HotFreeBooks.com
The Youth of Goethe
by Peter Hume Brown
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE YOUTH OF GOETHE

BY P. HUME BROWN, LL.D., F.B.A.

LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W. 1913



TO

THE VISCOUNT HALDANE OF CLOAN, LORD CHANCELLOR OF GREAT BRITAIN.

MY DEAR CHANCELLOR,—AS THE "ONLY BEGETTER" OF THIS BOOK, IT SEEMS ALMOST OBLIGATORY THAT IT SHOULD BE ASSOCIATED WITH YOUR NAME.

THE AUTHOR.



GOETHE'S BIOGRAPHIE.

"Anfangs ist es ein Punkt der leise zum Kreise sich oeffnet, Aber, wachsend, umfasst dieser am Ende die Welt."

FRIEDRICH HEBBEL.

"In the beginning a point that soft to the circle expandeth, But the circle at length, growing, enclaspeth the world."



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS IN FRANKFORT

1749—1765

PAGE

GOETHE'S BIRTHPLACE AND ITS INFLUENCE ON HIM 1 PERIOD OF HIS BIRTH 4 HIS FATHER 6 HIS MOTHER 8 HIS SISTER 10 FAMILY FRIENDS 11 HIS EDUCATION 12 RELIGIOUS INFLUENCES 14 THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR 18 FRENCH OCCUPATION OF FRANKFORT 19 GOETHE'S FIRST LOVE 21 DESTINED FOR THE STUDY OF LAW 23 THE BOY THE FATHER OF THE MAN 25 HIS CHARACTER AND EARLY TASTES 27

CHAPTER II

STUDENT IN LEIPZIG

OCTOBER, 1765—SEPTEMBER, 1768

GOES TO LEIPZIG 29 HIS WILD LIFE THERE 29 SOCIETY OF LEIPZIG 31 HIS IRREGULAR STUDIES 33 ADOPTS LEIPZIG FASHIONS 35 FEMININE INFLUENCES 36 DANDYISM 37 FALLS IN LOVE WITH KAeTHCHEN SCHOeNKOPF 38 FRIENDSHIP WITH BEHRISCH 39 HIS RELATIONS TO KAeTHCHEN 40 MISCELLANEOUS INTERESTS 44 FRIENDSHIP WITH OESER 46 STATE OF GERMAN LITERATURE 48 POEMS OF THE PERIOD 49 DIE LAUNE DES VERLIEBTEN 51 DIE MITSCHULDIGEN 52 INSPIRATION 54

CHAPTER III

AT HOME IN FRANKFORT

SEPTEMBER, 1768—APRIL, 1770

RETURNS TO FRANKFORT 57 HIS BROKEN HEALTH 58 RELATIONS TO HIS FATHER 58 HIS SISTER 60 INTEREST IN RELIGION 61 FRIENDSHIP WITH FRAeULEIN VON KLETTENBERG 62 A MYSTERIOUS MEDICINE 63 EVOLVES A RELIGIOUS CREED 65 INFLUENCE OF FRAeULEIN VON KLETTENBERG 66 INTEREST IN LITERATURE AND ART 67 LESSING AND WIELAND 70 RIPENING POWERS 71

CHAPTER IV

GOETHE IN STRASSBURG

APRIL, 1770—AUGUST, 1771

SETTLEMENT IN STRASSBURG 75 INFLUENCES OF STRASSBURG 75 CHANGE IN HIS RELIGIOUS FEELINGS 76 MANNER OF LIFE IN STRASSBURG 78 FRIENDSHIP WITH DR. SALZMANN 79 RELATIONS TO JUNG STILLING 83 COMES UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF HERDER 84 YOUNG'S CONJECTURES ON ORIGINAL COMPOSITION 90 ITS INFLUENCE ON GOETHE'S GENIUS 93 FRIEDERIKE BRION 95 HIS RELATIONS TO HER 96 PARTING FROM HER 101 MISCELLANEOUS STUDIES 102 SELF-DISCIPLINE 103 POEMS ADDRESSED TO FRIEDERIKE 105

CHAPTER V

FRANKFORT—GOeTZ VON BERLICHINGEN

AUGUST, 1771—DECEMBER, 1771

GOETHE'S RETURN TO FRANKFORT 108 CREATIVE PRODUCTIVENESS OF THE PERIOD 108 POET OR ARTIST? 111 MENTAL CONFLICT 112 EPOCHS IN HIS LAST FRANKFORT YEARS 113 HIS SISTER CORNELIA 116 GROWING DISTASTE FOR FRANKFORT 117 DEPRESSION 119 WORSHIP OF SHAKESPEARE 120 GOeTZ VON BERLICHINGEN 121 ITS INFLUENCE ON EUROPEAN LITERATURE 131

CHAPTER VI

INFLUENCE OF MERCK AND THE DARMSTADT CIRCLE

1772

FRIENDSHIP WITH MERCK 133 CHARACTER OF MERCK 133 HIS INFLUENCE ON GOETHE 135 THE DARMSTADT CIRCLE 136 ITS INFLUENCE ON GOETHE 136 CAROLINE FLACHSLAND AND GOETHE 137 POEMS OF GOETHE INSPIRED BY THE DARMSTADT CIRCLE 138 WANDERERS STURMLIED 139 DER WANDERER 141

CHAPTER VII

WETZLAR AND CHARLOTTE BUFF

MAY—SEPTEMBER, 1772

DEPARTURE FROM WETZLAR 143 WETZLAR AND ITS SOCIETY 144 LOTTE BUFF 147 GOETHE'S RELATIONS TO HER 147 KESTNER, LOTTE'S BETROTHED 148 GOETHE, KESTNER, AND LOTTE 149 DEPARTURE FROM WETZLAR 150 KESTNER'S CHARACTERISATION OF GOETHE 151

CHAPTER VIII

AFTER WETZLAR

1772—1773

SUICIDE OF JERUSALEM 154 GOETHE VISITS THE FAMILY VON LA ROCHE 155 FRAU VON LA ROCHE 155 MAXIMILIANE VON LA ROCHE 157 UNREST 158 LETTERS TO KESTNER 159 ESTRANGEMENT FROM HIS FATHER 161 SOLITUDE 162

CHAPTER IX

SATIRICAL DRAMAS AND FRAGMENTS

POET OR ARTIST? 163 LITERARY ACTIVITY 164 FRANKFURTER GELEHRTEN ANZEIGEN 165 LETTER OF THE PASTOR 166 TWO BIBLICAL QUESTIONS 167 RECASTS GOeTZ VON BERLICHINGEN 167 SATIRICAL PLAYS 169 PROMETHEUS 175 MAHOMET 181 ADLER UND TAUBE 183 KUeNSTLERS ERDEWALLEN 184

CHAPTER X

WERTHERCLAVIGO

1774

GOETHE'S NEED OF EXTERNAL STIMULUS 185 GOETHE AND THE BRENTANOS 186 ORIGIN OF WERTHER 187 ENGLISH INFLUENCE ON WERTHER 188 PUBLICATION OF WERTHER 189 GOETHE AND WERTHER 190 SECOND PART OF WERTHER 191 WERTHER AND GOETHE 193 INFLUENCE OF WERTHER 196 THE KESTNERS AND WERTHER 198 WERTHERISM 199 CLAVIGO 200 DRAMATISED FROM BEAUMARCHAIS 200 ORIGIN OF CLAVIGO 202 ITS PLOT 202 CONSTRUCTED ON CLASSICAL MODELS 205 CLAVIGO AND GOETHE 206

CHAPTER XI

GOETHE AND SPINOZA—DER EWIGE JUDE

1773—1774

GOETHE'S DEBT TO SPINOZA 209 MISDATES SPINOZA'S INFLUENCE 210 DER EWIGE JUDE 212 ORIGINAL PLAN OF IT 213 AS IT WAS ACTUALLY WRITTEN 216 ITS DIVISIONS 216 ITS CHARACTERISTICS 216 UNPUBLISHED TILL AFTER GOETHE'S DEATH 218

CHAPTER XII

GOETHE IN SOCIETY

1774

JOHANN KASPAR LAVATER 220 HIS CHARACTER 220 HIS INTEREST IN GOETHE 222 VISITS FRANKFORT 224 HIS INTERCOURSE WITH GOETHE 225 JOHANN BERNHARD BASEDOW 227 HIS CHARACTER AND CAREER 227 HIS VISIT TO FRANKFORT 228 GOETHE, LAVATER, AND BASEDOW AT EMS 228 THEIR VOYAGE DOWN THE RHINE 230 JUNG STILLING 231 SCENE AT ELBERFELDT 232 FRITZ JACOBI 233 GOETHE MAKES HIS ACQUAINTANCE 233 THEIR INTERCOURSE 234 JACOBI'S ESTIMATE OF GOETHE 237 KLOPSTOCK 238 GOETHE'S ADMIRATION OF HIM 238 THEIR MEETING IN FRANKFORT 239 AN SCHWAGER KRONOS 240 BOIE AND WERTHES ON GOETHE 241 MAJOR VON KNEBEL AND GOETHE 242 GOETHE AND THE PRINCES OF WEIMAR 243 VON KNEBEL ON GOETHE 244 DEATH OF FRAeULEIN VON KLETTENBERG 245

