it voice. And here lies the secret of his popularity; in his deep, susceptive heart, he felt a thousand times more keenly what every one was feeling; with the creative gift which belonged to him as a poet, he bodied it forth into visible shape, gave it a local habitation and a name; and so made himself the spokesman of his generation. /Werter/ is but the cry of that dim, rooted pain, under which all thoughtful men of a certain age were languishing: it paints the misery, it passionately utters the complaint; and heart and voice, all over Europe, loudly and at once respond to it. True, it prescribes no remedy; for that was a far different, far harder enterprise, to which other years and a higher culture were required; but even this utterance of the pain, even this little, for the present, is ardently grasped at, and with eager sympathy appropriated in every bosom. If Byron's life-weariness, his moody melancholy, and mad stormful indignation, borne on the tones of a wild and quite artless melody, could pierce so deep into many a British heart, now that the whole matter is no longer new,—is indeed old and trite,—we may judge with what vehement acceptance this /Werter/ must have been welcomed, coming as it did like a voice from unknown regions; the first thrilling peal of that impassioned dirge, which, in country after country, men's ears have listened to, till they were deaf to all else. For /Werter/ infusing itself into the core and whole spirit of Literature, gave birth to a race of Sentimentalists, who have raged and wailed in every part of the world, till better light dawned on them, or at worst, exhausted Nature laid herself to sleep, and it was discovered that lamenting was an unproductive labour. These funereal choristers, in Germany a loud, haggard, tumultuous, as well as tearful class, were named the /Kraftmaenner/ or Power-men; but have all long since, like sick children, cried themselves to rest. Byron was our English Sentimentalist and Power-man; the strongest of his kind in Europe; the wildest, the gloomiest, and it may be hoped the last. For what good is it to 'whine, put finger i' the eye, and sob,' in such a case? Still more, to snarl and snap in malignant wise, 'like dog distract, or monkey sick?' Why should we quarrel with our existence, here as it lies before us, our field and inheritance, to make or mar, for better or for worse; in which, too, so many noblest men have, even from the beginning, warring with the very evils we war with, both made and been what will be venerated to all time?
A wide and everyway most important interval divides /Werter/, with its sceptical philosophy and 'hypochondriacal crotchets,' from Goethe's next Novel, /Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship/, published some twenty years afterwards. This work belongs, in all senses, to the second and sounder period of Goethe's life, and may indeed serve as the fullest, if perhaps not the purest, impress of it; being written with due forethought, at various times, during a period of no less than ten years. Considered as a piece of Art, there were much to be said on /Meister/; all which, however, lies beyond our present purpose. We are here looking at the work chiefly as a document for the writer's history; and in this point of view, it certainly seems, as contrasted with its more popular precursor, to deserve our best attention: for the problem which had been stated in /Werter/, with despair of its solution, is here solved. The lofty enthusiasm, which, wandering wildly over the universe, found no resting-place, has here reached its appointed home; and lives in harmony with what long appeared to threaten it with annihilation. Anarchy has now become Peace; the once gloomy and perturbed spirit is now serene, cheerfully vigorous, and rich in good fruits. Neither, which is most important of all, has this Peace been attained by a surrender to Necessity, or any compact with Delusion; a seeming blessing, such as years and dispiritment will of themselves bring to most men, and which is indeed no blessing, since even continued battle is better than destruction or captivity; and peace of this sort is like that of Galgacus's Romans, who 'called it peace when they had made a desert.' Here the ardent high-aspiring youth has grown into the calmest man, yet with increase and not loss of ardour, and with aspirations higher as well as clearer. For he has conquered his unbelief; the Ideal has been built on the Actual; no longer floats vaguely in darkness and regions of dreams, but rests in light, on the firm ground of human interest and business, as in its true scene, on its true basis.
It is wonderful to see with, what softness the scepticism of Jarno, the commercial spirit of Werner, the reposing polished manhood of Lothario and the Uncle, the unearthly enthusiasm of the Harper, the gay animal vivacity of Philina, the mystic, ethereal, almost spiritual nature of Mignon, are blended together in this work; how justice is done to each, how each lives freely in his proper element, in his proper form; and how, as Wilhelm himself, the mild-hearted, all-hoping, all-believing Wilhelm, struggles forward towards his world of Art through these curiously complected influences, all this unites itself into a multifarious, yet so harmonious Whole; as into a clear poetic mirror, where man's life and business in this age, his passions and purposes, the highest equally with the lowest, are imaged back to us in beautiful significance. Poetry and Prose are no longer at variance; for the poet's eyes are opened; he sees the changes of many-colored existence, and sees the loveliness and deep purport which lies hidden under the very meanest of them; hidden to the vulgar sight, but clear to the poet's; because the 'open secret' is no longer a secret to him, and he knows that the Universe is /full/ of goodness; that whatever has being has beauty.
Apart from its literary merits or demerits, such is the temper of mind we trace in Goethe's /Meister/, and, more or less expressly exhibited, in all his later works. We reckon it a rare phenomenon, this temper; and worthy, in our times, if it do exist, of best study from all inquiring men. How has such a temper been attained in this so lofty and impetuous mind, once too, dark, desolate and full of doubt, more than any other? How may we, each of us in his several sphere, attain it, or strengthen it, for ourselves? These are questions, this last is a question, in which no one is unconcerned.
To answer these questions, to begin the answer of them, would lead us very far beyond our present limits. It is not, as we believe, without long, sedulous study, without learning much and unlearning much, that, for any man, the answer of such questions is even to be hoped. Meanwhile, as regards Goethe, there is one feature of the business, which, to us, throws considerable light on his moral persuasions, and will not, in investigating the secret of them, be overlooked. We allude to the spirit in which he cultivates his Art; the noble, disinterested, almost religious love with which he looks on Art in general, and strives towards it as towards the sure, highest, nay only good.
