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Autobiography by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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[Illustration: PICTURE OF GOETHE]










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 /Gtz 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, /Gtz,/
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 /Gtz 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 /Kraftmnner/ 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 Schnkopf, 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 Frulein 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 Frulein 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 Frulein 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 Gtz 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 Gtz 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 Gtz, 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 Gtz 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. Gtz 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. Gtz 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 Gtz, 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 Schnemann, 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 Wrtemberg 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 Grz, 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 Ruber plays the same part in his literary history as Gtz
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 Gtz 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.



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 sthetic 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.















On the 28th of August, 1749, at mid-day, as the clock struck twelve, I
came into the world, at Frankfort-on-the-Main. My horoscope was
propitious: the sun stood in the sign of the Virgin, and had culminated
for the day; Jupiter and Venus looked on him with a friendly eye, and
Mercury not adversely; while Saturn and Mars kept themselves
indifferent; the moon alone, just full, exerted the power of her
reflection all the more, as she had then reached her planetary hour. She
opposed herself, therefore, to my birth, which could not be accomplished
until this hour was passed.

These good aspects, which the astrologers managed subsequently to reckon
very auspicious for me, may have been the causes of my preservation;
for, through the unskilfulness of the midwife, I came into the world as
dead; and only after various efforts was I enabled to see the light.
This event, which had put our household into sore straits, turned to the
advantage of my fellow-citizens, inasmuch as my grandfather, the
/Schultheiss/ [Footnote: A chief judge or magistrate of the town.],
John Wolfgang Textor, took occasion from it to have an /accoucheur/
appointed, and to introduce, or revive, the tuition of midwives, which
may have done some good to those who were born after me.

When we desire to recall what happened to us in the earliest period of
youth, it often happens that we confound what we have heard from others
with that which we really possess from our own direct experience.
Without, therefore, instituting a very close investigation into the
point, which, after all, could lead to nothing, I am conscious that we
lived in an old house, which, in fact, consisted of two adjoining
houses, that had been opened into each other. A winding staircase led to
rooms on different levels, and the unevenness of the stories was
remedied by steps. For us children,--a younger sister and myself,--the
favorite resort was a spacious floor below, near the door of which was a
large wooden lattice that allowed us direct communication with the
street and open air. A bird-cage of this sort, with which many houses
were provided, was called a frame (/Germs/). The women sat in it
to sew and knit; the cook picked her salad there; female neighbors
chatted with each other; and the streets consequently, in the fine
season, wore a southern aspect. One felt at ease while in communication
with the public. We children, too, by means of these frames, were
brought into contact with our neighbors, of whom three brothers Von
Ochsenstein, the surviving sons of the deceased /Schultheiss/,
living on the other side of the way, won my love, and occupied and
diverted themselves with me in many ways.

Our family liked to tell of all sorts of waggeries to which I was
enticed by these otherwise grave and solitary men. Let one of these
pranks suffice for all. A crockery-fair had just been held, from which
not only our kitchen had been supplied for a while with articles for a
long time to come, but a great deal of small gear of the same ware had
been purchased as playthings for us children. One fine afternoon, when
every thing was quiet in the house, I whiled away the time with my pots
and dishes in the frame, and, finding that nothing more was to be got
out of them, hurled one of them into the street. The Von Ochsensteins,
who saw me so delighted at the fine smash it made, that I clapped my
hands for joy, cried out, "Another." I was not long in flinging out a
pot; and, as they made no end to their calls for more, by degrees the
whole collection, platters, pipkins, mugs and all, were dashed upon the
pavement. My neighbors continued to express their approbation, and I was
highly delighted to give them pleasure. But my stock was exhausted; and
still they shouted, "More." I ran, therefore, straight to the kitchen,
and brought the earthenware, which produced a still livelier spectacle
in breaking; and thus I kept running backwards and forwards, fetching
one plate after another, as I could reach it from where they stood in
rows on the shelf. But, as that did not satisfy my audience, I devoted
all the ware that I could drag out to similar destruction. It was not
till afterwards that any one appeared to hinder and forbid. The mischief
was done; and, in place of so much broken crockery, there was at least a
ludicrous story, in which the roguish authors took special delight to
the end of their days.

My father's mother, for it was her house in which we dwelt, lived in a
large back-room directly on the ground-floor; and we were accustomed to
carry on our sports even up to her chair, and, when she was ill, up to
her bedside. I remember her, as it were, a spirit,--a handsome, thin
woman, always neatly dressed in white. Mild, gentle, and kind, she has
ever remained in my memory.

The street in which our house was situated passed by the name of the
Stag-Ditch; but, as neither stags nor ditches were to be seen, we wished
to have the term explained. They told us that our house stood on a spot
that was once outside the city, and that, where the street now was,
there had formerly been a ditch, in which a number of stags were kept.
These stags were preserved and fed here because the senate, every year,
according to an ancient custom, feasted publicly on a stag, which was
therefore always at hand in the ditch for such a festival, in case
princes or knights interfered with the city's right of chase outside, or
the walls were encompassed or besieged by an enemy. This pleased us
much, and we wished that such a lair for tame animals could have been
seen in our times.

