Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE WORKS OF JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW
SIR WALTER SCOTT
CHAS. J. SPRAGUE
W. E. AYTOUN
E. A. BOWRING
A. J. W. MORRISON
G. H. LEWES
J. S. DWIGHT
THE GOTTINGEN EDITION OF JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE’S WORKS IS LIMITED TO ONE THOUSAND COPIES, OF WHICH THIS IS NUMBER 976
[Illustration: PICTURE OF GOETHE]
TRUTH AND FICTION RELATING TO MY LIFE
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
PHILADELPHIA AND CHICAGO
J. H. MOORE AND COMPANY
BY THOMAS CARLYLE.
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 forgotten.
Our own view of the case coincides, we confess, in some degree with that of the majority. We reckon that Goethe’s fame has, to a considerable extent, been deserved; that his influence has been of high benefit to his own country; nay more, that it promises to be of benefit to us, and to all other nations. The essential grounds of this opinion, which to explain minutely were a long, indeed boundless task, we may state without many words. We find, then, in Goethe, an Artist, in the high and ancient meaning of that term; in the meaning which it may have borne long ago among the masters of Italian painting, and the fathers of Poetry in England; we say that we trace in the creations of this man, belonging in every sense to our own time, some touches of that old, divine spirit, which had long passed away from among us, nay which, as has often been laboriously demonstrated, was not to return to this world any more.
Or perhaps we come nearer our meaning, if we say that in Goethe we discover by far the most striking instance, in our time, of a writer who is, in strict speech, what Philosophy can call a Man. He is neither noble nor plebeian, neither liberal nor servile, nor infidel nor devotee; but the best excellence of all these, joined in pure union; ‘a clear and universal Man.’ Goethe’s poetry is no separate faculty, no mental handicraft; but the voice of the whole harmonious manhood: nay it is the very harmony, the living and life-giving harmony of that rich manhood which forms his poetry. All good men may be called poets in act, or in word; all good poets are so in both. But Goethe besides appears to us as a person of that deep endowment, and gifted vision, of that experience also and sympathy in the ways of all men, which qualify him to stand forth, not only as the literary ornament, but in many respects too as the Teacher and exemplar of his age. For, to say nothing of his natural gifts, he has cultivated himself and his art, he has studied how to live and to write, with a fidelity, an unwearied earnestness, of which there is no other living instance; of which, among British poets especially, Wordsworth alone offers any resemblance. And this in our view is the result. To our minds, in these soft, melodious imaginations of his, there is embodied the Wisdom which is proper to this time; the beautiful, the religious Wisdom, which may still, with something of its old impressiveness, speak to the whole soul; still, in these hard, unbelieving utilitarian days, reveal to us glimpses of the Unseen but not unreal World, that so the Actual and the Ideal may again meet together, and clear Knowledge be again wedded to Religion, in the life and business of men.
Such is our conviction or persuasion with regard to the poetry of Goethe. Could we demonstrate this opinion to be true, could we even exhibit it with that degree of clearness and consistency which it has attained in our own thoughts, Goethe were, on our part, sufficiently recommended to the best attention of all thinking men. But, unhappily, it is not a subject susceptible of demonstration: the merits and characteristics of a Poet are not to be set forth by logic; but to be gathered by personal, and as in this case it must be, by deep and careful inspection of his works. Nay Goethe’s world is everyway so different from ours; it costs us such effort, we have so much to remember, and so much to forget, before we can transfer ourselves in any measure into his peculiar point of vision, that a right study of him, for an Englishman, even of ingenuous, open, inquisitive mind, becomes unusually difficult; for a fixed, decided, contemptuous Englishman, next to impossible. To a reader of the first class, helps may be given, explanations will remove many a difficulty; beauties that lay hidden may be made apparent; and directions, adapted to his actual position, will at length guide him into the proper tract for such an inquiry. All this, however, must be a work of progression and detail. To do our part in it, from time to time, must rank among the best duties of an English Foreign Review. Meanwhile, our present endeavour limits itself within far narrower bounds. We cannot aim to make Goethe known, but only to prove that he is worthy of being known; at most, to point out, as it were afar off, the path by which some knowledge of him may be obtained. A slight glance at his general literary character and procedure, and one or two of his chief productions which throw light on these, must for the present suffice. A French diplomatic personage, contemplating Goethe’s physiognomy, is said to have observed: /Voila un homme qui a eu beaucoup de chagrins./ A truer version of the matter, Goethe himself seems to think, would have been: Here is a man who has struggled toughly; who has /es sich recht sauer werden lassen./ Goethe’s life, whether as a writer and thinker, or as a living active man, has indeed been a life of effort, of earnest toilsome endeavour after all excellence. Accordingly, his intellectual progress, his spiritual and moral history, as it may be gathered from his successive Works, furnishes, with us, no small portion of the pleasure and profit we derive from perusing them. Participating deeply in all the influences of his age, he has from the first, at every new epoch, stood forth to elucidate the new circumstances of the time; to offer the instruction, the solace, which that time required. His literary life divides itself into two portions widely different in character: the products of the first, once so new and original, have long either directly or through the thousand thousand imitations of them, been familiar to us; with the products of the second, equally original, and in our day far more precious, we are yet little acquainted. These two classes of works stand curiously related with each other; at first view, in strong contradiction, yet, in truth, connected together by the strictest sequence. For Goethe has not only suffered and mourned in bitter agony under the spiritual perplexities of his time; but he has also mastered these, he is above them, and has shown others how to rise above them. At one time, we found him in darkness, and now he is in light; he was once an Unbeliever, and now he is a Believer; and he believes, moreover, not by denying his unbelief, but by following it out; not by stopping short, still less turning back, in his inquiries, but by resolutely prosecuting them. This, it appears to us, is a case of singular interest, and rarely exemplified, if at all elsewhere, in these our days. How has this man, to whom the world once offered nothing but blackness, denial and despair, attained to that better vision which now shows it to him, not tolerable only, but full of solemnity and loveliness? How has the belief of a Saint been united in this high and true mind with the clearness of a Sceptic; the devout spirit of a Fenelon made to blend in soft harmony with the gaiety, the sarcasm, the shrewdness of a Voltaire?