CHAPTER XIII

LILI SCHOeNEMANN

1775

THE SCHOeNEMANN FAMILY 247 GOETHE'S INTRODUCTION TO LILI SCHOeNEMANN 248 HIS SUBSEQUENT MEMORY OF HER 249 LILI COMPARED WITH HIS PREVIOUS LOVES 250 GOETHE'S SONGS ADDRESSED TO HER 251 COUNTESS STOLBERG 253 GOETHE'S RELATIONS TO HER 253 ERWIN UND ELMIRE 255 STELLA 257 CLAUDINE VON VILLA BELLA 263 A DISTRACTED LOVER 266 BETROTHED TO LILI 268 SHRINKS FROM MARRIAGE 269 COUNTS STOLBERG IN FRANKFORT 270 GOETHE STARTS WITH THEM FOR SWITZERLAND 271 VISITS HIS SISTER AT EMMENDINGEN 273 WITH LAVATER IN ZURICH 275 ACCOMPANIES PASSAVANT TO ST. GOTHARD 276 LYRICS TO LILI 276 RETURN TO FRANKFORT 278

CHAPTER XIV

LAST MONTHS IN FRANKFORT—THE URFAUST

1775

RELATIONS TO LILI ON HIS RETURN 279 A CRISIS IN THEIR RELATIONS 281 MISCELLANEOUS INTERESTS 282 ESTIMATES OF GOETHE BY SULZER AND ZIMMERMANN 283 INVITATION TO WEIMAR 284 PROPOSED JOURNEY TO ITALY 285 A DELAYED MESSENGER 286 DEPARTS FOR WEIMAR 287 EGMONT AND THE URFAUST 287 THE URFAUST 288 CHARACTERISTICS 293



PREFACE

"Generally speaking," Goethe has himself said, "the most important period in the life of an individual is that of his development—the period which, in my case, breaks off with the detailed narrative of Dichtung und Wahrheit." In reality, as we know, there is no complete breach at any point in the lives of either nations or individuals. But if in the life of Goethe we are to fix upon a dividing point, it is his departure from Frankfort and his permanent settlement in Weimar in his twenty-seventh year. Considered externally, that change of his surroundings is the most obvious event in his career, and for the world at large marks its division into two well-defined periods. In relation to his inner development his removal from Frankfort to Weimar may also be regarded as the most important fact in his life. From the date of his settlement in Weimar he was subjected to influences which equally affected his character and his genius; had he continued to make his home in Frankfort, it is probable that, both as man and literary artist, he would have developed characteristics essentially different from those by which the world knows him. There were later experiences—notably his Italian journey and his intercourse with Schiller—which profoundly influenced him, but none of these experiences penetrated his being so permanently as the atmosphere of Weimar, which he daily breathed for more than half a century.

As Goethe himself has said, the first twenty-six years of his life are essentially the period of his "development." During that period we see him as he came from Nature's hand. His words, his actions have then a stamp of spontaneity which they gradually lost with advancing years as the result of his social and official relations in Weimar. He has told us that it was one of the painful conditions of his position there that it made impossible that frank and cordial relation with others which it was his nature to seek, and from which he had previously derived encouragement and stimulus; as a State official, he adds, he could be on easy terms with nobody without running the risk of a petition for some favour which he might or might not be able to confer.

For the portrayal of the youthful Goethe materials are even superabundant; of no other genius of the same order, indeed, have we a record comparable in fulness of detail for the same period of life. And it is this abundance of information and the extraordinary individuality to whom it relates that give specific interest to any study of Goethe's youth. From month to month, even at times from day to day, we can trace the growth of his character, of his opinions, of his genius. And the testimonies of his contemporaries are unanimous as to the unique impression he made upon them. "He will always remain to me one of the most extraordinary apparitions of my life," wrote one; and he expressed the opinion of all who had the discernment to appreciate originality of gifts and character. What they found unique in him was inspiration, passion, a zest of life, at a pressure that foreshadowed either a remarkable career or (at times his own dread) disaster.

It was said of Goethe in his latest years that the world would come to believe that there had been, not one, but many Goethes; and, as we follow him through the various stages of his youth, we receive the same impression. It results from this manifoldness of his nature that he defies every attempt to formulate his characteristics at any period of his life. In the present study of him the object has been to let his own words and actions speak for themselves; any conclusions that may be suggested, the reader will thus have it in his own power to check.

After Goethe's own writings, the works to which I have been chiefly indebted are Goethes Gespraeche, Gesamtausgabe von Freiherrn v. Biedermann, Leipzig, 1909-11 (5 vols.), in which are collected references to Goethe by his contemporaries; and Der junge Goethe: Neue Ausgabe in sechs Baenden, besorgt von Max Morris, Leipzig, 1910-12, containing the literary and artistic productions of Goethe previous to his settlement in Weimar. The references throughout are to the Weimar edition of Goethe's works. Except where otherwise indicated, the author is responsible for the translations, both in prose and verse.

I have cordially to express my gratitude to Dr. G. Schaaffs, Lecturer in German in the University of St. Andrews, and to Mr. Frank C. Nicholson, Librarian in the University of Edinburgh, for the trouble they took in revising my proofs.

P.H.B.

Edinburgh.



THE YOUTH OF GOETHE



CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS IN FRANKFORT

1749—1765

In his seventy-fifth year Goethe remarked to his secretary, Eckermann, that he had always been regarded as one of fortune's chiefest favourites, and he admitted the general truth of the impression, though with significant reserves. "In truth," he added, "there has been nothing but toil and trouble, and I can affirm that throughout my seventy-five years I have not had a month's real freedom from care."[1] Goethe's biographers are generally agreed that his good fortune began with his birth, and that the circumstances of his childhood and boyhood were eminently favourable for his future development. Yet Goethe himself apparently did not, in his reserves, make an exception even in favour of these early years; and, as we shall see, we have other evidence from his own hand that these years were not years of unmingled happiness and of entirely auspicious augury.

[Footnote 1: Gespraeche mit Eckermann, January 27th, 1824.]

In one circumstance, at least, Goethe appears to have considered himself well treated by destiny. From the vivid and sympathetic description he has given of his native city of Frankfort-on-the-Main we may infer that he considered himself fortunate in the place of his birth.[2] It is concurrent testimony that, at the date of Goethe's birth, no German city could have offered greater advantages for the early discipline of one who was to be Germany's national poet. Its situation was central, standing as it did on the border line between North and South Germany. No German city had a more impressive historic past, the memorials of which were visible in imposing architectural remains, in customs, and institutions. It was in Frankfort that for generations the German Emperors had received their crowns; and the spectacle of one of these ceremonies remained a vivid memory in Goethe's mind throughout his long life. For the man Goethe the actual present counted for more than the most venerable past;[3] and, as a boy, he saw in Frankfort not only the reminders of former generations, but the bustling activities of a modern society. The spring and autumn fairs brought traders from all parts of Germany and from the neighbouring countries; and ships from every part of the globe deposited their miscellaneous cargoes on the banks of the river Main. In the town itself there were sights fitted to stir youthful imagination; and the surrounding country presented a prospect of richness and variety in striking contrast to the tame environs of Goethe's future home in Weimar. Dr. Arnold used to say that he knew from his pupils' essays whether they had seen London or the sea, because the sight of either of these objects seemed to suggest a new measure of things. Frankfort, with its 30,000 inhabitants, with its past memories and its bustling present, was at least on a sufficient scale to suggest the conception of a great society developing its life under modern conditions. For Goethe, who was to pass most of his days in a town of some 7,000 inhabitants, and to whom no form of human activity was indifferent, it was a fortunate destiny that he did not, like Herder, pass his most receptive years in a petty village remote from the movements of the great world.[4] In these years he was able to accumulate a store of observations and experiences which laid a solid foundation for all his future thinking.

[Footnote 2: In 1792, on the occasion of his being offered the honour of Rathsherr (town-councillor) in Frankfort, he wrote to his mother that "it was an honour, not only in the eyes of Europe, but of the whole world, to have been a citizen of Frankfort." (Goethe to his mother, December 24th, 1792). So, in 1824, he told Bettina von Arnim that, had he had the choice of his birthplace, he would have chosen Frankfort. As we shall see, Goethe did not always speak so favourably of Frankfort.]

[Footnote 3:

Die Abgeschiednen betracht' ich gern, Stuend' ihr Verdienst auch noch so fern; Doch mit den edlen lebendigen Neuen Mag ich wetteifernd mich lieber freuen.]

[Footnote 4: In his later years Goethe preferred life in a small town. "Zwar ist es meiner Natur gemaess, an einem kleinen Orte zu leben." (Goethe to Zelter, December 16th, 1804.)]

If Goethe was fortunate in the place of his birth, was he equally fortunate in its date (1749)? He has himself given the most explicit of answers to the question. In a remarkable paper, written at the age of forty-six, he has described the conditions under which he and his contemporaries produced their works in the different departments of literature. The paper had been called forth by a violent and coarse attack, which he described as literarischer Sansculottismus, on the writers of the period, and with a testiness unusual with him he took up their defence. Under what conditions, he asks, do classical writers appear? Only, he answers, when they are members of a great nation and when great events are moving that nation at a period in its history when a high state of culture has been reached by the body of its people. Only then can the writer be adequately inspired and find to his hand the materials requisite to the production of works of permanent value. But, at the epoch when he and his contemporaries entered on their career, none of these conditions existed. There was no German nation, there was no standard of taste, no educated public opinion, no recognised models for imitation; and in these circumstances Goethe finds the explanation of the shortcomings of the generation of writers to which he belonged.