The back of the house, from the second story particularly, commanded a
very pleasant prospect over an almost immeasurable extent of neighboring
gardens, stretching to the very walls of the city. But, alas! in
transforming what were once public grounds into private gardens, our
house, and some others lying towards the corner of the street, had been
much stinted; since the houses towards the horse-market had appropriated
spacious out-houses and large gardens to themselves, while a tolerably
high wall shut us out from these adjacent paradises.

On the second floor was a room which was called the garden-room, because
they had there endeavored to supply the want of a garden by means of a
few plants placed before the window. As I grew older, it was there that
I made my favorite, not melancholy, but somewhat sentimental, retreat.
Over these gardens, beyond the city's walls and ramparts, might be seen
a beautiful and fertile plain, the same which stretches towards Hchst.
In the summer season I commonly learned my lessons there, and watched
the thunderstorms, but could never look my fill at the setting sun,
which went down directly opposite my windows. And when, at the same
time, I saw the neighbors wandering through their gardens, taking care
of their flowers, the children playing, parties of friends enjoying
themselves, and could hear the bowls rolling and the ninepins dropping,
it early excited within me a feeling of solitude, and a sense of vague
longing resulting from it, which, conspiring with the seriousness and
awe implanted in me by nature, exerted its influence at an early age,
and showed itself more distinctly in after-years.

The old, many-cornered, and gloomy arrangement of the house was,
moreover, adapted to awaken dread and terror in childish minds.
Unfortunately, too, the principle of discipline, that young persons
should be early deprived of all fear for the awful and invisible, and
accustomed to the terrible, still prevailed. We children, therefore,
were compelled to sleep alone; and when we found this impossible, and
softly slipped from our beds, to seek the society of the servants and
maids, our father, with his dressing-gown turned inside out, which
disguised him sufficiently for the purpose, placed himself in the way,
and frightened us back to our resting-places. The evil effect of this
any one may imagine. How is he who is encompassed with a double terror
to be emancipated from fear? My mother, always cheerful and gay, and
willing to render others so, discovered a much better pedagogical
expedient. She managed to gain her end by rewards. It was the season for
peaches, the plentiful enjoyment of which she promised us every morning
if we overcame our fears during the night. In this way she succeeded,
and both parties were satisfied.

In the interior of the house my eyes were chiefly attracted by a series
of Roman views, with which my father had ornamented an ante-room. They
were engravings by some of the accomplished predecessors of Piranesi,
who well understood perspective and architecture, and whose touches were
clear and excellent. There I saw every day the Piazza del Popolo, the
Colosseum, the Piazza of St. Peter's, and St. Peter's Church, within and
without, the castle of St. Angelo, and many other places. These images
impressed themselves deeply upon me, and my otherwise very laconic
father was often so kind as to furnish descriptions of the objects. His
partiality for the Italian language, and for every thing pertaining to
Italy, was very decided. A small collection of marbles and natural
curiosities, which he had brought with him thence, he often showed to
us; and he devoted a great part of his time to a description of his
travels, written in Italian, the copying and correction of which he
slowly and accurately completed, in several parcels, with his own hand.
A lively old teacher of Italian, called Giovinazzi, was of service to
him in this work. The old man, moreover, did not sing badly, and my
mother every day must needs accompany him and herself upon the
clavichord; and thus I speedily learned the "Solitario bosco ombroso,"
so as to know it by heart before I understood it.

My father was altogether of a didactic turn, and in his retirement from
business liked to communicate to others what he knew or was able to do.
Thus, during the first years of their marriage, he had kept my mother
busily engaged in writing, playing the clavichord, and singing, by which
means she had been laid under the necessity of acquiring some knowledge
and a slight readiness in the Italian tongue.

Generally we passed all our leisure hours with my grandmother, in whose
spacious apartment we found plenty of room for our sports. She contrived
to engage us with various trifles, and to regale us with all sorts of
nice morsels. But, one Christmas evening, she crowned all her kind deeds
by having a puppet-show exhibited before us, and thus unfolding a new
world in the old house. This unexpected drama attracted our young minds
with great force; upon the boy particularly it made a very strong
impression, which continued to vibrate with a great and lasting effect.

The little stage, with its speechless personages, which at the outset
had only been exhibited to us, but was afterwards given over for our own
use and dramatic vivification, was prized more highly by us children, as
it was the last bequest of our good grandmother, whom encroaching
disease first withdrew from our sight, and death next tore away from our
hearts forever. Her departure was of still more importance to our
family, as it drew after it a complete change in our condition.

As long as my grandmother lived, my father had refrained from changing
or renovating the house, even in the slightest particular; though it was
known that he had pretty large plans of building, which were now
immediately begun. In Frankfort, as in many other old towns, when
anybody put up a wooden structure, he ventured, for the sake of space,
to make, not only the first, but each successive, story project over the
lower one, by which means narrow streets especially were rendered
somewhat dark and confined. At last a law was passed, that every one
putting up a new house from the ground, should confine his projections
to the first upper story, and carry the others up perpendicularly. My
father, that he might not lose the projecting space in the second story,
caring little for outward architectural appearance, and anxious only for
the good and convenient arrangement of the interior, resorted to the
expedient which others had employed before him, of propping the upper
part of the house, until one part after another had been removed from
the bottom upwards, and a new house, as it were, inserted in its place.
Thus, while comparatively none of the old structure remained, the new
one merely passed for a repair. Now, as the tearing down and building up
was done gradually, my father determined not to quit the house, that he
might better direct and give his orders; as he possessed a good
knowledge of the technicalities of building. At the same time, he would
not suffer his family to leave him. This new epoch was very surprising
and strange for the children. To see the rooms in which they had so
often been confined and pestered with wearisome tasks and studies, the
passages they had played in, the walls which had always been kept so
carefully clean, all falling before the mason's hatchet and the
carpenter's axe,--and that from the bottom upwards; to float as it were
in the air, propped up by beams, being, at the same time, constantly
confined to a certain lesson or definite task,--all this produced a
commotion in our young heads that was not easily settled. But the young
people felt the inconvenience less, because they had somewhat more space
for play than before, and had many opportunities of swinging on beams,
and playing at see-saw with the boards.

At first my father obstinately persisted in carrying out his plan; but
when at last even the roof was partly removed, and the rain reached our
beds, in spite of the carpets that had been taken up, converted into
tarpaulin, and stretched over as a defense, he determined, though
reluctantly, that the children should be intrusted for a time to some
kind friends, who had already offered their services, and sent to a
public school.

This transition was rather unpleasant; for, when the children, who had
all along been kept at home in a secluded, pure, refined, yet strict
manner, were thrown among a rude mass of young creatures, they were
compelled unexpectedly to suffer every thing from the vulgar, bad, and
even base, since they lacked both weapons and skill to protect

It was properly about this period that I first became acquainted with my
native city, which I strolled over with more and more freedom, in every
direction, sometimes alone, and sometimes in the company of lively
companions. To convey to others in any degree the impression made upon
me by these grave and revered spots, I must here introduce a description
of my birthplace, as in its different parts it was gradually unfolded to
me. What I liked more than any thing was, to promenade on the great
bridge spanning the Main. Its length, its firmness, and its fine
appearance, rendered it a notable structure; and it was, besides, almost
the only memorial left from ancient times of the precautions due from
the civil government to its citizens. The beautiful stream above and
below bridge attracted my eye; and, when the gilt weathercock on the
bridge-cross glittered in the sunshine, I always had a pleasant feeling.
Generally I extended my walk through Sachsenhausen, and for a
/Kreutzer/ was ferried comfortably across the river. I was now
again on this side of the stream, stole along to the wine-market, and
admired the mechanism of the cranes when goods were unloaded.

But it was particularly entertaining to watch the arrival of the market-
boats, from which so many and such extraordinary figures were seen to
disembark. On entering the city, the Saalhof, which at least stood on
the spot where the castle of Emperor Charlemagne and his successors was
reported to have been, was greeted every time with profound reverence.
One liked to lose one's self in the old trading-town, particularly on
market-days, among the crowd collected about the church of St.
Bartholomew. From the earliest times, throngs of buyers and sellers had
gathered there; and the place being thus occupied, it was not easy in
later days to bring about a more roomy and cheerful arrangement. The
booths of the so-called /Pfarreisen/ were very important places for
us children, and we carried many a /Batzen to them in order to
purchase sheets of colored paper stamped with gold animals; though one
could but seldom make his way through the narrow, crowded, and dirty
market-place. I call to mind, also, that I always flew past the
adjoining meat-stalls, narrow and disgusting as they were, in perfect
horror. On the other hand, the Roman Hill (/Romerberg/) was a most
delightful place for walking. The way to the New-Town, along by the new
shops, was always cheering and pleasant; yet we regretted that a street
did not lead into the Zeil by the Church of Our Lady, and that we always
had to go a roundabout way by the /Hasengasse/ or the Catherine
Gate. But what chiefly attracted the child's attention, were the many
little towns within the town, the fortresses within the fortress; viz.,
the walled monastic enclosures, and several other precincts, remaining
from earlier times, and more or less like castles,--as the Nuremberg
Court, the Compostella, the Braunfels, the ancestral house of the family
of Stallburg, and several strongholds, in later days transformed into
dwellings and warehouses. No architecture of an elevating kind was then
to be seen in Frankfort; and every thing pointed to a period long past
and unquiet, both for town and district. Gates and towers, which defined
the bounds of the old city,--then, farther on again, gates, towers,
walls, bridges, ramparts, moats, with which the new city was
encompassed,--all showed, but too plainly, that a necessity for guarding
the common weal in disastrous times had induced these arrangements, that
all the squares and streets, even the newest, broadest, and best laid
out, owed their origin to chance and caprice, and not to any regulating
mind. A certain liking for the antique was thus implanted in the boy,
and was specially nourished and promoted by old chronicles and woodcuts,
as, for instance, those of Grave relating to the siege of Frankfort. At
the same time a different taste was developed in him for observing the
conditions of mankind in their manifold variety and naturalness, without
regard to their importance or beauty. It was, therefore, one of our
favorite walks, which we endeavored to take now and then in the course
of a year, to follow the circuit of the path inside the city-walls.
Gardens, courts, and back buildings extend to the /Zwinger/; and we
saw many thousand people amid their little domestic and secluded
circumstances. From the ornamental and show gardens of the rich, to the
orchards of the citizen, anxious about his necessities; from thence to
the factories, bleaching-grounds, and similar establishments, even to
the burying-grounds,--for a little world lay within the limits of the
city,--we passed a varied, strange spectacle, which changed at every
step, and with the enjoyment of which our childish curiosity was never
satisfied. In fact, the celebrated Devil-upon-two-sticks, when he lifted
the roofs of Madrid at night, scarcely did more for his friend than was
here done for us in the bright sunshine and open air. The keys that were
to be made use of in this journey, to gain us a passage through many a
tower, stair, and postern, were in the hands of the authorities, whose
subordinates we never failed to coax into good humor.

But a more important, and in one sense more fruitful, place for us, was
the city-hall, named from the Romans. In its lower vault-like rooms we
liked but too well to lose ourselves. We obtained an entrance, too, into
the large and very simple session-room of the council. The walls as well
as the arched ceiling were white, though wainscoted to a certain height;
and the whole was without a trace of painting, or any kind of carved
work; only, high up on the middle wall, might be read this brief

"One man's word is no man's word:
Justice needs that both be heard."

After the most ancient fashion, benches were ranged around the
wainscoting, and raised one step above the floor for the accommodation
of the members of the assembly. This readily suggested to us why the
order of rank in our senate was distributed by benches. To the left of
the door, on the opposite corner, sat the /Schffen/; in the corner
itself the /Schultheiss/, who alone had a small table before him;
those of the second bench sat in the space to his left as far as the
wall to where the windows were; while along the windows ran the third
bench, occupied by the craftsmen. In the midst of the hall stood a table
for the registrar (/Protoculfhrer/).

Once within the /Rmer/, we even mingled with the crowd at the
audiences of the burgomasters. But whatever related to the election and
coronation of the emperors possessed a greater charm. We managed to gain
the favor of the keepers, so as to be allowed to mount the new gay
imperial staircase, which was painted in fresco, and on other occasions
closed with a grating. The election-chamber, with its purple hangings
and admirably fringed gold borders, filled us with awe. The
representations of animals, on which little children or genii, clothed
in the imperial ornaments and laden with the insignia of the empire,
made a curious figure, were observed by us with great attention; and we
even hoped that we might live to see, some time or other, a coronation
with our own eyes. They had great difficulty to get us out of the great
imperial hall, when we had been once fortunate enough to steal in; and
we reckoned him our truest friend, who, while we looked at the half-
lengths of all the emperors painted around at a certain height, would
tell us something of their deeds.

We listened to many a legend of Charlemagne. But that which was
historically interesting for us began with Rudolph of Hapsburg, who by
his courage put an end to such violent commotions. Charles the Fourth
also attracted our notice. We had already heard of the Golden Bull, and
of the statutes for the administration of criminal justice. We knew,
too, that he had not made the Frankforters suffer for their adhesion to
his noble rival, Emperor Gunther of Schwarzburg. We heard Maximilian
praised, both as a friend to mankind, and to the townsmen, his subjects,
and were also told that it had been prophesied of him he would be the
last emperor of a German house, which unhappily came to pass, as after
his death the choice wavered only between the king of Spain
(/afterwards/), Charles V., and the king of France, Francis I. With
some anxiety it was added, that a similar prophecy, or rather
intimation, was once more in circulation; for it was obvious that there
was room left for the portrait of only one more emperor,--a circumstance
which, though seemingly accidental, filled the patriotic with concern.

Having once entered upon this circuit, we did not fail to repair to the
cathedral, and there visit the grave of that brave Gunther, so much
prized both by friend and foe. The famous stone which formerly covered
it is set up in the choir. The door close by, leading into the conclave,
remained long shut against us, until we at last managed, through the
higher authorities, to gain access to this celebrated place. But we
should have done better had we continued as before to picture it merely
in our imagination; for we found this room, which is so remarkable in
German history, where the most powerful princes were accustomed to meet
for an act so momentous, in no respect worthily adorned, and even
disfigured with beams, poles, scaffolding, and similar lumber, which
people had wanted to put out of the way. The imagination, for that very
reason, was the more excited and the heart elevated, when we soon after
received permission to be present in the city-hall, at the exhibition of
the Golden Bull to some distinguished strangers.

The boy then heard, with much curiosity, what his own family, as well as
other older relations and acquaintances, liked to tell and repeat; viz.,
the histories of the two last coronations, which had followed close upon
each other; for there was no Frankforter of a certain age who would not
have regarded these two events, and their attendant circumstances, as
the crowning glory of his whole life. Splendid as had been the
coronation of Charles Seventh, during which particularly the French
ambassador had given magnificent feasts at great cost and with
distinguished taste, the results were all the more afflicting to the
good emperor, who could not preserve his capital Munich, and was
compelled in some degree to implore the hospitality of his imperial

Although the coronation of Francis First was not so strikingly splendid
as the former one, it was dignified by the presence of the Empress Maria
Theresa, whose beauty appears to have created as much impression on the
men as the earnest and noble form and the blue eyes of Charles Seventh
on the women. At any rate, both sexes vied with each other in giving to
the attentive boy a highly favorable opinion of both these personages.
All these descriptions and narratives were given in a serene and quiet
state of mind; for the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle had, for the moment, put
an end to all feuds: and they spoke at their ease of past contests, as
well as of their former festivities,--the battle of Dettingen for
instance, and other remarkable events of by-gone years; and all that was
important or dangerous seemed, as generally happens when a peace has
been concluded, to have occurred only to afford entertainment to
prosperous and unconcerned people.

Half a year had scarcely passed away in this narrow patriotism before
the fairs began, which always produced an incredible ferment in the
heads of all children. The erection, in so short a time, of so many
booths, creating a new town within the old one; the roll and crush, the
unloading and unpacking of wares,--excited from the very first dawn of
consciousness an insatiable active curiosity, and a boundless desire for
childish property, which the boy with increasing years endeavored to
gratify, in one way or another, as far as his little purse permitted. At
the same time, he obtained a notion of what the world produces, what it
wants, and what the inhabitants of its different parts exchange with
each other.

These great epochs, which came round regularly in spring and autumn,
were announced by curious solemnities, which seemed the more dignified
because they vividly brought before us the old time, and what had come
down from it to ourselves. On Escort Day, the whole population were on
their legs, thronging to the /Fahrgasse/, to the bridge, and beyond
/Sachsenhausen/; all the windows were occupied, though nothing
unusual took place on that day; the crowd seeming to be there only for
the sake of jostling each other, and the spectators merely to look at
one another; for the real occasion of their coming did not begin till
nightfall, and was then rather taken upon trust than seen with the eyes.

The affair was thus: in those old, unquiet times, when every one did
wrong according to his pleasure, or helped the right as his liking led
him, traders on their way to the fairs were so wilfully beset and
harassed by waylayers, both of noble and ignoble birth, the princes and
other persons of power caused their people to be accompanied to
Frankfort by an armed escort. Now, the burghers of the imperial city
would yield no rights pertaining to themselves or their district: they
went out to meet the advancing party; and thus contests often arose as
to how far the escort should advance, or whether it had a right to enter
the city at all. But as this took place, not only in regard to matters
of trade and fairs, but also when high personages came, in times of
peace or war, and especially on the days of election; and as the affair
often came to blows when a train which was not to be endured in the city
strove to make its way in along with its lord,--many negotiations had
from time to time been resorted to, and many temporary arrangements
concluded, though always with reservations of rights on both sides. The
hope had not been relinquished of composing once for all a quarrel that
had already lasted for centuries, inasmuch as the whole institution, on
account of which it had been so long and often so hotly contested, might
be looked upon as nearly useless, or at least as superfluous.

Meanwhile, on those days, the city cavalry in several divisions, each
having a commander in front, rode forth from different gates, and found
on a certain spot some troopers or hussars of the persons entitled to an
escort, who, with their leaders, were well received and entertained.
They staid till towards evening, and then rode back to the city,
scarcely visible to the expectant crowd, many a city knight not being in
a condition to manage his horse, or keep himself in the saddle. The most
important bands returned by the bridge-gate, where the pressure was
consequently the strongest. Last of all, just as night fell, the
Nuremberg post-coach arrived, escorted in the same way, and always
containing, as the people fancied, in pursuance of custom, an old woman.
Its arrival, therefore, was a signal for all the urchins to break out
into an ear-splitting shout, though it was utterly impossible to
distinguish any one of the passengers within. The throng that pressed
after the coach through the bridge-gate was quite incredible, and
perfectly bewildering to the senses. The houses nearest the bridge were
those, therefore, most in demand among spectators.

