Transcriber's Note: Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document. The symbol for a trochee on page 134 is shown like this: - U Text printed using the Greek alphabet in the original book is shown as follows: [Greek: logos]
THE FAUST-LEGEND AND GOETHE'S 'FAUST'
H. B. COTTERILL
EDITOR OF GOETHE'S 'IPHIGENIE' SCHILLER'S 'LAGER' 'REFLECTIONS FROM THE NIBELUNGENLIED' DANTE'S 'INFERNO' ETC.
LONDON GEORGE G. HARRAP & COMPANY 9 PORTSMOUTH STREET KINGSWAY W.C. 1912
BALLANTYNE & COMPANY, LTD. TAVISTOCK STREET, COVENT GARDEN LONDON
These lectures have been given perhaps half a dozen times, in England, in Switzerland and in Germany. On allowing them to appear in print I should perhaps apologize to my readers for the somewhat free and familiar style in which parts of them are written; but even if I had the time to recast them into a more serious form I should be unwilling to do so, for there is surely enough ponderous literature on the subject, and although some may resent in a book what often helps to make a lecture attractive, I think I can rely on the fact that many people agree with the dictum of Horace:
Ridiculum aeri Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res,
or, as Milton has it:
Joking decides great things Stronger and better oft than earnest can.
Almost the only change that I have made in my MS. has been the substitution or addition of an English translation in numerous places where I had formerly quoted the German original. On some occasions, when first writing the lectures, I very probably used the English version of Faust by Bayard Taylor, but I have not the book at present at hand and cannot feel quite certain whether any of the verse translations are not my own. The little book makes of course no pretence to be a contribution to critical or biographical literature. It is meant especially for those who wish to know something more about the story of Faust and about Goethe's play, and who, because their knowledge of German does not suffice or for other reasons, are unable to study the subject in any more satisfactory way.
H. B. C.
FREIBURG IM BREISGAU August 1912
THE OLD FAUST LEGEND 9
GOETHE'S 'FAUST' (PART I.) 56
GOETHE'S 'FAUST' (PART II.) 109
THE OLD FAUST-LEGEND
All of us have probably experienced the fact that it is possible to have been familiar for a long time with some great work of imagination—some poem or picture—to have learnt to love it almost as if it were a living person, to imagine that we understand it and appreciate it fully, even to fancy that it has a special message, a deeper meaning, for us than for almost any one else, and then to come across somebody—some commentator perhaps—who informs us that our uncritical appreciation is quite worthless, mere shallow sentiment, and that until we can accurately analyze and formulate the Idea which the artist endeavoured to incorporate in his work, and classify the diverse manifestations of this Idea as subjective, objective, symbolical, allegorical, dramatical-psychological or psychological-dramatical, we are not entitled to hold, far less to express, any opinion on the subject.
When I realised that I had undertaken to lecture on Faust, I thought it my duty to study Goethe's German commentators—some of them at least; for to study all would consume a lifetime. A few of the works of these commentators I already possessed—some, I am sorry to say, with their pages yet uncut. Others I procured, following the advice of German friends well versed in the matter. I set to work on what was presumably the best of these commentaries. As I laboured onwards, page after page, I found myself from time to time turning back to the title of the book. Sure enough, it was Ueber Goethe's Faust. I laboured on—the suspicion deepening at every turn of the page that perhaps the binder might have bound up the wrong text under the title Ueber Goethe's Faust. At the fifty-third page I came to a dead stop. Except quite incidentally neither Goethe nor Faust had as yet been mentioned. These fifty-three pages had been entirely devoted to what seemed to my rather unmetaphysical mind a not very luminous or edifying dissertation on the difference between Ansicht and Einsicht—between mere Opinion and true critical Insight; and, as far as I could discover, the only conclusion as yet arrived at was that the writer possessed an exclusive monopoly in the last-mentioned article.
But I will not inflict upon you any further description of my tusslings with Teutonic interpreters of Faust—with their egos and non-egos, their moral-aesthetic symbolisms and so on. Let us leave them to the tender mercies of Goethe himself, who was not sparing of his ridicule in regard to his commentators, nor, alas, at times in regard to his countrymen. 'Of all nations,' he says, 'the Germans understand me least.... Such people make life a burden by their abstruse thoughts and their Ideas, which they hunt up in all directions and insist on discovering in everything.... They come and ask me what "Ideas" I have incorporated in my Faust. Just as if I myself knew!—or could describe it, even if I did know!' Of course Goethe's great poem contains an Idea, if by that word we mean in a poem what we mean by life in anything living; but it is not by dissection and analysis that we shall discover it. 'He who wishes,' says Goethe in Faust, 'to examine and describe anything living first does his best to expel the life. Then he has got the dead parts in his hand; but what is wanting is just the spiritual bond.' It is my purpose—a purpose not easy of fulfilment—to avoid this method of dissection and to place before you living realities, not anatomical specimens.
But before we plunge in medias res and grapple our present subject, namely the old Faust-legend, I should like to say just a few words in order to show from what standpoint I think we should regard Goethe as a poet and a thinker—for that he is great both as a poet and as a thinker cannot be denied.
Goethe describes his own philosophy as the philosophy of action. He believed in impulse, in inspiration, in action, rather than in reflexion, analysis and logic. 'Reflect not!' he makes Iphigenie exclaim—'Reflect not! Grant freely, as thou feel'st!' And in one of his Epigrams he says:
Yes, that's the right way, When we cannot say How we think. True thought Comes as a gift, unsought.
Such theory of inspiration is thoroughly Greek, reminding one of Plato's 'muse-inspired madman' and of what Sophocles is related to have said to Aeschylus; 'Thou, Aeschylus, always dost the right thing—but unconsciously ([Greek: all' ouk eidos ge]).' Thus it was also with Goethe. All intellectual hobbies and shibboleths, all this endless wearisome discussion and dissection and analysis and criticism and bandying about of opinion, which is the very life-breath of modern intellectual existence and modern journalistic literature, Goethe rejected, as Plato had done in his Phaedrus, where he makes Socrates call such things 'rotten soul-fodder.'
'The whole! The whole!' was Goethe's frequent exclamation—'life! action! being!—the living whole, not the dead parts!' He was for ever decrying mere thought, mere intellect, mere cleverness. And yet of all moderns what greater intellect, what greater thinker, can we name than Goethe himself? Seldom, perhaps never, has there existed a mortal so many-sided. 'In such manifold directions'—he wrote to his friend Jacobi—'does my nature move, that I cannot be satisfied with one single mode of thought. As poet and artist I am polytheist; as a student of Nature I am pantheist. When I need a God for my personal nature, as a moral and spiritual human being, He also exists for me. Heaven and earth are such an immense realm that it can only be grasped by the collective intelligence of all intelligent beings.' Such 'collective intelligence' Goethe perhaps more nearly possessed than any other human being has done. The lordly pleasure-house which he built for his soul was such as Tennyson describes (and his words refer of course to Goethe):
Full of great rooms and small the palace stood, All various, each a perfect whole From living Nature, fit for every mood And change of my still soul.
And wonderfully true are those other lines of Tennyson—but rather bitter, as perhaps was to be expected of Tennyson when he was describing a great character with which he had so little sympathy:
I take possession of man's mind and deed. I care not what the sects may brawl. I sit as God holding no form of creed, But contemplating all.
To Goethe all things, both in Nature and in Art were but transitory reflexions of the real and eternal. 'Alles vergaengliche ist nur ein Gleichnis'—all things transitory are but a parable, an allegory of truth and reality—such are some of the last words of his great Poem; and thus too he regarded his own poetry. 'I have,' he said, 'always regarded all that I have produced as merely symbolic, and I did not much care whether what I made were pots or dishes.' Even that life-poem of his, Faust, which he planned and began as a young man of about twenty-five, and the last lines of which he wrote a few months before his death, aged eighty-two, only represents (as indeed do all great works of art) one aspect of belief—or perhaps I should rather say a certain number of truth's innumerable aspects, none of them claiming to afford a full vision, and not a few of them apparently contradictory; for, as both Plato and Shakespeare tell us, truth cannot be directly stated: it lies, as it were, in equipoise between contradictory statements:
For no thought is contented. The better sort, As thoughts of things divine ... do set the word Against the word.
Faust does not claim to be a universal Gospel, nor to offer a final solution of the riddle of existence. It makes no attempt to pile up Pelions on Ossas—to scale heaven with the Babel-towers of the human reason. It merely holds up a mirror in which we see reflected certain views of truth, such as presented themselves to Goethe from some of his intellectual heights. To regard it and judge it otherwise—to analyse its Idea—to insist on discovering its Moral—to compare it with some little self-contained system of theory or dogma which we ourselves may have finally accepted—and to condemn Goethe as a prophet of lies because, viewing truth from such diverse standpoints (many of them perhaps quite inaccessible for us) he may seem at times to ignore some of our pet formulae—this, I think, would convict us of a lamentable lack of wisdom and humility. And if at times we feel pained by what may seem irreverent, let us remember that Goethe wrote also these words: 'With many people who have God constantly on their tongues He becomes a phrase, a mere name uttered without any accompanying idea. If they were penetrated by God's greatness, they would rather be dumb and for very reverence not dare to name Him.'
Goethe accepted not without a certain amount of pride the title given him by some of his contemporaries—that of 'the last of the Heathen.' But which of us will doubt the sincerity or fail to be touched by the humility of his words: 'And yet perhaps I am such a Christian as Christ Himself would wish me to be.'
There are doubtless but very few (and I confess that I am not one of these select few) who can accept Goethe in all his many-sidedness. We ordinary mortals are incapable of such Protean versatility and are sure to find points, often many and important points, where we are strongly repelled by his teachings and his personality. The idealist is scandalized by his vigorous realism, the realist and materialist by his idealism, the dogmatist by his free thought, the free-thinker by his reverence towards religion, while the scientific expert is apt to regard him as a mere poet, oblivious or ignorant of the fact that, although without scientific training, besides propounding theories on Colour which were for a time accepted by leading authorities on that subject and besides making a discovery which had escaped the investigations of professional Anatomists (that of the intermaxillary bone), Goethe was the discoverer of a law, that of the metamorphosis of leaves and flowers, which may be said to have almost revolutionised the science of Botany.