On the truth of these conclusions Goethe's adventures as a literary artist are the all-sufficient commentary. From first to last he was in search of adequate literary forms and of worthy subjects; and, as he himself admits, he not unfrequently went astray in the quest. On his own word, therefore, we may take it that under other conditions he might have produced more perfect works than he has actually given us. Yet the world has had its compensations from those hampering conditions under which his creative powers were exercised. In the very attempt to grope his way to the most expressive forms of artistic presentation all the resources of his mind found their fullest play. It is in the variety of his literary product, unparalleled in the case of any other poet, that lies its inexhaustible interest; between Goetz von Berlichingen and the Second Part of Faust what a range of themes and forms does he present for his readers' appreciation! And to the anarchy of taste and judgment that prevailed when Goethe began his literary career we in great measure owe another product of his manifold activities. He has been denied a place in the very first rank of poets, but by the best judges he is regarded as the greatest master of literary and artistic criticism. But, had he found fixed and acknowledged standards in German national literature and art, there would have been less occasion for his searching scrutiny of the principles which determine all art and literature. As it was, he was led from the first to direct his thoughts to the consideration of these principles; and the result is a body of reflections, marking every stage of his own development, on life, literature, and art, which, in the opinion of critics like Edmond Scherer and Matthew Arnold, gave him his highest claim to the consideration of posterity.

As human lot goes, Goethe was fortunate in his home and his home relations, though in the case of both there were disadvantages which left their mark on him throughout his later life. He was born in the middle-class, the position which, according to Schiller, is most favourable for viewing mankind as a whole, and, therefore, advantageous for a poet who, like Goethe, was open to universal impressions. Though his maternal grandfather was chief magistrate of Frankfort, and his father was an Imperial Councillor, the family did not belong to the elite of the city; Goethe, brilliant youth of genius though he was, was not regarded as an eligible match for the daughter of a Frankfort banker. It was the father who was the dominating figure in the home life of the family; and the relations between father and son emphasise the fact that the early influences under which the son grew up left something to be desired. Their permanent mutual attitude was misunderstanding, resulting from imperfect sympathy. "If"—so wrote Goethe in his sixty-fourth year regarding his father and himself—"if, on his part as well as on the son's, a suggestion of mutual understanding had entered into our relationship, much might have been spared to us both. But that was not to be!" It is with dutiful respect but with no touch of filial affection that Goethe has drawn his father's portrait in Dichtung und Wahrheit. As the father is there depicted, he is the embodiment of Goethe's own definition of a Philistine—one naturally incapable of entering into the views of other people.[5] Yet Goethe might have had a worse parent; for, according to his lights, the father spared no pains to make his son an ornament of his generation. Strictly conscientious, methodical, with a genuine love of art and letters, he did his best to furnish his son with every accomplishment requisite to distinction in the walk of life for which he destined him—the profession of law, in which he had himself failed through the defects of his temperament. Directly and indirectly, he himself took in hand his son's instruction, but without appreciation or consideration of the affinities of a mind with precociously developed instincts. The natural result of the father's pedantic solicitude was that his son came to see in him the schoolmaster rather than the parent. Knowledge in abundance was conveyed, but of the moulding influence of parental sympathy there was none. What dubious consequences followed from these relations of father and son we shall afterwards see.

[Footnote 5: To Chancellor von Mueller Goethe said: "Mein Vater war ein tuechtiger Mann, aber freilich fehlte ihm Gewandtheit und Beweglichkeit des Geistes."]

Goethe's mother has found a place in German hearts which is partly due to the portrait which her son has drawn of her, but still more to the impression conveyed by her own recorded sayings and correspondence. Goethe's tone, when he speaks of his father, is always cool and critical; of his mother, on the other hand, he speaks with the feelings of a grateful son, conscious of the deep debt he owed to her.[6] His relations to her in his later years have exposed him to severe animadversion, but their mutual relations in these early years present the most attractive chapter in the record of his private life. Married at the age of seventeen to a husband approaching forty, the mother, as she herself said, stood rather as an elder sister than as a parent to her children. And her own character made this relation a natural one. An overflowing vitality, a lively and never-failing interest in all the details of daily life, and a temperament responsive to every call, kept her perennially young, and fitted her to be the companion of her children rather than the sober helpmate of such a husband as Herr Goethe.[7] How, by her faculty of story-telling, she ministered to the side of her son's nature which he had inherited from herself Goethe has related with grateful appreciation. But he owed her a larger debt. It was her spirit pervading the household that brought such happiness into his early home life as fell to his lot. A commonplace mother and a prosaic father would have created an atmosphere which, in the case of a child with Goethe's impressionable nature, would permanently have affected his outlook on life. For the future poet, the mother was the admirable nurse; she fed his fancy with her own; she taught him the art of making the most of life—a lesson which he never forgot; and she gave him her own sane and cheerful view of the uncontrollable element in human destiny. For the future man, however, we may doubt whether she was the best of mothers. Her education was meagre—a defect which her conscientious husband did his best to amend; and all her characteristics were fitted rather to evoke affection than to inspire respect. Though her son always speaks of her with tender regard, his tone is that of an elder brother to a sister rather than of a son to a parent. She was herself conscious of her incompetence to discharge all the responsibilities of a mother which the character of the father made specially onerous. "We were young together," she said of herself and her son, and she confessed frankly that "she could educate no child." Thus between an unsympathetic father and a mother incapable of influencing the deeper springs of character, Goethe passed through childhood and boyhood without the discipline of temper and will which only the home can give. And the lack of this discipline is traceable in all his actions till he had reached middle life. Wayward and impulsive by nature, he yielded to every motive, whether prompted by the intellect or the heart, with an abandonment which struck his friends as the leading trait of his character. "Goethe," wrote one of them, "only follows his last notion, without troubling himself as to consequences," and of himself, when he was past his thirtieth year, he said that he was "as much a child as ever."

[Footnote 6: Writing to her grandchild, Goethe's mother says: "Dein lieber Vater hat mir nie Kummer oder Verdruss verursacht."]

[Footnote 7: When the son of Frau von Stein was about to visit her, Goethe wrote: "Da sie nicht so ernsthaft ist wie ich, so wirst du dich besser bei ihr befinden."]

There was another member of the family of whom Goethe speaks with even warmer feeling than of his mother. This was his sister Cornelia, a year younger than himself, and destined to an unhappy marriage and an early death. Of the many portraits he has drawn in his Autobiography, none is touched with a tenderer hand and with subtler sympathy than that of Cornelia. Goethe does not imply that she permanently influenced his future development; for such influence she possessed neither the force of mind nor of character.[8] But to her even more than to the mother he came to owe such home happiness as he enjoyed in the hours of freedom from the father's pedagogic discipline. She was his companion alike in his daily school tasks and his self-sought pleasures—the confidant and sharer of all his boyish troubles. To no other person throughout his long life did Goethe ever stand in relations which give such a favourable impression of his heart as his relation with Cornelia. The memory of her was the dearest which he retained of his early days; and the words in which he recalls her in his old age prove that she was an abiding memory to the end.

[Footnote 8: Goethe's letters addressed to Cornelia from Leipzig, when he was in his eighteenth year, are in the tone at once of an affectionate brother and of a schoolmaster. Their subsequent relations to each other will appear in the sequel.]

It was an advantage on which Goethe lays special stress that, outside his somewhat cramping home circle, he had a more or less intimate acquaintance with a number of persons, who by their different characters and accomplishments made lasting impressions on his youthful mind. The impressions must have been deep, since, writing in advanced age, he describes their personal appearance and their different idiosyncrasies with a minuteness which is at the same time a remarkable testimony to his precocious powers of observation. What is interesting in these intimacies as throwing light on Goethe's early characteristics is, that all these persons were of mature age, and all of them more or less eccentric in their habits and ways of thinking. "Even in God I discover defects," was the remark of one of them to his youthful listener—to whom he had been communicating his views on the world in general. In the company of these elders, with such or kindred opinions, Goethe was early familiarised with the variability of human judgments on fundamental questions. And he laid the experience to heart, for on no point in the conduct of life does he insist with greater emphasis than the folly of expecting others to think as ourselves.

The method of Goethe's education was not such as to compensate for the lack of moral discipline which has already been noted. With the exception of a brief interval, he received instruction at home, either directly from his father or from tutors under his superintendence. Thus he missed both the steady drill of school life and the influence of companions of his own age which might have made him more of a boy and less of a premature man.[9] It is Goethe's own expressed opinion that the object of education should be to foster tastes rather than to communicate knowledge. In this object, at least, his own education was perfectly successful; for the tastes which he acquired under his father's roof remained with him to the end. What strikes us in his course of study is its desultoriness and its comprehensiveness. At one time and another he gained an acquaintance with English, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He read widely in history, secular and sacred, and in the later stage of his early studies he took up law at the express desire of his father. It was the aim of his father's scheme of education that accomplishments should form an essential part of it. So his son was taught music, drawing, dancing, riding, and fencing. But there was another side to Goethe's early training which, in his case, deserves to be specially emphasised. A striking characteristic of Goethe's writings is the knowledge they display of the whole range of the manual arts, and this knowledge he owed to the circumstances of his home. His father, a virtuoso with the means of gratifying his tastes, freely employed artists of all kinds to execute designs of his own conception; and, as part of his son's education, entrusted him with the superintendence of his commissions. Thus, in accordance with modern ideas, were combined in Goethe's training the practical and the theoretical—a combination which is the distinguishing characteristic of his productive activity. Generally considered, we see that the course of his studies was such as in any circumstances he would himself have probably followed. Under no conditions would Goethe have been content to restrict himself to a narrow field of study and to give the necessary application for its complete mastery. As it was, the multiplicity of his studies supplied the foundation for the manifold productivity of his maturer years. In no branch of knowledge was he ever a complete master; he devoted a large part of his life to the study of Greek and Roman antiquity, yet he never acquired a scholar's knowledge either of Greek or Roman literature.[10] If on these subjects he has contributed many valuable reflections, it was due to the insight of genius which apprehends what passes the range of ordinary vision.

[Footnote 9: It was doubtless due to the absence of strict drill in his youth that Goethe, as he himself tells us, never acquired the art of punctuating his own writings.]

[Footnote 10: Goethe said of himself that he had no "grammatical vein."]