Goethe’s two earliest works are /Götz von Berlichingen/ and the /Sorrows of Werter/. The boundless influence and popularity they gained, both at home and abroad, is well known. It was they that established almost at once his literary fame in his own country; and even determined his subsequent private history, for they brought him into contact with the Duke of Weimar; in connection with whom, the Poet, engaged in manifold duties, political as well as literary, has lived for fifty-four years. Their effects over Europe at large were not less striking than in Germany.
‘It would be difficult,’ observes a writer on this subject, ‘to name two books which have exercised a deeper influence on the subsequent literature of Europe, than these two performances of a young author; his first-fruits, the produce of his twenty-fourth year. /Werter/ appeared to seize the hearts of men in all quarters of the world, and to utter for them the word which they had long been waiting to hear. As usually happens, too, this same word, once uttered, was soon abundantly repeated; spoken in all dialects, and chaunted through all notes of the gamut, till the sound of it had grown a weariness rather than a pleasure. Sceptical sentimentality, view-hunting, love, friendship, suicide, and desperation, became the staple of literary ware; and though the epidemic, after a long course of years, subsided in Germany, it reappeared with various modifications in other countries, and everywhere abundant traces of its good and bad effects are still to be discerned. The fortune of /Berlichingen with the Iron Hand,/ though less sudden, was by no means less exalted. In his own county, /Götz,/ though he now stands solitary and childless, became the parent of an innumerable progeny of chivalry plays, feudal delineations, and poetico- antiquarian performances; which, though long ago deceased, made noise enough in their day and generation: and with ourselves, his influence has been perhaps still more remarkable. Sir Walter Scott’s first literary enterprise was a translation of /Götz von Berlichingen/; and, if genius could be communicated like instruction, we might call this work of Goethe’s the prime cause of /Marmion/ and the /Lady of the Lake/, with all that has followed from the same creative hand. Truly, a grain of seed that has lighted on the right soil! For if not firmer and fairer, it has grown to be taller and broader than any other tree; and all the nations of the earth are still yearly gathering of its fruit.
‘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 preserved.
With Religion, however, it fared somewhat worse. In the eyes of Voltaire and his disciples, Religion was a superfluity, indeed a nuisance. Here, it is true, his followers have since found that he went too far; that Religion, being a great sanction to civil morality, is of use for keeping society in order, at least the lower classes, who have not the feeling of Honour in due force; and therefore, as a considerable help to the Constable and Hangman, /ought/ decidedly to be kept up. But such toleration is the fruit only of later days. In those times, there was no question but how to get rid of it, root and branch, the sooner the better. A gleam of zeal, nay we will call it, however basely alloyed, a glow of real enthusiasm and love of truth, may have animated the minds of these men, as they looked abroad on the pestilent jungle of Superstition, and hoped to clear the earth of it forever. This little glow, so alloyed, so contaminated with pride and other poor or bad admixtures, was the last which thinking men were to experience in Europe for a time. So it is always in regard to Religious Belief, how degraded and defaced soever: the delight of the Destroyer and Denier is no pure delight, and must soon pass away. With bold, with skilful hand, Voltaire set his torch to the jungle: it blazed aloft to heaven; and the flame exhilarated and comforted the incendiaries; but, unhappily, such comfort could not continue. Ere long this flame, with its cheerful light and heat, was gone: the jungle, it is true, had been consumed; but, with its entanglements, its shelter and its spots of verdure also; and the black, chill, ashy swamp, left in its stead, seemed for a time a greater evil than the other.
In such a state of painful obstruction, extending itself everywhere over Europe, and already master of Germany, lay the general mind, when Goethe first appeared in Literature. Whatever belonged to the finer nature of man had withered under the Harmattan breath of Doubt, or passed away in the conflagration of open Infidelity; and now, where the Tree of Life once bloomed and brought fruit of goodliest savour there was only barrenness and desolation. To such as could find sufficient interest in the day-labour and day-wages of earthly existence; in the resources of the five bodily Senses, and of Vanity, the only mental sense which yet flourished, which flourished indeed with gigantic vigour, matters were still not so bad. Such men helped themselves forward, as they will generally do; and found the world, if not an altogether proper sphere (for every man, disguise it as he may, has a /soul/ in him), at least a tolerable enough place; where, by one item or another, some comfort, or show of comfort, might from time to time be got up, and these few years, especially since they were so few, be spent without much murdering. But to men afflicted with the ‘malady of Thought,’ some devoutness of temper was an inevitable heritage; to such the noisy forum of the world could appear but an empty, altogether insufficient concern; and the whole scene of life had become hopeless enough. Unhappily, such feelings are yet by no means so infrequent with ourselves, that we need stop here to depict them. That state of Unbelief from which the Germans do seem to be in some measure delivered, still presses with incubus force on the greater part of Europe; and nation after nation, each in its own way, feels that the first of all moral problems is how to cast it off, or how to rise above it. Governments naturally attempt the first expedient; Philosophers, in general, the second.
The Poet, says Schiller, is a citizen not only of his country, but of his time. Whatever occupies and interests men in general, will interest him still more. That nameless Unrest, the blind struggle of a soul in bondage, that high, sad, longing Discontent, which was agitating every bosom, had driven Goethe almost to despair. All felt it; he alone could give it voice. And here lies the secret of his popularity; in his deep, susceptive heart, he felt a thousand times more keenly what every one was feeling; with the creative gift which belonged to him as a poet, he bodied it forth into visible shape, gave it a local habitation and a name; and so made himself the spokesman of his generation. /Werter/ is but the cry of that dim, rooted pain, under which all thoughtful men of a certain age were languishing: it paints the misery, it passionately utters the complaint; and heart and voice, all over Europe, loudly and at once respond to it. True, it prescribes no remedy; for that was a far different, far harder enterprise, to which other years and a higher culture were required; but even this utterance of the pain, even this little, for the present, is ardently grasped at, and with eager sympathy appropriated in every bosom. If Byron’s life-weariness, his moody melancholy, and mad stormful indignation, borne on the tones of a wild and quite artless melody, could pierce so deep into many a British heart, now that the whole matter is no longer new,–is indeed old and trite,–we may judge with what vehement acceptance this /Werter/ must have been welcomed, coming as it did like a voice from unknown regions; the first thrilling peal of that impassioned dirge, which, in country after country, men’s ears have listened to, till they were deaf to all else. For /Werter/ infusing itself into the core and whole spirit of Literature, gave birth to a race of Sentimentalists, who have raged and wailed in every part of the world, till better light dawned on them, or at worst, exhausted Nature laid herself to sleep, and it was discovered that lamenting was an unproductive labour. These funereal choristers, in Germany a loud, haggard, tumultuous, as well as tearful class, were named the /Kraftmänner/ or Power-men; but have all long since, like sick children, cried themselves to rest. Byron was our English Sentimentalist and Power-man; the strongest of his kind in Europe; the wildest, the gloomiest, and it may be hoped the last. For what good is it to ‘whine, put finger i’ the eye, and sob,’ in such a case? Still more, to snarl and snap in malignant wise, ‘like dog distract, or monkey sick?’ Why should we quarrel with our existence, here as it lies before us, our field and inheritance, to make or mar, for better or for worse; in which, too, so many noblest men have, even from the beginning, warring with the very evils we war with, both made and been what will be venerated to all time?
A wide and everyway most important interval divides /Werter/, with its sceptical philosophy and ‘hypochondriacal crotchets,’ from Goethe’s next Novel, /Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship/, published some twenty years afterwards. This work belongs, in all senses, to the second and sounder period of Goethe’s life, and may indeed serve as the fullest, if perhaps not the purest, impress of it; being written with due forethought, at various times, during a period of no less than ten years. Considered as a piece of Art, there were much to be said on /Meister/; all which, however, lies beyond our present purpose. We are here looking at the work chiefly as a document for the writer’s history; and in this point of view, it certainly seems, as contrasted with its more popular precursor, to deserve our best attention: for the problem which had been stated in /Werter/, with despair of its solution, is here solved. The lofty enthusiasm, which, wandering wildly over the universe, found no resting-place, has here reached its appointed home; and lives in harmony with what long appeared to threaten it with annihilation. Anarchy has now become Peace; the once gloomy and perturbed spirit is now serene, cheerfully vigorous, and rich in good fruits. Neither, which is most important of all, has this Peace been attained by a surrender to Necessity, or any compact with Delusion; a seeming blessing, such as years and dispiritment will of themselves bring to most men, and which is indeed no blessing, since even continued battle is better than destruction or captivity; and peace of this sort is like that of Galgacus’s Romans, who ‘called it peace when they had made a desert.’ Here the ardent high-aspiring youth has grown into the calmest man, yet with increase and not loss of ardour, and with aspirations higher as well as clearer. For he has conquered his unbelief; the Ideal has been built on the Actual; no longer floats vaguely in darkness and regions of dreams, but rests in light, on the firm ground of human interest and business, as in its true scene, on its true basis.
It is wonderful to see with, what softness the scepticism of Jarno, the commercial spirit of Werner, the reposing polished manhood of Lothario and the Uncle, the unearthly enthusiasm of the Harper, the gay animal vivacity of Philina, the mystic, ethereal, almost spiritual nature of Mignon, are blended together in this work; how justice is done to each, how each lives freely in his proper element, in his proper form; and how, as Wilhelm himself, the mild-hearted, all-hoping, all-believing Wilhelm, struggles forward towards his world of Art through these curiously complected influences, all this unites itself into a multifarious, yet so harmonious Whole; as into a clear poetic mirror, where man’s life and business in this age, his passions and purposes, the highest equally with the lowest, are imaged back to us in beautiful significance. Poetry and Prose are no longer at variance; for the poet’s eyes are opened; he sees the changes of many-colored existence, and sees the loveliness and deep purport which lies hidden under the very meanest of them; hidden to the vulgar sight, but clear to the poet’s; because the ‘open secret’ is no longer a secret to him, and he knows that the Universe is /full/ of goodness; that whatever has being has beauty.
Apart from its literary merits or demerits, such is the temper of mind we trace in Goethe’s /Meister/, and, more or less expressly exhibited, in all his later works. We reckon it a rare phenomenon, this temper; and worthy, in our times, if it do exist, of best study from all inquiring men. How has such a temper been attained in this so lofty and impetuous mind, once too, dark, desolate and full of doubt, more than any other? How may we, each of us in his several sphere, attain it, or strengthen it, for ourselves? These are questions, this last is a question, in which no one is unconcerned.