Another more singular ceremony, by which the people were excited in
broad daylight, was the Piper's Court (/Pfeifergericht/). It
commemorated those early times when important larger trading-towns
endeavored, if not to abolish tolls altogether, at least to bring about
a reduction of them, as they increased in proportion with trade and
industry. They were allowed this privilege by the emperor, who needed
their aid, when it was in his power to grant it, but commonly only for
one year; so that it had to be annually renewed. This was effected by
means of symbolical gifts, which were presented before the opening of
St. Bartholomew's Fair to the imperial magistrate (/Schultheiss/),
who might have sometimes been the chief toll-gatherer; and, for the sake
of a more imposing show, the gifts were offered when he was sitting in
full court with the /Schffen/. But when the chief magistrate
afterwards came to be no longer appointed by the emperor, and was
elected by the city itself, he still retained these privileges; and thus
both the immunities of the cities from toll, and the ceremonies by which
the representatives from Worms, Nuremberg, and old Bamberg, once
acknowledged the ancient favor, had come down to our times. The day
before Lady Day, an open court was proclaimed. In an enclosed space in
the great Imperial Hall, the Schffen took their elevated seats; a step
higher, sat the /Schultheiss/ in the midst of them; while below, on
the right hand, were the procurators of both parties invested with
plenipotentiary powers. The /Actuarius/ begins to read aloud the
weighty judgments reserved for this day: the lawyers demand copies,
appeal, or do whatever else seems necessary. All at once a singular sort
of music announces, if we may so speak, the advent of former centuries.
It proceeds from three pipers, one of whom plays an old /shawm/,
another a /sackbut/, and the third a /pommer/, or oboe. They
wear blue mantles trimmed with gold, having the notes made fast to their
sleeves, and their heads covered. Having thus left their inn at ten
o'clock, followed by the deputies and their attendants, and stared at by
all, natives and strangers, they enter the hall. The law proceedings are
stayed, the pipers and their train halt before the railing, the deputy
steps in and stations himself in front of the /Schultheiss/. The
emblematic presents, which were required to be precisely the same as in
the old precedents, consisted commonly of the staple wares of the city
offering them. Pepper passed, as it were, for every thing else; and,
even on this occasion, the deputy brought a handsomely turned wooden
goblet filled with pepper. Upon it lay a pair of gloves, curiously
slashed, stitched, and tasselled with silk,--a token of a favor granted
and received,--such as the emperor himself made use of in certain cases.
Along with this was a while staff, which in former times could not
easily be dispensed with in judicial proceedings. Some small pieces of
silver money were added: and the city of Worms brought an old felt hat,
which was always redeemed again; so that the same one had been a witness
of these ceremonies for many years.

After the deputy had made his address, handed over his present, and
received from the /Schultheiss/ assurance of continued favor, he
quitted the enclosed circle, the pipers blew, the train departed as it
had come, the court pursued its business, until the second and at last
the third deputy had been introduced. For each came some time after the
other, partly that the pleasure of the public might thus be prolonged,
and partly because they were always the same antiquated /virtuosi/
whom Nuremburg, for itself and its co-cities, had undertaken to
maintain, and produce annually at the appointed place.

We children were particularly interested in this festival, because we
were not a little flattered to see our grandfather in a place of so much
honor; and because commonly, on the self-same day, we used to visit him,
quite modestly, in order that we might, when my grandmother had emptied
the pepper into her spice-box, lay hold of a cup or small rod, a pair of
gloves, or an old /Rder Albus/. [Footnote: An old silver coin.]
These symbolical ceremonies, restoring antiquity as if by magic, could
not be explained to us without leading us back into past times, and
informing us of the manners, customs, and feelings of those early
ancestors who were so strangely made present to us by pipers and
deputies seemingly risen from the dead, and by tangible gifts which
might be possessed by ourselves.

These venerable solemnities were followed, in the fine season, by many
festivals, delightful for us children, which took place in the open air,
outside the city. On the right shore of the Main, going down, about half
an hour's walk from the gate, there rises a sulphur-spring, neatly
enclosed, and surrounded by aged lindens. Not far from it stands the
Good-People's-Court, formerly a hospital erected for the sake of the
waters. On the commons around, the herds of cattle from the neighborhood
were collected on a certain day of the year; and the herdsmen, together
with their sweethearts, celebrated a rural festival with dancing and
singing, with all sorts of pleasure and clownishness. On the other side
of the city lay a similar but larger common, likewise graced with a
spring and still finer lindens. Thither, at Whitsuntide, the flocks of
sheep were driven: and, at the same time, the poor, pale orphan children
were allowed to come out of their walls into the open air; for the
thought had not yet occurred that these destitute creatures, who must
some time or other help themselves through the world, ought soon to be
brought in contact with it; that, instead of being kept in dreary
confinement, they should rather be accustomed to serve and to endure;
and that there was every reason to strengthen them physically and
morally from their infancy. The nurses and maids, always ready to take a
walk, never failed to carry or conduct us to such places, even in our
first years; so that these rural festivals belong to the earliest
impressions that I can recall.

Meanwhile, our house had been finished, and that too in tolerably short
time; because every thing had been judiciously planned and prepared, and
the needful money provided. We now found ourselves all together again,
and felt comfortable; for, when a well-considered plan is once carried
out, we forget the various inconveniences of the means that were
necessary to its accomplishment. The building, for a private residence,
was roomy enough, light and cheerful throughout, with broad staircases,
agreeable parlors, and a prospect of the gardens that could be enjoyed
easily from several of the windows. The internal completion, and what
pertained to mere ornament and finish, was gradually accomplished, and
served at the same time for occupation and amusement.

The first thing brought into order was my father's collection of books,
the best of which, in calf and half-calf binding, were to ornament the
walls of his office and study. He possessed the beautiful Dutch editions
of the Latin classics, which, for the sake of outward uniformity, he had
endeavored to procure all in quarto; and also many other works relating
to Roman antiquities and the more elegant jurisprudence. The most
eminent Italian poets were not wanting, and for Tasso he showed a great
predilection. There were also the best and most recent Travels, and he
took great delight in correcting and completing Keyssler and Nemeiz from
them. Nor had he omitted to surround himself with all needful aids to
learning, such as dictionaries of various languages, and encyclopdias
of science and art, which, with much else adapted to profit and
amusement, might be consulted at will.

The other half of this collection, in neat parchment bindings, with very
beautifully written titles, was placed in a separate attic. The
acquisition of new books, as well as their binding and arrangement, he
pursued with great composure and love of order; and he was much
influenced in his opinion by the critical notices that ascribed
particular merit to any work. His collection of juridical treatises was
annually increased by some volumes.

Next, the pictures, which in the old house had hung about promiscuously,
were now collected, and symmetrically hung on the walls of a cheerful
room near the study, all in black frames set off with gilt mouldings. It
was my father's principle, to which he gave frequent and even passionate
utterance, that one ought to employ the living masters, and to spend
less upon the departed, in the estimation of whom prejudice greatly
concurred. He had the notion that it was precisely the same with
pictures as with Rhenish wines, which, though age may impart to them a
higher value, can be produced in any coming year of just as excellent
quality as in years past. After the lapse of some time, the new wine
also becomes old, quite as valuable and perhaps more delicious. This
opinion he chiefly confirmed by the observation that many old pictures
seemed to derive their chief value for lovers of art from the fact that
they had become darker and browner, and that the harmony of tone in such
pictures was often vaunted. My father, on the other hand, protested that
he had no fear that the new pictures would not also turn black in time;
though whether they were likely to gain any thing by this he was not so

In pursuance of these principles, he employed for many years the whole
of the Frankfort artists,--the painter Hirt, who excelled in animating
oak and beech woods, and other so-called rural scenes, with cattle;
Trautmann, who had adopted Rembrandt as his model, and had attained
great perfection in enclosed lights and reflections, as well as in
effective conflagrations, so that he was once ordered to paint a
companion piece to a Rembrandt; Schutz, who diligently elaborated
landscapes of the Rhine country, in the manner of Sachtlebens; and
Junker, who executed with great purity flower and fruit pieces, still
life, and figures quietly employed, after the models of the Dutch. But
now, by the new arrangement, by more convenient room, and still more by
the acquaintance of a skilful artist, our love of art was again
quickened and animated. This artist was Seekatz, a pupil of Brinkmann,
court-painter at Darmstadt, whose talent and character will be more
minutely unfolded in the sequel.

In this way the remaining rooms were finished, according to their
several purposes. Cleanliness and order prevailed throughout. Above all,
the large panes of plate-glass contributed towards a perfect lightness,
which had been wanting in the old house for many causes, but chiefly on
account of the panes, which were for the most part round. My father was
cheerful on account of the success of his undertaking; and if his good
humor had not been often interrupted because the diligence and exactness
of the mechanics did not come up to his wishes, a happier life than ours
could not have been conceived, since much good partly arose in the
family itself, and partly flowed from without.

But an extraordinary event deeply disturbed the boy's peace of mind for
the first time. On the 1st of November, 1755, the earthquake at Lisbon
took place, and spread a prodigious alarm over the world, long
accustomed to peace and quiet. A great and magnificent capital, which
was at the same time a trading and mercantile city, is smitten without
warning by a most fearful calamity. The earth trembles and totters; the
sea foams; ships dash together; houses fall in, and over them churches
and towers; the royal palace is in part swallowed by the waters; the
bursting land seems to vomit flames, since smoke and fire are seen
everywhere amid the ruins. Sixty thousand persons, a moment before in
ease and comfort, fall together; and he is to be deemed most fortunate
who is no longer capable of a thought or feeling about the disaster. The
flames rage on; and with them rage a troop of desperadoes, before
concealed, or set at large by the event. The wretched survivors are
exposed to pillage, massacre, and every outrage; and thus on all sides
Nature asserts her boundless capriciousness.

Intimations of this event had spread over wide regions more quickly than
the authentic reports: slight shocks had been felt in many places; in
many springs, particularly those of a mineral nature, an unusual
receding of the waters had been remarked; and so much the greater was
the effect of the accounts themselves, which were rapidly circulated, at
first in general terms, but finally with dreadful particulars. Hereupon
the religious were neither wanting in reflections, nor the philosophic
in grounds for consolation, nor the clergy in warnings. So complicated
an event arrested the attention of the world for a long time; and, as
additional and more detailed accounts of the extensive effects of this
explosion came from every quarter, the minds already aroused by the
misfortunes of strangers began to be more and more anxious about
themselves and their friends. Perhaps the demon of terror had never so
speedily and powerfully diffused his terrors over the earth.

The boy, who was compelled to put up with frequent repetitions of the
whole matter, was not a little staggered. God, the Creator and Preserver
of heaven and earth, whom the explanation of the first article of the
creed declared so wise and benignant, having given both the just and the
unjust a prey to the same destruction, had not manifested himself by any
means in a fatherly character. In vain the young mind strove to resist
these impressions. It was the more impossible, as the wise and
scripture-learned could not themselves agree as to the light in which
such a phenomenon should be regarded.

The next summer gave a closer opportunity of knowing directly that angry
God, of whom the Old Testament records so much. A sudden hail-storm,
accompanied by thunder and lightning, violently broke the new panes at
the back of our house, which looked towards the west, damaged the new
furniture, destroyed some valuable books and other things of worth, and
was the more terrible to the children, as the whole household, quite
beside themselves, dragged them into a dark passage, where, on their
knees, with frightful groans and cries, they thought to conciliate the
wrathful Deity. Meanwhile, my father, who was the only one self-
possessed, forced open and unhinged the window-frames, by which we saved
much glass, but made a broader inlet for the rain that followed the
hail; so that, after we were finally quieted, we found ourselves in the
rooms and on the stairs completely surrounded by floods and streams of

These events, startling as they were on the whole, did not greatly
interrupt the course of instruction which my father himself had
undertaken to give us children. He had passed his youth in the Coburg
Gymnasium, which stood as one of the first among German educational
institutions. He had there laid a good foundation in languages, and
other matters reckoned part of a learned education, had subsequently
applied himself to jurisprudence at Leipzig, and had at last taken his
degree at Giessen. His dissertation, "Electa de aditione Hereditatis,"
which had been earnestly and carefully written, is still cited by
jurists with approval.

It is a pious wish of all fathers to see what they have themselves
failed to attain realized in their sons, as if in this way they could
live their lives over again, and at last make a proper use of their
early experience. Conscious of his acquirements, with the certainty of
faithful perseverance, and distrusting the teachers of the day, my
father undertook to instruct his own children, allowing them to take
particular lessons from particular masters only so far as seemed
absolutely necessary. A pedagogical /dilettantism/ was already
beginning to show itself everywhere. The pedantry and heaviness of the
masters appointed in the public schools had probably given rise to this
evil. Something better was sought for, but it was forgotten how
defective all instruction must be which is not given by persons who are
teachers by profession.

My father had prospered in his own career tolerably according to his
wishes: I was to follow the same course, only more easily, and much
farther. He prized my natural endowments the more, because he was
himself wanting in them; for he had acquired every thing only by means
of unspeakable diligence, pertinacity, and repetition. He often assured
me, early and late, both in jest and earnest, that with my talents he
would have deported himself very differently, and would not have turned
them to such small account.

By means of a ready apprehension, practice, and a good memory, I very
soon outgrew the instructions which my father and the other teachers
were able to give, without being thoroughly grounded in any thing.
Grammar displeased me, because I regarded it as a mere arbitrary law:
the rules seemed ridiculous, inasmuch as they were invalidated by so
many exceptions, which had all to be learned by themselves. And if the
first Latin work had not been in rhyme, I should have got on but badly
in that; but, as it was, I hummed and sang it to myself readily enough.
In the same way we had a geography in memory-verses, in which the most
wretched doggerel best served to fix the recollection of that which was
to be retained; e.g.,--

"Upper-Yssel has many a fen, Which makes it hateful to all men."

The forms and inflections of language I caught with ease; and I also
quickly unravelled what lay in the conception of a thing. In rhetoric,
composition, and such matters, no one excelled me; although I was often
put back for faults of grammar. Yet these were the attempts that gave my
father particular pleasure, and for which he rewarded me with many
presents of money, considerable for such a lad.

My father taught my sister Italian in the same room in which I had to
commit Cellarius to memory. As I was soon ready with my task, and was
yet obliged to sit quiet, I listened with my book before me, and very
readily caught the Italian, which struck me as an agreeable softening of

Other precocities, with respect to memory and the power to combine, I
possessed in common with those children who thus acquire an early
reputation. For that reason, my father could scarcely wait for me to go
to college. He very soon declared that I must study jurisprudence in
Leipzig, for which he retained a strong predilection; and I was
afterwards to visit some other university and take my degree. As for

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