A striking fact in Goethe's account of his early years is the emphasis he lays on the religious side of his education. Judging from the length at which he treats the subject, indeed, we are bound to assume that in his own estimation religion was the most important element in his early training, and in the case of one who came eventually to be known as the "great Pagan" the fact is remarkable. Had he sat down to write the narrative of these years at an earlier period of his life—after his return, say, from his Italian journey—we may conceive that in his then anti-Christian spirit he would have put these early religious experiences in a somewhat different light, and would hardly have assigned to them the same importance. But when he actually addressed himself to tell the story of his development, he had passed out of his anti-Christian phase, and was fully convinced of the importance of religion in human culture. Regarding this portion of his Autobiography, as regarding others, we may have our doubts as to how far his record is coloured by his opinions when he wrote it. Yet, after every reserve, there can be no question that religion engaged both his intellect and his emotions as a boy; and the fact is conclusive that religious instincts were not left out of his nature.[11]

[Footnote 11: With reference to what he says of his Biblical studies he wrote as follows to a correspondent (January 30th, 1812) [Transcriber's Note: corrected error "1912"]: "Dass Sie meine asiatischen Weltanfaenge so freundlich aufnehmen, ist mir von grossem Wert. Es schlingt sich die daher fuer mich gewonnene Kultur durch mein ganzes Leben...."]

There was nothing in the influence of his home that was specially fitted to awaken religious feeling or to occasion abnormal spiritual experiences. In religion as in everything else the father was a formalist, and such religious views as he held were those of the Aufklaerung, for which all forms of spiritual emotion were the folly of unreason. Religion was a permanent and sustaining influence in the life of Goethe's mother, but her religion consisted simply in a cheerful acquiescence in the decrees of Providence. Of the soul's trials and sorrows, as they are recorded in the annals of the religious life, her nature was incapable, and she was always perfectly at ease in Zion. By his mother, therefore, the son could not be deeply moved to concern regarding his spiritual welfare, nor to make religion the all-engrossing subject of his thoughts and affections. There was one friend of the family, indeed, the Fraeulein von Klettenberg (the Schoene Seele of Wilhelm Meister), in whom Goethe saw the exemplar of the religious life in its more ecstatic manifestations, but her special influence on him belongs to a later date. In accordance with the family rule he regularly attended church, but the homilies to which he listened were not of a nature to quicken his religious feelings, while the doctrinal instruction he received at home he has himself described as "nothing but a dry kind of morality." Against one article of the creed taught him—the doctrine of original and inherited sin—all his instincts rebelled; and the antipathy was so compact with all his later thinking that we may readily believe that it manifested itself thus early. If we may accept his own account of his youthful religious experiences, he was already on the way to that Ur-religion, which was his maturest profession of faith, and which he held to be the faith of select minds in all stages of human history. Now, as at all periods of his life, it was the beneficent powers in nature that most deeply impressed him, and he records how in crude childish fashion he secretly reared an altar to these powers, though an unlucky accident in the oblation prevented him from repeating his act of worship.

Like other children, he was quick to see the inconsistency of the creed he was taught with the actual facts of experience. One event in his childhood, the earthquake of Lisbon, especially struck him as a confounding commentary on the accepted belief in the goodness of God; and the impression was deepened when in the following summer a violent thunder-storm played havoc with some of the most treasured books in his father's library. In all his soul's troubles, however, Goethe, according to his own account, found refuge in a world where questionings of the ways of Providence had never found an entrance. In the Old Testament, and specially in the Book of Genesis, with its picture of patriarchal life, he found a world which by engaging his feelings and imagination worked with tranquilising effect (stille Wirkung) on his spirit, distracted by his miscellaneous studies and his varied interests. Of all the elements that entered into his early culture, indeed, Goethe gives the first place to the Bible. "To it, almost alone," he expressly says, "did I owe my moral education." To the Bible as an incomparable presentment of the national life and development of a people, and the most precious of possessions for human culture, Goethe bore undeviating testimony at every period of his life. It need hardly be said that his attitude towards the Bible was divided by an impassable gulf from the attitude of traditional Christianity. For Goethe it was a purely human production, the fortunate birth of a time and a race which in the nature of things can never be paralleled. What the Churches have found in it was not for him its inherent virtue. Even in his youth it was in its picturesque presentation of a primitive life that he found what satisfied the needs of his nature. The spiritual aspirations of the Psalms, the moral indignation of the prophets, found no response in him either in youth or manhood. His ideal of life was never that of the saints, but it was an ideal, as his record of his early religious experience shows, which had its roots in the nature which had been allotted him.

To certain events in his early life Goethe assigned a decisive influence on his future development. To the gift of a set of puppets by his grandmother he attributes his first awakened interest in the drama; and the extraordinary detail with which Wilhelm Meister describes his youthful absorption in the play of his puppets proves that in his Autobiography Goethe does not lay undue stress on the significance of the gift. To another event which occurred when he was entering his seventh year, he ascribes the origin of an attitude of mind which in his own opinion he did not overcome till his later years. In 1756 broke out the Seven Years' War, in the course of which there was a cleavage in German public opinion that disturbed the peace of families and set the nearest relatives at bitter feud. Such was the case in the Goethe circle—the father passionately sympathising with Frederick; the maternal grandfather, Textor, the chief magistrate of Frankfort, as passionately taking the side of Maria Theresa. In this case the son's sympathies were those of his father, and in boyish fashion he made a hero of the king of Prussia, though, as he himself is careful to tell us, Prussia and its interests were nothing to him. It was to the pain he felt when his hero was defamed by the supporters of Austria that he traced that contempt of public opinion which he notes as a characteristic of the greater part of his manhood, yet we may doubt if any external event was needed to develop in him this special turn of mind. As his whole manner of thinking proves, it was neither in his character nor his genius to make a popular appeal like a Burns or a Schiller.[12] In his old age Goethe said of himself that he was conscious of an innate feeling of aristocracy which made him regard himself as the peer of princes; and we need no further explanation of his contempt of public opinion. Yet if the worship of heroes has the moulding influence which Carlyle ascribed to it, in Goethe's youthful admiration of Frederick this influence could not be wanting. To the end Frederick appeared to him one of those "demonic" personalities, who from time to time cross the world's stage, and whose action is as incalculable as the phenomena of the natural world. "When such an one passes to his rest, how gladly would we be silent," were his memorable words when the news of Frederick's death reached him during his Italian travels, and the remark proves how deeply and permanently Frederick's career had impressed him.

[Footnote 12: His remark to Eckermann (1828) is well known: "Meine Sachen koennen nicht populaer werden; wer daran denkt und dafuer strebt, ist in einem Irrthum."]

More easily realised is the direct influence on Goethe's youthful development of another event of his boyhood. As a result of the Seven Years' War, 7,000 French troops took possession of Frankfort in the beginning of 1759, and occupied it for more than three years. In the ways of a foreign soldiery at free quarters the Frankforters saw a strange contrast to their own decorous habits of life, but the French occupation was brought more directly home to the Goethe household. To the disgust and indignation of the father, to whom as a worshipper of Frederick the French were objects of detestation, their chief officer, Count Thoranc, quartered in his own house. Goethe has told in detail the history of this invasion of the quiet household—the never-failing courtesy and considerateness of Thoranc, the abiding ill-humour of the father, the reconciling offices of the mother, exercised in vain to effect a mutual understanding between her husband and his unwelcome guest. As for Goethe himself, devoted to Frederick though he was, the presence of the French introduced him to a new world into which he entered with boyish delight. With the insatiable curiosity which was his characteristic throughout life, he threw himself into the pleasures and avocations of the novel society. Thoranc was a connoisseur in art, and gave frequent commissions to the artists of the town; and Goethe, already interested in art through his father's collections, found his opportunity in these tastes of Thoranc, who was struck by the boy's precocity and even took hints from his suggestions.

A theatre set up by the French was another source of pleasure and stimulus. The sight of the pieces that were acted prompted him to compose pieces of his own and led him to the study of the French classical drama. In the coulisses, to which he was admitted by special favour, he observed the ways of actors—an experience which supplied the materials for the portraiture of the actor's life in Wilhelm Meister. A remark which he makes in connection with the French theatre is a significant commentary on his respective relations to his father and mother, and indicates the atmosphere of evasion which permanently pervaded the household. It was against the will of his father, but with the connivance of his mother, that he paid his visits to the theatre and cultivated the society of the actors, and it was only by the consideration that his son's knowledge of French was thus improved that the practical father was reconciled to the delinquency. The direct results of his intercourse with the French soldiery on Goethe's development were at once abiding and of high importance. It extended his knowledge of men and the world, and, more specifically, it gave him that interest in French culture and that insight into the French mind which he possessed in a degree beyond any of his contemporaries.

