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It would appear that for inquirers into Foreign Literature, for all men
anxious to see and understand the European world as it lies around them,
a great problem is presented in this Goethe; a singular, highly
significant phenomenon, and now also means more or less complete for
ascertaining its significance. A man of wonderful, nay, unexampled
reputation and intellectual influence among forty millions of
reflective, serious and cultivated men, invites us to study him; and to
determine for ourselves, whether and how far such influence has been
salutary, such reputation merited. That this call will one day be
answered, that Goethe will be seen and judged of in his real character
among us, appears certain enough. His name, long familiar everywhere,
has now awakened the attention of critics in all European countries to
his works: he is studied wherever true study exists: eagerly studied
even in France; nay, some considerable knowledge of his nature and
spiritual importance seems already to prevail there. [Footnote: Witness
/Le Tasse, Drame par Duval,/ and the Criticisms on it. See also the
Essays in the /Globe,/ Nos. 55, 64 (1826).]

For ourselves, meanwhile, in giving all due weight to so curious an
exhibition of opinion, it is doubtless our part, at the same time, to
beware that we do not give it too much. This universal sentiment of
admiration is wonderful, is interesting enough; but it must not lead us
astray. We English stand as yet without the sphere of it; neither will
we plunge blindly in, but enter considerately, or, if we see good, keep
aloof from it altogether. Fame, we may understand, is no sure test of
merit, but only a probability of such; it is an accident, not a
property, of a man; like light, it can give little or nothing, but at
most may show what is given; often it is but a false glare, dazzling the
eyes of the vulgar, lending by casual extrinsic splendour the brightness
and manifold glance of the diamond to pebbles of no value. A man is in
all cases simply the man, of the same intrinsic worth and weakness,
whether his worth and weakness lie hidden in the depths of his own
consciousness, or be betrumpeted and beshouted from end to end of the
habitable globe. These are plain truths, which no one should lose sight
of; though, whether in love or in anger, for praise or for condemnation,
most of us are too apt to forget them. But least of all can it become
the critic to 'follow a multitude to do evil' even when that evil is
excess of admiration; on the contrary, it will behoove him to lift up
his voice, how feeble soever, how unheeded soever, against the common
delusion; from which, if he can save, or help to save any mortal, his
endeavours will have been repaid.

With these things in some measure before us, we must remind our readers
of another influence at work in this affair, and one acting, as we
think, in the contrary direction. That pitiful enough desire for
'originality' which lurks and acts in all minds, will rather, we
imagine, lead the critic of Foreign Literature to adopt the negative
than the affirmative with regard to Goethe. If a writer indeed feel that
he is writing for England alone, invisibly and inaudibly to the rest of
the Earth, the temptations may be pretty equally balanced; if he write
for some small conclave, which he mistakenly thinks the representative
of England, they may sway this way or that, as it chances. But writing
in such isolated spirit is no longer possible. Traffic, with its swift
ships, is uniting all nations into one; Europe at large is becoming more
and more one public; and in this public, the voices for Goethe, compared
with those against him, are in the proportion, as we reckon them, both
as to the number and value, of perhaps a hundred to one. We take in, not
Germany alone, but France and Italy; not the Schlegels and Schellings,
but the Manzonis and De Staels. The bias of originality, therefore, may
lie to the side of censure; and whoever among us shall step forward,
with such knowledge as our common critics have of Goethe, to enlighten
the European public, by contradiction in this matter, displays a
heroism, which, in estimating his other merits, ought nowise to be

Our own view of the case coincides, we confess, in some degree with that
of the majority. We reckon that Goethe's fame has, to a considerable
extent, been deserved; that his influence has been of high benefit to
his own country; nay more, that it promises to be of benefit to us, and
to all other nations. The essential grounds of this opinion, which to
explain minutely were a long, indeed boundless task, we may state
without many words. We find, then, in Goethe, an Artist, in the high and
ancient meaning of that term; in the meaning which it may have borne
long ago among the masters of Italian painting, and the fathers of
Poetry in England; we say that we trace in the creations of this man,
belonging in every sense to our own time, some touches of that old,
divine spirit, which had long passed away from among us, nay which, as
has often been laboriously demonstrated, was not to return to this world
any more.

Or perhaps we come nearer our meaning, if we say that in Goethe we
discover by far the most striking instance, in our time, of a writer who
is, in strict speech, what Philosophy can call a Man. He is neither
noble nor plebeian, neither liberal nor servile, nor infidel nor
devotee; but the best excellence of all these, joined in pure union; 'a
clear and universal Man.' Goethe's poetry is no separate faculty, no
mental handicraft; but the voice of the whole harmonious manhood: nay it
is the very harmony, the living and life-giving harmony of that rich
manhood which forms his poetry. All good men may be called poets in act,
or in word; all good poets are so in both. But Goethe besides appears to
us as a person of that deep endowment, and gifted vision, of that
experience also and sympathy in the ways of all men, which qualify him
to stand forth, not only as the literary ornament, but in many respects
too as the Teacher and exemplar of his age. For, to say nothing of his
natural gifts, he has cultivated himself and his art, he has studied how
to live and to write, with a fidelity, an unwearied earnestness, of
which there is no other living instance; of which, among British poets
especially, Wordsworth alone offers any resemblance. And this in our
view is the result. To our minds, in these soft, melodious imaginations
of his, there is embodied the Wisdom which is proper to this time; the
beautiful, the religious Wisdom, which may still, with something of its
old impressiveness, speak to the whole soul; still, in these hard,
unbelieving utilitarian days, reveal to us glimpses of the Unseen but
not unreal World, that so the Actual and the Ideal may again meet
together, and clear Knowledge be again wedded to Religion, in the life
and business of men.