For a man of Goethe's talent to write many such pieces of rhetoric, setting forth the dignity of poets, and their innate independence on external circumstances, could be no very hard task; accordingly, we find such sentiments again and again expressed, sometimes with still more gracefulness, still clearer emphasis, in his various writings. But to adopt these sentiments into his sober practical persuasion; in any measure to feel and believe that such was still, and must always be, the high vocation of the poet; on this ground of universal humanity, of ancient and now almost forgotten nobleness, to take his stand, even in these trivial, jeering, withered, unbelieving days; and through all their complex, dispiriting, mean, yet tumultuous influences, to 'make his light shine before them,' that it might beautify even our 'rag- gathering age' with some beams of that mild, divine splendour, which had long left us, the very possibility of which was denied; heartily and in earnest to meditate all this, was no common proceeding; to bring it into practice, especially in such a life as his has been, was among the highest and hardest enterprises which any man whatever could engage in. We reckon this a greater novelty, than all the novelties which as a mere writer he ever put forth, whether for praise or censure. We have taken it upon us to say that if such is, in any sense, the state of the case with regard to Goethe, he deserves not mere approval as a pleasing poet and sweet singer; but deep, grateful study, observance, imitation, as a Moralist and Philosopher. If there be any /probability/ that such is the state of the case, we cannot but reckon it a matter well worthy of being inquired into. And it is for this only that we are here pleading and arguing. Meister is the mature product of the first genius of our times; and must, one would think, be different, in various respects, from the immature products of geniuses who are far from the first, and whose works spring from the brain in as many weeks as Goethe's cost him years.
It may deserve to be mentioned here that Meister, at its first appearance in Germany, was received very much as it has been in England. Goethe's known character, indeed, precluded indifference there; but otherwise it was much the same. The whole guild of criticism was thrown into perplexity, into sorrow; everywhere was dissatisfaction open or concealed. Official duty impelling them to speak, some said one thing, some another; all felt in secret that they knew not what to say. Till the appearance of Schlegel's /Character/, no word, that we have seen, of the smallest chance to be decisive, or indeed to last beyond the day, had been uttered regarding it. Some regretted that the fire of /Werter/ was so wonderfully abated; whisperings there might be about 'lowness,' 'heaviness;' some spake forth boldly in behalf of suffering 'virtue.' Novalis was not among the speakers, but he censured the work in secret, and this for a reason which to us will seem the strangest; for its being, as we should say, a Benthamite work! Many are the bitter aphorisms we find, among his Fragments, directed against /Meister/ for its prosaic, mechanical, economical, coldhearted, altogether Utilitarian character. We English again call Goethe a mystic; so difficult is it to please all parties! But the good, deep, noble Novalis made the fairest amends; for notwithstanding all this, Tieck tells us, if we remember rightly, he continually returned to /Meister/, and could not but peruse and reperuse it.
Goethe's /Wanderjahre/ was published in his seventy-second year; /Werter/ in his twenty-fifth; thus in passing between these two works, and over /Meister's Lehrjahre/ which stands nearly midway, we have glanced over a space of almost fifty years, including within them, of course, whatever was most important in his public or private history. By means of these quotations, so diverse in their tone, we meant to make it visible that a great change had taken place in the moral disposition of the man; a change from inward imprisonment, doubt and discontent, into freedom, belief and clear activity; such a change as, in our opinion, must take place, more or less consciously, in every character that, especially in these times, attains to spiritual manhood, and in characters possessing any thoughtfulness and sensibility, will seldom take place without a too painful consciousness, without bitter conflicts, in which the character itself is too often maimed and impoverished, and which end too often not in victory, but in defeat, or fatal compromise with the enemy. Too often, we may well say; for though many gird on the harness, few bear it warrior-like; still fewer put it off with triumph. Among our own poets, Byron was almost the only man we saw faithfully and manfully struggling, to the end, in this cause; and he died while the victory was still doubtful, or at best, only beginning to be gained. We have already stated our opinion, that Goethe's success in this matter has been more complete than that of any other man in his age; nay, that, in the strictest sense, he may almost be called the only one that has so succeeded. On this ground, were it on no other, we have ventured to say that his spiritual history and procedure must deserve attention; that his opinions, his creations, his mode of thought, his whole picture of the world as it dwells within him, must to his contemporaries be an inquiry of no common interest; of an interest altogether peculiar, and not in this degree exampled in existing literature. These things can be but imperfectly stated here, and must be left, not in a state of demonstration, but at the utmost, of loose fluctuating probability; nevertheless, if inquired into, they will be found to have a precise enough meaning, and, as we believe, a highly important one.
For the rest, what sort of mind it is that has passed through this change, that has gained this victory; how rich and high a mind; how learned by study in all that is wisest, by experience in all that is most complex, the brightest as well as the blackest, in man's existence; gifted with what insight, with what grace and power of utterance, we shall not for the present attempt discussing. All these the reader will learn, who studies his writings with such attention as they merit; and by no other means. Of Goethe's dramatic, lyrical, didactic poems, in their thousandfold expressiveness, for they are full of expressiveness, we can here say nothing. But in every department of Literature, of Art ancient and modern, in many provinces of Science, we shall often meet him; and hope to have other occasions of estimating what, in these respects, we and all men owe him.
Two circumstances, meanwhile, we have remarked, which to us throw light on the nature of his original faculty for Poetry, and go far to convince us of the Mastery he has attained in that art: these we may here state briefly, for the judgment of such as already know his writings, or the help of such as are beginning to know them. The first is his singularly emblematic intellect; his perpetual never-failing tendency to transform into /shape/, into /life/, the opinion, the feeling that may dwell in him; which, in its widest sense, we reckon to be essentially the grand problem of the Poet. We do not mean mere metaphor and rhetorical trope: these are but the exterior concern, often but the scaffolding of the edifice, which is to be built up (within our thoughts) by means of them. In allusions, in similitudes, though no one known to us is happier, many are more copious than Goethe. But we find this faculty of his in the very essence of his intellect; and trace it alike in the quiet cunning epigram, the allegory, the quaint device, reminding us of some Quarles or Bunyan; and in the /Fausts/, the /Tassos/, the /Mignons/, which in their pure and genuine personality, may almost remind us of the /Ariels/ and /Hamlets/ of Shakespeare. Everything has form, everything has visual existence; the poet's imagination /bodies forth/ the forms of things unseen, his pen turns them to /shape/. This, as a natural endowment, exists in Goethe, we conceive, to a very high degree.