But the most notable experience of these early years under his father's roof still remains to be mentioned. When he was in his fourteenth year, Goethe fell in love—the first of the many similar experiences which were to form the successive crises of his future life. There can be little doubt that in his narrative of this his first love there is to the full as much "poetry" as "truth"; but there also can be as little doubt that all the circumstances attending it made his first love a turning-point in his life. It is a peculiarity of all Goethe's love adventures that between him and the successive objects of his affections there was always some bar which made a regular union impossible or undesirable. So it was in the case of the girl whom he calls Gretchen, and of whom we know nothing except what he chose to tell us. He made her acquaintance through his association with a set of youths of questionable character whom we are surprised to find as the chosen companions of the son of an Imperial Councillor. Of all Goethe's loves this was the one that was accompanied by the least pleasant complications and the most painful of disillusions. Through his intercourse with Gretchen's intimates he was led to recommend one of them for a municipal post in Frankfort—a post which he did not hold long before he was found guilty of embezzlement and defalcation. The discovery was disastrous to Goethe's relations with Gretchen, and the disaster involved an experience of conflicting emotions which produced a crisis in his inner life. He had been rudely awakened to mistrust of mankind, and it was an awakening which, as he has himself emphasised, influenced all his thinking and feeling for many years to come. He had lived in a dream of phantasy and passion, and he learned to the shock of his whole nature that the object of his dreams had never at any moment regarded him otherwise than as an interesting boy whose talents and connections made him a desirable acquaintance. In the strained and morbid condition of his body and mind, which was the result of his disillusion, we see an experience which was often to be repeated in his maturer years, and which points to elements in his nature which were ever ready to pass beyond his control. As in the case of all his subsequent experiences of the same nature, he finally regained self-mastery, but a revolution had been accomplished in him as the result of the struggle. His boyhood was at an end, and it is with the consciousness of awakened manhood that he now looks out upon life. More than once in his future career a similar transformation was to be repeated—a great passion followed by a new direction of his activities, involving a saving breach with the past.

Goethe's father had determined from the beginning that his only son should follow the profession of law, in which, as we have seen, he had himself failed owing to his peculiarities of mind and temper. In this determination there was no consideration of the predilections of his son, and in this fact lay the permanent cause of their estrangement. The father's choice of a university for his son was another illustration of their divergent sympathies and interests. Left to his own choice, the son would have preferred the university of Goettingen as his place of study, but his father ruled that Leipzig, his own university, was the proper school for the future civilian. In connection with his departure for Leipzig Goethe makes two confessions which are a striking commentary on the conditions of his home life in Frankfort. He left Frankfort, he tells us, with joy as intense as that of a prisoner who has broken through his gaol window, and finds himself a free man. And this repugnance to his native city, as a place where he could not expand freely, remained an abiding feeling with him. The burgher life of Frankfort, he wrote to his mother during his first years at Weimar, was intolerable to him, and to have made his permanent home there would have been fatal to the fulfilment of every ideal that gave life its value. His other confession is a still more significant illustration of the vital lack of sympathy between father and son. He left Frankfort, he says, with the deliberate intention of following his own predilections and of disregarding the express wish of his father that he should apply himself specifically to the study of law. Only his sister Cornelia was made the confidant of his secret intention, and apparently no attempt was made to effect even a compromise between the aims of the father and those of the son. Plain and direct dealing was a marked characteristic of Goethe at every period of his life; that he should thus have deceived his father in a matter that lay nearest his heart is therefore the final proof that father and son were separated by a gulf which could not be bridged. As it was, in the course of life which Goethe was to follow in Leipzig we may detect a certain defiant heedlessness which points to an uneasy consciousness of duty ignored.

We have it on Goethe's own word that with his departure for Leipzig begins that self-directed development which he was to pursue with the undeviating purpose and the wonderful result which make him the unique figure he is in the history of the human spirit. What, we may inquire, as he is now at the commencement of this career unparalleled, so far as our knowledge goes, in the case of any other of the world's greatest spirits—what were the specific characteristics, visible in him from the first, which gave the pledge and promise of this astonishing career? In his case, we can say with certainty, was fully verified the adage, that the boy is father of the man. Alike in internal and external traits we note in him as a boy characteristics which were equally marked in the mature man. In his demeanour, he himself tells us, there was a certain stiff dignity which excited the ridicule of his companions. It was in his nature even as a boy, he also tells us, to assume airs of command: one of his own acquaintance and of his own years said of him, "We were all his lacqueys." Here we have in anticipation the aged Goethe whose Jove-like presence put Heine out of countenance; the god "cold, monosyllabic," of Jean Paul. But behind the stiff demeanour, in youth as in age, there was the mercurial temperament, the etwas unendlich Ruehrendes, which made him a problem at all periods of his life even to those who knew him most intimately. He has himself noted his youthful reputation for eccentricity, "his lively, impetuous, and excitable temper"; and this was the side of him that most impressed his associates till he was past middle age. In boyhood, also, as even in his latest years, he was subject to bursts of violence in which he lost all self-control. When attacked by three of his schoolmates, he fell upon them with the fury of a wild beast, and mastered all three. On the loss of Gretchen he "wept and raved," and, as the result of his morbid sensibility, his constitution, always abnormally influenced by his emotions, was seriously impaired. Here we have the Weiblichkeit, the feminine strain in his nature, which was noted by Schiller, and which explains the shrinking from all forms of pain which he inherited from his mother.

More than once these emotional elements in his nature were to bring him near to moral shipwreck, and it was doubtless the consciousness of such a possibility in his own case that explains his haunting interest in the character and career of Byron. But underneath his "chameleon" temperament (the expression is his own[13]) there was a solid foundation, the lack of which was the ruin of Byron. Goethe has himself told us what this saving element in him was. It was a strenuousness and seriousness implanted in him by nature (von der Natur in mich gelegter Ernst), which, he says, "exerted its influence [on him] at an early age, and showed itself more distinctly in after years." This side of his complex nature did not escape the notice even of his youthful contemporaries. "Goethe," wrote one of them from Leipzig, "is as great a philosopher as ever." Here again we see in the boy the father of the man. Increasingly, as the years went on, his innate tendency to reflection asserted itself, till at length in his latest period it so completely dominated him that the sage proved too much for the artist.

[Footnote 13: So Weislingen (in Goetz von Berlichingen), whom Goethe meant to be a double of himself, says: "Ich bin ein Chamaeleon."]

If the character of the boy foreshadowed that of the man, so did the tendencies of his genius the lines they were afterwards to follow. "Turn a man whither he will," he remarks in his Autobiography, "he will always return to the path marked out for him by nature," and his own development signally illustrates the truth of the remark. From his earliest youth, he tells us, he had "a passion for investigating natural things"; and towards middle life his interest in physical science became so absorbing as for many years to stifle his creative faculty. But in the retrospect of his life as a whole he had no doubt as to the supreme bent of his genius. The "laurel crown of the poet" was the goal of his youthful ambition, and the last bequest he made to posterity was the Second Part of Faust. Among the miscellaneous intellectual interests of his boyhood poetry evidently held the chief place, and, partly out of his own inspiration and partly at the suggestion of others, he diligently tried his hand at different forms of poetical composition. Yet, if we may judge from his most notable boyish piece—Poetische Gedanken ueber die Hoellenfahrt Jesu Christi—there have been more "timely-happy spirits" than Goethe. Not, indeed, as we shall see, till his twentieth year, the age when, according to Kant, the lyric poet is in fullest possession of his genius, does his verse attain the distinctiveness of original creative power.[14]

[Footnote 14: All Goethe's boyish productions that have been preserved will be found in Der junge Goethe, Neue Ausgabe in sechs Baenden besorgt von Max Morris, Leipzig, 1909.]



CHAPTER II

STUDENT IN LEIPZIG

OCTOBER, 1765—SEPTEMBER, 1768

As we follow the life of Byron, it has been said, we seem to hear the gallop of horses,[15] and we are conscious of a similar tumult as we follow the career of Goethe from the day he entered Leipzig till the close of the "mad Weimar times," when he was approaching his thirtieth year. Jugend ist Trunkenheit ohne Wein, he says in his West-Ostlicher Divan, and, when he wrote the words, he may well have had specially in view the three whirling years he spent in Leipzig. "If one did not play some mad pranks in youth," he said on another occasion, "what would one have to think of in old age?" Assuredly during these Leipzig years Goethe played a sufficient number of pranks to supply him with materials for edifying retrospection.

[Footnote 15: X. Doudan, Melanges et Lettres, i. 524.]

Our difficulty in connection with these three years is to seize the essential lineaments in a character so full of contradictions that it eludes us at every turn, and has presented to each of his many biographers a problem which each has sought to solve after his own fashion. Of materials for forming our conclusions there is certainly no lack. In his Autobiography he has related in detail, even to tediousness, the events and experiences of his life in Leipzig. Contemporary testimony, also, we have in abundance. We have the letters of friends who freely wrote their impressions of him, and from his own hand we have poems which record the passing feelings of the hour; we have two plays which reveal moods and experiences more or less permanent; and above all we have a considerable number of his own letters addressed to his sister and different friends, all of which, it may be said, appear to give genuine expression to the promptings of the moment. The materials for forming our judgment, therefore, are even superabundant, but in their very multiplicity lies our difficulty. The narrative in the Autobiography doubtless gives a correct general outline of his life in Leipzig and of its main results for his general development, but its cool, detached tone leaves a totally inadequate impression of the froward youth, torn to distraction by conflicting passions and conflicting ideals. With the contemporary testimonies our difficulties are of another kind. The testimonies of his friends regarding his personal traits are often contradictory, and equally so are his own self-revelations. On one and the same day he writes a letter which exhibits him as the helpless victim of his emotions, and another which shows him quite at his ease and master of himself. And he himself has warned us against taking his wild words too seriously. In a letter to his sister (September 27th, 1766), he expressly says: "As for my melancholy, it is not so deep as I have pictured it; there are occasionally poetical licences in my descriptions which exaggerate the facts."[16]

[Footnote 16: Werke, Briefe, Band i., 68-9.]