Such is our conviction or persuasion with regard to the poetry of
Goethe. Could we demonstrate this opinion to be true, could we even
exhibit it with that degree of clearness and consistency which it has
attained in our own thoughts, Goethe were, on our part, sufficiently
recommended to the best attention of all thinking men. But, unhappily,
it is not a subject susceptible of demonstration: the merits and
characteristics of a Poet are not to be set forth by logic; but to be
gathered by personal, and as in this case it must be, by deep and
careful inspection of his works. Nay Goethe's world is everyway so
different from ours; it costs us such effort, we have so much to
remember, and so much to forget, before we can transfer ourselves in any
measure into his peculiar point of vision, that a right study of him,
for an Englishman, even of ingenuous, open, inquisitive mind, becomes
unusually difficult; for a fixed, decided, contemptuous Englishman, next
to impossible. To a reader of the first class, helps may be given,
explanations will remove many a difficulty; beauties that lay hidden may
be made apparent; and directions, adapted to his actual position, will
at length guide him into the proper tract for such an inquiry. All this,
however, must be a work of progression and detail. To do our part in it,
from time to time, must rank among the best duties of an English Foreign
Review. Meanwhile, our present endeavour limits itself within far
narrower bounds. We cannot aim to make Goethe known, but only to prove
that he is worthy of being known; at most, to point out, as it were afar
off, the path by which some knowledge of him may be obtained. A slight
glance at his general literary character and procedure, and one or two
of his chief productions which throw light on these, must for the
present suffice. A French diplomatic personage, contemplating Goethe's
physiognomy, is said to have observed: /Voila un homme qui a eu
beaucoup de chagrins./ A truer version of the matter, Goethe himself
seems to think, would have been: Here is a man who has struggled
toughly; who has /es sich recht sauer werden lassen./ Goethe's
life, whether as a writer and thinker, or as a living active man, has
indeed been a life of effort, of earnest toilsome endeavour after all
excellence. Accordingly, his intellectual progress, his spiritual and
moral history, as it may be gathered from his successive Works,
furnishes, with us, no small portion of the pleasure and profit we
derive from perusing them. Participating deeply in all the influences of
his age, he has from the first, at every new epoch, stood forth to
elucidate the new circumstances of the time; to offer the instruction,
the solace, which that time required. His literary life divides itself
into two portions widely different in character: the products of the
first, once so new and original, have long either directly or through
the thousand thousand imitations of them, been familiar to us; with the
products of the second, equally original, and in our day far more
precious, we are yet little acquainted. These two classes of works stand
curiously related with each other; at first view, in strong
contradiction, yet, in truth, connected together by the strictest
sequence. For Goethe has not only suffered and mourned in bitter agony
under the spiritual perplexities of his time; but he has also mastered
these, he is above them, and has shown others how to rise above them. At
one time, we found him in darkness, and now he is in light; he was once
an Unbeliever, and now he is a Believer; and he believes, moreover, not
by denying his unbelief, but by following it out; not by stopping short,
still less turning back, in his inquiries, but by resolutely prosecuting
them. This, it appears to us, is a case of singular interest, and rarely
exemplified, if at all elsewhere, in these our days. How has this man,
to whom the world once offered nothing but blackness, denial and
despair, attained to that better vision which now shows it to him, not
tolerable only, but full of solemnity and loveliness? How has the belief
of a Saint been united in this high and true mind with the clearness of
a Sceptic; the devout spirit of a Fenelon made to blend in soft harmony
with the gaiety, the sarcasm, the shrewdness of a Voltaire?

Goethe's two earliest works are /Götz von Berlichingen/ and the
/Sorrows of Werter/. The boundless influence and popularity they
gained, both at home and abroad, is well known. It was they that
established almost at once his literary fame in his own country; and
even determined his subsequent private history, for they brought him
into contact with the Duke of Weimar; in connection with whom, the Poet,
engaged in manifold duties, political as well as literary, has lived for
fifty-four years. Their effects over Europe at large were not less
striking than in Germany.

'It would be difficult,' observes a writer on this subject, 'to name two
books which have exercised a deeper influence on the subsequent
literature of Europe, than these two performances of a young author; his
first-fruits, the produce of his twenty-fourth year. /Werter/
appeared to seize the hearts of men in all quarters of the world, and to
utter for them the word which they had long been waiting to hear. As
usually happens, too, this same word, once uttered, was soon abundantly
repeated; spoken in all dialects, and chaunted through all notes of the
gamut, till the sound of it had grown a weariness rather than a
pleasure. Sceptical sentimentality, view-hunting, love, friendship,
suicide, and desperation, became the staple of literary ware; and though
the epidemic, after a long course of years, subsided in Germany, it
reappeared with various modifications in other countries, and everywhere
abundant traces of its good and bad effects are still to be discerned.
The fortune of /Berlichingen with the Iron Hand,/ though less
sudden, was by no means less exalted. In his own county, /Götz,/
though he now stands solitary and childless, became the parent of an
innumerable progeny of chivalry plays, feudal delineations, and poetico-
antiquarian performances; which, though long ago deceased, made noise
enough in their day and generation: and with ourselves, his influence
has been perhaps still more remarkable. Sir Walter Scott's first
literary enterprise was a translation of /Götz von Berlichingen/;
and, if genius could be communicated like instruction, we might call
this work of Goethe's the prime cause of /Marmion/ and the /Lady
of the Lake/, with all that has followed from the same creative hand.
Truly, a grain of seed that has lighted on the right soil! For if not
firmer and fairer, it has grown to be taller and broader than any other
tree; and all the nations of the earth are still yearly gathering of its

'But overlooking these spiritual genealogies, which bring little
certainty and little profit, it may be sufficient to observe of
/Berlichingen/ and /Werter/, that they stand prominent among
the causes, or, at the very least, among the signals of a great change
in modern literature. The former directed men's attention with a new
force to the picturesque effects of the Past; and the latter, for the
first time, attempted the more accurate delineation of a class of
feelings deeply important to modern minds, but for which our elder
poetry offered no exponent, and perhaps could offer none, because they
are feelings that arise from Passion incapable of being converted into
Action, and belong chiefly to an age as indolent, cultivated and
unbelieving as our own. This, notwithstanding the dash of falsehood
which may exist in /Werter/ itself, and the boundless delirium of
extravagance which it called forth in others, is a high praise which
cannot justly be denied it.'

To the same dark wayward mood, which, in /Werter/, pours itself
forth in bitter wailings over human life; and, in /Berlichingen/,
appears as a fond and sad looking back into the Past, belong various
other productions of Goethe's; for example, the /Mitschuldigen/,
and the first idea of Faust, which, however, was not realized in actual
composition till a calmer period of his history. Of this early harsh and
crude, yet fervid and genial period, /Werter/ may stand here as the
representative; and, viewed in its external and internal relation, will
help to illustrate both the writer and the public he was writing for.

At the present day, it would be difficult for us, satisfied, nay sated
to nausea, as we have been with the doctrines of Sentimentality, to
estimate the boundless interest which /Werter/ must have excited
when first given to the world. It was then new in all senses; it was
wonderful, yet wished for, both in its own country and in every other.
The Literature of Germany had as yet but partially awakened from its
long torpor: deep learning, deep reflection, have at no time been
wanting there; but the creative spirit had for above a century been
almost extinct. Of late, however, the Ramlers, Rabeners, Gellerts, had
attained to no inconsiderable polish of style; Klopstock's
/Messias/ had called forth the admiration, and perhaps still more
the pride, of the country, as a piece of art; a high enthusiasm was
abroad; Lessing had roused the minds of men to a deeper and truer
interest in Literature, had even decidedly begun to introduce a
heartier, warmer and more expressive style. The Germans were on the
alert; in expectation, or at least in full readiness for some far bolder
impulse; waiting for the Poet that might speak to them from the heart to
the heart. It was in Goethe that such a Poet was to be given them.

