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Author's Preface

As a preface to the present work, which, perhaps, more than another,
requires one, I adduce the letter of a friend, by which so serious an
undertaking was occasioned.

"We have now, my dear friend, collected the twelve parts of your
poetical works, and, on reading them through, find much that is known,
much that is unknown; while much that had been forgotten is revived by
this collection. These twelve volumes standing before us in uniform
appearance, we cannot refrain from regarding as a whole; and one would
like to sketch therefrom some image of the author and his talents. But
it cannot be denied, considering the vigor with which he began his
literary career, and the length of time which has since elapsed, that a
dozen small volumes must appear incommensurate. Nor can one forget,
that, with respect to the detached pieces, they have mostly been called
forth by special occasions, and reflect particular external objects, as
well as distinct grades of inward culture; while it is equally clear,
that temporary moral and ęsthetic maxims and convictions prevail in
them. As a whole, however, these productions remain without connection;
nay, it is often difficult to believe that they emanate from one and the
same writer.

"Your friends, in the mean time, have not relinquished the inquiry, and
try, as they become more closely acquainted with your mode of life and
thought, to guess many a riddle, to solve many a problem; indeed, with
the assistance of an old liking, and a connection of many years'
standing, they find a charm even in the difficulties which present
themselves. Yet a little assistance here and there would not be
unacceptable, and you cannot well refuse this to our friendly

"The first thing, then, we require, is that your poetical works,
arranged in the late edition according to some internal relations, may
be presented by you in chronological order, and that the states of life
and feeling which afforded the examples that influenced you, and the
theoretical principles by which you were governed, may be imparted in
some kind of connection. Bestow this labor for the gratification of a
limited circle, and perhaps it may give rise to something that will be
entertaining and useful to an extensive one. The author, to the most
advanced period of his life, should not relinquish the advantage of
communicating, even at a distance, with those whom affection binds to
him; and if it is not granted to every one to step forth anew, at a
certain age, with surprising and powerful productions, yet just at that
period of life, when knowledge is most perfect, and consciousness most
distinct, it must be a very agreeable and re-animating task to treat
former creations as new matter, and work them up into a kind of Last
Part, which may serve once more for the edification of those who have
been previously edified with and by the artist."

This desire, so kindly expressed, immediately awakened within me an
inclination to comply with it: for if, in the early years of life, our
passions lead us to follow our own course, and, in order not to swerve
from it, we impatiently repel the demands of others; so, in our later
days, it becomes highly advantageous to us, should any sympathy excite
and determine us, cordially, to new activity. I therefore instantly
undertook the preparatory labor of separating the poems, both great and
small, of my twelve volumes, and of arranging them according to years. I
strove to recall the times and circumstances under which each had been
produced. But the task soon grew more difficult, as full explanatory
notes and illustrations were necessary to fill up the chasms between
those which had already been given to the world. For, in the first
place, all on which I had originally exercised myself were wanting, many
that had been begun and not finished were also wanting, and of many that
were finished even the external form had completely disappeared, having
since been entirely reworked and cast into a different shape. Besides, I
had also to call to mind how I had labored in the sciences and other
arts, and what, in such apparently foreign departments, both
individually and in conjunction with friends, I had practised in
silence, or had laid before the public.

All this I wished to introduce by degrees for the satisfaction of my
well-wishers, but my efforts and reflections always led me farther on;
since while I was anxious to comply with that very considerate request,
and labored to set forth in succession my internal emotions, external
influences, and the steps which, theoretically and practically, I had
trod, I was carried out of my narrow private sphere into the wide world.
The images of a hundred important men, who either directly or indirectly
had influenced me, presented themselves to my view; and even the
prodigious movements of the great political world, which had operated
most extensively upon me, as well as upon the whole mass of my
contemporaries, had to be particularly considered. For this seems to be
the main object of biography,--to exhibit the man in relation to the
features of his time, and to show to what extent they have opposed or
favored his progress; what view of mankind and the world he has formed
from them, and how far he himself, if an artist, poet, or author, may
externally reflect them. But for this is required what is scarcely
attainable; namely, that the individual should know himself and his
age,--himself, so far as he has remained the same under all
circumstances; his age, as that which carries along with it, determines
and fashions, both the willing and the unwilling: so that one may
venture to pronounce, that any person born ten years earlier or later
would have been quite a different being, both as regards his own culture
and his influence on others.

In this manner, from such reflections and endeavors, from such
recollections and considerations, arose the present delineation; and
from this point of view, as to its origin, will it be the best enjoyed
and used, and most impartially estimated. For any thing further it may
be needful to say, particularly with respect to the half-poetical, half-
historic, mode of treatment, an opportunity will, no doubt, frequently
occur in the course of the narrative.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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