Fortunately or unfortunately, the town of Leipzig, which his father had chosen for his first free contact with life, was of all German towns the one where he could see life in its greatest variety. "In accursed Leipzig," he wrote after his three years' experience of its distractions, "one burns out as quickly as a bad torch." Even the external appearance of the town was such as to suggest another world from that of Frankfort. In Frankfort the past overshadowed the present; while Leipzig, Goethe himself wrote, recording his first impressions of the place, "evoked no memories of bygone times." And if the exterior of the town suggested a new world, its social and intellectual atmosphere intensified the impression. "Leipzig is the place for me," says Frosch in the Auerbach Cellar Scene in Faust; "it is a little Paris, and gives its folks a finish."[17] The prevailing tone of Leipzig society was, in point of fact, deliberately imitated from the pattern set to Europe by the Court of France. In contrast to the old-fashioned formality of Frankfort, the Leipziger aimed at a graceful insouciance in social intercourse and light, cynical banter in the interchange of his ideas on every subject, trifling or serious. In such a society all free, spontaneous expression of emotions or opinions was a mark of rusticity, as Goethe was not long in discovering. The true Leipziger was, of course, a Gallio in religion, and Goethe, who, on leaving his father's house, had resolved to cut all connection with the Church, found no difficulty in carrying out his intention during his residence in the little Paris. But, so far as Goethe was concerned, the most notable circumstance connected with Leipzig was that it had long been the literary centre of Germany. There the most eminent representatives of literature had made their residence, and thence had gone forth the dominant influences which had given the rule to all forms of literary production—poetry and criticism alike. At the time when Goethe took up his residence in the town the two most prominent German men of letters, Gellert and Gottsched (the latter dubbed the "Saxon Swan" by Frederick the Great) were its most distinguished ornaments, though the rising generation was beginning to question both the intrinsic merit of their productions and the principles of taste which they had proclaimed. What these principles were and how Goethe stood related to them we shall presently see.

[Footnote 17: On the occasion of a visit he paid to Leipzig in 1783, Goethe says: "Die Leipziger sind als eine kleine, moralische Republik anzusehn. Jeder steht fuer sich, hat einige Freunde und geht in seinem Wesen fort."]

Into this world Goethe was launched when he had just turned his sixteenth year—"a little, odd, coddled boy," and, as he elsewhere describes himself, with a tendency to morbid fancies. If he had come to Leipzig with the resolve to fulfil his father's intentions, his course was clearly marked out for him. He would diligently sit at the feet of the professors of law in the university, and at the end of three years he would return to Frankfort with the attainments requisite to make him a future ornament of the legal profession. But, as we have seen, he had other schemes in his head than the course which his father had prescribed for him, and, if we are to accept his own later testimony, in forming these schemes he was but following the deepest instincts of his nature. "Anything," he exclaimed to his secretary Riemer, when he was approaching his sixtieth year, "anything but an enforced profession! That is contrary to all my instincts. So far as I can, and so long as the humour lasts, I will carry out in a playful fashion what comes in my way. So I unconsciously trifled in my youth; so will I consciously continue to do to the end."[18] The step he now took is a curious illustration of the solemn self-importance which was one of his characteristics as a youth. To the professor of history and law of all people he chose to announce his intention of studying belles lettres instead of jurisprudence. The professor sensibly pointed out to him the folly and impropriety of his conduct in view of his father's wishes; and his counsels, seconded by the friendly advice of his wife, Frau Boehme, turned the youthful aspirant from his purpose for a time. On his own testimony he now became a model student, and was "as happy as a bird in a wood." He heard lectures on German history from Boehme, though history was distasteful to him at every period of his life; lectures on literature from the popular Gellert, on style from Professor Clodius, and on physics, logic, and philosophy from other professors.

[Footnote 18: Gespraeche mit Riemer, Anfang 1807.]

But alike by temperament and previous training, Goethe was indisposed to profit by professorial prelections, however admirable. He had brought with him to the university a store of miscellaneous information which deprived them of the novelty they might have for the average listener. "Application," he says, moreover, "was not my talent, since nothing gave me any pleasure except what came to me of itself." So it was that by the close of his first semester his attendance at lectures became a jest, and the professors the butt of his wit. It was characteristic that he found the prelections on philosophy and logic specially tedious and distasteful. Of God and the world he thought he knew as much as his teacher, and the scholastic analysis of the processes of thought seemed to him only the deadening of the faculties which he had received from nature. Of these dreary hours in the lecture-rooms the biting comments of Faust and Mephistopheles on university studies in general are the lively reminiscence.

But while he was putting in a perfunctory attendance at lectures, his education was proceeding in another school—the school which, as in his after years he so insistently testified, affords the only real discipline for life—the world of real men and women.[19] And the lessons of this school he took in with a zest that well illustrates what he called his "chameleon" nature. Within a year the "little, odd, coddled boy" who had left his father's house was transformed into a fashionable Leipzig youth who went even beyond his models. His home-made suit, which had passed muster in Frankfort, but which excited ridicule in Leipzig, was exchanged for a costume which went to the other extreme of dandyism. His inner man underwent a corresponding transformation, and, as was so often to be the case with him, it was a woman who was the efficacious instrument of the change. We have just seen how Frau Boehme seconded her husband's attempts to dissuade him from abandoning his legal studies, but her good offices did not end there. A woman of cultivated mind and considerable literary attainments, she evidently saw the promise of the raw Frankfort youth, and, with a feminine tact, to which Goethe bore grateful testimony, she set herself to correct his manners and his tastes. He had brought with him his Frankfort habits of speech, and these under protest he was forced to give up for the modish forms of the smooth-speaking Leipzigers.[20] Before Frau Boehme took him in hand, he assures us, he was not an ill-mannered lad, but she impressed on him the need of cultivating the external graces of social intercourse and even of acquiring a certain skill in the fashionable games of the day—an accomplishment, however, which he never succeeded in attaining. More important for his future development was Frau Boehme's influence on his literary tastes. As was his habit among his friends, he would declaim to her passages from his favourite poets, and she, "an enemy to all that was trivial, feeble, and commonplace," would unsparingly point out their essential inanity. When he ventured to recite his own poetical attempts, her criticism was equally unsparing. The discipline was sharp, but for the "coddled" boy, who had been regarded at home as a youthful prodigy, it was entirely wholesome. Yet, if we may judge from a description of him some ten months after his arrival in Leipzig, the chastening does not appear to have lessened his buoyant self-confidence. The description is from the hand of a comrade of his own in Frankfort, Horn by name, the son of a former chief magistrate of the city. Horn, like Goethe, had come to study in Leipzig, and on his arrival there, 1766, he thus (August, 1766) records his impressions of Goethe to a common friend: "If you only saw him, you would be either furious with rage or burst with laughing. It is beyond me to understand how anyone can change so quickly. Besides being arrogant, he is also a dandy, and his clothes, though fine, are in such ridiculous taste that they attract the attention of the whole university.[21] But he does not mind that a bit, and it is useless to tell him of his follies.... He has acquired a gait which is simply intolerable. Could you only see him!" Such was Horn's first impression of his former comrade, but it is right to say that a few months later he could tell the same correspondent that they had not lost a friend in Goethe, who had still the same good heart and was as much a philosopher and a moralist as ever.

[Footnote 19:

Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Sich ein Character in dem Strom der Welt.]

[Footnote 20: In point of fact Goethe retained to the end the intonation and the idioms of his native speech.]

[Footnote 21: In his Autobiography Goethe states as the reason for his casting off the home-made suit he had brought with him from Frankfort, that a person entering the Leipzig theatre in similar costume excited the ridicule of the audience.]

In his second letter Horn gives a singular reason for the preposterous airs which Goethe had lately put on. Goethe, wrote Horn, had fallen in love with a girl "beneath him in rank," and his antics were assumed to disguise the fact from his friends who might report it to his father. Goethe's relations to this girl were to be his liveliest experience in Leipzig, and an experience frequently to be repeated at different periods of his life. Like his other adventures of the same nature, it was to supply him with a fund of emotions and reflections which at a future day were to serve him as literary capital. The tale of his passion, if passion it was, is, therefore, an essential part of his biography, both as a man and a literary artist.

The girl in question was Kaethchen (or, as Goethe calls her in his Autobiography, Aennchen) Schoenkopf, the daughter of a wineseller and lodging-house keeper in Leipzig, whose wife, we are informed, belonged to a "patrician" family in Frankfort. As described by Horn, she was "well-grown though not tall, with a round, pleasant face, though not particularly pretty, and with an open, gentle, and engaging air"; and in a letter to his sister Goethe gives the further information that she had a "good heart, not bewildered with too much reading," and that her spelling was dubious. And it may be noted in passing that Goethe apparently had a preference for women who were not sophisticated with letters, as was notably shown in the case of the woman whom he eventually made his wife.

It was on April 26th, 1766, that he first made the declaration of his passion, so that, when Horn wrote, we are to suppose that its course was in full tide.[22] But now, as always, Goethe had room for two objects in his affections. On October 1st, 1766, he wrote letters to two friends, in the second of which he expressed his passion for Kaethchen, and in the first an equally ardent emotion for another maiden who had crossed his path in Frankfort.[23] Goethe's confidant throughout his relations with Kaethchen was one of those peculiar persons whom we meet with in following his career. He was one Behrisch, now residing in Leipzig in the capacity of tutor to a young German count. In his Autobiography Goethe has given a large place to Behrisch, who, as there depicted, comes before us as an accomplished man of the world, something of a roue, and a humorist in the old English sense of the word. He never appeared without his periwig, invariably wore a suit of grey, and was never seen in public without his sword, hat under arm. Of a caustic wit, of considerable literary attainments, and approaching his thirtieth year, he had evidently an influence on Goethe which was not wholly for good. He took a genuine interest in Goethe's literary efforts, gave him good advice on points of style, and dissuaded him from hasty publication. On the other hand, it was under his influence that Goethe began to assume the tone and airs of a Don Juan, which are an unpleasant characteristic of his recently published correspondence with Behrisch. It is in this correspondence that we have the record of Goethe's dallyings with Kaethchen, and, take it as we may, the record is as vivid a presentment as we could wish of a nature as complex in its emotions as it was steadfast in its central bent.

[Footnote 22: Werke, Briefe, Band i. 159.]