Nay, the Literature of other countries, placid, self-satisfied as they
might seem, was in an equally expectant condition. Everywhere, as in
Germany, there was polish and languor, external glitter and internal
vacuity; it was not fire, but a picture of fire, at which no soul could
be warmed. Literature had sunk from its former vocation: it no longer
held the mirror up to Nature; no longer reflected, in many-coloured
expressive symbols, the actual passions, the hopes, sorrows, joys of
living men; but dwelt in a remote conventional world in /Castles of
Otranto/, in /Epigoniads/ and /Leonidases/, among clear,
metallic heroes, and white, high, stainless beauties, in whom the
drapery and elocution were nowise the least important qualities. Men
thought it right that the heart should swell into magnanimity with
Caractacus and Cato, and melt into sorrow with many an Eliza and
Adelaide; but the heart was in no haste either to swell or to melt. Some
pulses of heroical sentiment, a few /un/natural tears might, with
conscientious readers, be actually squeezed forth on such occasions: but
they came only from the surface of the mind; nay, had the conscientious
man considered the matter, he would have found that they ought not to
have come at all. Our only English poet of the period was Goldsmith; a
pure, clear, genuine spirit, had he been of depth or strength
sufficient; his /Vicar of Wakefield/ remains the best of all modern
Idyls; but it is and was nothing more. And consider our leading writers;
consider the poetry of Gray, and the prose of Johnson. The first a
laborious mosaic, through the hard stiff lineaments of which little life
or true grace could be expected to look: real feeling, and all freedom
of expressing it, are sacrificed to pomp, to cold splendour; for vigour
we have a certain mouthing vehemence, too elegant indeed to be tumid,
yet essentially foreign to the heart, and seen to extend no deeper than
the mere voice and gestures. Were it not for his /Letters/, which
are full of warm exuberant power, we might almost doubt whether Gray was
a man of genius; nay, was a living man at all, and not rather some
thousand-times more cunningly devised poetical turning-loom, than that
of Swift's Philosophers in Laputa. Johnson's prose is true, indeed, and
sound, and full of practical sense: few men have seen more clearly into
the motives, the interests, the whole walk and conversation of the
living busy world as it lay before him; but farther than this busy, and
to most of us, rather prosaic world, he seldom looked: his instruction
is for men of business, and in regard to matters of business alone.
Prudence is the highest Virtue he can inculcate; and for that finer
portion of our nature, that portion of it which belongs essentially to
Literature strictly so called, where our highest feelings, our best joys
and keenest sorrows, our Doubt, our Love, our Religion reside, he has no
word to utter; no remedy, no counsel to give us in our straits; or at
most, if, like poor Boswell, the patient is importunate, will answer:
"My dear Sir, endeavour to clear your mind of Cant."

The turn which Philosophical speculation had taken in the preceding age
corresponded with this tendency, and enhanced its narcotic influences;
or was, indeed, properly speaking, the loot they had sprung from. Locke,
himself a clear, humble-minded, patient, reverent, nay religious man,
had paved the way for banishing religion from the world. Mind, by being
modelled in men's imaginations into a Shape, a Visibility; and reasoned
of as if it had been some composite, divisible and reunitable substance,
some finer chemical salt, or curious piece of logical joinery,--began to
lose its immaterial, mysterious, divine though invisible character: it
was tacitly figured as something that might, were our organs fine
enough, be /seen/. Yet who had ever seen it? Who could ever see it?
Thus by degrees it passed into a Doubt, a Relation, some faint
Possibility; and at last into a highly-probable Nonentity. Following
Locke's footsteps, the French had discovered that 'as the stomach
secretes Chyle, so does the brain secrete Thought.' And what then was
Religion, what was Poetry, what was all high and heroic feeling? Chiefly
a delusion; often a false and pernicious one. Poetry, indeed, was still
to be preserved; because Poetry was a useful thing: men needed
amusement, and loved to amuse themselves with Poetry: the playhouse was
a pretty lounge of an evening; then there were so many precepts,
satirical, didactic, so much more impressive for the rhyme; to say
nothing of your occasional verses, birthday odes, epithalamiums,
epicediums, by which 'the dream of existence may be so highly sweetened
and embellished.' Nay, does not Poetry, acting on the imaginations of
men, excite them to daring purposes; sometimes, as in the case of
Tyrtaeus, to fight better; in which wise may it not rank as a useful
stimulant to man, along with Opium and Scotch Whisky, the manufacture of
which is allowed by law? In Heaven's name, then, let Poetry be

With Religion, however, it fared somewhat worse. In the eyes of Voltaire
and his disciples, Religion was a superfluity, indeed a nuisance. Here,
it is true, his followers have since found that he went too far; that
Religion, being a great sanction to civil morality, is of use for
keeping society in order, at least the lower classes, who have not the
feeling of Honour in due force; and therefore, as a considerable help to
the Constable and Hangman, /ought/ decidedly to be kept up. But
such toleration is the fruit only of later days. In those times, there
was no question but how to get rid of it, root and branch, the sooner
the better. A gleam of zeal, nay we will call it, however basely
alloyed, a glow of real enthusiasm and love of truth, may have animated
the minds of these men, as they looked abroad on the pestilent jungle of
Superstition, and hoped to clear the earth of it forever. This little
glow, so alloyed, so contaminated with pride and other poor or bad
admixtures, was the last which thinking men were to experience in Europe
for a time. So it is always in regard to Religious Belief, how degraded
and defaced soever: the delight of the Destroyer and Denier is no pure
delight, and must soon pass away. With bold, with skilful hand, Voltaire
set his torch to the jungle: it blazed aloft to heaven; and the flame
exhilarated and comforted the incendiaries; but, unhappily, such comfort
could not continue. Ere long this flame, with its cheerful light and
heat, was gone: the jungle, it is true, had been consumed; but, with its
entanglements, its shelter and its spots of verdure also; and the black,
chill, ashy swamp, left in its stead, seemed for a time a greater evil
than the other.

In such a state of painful obstruction, extending itself everywhere over
Europe, and already master of Germany, lay the general mind, when Goethe
first appeared in Literature. Whatever belonged to the finer nature of
man had withered under the Harmattan breath of Doubt, or passed away in
the conflagration of open Infidelity; and now, where the Tree of Life
once bloomed and brought fruit of goodliest savour there was only
barrenness and desolation. To such as could find sufficient interest in
the day-labour and day-wages of earthly existence; in the resources of
the five bodily Senses, and of Vanity, the only mental sense which yet
flourished, which flourished indeed with gigantic vigour, matters were
still not so bad. Such men helped themselves forward, as they will
generally do; and found the world, if not an altogether proper sphere
(for every man, disguise it as he may, has a /soul/ in him), at
least a tolerable enough place; where, by one item or another, some
comfort, or show of comfort, might from time to time be got up, and
these few years, especially since they were so few, be spent without
much murdering. But to men afflicted with the 'malady of Thought,' some
devoutness of temper was an inevitable heritage; to such the noisy forum
of the world could appear but an empty, altogether insufficient concern;
and the whole scene of life had become hopeless enough. Unhappily, such
feelings are yet by no means so infrequent with ourselves, that we need
stop here to depict them. That state of Unbelief from which the Germans
do seem to be in some measure delivered, still presses with incubus
force on the greater part of Europe; and nation after nation, each in
its own way, feels that the first of all moral problems is how to cast
it off, or how to rise above it. Governments naturally attempt the first
expedient; Philosophers, in general, the second.

The Poet, says Schiller, is a citizen not only of his country, but of
his time. Whatever occupies and interests men in general, will interest
him still more. That nameless Unrest, the blind struggle of a soul in
bondage, that high, sad, longing Discontent, which was agitating every
bosom, had driven Goethe almost to despair. All felt it; he alone could
give it voice. And here lies the secret of his popularity; in his deep,
susceptive heart, he felt a thousand times more keenly what every one
was feeling; with the creative gift which belonged to him as a poet, he
bodied it forth into visible shape, gave it a local habitation and a
name; and so made himself the spokesman of his generation. /Werter/
is but the cry of that dim, rooted pain, under which all thoughtful men
of a certain age were languishing: it paints the misery, it passionately
utters the complaint; and heart and voice, all over Europe, loudly and
at once respond to it. True, it prescribes no remedy; for that was a far
different, far harder enterprise, to which other years and a higher
culture were required; but even this utterance of the pain, even this
little, for the present, is ardently grasped at, and with eager sympathy
appropriated in every bosom. If Byron's life-weariness, his moody
melancholy, and mad stormful indignation, borne on the tones of a wild
and quite artless melody, could pierce so deep into many a British
heart, now that the whole matter is no longer new,--is indeed old and
trite,--we may judge with what vehement acceptance this /Werter/
must have been welcomed, coming as it did like a voice from unknown
regions; the first thrilling peal of that impassioned dirge, which, in
country after country, men's ears have listened to, till they were deaf
to all else. For /Werter/ infusing itself into the core and whole
spirit of Literature, gave birth to a race of Sentimentalists, who have
raged and wailed in every part of the world, till better light dawned on
them, or at worst, exhausted Nature laid herself to sleep, and it was
discovered that lamenting was an unproductive labour. These funereal
choristers, in Germany a loud, haggard, tumultuous, as well as tearful
class, were named the /Kraftmänner/ or Power-men; but have all long
since, like sick children, cried themselves to rest. Byron was our
English Sentimentalist and Power-man; the strongest of his kind in
Europe; the wildest, the gloomiest, and it may be hoped the last. For
what good is it to 'whine, put finger i' the eye, and sob,' in such a
case? Still more, to snarl and snap in malignant wise, 'like dog
distract, or monkey sick?' Why should we quarrel with our existence,
here as it lies before us, our field and inheritance, to make or mar,
for better or for worse; in which, too, so many noblest men have, even
from the beginning, warring with the very evils we war with, both made
and been what will be venerated to all time?

A wide and everyway most important interval divides /Werter/, with
its sceptical philosophy and 'hypochondriacal crotchets,' from Goethe's
next Novel, /Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship/, published some
twenty years afterwards. This work belongs, in all senses, to the second
and sounder period of Goethe's life, and may indeed serve as the
fullest, if perhaps not the purest, impress of it; being written with
due forethought, at various times, during a period of no less than ten
years. Considered as a piece of Art, there were much to be said on
/Meister/; all which, however, lies beyond our present purpose. We
are here looking at the work chiefly as a document for the writer's
history; and in this point of view, it certainly seems, as contrasted
with its more popular precursor, to deserve our best attention: for the
problem which had been stated in /Werter/, with despair of its
solution, is here solved. The lofty enthusiasm, which, wandering wildly
over the universe, found no resting-place, has here reached its
appointed home; and lives in harmony with what long appeared to threaten
it with annihilation. Anarchy has now become Peace; the once gloomy and
perturbed spirit is now serene, cheerfully vigorous, and rich in good
fruits. Neither, which is most important of all, has this Peace been
attained by a surrender to Necessity, or any compact with Delusion; a
seeming blessing, such as years and dispiritment will of themselves
bring to most men, and which is indeed no blessing, since even continued
battle is better than destruction or captivity; and peace of this sort
is like that of Galgacus's Romans, who 'called it peace when they had
made a desert.' Here the ardent high-aspiring youth has grown into the
calmest man, yet with increase and not loss of ardour, and with
aspirations higher as well as clearer. For he has conquered his
unbelief; the Ideal has been built on the Actual; no longer floats
vaguely in darkness and regions of dreams, but rests in light, on the
firm ground of human interest and business, as in its true scene, on its
true basis.

It is wonderful to see with, what softness the scepticism of Jarno, the
commercial spirit of Werner, the reposing polished manhood of Lothario
and the Uncle, the unearthly enthusiasm of the Harper, the gay animal
vivacity of Philina, the mystic, ethereal, almost spiritual nature of
Mignon, are blended together in this work; how justice is done to each,
how each lives freely in his proper element, in his proper form; and
how, as Wilhelm himself, the mild-hearted, all-hoping, all-believing
Wilhelm, struggles forward towards his world of Art through these
curiously complected influences, all this unites itself into a
multifarious, yet so harmonious Whole; as into a clear poetic mirror,
where man's life and business in this age, his passions and purposes,
the highest equally with the lowest, are imaged back to us in beautiful
significance. Poetry and Prose are no longer at variance; for the poet's
eyes are opened; he sees the changes of many-colored existence, and sees
the loveliness and deep purport which lies hidden under the very meanest
of them; hidden to the vulgar sight, but clear to the poet's; because
the 'open secret' is no longer a secret to him, and he knows that the
Universe is /full/ of goodness; that whatever has being has beauty.

Apart from its literary merits or demerits, such is the temper of mind
we trace in Goethe's /Meister/, and, more or less expressly
exhibited, in all his later works. We reckon it a rare phenomenon, this
temper; and worthy, in our times, if it do exist, of best study from all
inquiring men. How has such a temper been attained in this so lofty and
impetuous mind, once too, dark, desolate and full of doubt, more than
any other? How may we, each of us in his several sphere, attain it, or
strengthen it, for ourselves? These are questions, this last is a
question, in which no one is unconcerned.

To answer these questions, to begin the answer of them, would lead us
very far beyond our present limits. It is not, as we believe, without
long, sedulous study, without learning much and unlearning much, that,
for any man, the answer of such questions is even to be hoped.
Meanwhile, as regards Goethe, there is one feature of the business,
which, to us, throws considerable light on his moral persuasions, and
will not, in investigating the secret of them, be overlooked. We allude
to the spirit in which he cultivates his Art; the noble, disinterested,
almost religious love with which he looks on Art in general, and strives
towards it as towards the sure, highest, nay only good.

For a man of Goethe's talent to write many such pieces of rhetoric,
setting forth the dignity of poets, and their innate independence on
external circumstances, could be no very hard task; accordingly, we find
such sentiments again and again expressed, sometimes with still more
gracefulness, still clearer emphasis, in his various writings. But to
adopt these sentiments into his sober practical persuasion; in any
measure to feel and believe that such was still, and must always be, the
high vocation of the poet; on this ground of universal humanity, of
ancient and now almost forgotten nobleness, to take his stand, even in
these trivial, jeering, withered, unbelieving days; and through all
their complex, dispiriting, mean, yet tumultuous influences, to 'make
his light shine before them,' that it might beautify even our 'rag-
gathering age' with some beams of that mild, divine splendour, which had
long left us, the very possibility of which was denied; heartily and in
earnest to meditate all this, was no common proceeding; to bring it into
practice, especially in such a life as his has been, was among the
highest and hardest enterprises which any man whatever could engage in.
We reckon this a greater novelty, than all the novelties which as a mere
writer he ever put forth, whether for praise or censure. We have taken
it upon us to say that if such is, in any sense, the state of the case
with regard to Goethe, he deserves not mere approval as a pleasing poet
and sweet singer; but deep, grateful study, observance, imitation, as a
Moralist and Philosopher. If there be any /probability/ that such
is the state of the case, we cannot but reckon it a matter well worthy
of being inquired into. And it is for this only that we are here
pleading and arguing. Meister is the mature product of the first genius
of our times; and must, one would think, be different, in various
respects, from the immature products of geniuses who are far from the
first, and whose works spring from the brain in as many weeks as
Goethe's cost him years.

It may deserve to be mentioned here that Meister, at its first
appearance in Germany, was received very much as it has been in England.
Goethe's known character, indeed, precluded indifference there; but
otherwise it was much the same. The whole guild of criticism was thrown
into perplexity, into sorrow; everywhere was dissatisfaction open or
concealed. Official duty impelling them to speak, some said one thing,
some another; all felt in secret that they knew not what to say. Till
the appearance of Schlegel's /Character/, no word, that we have
seen, of the smallest chance to be decisive, or indeed to last beyond
the day, had been uttered regarding it. Some regretted that the fire of
/Werter/ was so wonderfully abated; whisperings there might be
about 'lowness,' 'heaviness;' some spake forth boldly in behalf of
suffering 'virtue.' Novalis was not among the speakers, but he censured
the work in secret, and this for a reason which to us will seem the
strangest; for its being, as we should say, a Benthamite work! Many are
the bitter aphorisms we find, among his Fragments, directed against
/Meister/ for its prosaic, mechanical, economical, coldhearted,
altogether Utilitarian character. We English again call Goethe a mystic;
so difficult is it to please all parties! But the good, deep, noble
Novalis made the fairest amends; for notwithstanding all this, Tieck
tells us, if we remember rightly, he continually returned to
/Meister/, and could not but peruse and reperuse it.

Goethe's /Wanderjahre/ was published in his seventy-second year;
/Werter/ in his twenty-fifth; thus in passing between these two
works, and over /Meister's Lehrjahre/ which stands nearly midway,
we have glanced over a space of almost fifty years, including within
them, of course, whatever was most important in his public or private
history. By means of these quotations, so diverse in their tone, we
meant to make it visible that a great change had taken place in the
moral disposition of the man; a change from inward imprisonment, doubt
and discontent, into freedom, belief and clear activity; such a change
as, in our opinion, must take place, more or less consciously, in every
character that, especially in these times, attains to spiritual manhood,
and in characters possessing any thoughtfulness and sensibility, will
seldom take place without a too painful consciousness, without bitter
conflicts, in which the character itself is too often maimed and
impoverished, and which end too often not in victory, but in defeat, or
fatal compromise with the enemy. Too often, we may well say; for though
many gird on the harness, few bear it warrior-like; still fewer put it
off with triumph. Among our own poets, Byron was almost the only man we
saw faithfully and manfully struggling, to the end, in this cause; and
he died while the victory was still doubtful, or at best, only beginning
to be gained. We have already stated our opinion, that Goethe's success
in this matter has been more complete than that of any other man in his
age; nay, that, in the strictest sense, he may almost be called the only
one that has so succeeded. On this ground, were it on no other, we have
ventured to say that his spiritual history and procedure must deserve
attention; that his opinions, his creations, his mode of thought, his
whole picture of the world as it dwells within him, must to his
contemporaries be an inquiry of no common interest; of an interest
altogether peculiar, and not in this degree exampled in existing
literature. These things can be but imperfectly stated here, and must be
left, not in a state of demonstration, but at the utmost, of loose
fluctuating probability; nevertheless, if inquired into, they will be
found to have a precise enough meaning, and, as we believe, a highly
important one.

For the rest, what sort of mind it is that has passed through this
change, that has gained this victory; how rich and high a mind; how
learned by study in all that is wisest, by experience in all that is
most complex, the brightest as well as the blackest, in man's existence;
gifted with what insight, with what grace and power of utterance, we
shall not for the present attempt discussing. All these the reader will
learn, who studies his writings with such attention as they merit; and
by no other means. Of Goethe's dramatic, lyrical, didactic poems, in
their thousandfold expressiveness, for they are full of expressiveness,
we can here say nothing. But in every department of Literature, of Art
ancient and modern, in many provinces of Science, we shall often meet
him; and hope to have other occasions of estimating what, in these
respects, we and all men owe him.

Two circumstances, meanwhile, we have remarked, which to us throw light
on the nature of his original faculty for Poetry, and go far to convince
us of the Mastery he has attained in that art: these we may here state
briefly, for the judgment of such as already know his writings, or the
help of such as are beginning to know them. The first is his singularly
emblematic intellect; his perpetual never-failing tendency to transform
into /shape/, into /life/, the opinion, the feeling that may dwell
in him; which, in its widest sense, we reckon to be essentially the grand
problem of the Poet. We do not mean mere metaphor and rhetorical trope:
these are but the exterior concern, often but the scaffolding of the
edifice, which is to be built up (within our thoughts) by means of them.
In allusions, in similitudes, though no one known to us is happier, many
are more copious than Goethe. But we find this faculty of his in the
very essence of his intellect; and trace it alike in the quiet cunning
epigram, the allegory, the quaint device, reminding us of some Quarles
or Bunyan; and in the /Fausts/, the /Tassos/, the
/Mignons/, which in their pure and genuine personality, may almost
remind us of the /Ariels/ and /Hamlets/ of Shakespeare.
Everything has form, everything has visual existence; the poet's
imagination /bodies forth/ the forms of things unseen, his pen
turns them to /shape/. This, as a natural endowment, exists in
Goethe, we conceive, to a very high degree.

The other characteristic of his mind, which proves to us his acquired
mastery in art, as this shows us the extent of his original capacity for
it, is his wonderful variety, nay universality; his entire freedom from
the Mannerism. We read Goethe for years, before we come to see wherein
the distinguishing peculiarity of his understanding, of his disposition,
even of his way of writing, consists. It seems quite a simple style that
of his; remarkable chiefly for its calmness, its perspicuity, in short
its commonness; and yet it is the most uncommon of all styles: we feel
as if every one might imitate it, and yet it is inimitable. As hard is
it to discover in his writings,--though there also, as in every man's
writings, the character of the writer must lie recorded,--what sort of
spiritual construction he has, what are his temper, his affections, his
individual specialties. For all lives freely within him: Philina and
Clanchen, Mephistopheles and Mignon, are alike indifferent, or alike
dear to him; he is of no sect or caste: he seems not this man or that
man, but a man. We reckon this to be the characteristic of a Master in
Art of any sort; and true especially of all great Poets. How true is it
of Shakespeare and Homer! Who knows, or can figure what the Man
Shakespeare was, by the first, by the twentieth perusal of his works? He
is a Voice coming to us from the Land of Melody: his old brick dwelling-
place, in the mere earthly burgh of Stratford-on-Avon, offers us the
most inexplicable enigma. And what is Homer in the /Ilias/? He is
THE WITNESS; he has seen, and he reveals it; we hear and believe, but do
not behold him. Now compare, with these two Poets, any other two; not of
equal genius, for there are none such, but of equal sincerity, who wrote
as earnestly and from the heart, like them. Take, for instance, Jean
Paul and Lord Byron. The good Eichter begins to show himself, in his
broad, massive, kindly, quaint significance, before we have read many
pages of even his slightest work; and to the last he paints himself much
better than his subject. Byron may also be said to have painted nothing
else than himself, be his subject what it might. Yet as a test for the
culture of a Poet, in his poetical capacity, for his pretensions to
mastery and completeness in his art, we cannot but reckon this among the
surest. Tried by this, there is no writer that approaches within many
degrees of Goethe.



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfort on August 28, 1749. His
parents were citizens of that imperial town, and Wolfgang was their only
son. His father was born on July 31, 1710. He married, on August 20,
1748, at the age of thirty-eight, Catherine Elizabeth Textor. In
December, 1750, was born a daughter, Cornelia, who remained until her
death, at the age of twenty-seven, her brother's most intimate friend.
She was married in 1773 to John George Schlosser. Goethe's education was
irregular. French culture gave at this time the prevailing tone to
Europe. Goethe could not have escaped its influence, and he was destined
to fall under it in a special manner. In the Seven Years' War, which was
now raging, France took the side of the empire against Frederick the
Great. Frankfort was full of French soldiers, and a certain Comte
Thorane, who was quartered in Goethe's house, had an important influence
on the boy.

Goethe, if we may believe his autobiography, experienced his first love
about the age of fifteen in the person of Gretchen, whom some have
supposed to be the daughter of an innkeeper at Offenbach. He worshipped
her as Dante worshipped Beatrice.

In the autumn of 1765 Goethe traveled to Leipsic. On the 19th of October
he was admitted as a student. He was sent to Leipsic to study law, in
order that he might return to Frankfort fitted for the regular course of
municipal distinction. He intended to devote himself not to law, but to
belles lettres. He attended Gellert's lectures on literature, and even
joined his private class. His real university education was derived from
intercourse with his friends. First among these was J. G. Schlosser, who
afterwards married his sister. He had a great influence upon him,
chiefly in introducing him to a wider circle of German, French, English
and Italian poetry.

But the person who had the strongest effect on Goethe's mental
development was Adam Frederick Oeser, at this time director of the
academy of arts in Leipsic.

Goethe, from his earliest years, was never without a passion, and at
Leipsic his passion was Kitty Schönkopf, the Aennchen of the
autobiography, the daughter of the host at whose house he dined. She
often teased him with her inconstant ways, and to this experience is due
his first drama, "Die Laune des Verliebten," "Lovers' Quarrels," as it
may be styled. A deeper chord is struck in "Die Mitschuldigen" (The
Fellow Sinners), which forms a dismal and forbidding picture both of the
time and of the experiences of the youth who wrote it. He had an
opportunity of establishing his principles of taste during a short visit
at Dresden, in which he devoted himself to the pictures and the
antiques. The end of Goethe's stay at Leipsic was saddened by illness.
One morning at the beginning of the summer he was awakened by a violent
hemorrhage. For several days he hung between life and death, and after
that his recovery was slow. He left Leipsic far from well on August 28,

Goethe made an enforced stay of a year and a half. It was perhaps the
least happy part of his life. His cure proceeded slowly, and he had
several relapses. His family relations were not pleasant. His father
showed but little sympathy with his aspirations for universal culture,
and could imagine no career for him but that of a successful jurist. His
sister had grown somewhat harsh and cold during his absence. Goethe's
mother was always the same to him--a bright, genial, sympathetic friend.
Goethe, during his illness, received great attention from Fräulein von
Klettenberg, a friend of his mother's, a pietist of the Moravian school.
She initiated him into the mystical writings of those abstracted saints,
and she engaged him in the study of alchemy, which served at once to
prepare him for the conception of Faust and for the scientific
researches of his later days.

He arrived at Strasburg April 2,1770. Goethe stayed in Strasburg till
August 28, 1771, his twenty-second birthday, and these sixteen months
are perhaps the most important of his life. During them he came into
active contact with most of those impulses of which his after life was a
development. If we would understand his mental growth, we must ask who
were his friends. He took his meals at the house of the Fräulein Lauth
in the Kramergasse. The table was mainly filled with medical students.
At the head of it sat Salzmann, a grave man of fifty years of age. His
experience and his refined taste were very attractive to Goethe, who
made him his intimate friend. The table of the Fräulein Lauth received
some new guests. Among these was Jung-Stilling, the self-educated
charcoal-burner, who in his memoir has left a graphic account of
Goethe's striking appearance, in his broad brow, his flashing eye, his
mastery of the company, and his generosity. Another was Lerse, a frank,
open character, who became Goethe's favorite, and whose name is
immortalized in Götz von Berlichingen.

Goethe's stay at Strasburg is generally connected still more closely
with another circumstance--his passion for Frederike Brion of Sesenheim.
The village lies about twenty miles from Strasburg, and her father was
pastor there. Goethe was introduced by his friend Weyland, as a poor
theological student. The father was a simple, worthy man, the eldest of
the three daughters was married, the two younger remained--Maria Salome,
and Frederike, to whom the poet principally devoted himself. She was
tall and slight, with fair hair and blue eyes, and just sixteen years of
age. Goethe gave himself up to the passion of the moment. During the
winter of 1770, Goethe often rode over to Sesenheim. Neither storm, nor
cold, nor darkness kept him back. As his time for leaving Strasburg came
nearer he felt that his love was merely a dream and could have no
serious termination. Frederike felt the same on her side. On August 6th
Goethe took his degree as a doctor of law. Shortly afterwards he bade
adieu to Sesenheim. Frederike lived till 1813 and died single.

Goethe's return to Frankfort is marked by a number of songs, of which
the "Wanderer's Sturmlied" is the most remarkable. He had outgrown many
of the friends of his youth. Those with whom he felt most sympathy were
the two Schlossers and his sister Cornelia. He found in her one who
sympathized with all his aspirations. The work into which he threw all
his genius was the dramatization of the history of the imperial knight
of the Middle Ages, Gottfried or Götz von Berlichingen. The immediate
cause of this enterprise was his enthusiasm for Shakespeare. After
reading him he felt, he said, like a blind man who suddenly receives his
sight. The study of a dry and dull biography of Götz, published in 1731,
supplied the subject for his awakened powers. From this miserable sketch
he conceived within his mind a complete picture of Germany in the
sixteenth century. The chief characters of his play are creatures of his
imagination, representing the principal types which made up the history
of the time. Every personage is made to live; they speak in short, sharp
sentences like the powerful lines of a great master's drawing. The first
sketch of Götz was finished in six weeks, in the autumn of 1771. It ran
like wild-fire through the whole of Germany.

Goethe left Frankfort in the spring of 1772 for Wetzlar, a quiet country
town on the Lahn, one of the seats of government of the Holy Roman
Empire. The emperors lived at Vienna; they were crowned at Frankfort;
they held their parliaments at Ratisbon, and at Wetzlar their courts of
justice. It was the custom for young lawyers to attend the sittings of
these courts for a certain time before they could be admitted to
practice on their own account. The company of these students, of the
embassies from the component parts of the empire, and of various
imperial officials, made the society a pleasant and lively one. Goethe
soon found friends. His favorite house was occupied by one of the
officials of the order, by name Buff, an honest man with a large family
of children. The second daughter, Lotte, blue-eyed, fair and just twenty
years of age, was first met by Goethe, shortly after his arrival, at a
ball at Wolpertshausen. She strongly attracted him; he became a constant
visitor at the house. He found that Lotte was a second mother to her
brothers and sisters. Lotte, was really, though not formally, engaged to
Kestner, a man of two-and-thirty, secretary to the Hanoverian legation.
The discovery of this relation made no difference to Goethe; he remained
the devoted friend to both. But the position was too critical to last.
On September 10 they met in the German house for the last time. Goethe
and Schlosser went together to Wetzlar in November. Here he heard of the
death of Jerusalem, a young man attached to the Brunswick legation. He
had been with Goethe at the University of Leipsic. Of a moody
temperament, disheartened by failure in his profession, and soured by a
hopeless passion for the wife of another, he had borrowed a pair of
pistols under pretense of a journey, and had shot himself on the night
of October 29.

Goethe immediately afterwards began his Werther. Goethe tells us that it
was written in four weeks. In October it spread over the whole of
Germany. It was enthusiastically beloved or sternly condemned. It was
printed, imitated, translated into every language of Europe. Götz and
Werther formed the solid foundation of Goethe's fame. It is difficult to
imagine that the same man can have produced both works, so different are
they in matter and style. Götz was the first manly appeal to the
chivalry of German spirit, which, caught up by other voices, sounded
throughout the Fatherland like the call of a warder's trumpet, till it
produced a national courage, founded on the recollection of an
illustrious past, which overthrew the might of the conqueror at the
moment when he seemed about to dominate the world. Werther, as soft and
melodious as Plato, was the first revelation to the world of that
marvelous style which, in the hands of a master, compels a language
which is as rich as Greek to be also as musical.

The spring of 1773, which witnessed the publication of Götz, saw him
actively employed as an advocate. In November, Goethe's sister Cornelia
was married to Schlosser and left Strasburg. Goethe felt the loss
deeply. She lived but a short time. Her married life was tortured with
suffering, and she died in 1777.

The summer of 1774 was spent in a journey to the Rhine. Goethe returned
to Frankfort at the beginning of August. On December 11, Goethe was
surprised by the visit of a stranger. It was Karl Ludwig von Knebel, who
was traveling with the two princes of Saxe-Weimar, the reigning duke,
Karl August, then just seventeen, and his younger brother, Constantine.
This meeting decided the future course of Goethe's life.

He now came under the influence of Lili Schönemann, the daughter of a
rich banker. This passion seemed to be of a more lasting nature than the

Neither family approved of the engagement between the youthful couple.
Goethe tore himself away, and went for a tour in Switzerland.

He returned to Frankfort on July 20. August was spent delightfully with
Lili at Offenbach; his letters speak of nothing but her. He wrote some
scenes in Faust--the walk in the garden, the first conversation with
Mephistopheles, the interview with the scholar, the scene in Auerbach's
cellar. Egmont was also begun under the stimulus of the American
Rebellion. A way of escaping from his embarrassments was unexpectedly
opened to him. The duke of Weimar passed through Frankfort both before
and after his marriage, which took place on October 3. He invited Goethe
to stay at Weimar. It was not for his happiness or for Lili's that they
should have married. She afterwards thanked him deeply for the firmness
with which he overcame a temptation to which she would have yielded.

At this time the smaller German courts were beginning to take an
interest in German literature. Before the Seven Years' War the whole of
German culture had been French. Even now German writers found but scant
acceptance at Berlin or Vienna. The princes of the smaller states
surrounded themselves with literature and art. The duke of Brunswick had
made Lessing his librarian. The duke of Würtemberg paid special
attention to education; he promoted the views of Schubart, and founded
the school in which Schiller was educated. Hanover offered a home to
Zimmermann, and encouraged the development of Schlegel. Darmstadt was
especially fortunate. Caroline, the wife of the landgrave, had
surrounded herself with a literary circle, of which Merck was the moving
spirit. She had collected and privately printed the odes of Klopstock,
and her death in 1774 seemed to leave Darmstadt a desert. Her daughter,
Louisa, seemed to have inherited something of her mother's qualities.
She married, on October 3,1775, the young duke of Weimar, who was just
of age. She was of the house of Brunswick, and after two years of
marriage had been left a widow at nineteen, with two sons. She committed
their education to Count Görz, a prominent character in the history of
the time. She afterwards summoned Wieland to instruct the elder, and
Knebel to instruct the younger.

Upon this society Goethe rose like a star. From the moment of his
arrival he became the inseparable companion of the grand-duke. The first
months at Weimar were spent in a wild round of pleasure. Goethe was
treated as a guest. In the autumn, journeys, rides, shooting parties; in
the winter, balls, masquerades, skating parties by torch-light, dancing
at peasants' feasts, filled up their time. Evil reports flew about
Germany. We may believe that no decencies were disregarded except the
artificial restrictions of courtly etiquette. In the spring he had to
decide whether he would go or stay. In April the duke gave him the
little garden by the side of the Ilm. In June he invested him with the
title, so important to Germans, of /Geheimlegationsrath/, with a
seat and voice in the privy council and an income.

Goethe's life was at no time complete without the influence of a noble-
hearted woman. This he found in Charlotte von Stein, a lady of the
court, wife of the master of the horse.

The close of 1779 was occupied by a winter journey to Switzerland. Two
days were spent at Frankfort with Goethe's parents. Sesenheim was
visited, and left with satisfaction and contentment. At Strasburg they
found as to Lessing. The repertoire of the Weimar theater was stocked
with pieces of solid merit, which long held their place. In August,
1792, he accompanied the duke to the campaign in the Ardennes. In 1793
he went with his master to the siege of Mainz. Goethe took the old
German epic of Reynard the Fox, with which he had long been familiar,
and which, under the guise of animals, represents the conflicting
passions of men, and rewrote it.

Thus far he had produced but little since his return from Italy. His
friendship with Schiller was now to begin, an alliance which, in the
closeness of its intimacy and its deep effect on the character of both
friends, has scarcely a parallel in literary history. If Schiller was
not at this time at the height of his reputation, he had written many of
the works which have made his name famous. He was ten years younger than
Goethe. The Räuber plays the same part in his literary history as Götz
plays in that of Goethe. This had been followed by Fiesco and Kabale und
Liebe. In 1787 he settled at Weimar. The first effect of Schiller's
influence on Goethe was the completion of Wilhelm Meister's
Apprenticeship. It stands in the first rank of Goethe's writings. A more
solid result of the friendship between the poets was the production of
Hermann und Dorothea.

The latter half of 1798 was occupied with a tour in Switzerland. Before
its commencement he visited his mother at Frankfort for the last time,
and presented to her his wife and his son. In the beginning of 1805
Goethe was convinced that either he or Schiller would die in that year.
In January they were both seized with illness. Schiller was the first to
recover, and, visiting Goethe in his sick room, fell on his neck and
kissed him with intense emotion. On April 29 they saw each other for the
last time. Schiller was on his way to the theater, whither Goethe was
too ill to accompany him. They parted at the door of Schiller's house.
Schiller died on the evening of the 9th of May. No one dared to tell
Goethe the sad news, but he saw on the faces of those who surrounded him
that Schiller must be very ill. On the morrow of Schiller's death, when
his wife entered his room, he said, "Is it not true that Schiller was
very ill yesterday?" She began to sob. He then cried, "He is dead!"
"Thou hast spoken it thyself," she answered. Goethe turned aside and
covered his weeping eyes with his hands. Since that time Schiller and
Goethe have been inseparable in the minds of their countrymen.

On October 14, 1806, the battle of Jena was fought. The court had fled
from Weimar. On the 15th Napoleon and Goethe met. It was at the congress
of Erfurt, where the sovereigns and princes of Europe were assembled.
Goethe's presence was commanded by the duke. He was invited to an
audience on October 2. The emperor sat at a large round table eating his
breakfast. He beckoned Goethe to approach him. He asked how old he was,
expressed his wonder at the freshness of his appearance, said that he
had read Werther through seven times, and made some acute remarks on the
management of the plot. Then, after an interruption, he said that
tragedy ought to be the school of kings and peoples; that there was no
subject worthier of treatment than the death of Caesar, which Voltaire
had treated insufficiently. A great poet would have given prominence to
Caesar's plans for the regeneration of the world, and shown what a loss
mankind had suffered by his murder.

The idea of writing Faust seems to have come to Goethe in his earliest
manhood. He was brooding over it at the same time with Götz von
Berlichingen. Faust justly stands at the head of all Goethe's works.
Founded on a well-known popular tale, indebted for its interest and
pathos to incidents of universal experience, it deals with the deepest
problems which can engage the mind of man.

In 1809 he finished The Elective Affinities.

It was natural at the beginning of a new course of life that Goethe
should write an account of his past existence. The study of his
collected poems made it apparent to him how necessary it was to furnish
a key by which they might be understood. These various causes led to the
composition of /Dichtung und Wahrheit/ (Poetry and Truth), an
autobiographical history of the poet's life from his birth till his
settlement at Weimar. This work is the cause of much embarrassment to
the poet's biographers. Where it ought to be the most trustworthy source
of information, it is most misleading.

Once more in his old age Goethe came under the sovereignty of a woman.
She was Marianne von Willemer, the newly married wife of a Frankfort
banker. Goethe made her acquaintance in a journey which he took in the
Rhine country. The correspondence between Goethe and Marianne was
published in 1877. It extends almost to the day of his death, and
includes letters from Eckermann giving an account of his last moments.

The last twelve years of Goethe's life, when he had passed his
seventieth birthday, were occupied by his criticisms on the literature
of foreign countries, by the Wanderjahre, and the second part of Faust.
He was the literary dictator of Germany and of Europe. The Wanderjahre
contains some of Goethe's most beautiful conceptions, The Flight Into
Egypt, The Description of the Pedagogic Province, The Parable of the
Three Reverences.

The second part of Faust has been a battlefield of controversy since its
publication, and demands fuller attention. Its fate may be compared with
that of the latest works of Beethoven. For a long time it was regarded
as impossible to understand, and as not worth understanding, the
production of a great artist whose faculties had been impaired by age.
By degrees it has, by careful labor, become intelligible to us, and the
conviction is growing that it is the deepest and most important work of
the author's life.

He had much to darken his latter days. His wife had died in 1816. He
felt her loss bitterly. The Duchess Amalia had died eight years before.
He had now to undergo bitterer experiences when he was less able to bear
them. Frau von Stein, with whom he had renewed his friendship, if not
his love, died in January, 1827; and in June, 1828, he lost the
companion of his youth, the Grand Duke Karl August, who died suddenly,
away from Weimar.

We must pass to the closing scenes. On Thursday, March 15, 1832, he
spent his last cheerful and happy day. He awoke the next morning with a
chill. From this he gradually recovered, and on Monday was so much
better that he designed to begin his regular work on the next day. But
in the middle of the night he woke with a deathly coldness, which
extended from his hands over his body, and which took many hours to
subdue. It then appeared that the lungs were attacked, and that there
was no hope of his recovery. Goethe did not anticipate death. He sat
fully clothed in his arm chair, made attempts to reach his study, spoke
confidently of his recovery, and of the walks he would take in the fine
April days. His daughter-in-law Ottilie tended him faithfully. On the
morning of the 22d his strength gradually left him. He sat slumbering in
his arm chair, holding Ottilie's hand. Her name was constantly on his
lips. His mind occasionally wandered, at one time to his beloved
Schiller, at another to a fair female head with black curls, some
passion of his youth. His last words were an order to his servant to
open the second shutter to let in more light. After this he traced with
his forefinger letters in the air. At half-past eleven in the day he
drew himself, without any sign of pain, into the left corner of his arm
chair, and went so peacefully to sleep that it was long before the
watchers knew that his spirit was really gone. He is buried in the
grand-ducal vault, where the bones of Schiller are also laid.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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