Let us now turn to our subject and attempt to trace to its first sources this strange and suggestive legend of Faust, the great Magician.
And first, we shall see our way more clearly if we consider what is really the nature of that magic, or black art, which played such an important part in the medieval imagination.
Perhaps we may say that by 'magic' was denoted that art by which one was supposed to gain a knowledge of, and a power over, the prime elements of Nature and its cosmic potencies, so as to be able to combine and use them independently of natural laws. It is this power that Faust in Goethe's play longs to attain:
... To find the force That binds the world and guides its course, Its germs and vital powers explore And peddle with worthless words no more.
In almost every age and nation we find a vital Power, an ordering Force, recognised as present in the natural world, and the human mind seems ever prone to believe such Power to have affinity to human nature and to be, so to speak, open to a bargain. The fetish priest, the rain doctor, the medicine-man, the Hindu yogi, the Persian Mage, the medieval saint, and countless miracle-workers in every age, have ever believed themselves to be, whether by force of will, or by ecstatic contemplation, or by potent charms, in communion with the great Spirit of Nature, or with mighty cosmic influences—with Powers of Light or of Darkness; with Oromasdes or Arimanes, Brahma or Siva, Jehovah or Baal; with Zoroastrian Devs, Persian Genii, guardian angels or attendant demons; with the Virgin Queen of heaven—whether as Selene, Astarte, Hecate, or the Madonna; with the Prince of the powers of this world—with or without his horns and his cloven foot.
Not only among the heathen—the orientals and Egyptians—but also among the Chosen People we find the priests attesting their favour with the Deity, and asserting the truth of their religion, by what we may call orthodox magic. We all remember how Aaron's rod, in the form of an orthodox snake, swallowed up the unorthodox rod-snakes of the Egyptian sorcerers, and how Elijah attested the power of the true God by calling down fire from heaven in his contest with the priests of the Sun-god Baal. King Solomon too was for many ages credited with magic powers and was regarded in medieval times as the great authority in matters of wizardry.
Among the Greeks, although mysteries and witches played no small part in the old religion and survived long in popular superstition, magic was thrust into the background by the poetic and philosophic Hellenic imagination. The powers of Nature were incorporated in the grand and beautiful human forms of the Olympian gods, or in the dread shapes of the Infernal deities. But even among those of the Greeks who were raised far above the ordinary superstitions of the populace we find many traces of mysticism and magic, as for example in connexion with oracles, with divine healing, with the efficacy of images and other sacred objects, and especially in connexion with Orphic and other Mysteries. And, while for the most part Greek philosophy was rather imaginative than mystic, still we encounter the genuine mystic element in such Greek sages as Empedocles and Pythagoras, both of whom assumed the priestly character and seem to have laid claim to supernatural powers. Empedocles indeed, it is said, gave himself out to be a deity exiled from heaven, and was apparently worshipped as such. According to a not very trustworthy legend he threw himself into the crater of Mount Etna—perhaps in order thus to solve the mystery of existence. Pythagoras is said by some to have met his death at the hands of the people of Crotona, who set fire to his house and burnt him alive with many of his disciples. Goethe evidently alludes to Pythagoras (as well perhaps as to John Huss and others who found their death at the stake) in some well-known lines, which may be roughly thus translated:
The few that truth's deep mystery have learned And could not keep it in their hearts concealed, But to the mob their inner faith revealed, Have evermore been crucified and burned.
We now come to Christianity. In the early ages of the Church the final appeal seems to have been an appeal to miracles, and we find the apostles and their followers claiming the sole right of working miracles in the name of the one true God and anathematizing all other wonder-workers as in league with Satan. We all remember Elymas the Sorcerer struck blind by St. Paul, and the adversary of St. Peter, Simon the Mage, around whom first gathered the myths which lived so long in the popular imagination and many of which we shall meet with in the legend of Dr. Faust.
This Simon, the Magus or Sorcerer, who bewitched the people of Samaria, and was looked upon as 'the great power of God,' is said in the Acts of the Apostles to have been converted by St. Philip and to have brought upon himself a severe rebuke from St. Peter for offering to purchase with money the gift of wonder-working. In about the third century the legend of Simon Magus, as related by Clement of Alexandria, seems to have already incorporated in a mythical form the discords of the early Church, and especially the feud between the Jewish Christians, followers of St. Peter, and the Gentile proselytes, followers of St. Paul. Indeed Simon the Sorcerer was in course of time regarded by some as having been identical with St. Paul—that is to say, it was believed that St. Paul had been none other but Simon Magus in disguise. The voice heard at St. Paul's conversion and the light by which for a season he was struck blind were alleged to have been feats of wizardry by which he, a wolf in sheep's clothing, stole his way into the true fold in order to introduce discord and to betray the Church to the Gentiles.
St. Peter, the true Simon, is said to have followed the false Simon from city to city, out-rivalling his Satanic miracles by orthodox miracles, until at length they reached Rome. Here Simon Magus by his magic arts succeeded in flying up into the sky in the presence of the Emperor and his court, but at the word of Peter the charm was broken and the wizard fell to earth and was killed.
But, besides this, the so-called Gnostic heresy introduced other elements into the legend. These Gnostics were a sect that arose in the early times of Christianity. They pretended to a special insight into the divine nature, and combined Platonic and oriental theories with Christian dogmas. They tried to convert the story of the Redemption into a cosmological myth, and regarded the human person of Christ as a kind of phantom—a magic apparition. Some of these Gnostics seem to have accepted Simon Magus as the 'Power of God'—as the Logos, or divine Reason, by which the world was created (or reduced from chaos to an ordered Cosmos). From this a curious myth arose. This Logos, or creative Power, was identified with the Sun-god, as the source of life, and as Sun-god was united to the Moon-goddess, Selene. Now the words Helen and Selene are connected in Greek, and Helen of Troy was accepted by these Gnostics as a mythical form of the goddess of the moon. Hence it came that in the Gnostic form of the Simon Magus legend he was married to Helen of Troy, and this notion found its way into the old Faust-legend, and is used by Goethe in that exceedingly wonderful and beautiful part of his great poem which is called the Helena.
After the suppression of Gnostic and other early heresies came the contest of the now united and politically powerful Church against the outer world of heathendom. While retaining for herself what we may call a monopoly in orthodox magic the Church condemned as in league with the devil all speculation, whether theological or scientific—the one as leading to heresy, the other to sensual ends, such as riches, fame, and those lusts of the flesh and that pride of intellect which were fatal to the contemplative and ascetic ideals of medieval Christianity.
It was not among Teuton and Celtic savages but among the learned adherents of the old Greek philosophy that the Church in those earlier days found her most dangerous and obstinate adversaries. Plato and Aristotle (whose tenets the Christian Schoolmen afterwards endeavoured to harmonize with the teaching of the Gospel) were at first brought forward to oppose the new religion, these doctrines of Greek philosophy being largely supplemented by mystic ideas derived from oriental sources. It was however Pythagoras, the great Greek-Italian philosopher of the sixth century B.C., the predecessor and to some extent the inspirer of Socrates and Plato, who was most generally accepted as the rival of St. Paul. It was his mystical doctrines of Number and Harmony, of the Unit and the Triad, which were most often marshalled against the Christian doctrine of the Unity and Trinity of the Godhead. Indeed it even seems that Pythagoras was believed by some of these adversaries of Christianity to be the incarnation of Deity (as had been believed in his lifetime) and to be the friend and saviour of mankind, like Prometheus of old, who was said to have given his life for the human race devoted to destruction by the anger of an offended God.
No wonder that, embittered by such opponents, the Church launched her anathema against all the profane learning of the day—all study of the ancient heathen philosophers and poets. The gods of Olympus became synonymous with demons and monsters of the Christian hell, as we see in Dante and in such old legends as that of the Hill of Venus. Plato and Aristotle, and even Homer, were put on the index. Virgil especially was regarded as a dangerous wizard—although in another age he was honoured almost as a prophet and a foreteller of the Messiah. I remember that many years ago, when I was searching for Virgil's tomb on Posilipo near Naples, I was informed by a contadino, of whom I had asked my way, that Virgil ('Marone,' as he called him) was a great magician. The man knew nothing of Virgil as poet. Probably Virgil's account of the descent of Aeneas into the lower world, and that strange Eclogue of his, the Pollio, in which possibly a Sibylline prophecy of the coming of a Messiah is reproduced, may have credited him with magic lore, and may also have invested him for a time with almost the dignity of a canonical Minor Prophet.
Now, during these ante-Reformation ages the Roman Church claimed, as I have said, a monopoly in orthodox magic. She could send a soul to hell, or by rites and exorcism she could save the sinner from his compact with Satan, as one sees in such legends as those of Merlin, of Tannhaeuser, of Robert the Devil, and of that Theophilus who was converted by flowers sent him from Paradise by the Virgin-Martyr St. Dorothea. Of another Theophilus, an eastern monk of perhaps the sixth century, we are told that, like Faust, he made a written compact with the devil, but repented and was saved by the Virgin Mary, who snatched the fatal document from the devil's claws and gave it back to the penitent.
But there is one early example of the wizard-legend where the magician is saved from his pact with Satan not so much by the counter-charms of the Church as by the purity and steadfastness of Christian maidenhood, and for this reason I think the poet Shelley is right in regarding this legend as 'the true germ of Goethe's Faust.' It is the story of Cyprian and Justina, who were among the many victims of the persecution of the Christians by Diocletian, about 300 A.D. Cyprian was a sorcerer of Antioch whose diabolical arts failed to overcome the sanctity of Justina. He confessed himself conquered and withdrew into the desert as a Christian hermit. The story has been dramatized by the Spanish poet Calderon in his Magico Prodigioso, a part of which has been finely translated by Shelley. The beautiful picture of St. Justina by Moretto, where Cyprian is kneeling before her and a white unicorn, the symbol of chastity, is crouching in the foreground, is well known.
With the Reformation another spirit arose and legends took a different form. In the Protestant world the orthodox magic of the Roman Church lost its saving power and was regarded as no less diabolic than all other black art. He was irretrievably lost who had once given over his soul to magic and the devil (and the devil was at this time, as we know, a very real personage—real enough to have an inkpot hurled at his head by Luther). The revival at the Renaissance of speculation and research, combined as it was with all kinds of fantastic hopes of discovering prime matter, the 'Philosopher's stone,' and elixirs of life, bred in the popular superstition a mysterious awe and attached to almost all scientific investigation the epithet 'black,' or diabolic, as opposed to the 'white art' of holding communion with good spirits. Alchemy and astrology (words meaning merely what we call chemistry and astronomy) became words of hellish import, and he who practised these arts was in league with Satan. Thus were regarded such men as Lully, Roger Bacon, the Abbot Tritheim, and (perhaps best known of all, at least to all readers of Browning) Bombastes Paracelsus, the contemporary of Faust, born at Einsiedeln, between Brunnen and the lake of Zuerich, in the year 1493.
Thus the sixteenth-century form of our legend is of the most tragic character. In the oldest Faust-legend, which first took shape in this century, there is no hint of his being saved. And another of its characteristics is its strong anti-papal tendency. The devil appears in the guise of a monk, and even as Mahomet or Antichrist in the guise of the Pope himself.
But the Renaissance (if not the Reformation) introduced another, entirely new and most important, element into the legend—one which enabled Goethe to use the sulphurous old myth as the subject for a great poem. Not only was there a renaissance of learning, but also of art—an intense longing for both Knowledge and Beauty. To know everything—to learn the inner secret of Nature—to understand, as Faust longed to understand,
The inmost force That binds the world and guides its course—
this yearning after perfection by Knowledge was one of the fruits of the Renaissance. The other was the yearning to gain perfection by means of feeling, by the ecstatic contemplation of and communion with perfect Beauty—'to love infinitely and be loved,' as Aprile says in Browning's Paracelsus. These two impulses, the one toward Knowledge and the other toward Love, were doubtless awakened by the study of Aristotle, that 'master of those who know,' and of Plato's doctrine of the soul's love-inspired yearnings for Truth and Beauty and for communion with the Perfect and the Eternal.
I have called them two impulses, and to the mind they must ever appear distinct, nay sometimes contrary; but I need not remind you how Christianity teaches us to reconcile the ancient feud between the mind and the heart—between Knowledge and Love. You may perhaps remember how Dante, to intimate to us that there can be no true knowledge without love and no true love without knowledge, speaks of the Cherubim and the Seraphim as ideally the same, and tells us that the Seraphs, who love most, also know most.
Both these impulses are noble and awaken our sympathy.
Now, in order that tragic art may have its effect it must possess what Aristotle calls [Greek: pathos], so that we may be able to sympathize with the sufferer. Thus, for instance, Milton enlists our sympathies even with his Satan, and it is perhaps because we cannot sympathize in any way with Dante's Lucifer that many feel repelled by the terrible creation. But even in the oldest of the Faust-legends, and far more of course in Goethe's Faust, we are attracted by a 'pathetic' element, viz., the unsatisfied and insatiable longing of a human soul for Knowledge—for Truth—and its still intenser yearnings after ideal Beauty.
Thus, even the Faust of the older sixteenth-century legend, although he ultimately falls a victim to the devil, has noble and high impulses by which we feel strongly attracted. He is lost, not through these impulses, these yearnings for knowledge, but through his magic, and his sensual life. In spite of more than one fit of remorse he is unable to free himself from the lusts of the flesh; he is obliged to sign a second bond with Mephisto and is dragged down ever lower into the abyss, until the jaws of hell open and swallow him up—while the Faust of Goethe's poem gains strength through many an error and many a grievous fall, gradually shakes off the diabolic influence and rising on the stepping-stones of his dead self is finally rescued by God's mercy and reaches the higher spheres of another life.
How infinitely grander—how illimitable in its vistas—the subject becomes when thus treated by a great poet we all must feel. And even if we cannot with a whole heart accept as a true Gospel what (in spite of Goethe's admission that God's mercy was a necessary factor) seems to be a gospel of self-salvation, we should not forget that this picture of a man pressing on in his own strength amidst the lusts of the flesh and the errors of the mind is perhaps the noblest and grandest kind of picture that dramatic art can offer us—that of the human will in its struggle against destiny. In any case, I think, we cannot refuse our sympathy for these yearnings and searchings for truth amidst error. Do you remember what Lessing said about such longings? 'If God'—he said—'should hold Truth itself in His right hand, and in His left the longing for Truth, and should say to me Choose! I would humbly fall down before His left hand and say: Father, pure Truth is for Thee alone. Give me the longing for Truth, though it be attended with never-ending error.'
There seems no doubt that a man named Johann Faust, renowned for his learning and credited with magical powers, actually did exist—probably about 1490 to 1540. (He was therefore a contemporary of Paracelsus, and also of Luther, Charles V., Henry VIII. and Raphael.) Several notices of this Dr. Johann Faust occur in writers of the period. One of the most circumstantial is by the friend and biographer of Melanchthon, who himself seems to have met Faust. But the various myths that gathered round the magician were, it seems, first published in a continuous narrative in 1587, that is about fifty years after his death. This is the old Frankfurter Faustbuch, of which only one perfect specimen is now known to exist. It is, I believe, in Leipzig. A mutilated copy is in the Vienna Library.
One day, when to escape for a time from the German commentators above mentioned I had gone out for a walk, I found my way to the old Wasserkirche—now the Free Library of the city of Zuerich, and here I discovered a facsimile reprint of this old Frankfurt Faust-book. As this is the oldest and most authentic basis of all later forms of the story and is doubtless the one which (as well as the puppet-play on the subject) Goethe used as the ground-plan for his poem, I perhaps cannot do better than give a brief abstract of its contents.
It is written in quaint old German and is interspersed with many pious comments, biblical quotations and Latin words and phrases, and now and then it breaks out into doggerel verse. The editor (Spiess by name) tells us that he publishes the book 'as a warning to all Christians and sensible people to avoid the terrible example of Doctor Faustus.' He evidently takes the thing very seriously and has purposely (as he says) omitted all 'magic formulae,' lest 'any should by this Historia be incited to inquisitiveness and imitation.' Johann Faust, according to this version, was born at Roda, a village near Weimar. (Other versions say at Knittlingen in Wuertemberg.) His parents were honest God-fearing peasants. His great abilities induced a rich relation in Wittenberg to adopt and educate him. He studied theology at Wittenberg (known to us all through Hamlet and Luther) and also at Cracow, outrivalling all competitors and gaining the title of Doctor of Theology. But he had not only a 'teachable and quick' but also a 'foolish, silly, inquisitive' head, and neglecting the Bible became a 'Speculator' and prided himself more on being an Astrologus and a Mathematicus than a Theologus. As the old chronicler expresses it, he 'took to himself eagle's wings and desired to search out the reasons of all in heaven and on earth.'
He now takes to 'Zauberei'—magic. Where four roads meet in the Spessart Wald, a forest near Wittenberg, he inscribes mystic circles and performs incantations for the purpose of summoning the devil. After all kinds of fearful apparitions and noises, by which Faust is almost terrified to death, a demon appears in the shape of a 'grey monk.' Faust invites him to visit him at his house in Wittenberg. The demon visits him there and tells him of all the horrors of hell. But Faust persists in his plan and makes a second rendezvous with the demon, who has now procured leave from his lord and master Lucifer to offer his services and attendance. The compact is made. The demon is to serve him for twenty-four years. Faust is to renounce Christianity and to hate all Christians, and at the end of twenty-four years he is to belong to the demon 'to have power, rule and dominion over his soul, body, flesh, blood, and possessions, and that for all eternity.' This compact has to be signed with blood. Faust pierces his hand, and the blood flows out and forms the words 'O homo fuge!'—'O man, escape!'—but Faust, though alarmed, is not deterred. It is now agreed that the demon shall appear, whenever summoned, in the form of a Franciscan monk. He then reveals his name: Mephistopheles, or, as the old legend gives it, Mephostophiles—the meaning of which is probably 'not loving the light'—[Greek: me phos philon]—a compound which you may rightly remark must have been concocted by a rather second-rate Greek scholar.
After a season of dissipation, during which Faust is supplied with all the luxuries that he desires—wine stolen from ducal, electoral, and episcopal cellars, soft and costly raiment from the draperies and naperies of Nuernberg and Frankfurt and so on (he had, for instance, only to open his window and call any bird, goose, turkey, or capon, and it would at once fly in, ready roasted)—getting tired of this kind of thing he falls in love and wishes to marry. But Mephisto angrily tells him that marriage is a thing pleasing to God and against the terms of the compact. You will notice here the Lutheran and anti-papal tendency—marriage being a thing pleasing to God in itself, and any compact being devilish which forbade it, as in the case of priests and monks.
Then follow long discussions and disputations between Faust and Mephisto on the creation of the world, on hell and heaven, and on black art and astrology. None of us may be in a position to question a demon's accuracy with regard to how affairs stand in Hades, but Mephisto gives a very unorthodox account of the creation—or rather he denies that there was any creation. Matter according to his theory (and it is a theory of some modern scientists and not only of medieval demons)—matter is eternal and self-existent—uncreated, or self-created, whatever that may mean. Incited by these descriptions, and by his 'foolish silly inquisitive head,' Faust demands that he should pay a visit to both hell and heaven.
For the journey to Hell the services of Beelzebub have to be requisitioned. The devilish worm, as the old writer calls Beelzebub, places Faust in a chair or pannier made of bones, hoists the chair on to his back and plunges (like Empedocles) into a volcano. Faust is nearly stifled to death. He sees all kinds of griffins and monsters and great multitudes of spirits tormented in the flames—among them emperors, kings and princes. Then in a deep sleep he is brought home and laid on his bed. 'This Historia and recount of what he saw in hell,' says the old chronicler, 'hath Doctor Faustus himself written down with his own hand, and after his death it was found lying in a sealed book.' After this (about ten years of the twenty-four having already elapsed) he is taken up to heaven by Mephisto in a chariot drawn by dragons—not of course to the Empyrean, the abode of God, but up as far as the fixed stars (the eighth sphere). He finds the sun, which before he had believed to be only as big as the bottom of a cask, to be far larger than the earth, and the planets to be as large as the earth, and the clouds of the upper sky to be as dense and hard as rocks of crystal. From these regions the earth looks as small as the 'yolk in an egg.' He sees all the kingdoms of the earth—Europe, Asia, and Africa (not America, although America was discovered by Columbus in 1492, about the date of Faust's birth).
In the sixteenth year Faust wishes to pay a visit to the chief cities and countries of the world. Mephisto changes himself into a horse—'with wings like a dromedary.' It is, I believe, not generally supposed that a dromedary has wings; but I suppose the old chronicler must have confused a camel and an ostrich, thinking of the name which some Greek authors give to the ostrich, namely stroutho-camelos or 'sparrow-camel.'
On the back of his sparrow-camel horse Faust is carried through the air to many lands and cities and at length reaches Rome, and visits the Pope, on whom he and Mephisto (both being invisible) play various practical jokes, blowing in his face, snatching his food away at meals and so on, till the Supreme Pontiff orders all the bells in Rome to be rung in order to exorcise the evil spirits by whom he is haunted. At Constantinople they befool the Sultan with magic tricks. Mephisto disguises himself in the official robes of the Pope and persuades the Sultan that he is Mahomet (another cut at the Pope, as Antichrist), while Faust installs himself in the Sultan's palace and enjoys life and finally floats up into the air and disappears. They then visit Egypt, India, Africa, and other places, including the Garden of Eden and Britain.
Britain is described (rightly perhaps) as 'very damp—abounding in water and in metals....' 'Here also is to be found,' adds our chronicler, 'the stone of God, which Doctor Faustus brought thence.' What he means by the stone of God is, I suppose, the so-called Philosopher's stone—used for the manufacture of money out of any worthless substance. Faust might have found a good deal of this stone of God without leaving Germany and seems to have left a considerable amount of it behind in Britain.
Part III of the Faust-book relates his 'feats of nigromancy at the courts of Potentates' and elsewhere, and his 'terrible end and departure.' At Innsbruck, in the presence of Charles V. and his court he summons up the shades of Alexander the Great and his consort, I suppose Roxana, the beautiful Bactrian princess. You may be interested to learn that Alexander the Great was a 'well-built stout little man with a thick yellow-red beard, red cheeks, and eyes like a basilisk,' and that the old chronicler, quite after the fashion of the modern purveyor for ladies' journals, informs us that Roxana wore a dress entirely of blue velvet trimmed with gold pieces and pearls.
The following chapters strike one as hardly in the same key with the rest of the book. They relate feats which remind one rather of Baron Muenchhausen. Faust swallows up a wagon of hay and a team of horses that get in his way. He makes stag-antlers grow on the head of a nobleman—saws off his own foot to give it as security for a loan borrowed from a Jew (reminding one of Shylock and his 'pound of flesh')—treats students to wine magically procured (as in the scene in Auerbach's cellar in Goethe's poem)—cuts off people's heads and sends them to the barber to be shaved, and then replaces them (a most useful invention)—makes flowers appear in vases (like modern spiritualists or Indian jugglers)—and lets flowers and grapes flourish in his garden at Christmas-time. His most important feat is summoning up (as he does in Goethe's poem) the shade of Helen of Troy. You will wish for a description of Helen—at least of her dress. She appeared in a splendid robe of black-purple ... her hair, of a glorious golden hue, hung down to her knees—she had coal-black eyes, a lovely face, and a round head, her lips red as cherries, with a little mouth and a neck like a white swan, cheeks red as a rosebud, and a tall straight figure.
A fit of remorse now seizes our magician. He is visited by a pious old man who nearly persuades him to repent and break his bond with the devil. But Mephisto is too cunning for him, and induces him to sign a new compact with his blood, promising to procure him Helen. For (as is also the case in Goethe's poem) Faust himself has fallen violently in love with the phantom that he had raised. By the help of Mephistopheles Helen herself—or one of her 'doubles' which play a part in Greek mythology—is summoned up, and lives with Faust as his wife. (At his death she, and their son, Justus Faust, disappear.)
In the last year he is overwhelmed with terrible despair, which is deepened by the mockeries of the demon. On the last evening he invites his friends to supper at the village Rimlich, near Wittenberg. After the supper, he addresses his companions in a speech of intense and pathetic remorse, praying that God will save his soul though his body is forfeit to the devil. He tells them that at the stroke of twelve the demon will come to fetch him. He begs them to go quietly to bed, and not to be alarmed if they hear a great uproar. At midnight a mighty wind sweeps over the house, and a terrible hissing is heard as of innumerable serpents. Faust's cries for help gradually die away. They rush into the supper room and find him torn to pieces—eyes, brains, and teeth scattered in all directions. 'After this,' says our chronicler, 'it was so uncanny in the house that no man dared live in it. Doctor Faust also appeared in person to his Famulus (assistant) Wagner by night, and related to him many still more weird and mysterious things.... And thus endeth the whole and truthful Historia and Magic of Dr. Faust, from which every Christian man should take warning, and specially those who are of a presumptuous, proud, curious and obstinate mind and head, that they may flee from all Magic, Incantation, and other works of the devil. Amen! This I wish for each and every one from the ground of my heart. Amen! Amen!'
The great popularity of this original Faust-book led to the publication of many other versions of the story. In the very next year a Faust-book in rime appeared. In some of these versions Mephisto has a very bad time of it, Faust setting him all kinds of impossible tasks—such as writing the name of Christ or painting a crucifix, or taking him on Good Friday to Jerusalem—until the demon begs for his release, offering to give back the written compact. In Strassburg at a shooting competition Faust's magic bullet strikes Mephisto, who 'yells out again and again' in pain. In a Dutch version, where the demon has the name 'Jost,' Faust amuses himself by throwing a bushel of corn into a thorn hedge late at night, when poor 'Jost' is tired to death, and bids him pick up every grain in the same way as in the old story Venus vents her malice on Psyche. The most important German version was that by Widmann—an amplification of the old Faust-book. There also appeared a life of Faust's Famulus (assistant), Christopher Wagner, whom the devil attends in the form of an ape. Of one of these versions (I think Widmann's) there appeared about 1590 an English translation, which was supplemented by various English ballads on the same subject, and it was an Englishman—Shakespeare's great contemporary, the poet Christopher Marlowe—who was himself, as you know, a man of Faust-like temperament, and not unlike him in his fate—being killed in a drunken brawl—who first dramatized the story. His brilliant and lurid play, 'The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus' follows very closely most of the details given in the German Faust-books. Its poetical beauties (and they are many) are unfortunately, as Hallam rightly remarks, intermingled with a great deal of coarse buffoonery. Possibly he had to consult the taste of his public in introducing such a large ingredient of this buffoon element—taken from what I called the Muenchhausen portion of the old legend. Patriotic German commentators sometimes deny that Goethe knew Marlowe's play (though he knew Shakespeare well), but I think there is no doubt that the opening monologue of Marlowe's play inspired the more famous, though scarcely finer, opening scene of Goethe's drama. 'Theology, adieu!' Faustus exclaims, taking up a book of magic—
These metaphysics of magicians, And necromantic books are heavenly ... All things that move between the quiet poles Shall be at my command—Emperors and kings Are but obey'd in their several provinces,... But his dominion that excels in this Stretcheth as far as doth the mind of man. A sound magician is a mighty god. Here, Faustus, tire thy brains to gain a deity.
His agony of despair at the last moment is very finely depicted, and there are not a few passages in the play which, for beauty of expression and thought, are truly Shakespearean. Some of you possibly know the magnificent lines addressed to Helen of Troy, which begin thus:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium—
and the lines which seem to allude to the identification of Helen with Selene, the Moon-goddess—
O thou art fairer than the evening air Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars. Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter When he appeared to hapless Semele; More lovely than the monarch of the sky, In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms.
Marlowe's play was written about 1590. Now it is asserted that about this time English travelling players visited Germany, and perhaps introduced there Marlowe's drama; and possibly this was the beginning of the German 'puppet-plays' on the subject of Faust. I do not feel quite sure about it. Faust puppet-plays seem to have existed almost simultaneously with the old Faust-books, and there is even the trace of one before the oldest Faust-book; at least in the archives of the University of Tuebingen an entry has been unearthed in which in 1587 two students were condemned to the 'Karzer,' or 'Black hole,' for composing a 'Puppenspiel' on the subject of Dr. Faust.
In these Puppenspiele (puppet-shows) the comic element largely prevails and is kept up by the comic figure Kasperle, a buffoon or 'Hanswurst' of the same character as the Italian Pulcinella, the progenitor of our English 'Punch.' As might be expected, these puppet-shows introduced a great many variations of the story, most of them a mixture of tragedy and comedy. In one a raven brings the contract from the devil for Faust to sign. One of the conditions is that for twenty-four years Faust is not to wash, or comb his hair or cut his nails—like Struwwelpeter. When Faust attempts to embrace Helen she turns into a snake—and when he is finally carried off by the demon, Kasperle gives (what Euripides is accused of sometimes giving) a comic turn to the tragic catastrophe by cracking jokes.
For about 150 years after Marlowe no attempt was made by any German writer to use the subject artistically. Indeed during this period Germany, devastated by the Thirty Years War and afterwards by French literary influence, produced no literature worthy of mention, and what writers it possessed were not such as would be likely to perceive the poetic material contained in a popular puppet-show.
But the legend had taken firm hold on the popular imagination and when Goethe was a boy (he was born in 1749) he saw a Faust-puppenspiel at Frankfurt, and afterwards at Strassburg, when he was a young man of about twenty. He was at this time evidently also familiar with the old Faustbuch itself, and it was then (about 1770) that he seems to have first conceived the idea of the drama which he sealed up as finished sixty years later (1831), a few months before his death.
Goethe's early manhood coincided with that period in German thought and literature which is called the 'Sturm und Drang'—that is the Storm and Stress—period. The subject of Faust, the attraction of which had for so long lain dormant, appealed powerfully to the adherents of this new school, with their gospel of the divine rights of the human heart and of genius, with their wild passionate graspings after omniscience, their Titanic heaven-storming aspirations after the unattainable and indescribable. Lessing himself, though never a genuine Sturm und Drang writer, began a Faust, and when Goethe began his drama a new Faust, it is said, was being announced in almost every quarter of Germany. Someone (I think it was Bayard Taylor) has reckoned up twenty-nine Fausts that were actually published in Germany while Goethe was working at his. Some one else (I think Ludwig von Arnim) has said: 'Not enough Fausts are yet written. Every one should write one. There is as much room for them as for straight lines in the circumference of a circle'—which, as you know, is conceived by geometricians to consist of an infinite number of infinitely small straight lines.
None of these twenty-nine Fausts are, as far as I know, of any value or interest except the unfinished play by Lessing, which, as it was written while Goethe was still a lad, and seems to have been only printed in fragments at some later date, can hardly come under Bayard Taylor's list. From these fragments it is clear that Lessing meant to save Faust's soul, if not his body. Toward the end of the last act, when the devils are triumphing over their apparent victory and the possession of Faust's body, a voice from heaven is heard: 'Triumph not! Ye have not won the battle over human nature and human knowledge. The Deity has not given to man the noblest impulses in order to bring him to eternal misery. What you imagine you possess is only a phantom.'
Although we cannot tell for certain how Lessing meant to solve the problem, I think it is almost certain that Faust was to work out his own salvation amidst error and sin much as Goethe's Faust does. Before attempting (as I shall do on other occasions) to give a description of the two parts of Goethe's poem—in attempting which I shall keep as closely as I can to the original and to questions arising directly out of Goethe's own words—it will be useful and interesting to consider the most striking points in which his Faust differs essentially from all its predecessors, except perhaps Lessing's—and Lessing, although he struck the new chord, did not resolve it. But this is a subject involving many and far-reaching questions, which, if they are to be solved at all, are not to be solved by theory and dogma. I shall therefore endeavour to state the case as simply and as objectively as possible, avoiding metaphysical cobwebs and giving the ego and non-ego a wide berth. I shall content myself in most cases with merely pointing out the doctrine apparently preached by Goethe (reminding you now and then that even his own seemingly categorical dogmas were to him merely temporary forms of thought) and shall prefer to let much justify its existence as an integral part of the living whole rather than to expel the life by dissection and to examine the dead parts through the spectacles of a commentator.
In my next lecture, after a brief consideration of these preliminary questions, I shall try to describe the first Part of the drama—a task of more than common difficulty, for the story is familiar to many of you, and a bare rehearsal of the action of the play would prove wearisome, while any attempt to communicate by means of translation the wonderful beauty and force of Goethe's words is almost bound to prove a failure.
In my third lecture I shall treat the second Part of the play, the action of which is far less generally known. It is not often read and is seldom seen on the stage. Indeed it was not written for the stage and does not lend itself to ordinary dramatic and operatic purposes, as the first Part does with its Gretchen episode. It embraces too huge a circle—a circle within which lie all the possibilities of human life. It is a kind of framework for all the tragedies and comedies and epics and lyrics ever conceived, or conceivable. What unity it has is not of the stage or the dramatic Unities. But nevertheless on the stage it produces effects which impress one with the sense of an imaginative power of an extraordinary kind.
Many years ago, when it was being given in the Dresden theatre, I saw it performed four or five times and I remember noticing the wonderful attraction that it had for minds of a certain class (and no very limited class), while for others it was just such an unintelligible farrago of wearisome 'Zeug' as Dante's Paradiso and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony are sometimes said to be.
I believe it is the fashion with certain critics (especially with those who have read it superficially) to speak of the Second Part of Goethe's Faust, as they do of Paradise Regained, with a certain superciliousness, as a superfluous excrescence, the artistically almost worthless product of a mind that had worked itself out and had exhausted its 'Idea.'
The truth is that the first Part is only the merest fragment, and although the subject of Faust is endless and can never be fully treated in any one work of art (the whole poem 'necessarily remaining a fragment,' as Goethe himself said), nevertheless the second Part does solve in one of many possible ways the problem left unsolved by the first half of the poem, namely the final attainment of peace and happiness by the human soul, and it is one of the noblest monuments of the human intellect existing in the literature of the world.
Indeed it is, I think, still more than this. It is not merely a monument of intellect but of poetic imagination, and I am much inclined to believe that the Paradiso of Dante and the Second Part of Goethe's Faust are perhaps two of the best, the most infallible, touchstones for discovering whether we really possess what Tennyson calls the 'poetic heart'—not a trumpery aesthetic imitation but the genuine article.
When Goethe wrote to Schiller announcing his intention of once more taking up his unfinished Faust, Schiller replied: 'My head grows dizzy when I think of it. The subject of Faust appears to supply such an infinity of material.... I find no circle large enough to contain it.' Goethe answered: 'I expect to make my work at this barbarous composition, this Fratze [i.e. caricature, as he often called it] less difficult than you imagine. I shall throw a sop to exorbitant demands rather than try to satisfy them. The whole will always remain a fragment'—a fragment, perhaps we may add, in the same sense as even the grandest Gothic building may be said to be only a part of the infinitely great ideal Gothic structure which will never be seen on earth, whereas in the Parthenon we have, or rather the Athenians in the days of Pericles had, something final and complete, something which will tolerate no addition.
If Schiller's head grew dizzy at the thought of a Faust-drama, I fear that one who has no Schiller head on his shoulders may prove a poor guide among the precipices and ravines of Goethe's life-poem, where the path is often very steep and slippery. But I will do my best; and perhaps I had better treat our subject as I proposed. At first I shall point out a little more distinctly some of the characteristics which distinguish Goethe's drama from the earlier versions of the story. Then I shall try to guide you steadily and rapidly through the action of the first Part, offering whatever comment may seem useful, and now and then perhaps asking you to step aside from the track in order to get a peep over some of the aforementioned precipices.
As we have already seen, one great difference between Goethe's Faust and many older versions of the story (including Marlowe's play, but excluding Lessing's fragment) is the fact that the sinner is saved.
Shortly before his death, in 1832, Goethe wrote to Wilhelm v. Humboldt: 'Sixty years ago, when as a young man I first conceived the idea of my Faust, the whole plan of it lay clearly before me.' From the first therefore Goethe had conceived the second Part as integral to his poem. He knew that, if he were to write a Faust at all, Faust must be saved.
We have already arrived at the edge of one of those precipices of which I spoke—Faust must be saved. But what did Goethe mean, or, to ask a fairer question, what do we ourselves mean, by being saved? No formula of words seems able to provide us with a satisfactory answer. We can indeed use metaphors drawn from the universe of Time and Space—we can speak of 'another world' and of a 'future life'—but as soon as we attempt to conceive such existence sub specie aeternitatis our imagination fails: to use the metaphor of Socrates, we are dazzled by the insupportable radiance of the eternal and infinite, and seek to rest our eyes by turning them toward shadows, reflexions, images: we accept the beautiful image—the enigma (as St. Paul calls it) or allegory—of a heaven in some far interspace of world and world.
As a poet, and especially as a dramatic poet, Goethe, if he treated the subject at all, was compelled to accept some imaginative conception of a future life, and he could scarcely accept any other but that which was in keeping with the old legend—that heaven of angels and saints and penitents which was the converse of the legendary hell and its fiends. Whether however he was justified by the principles of true dramatic art in his attempt to depict his imaginative conception and to place on the stage a representation of heaven may be doubted. Certainly the effect of Goethe's picture, especially when seen on the stage, is such that one cannot but wish some other solution might have been devised, and one feels as if one understood better than before why it was that Shakespeare's dramatic instinct allowed no such lifting of the veil. You remember the last words of the dying Hamlet: 'The rest is silence.'
Thus far therefore we have come: by Faust being saved it is meant that he escapes from the fiend and reaches heaven, reaches the 'higher spheres' of existence, as Goethe expresses it.
But the mere fact of his being saved does not form the essential difference between this drama and earlier versions of the story. The point of real importance is that he is not saved in a downward course by the intervention of some deus ex machina, some orthodox counter-charm. His course is not downward. His yearnings are not for bodily ease and sensual enjoyment but for truth—truth, not to be attained by speculation or scientific research but by action and feeling—by struggling onward through error and sin, and by gaining purification and strength from trial and suffering and resistance to evil; so that evil itself is a means to his salvation and Mephistopheles an instrument of good. Rising on the stepping-stones of his dead self he finds at last a certain measure of peace and is in the end reunited to her whose earthly happiness he had indeed ruined but whose love his heart has never forgotten. Indeed it is her love that is allowed to guide him ever aright and to draw him up to higher spheres.
When we once realize this we also realize how meaningless, or how indescribably less full of meaning, the poem would be without its second Part. And yet many, when they speak of Goethe's Faust, mean merely the first Part—or perhaps merely the little episode of Gretchen given in Gounod's opera.
I spoke of Goethe's gospel of self-salvation. Since doing so I have recalled to memory some words of his which may seem to refute me. In reference to the song of the angels at the end of the poem he wrote as follows: 'These verses contain the key of Faust's salvation: namely, in Faust himself an ever higher and purer aspiration, and from above eternal love coming to his help; and they are in harmony with our religious conceptions, according to which we cannot attain to heaven by our own strength unless it is helped by divine grace.'
It is true that after death Faust's soul is saved from the demons and is carried up to heaven by God's angels, but Goethe's drama is mainly the drama of Faust's earthly life, and from the 'Prologue in Heaven,' where, as it seems, the Deity undertakes not to help him, but leaves him to fight the battle entirely in his own strength, until the last moment of his earthly existence there is no hint whatever, I think, of anything but self-salvation. On no occasion does he show the slightest sense of his own helplessness or of dependence on God's mercy. As for remorse, Goethe regarded it as a false emotion and as unworthy of a man. Although the perfect balance of his mind and his respect for much that he could not himself accept saved him from the almost brutal insouciance of such a form of expression he would probably have agreed with Walt Whitman, who tells us that animals should serve us as an example because 'they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; they do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.'
Let us however dismiss criticism and turn to what Goethe as poet has given us—perhaps the noblest picture that dramatic art can give: that of a man striving onward and upward in his own strength, confronting (as Goethe says in reference to Shakespeare's plays) the inexorable course of the universe with the might of human will. We might take as the Alpha and Omega of Faust these two lines from the poem:
Es irrt der Mensch so lang er strebt,
Nur rastlos betaetigt sich der Mann,
the sense of which is that human nature must ever err as long as it strives, but that true manhood is incessant striving.
It is a noble picture—perhaps the noblest conceivable. You remember Browning's lines:
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.
It will have already become evident what abstruse and insoluble questions present themselves—rise, as it were, like ghosts of many an ancient creed, on every side, as soon as we have crossed the threshold of this great Mausoleum of human thought and imagination. There is the spectre of the great Mystery of existence—of Life and Death and Eternity; and that of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; and that of Evil itself—a phantom assuming at times such a visible and substantial shape and then dissolving into thin air as mere negation. And this Mephistopheles—are we to regard him as a self-existent genuine demon of a genuine Hell, or as our own mind's shadow? Is he something external, something that we can avoid, something that we can put to flight by resisting and get entirely free of—or has each one of us signed with the blood of his human nature a compact with some such spiritual power, with the demonic element within him, with that spirit of negation, of cynicism, of cold unideal utilitarian worldly-wisdom which mocks at faith and love and every high and tender impulse—that part of our nature which, when some poor girl is sinking in the abyss, prompts us to answer our heart's appeal with the sneer of Mephistopheles: 'She isn't the first!'? Surely we can well understand the scorn and contempt which Faust feels for this demon companion of his. 'What canst thou, poor devil, give me?' he exclaims—'Was the human spirit's aspiration Ever understood by such as thou!'
The real action of the play begins with the celebrated monologue of Faust. But this is preceded by a Dedication, by the Prelude in the theatre, and by the Prologue in Heaven, added at various periods of Goethe's life. The Prelude consists of a scene between a poet, a theatrical director and a 'comic person.' It is merely a clever skit in which Goethe has a hit at the public and those who supply it with so-called drama. It has no organic connexion with the play. The Prologue in Heaven begins with the songs of the three Archangels—sonorous verses of majestic harmony, like some grand overture by Bach or Handel. These verses are, I think, meant to intimate the great harmonious order and procession of the natural and moral universe, as Pythagoras intimated them by his 'Music of the Spheres'—those eternal laws against which man, that tiny microcosm, so vainly strives.
Mephistopheles now enters, as in the Book of Job Satan is described entering God's presence, and, just as it happens in the Bible, the Lord asks him if he knows Faust, and, as in the case of Job, it is God himself who not only allows but seems even to challenge the demon to try his powers, foretelling his failure although promising no help to Faust. 'It is left to thee,' says the Lord to Mephistopheles. 'Draw this aspiring spirit from his fountain-head and lead him downward on thy path, if thou canst gain a hold upon him, and stand ashamed when thou shalt have to confess that a good man amidst his dim impulses is well conscious of the right way.'
That which distinguishes this scene from the similar scene in Job is its irreverence. Indeed one might almost call it flippancy, and few would deny that at times this flippancy is painful to them. The only excuse that I can find for it is that, rightly or wrongly, Goethe meant us to be pained. I believe that here Mephistopheles represents especially that element in human nature which is perhaps the meanest and most disgusting of all, namely flippant and vulgar irreverence, and although we may not agree with John Wesley's definition of man as 'half brute, half devil,' most of us will probably allow that a certain part of our nature (that part which Mephistopheles seems to represent) is capable of an irreverence and a vulgarity of which the devil himself might almost be ashamed.
The monologue with which the action of the play begins strikes at once the new chord and gives us the leading motive—one so entirely different from that of the old legend—so indescribably nobler than that which is given in the opening monologue of Marlowe's play. But the old framework is still there. Faust renounces book-learning and betakes himself to magic.
I've studied now philosophy, Jurisprudence and medicine, And e'en, alas, theology From end to end with toil and teen, And here I stand with all my lore, Poor fool, no wiser than before. No dog would live thus any more! Therefore to magic I have turned, If that through spirit-word and power Many a secret may be learned That I may find the inner force Which binds the world and guides its course, Its germs and vital powers explore And peddle with worthless words no more.
Disgusted with the useless quest after that science which deals only with phenomena and their material causes, he turns to magic, as he does in the old legend; but it is here no diabolic medieval wizardry which shall enable him to summon the devil, for, as we shall see, Faust does not summon the devil; Mephistopheles comes to him uncalled. Goethe has merely used this motive of magic to intimate attainment of perfect knowledge of Nature through the might of genius—that revelation of the inner secrets of the universe which he himself, in what he calls the 'Titanic, heaven-storming' period of his life, believed to be attainable by human genius in communion with Nature.
'Nature and Genius' was the watchword of the followers of Rousseau and the apostles of the Sturm und Drang gospel—a return to and communion with Nature, such as Wordsworth preached and practised, and such as Byron also preached but did not practise. Only to the human spirit in full communion with the spirit of Nature, of which it is a part, are revealed her mysteries. All other means, as Faust tells us, are useless.
Mysterious even in the open day Nature within her veil withdraws from view. What to thy spirit she will not display Cannot be wrenched from her with crowbar or with screw.
Faust turns from his dreary little world of books and charts and retorts and skeletons. He opens the window and gazes at the moon floating in her full glory through the heaven. His heart is filled with a yearning to be 'made one with Nature,' and in words which remind one of certain lines of Wordsworth he exclaims:
O might I on some mountain height, Encircled in thy holy light, With spirits hover round crags and caves, O'er the meadows float on the moonlight's waves.
Then, turning from Nature, he casts once more a look around his dreary cell:
Ah me, this dungeon still I see, This drear accursed masonry, Where e'en the welcome daylight strains But duskly through the painted panes, Hemmed in by many a toppling heap Of books worm-eaten, grey with dust, Which to the vaulted ceiling creep Against the smoky paper thrust, With glasses, boxes, round me stacked And instruments together hurled, Ancestral lumber stuffed and packed— Such is my world! And what a world!... Alas! In living Nature's stead, Where God his human creatures set, In smoke and mould the fleshless dead And bones of beasts surround me yet.
He takes up the book of the Mystic astrologer Nostradamus and sees in it the sign, or cipher, of the universe. As he gazes a wondrous vision reveals itself: the mystic lines of the cipher seem to live and move and to form one living whole; and in spirit he beholds the Powers of Nature ascending and descending and reaching to each other golden vessels filled with the waters of life and wafting with their wings blessing and harmony through the universe.
And yet from this vision he turns away dissatisfied:
What wondrous vision! yet a vision only! Where shall I grasp thee, Nature infinite?
And from this cipher of the material universe, this vision of inconceivable immensity and infinite diversity, the human spirit which is not content with the dead bones of science and has entered into communion with Nature cannot but turn away dissatisfied—and even with despair. Let me try to illustrate this in a more matter-of-fact way.
The human mind discovers, let us say, that the earth is not the centre of the universe; that the sun is larger than the 'bottom of a cask,' as in the old legend Faust discovered it to be; that there are other worlds quite as large as ours; that this earth of ours is a good deal smaller than the sun and actually revolves round it; that even the sun itself is not the centre of the universe but one of many suns—one of the countless stars in that enormous starry wreath that surrounds us, and which we call the Milky Way. And we direct our telescopes to this Milky Way and find that what we took for nebula is for the most part an accumulation of countless millions of suns, each perhaps with its planets. Then, as we sweep the sky with our glass, we discover numberless little wreath-like spiral cloudlets, and find that they also are just such wreaths of countless millions of suns and solar systems, and that these seemingly tiny wreaths are revolving round some central body or system, which itself must revolve round some other, and that again round another ... until imagination fails. Is there, we ask, some final centre of all? some unmoved source of motion? Or is the material universe infinite?
Then we turn our gaze in another direction and we find in the tiniest grain of sand countless millions of molecules whose atoms (or electrons), it is said, are in perpetual motion, revolving like the stars. Are then (we ask) the stars themselves nothing but molecules? Is the whole material universe nothing but some grain of sand on the shore of the ocean of eternity?
We turn away dazzled, and we rest our eyes, as Socrates was wont to say, on images, on reflexions. We try to make the mystery intelligible, or at least to pacify the reason by throwing it some such sop as the theory that 'Size is only relative,' or that 'Space is only a mode of consciousness' and therefore nothing real in itself. Or we lull the mind to sleep with imaginative metaphors and speak (as Plato did) of the Central Fire of Hestia, the Hearth and Home of the Universe, or we call that mysterious unmoved centre of all motion the Throne of God. Thus we try to lay the spectre of infinite Space.
Or consider Time instead of Space. In a single second how many waves of light are supposed to enter the eye? About 500 billions I believe. And of these waves some 500 would not exceed the breadth of a hair. Now any being to whom these tiny waves were as slow as the ripples on a pond are to us would live our human life of three score years and ten in the hundredth part of his second, while a being on one of those great worlds of space revolving but once in long aeons around its centre would live—if his life were measured as ours—millions of our years. Here again, in our dazzlement, we have recourse to metaphor and theory: we lay the spectre of Time by explaining it away as merely a 'mode' and as therefore of no objective reality. In other words, dazed and outworn by the incomprehensible infinities of Time and Space we console ourselves with the theory that it is all a mere phenomenon, a projection of our own mind, and with Faust we exclaim
What wondrous vision! yet a vision only!
and in the words of a still greater master of magic than Faust himself we despairingly add that
like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea all that it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made of.
From the cipher of the vast material universe, the Macrocosm, we turn away, as Faust did, with unsatisfied yearnings. Whither then shall we turn? Where shall we grasp Nature—not the empty vision, but the warm living form? It is in our own heart that we find a refuge from the infinities of Space and Time—in that human heart by which we live, in its tenderness, its joys, its fears. Here, and here alone, we find those ultimate facts of existence which need no explanation, and which we accept just as they are, without any questionings. Here we find an infinite universe—no less infinite than that of Space and Time—the universe of feeling.
From the cipher of the Macrocosm Faust turns to that of the Earth-spirit, the spirit of human life and feeling. He is filled with a sudden, passionate yearning to share in the joys and the sorrows and the aspirations and the strivings of humanity:
Thou, Spirit of the Earth, art nearer. I feel my powers loftier, clearer, I glow, as drunk with new-made wine; New strength I feel out in the world to dare, The woes of earth, the bliss of earth to bear, To fight my way, though storms around me lash, Nor know dismay amid the shipwreck's crash.
He calls upon this Earth-spirit, the Spirit of human life. He bends all the might of his human will to draw him down from his sphere. 'Come!' he exclaims. 'Thou must! Thou must!—e'en should it cost my life!' Enveloped in blinding flame the Spirit of life appears. At the apparition Faust cowers back terrified and turns his face away. But it is only for the moment. Stung by the contemptuous words of the phantom he answers: 'Shall I yield to thee, Spectre of flame? 'Tis I, 'tis Faust, thine equal!' The human Mind claims equality with the Spirit of earthly life. But the phantom exclaims: 'Thou art akin to the spirit that thou comprehendest—not to me!'—and disappears. Faust has yet to learn a lesson that the mind of man can never learn of itself, the real nature and meaning of human life. But he has beheld the vision of life, he has received the baptism of fire. Henceforth he is to fight his way through the storms of life and passion—to pass onward and upward and at last to rise to 'higher spheres'; and amidst the fierce and insidious assaults of flesh and devil we shall see that he looks for strength and guidance to this Spirit that appeared to him in the blinding vision of living empyreal flame.
Scarcely has the Earth-spirit vanished when, with a timid knock, there enters Faust's famulus, or assistant, Wagner. He has heard Faust's voice and from its excited tones has concluded that he is practising declamation—reciting perhaps a Greek play. The poor amiable dryasdust literary and scientific worm-grubber, whose maxim of life is Zwar weiss ich viel, doch moecht' ich Alles wissen (I know indeed a good deal, but I want to know Everything), wishes to profit from a lesson in elocution. A scene follows in which the contrast is graphically depicted between this half lovable, half contemptible scientific bookworm and Faust's Titanic heaven-storming aspirations after absolute truth. When he is once more left alone, longing to face the mystery of life but crushed by the contempt of the Earth-spirit, Faust is seized by despair. He shrinks from encountering life, with its delusive joys, its pitiless injustice and its arbitrary fate. He resolves to seek certainty—to solve the riddle of life by death. As he moves the cup of poison to his lips there comes floating through the air the chime of bells and, perhaps from some near chapel, the hymn of Easter morn:
Joy unto mortals! Christ is arisen!
He pauses. Memories of childhood sweep over him, and he yields to the sweet voices that call him back from the threshold of the unseen.
Sound on sweet hymns of heaven! As gentle rain My tears are falling. Earth hath me again.
Thus Faust escapes the cowardly act of suicide and gains new strength through the awakening, for a time at least, of the consciousness, which had slumbered within him since the unreasoning days of childhood, that there is that beyond life which alone makes life worth having.
The next scene shows us Faust already in contact with human nature, as represented by holiday crowds flocking out of the town into the woods and adjacent villages at Eastertide. Those who know Germany well will feel the art with which Goethe at once transports us into the midst of a Germanic Feiertag in spring-time, with its bright sunlight, its throngs of townspeople streaming into the country—happy and merry without vulgar rowdyism; the smugly dressed apprentice and the servant-girl in her Sonntagsputz; the pert student and the demure Buergermaedchen with her new Easter hat and her voluminous-waisted Frau Mama; the sedate school-master or shopkeeper, leading his toddling child; sour-faced officials; grey-locked and spectacled professors and 'town-fathers' discussing the world's news or some local grievance—all flocking countryward, with some Waldhaus or Forsthaus Restaurant as their ultimate goal. And those who know Frankfurt will recognize the scene at once: up there above Sachsenhausen, on the road to the pine-woods and the Jaegerhaus, from which one sees the whole city lying below one, with its great Dom and its medieval gates—the river Main gliding through its midst and glittering away westward toward the Rhine; and in the far background the Taunus range and the dark Feldberg.
Amidst this scene, externally still the more than middle-aged German professor (he must be fifty-seven or so) but with a heart full of newly wakened yearnings for human life with all its joys and passions, Faust wanders, trying to feel sympathy with all these multitudinous human beings, attracted perhaps here and there, but evidently for the most part repelled and discouraged. He has yet to learn that a love for and a knowledge of humanity, such as he finally reaches, must begin with love for and knowledge of one human heart.
As he and Wagner return toward the city Faust gives vent to his pent-up feelings—pours contempt on his own book-learning and wasted life and expresses his yearnings for Nature, and the longing of his spirit for wings to fly away into the infinite:
For in each soul is born the rapture Of yearning upward, and away, When o'er our heads, lost in the azure, The lark sends down her thrilling lay, When over crags and pine-clad highlands The poising eagle slowly soars, And over plains and lakes and islands The crane sails by to other shores.
Whereat Wagner exclaims:
I've had myself at times an odd caprice, But never yet such impulses as these. The woods and fields soon get intensely flat, And as for flight—I never longed for that!
Poor dear Wagner, how well one seems to know thee, with thy purblind spectacled eyes peering into fusty books and parchments, or bending over thy crucibles and retorts! Truly a novel and interesting sight it would be to see thee assuming wings. In thy philosophy there is naught but dreams of elixirs of life or homunculi. Thy highest aspiration nowadays would be to find the mechanical equivalent of thought—to prove that Shakespeare's and Dante's imagination was due only to a slightly abnormal movement of brain-molecules—to find some method of measuring faith, hope and charity in foot-pounds and thine own genius in electric volts. Thou wouldst live and die, as other eminent scientists of these latter days have done, in the certain hope and faith of demonstrating irrefutably that this curious phenomenon which we call 'life' is nothing but the chemical action set up by the carbonic acid and ammonia of the protoplasm.
As they walk and talk there appears a black dog ranging to and fro through a field, as if on the track of game. Ever nearer and nearer he circles, and in his wake, as it appears to Faust, trails a flickering phosphorescent gleam. But Wagner ridicules the idea as an optical delusion. He sees nothing but an ordinary black poodle. 'Call him,' he says, 'and he'll come fawning on you, or sit up and do his tricks, or jump into the water after sticks.' The poodle follows them—and makes himself at home by the stove in Faust's study.
Faust has thus, after his first contact with the outer world of humanity, returned once more to his cell—to the little world of his own thoughts and feelings. He finds himself once more amidst his piled-up books, his crucibles and retorts, his bones and skulls. He lights his lamp and feels the old familiar glow of intellectual satisfaction. But the poodle is there. Faust has brought home with him something that will now haunt him to the last moment of his life. There has been awakened in his nature the germ of that acorn (to use Goethe's metaphor with regard to Hamlet) that will soon strike root and shatter the vase in which it is planted.
At present he is almost unconscious of this new presence. He is buried in thought, and his thoughts lead him toward the question of Revelation. He is drawn to take up a Bible and turns, with a mind full of metaphysical curiosity, to the passage 'In the beginning was the [Greek: logos]—the Word.' More than once there comes from the poodle a growl of disapprobation. Faust threatens to turn him out, and proceeds with his biblical criticism.... 'In the beginning was the [Greek: logos].' How shall he translate [Greek: logos]? It cannot mean merely a 'word.' ... A word must have meaning, thought—and thought is nothing without act.... So this 'Word,' this 'Logos,' must be translated as Act or Deed.
These speculations are interrupted by horrible growlings, barks, and howlings. As Faust looks towards the poodle he sees it rapidly swelling up into a monstrous form—huger than an elephant or hippopotamus, with fiery eyes and enormous tusks in its gaping mouth. He tries to exorcise the phantom with 'Solomon's key' and other magic formulae, and at length, when he threatens it with the mystic formula of the Trinity, it dissolves into mist, and out of the mist steps forth Mephistopheles, dressed as a 'travelling scholar'—an itinerant professor, or quack doctor.
I find that some commentators accuse Goethe of dramatic inconsistency and of interrupting the sequence of the action, because he makes Faust for a time return to his old speculations, and because Mephistopheles does not at once appear in the shape with which we are so familiar—with his 'red gold-trimmed dress and mantle of stiff silk and the cock-feathers in his hat,' the type of the dissolute man-about-town of the period. To me it seems very natural that, dispirited by his first contact with the outer world—unable to feel any real sympathy with the rollicking and sleek self-sufficiency of that holiday crowd, Faust should turn again to reflexion and speculation, and that when he is in this depressed and metaphysical mood the demonic element in his nature should first present itself—and that too in the disguise of an itinerant professor. For is it not the case that to many of us the devil has come first just at such a time and in just such disguise?
Questioned as to his name and personality, Mephisto defines himself (he too being in a metaphysical mood) as 'the spirit of negation,' and as 'a part of that power which always wills evil and always works good'—'a part of that darkness which alone existed before the creation of light'—and he expresses the hope that, as light is dependent for its existence on the material world, both it and the world will ere long return to chaos and darkness. I have already touched upon this question of Evil as merely negative—merely a part of the whole—and will not detain you further over it.
Mephistopheles now wishes to take his leave, promising to visit Faust again. 'Visit me as you like,' says Faust, 'and now—there is the window! there's the door! or the chimney is at your service.' But the devil must go out by the same way as he has entered, and on the threshold to keep out evil spirits Faust has painted a mystic pentagram, a figure with five points, the outer angle of which, being inaccurately drawn, had left a gap through which Mephisto had slipped in; but being once in, as in a mouse-trap, he cannot get out again.
As Faust now seems inclined to keep him prisoner, Mephistopheles summons spirits, who sing Faust to sleep. Then he calls a rat to gnaw a gap in the pentagram, and escapes.
When, in the next scene, Mephistopheles again appears, Faust is in a very different state of mind, and Mephistopheles is also in a different shape. He is decked out with silken mantle and with cock-feathers in his hat, ready for any devilry. Faust is in the depths of morbid despair and bitterness at the thought of life:
'What from the world have I to gain?— Thou must renounce! renounce! refrain! Such is the everlasting song That fills our ears our whole life long ... With horror day by day I wake And weeping watch the morning break To think that each returning sun Shall see fulfilled no wish of mine—not one.'
He vows he would rather die. 'And yet,' sarcastically remarks Mephisto, 'some one a night or two ago did not drink a certain brown liquid.' Stung by the sarcasm, Faust breaks out into curses against life, against love and hope, and faith ... and 'cursed be patience most of all!'
Here is the devil's opportunity. 'Life is yours yet, and all its pleasures. Of what's beyond you nothing know. Give up all this morbid thinking, these dreams and self-delusions! Be a man! Enjoy life! Plunge into pleasures of the senses! I will be your guide and show you the life worth living!'
In an ecstasy of embitterment and despair, though fully conscious that such a life can never bring him satisfaction and happiness, Faust exclaims: 'What wilt thou, poor devil, give me? Was the human spirit, in its aspirations, ever understood by such as thou?... And yet—hast thou the food that never satiates—hast thou red gold—hast thou love, passionate faithless love—hast thou the fruits that rot before one plucks them—hast thou the fruits of that tree of sensual pleasure which daily puts forth new blossoms—then done! I accept.' 'But if,' he adds (and, alas, I must give merely the sense of these noble verses—for all translation is so unutterably flat)—'if I ever lay myself on the bed of idle self-content, if ever thou canst fool me with these phantoms of the senses, if ever I say to the passing moment, Stay; thou art so fair!—then let my life be ended. This wager I offer thee.' 'Topp!' ('Done!') exclaims Mephistopheles; and, as you know, the compact is signed by Faust with his own blood.
You will observe that here there is no mention, as in the old legend, of any term of years—the compact is for life. Of what may come after this life Faust makes no mention in his wager. He expressly says that all he cares about, all he can know, is this life, and that he will hear nothing about any future life. This may be agnosticism or whatever else we like to call it, but it is not formally selling one's soul, with or without one's body, for a future life and for all eternity.
Moreover Faust has not summoned the devil. The devil has come to him—is indeed a part of him. He does not league himself with a hell-fiend for the sake of worldly power or fame or sensual enjoyment, of which he speaks with contempt. He only offers to come forward into the battle of life and of passions to test the nobler powers and the deeper beliefs and the yet dim aspirations of his better nature against the powers of evil, against what he calls the 'cold devil's-fist' of negation and cynicism and disbelief, against the brute within the man.
Thou hearest me! I do not speak of joy— I dedicate myself to passion—pleasure—pain— Enamour'd hate, and rapture of disdain. What's highest or what's lowest I will know, And heap upon my bosom weal and woe.
Footsteps are now heard approaching. It is one of Faust's scholars. Faust 'has no heart to meet him'—and no wonder. He goes; and Mephistopheles, throwing around him Faust's professorial mantle and placing the professorial cap upon his head, awaits the scholar. The scene which ensues, in which Mephisto gives the young aspirant for knowledge his diabolic advice and his diabolic views on Science, Logic, Metaphysics, Medicine and even Theology—would offer ample material for a very long course of lectures; but as it is one which is not closely connected with the main action of the play it will have to be omitted. The scholar retires—his poor young head whirling round like a mill-wheel with the advice he has received and carrying away his album, in which the devil has inscribed his favourite text 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.' Then Faust re-enters, Mephistopheles spreads out his silken cape, and on it the two fly away through the air on their adventures—first through the small and then the greater world—first the world of personal feelings and passions, then the greater world (is it really greater?) of art and politics and Humanity.
Faust had said, as you remember,
What wilt thou, poor devil, give me? Was the human spirit, in its aspirations Ever understood by such as thou?
This is the leading motive of all that follows. With ever-deepening disgust and contempt Faust, in his quest for truth through the jungles and quagmires of human passions, follows his guide. If ever Faust seems to catch sight of any far-off vision of eternal truth and beauty—as he does at times in his love for Gretchen, and again in his passion for ideal beauty in Helen, and once again in that devotion to the cause of Humanity which finally allows him to express a satisfaction in life, and thus causes his life to end—if ever Faust shows any sign of real interest or satisfaction, it is just then that Mephistopheles displays most clearly his utter inability to understand the 'human spirit in its aspirations'; and it is then that he shows most plainly his own diabolic nature, pouring out his cynical contempt and gnashing his teeth at what he deems Faust's irrational disgust for all those bestialities that seem to him (Mephistopheles) the sweetest joys of existence.
His very first attempt is a dead failure. He has carried Faust off through the air to Leipzig, and here he brings him into what to the Mephisto-nature doubtless seems highly desirable and entertaining company—to the 'sing-song' (as I believe it is called in England) of tippling brawling students. The scene is Auerbach's Cellar, a well-known Leipzig 'Kneipe'—a kind of Wine taproom or Bodega. Among these brawling comic-songsters Mephistopheles is in his element, and he treats them to a comic ditty:
Of old there lived a king, Who had a great big flea As dear as any thing, Or any son, could be ...
and so on. We need not linger over the repulsive scene—so graphically described.
Finally Mephistopheles bores holes in the table and draws wine from them.
The students come to handicuffs over it; they spill the wine, and it turns into flame.
Amidst their drunken uproar Faust and Mephistopheles disappear.
During the whole of this scene Faust speaks no single word, except a curt but polite greeting on entering the Cellar and an appeal to Mephistopheles to take him away from this 'scene of swinish bestiality.' How different from the part that Faust plays in the old story where he himself, not Mephistopheles, joins in the revelry and buffoonery!
Auerbach's Cellar existed till lately, though the house above it had been rebuilt. It was the original 'Keller' that is mentioned in the old legend. In it were to be seen two old pictures (with the date 1525). One represented Faust sitting at table with students; in the other he is flying off through the door astride on a wine cask.
A weird scene now ensues: the Witches' Kitchen.
Faust had asked how it was possible for him, the thought-worn grey-haired professor, to care for, or take part in, what Mephistopheles looked upon as 'life.' Mephistopheles therefore takes him to a witch, from whom he is to receive a magic draught that will 'strip off some thirty years from his body,' so that he becomes a young, man of, say, about twenty-seven. This scene in the Witches' Kitchen is sometimes said to represent allegorically a long course of dissipation through which Mephistopheles takes Faust, and which of course could not be represented otherwise without extending the action of the play beyond all reasonable limits. It is true that, after the draught Faust's character seems considerably changed for the worse. He develops a recklessness and a licentiousness which scandalize even Mephistopheles himself, who tells him that he is 'almost as bad as a Frenchman.'
Whether we should understand it thus, or not, I do not feel quite sure, but anyhow we have in future—to the end of the first Part—to take into account the fact that, although loathing all such swinish sensuality as that of tippling students, and hating all forms of mean selfishness and cunning and hypocrisy, Faust is (as so often is the case with otherwise noble and lovable men) open to assault at that point where, as nowhere else, the sensuous and ideal in our human nature seem to touch and coalesce.
When they enter the Witch is not at home. In the midst of the kitchen is a large cauldron, and at its side, skimming it and seeing that it does not run over is a Meerkatze—a kind of female ape. The Meerkater, or male ape, squats by the fire, warming himself, and near by are several young apes. Mephistopheles is enraptured at the sight of the 'tender pretty beasts,' but Faust finds them more disgusting than anything he has ever seen.
The apes perform all kinds of antics and chatter a weird medley of half sense, half nonsense, in which one can dimly discern satirical allusions to various forms of the literary, political, and religious cant of Goethe's generation.
The animals enthrone Mephistopheles in a chair, give him a feather brush for a sceptre, and offer him a broken crown, which he is to glue together with 'sweat and blood.' It is like some horrid nightmare. We feel as if we were going mad; and so does Faust himself. But suddenly he catches sight of a magic mirror, in which he sees a form of ravishing beauty—not that of Gretchen or Helen, but some form of ideal loveliness. He stands there entranced.
But at this moment the cauldron boils over. A great flame shoots up the chimney. With a scream the witch comes clattering down, and launches curses at the intruders—not recognising the devil in his costume as modern roue. He abuses her roundly and tells her that his horns, tail and cloven hoof are gone out of fashion, modern culture having tabooed them; and he forbids her to address him as Satan. That name is not up-to-date: he is now 'der Herr Baron.'
With a hocus-pocus of incantations she brews the magic draught, which Faust drinks. He is then hurried away by Mephistopheles back into the world of humanity.
We have now come to the story of Margarete or Gretchen, which by many, perhaps by most, is looked upon as constituting the main subject of Goethe's Faust. It is doubtless the part which attracts one, which appeals to one's heart, more than any other, and it forms by itself a pathetic little tragedy. The story itself is merely the old sad story of passion, weakness and misery, which has been told thousands of times in all ages and all languages.
It would be worse than useless to endeavour by any dissecting process to discover how by some act of creative power Goethe has inspired this little story with such wondrous vitality that there is probably in all literature scarcely any character that lives for us, that seems so real, as Gretchen. Possibly to feel this one needs a knowledge of the original poem and an acquaintance not only with that Germany which is generally known to the English visitor, but also with just that class of which Gretchen is typical, and with just those little ways and those forms of expression which are peculiar to that class and to the part of Germany to which Gretchen belonged. Every single word that she utters is so absolutely true to nature that we seem to hear the voice of some real living Gretchen, and can hardly believe that she merely exists in our imagination. This may perhaps be asserted of other poetic creations; but I confess that I know no other, not even in Shakespeare, that produces on me quite the same kind of illusion. Homer's Nausicaa, the Antigone and Electra of Sophocles, Rosalind, Miranda, Imogen, Portia, Cordelia—all these live for me, but not quite as Gretchen. Their presence I feel as something living, but a little visionary. Gretchen I can see, and hear and almost touch. I need not recount at length her story, for it is too well known. I need only recall to you memories of certain facts and scenes: that first meeting in the street; the mysterious presents from the unknown lover; the meeting in the neighbour's garden and Gretchen's innocent prattlings about her home life; Faust's growing passion, and the vain battlings of his higher nature; the insidious promptings and cynical ridicule of his demonic companion; the song of Gretchen at her spinning-wheel; her loving anxiety as to Faust's religious opinions, and his celebrated confession of faith; the sleeping draught by which Gretchen causes the death of her mother; her shame, remorse and despair; Gretchen kneeling with her gift of tear-sprent flowers before the Virgin's image; the return of her brother, the young soldier, Valentin, and his death—stabbed by her lover (or rather by Mephisto) at night beneath her window, and cursing her as he dies; the scene in the Cathedral; the pealing organ and the solemn tones of the Dies Irae mingling with the terrible words of the accusing spirit, till Gretchen sinks fainting to the ground.