[Footnote 23: Ib. pp. 60-3.]

The letters to Behrisch begin in October, 1766, and present Goethe in the light of a happy lover. There is an assiduous rival, but his addresses are coldly received.[24] In an ecstasy of delight, after a four hours' tete-a-tete with Kaethchen, he treats Behrisch to some lines of English verse which may be produced here as exhibiting the state of his feelings and the extent of his acquaintance with the English language:—

What pleasure, God! of like a flame to born, A virteous fire, that ne'er to vice kan turn. What volupty! when trembling in my arms, The bosom of my maid my bosom warmeth! Perpetual kisses of her lips o'erflow, In holy embrace mighty virtue show.

[Footnote 24: Ib. pp. 61-2.]

In letters written to his sister Cornelia about the same date, however, we see another side of his life in Leipzig. He has been excluded from the society in which he was formerly received, and he assigns as reasons that he is following the counsels of his father in refusing to engage in play, and that he cannot avoid showing a sense of his superiority in taste which gives offence. But, as we learn that Behrisch was also excluded from the same society, and that he was dismissed from the charge of his pupils on the ground of his loose life, we may infer that Goethe does not state all the reasons for his own social ostracism.[25]

[Footnote 25: Ib. pp. 81-2.]

So things stood with him in October, 1766, and it is not till the following May that we hear of him again through his correspondence. In a letter to Cornelia written in that month he excuses himself for his long neglect of her. He has been busy, he has been ill, and the spring has come late. In this letter he writes of Kaethchen as follows: "Among my acquaintances who are alive (he has just mentioned the death of Frau Boehme) the little Schoenkopf does not deserve to be forgotten. She is a very good girl, with an uprightness of heart joined to agreeable naivete, though her education has been more severe than good. She looks after my linen and other things when it is necessary, for she knows all about these matters, and is pleased to give me the benefit of her knowledge; and I like her well for that. Am I not a bit of a scamp, seeing I am in love with all these girls? Who could resist them when they are good; for as for beauty, that does not touch me; and, indeed, all my acquaintances are more good than beautiful."[26] This is not the tone of an ardent lover speaking of his mistress, and it is evident that Cornelia was not the confidant of his real relations to Kaethchen, which, indeed, would have been as distasteful to her as to their father. In another letter, addressed to her in the following August, he is not more frank. There he tells her that Annette is now his muse, and that, as Herodotus names the books of his History after the nine muses, so he has given the name of Annette to a collection of twelve poetical pieces, magnificently copied in manuscript.[27] But, he significantly adds, Annette had no more to do with his poetry than the Muses had to do with the History of Herodotus.[28] To what extent this statement expressed the truth we shall presently see.

[Footnote 26: Ib. p. 86. The passage is in French.]

[Footnote 27: This was the work of Behrisch, who was a virtuoso in calligraphy.]

[Footnote 28: Werke, Briefe, i. 96-7.]

In October, 1767, Goethe resumed his correspondence with Behrisch, and it is in this part of it that we have the fullest revelation of his state of mind during the last year of his residence in Leipzig. With the exception of occasional digressions these letters are solely concerned with his relations to Kaethchen, and their outpourings afterwards received their faithful echo in the incoherences of Werther. Here is the beginning of a letter to Behrisch (October 13th), in which he described his feelings as evoked by the appearance of two rivals for the favours of Kaethchen. "Another night like this, Behrisch, and, in spite of all my sins, I shan't have to go to hell. You may have slept peacefully, but a jealous lover, who has drunk as much champagne as is necessary to put his blood in a pleasant heat and to inflame his imagination to the highest point! At first I could not sleep, I tossed about in my bed, sprang up, raved; then I grew weary and fell asleep." And he proceeds to relate a wild dream in which Kaethchen was the distracting image; and he concludes: "There you have Annette. She is a cursed lass!"[29] Yet on the same day or the day following he could thus describe his mode of life in a letter to his sister: "It is very philosophical," he writes; "I have given up concerts, comedies, riding and driving, and have abandoned all societies of young folks who might lead me into more company. This will be of great advantage to my purse."[30] Very different is the picture of his mode of life in his subsequent letters to Behrisch at the same period. If we are to take him literally, it was the life of a veritable Don Juan who had learned all the lessons of his instructor. "Do you recognise me in this tone, Behrisch?" he writes; "it is the tone of a conquering young lord.... It is comic. Aber ohne zu schwoeren ich unterstehe mich schon ein Maedgen zu verf—wie Teufel soll ich's nennen. Enough, Monsieur, all this is but what you might have expected from the aptest and most diligent of your scholars."[31] That all this was not mere bravado is distinctly suggested even in Dichtung und Wahrheit, where the wild doings of Leipzig are so decorously draped.

[Footnote 29: Ib. p. 105.]

[Footnote 30: Ib. p. 116.]

[Footnote 31: Ib. p. 133.]

Goethe knew from the first that he could never make Kaethchen his wife, and that sooner or later his lovemaking must come to an end. The end came in the spring of 1768 after two years' philandering which had not been all happiness. In a letter to Behrisch he thus relates the denouement: "Oh, Behrisch," he writes, "I have begun to live! Could I but tell you the whole story! I cannot; it would cost me too much. Enough—we have separated, we are happy.... Behrisch, we are living in the pleasantest, friendliest intercourse.... We began with love and we end with friendship."[32] Goethe makes one of his characters say that estranged lovers, if they only manage things well, may still remain friends, and the remark was prompted by more than one experience of his own.

[Footnote 32: Ib. pp. 158-9.]

When he was past his seventieth year, Goethe made a remark to his friend, Chancellor von Mueller, which is applicable to every period of his life: "In the hundred things which interest me," he said, "there is always one which, as chief planet, holds the central place, and meanwhile the remaining Quodlibet of my life circles round it in many-changing phases, till each and all succeed in reaching the centre." Even in these distracted Leipzig years the mental process thus described is clearly visible. Neither Goethe's loves nor his other dissipations ever permanently dulled the intellectual side of his nature. While he was writing morbid letters to Behrisch, he was directing the studies of his sister with all the seriousness of a youthful pedagogue. Though he neglected the lectures of his professors, he was assimilating knowledge on every subject that appealed to his natural instincts. In truth, all the manifold activities of his later years were foreshadowed during his sojourn in Leipzig, as, indeed, they had already been foreshadowed during his boyhood in Frankfort.

As in Frankfort, he took in knowledge equally from men, books, and things.[33] In the house of a Leipzig citizen, a physician and botanist, he met a society of medical men, and he records how his attention was directed to an entirely new field through listening to their conversation. Now, apparently for the first time, he heard the names of Haller, Buffon, and Linnaeus, the last of whom he, in later years, named with Spinoza and Shakespeare as one of the chief moulding forces of his life. Through the influence and example of other men he intermittently practised etching, drawing, and engraving—all arts in which he retained a lifelong interest. But among all the persons in Leipzig who influenced him Goethe gave the first place to Friedrich Oeser, director of the academy of drawing in the city. Oeser was about fifty years of age, jovial in disposition, and an experienced man of the world. Though as an artist he is now held in little regard, his reputation was great in his own day,[34] and he had a reflected glory in being the friend of Winckelmann, who was reputed to have profited by his teaching in art. Under the inspiration of Oeser Goethe's interest in the plastic arts in general, which had received its first impulse at home, became a permanent preoccupation for the remainder of his life. He took regular lessons in drawing from Oeser, made acquaintance with all the collections, public and private, to be found in Leipzig, and even made a secret visit to the galleries in Dresden, where, he tells us, he gave his exclusive attention to the works of the great Dutch masters. As was always his habit, Goethe generously acknowledged his obligations to Oeser. "Who among all my teachers, except yourself," he afterwards wrote on his return to Frankfort, "ever thought me worthy of encouragement? They either heaped all blame or all praise upon me, and nothing can be so destructive of talent.... You know what I was when I came to you, and what when I left you: the difference is your work ... you have taught me to be modest without self-depreciation, and to be proud without presumption."[35] And elsewhere he declares that the great lesson he had learned from Oeser was that the ideal of beauty is to be found in "simplicity and repose." But the main interest of Goethe's intercourse with Oeser in connection with his general development is that it strengthened an illusion from which he did not succeed in freeing himself till near his fortieth year—the illusion that nature had given him equally the gifts of the painter and the poet. Many hours of the best years of his life were to be spent in laboriously practising an art in which he was doomed to mediocrity; and it must remain a riddle that one, who like Goethe was so curiously studious of his own self-development, should so long and so blindly have misunderstood his own gifts.[36]

[Footnote 33: "Das Beduerfnis meiner Natur zwingt mich zu einer vermannigfaltigten Thaetigkeit," he wrote of himself in his thirty-second year.]

[Footnote 34: When, in his thirty-sixth year, Goethe renewed his acquaintance with Oeser, he wrote of him to Frau von Stein: "C'est comme si cet homme ne devroit pas mourir, tant ses talents paroissent toujours aller en s'augmentant."]

[Footnote 35: Werke, Briefe, Band i. 179.]

[Footnote 36: In later years he consoled himself with the reflection that the time he had spent on the technicalities of art was not wholly lost, as he had thus acquired powers of observation which were valuable to him both as a poet and as a man of science.]