The other characteristic of his mind, which proves to us his acquired mastery in art, as this shows us the extent of his original capacity for it, is his wonderful variety, nay universality; his entire freedom from the Mannerism. We read Goethe for years, before we come to see wherein the distinguishing peculiarity of his understanding, of his disposition, even of his way of writing, consists. It seems quite a simple style that of his; remarkable chiefly for its calmness, its perspicuity, in short its commonness; and yet it is the most uncommon of all styles: we feel as if every one might imitate it, and yet it is inimitable. As hard is it to discover in his writings,—though there also, as in every man's writings, the character of the writer must lie recorded,—what sort of spiritual construction he has, what are his temper, his affections, his individual specialties. For all lives freely within him: Philina and Clanchen, Mephistopheles and Mignon, are alike indifferent, or alike dear to him; he is of no sect or caste: he seems not this man or that man, but a man. We reckon this to be the characteristic of a Master in Art of any sort; and true especially of all great Poets. How true is it of Shakespeare and Homer! Who knows, or can figure what the Man Shakespeare was, by the first, by the twentieth perusal of his works? He is a Voice coming to us from the Land of Melody: his old brick dwelling- place, in the mere earthly burgh of Stratford-on-Avon, offers us the most inexplicable enigma. And what is Homer in the /Ilias/? He is THE WITNESS; he has seen, and he reveals it; we hear and believe, but do not behold him. Now compare, with these two Poets, any other two; not of equal genius, for there are none such, but of equal sincerity, who wrote as earnestly and from the heart, like them. Take, for instance, Jean Paul and Lord Byron. The good Eichter begins to show himself, in his broad, massive, kindly, quaint significance, before we have read many pages of even his slightest work; and to the last he paints himself much better than his subject. Byron may also be said to have painted nothing else than himself, be his subject what it might. Yet as a test for the culture of a Poet, in his poetical capacity, for his pretensions to mastery and completeness in his art, we cannot but reckon this among the surest. Tried by this, there is no writer that approaches within many degrees of Goethe.
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfort on August 28, 1749. His parents were citizens of that imperial town, and Wolfgang was their only son. His father was born on July 31, 1710. He married, on August 20, 1748, at the age of thirty-eight, Catherine Elizabeth Textor. In December, 1750, was born a daughter, Cornelia, who remained until her death, at the age of twenty-seven, her brother's most intimate friend. She was married in 1773 to John George Schlosser. Goethe's education was irregular. French culture gave at this time the prevailing tone to Europe. Goethe could not have escaped its influence, and he was destined to fall under it in a special manner. In the Seven Years' War, which was now raging, France took the side of the empire against Frederick the Great. Frankfort was full of French soldiers, and a certain Comte Thorane, who was quartered in Goethe's house, had an important influence on the boy.
Goethe, if we may believe his autobiography, experienced his first love about the age of fifteen in the person of Gretchen, whom some have supposed to be the daughter of an innkeeper at Offenbach. He worshipped her as Dante worshipped Beatrice.
In the autumn of 1765 Goethe traveled to Leipsic. On the 19th of October he was admitted as a student. He was sent to Leipsic to study law, in order that he might return to Frankfort fitted for the regular course of municipal distinction. He intended to devote himself not to law, but to belles lettres. He attended Gellert's lectures on literature, and even joined his private class. His real university education was derived from intercourse with his friends. First among these was J. G. Schlosser, who afterwards married his sister. He had a great influence upon him, chiefly in introducing him to a wider circle of German, French, English and Italian poetry.
But the person who had the strongest effect on Goethe's mental development was Adam Frederick Oeser, at this time director of the academy of arts in Leipsic.
Goethe, from his earliest years, was never without a passion, and at Leipsic his passion was Kitty Schoenkopf, the Aennchen of the autobiography, the daughter of the host at whose house he dined. She often teased him with her inconstant ways, and to this experience is due his first drama, "Die Laune des Verliebten," "Lovers' Quarrels," as it may be styled. A deeper chord is struck in "Die Mitschuldigen" (The Fellow Sinners), which forms a dismal and forbidding picture both of the time and of the experiences of the youth who wrote it. He had an opportunity of establishing his principles of taste during a short visit at Dresden, in which he devoted himself to the pictures and the antiques. The end of Goethe's stay at Leipsic was saddened by illness. One morning at the beginning of the summer he was awakened by a violent hemorrhage. For several days he hung between life and death, and after that his recovery was slow. He left Leipsic far from well on August 28, 1768.
Goethe made an enforced stay of a year and a half. It was perhaps the least happy part of his life. His cure proceeded slowly, and he had several relapses. His family relations were not pleasant. His father showed but little sympathy with his aspirations for universal culture, and could imagine no career for him but that of a successful jurist. His sister had grown somewhat harsh and cold during his absence. Goethe's mother was always the same to him—a bright, genial, sympathetic friend. Goethe, during his illness, received great attention from Fraeulein von Klettenberg, a friend of his mother's, a pietist of the Moravian school. She initiated him into the mystical writings of those abstracted saints, and she engaged him in the study of alchemy, which served at once to prepare him for the conception of Faust and for the scientific researches of his later days.
He arrived at Strasburg April 2,1770. Goethe stayed in Strasburg till August 28, 1771, his twenty-second birthday, and these sixteen months are perhaps the most important of his life. During them he came into active contact with most of those impulses of which his after life was a development. If we would understand his mental growth, we must ask who were his friends. He took his meals at the house of the Fraeulein Lauth in the Kramergasse. The table was mainly filled with medical students. At the head of it sat Salzmann, a grave man of fifty years of age. His experience and his refined taste were very attractive to Goethe, who made him his intimate friend. The table of the Fraeulein Lauth received some new guests. Among these was Jung-Stilling, the self-educated charcoal-burner, who in his memoir has left a graphic account of Goethe's striking appearance, in his broad brow, his flashing eye, his mastery of the company, and his generosity. Another was Lerse, a frank, open character, who became Goethe's favorite, and whose name is immortalized in Goetz von Berlichingen.
Goethe's stay at Strasburg is generally connected still more closely with another circumstance—his passion for Frederike Brion of Sesenheim. The village lies about twenty miles from Strasburg, and her father was pastor there. Goethe was introduced by his friend Weyland, as a poor theological student. The father was a simple, worthy man, the eldest of the three daughters was married, the two younger remained—Maria Salome, and Frederike, to whom the poet principally devoted himself. She was tall and slight, with fair hair and blue eyes, and just sixteen years of age. Goethe gave himself up to the passion of the moment. During the winter of 1770, Goethe often rode over to Sesenheim. Neither storm, nor cold, nor darkness kept him back. As his time for leaving Strasburg came nearer he felt that his love was merely a dream and could have no serious termination. Frederike felt the same on her side. On August 6th Goethe took his degree as a doctor of law. Shortly afterwards he bade adieu to Sesenheim. Frederike lived till 1813 and died single.
Goethe's return to Frankfort is marked by a number of songs, of which the "Wanderer's Sturmlied" is the most remarkable. He had outgrown many of the friends of his youth. Those with whom he felt most sympathy were the two Schlossers and his sister Cornelia. He found in her one who sympathized with all his aspirations. The work into which he threw all his genius was the dramatization of the history of the imperial knight of the Middle Ages, Gottfried or Goetz von Berlichingen. The immediate cause of this enterprise was his enthusiasm for Shakespeare. After reading him he felt, he said, like a blind man who suddenly receives his sight. The study of a dry and dull biography of Goetz, published in 1731, supplied the subject for his awakened powers. From this miserable sketch he conceived within his mind a complete picture of Germany in the sixteenth century. The chief characters of his play are creatures of his imagination, representing the principal types which made up the history of the time. Every personage is made to live; they speak in short, sharp sentences like the powerful lines of a great master's drawing. The first sketch of Goetz was finished in six weeks, in the autumn of 1771. It ran like wild-fire through the whole of Germany.
Goethe left Frankfort in the spring of 1772 for Wetzlar, a quiet country town on the Lahn, one of the seats of government of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperors lived at Vienna; they were crowned at Frankfort; they held their parliaments at Ratisbon, and at Wetzlar their courts of justice. It was the custom for young lawyers to attend the sittings of these courts for a certain time before they could be admitted to practice on their own account. The company of these students, of the embassies from the component parts of the empire, and of various imperial officials, made the society a pleasant and lively one. Goethe soon found friends. His favorite house was occupied by one of the officials of the order, by name Buff, an honest man with a large family of children. The second daughter, Lotte, blue-eyed, fair and just twenty years of age, was first met by Goethe, shortly after his arrival, at a ball at Wolpertshausen. She strongly attracted him; he became a constant visitor at the house. He found that Lotte was a second mother to her brothers and sisters. Lotte, was really, though not formally, engaged to Kestner, a man of two-and-thirty, secretary to the Hanoverian legation. The discovery of this relation made no difference to Goethe; he remained the devoted friend to both. But the position was too critical to last. On September 10 they met in the German house for the last time. Goethe and Schlosser went together to Wetzlar in November. Here he heard of the death of Jerusalem, a young man attached to the Brunswick legation. He had been with Goethe at the University of Leipsic. Of a moody temperament, disheartened by failure in his profession, and soured by a hopeless passion for the wife of another, he had borrowed a pair of pistols under pretense of a journey, and had shot himself on the night of October 29.
Goethe immediately afterwards began his Werther. Goethe tells us that it was written in four weeks. In October it spread over the whole of Germany. It was enthusiastically beloved or sternly condemned. It was printed, imitated, translated into every language of Europe. Goetz and Werther formed the solid foundation of Goethe's fame. It is difficult to imagine that the same man can have produced both works, so different are they in matter and style. Goetz was the first manly appeal to the chivalry of German spirit, which, caught up by other voices, sounded throughout the Fatherland like the call of a warder's trumpet, till it produced a national courage, founded on the recollection of an illustrious past, which overthrew the might of the conqueror at the moment when he seemed about to dominate the world. Werther, as soft and melodious as Plato, was the first revelation to the world of that marvelous style which, in the hands of a master, compels a language which is as rich as Greek to be also as musical.
The spring of 1773, which witnessed the publication of Goetz, saw him actively employed as an advocate. In November, Goethe's sister Cornelia was married to Schlosser and left Strasburg. Goethe felt the loss deeply. She lived but a short time. Her married life was tortured with suffering, and she died in 1777.
The summer of 1774 was spent in a journey to the Rhine. Goethe returned to Frankfort at the beginning of August. On December 11, Goethe was surprised by the visit of a stranger. It was Karl Ludwig von Knebel, who was traveling with the two princes of Saxe-Weimar, the reigning duke, Karl August, then just seventeen, and his younger brother, Constantine. This meeting decided the future course of Goethe's life.
He now came under the influence of Lili Schoenemann, the daughter of a rich banker. This passion seemed to be of a more lasting nature than the others.
Neither family approved of the engagement between the youthful couple. Goethe tore himself away, and went for a tour in Switzerland.
He returned to Frankfort on July 20. August was spent delightfully with Lili at Offenbach; his letters speak of nothing but her. He wrote some scenes in Faust—the walk in the garden, the first conversation with Mephistopheles, the interview with the scholar, the scene in Auerbach's cellar. Egmont was also begun under the stimulus of the American Rebellion. A way of escaping from his embarrassments was unexpectedly opened to him. The duke of Weimar passed through Frankfort both before and after his marriage, which took place on October 3. He invited Goethe to stay at Weimar. It was not for his happiness or for Lili's that they should have married. She afterwards thanked him deeply for the firmness with which he overcame a temptation to which she would have yielded.
At this time the smaller German courts were beginning to take an interest in German literature. Before the Seven Years' War the whole of German culture had been French. Even now German writers found but scant acceptance at Berlin or Vienna. The princes of the smaller states surrounded themselves with literature and art. The duke of Brunswick had made Lessing his librarian. The duke of Wuertemberg paid special attention to education; he promoted the views of Schubart, and founded the school in which Schiller was educated. Hanover offered a home to Zimmermann, and encouraged the development of Schlegel. Darmstadt was especially fortunate. Caroline, the wife of the landgrave, had surrounded herself with a literary circle, of which Merck was the moving spirit. She had collected and privately printed the odes of Klopstock, and her death in 1774 seemed to leave Darmstadt a desert. Her daughter, Louisa, seemed to have inherited something of her mother's qualities. She married, on October 3,1775, the young duke of Weimar, who was just of age. She was of the house of Brunswick, and after two years of marriage had been left a widow at nineteen, with two sons. She committed their education to Count Goerz, a prominent character in the history of the time. She afterwards summoned Wieland to instruct the elder, and Knebel to instruct the younger.
Upon this society Goethe rose like a star. From the moment of his arrival he became the inseparable companion of the grand-duke. The first months at Weimar were spent in a wild round of pleasure. Goethe was treated as a guest. In the autumn, journeys, rides, shooting parties; in the winter, balls, masquerades, skating parties by torch-light, dancing at peasants' feasts, filled up their time. Evil reports flew about Germany. We may believe that no decencies were disregarded except the artificial restrictions of courtly etiquette. In the spring he had to decide whether he would go or stay. In April the duke gave him the little garden by the side of the Ilm. In June he invested him with the title, so important to Germans, of /Geheimlegationsrath/, with a seat and voice in the privy council and an income.
Goethe's life was at no time complete without the influence of a noble- hearted woman. This he found in Charlotte von Stein, a lady of the court, wife of the master of the horse.
The close of 1779 was occupied by a winter journey to Switzerland. Two days were spent at Frankfort with Goethe's parents. Sesenheim was visited, and left with satisfaction and contentment. At Strasburg they found as to Lessing. The repertoire of the Weimar theater was stocked with pieces of solid merit, which long held their place. In August, 1792, he accompanied the duke to the campaign in the Ardennes. In 1793 he went with his master to the siege of Mainz. Goethe took the old German epic of Reynard the Fox, with which he had long been familiar, and which, under the guise of animals, represents the conflicting passions of men, and rewrote it.
Thus far he had produced but little since his return from Italy. His friendship with Schiller was now to begin, an alliance which, in the closeness of its intimacy and its deep effect on the character of both friends, has scarcely a parallel in literary history. If Schiller was not at this time at the height of his reputation, he had written many of the works which have made his name famous. He was ten years younger than Goethe. The Raeuber plays the same part in his literary history as Goetz plays in that of Goethe. This had been followed by Fiesco and Kabale und Liebe. In 1787 he settled at Weimar. The first effect of Schiller's influence on Goethe was the completion of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. It stands in the first rank of Goethe's writings. A more solid result of the friendship between the poets was the production of Hermann und Dorothea.
The latter half of 1798 was occupied with a tour in Switzerland. Before its commencement he visited his mother at Frankfort for the last time, and presented to her his wife and his son. In the beginning of 1805 Goethe was convinced that either he or Schiller would die in that year. In January they were both seized with illness. Schiller was the first to recover, and, visiting Goethe in his sick room, fell on his neck and kissed him with intense emotion. On April 29 they saw each other for the last time. Schiller was on his way to the theater, whither Goethe was too ill to accompany him. They parted at the door of Schiller's house. Schiller died on the evening of the 9th of May. No one dared to tell Goethe the sad news, but he saw on the faces of those who surrounded him that Schiller must be very ill. On the morrow of Schiller's death, when his wife entered his room, he said, "Is it not true that Schiller was very ill yesterday?" She began to sob. He then cried, "He is dead!" "Thou hast spoken it thyself," she answered. Goethe turned aside and covered his weeping eyes with his hands. Since that time Schiller and Goethe have been inseparable in the minds of their countrymen.
On October 14, 1806, the battle of Jena was fought. The court had fled from Weimar. On the 15th Napoleon and Goethe met. It was at the congress of Erfurt, where the sovereigns and princes of Europe were assembled. Goethe's presence was commanded by the duke. He was invited to an audience on October 2. The emperor sat at a large round table eating his breakfast. He beckoned Goethe to approach him. He asked how old he was, expressed his wonder at the freshness of his appearance, said that he had read Werther through seven times, and made some acute remarks on the management of the plot. Then, after an interruption, he said that tragedy ought to be the school of kings and peoples; that there was no subject worthier of treatment than the death of Caesar, which Voltaire had treated insufficiently. A great poet would have given prominence to Caesar's plans for the regeneration of the world, and shown what a loss mankind had suffered by his murder.
The idea of writing Faust seems to have come to Goethe in his earliest manhood. He was brooding over it at the same time with Goetz von Berlichingen. Faust justly stands at the head of all Goethe's works. Founded on a well-known popular tale, indebted for its interest and pathos to incidents of universal experience, it deals with the deepest problems which can engage the mind of man.
In 1809 he finished The Elective Affinities.
It was natural at the beginning of a new course of life that Goethe should write an account of his past existence. The study of his collected poems made it apparent to him how necessary it was to furnish a key by which they might be understood. These various causes led to the composition of /Dichtung und Wahrheit/ (Poetry and Truth), an autobiographical history of the poet's life from his birth till his settlement at Weimar. This work is the cause of much embarrassment to the poet's biographers. Where it ought to be the most trustworthy source of information, it is most misleading.
Once more in his old age Goethe came under the sovereignty of a woman. She was Marianne von Willemer, the newly married wife of a Frankfort banker. Goethe made her acquaintance in a journey which he took in the Rhine country. The correspondence between Goethe and Marianne was published in 1877. It extends almost to the day of his death, and includes letters from Eckermann giving an account of his last moments.
The last twelve years of Goethe's life, when he had passed his seventieth birthday, were occupied by his criticisms on the literature of foreign countries, by the Wanderjahre, and the second part of Faust. He was the literary dictator of Germany and of Europe. The Wanderjahre contains some of Goethe's most beautiful conceptions, The Flight Into Egypt, The Description of the Pedagogic Province, The Parable of the Three Reverences.
The second part of Faust has been a battlefield of controversy since its publication, and demands fuller attention. Its fate may be compared with that of the latest works of Beethoven. For a long time it was regarded as impossible to understand, and as not worth understanding, the production of a great artist whose faculties had been impaired by age. By degrees it has, by careful labor, become intelligible to us, and the conviction is growing that it is the deepest and most important work of the author's life.
He had much to darken his latter days. His wife had died in 1816. He felt her loss bitterly. The Duchess Amalia had died eight years before. He had now to undergo bitterer experiences when he was less able to bear them. Frau von Stein, with whom he had renewed his friendship, if not his love, died in January, 1827; and in June, 1828, he lost the companion of his youth, the Grand Duke Karl August, who died suddenly, away from Weimar.
We must pass to the closing scenes. On Thursday, March 15, 1832, he spent his last cheerful and happy day. He awoke the next morning with a chill. From this he gradually recovered, and on Monday was so much better that he designed to begin his regular work on the next day. But in the middle of the night he woke with a deathly coldness, which extended from his hands over his body, and which took many hours to subdue. It then appeared that the lungs were attacked, and that there was no hope of his recovery. Goethe did not anticipate death. He sat fully clothed in his arm chair, made attempts to reach his study, spoke confidently of his recovery, and of the walks he would take in the fine April days. His daughter-in-law Ottilie tended him faithfully. On the morning of the 22d his strength gradually left him. He sat slumbering in his arm chair, holding Ottilie's hand. Her name was constantly on his lips. His mind occasionally wandered, at one time to his beloved Schiller, at another to a fair female head with black curls, some passion of his youth. His last words were an order to his servant to open the second shutter to let in more light. After this he traced with his forefinger letters in the air. At half-past eleven in the day he drew himself, without any sign of pain, into the left corner of his arm chair, and went so peacefully to sleep that it was long before the watchers knew that his spirit was really gone. He is buried in the grand-ducal vault, where the bones of Schiller are also laid.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY TRUTH AND FICTION RELATING TO MY LIFE
As a preface to the present work, which, perhaps, more than another, requires one, I adduce the letter of a friend, by which so serious an undertaking was occasioned.
"We have now, my dear friend, collected the twelve parts of your poetical works, and, on reading them through, find much that is known, much that is unknown; while much that had been forgotten is revived by this collection. These twelve volumes standing before us in uniform appearance, we cannot refrain from regarding as a whole; and one would like to sketch therefrom some image of the author and his talents. But it cannot be denied, considering the vigor with which he began his literary career, and the length of time which has since elapsed, that a dozen small volumes must appear incommensurate. Nor can one forget, that, with respect to the detached pieces, they have mostly been called forth by special occasions, and reflect particular external objects, as well as distinct grades of inward culture; while it is equally clear, that temporary moral and aesthetic maxims and convictions prevail in them. As a whole, however, these productions remain without connection; nay, it is often difficult to believe that they emanate from one and the same writer.
"Your friends, in the mean time, have not relinquished the inquiry, and try, as they become more closely acquainted with your mode of life and thought, to guess many a riddle, to solve many a problem; indeed, with the assistance of an old liking, and a connection of many years' standing, they find a charm even in the difficulties which present themselves. Yet a little assistance here and there would not be unacceptable, and you cannot well refuse this to our friendly entreaties.
"The first thing, then, we require, is that your poetical works, arranged in the late edition according to some internal relations, may be presented by you in chronological order, and that the states of life and feeling which afforded the examples that influenced you, and the theoretical principles by which you were governed, may be imparted in some kind of connection. Bestow this labor for the gratification of a limited circle, and perhaps it may give rise to something that will be entertaining and useful to an extensive one. The author, to the most advanced period of his life, should not relinquish the advantage of communicating, even at a distance, with those whom affection binds to him; and if it is not granted to every one to step forth anew, at a certain age, with surprising and powerful productions, yet just at that period of life, when knowledge is most perfect, and consciousness most distinct, it must be a very agreeable and re-animating task to treat former creations as new matter, and work them up into a kind of Last Part, which may serve once more for the edification of those who have been previously edified with and by the artist."
This desire, so kindly expressed, immediately awakened within me an inclination to comply with it: for if, in the early years of life, our passions lead us to follow our own course, and, in order not to swerve from it, we impatiently repel the demands of others; so, in our later days, it becomes highly advantageous to us, should any sympathy excite and determine us, cordially, to new activity. I therefore instantly undertook the preparatory labor of separating the poems, both great and small, of my twelve volumes, and of arranging them according to years. I strove to recall the times and circumstances under which each had been produced. But the task soon grew more difficult, as full explanatory notes and illustrations were necessary to fill up the chasms between those which had already been given to the world. For, in the first place, all on which I had originally exercised myself were wanting, many that had been begun and not finished were also wanting, and of many that were finished even the external form had completely disappeared, having since been entirely reworked and cast into a different shape. Besides, I had also to call to mind how I had labored in the sciences and other arts, and what, in such apparently foreign departments, both individually and in conjunction with friends, I had practised in silence, or had laid before the public.
All this I wished to introduce by degrees for the satisfaction of my well-wishers, but my efforts and reflections always led me farther on; since while I was anxious to comply with that very considerate request, and labored to set forth in succession my internal emotions, external influences, and the steps which, theoretically and practically, I had trod, I was carried out of my narrow private sphere into the wide world. The images of a hundred important men, who either directly or indirectly had influenced me, presented themselves to my view; and even the prodigious movements of the great political world, which had operated most extensively upon me, as well as upon the whole mass of my contemporaries, had to be particularly considered. For this seems to be the main object of biography,—to exhibit the man in relation to the features of his time, and to show to what extent they have opposed or favored his progress; what view of mankind and the world he has formed from them, and how far he himself, if an artist, poet, or author, may externally reflect them. But for this is required what is scarcely attainable; namely, that the individual should know himself and his age,—himself, so far as he has remained the same under all circumstances; his age, as that which carries along with it, determines and fashions, both the willing and the unwilling: so that one may venture to pronounce, that any person born ten years earlier or later would have been quite a different being, both as regards his own culture and his influence on others.
In this manner, from such reflections and endeavors, from such recollections and considerations, arose the present delineation; and from this point of view, as to its origin, will it be the best enjoyed and used, and most impartially estimated. For any thing further it may be needful to say, particularly with respect to the half-poetical, half- historic, mode of treatment, an opportunity will, no doubt, frequently occur in the course of the narrative.
PART THE FIRST.
PART THE SECOND.
PART THE FIRST
On the 28th of August, 1749, at mid-day, as the clock struck twelve, I came into the world, at Frankfort-on-the-Main. My horoscope was propitious: the sun stood in the sign of the Virgin, and had culminated for the day; Jupiter and Venus looked on him with a friendly eye, and Mercury not adversely; while Saturn and Mars kept themselves indifferent; the moon alone, just full, exerted the power of her reflection all the more, as she had then reached her planetary hour. She opposed herself, therefore, to my birth, which could not be accomplished until this hour was passed.
These good aspects, which the astrologers managed subsequently to reckon very auspicious for me, may have been the causes of my preservation; for, through the unskilfulness of the midwife, I came into the world as dead; and only after various efforts was I enabled to see the light. This event, which had put our household into sore straits, turned to the advantage of my fellow-citizens, inasmuch as my grandfather, the /Schultheiss/ [Footnote: A chief judge or magistrate of the town.], John Wolfgang Textor, took occasion from it to have an /accoucheur/ appointed, and to introduce, or revive, the tuition of midwives, which may have done some good to those who were born after me.
When we desire to recall what happened to us in the earliest period of youth, it often happens that we confound what we have heard from others with that which we really possess from our own direct experience. Without, therefore, instituting a very close investigation into the point, which, after all, could lead to nothing, I am conscious that we lived in an old house, which, in fact, consisted of two adjoining houses, that had been opened into each other. A winding staircase led to rooms on different levels, and the unevenness of the stories was remedied by steps. For us children,—a younger sister and myself,—the favorite resort was a spacious floor below, near the door of which was a large wooden lattice that allowed us direct communication with the street and open air. A bird-cage of this sort, with which many houses were provided, was called a frame (/Geraems/). The women sat in it to sew and knit; the cook picked her salad there; female neighbors chatted with each other; and the streets consequently, in the fine season, wore a southern aspect. One felt at ease while in communication with the public. We children, too, by means of these frames, were brought into contact with our neighbors, of whom three brothers Von Ochsenstein, the surviving sons of the deceased /Schultheiss/, living on the other side of the way, won my love, and occupied and diverted themselves with me in many ways.
Our family liked to tell of all sorts of waggeries to which I was enticed by these otherwise grave and solitary men. Let one of these pranks suffice for all. A crockery-fair had just been held, from which not only our kitchen had been supplied for a while with articles for a long time to come, but a great deal of small gear of the same ware had been purchased as playthings for us children. One fine afternoon, when every thing was quiet in the house, I whiled away the time with my pots and dishes in the frame, and, finding that nothing more was to be got out of them, hurled one of them into the street. The Von Ochsensteins, who saw me so delighted at the fine smash it made, that I clapped my hands for joy, cried out, "Another." I was not long in flinging out a pot; and, as they made no end to their calls for more, by degrees the whole collection, platters, pipkins, mugs and all, were dashed upon the pavement. My neighbors continued to express their approbation, and I was highly delighted to give them pleasure. But my stock was exhausted; and still they shouted, "More." I ran, therefore, straight to the kitchen, and brought the earthenware, which produced a still livelier spectacle in breaking; and thus I kept running backwards and forwards, fetching one plate after another, as I could reach it from where they stood in rows on the shelf. But, as that did not satisfy my audience, I devoted all the ware that I could drag out to similar destruction. It was not till afterwards that any one appeared to hinder and forbid. The mischief was done; and, in place of so much broken crockery, there was at least a ludicrous story, in which the roguish authors took special delight to the end of their days.
My father's mother, for it was her house in which we dwelt, lived in a large back-room directly on the ground-floor; and we were accustomed to carry on our sports even up to her chair, and, when she was ill, up to her bedside. I remember her, as it were, a spirit,—a handsome, thin woman, always neatly dressed in white. Mild, gentle, and kind, she has ever remained in my memory.
The street in which our house was situated passed by the name of the Stag-Ditch; but, as neither stags nor ditches were to be seen, we wished to have the term explained. They told us that our house stood on a spot that was once outside the city, and that, where the street now was, there had formerly been a ditch, in which a number of stags were kept. These stags were preserved and fed here because the senate, every year, according to an ancient custom, feasted publicly on a stag, which was therefore always at hand in the ditch for such a festival, in case princes or knights interfered with the city's right of chase outside, or the walls were encompassed or besieged by an enemy. This pleased us much, and we wished that such a lair for tame animals could have been seen in our times.
The back of the house, from the second story particularly, commanded a very pleasant prospect over an almost immeasurable extent of neighboring gardens, stretching to the very walls of the city. But, alas! in transforming what were once public grounds into private gardens, our house, and some others lying towards the corner of the street, had been much stinted; since the houses towards the horse-market had appropriated spacious out-houses and large gardens to themselves, while a tolerably high wall shut us out from these adjacent paradises.
On the second floor was a room which was called the garden-room, because they had there endeavored to supply the want of a garden by means of a few plants placed before the window. As I grew older, it was there that I made my favorite, not melancholy, but somewhat sentimental, retreat. Over these gardens, beyond the city's walls and ramparts, might be seen a beautiful and fertile plain, the same which stretches towards Hoechst. In the summer season I commonly learned my lessons there, and watched the thunderstorms, but could never look my fill at the setting sun, which went down directly opposite my windows. And when, at the same time, I saw the neighbors wandering through their gardens, taking care of their flowers, the children playing, parties of friends enjoying themselves, and could hear the bowls rolling and the ninepins dropping, it early excited within me a feeling of solitude, and a sense of vague longing resulting from it, which, conspiring with the seriousness and awe implanted in me by nature, exerted its influence at an early age, and showed itself more distinctly in after-years.
The old, many-cornered, and gloomy arrangement of the house was, moreover, adapted to awaken dread and terror in childish minds. Unfortunately, too, the principle of discipline, that young persons should be early deprived of all fear for the awful and invisible, and accustomed to the terrible, still prevailed. We children, therefore, were compelled to sleep alone; and when we found this impossible, and softly slipped from our beds, to seek the society of the servants and maids, our father, with his dressing-gown turned inside out, which disguised him sufficiently for the purpose, placed himself in the way, and frightened us back to our resting-places. The evil effect of this any one may imagine. How is he who is encompassed with a double terror to be emancipated from fear? My mother, always cheerful and gay, and willing to render others so, discovered a much better pedagogical expedient. She managed to gain her end by rewards. It was the season for peaches, the plentiful enjoyment of which she promised us every morning if we overcame our fears during the night. In this way she succeeded, and both parties were satisfied.
In the interior of the house my eyes were chiefly attracted by a series of Roman views, with which my father had ornamented an ante-room. They were engravings by some of the accomplished predecessors of Piranesi, who well understood perspective and architecture, and whose touches were clear and excellent. There I saw every day the Piazza del Popolo, the Colosseum, the Piazza of St. Peter's, and St. Peter's Church, within and without, the castle of St. Angelo, and many other places. These images impressed themselves deeply upon me, and my otherwise very laconic father was often so kind as to furnish descriptions of the objects. His partiality for the Italian language, and for every thing pertaining to Italy, was very decided. A small collection of marbles and natural curiosities, which he had brought with him thence, he often showed to us; and he devoted a great part of his time to a description of his travels, written in Italian, the copying and correction of which he slowly and accurately completed, in several parcels, with his own hand. A lively old teacher of Italian, called Giovinazzi, was of service to him in this work. The old man, moreover, did not sing badly, and my mother every day must needs accompany him and herself upon the clavichord; and thus I speedily learned the "Solitario bosco ombroso," so as to know it by heart before I understood it.
My father was altogether of a didactic turn, and in his retirement from business liked to communicate to others what he knew or was able to do. Thus, during the first years of their marriage, he had kept my mother busily engaged in writing, playing the clavichord, and singing, by which means she had been laid under the necessity of acquiring some knowledge and a slight readiness in the Italian tongue.
Generally we passed all our leisure hours with my grandmother, in whose spacious apartment we found plenty of room for our sports. She contrived to engage us with various trifles, and to regale us with all sorts of nice morsels. But, one Christmas evening, she crowned all her kind deeds by having a puppet-show exhibited before us, and thus unfolding a new world in the old house. This unexpected drama attracted our young minds with great force; upon the boy particularly it made a very strong impression, which continued to vibrate with a great and lasting effect.
The little stage, with its speechless personages, which at the outset had only been exhibited to us, but was afterwards given over for our own use and dramatic vivification, was prized more highly by us children, as it was the last bequest of our good grandmother, whom encroaching disease first withdrew from our sight, and death next tore away from our hearts forever. Her departure was of still more importance to our family, as it drew after it a complete change in our condition.
As long as my grandmother lived, my father had refrained from changing or renovating the house, even in the slightest particular; though it was known that he had pretty large plans of building, which were now immediately begun. In Frankfort, as in many other old towns, when anybody put up a wooden structure, he ventured, for the sake of space, to make, not only the first, but each successive, story project over the lower one, by which means narrow streets especially were rendered somewhat dark and confined. At last a law was passed, that every one putting up a new house from the ground, should confine his projections to the first upper story, and carry the others up perpendicularly. My father, that he might not lose the projecting space in the second story, caring little for outward architectural appearance, and anxious only for the good and convenient arrangement of the interior, resorted to the expedient which others had employed before him, of propping the upper part of the house, until one part after another had been removed from the bottom upwards, and a new house, as it were, inserted in its place. Thus, while comparatively none of the old structure remained, the new one merely passed for a repair. Now, as the tearing down and building up was done gradually, my father determined not to quit the house, that he might better direct and give his orders; as he possessed a good knowledge of the technicalities of building. At the same time, he would not suffer his family to leave him. This new epoch was very surprising and strange for the children. To see the rooms in which they had so often been confined and pestered with wearisome tasks and studies, the passages they had played in, the walls which had always been kept so carefully clean, all falling before the mason's hatchet and the carpenter's axe,—and that from the bottom upwards; to float as it were in the air, propped up by beams, being, at the same time, constantly confined to a certain lesson or definite task,—all this produced a commotion in our young heads that was not easily settled. But the young people felt the inconvenience less, because they had somewhat more space for play than before, and had many opportunities of swinging on beams, and playing at see-saw with the boards.