To answer these questions, to begin the answer of them, would lead us very far beyond our present limits. It is not, as we believe, without long, sedulous study, without learning much and unlearning much, that, for any man, the answer of such questions is even to be hoped. Meanwhile, as regards Goethe, there is one feature of the business, which, to us, throws considerable light on his moral persuasions, and will not, in investigating the secret of them, be overlooked. We allude to the spirit in which he cultivates his Art; the noble, disinterested, almost religious love with which he looks on Art in general, and strives towards it as towards the sure, highest, nay only good.
For a man of Goethe’s talent to write many such pieces of rhetoric, setting forth the dignity of poets, and their innate independence on external circumstances, could be no very hard task; accordingly, we find such sentiments again and again expressed, sometimes with still more gracefulness, still clearer emphasis, in his various writings. But to adopt these sentiments into his sober practical persuasion; in any measure to feel and believe that such was still, and must always be, the high vocation of the poet; on this ground of universal humanity, of ancient and now almost forgotten nobleness, to take his stand, even in these trivial, jeering, withered, unbelieving days; and through all their complex, dispiriting, mean, yet tumultuous influences, to ‘make his light shine before them,’ that it might beautify even our ‘rag- gathering age’ with some beams of that mild, divine splendour, which had long left us, the very possibility of which was denied; heartily and in earnest to meditate all this, was no common proceeding; to bring it into practice, especially in such a life as his has been, was among the highest and hardest enterprises which any man whatever could engage in. We reckon this a greater novelty, than all the novelties which as a mere writer he ever put forth, whether for praise or censure. We have taken it upon us to say that if such is, in any sense, the state of the case with regard to Goethe, he deserves not mere approval as a pleasing poet and sweet singer; but deep, grateful study, observance, imitation, as a Moralist and Philosopher. If there be any /probability/ that such is the state of the case, we cannot but reckon it a matter well worthy of being inquired into. And it is for this only that we are here pleading and arguing. Meister is the mature product of the first genius of our times; and must, one would think, be different, in various respects, from the immature products of geniuses who are far from the first, and whose works spring from the brain in as many weeks as Goethe’s cost him years.
It may deserve to be mentioned here that Meister, at its first appearance in Germany, was received very much as it has been in England. Goethe’s known character, indeed, precluded indifference there; but otherwise it was much the same. The whole guild of criticism was thrown into perplexity, into sorrow; everywhere was dissatisfaction open or concealed. Official duty impelling them to speak, some said one thing, some another; all felt in secret that they knew not what to say. Till the appearance of Schlegel’s /Character/, no word, that we have seen, of the smallest chance to be decisive, or indeed to last beyond the day, had been uttered regarding it. Some regretted that the fire of /Werter/ was so wonderfully abated; whisperings there might be about ‘lowness,’ ‘heaviness;’ some spake forth boldly in behalf of suffering ‘virtue.’ Novalis was not among the speakers, but he censured the work in secret, and this for a reason which to us will seem the strangest; for its being, as we should say, a Benthamite work! Many are the bitter aphorisms we find, among his Fragments, directed against /Meister/ for its prosaic, mechanical, economical, coldhearted, altogether Utilitarian character. We English again call Goethe a mystic; so difficult is it to please all parties! But the good, deep, noble Novalis made the fairest amends; for notwithstanding all this, Tieck tells us, if we remember rightly, he continually returned to /Meister/, and could not but peruse and reperuse it.
Goethe’s /Wanderjahre/ was published in his seventy-second year; /Werter/ in his twenty-fifth; thus in passing between these two works, and over /Meister’s Lehrjahre/ which stands nearly midway, we have glanced over a space of almost fifty years, including within them, of course, whatever was most important in his public or private history. By means of these quotations, so diverse in their tone, we meant to make it visible that a great change had taken place in the moral disposition of the man; a change from inward imprisonment, doubt and discontent, into freedom, belief and clear activity; such a change as, in our opinion, must take place, more or less consciously, in every character that, especially in these times, attains to spiritual manhood, and in characters possessing any thoughtfulness and sensibility, will seldom take place without a too painful consciousness, without bitter conflicts, in which the character itself is too often maimed and impoverished, and which end too often not in victory, but in defeat, or fatal compromise with the enemy. Too often, we may well say; for though many gird on the harness, few bear it warrior-like; still fewer put it off with triumph. Among our own poets, Byron was almost the only man we saw faithfully and manfully struggling, to the end, in this cause; and he died while the victory was still doubtful, or at best, only beginning to be gained. We have already stated our opinion, that Goethe’s success in this matter has been more complete than that of any other man in his age; nay, that, in the strictest sense, he may almost be called the only one that has so succeeded. On this ground, were it on no other, we have ventured to say that his spiritual history and procedure must deserve attention; that his opinions, his creations, his mode of thought, his whole picture of the world as it dwells within him, must to his contemporaries be an inquiry of no common interest; of an interest altogether peculiar, and not in this degree exampled in existing literature. These things can be but imperfectly stated here, and must be left, not in a state of demonstration, but at the utmost, of loose fluctuating probability; nevertheless, if inquired into, they will be found to have a precise enough meaning, and, as we believe, a highly important one.
For the rest, what sort of mind it is that has passed through this change, that has gained this victory; how rich and high a mind; how learned by study in all that is wisest, by experience in all that is most complex, the brightest as well as the blackest, in man’s existence; gifted with what insight, with what grace and power of utterance, we shall not for the present attempt discussing. All these the reader will learn, who studies his writings with such attention as they merit; and by no other means. Of Goethe’s dramatic, lyrical, didactic poems, in their thousandfold expressiveness, for they are full of expressiveness, we can here say nothing. But in every department of Literature, of Art ancient and modern, in many provinces of Science, we shall often meet him; and hope to have other occasions of estimating what, in these respects, we and all men owe him.
Two circumstances, meanwhile, we have remarked, which to us throw light on the nature of his original faculty for Poetry, and go far to convince us of the Mastery he has attained in that art: these we may here state briefly, for the judgment of such as already know his writings, or the help of such as are beginning to know them. The first is his singularly emblematic intellect; his perpetual never-failing tendency to transform into /shape/, into /life/, the opinion, the feeling that may dwell in him; which, in its widest sense, we reckon to be essentially the grand problem of the Poet. We do not mean mere metaphor and rhetorical trope: these are but the exterior concern, often but the scaffolding of the edifice, which is to be built up (within our thoughts) by means of them. In allusions, in similitudes, though no one known to us is happier, many are more copious than Goethe. But we find this faculty of his in the very essence of his intellect; and trace it alike in the quiet cunning epigram, the allegory, the quaint device, reminding us of some Quarles or Bunyan; and in the /Fausts/, the /Tassos/, the /Mignons/, which in their pure and genuine personality, may almost remind us of the /Ariels/ and /Hamlets/ of Shakespeare. Everything has form, everything has visual existence; the poet’s imagination /bodies forth/ the forms of things unseen, his pen turns them to /shape/. This, as a natural endowment, exists in Goethe, we conceive, to a very high degree.
The other characteristic of his mind, which proves to us his acquired mastery in art, as this shows us the extent of his original capacity for it, is his wonderful variety, nay universality; his entire freedom from the Mannerism. We read Goethe for years, before we come to see wherein the distinguishing peculiarity of his understanding, of his disposition, even of his way of writing, consists. It seems quite a simple style that of his; remarkable chiefly for its calmness, its perspicuity, in short its commonness; and yet it is the most uncommon of all styles: we feel as if every one might imitate it, and yet it is inimitable. As hard is it to discover in his writings,–though there also, as in every man’s writings, the character of the writer must lie recorded,–what sort of spiritual construction he has, what are his temper, his affections, his individual specialties. For all lives freely within him: Philina and Clanchen, Mephistopheles and Mignon, are alike indifferent, or alike dear to him; he is of no sect or caste: he seems not this man or that man, but a man. We reckon this to be the characteristic of a Master in Art of any sort; and true especially of all great Poets. How true is it of Shakespeare and Homer! Who knows, or can figure what the Man Shakespeare was, by the first, by the twentieth perusal of his works? He is a Voice coming to us from the Land of Melody: his old brick dwelling- place, in the mere earthly burgh of Stratford-on-Avon, offers us the most inexplicable enigma. And what is Homer in the /Ilias/? He is THE WITNESS; he has seen, and he reveals it; we hear and believe, but do not behold him. Now compare, with these two Poets, any other two; not of equal genius, for there are none such, but of equal sincerity, who wrote as earnestly and from the heart, like them. Take, for instance, Jean Paul and Lord Byron. The good Eichter begins to show himself, in his broad, massive, kindly, quaint significance, before we have read many pages of even his slightest work; and to the last he paints himself much better than his subject. Byron may also be said to have painted nothing else than himself, be his subject what it might. Yet as a test for the culture of a Poet, in his poetical capacity, for his pretensions to mastery and completeness in his art, we cannot but reckon this among the surest. Tried by this, there is no writer that approaches within many degrees of Goethe.
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in Frankfort on August 28, 1749. His parents were citizens of that imperial town, and Wolfgang was their only son. His father was born on July 31, 1710. He married, on August 20, 1748, at the age of thirty-eight, Catherine Elizabeth Textor. In December, 1750, was born a daughter, Cornelia, who remained until her death, at the age of twenty-seven, her brother’s most intimate friend. She was married in 1773 to John George Schlosser. Goethe’s education was irregular. French culture gave at this time the prevailing tone to Europe. Goethe could not have escaped its influence, and he was destined to fall under it in a special manner. In the Seven Years’ War, which was now raging, France took the side of the empire against Frederick the Great. Frankfort was full of French soldiers, and a certain Comte Thorane, who was quartered in Goethe’s house, had an important influence on the boy.
Goethe, if we may believe his autobiography, experienced his first love about the age of fifteen in the person of Gretchen, whom some have supposed to be the daughter of an innkeeper at Offenbach. He worshipped her as Dante worshipped Beatrice.
In the autumn of 1765 Goethe traveled to Leipsic. On the 19th of October he was admitted as a student. He was sent to Leipsic to study law, in order that he might return to Frankfort fitted for the regular course of municipal distinction. He intended to devote himself not to law, but to belles lettres. He attended Gellert’s lectures on literature, and even joined his private class. His real university education was derived from intercourse with his friends. First among these was J. G. Schlosser, who afterwards married his sister. He had a great influence upon him, chiefly in introducing him to a wider circle of German, French, English and Italian poetry.
But the person who had the strongest effect on Goethe’s mental development was Adam Frederick Oeser, at this time director of the academy of arts in Leipsic.
Goethe, from his earliest years, was never without a passion, and at Leipsic his passion was Kitty Schönkopf, the Aennchen of the autobiography, the daughter of the host at whose house he dined. She often teased him with her inconstant ways, and to this experience is due his first drama, “Die Laune des Verliebten,” “Lovers’ Quarrels,” as it may be styled. A deeper chord is struck in “Die Mitschuldigen” (The Fellow Sinners), which forms a dismal and forbidding picture both of the time and of the experiences of the youth who wrote it. He had an opportunity of establishing his principles of taste during a short visit at Dresden, in which he devoted himself to the pictures and the antiques. The end of Goethe’s stay at Leipsic was saddened by illness. One morning at the beginning of the summer he was awakened by a violent hemorrhage. For several days he hung between life and death, and after that his recovery was slow. He left Leipsic far from well on August 28, 1768.
Goethe made an enforced stay of a year and a half. It was perhaps the least happy part of his life. His cure proceeded slowly, and he had several relapses. His family relations were not pleasant. His father showed but little sympathy with his aspirations for universal culture, and could imagine no career for him but that of a successful jurist. His sister had grown somewhat harsh and cold during his absence. Goethe’s mother was always the same to him–a bright, genial, sympathetic friend. Goethe, during his illness, received great attention from Fräulein von Klettenberg, a friend of his mother’s, a pietist of the Moravian school. She initiated him into the mystical writings of those abstracted saints, and she engaged him in the study of alchemy, which served at once to prepare him for the conception of Faust and for the scientific researches of his later days.
He arrived at Strasburg April 2,1770. Goethe stayed in Strasburg till August 28, 1771, his twenty-second birthday, and these sixteen months are perhaps the most important of his life. During them he came into active contact with most of those impulses of which his after life was a development. If we would understand his mental growth, we must ask who were his friends. He took his meals at the house of the Fräulein Lauth in the Kramergasse. The table was mainly filled with medical students. At the head of it sat Salzmann, a grave man of fifty years of age. His experience and his refined taste were very attractive to Goethe, who made him his intimate friend. The table of the Fräulein Lauth received some new guests. Among these was Jung-Stilling, the self-educated charcoal-burner, who in his memoir has left a graphic account of Goethe’s striking appearance, in his broad brow, his flashing eye, his mastery of the company, and his generosity. Another was Lerse, a frank, open character, who became Goethe’s favorite, and whose name is immortalized in Götz von Berlichingen.
Goethe’s stay at Strasburg is generally connected still more closely with another circumstance–his passion for Frederike Brion of Sesenheim. The village lies about twenty miles from Strasburg, and her father was pastor there. Goethe was introduced by his friend Weyland, as a poor theological student. The father was a simple, worthy man, the eldest of the three daughters was married, the two younger remained–Maria Salome, and Frederike, to whom the poet principally devoted himself. She was tall and slight, with fair hair and blue eyes, and just sixteen years of age. Goethe gave himself up to the passion of the moment. During the winter of 1770, Goethe often rode over to Sesenheim. Neither storm, nor cold, nor darkness kept him back. As his time for leaving Strasburg came nearer he felt that his love was merely a dream and could have no serious termination. Frederike felt the same on her side. On August 6th Goethe took his degree as a doctor of law. Shortly afterwards he bade adieu to Sesenheim. Frederike lived till 1813 and died single.
Goethe’s return to Frankfort is marked by a number of songs, of which the “Wanderer’s Sturmlied” is the most remarkable. He had outgrown many of the friends of his youth. Those with whom he felt most sympathy were the two Schlossers and his sister Cornelia. He found in her one who sympathized with all his aspirations. The work into which he threw all his genius was the dramatization of the history of the imperial knight of the Middle Ages, Gottfried or Götz von Berlichingen. The immediate cause of this enterprise was his enthusiasm for Shakespeare. After reading him he felt, he said, like a blind man who suddenly receives his sight. The study of a dry and dull biography of Götz, published in 1731, supplied the subject for his awakened powers. From this miserable sketch he conceived within his mind a complete picture of Germany in the sixteenth century. The chief characters of his play are creatures of his imagination, representing the principal types which made up the history of the time. Every personage is made to live; they speak in short, sharp sentences like the powerful lines of a great master’s drawing. The first sketch of Götz was finished in six weeks, in the autumn of 1771. It ran like wild-fire through the whole of Germany.
Goethe left Frankfort in the spring of 1772 for Wetzlar, a quiet country town on the Lahn, one of the seats of government of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperors lived at Vienna; they were crowned at Frankfort; they held their parliaments at Ratisbon, and at Wetzlar their courts of justice. It was the custom for young lawyers to attend the sittings of these courts for a certain time before they could be admitted to practice on their own account. The company of these students, of the embassies from the component parts of the empire, and of various imperial officials, made the society a pleasant and lively one. Goethe soon found friends. His favorite house was occupied by one of the officials of the order, by name Buff, an honest man with a large family of children. The second daughter, Lotte, blue-eyed, fair and just twenty years of age, was first met by Goethe, shortly after his arrival, at a ball at Wolpertshausen. She strongly attracted him; he became a constant visitor at the house. He found that Lotte was a second mother to her brothers and sisters. Lotte, was really, though not formally, engaged to Kestner, a man of two-and-thirty, secretary to the Hanoverian legation. The discovery of this relation made no difference to Goethe; he remained the devoted friend to both. But the position was too critical to last. On September 10 they met in the German house for the last time. Goethe and Schlosser went together to Wetzlar in November. Here he heard of the death of Jerusalem, a young man attached to the Brunswick legation. He had been with Goethe at the University of Leipsic. Of a moody temperament, disheartened by failure in his profession, and soured by a hopeless passion for the wife of another, he had borrowed a pair of pistols under pretense of a journey, and had shot himself on the night of October 29.
Goethe immediately afterwards began his Werther. Goethe tells us that it was written in four weeks. In October it spread over the whole of Germany. It was enthusiastically beloved or sternly condemned. It was printed, imitated, translated into every language of Europe. Götz and Werther formed the solid foundation of Goethe’s fame. It is difficult to imagine that the same man can have produced both works, so different are they in matter and style. Götz was the first manly appeal to the chivalry of German spirit, which, caught up by other voices, sounded throughout the Fatherland like the call of a warder’s trumpet, till it produced a national courage, founded on the recollection of an illustrious past, which overthrew the might of the conqueror at the moment when he seemed about to dominate the world. Werther, as soft and melodious as Plato, was the first revelation to the world of that marvelous style which, in the hands of a master, compels a language which is as rich as Greek to be also as musical.
The spring of 1773, which witnessed the publication of Götz, saw him actively employed as an advocate. In November, Goethe’s sister Cornelia was married to Schlosser and left Strasburg. Goethe felt the loss deeply. She lived but a short time. Her married life was tortured with suffering, and she died in 1777.
The summer of 1774 was spent in a journey to the Rhine. Goethe returned to Frankfort at the beginning of August. On December 11, Goethe was surprised by the visit of a stranger. It was Karl Ludwig von Knebel, who was traveling with the two princes of Saxe-Weimar, the reigning duke, Karl August, then just seventeen, and his younger brother, Constantine. This meeting decided the future course of Goethe’s life.
He now came under the influence of Lili Schönemann, the daughter of a rich banker. This passion seemed to be of a more lasting nature than the others.
Neither family approved of the engagement between the youthful couple. Goethe tore himself away, and went for a tour in Switzerland.
He returned to Frankfort on July 20. August was spent delightfully with Lili at Offenbach; his letters speak of nothing but her. He wrote some scenes in Faust–the walk in the garden, the first conversation with Mephistopheles, the interview with the scholar, the scene in Auerbach’s cellar. Egmont was also begun under the stimulus of the American Rebellion. A way of escaping from his embarrassments was unexpectedly opened to him. The duke of Weimar passed through Frankfort both before and after his marriage, which took place on October 3. He invited Goethe to stay at Weimar. It was not for his happiness or for Lili’s that they should have married. She afterwards thanked him deeply for the firmness with which he overcame a temptation to which she would have yielded.
At this time the smaller German courts were beginning to take an interest in German literature. Before the Seven Years’ War the whole of German culture had been French. Even now German writers found but scant acceptance at Berlin or Vienna. The princes of the smaller states surrounded themselves with literature and art. The duke of Brunswick had made Lessing his librarian. The duke of Würtemberg paid special attention to education; he promoted the views of Schubart, and founded the school in which Schiller was educated. Hanover offered a home to Zimmermann, and encouraged the development of Schlegel. Darmstadt was especially fortunate. Caroline, the wife of the landgrave, had surrounded herself with a literary circle, of which Merck was the moving spirit. She had collected and privately printed the odes of Klopstock, and her death in 1774 seemed to leave Darmstadt a desert. Her daughter, Louisa, seemed to have inherited something of her mother’s qualities. She married, on October 3,1775, the young duke of Weimar, who was just of age. She was of the house of Brunswick, and after two years of marriage had been left a widow at nineteen, with two sons. She committed their education to Count Görz, a prominent character in the history of the time. She afterwards summoned Wieland to instruct the elder, and Knebel to instruct the younger.
Upon this society Goethe rose like a star. From the moment of his arrival he became the inseparable companion of the grand-duke. The first months at Weimar were spent in a wild round of pleasure. Goethe was treated as a guest. In the autumn, journeys, rides, shooting parties; in the winter, balls, masquerades, skating parties by torch-light, dancing at peasants’ feasts, filled up their time. Evil reports flew about Germany. We may believe that no decencies were disregarded except the artificial restrictions of courtly etiquette. In the spring he had to decide whether he would go or stay. In April the duke gave him the little garden by the side of the Ilm. In June he invested him with the title, so important to Germans, of /Geheimlegationsrath/, with a seat and voice in the privy council and an income.
Goethe’s life was at no time complete without the influence of a noble- hearted woman. This he found in Charlotte von Stein, a lady of the court, wife of the master of the horse.
The close of 1779 was occupied by a winter journey to Switzerland. Two days were spent at Frankfort with Goethe’s parents. Sesenheim was visited, and left with satisfaction and contentment. At Strasburg they found as to Lessing. The repertoire of the Weimar theater was stocked with pieces of solid merit, which long held their place. In August, 1792, he accompanied the duke to the campaign in the Ardennes. In 1793 he went with his master to the siege of Mainz. Goethe took the old German epic of Reynard the Fox, with which he had long been familiar, and which, under the guise of animals, represents the conflicting passions of men, and rewrote it.
Thus far he had produced but little since his return from Italy. His friendship with Schiller was now to begin, an alliance which, in the closeness of its intimacy and its deep effect on the character of both friends, has scarcely a parallel in literary history. If Schiller was not at this time at the height of his reputation, he had written many of the works which have made his name famous. He was ten years younger than Goethe. The Räuber plays the same part in his literary history as Götz plays in that of Goethe. This had been followed by Fiesco and Kabale und Liebe. In 1787 he settled at Weimar. The first effect of Schiller’s influence on Goethe was the completion of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. It stands in the first rank of Goethe’s writings. A more solid result of the friendship between the poets was the production of Hermann und Dorothea.
The latter half of 1798 was occupied with a tour in Switzerland. Before its commencement he visited his mother at Frankfort for the last time, and presented to her his wife and his son. In the beginning of 1805 Goethe was convinced that either he or Schiller would die in that year. In January they were both seized with illness. Schiller was the first to recover, and, visiting Goethe in his sick room, fell on his neck and kissed him with intense emotion. On April 29 they saw each other for the last time. Schiller was on his way to the theater, whither Goethe was too ill to accompany him. They parted at the door of Schiller’s house. Schiller died on the evening of the 9th of May. No one dared to tell Goethe the sad news, but he saw on the faces of those who surrounded him that Schiller must be very ill. On the morrow of Schiller’s death, when his wife entered his room, he said, “Is it not true that Schiller was very ill yesterday?” She began to sob. He then cried, “He is dead!” “Thou hast spoken it thyself,” she answered. Goethe turned aside and covered his weeping eyes with his hands. Since that time Schiller and Goethe have been inseparable in the minds of their countrymen.
On October 14, 1806, the battle of Jena was fought. The court had fled from Weimar. On the 15th Napoleon and Goethe met. It was at the congress of Erfurt, where the sovereigns and princes of Europe were assembled. Goethe’s presence was commanded by the duke. He was invited to an audience on October 2. The emperor sat at a large round table eating his breakfast. He beckoned Goethe to approach him. He asked how old he was, expressed his wonder at the freshness of his appearance, said that he had read Werther through seven times, and made some acute remarks on the management of the plot. Then, after an interruption, he said that tragedy ought to be the school of kings and peoples; that there was no subject worthier of treatment than the death of Caesar, which Voltaire had treated insufficiently. A great poet would have given prominence to Caesar’s plans for the regeneration of the world, and shown what a loss mankind had suffered by his murder.
The idea of writing Faust seems to have come to Goethe in his earliest manhood. He was brooding over it at the same time with Götz von Berlichingen. Faust justly stands at the head of all Goethe’s works. Founded on a well-known popular tale, indebted for its interest and pathos to incidents of universal experience, it deals with the deepest problems which can engage the mind of man.
In 1809 he finished The Elective Affinities.
It was natural at the beginning of a new course of life that Goethe should write an account of his past existence. The study of his collected poems made it apparent to him how necessary it was to furnish a key by which they might be understood. These various causes led to the composition of /Dichtung und Wahrheit/ (Poetry and Truth), an autobiographical history of the poet’s life from his birth till his settlement at Weimar. This work is the cause of much embarrassment to the poet’s biographers. Where it ought to be the most trustworthy source of information, it is most misleading.
Once more in his old age Goethe came under the sovereignty of a woman. She was Marianne von Willemer, the newly married wife of a Frankfort banker. Goethe made her acquaintance in a journey which he took in the Rhine country. The correspondence between Goethe and Marianne was published in 1877. It extends almost to the day of his death, and includes letters from Eckermann giving an account of his last moments.
The last twelve years of Goethe’s life, when he had passed his seventieth birthday, were occupied by his criticisms on the literature of foreign countries, by the Wanderjahre, and the second part of Faust. He was the literary dictator of Germany and of Europe. The Wanderjahre contains some of Goethe’s most beautiful conceptions, The Flight Into Egypt, The Description of the Pedagogic Province, The Parable of the Three Reverences.
The second part of Faust has been a battlefield of controversy since its publication, and demands fuller attention. Its fate may be compared with that of the latest works of Beethoven. For a long time it was regarded as impossible to understand, and as not worth understanding, the production of a great artist whose faculties had been impaired by age. By degrees it has, by careful labor, become intelligible to us, and the conviction is growing that it is the deepest and most important work of the author’s life.
He had much to darken his latter days. His wife had died in 1816. He felt her loss bitterly. The Duchess Amalia had died eight years before. He had now to undergo bitterer experiences when he was less able to bear them. Frau von Stein, with whom he had renewed his friendship, if not his love, died in January, 1827; and in June, 1828, he lost the companion of his youth, the Grand Duke Karl August, who died suddenly, away from Weimar.
We must pass to the closing scenes. On Thursday, March 15, 1832, he spent his last cheerful and happy day. He awoke the next morning with a chill. From this he gradually recovered, and on Monday was so much better that he designed to begin his regular work on the next day. But in the middle of the night he woke with a deathly coldness, which extended from his hands over his body, and which took many hours to subdue. It then appeared that the lungs were attacked, and that there was no hope of his recovery. Goethe did not anticipate death. He sat fully clothed in his arm chair, made attempts to reach his study, spoke confidently of his recovery, and of the walks he would take in the fine April days. His daughter-in-law Ottilie tended him faithfully. On the morning of the 22d his strength gradually left him. He sat slumbering in his arm chair, holding Ottilie’s hand. Her name was constantly on his lips. His mind occasionally wandered, at one time to his beloved Schiller, at another to a fair female head with black curls, some passion of his youth. His last words were an order to his servant to open the second shutter to let in more light. After this he traced with his forefinger letters in the air. At half-past eleven in the day he drew himself, without any sign of pain, into the left corner of his arm chair, and went so peacefully to sleep that it was long before the watchers knew that his spirit was really gone. He is buried in the grand-ducal vault, where the bones of Schiller are also laid.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY TRUTH AND FICTION RELATING TO MY LIFE
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 æsthetic 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 entreaties.
“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.
PART THE FIRST.
PART THE SECOND.
PART THE FIRST
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 (/Geräms/). 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 Höchst. 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 themselves.
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 inscription:–
“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 /Schöffen/; 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 (/Protoculführer/).
Once within the /Römer/, 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 towns.
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 /Schöffen/. 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 Schöffen 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 /Räder 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 encyclopædias 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 positive.
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 water.
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 Latin.
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