It may partly explain his addiction to art that the poetical productions which he had brought from Frankfort, and which had been applauded by the circle of his friends there, did not meet with the approval of the critics in Leipzig. We have seen how sharply Frau Boehme commented on their shortcomings, but he was specially disheartened by the severe criticism passed on one of his poems by Clodius, the professor of literature. "I am cured of the folly of thinking myself a poet,"[37] he wrote to his sister about a year after his arrival in Leipzig. Some six months later he writes to her in a more hopeful spirit: "Since I am wholly without pride, I may trust my inner conviction, which tells me that I possess some of the qualities required in a poet, and that by diligence I may even become one."[38] In his Autobiography and elsewhere Goethe has spoken at length of the disadvantages under which youthful geniuses laboured at the period when he began his literary career.[39] As Germany then existed, there was no national feeling to inspire great themes, no standard of taste, and no worthy models for imitation. There was, indeed, no lack of literature on all subjects; Kant speaks sarcastically of "the deluge of books with which our part of the world is inundated every year." But the fatal defects of the poetry then produced was triviality and the "wateriness" of its style. Yet it was during the years that Goethe spent in Leipzig that there appeared a succession of works which mark a new departure in German literature. In 1766 Herder, who was subsequently to exercise such a profound influence over Goethe, published his Fragments on Modern German Literature; in the same year appeared Lessing's Laokoon, which, in Goethe's own words, transported himself and his contemporaries "out of the region of pitifully contracted views into the domain of emancipated thought"; and in 1767 Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm, Germany's "first national drama." Greatly as Goethe was impressed by both of these works of Lessing, however, he was not mature enough to profit by them[40]; and, in point of fact, all the work, poems and plays, which he produced during his Leipzig period, is solely inspired by the French models which had so long dominated German literature.

[Footnote 37: Werke, Briefe, Band i. 67.]

[Footnote 38: Ib. p. 88.]

[Footnote 39: Notably in his paper, entitled Literarischer Sansculottismus. See above, p. 4. Regarding Lessing he made this remark to Eckermann (February 7th, 1827): "Bedauert doch den ausserordentlichen Menschen, dass er in einer so erbaermlichen Zeit leben musste, die ihm keine bessern Stoffe gab, als in seinen Stuecken verarbeitet sind!"]

[Footnote 40: "Lessing war der hoechste Verstand, und nur ein ebenso grosser konnte von ihm wahrhaft lernen. Dem Halbvermoegen war er gefaehrlich." (To Eckermann, January 18th, 1825.)]

Considering his other manifold preoccupations, the amount of Goethe's literary output during his three years in Leipzig is sufficient evidence that his poetic instincts remained the dominant impulses of his nature. He sprinkled his letters to his friends with poems in German, French, and English, and he composed twenty lyrics which were subsequently published in the autumn of 1769 under the title of Neue Lieder[41]; and two plays, entitled Die Laune des Verliebten and Die Mitschuldigen. The biographic interest of all these productions is the light which they throw on the transformation which Goethe had undergone during his residence in Leipzig. In the poems he had written in Frankfort religion had been the predominant theme; in his Leipzig effusions it was love, and love in a sufficiently Anacreontic sense. Regarding the poetic merit of the Neue Lieder German critics are for the most part at one. With hardly an exception the love lyrics are mere imitations of French models; their style is as artificial as their feeling; and they give little promise of the work that was to come from the same hand a few years later. As the expression of one of his lover's moods, one of them, reckoned the best in the collection, may here be given. It is entitled Die schoene Nacht.

[Footnote 41: Nine of these Lieder Goethe thought worthy of a permanent place in his collected works.]

DIE SCHOeNE NACHT.

Nun verlass' ich diese Huette, Meiner Liebsten Aufenthalt; Wandle mit verhuelltem Schritte Durch den oeden, finstern Wald. Luna bricht durch Busch und Eichen, Zephyr meldet ihren Lauf; Und die Birken streun mit Neigen Ihr den suessten Weihrauch auf.

Wie ergoetz' ich mich im Kuehlen Dieser schoenen Sommernacht! O wie still ist hier zu fuehlen Was die Seele gluecklich macht! Laesst sich kaum die Wonne fassen, Und doch wollt' ich, Himmel! dir Tausend solcher Naechte lassen, Gaeb' mein Maedchen Eine mir.

THE BEAUTIFUL NIGHT.

Now I leave the cot behind me Where my love hath her abode; And I wander with veiled footsteps Through the drear and darksome wood. Luna's rays pierce oak and thicket Zephyr heraldeth her way; And for her its sweetest incense Sheddeth every birchen spray.

How I revel in the coolness Of this beauteous summer night! Ah! how peaceful here the feeling Of what makes the soul's delight, Bliss wellnigh past comprehending! Yet, O Heaven, I would to thee Thousand nights like this surrender, Gave my maiden one to me.

But it is in the two plays produced during this period that Goethe most fully reveals both his literary ideals and the essential traits of his own character. The first of the two, Die Laune des Verliebten ("The Lover's Caprices"), is based on his own relations to Kaethchen Schoenkopf, and is cast in the form of a pastoral drama, written in Alexandrines after the fashion of the time.[42] The theme is a satire on his own wayward conduct towards Kaethchen, as he has depicted it in his Autobiography. The plot is of the simplest kind. Two pairs of lovers, Egle and Lamon, and Amine and Eridon, the first pair happy in their loves, the second unhappy, make up the characters of the piece. The leading part is taken by Egle, who is distressed at the misery of her friend Amine, occasioned by the jealous humours of her lover Eridon. Complications there are none, and the sole interest of the play consists in the vivacity of the dialogues and in the arch mischief with which Egle eventually shames Eridon out of his foolish jealousy of his maiden, who is only too fondly devoted to him. What strikes us in the whole performance is that Goethe, if he was so madly in love with Kaethchen as his letters to Behrisch represent him, should have been capable of writing it. From its playful humour and entirely objective treatment it might have been written by a good-natured onlooker amused at the spectacle of two young people trifling with feelings which neither could take seriously.

[Footnote 42: This play was based on an earlier attempt made in Frankfort.]

Equally objective is Goethe's handling of the very different theme of the other play, Die Mitschuldigen ("The Accomplices"),[43] and in this case the objectivity is still more remarkable in a youth who had not yet attained his twentieth year. This second piece belongs to the class of low comedy, and is as simple in construction as its companion. The scene is laid in an inn, and the characters are four in number: the Host, whose leading trait is insatiable curiosity; his daughter Sophia, represented as of easy virtue; Soeller, her husband, a graceless scamp; and Alcestes, a former lover of Sophia, and for the time a guest in the inn. In the central scene of the play there come in succession to Alcestes' room in the course of one night Soeller, who steals Alcestes' gold; the Host, to possess himself of a letter with the contents of which he has a burning curiosity to become acquainted; and Sophia by appointment with Alcestes. As father and daughter have caught sight of each other on their respective errands, each suspects the other of being the thief, and in a sorry scene the father, on the condition of being permitted to read the letter, which turns out to be a trivial note, informs Alcestes that Sophia is the delinquent. Finally, Soeller, under the threat of a prick from Alcestes' sword, confesses to the theft, and the piece ends with a mutual agreement to condone each other's delinquencies.[44] The play is not without humour, and the different characters are vivaciously presented, but the blindest admirers of the master may well regret, as they mostly have regretted, that such a work should have come from his hands. The most charitable construction we can put on the graceless production is that Goethe, out of his abnormal impressionability, for the time being deliberately assumed the tone of cynical indifference with which he had become familiar in his intercourse with his friend Behrisch.

[Footnote 43: The exact time and place of its composition is uncertain, but Goethe's own testimony seems to indicate that it was mainly written in Leipzig, in 1769. It was first published in 1787, with some modifications, which affect only the form.]

[Footnote 44: With a fatuity into which he occasionally fell, Goethe in Dichtung und Wahrheit remarks that his two plays are an illustration of that most Christian text, "Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone."]

In direct connection with the shorter poems which Goethe wrote in Leipzig, there is a passage in his Autobiography which has perhaps been more frequently quoted than any other, and which, according as we interpret it, must materially influence our judgment at once on his character and his genius. The passage is as follows: "And thus began that tendency of which, all my life through, I was never able to break myself; the tendency to transmute into a picture or a poem whatever gave me either pleasure or pain, or otherwise preoccupied me, and thus to arrive at a judgment regarding it, with the object at once of rectifying my ideas of things external to me and of calming my own feelings. This gift was in truth perhaps necessary to no one more than to me, whose temperament was continually tossing him from one extreme to another. All my productions proceeding from this tendency that have become known to the world are only fragments of a great confession which it is the bold attempt of this book to complete."

From the context of this passage it is to be inferred that the habit which Goethe describes applied only to the occasional short poems which he threw off at the different periods of his life. But are we to infer that the account here given of Goethe's occasional poems applies to the passionate lyrics which a few years later he was to pour forth in such abundance? To a very different purport is another passage in the Autobiography, which is at the same time a striking commentary on Wordsworth's remark that Goethe's poetry was "not inevitable enough." "I had come," he there says, "to look upon my indwelling poetic talent altogether as a force of nature; the more so as I had always been compelled to regard outward nature as its proper object. The exercise of this poetic faculty might indeed be excited and determined by circumstances; but its most joyful and richest action was spontaneous—even involuntary. In my nightly vigils the same thing happened; so that I often wished, like one of my predecessors, to have a leathern jerkin made, and to get accustomed to writing in the dark, so as to be able to fix on paper all such unpremeditated effusions. It had so often happened to me that, after composing some snatch of poetry in my head, I could not recall it, that I would now hurry to my desk and, without once breaking off, write off the poem from beginning to end, not even taking time to straighten the paper, if it lay crosswise, so that the verses often slanted across the page. In such a mood I preferred to get hold of a lead pencil, because I could write most readily with it; whereas the scratching and spluttering of a pen would sometimes wake me from a poetic dream, confuse me, and so stifle some trifling production in its birth."[45]

[Footnote 45: The translation of this passage is by Miss Minna Steele Smith.—Poetry and Truth from My Own Life (London, 1908.)]

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse