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Autobiography by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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scared away by the day, which separates and sunders every thing; and so
must it also be destroyed by every increase of cultivation, if it be not
fortunate enough to take refuge with the beautiful, and unite itself
closely with it, whereby both become equally undying and indestructible.

The brief moments of such enjoyments were still more shortened by my
meditative friend: but, when I turned back into the world, it was
altogether in vain that I sought, among the bright and barren objects
around, again to arouse such feelings within me; nay, I could scarcely
retain even the remembrance of them. My heart, however, was too far
spoiled to be able to compose itself: it had loved, and the object was
snatched away from it; it had lived, and life to it was embittered. A
friend who makes it too perceptible that he designs to improve you,
excites no feeling of comfort; while a woman who is forming you, while
she seems to spoil you, is adored as a heavenly, joy-bringing being. But
that form in which the idea of beauty manifested itself to me had
vanished into distance; it often visited me under the shade of my oak-
trees, but I could not hold it fast: and I felt a powerful impulse to
seek something similar in the distance.

I had imperceptibly accustomed, nay, compelled, my friend and overseer
to leave me alone; for, even in my sacred grove, those undefined,
gigantic feelings were not sufficient for me. The eye was, above all
others, the organ by which I seized the world. I had, from childhood,
lived among painters, and had accustomed myself to look at objects, as
they did, with reference to art. Now I was left to myself and to
solitude, this gift, half natural, half acquired, made its appearance.
Wherever I looked, I saw a picture; and whatever struck me, whatever
gave me delight, I wished to fix, and began, in the most awkward manner,
to draw after nature. To this end I lacked nothing less than every
thing; yet, though without any technical means, I obstinately persisted
in trying to imitate the most magnificent things that offered themselves
to my sight. Thus, to be sure, I acquired the faculty of paying a great
attention to objects; but I only seized them as a whole, so far as they
produced an effect: and, little as Nature had meant me for a descriptive
poet, just as little would she grant me the capacity of a draughtsman
for details. This, however, being the only way left me of uttering my
thoughts, I stuck to it with so much stubbornness, nay, even with
melancholy, that I always continued my labors the more zealously the
less I saw they produced.

But I will not deny that there was a certain mixture of roguery; for I
had remarked, that if I chose for an irksome study a half-shaded old
trunk, to the hugely curved roots of which clung well-lit fern, combined
with twinkling maiden-hair, my friend, who knew from experience that I
should not be disengaged in less than an hour, commonly resolved to
seek, with his books, some other pleasant little spot. Now nothing
disturbed me in prosecuting my taste, which was so much the more active,
as my paper was endeared to me by the circumstance that I had accustomed
myself to see in it, not so much what stood upon it, as what I had been
thinking of at any time and hour when I drew. Thus plants and flowers of
the commonest kind may form a charming diary for us, because nothing
that calls back the remembrance of a happy moment can be insignificant;
and even now it would be hard for me to destroy as worthless many things
of the kind that have remained to me from different epochs, because they
transport me immediately to those times which I like to remember,
although not without melancholy.

But, if such drawings may have had any thing of interest in themselves,
they were indebted for this advantage to the sympathy and attention of
my father. He, informed by my overseer that I had become gradually
reconciled to my condition, and, in particular, had applied myself
passionately to drawing from nature, was very well satisfied,--partly
because he himself set a high value on drawing and painting, partly
because gossip Seekatz had once said to him, that it was a pity I was
not destined for a painter. But here again the peculiarities of father
and son came into conflict: for it was almost impossible for me to make
use of a good, white, perfectly clean sheet of paper; gray old leaves,
even if scribbled over on one side already, charmed me most, just as if
my awkwardness had feared the touchstone of a white ground. Nor were any
of my drawings quite finished; and how should I have executed a whole,
which indeed I saw with my eyes, but did not comprehend, and how an
individual object, which I had neither skill nor patience to follow out?
My father's mode of training me in this respect was really to be
admired. He kindly asked for my attempts, and drew lines round every
imperfect sketch. He wished, by this means, to compel me to completeness
and fulness of detail. The irregular leaves he cut straight, and thus
made the beginning of a collection, in which he wished, at some future
time, to rejoice at the progress of his son. It was, therefore, by no
means disagreeable to him when my wild, restless disposition sent me
roving about the country: he rather seemed pleased when I brought back a
parcel of drawings on which he could exercise his patience, and in some
measure strengthen his hopes.

They no longer said that I might relapse into my former attachments and
connections: they left me by degrees perfect liberty. By accidental
inducements and in accidental society I undertook many journeys to the
mountain-range, which, from my childhood, had stood so distant and
solemn before me. Thus we visited Homburg, Kroneburg, ascended the
Feldberg, from which the prospect invited us still farther and farther
into the distance. Königstein, too, was not left unvisited; Wiesbaden,
Schwalbach, with its environs, occupied us many days; we reached the
Rhine, which, from the heights, we had seen winding along far off. Mentz
astonished us, but could not chain a youthful mind which was running
into the open country; we were delighted with the situation of Biberich;
and, contented and happy, we resumed our journey home.

This whole tour, from which my father had promised himself many a
drawing, might have been almost without fruit; for what taste, what
talent, what experience, does it not require to seize an extensive
landscape as a picture! I was again imperceptibly drawn into a narrow
compass, from which I derived some profit; for I met no ruined castle,
no piece of wall which pointed to antiquity, that I did not think an
object worthy of my pencil, and imitate as well as I could. Even the
stone of Drusus, on the ramparts of Mentz, I copied at some risk, and
with inconveniences which every one must experience who wishes to carry
home with him some pictorial reminiscences of his travels. Unfortunately
I had again brought with me nothing but the most miserable common paper,
and had clumsily crowded several objects into one sheet. But my paternal
teacher was not perplexed at this: he cut the sheets apart; had the
parts which belonged to each other put together by the bookbinder;
surrounded the single leaves with lines; and thus actually compelled me
to draw the outline of different mountains up to the margin, and to fill
up the foreground with some weeds and stones.

If his faithful endeavors could not increase my talent, nevertheless
this mark of his love of order had upon me a secret influence, which
afterwards manifested itself vigorously in more ways than one.

From such rambling excursions, undertaken partly for pleasure, partly
for art, and which could be performed in a short time, and often
repeated, I was again drawn home, and that by a magnet which always
acted upon me strongly: this was my sister. She, only a year younger
than I, had lived the whole conscious period of my life with me, and was
thus bound to me by the closest ties. To these natural causes was added
a forcible motive, which proceeded from our domestic position: a father
certainly affectionate and well-meaning, but grave, who, because he
cherished within a very tender heart, externally, with incredible
consistency, maintained a brazen sternness, that he might attain the end
of giving his children the best education, and of building up,
regulating, and preserving his well-founded house; a mother, on the
other hand, as yet almost a child, who first grew up to consciousness
with and in her two eldest children; these three, as they looked at the
world with healthy eyes, capable of life, and desiring present
enjoyment. This contradiction floating in the family increased with
years. My father followed out his views unshaken and uninterrupted: the
mother and children could not give up their feelings, their claims,
their wishes.

Under these circumstances it was natural that brother and sister should
attach themselves close to each other, and adhere to their mother, that
they might singly snatch the pleasures forbidden as a whole. But since
the hours of solitude and toil were very long compared with the moments
of recreation and enjoyment, especially for my sister, who could never
leave the house for so long a time as I could, the necessity she felt
for entertaining herself with me was still sharpened by the sense of
longing with which she accompanied me to a distance.

And as, in our first years, playing and learning, growth and education,
had been quite common to both of us, so that we might well have been
taken for twins, so did this community, this confidence, remain during
the development of our physical and moral powers. That interest of
youth; that amazement at the awakening of sensual impulses which clothe
themselves in mental forms; of mental necessities which clothe
themselves in sensual images; all the reflections upon these, which
obscure rather than enlighten us, as the fog covers over and does not
illumine the vale from which it is about to rise; the many errors and
aberrations springing therefrom,--all these the brother and sister
shared and endured hand in hand, and were the less enlightened as to
their strange condition, as the nearer they wished to approach each
other, to clear up their minds, the more forcibly did the sacred awe of
their close relationship keep them apart

Reluctantly do I mention, in a general way, what I undertook to set
forth years ago, without being able to accomplish it. As I lost this
beloved, incomprehensible being but too soon, I felt inducement enough
to make her worth present to me: and thus arose in me the conception of
a poetic whole, in which it might be possible to exhibit her
individuality; but for this no other form could be devised than that of
the Richardsonian novels. Only by the minutest detail, by endless
particularities which bear vividly all the character of the whole, and,
as they spring up from a wonderful depth, give some feeling of that
depth,--only in such a manner would it have been in some degree possible
to give a representation of this remarkable personality; for the spring
can be apprehended only while it is flowing. But from this beautiful and
pious design, as from so many others, the tumult of the world drew me
away; and nothing now remains for me but to call up for a moment that
blessed spirit, as if by the aid of a magic mirror.

She was tall, well and delicately formed, and had something naturally
dignified in her demeanor, which melted away into a pleasing mildness.
The lineaments of her face, neither striking nor beautiful, indicated a
character which was not nor ever could be in union with itself. Her eyes
were not the finest I have ever seen, but the deepest, behind which you
expected the most; and when they expressed any affection, any love,
their brilliancy was unequalled. And yet, properly speaking, this
expression was not tender, like that which comes from the heart, and at
the same time carries with it something of longing and desire: this
expression came from the soul; it was full and rich; it seemed as if it
would only give, without needing to receive.

But what in a manner quite peculiar disfigured her face, so that she
would often appear positively ugly, was the fashion of those times,
which not only bared the forehead, but, either accidentally or on
purpose, did every thing apparently or really to enlarge it. Now, as she
had the most feminine, most perfect arched forehead, and, moreover, a
pair of strong black eyebrows, and prominent eyes, these circumstances
occasioned a contrast, which, if it did not repel every stranger at the
first glance, at least did not attract him. She early felt it; and this
feeling became constantly the more painful to her, the farther she
advanced into the years when both sexes find an innocent pleasure in
being mutually agreeable.

To nobody can his own form be repugnant; the ugliest, as well as the
most beautiful, has a right to enjoy his own presence: and as favor
beautifies, and every one regards himself in the looking-glass with
favor, it may be asserted that every one must see himself with
complacency, even if he would struggle against the feeling. Yet my
sister had such a decided foundation of good sense, that she could not
possibly be blind and silly in this respect; on the contrary, she
perhaps knew more clearly than she ought, that she stood far behind her
female playfellows in external beauty, without feeling consoled by the
fact that she infinitely surpassed them in internal advantages.

If a woman can find compensation for the want of beauty, she richly
found it in the unbounded confidence, the regard and love, which all her
female friends bore to her; whether they were older or younger, all
cherished the same sentiments. A very pleasant society had collected
around her: young men were not wanting who knew how to insinuate
themselves; nearly every girl found an admirer; she alone had remained
without a partner. While, indeed, her exterior was in some measure
repulsive, the mind that gleamed through it was also more repelling than
attractive; for the presence of any excellence throws others back upon
themselves. She felt this sensibly: she did not conceal it from me, and
her love was directed to me with so much the greater force. The case was
singular enough. As confidants to whom one reveals a love-affair
actually by genuine sympathy become lovers also, nay, grow into rivals,
and at last, perchance, transfer the passion to themselves; so it was
with us two: for, when my connection with Gretchen was torn asunder, my
sister consoled me the more earnestly, because she secretly felt the
satisfaction of having gotten rid of a rival; and I, too, could not but
feel a quiet, half-mischievous pleasure, when she did me the justice to
assure me that I was the only one who truly loved, understood, and
esteemed her. If now, from time to time, my grief for the loss of
Gretchen revived, and I suddenly began to weep, to lament, and to act in
a disorderly manner, my despair for my lost one awakened in her likewise
a similar despairing impatience as to the never-possessings, the
failures, and miscarriages of such youthful attachments, that we both
thought ourselves infinitely unhappy, and the more so, as, in this
singular case, the confidants could not change themselves into lovers.

Fortunately, however, the capricious god of love, who needlessly does so
much mischief, here for once interfered beneficially, to extricate us
out of all perplexity. I had much intercourse with a young Englishman
who was educated in Pfeil's boarding-school. He could give a good
account of his own language: I practised it with him, and thus learned
much concerning his country and people. He went in and out of our house
long enough without my remarking in him a liking for my sister; yet he
may have been nourishing it in secret, even to passion, for at last it
declared itself unexpectedly and at once. She knew him, she esteemed
him, and he deserved it. She had often made the third at our English
conversations: we had both tried to catch from his mouth the
irregularities of the English pronunciation, and thereby accustomed
ourselves, not only to the peculiarities of its accent and sound, but
even to what was most peculiar in the personal qualities of our teacher;
so that at last it sounded strangely enough when we all seemed to speak
as if out of one mouth. The pains he took to learn as much German from
us in the like manner were to no purpose; and I think I have remarked
that even this little love-affair was also, both orally and in writing,
carried on in the English language. Both the young persons were very
well suited to each other: he was tall and well built, as she was, only
still more slender; his face, small and compact, might really have been
pretty, had it not been too much disfigured by the small-pox; his manner
was calm, precise,--one might often have called it dry and cold; but his
heart was full of kindness and love, his soul full of generosity, and
his attachments as lasting as they were decided and controlled. Now,
this serious pair, who had but lately formed an attachment, were quite
peculiarly distinguished among the others, who, being already better
acquainted with each other, of more frivolous character, and careless as
to the future, roved about with levity in these connections, which
commonly pass away as the mere fruitless prelude to subsequent and more
serious ties, and very seldom produce a lasting effect upon life.

The fine weather and the beautiful country did not remain unenjoyed by
so lively a company: water-excursions were frequently arranged, because
these are the most sociable of all parties of pleasure. Yet, whether we
were going by water or by land, the individual attracting powers
immediately showed themselves; each couple kept together: and for some
men who were not engaged, of whom I was one, there remained either no
conversation with the ladies at all, or only such as no one would have
chosen for a day of pleasure. A friend who found himself in this
situation, and who might have been in want of a partner chiefly for this
reason, that, with, the best humor, he lacked tenderness, and, with much
intelligence, that delicate attention, without which connections of this
kind are not to be thought of,--this man, after often humorously and
wittily lamenting his condition, promised at the next meeting to make a
proposal which would benefit himself and the whole company. Nor did he
fail to perform his promise; for when, after a brilliant trip by water,
and a very pleasant walk, reclining on the grass between shady knolls,
or sitting on mossy rocks and roots of trees, we had cheerfully and
happily consumed a rural meal, and our friend saw us all cheerful and in
good spirits, he, with a waggish dignity, commanded us to sit close
round him in a semicircle, before which he stepped, and began to make an
emphatic peroration as follows:--

"Most worthy friends of both sexes, paired and unpaired!"--It was
already evident from this address, how necessary it was that a preacher
of repentance should arise, and sharpen the conscience of the company.
"One part of my noble friends is paired, and they may find themselves
quite happy; another unpaired, and these find themselves in the highest
degree miserable, as I can assure you from my own experience: and
although the loving couples are here in the majority, yet I would have
them consider whether it is not a social duty to take thought for the
whole. Why do we wish to assemble in such numbers, except to take a
mutual interest in each other? and how can that be done when so many
little secessions are to be seen in our circle? Far be it from me to
insinuate any thing against such sweet connections, or even to wish to
disturb them; but 'there is a time for all things,'--an excellent great
saying, of which, indeed, nobody thinks when his own amusement is
sufficiently provided for."

He then went on with constantly increasing liveliness and gayety to
compare the social virtues with the tender sentiments. "The latter,"
said he, "can never fail us; we always carry them about with us, and
every one becomes a master in them without practice: but we must go in
quest of the former, we must take some trouble about them; and, though
we progress in them as much as we will, we have never done learning
them." Now he went into particulars. Many felt hit off, and they could
not help casting glances at each other: yet our friend had this
privilege, that nothing he did was taken ill; and so he could proceed
without interruption.

"It is not enough to discover deficiencies: indeed, it is unjust to do
so, if at the same time one cannot contrive to give the means for
bettering the state of affairs. I will not, therefore, my friends,
something like a preacher in Passion Week, exhort you in general terms
to repentance and amendment: I rather wish all amiable couples the
longest and most enduring happiness; and, to contribute to it myself in
the surest manner, I propose to sever and abolish these most charming
little segregations during our social hours. I have," he continued,
"already provided for the execution of my project, if it should meet
your approbation. Here is a bag in which are the names of the gentlemen:
now draw, my fair ones, and be pleased to favor as your servant, for a
week, him whom fate shall send you. This is binding only within our
circle; as soon as that is broken up, these connections are also
abolished, and the heart may decide who shall attend you home."

A great part of the company had been delighted with this address, and
the manner in which he delivered it, and seemed to approve of the
notion; yet some couples looked at each other as if they thought that it
would not answer their purpose: he therefore cried with humorous

"Truly! it surprises me that some one does not spring up, and, though
others hesitate, extol my plan, explain its advantages, and spare me the
pain of being my own encomiast. I am the oldest among you: may God
forgive me for that! Already have I a bald pate, which is owing to my
great meditation."--

Here he took off his hat--

"But I should expose it to view with joy and honor if my lucubrations,
which dry up my skin, and rob me of my finest adornment, could only be
in some measure beneficial to myself and others. We are young, my
friends,--that is good; we shall grow older,--that is bad; we take
little offence at each other,--that is right, and in accordance with the
season. But soon, my friends, the days will come when we shall have much
to be displeased at in ourselves; then, let every one see that he makes
all right with himself; but, at the same time, others will take things
ill of us, and on what account we shall not understand; for this we must
prepare ourselves; this shall now be done."

He had delivered the whole speech, but especially the last part, with
the tone and gesture of a Capuchin; for, as he was a Catholic, he might
have had abundant opportunity to study the oratory of these fathers. He
now appeared out of breath, wiped his youthful, bald head, which really
gave him the look of a priest, and by these drolleries put the light-
hearted company in such good humor that every one was eager to hear him
longer. But, instead of proceeding, he drew open the bag, and turned to
the nearest lady. "Now for a trial of it!" exclaimed he: "the work will
do credit to the master. If in a week's time we do not like it, we will
give it up, and stick to the old plan."

Half willingly, half on compulsion, the ladies drew their tickets; and
it was easy to see that various passions were in play during this little
affair. Fortunately it happened that the merry-minded were separated,
while the more serious remained together, and so, too, my sister kept
her Englishman; which, on both sides, they took very kindly of the god
of Love and Luck. The new chance-couples were immediately united by the
/Antistes/, their healths were drank, and to all the more joy was
wished, as its duration was to be but short. This was certainly the
merriest moment that our company had enjoyed for a long time. The young
men to whose share no lady had fallen, held, for this week, the office
of providing for the mind, the soul, and the body, as our orator
expressed himself, but especially, he hinted, for the soul, since both
the others already knew how to help themselves.

These masters of ceremonies, who wished at once to do themselves credit,
brought into play some very pretty new games, prepared at some distance
a supper, which we had not reckoned on, and illuminated the yacht on our
return at night, although there was no necessity for it in the bright
moonlight; but they excused themselves by saying that it was quite
conformable to the new social regulation to outshine the tender glances
of the heavenly moon by earthly candles. The moment we touched the
shore, our Solon cried, "/Ite, missa est!/" Each one now handed out
of the vessel the lady who had fallen to him by lot, and then
surrendered her to her proper partner, on receiving his own in exchange.

At our next meeting this weekly regulation was established for the
summer, and the lots were drawn once more. There was no question but
that this pleasantry gave a new and unexpected turn to the company; and
every one was stimulated to display whatever of wit and grace was in
him, and to pay court to his temporary fair one in the most obliging
manner, since he might depend on having a sufficient store of
complaisance for one week at least.

We had scarcely settled down, when, instead of thanking our orator, we
reproached him for having kept to himself the best part of his speech,--
the conclusion. He thereupon protested that the best part of a speech
was persuasion, and that he who did not aim at persuasion should make no
speech; for, as to conviction, that was a ticklish business. As,
however, they gave him no peace, he began a Capuchinade on the spot,
more comical than ever, perhaps, for the very reason that he took it
into his head to speak on the most serious subjects. For with texts out
of the Bible, which had nothing to do with the business; with similes
which did not fit; with allusions which illustrated nothing,--he carried
out the proposition, that whosoever does not know how to conceal his
passions, inclinations, wishes, purposes, and plans, will come to no
good in the world, but will be disturbed and made a butt in every end
and corner; and that especially if one would be happy in love, one must
take pains to keep it a most profound secret.

This thought ran through the whole, without, properly speaking, a single
word of it being said. If you would form a conception of this singular
man, let it be considered, that, being born with a good foundation, he
had cultivated his talents, and especially his acuteness, in Jesuit
schools, and had amassed an extensive knowledge of the world and of men,
but only on the bad side. He was some two and twenty years old, and
would gladly have made me a proselyte to his contempt for mankind; but
this would not take with me, as I always had a great desire to be good
myself, and to find good in others. Meanwhile, I was by him made
attentive to many things.

To complete the /dramatis personae/ of every merry company, an
actor is necessary who feels pleasure when the others, to enliven many
an indifferent moment, point the arrows of their wit at him. If he is
not merely a stuffed Saracen, like those on whom the knights used to
practise their lances in mock battles, but understands himself how to
skirmish, to rally, and to challenge, how to wound lightly, and recover
himself again, and, while he seems to expose himself, to give others a
thrust home, nothing more agreeable can be found. Such a man we
possessed in our friend Horn, whose name, to begin with, gave occasion
for all sorts of jokes, and who, on account of his small figure, was
called nothing but Hörnchen (little Horn). He was, in fact, the smallest
in the company, of a stout but pleasing form; a pug-nose, a mouth
somewhat pouting, little sparkling eyes, made up a swarthy countenance
which always seemed to invite laughter. His little compact skull was
thickly covered with curly black hair: his beard was prematurely blue;
and he would have liked to let it grow, that, as a comic mask, he might
always keep the company laughing. For the rest, he was neat and nimble,
but insisted that he had bandy legs, which everybody granted, since he
was bent on having it so, but about which many a joke arose; for, since
he was in request as a very good dancer, he reckoned it among the
peculiarities of the fair sex, that they always liked to see bandy legs
on the floor. His cheerfulness was indestructible, and his presence at
every meeting indispensable. We two kept more together because he was to
follow me to the university; and he well deserves that I should mention
him with all honor, as he adhered to me for many years with infinite
love, faithfulness, and patience.

By my ease in rhyming, and in winning from common objects a poetical
side, he had allowed himself to be seduced into similar labors. Our
little social excursions, parties of pleasure, and the contingencies
that occurred in them, we decked out poetically; and thus, by the
description of an event, a new event always arose. But as such social
jests commonly degenerate into personal ridicule, and my friend Horn,
with his burlesque representations, did not always keep within proper
bounds, many a misunderstanding arose, which, however, could soon be
softened down and effaced.

Thus, also, he tried his skill in a species of poetry which was then
very much the order of the day,--the comic heroical poem. Pope's "Rape
of the Lock" had called forth many imitations: Zachariä cultivated this
branch of poetry on German soil; and it pleased every one, because the
ordinary subject of it was some awkward fellow, of whom the genii made
game, while they favored the better one.

Although it is no wonder, yet it excites wonderment, when contemplating
a literature, especially the German, one observes how a whole nation
cannot get free from a subject which has been once given, and happily
treated in a certain form, but will have it repeated in every manner,
until, at last, the original itself is covered up, and stifled by the
heaps of imitations.

The heroic poem of my friend was a voucher for this remark. At a great
sledging-party, an awkward man has assigned to him a lady who does not
like him: comically enough, there befalls him, one after another, every
accident that can happen on such an occasion, until at last, as he is
entreating for the sledge-driver's right (a kiss), he falls from the
back-seat; for just then, as was natural, the Fates tripped him up. The
fair one seizes the reins, and drives home alone, where a favored friend
receives her, and triumphs over his presumptuous rival. As to the rest,
it was very prettily contrived that the four different kinds of spirits
should worry him in turn, till at the end the gnomes hoist him
completely out of the saddle. The poem, written in Alexandrines, and
founded on a true story, highly delighted our little public; and we were
convinced that it could well be compared with the "Walpurgisnight" of
Löwen, or the "Renommist" of Zachariä. [Footnote: This word, which
signifies something like our "bully," is specially used to designate a
fighting student.--TRANS.]

While, now, our social pleasures required but an evening, and the
preparations for them only a few hours, I had enough time to read, and,
as I thought, to study. To please my father, I diligently repeated the
smaller work of Hopp, and could stand an examination in it forwards and
backwards, by which means I made myself complete master of the chief
contents of the institutes. But a restless eagerness for knowledge urged
me farther: I lighted upon the history of ancient literature, and from
that fell into an encyclopaedism, in which I hastily read Gessner's
"Isagoge" and Morhov's "Polyhistor," and thus gained a general notion of
how many strange things might have happened in learning and life. By
this persevering and rapid industry, continued day and night, I became
more confused than instructed; but I lost myself in a still greater
labyrinth when I found Bayle in my father's library, and plunged deeply
into this work.

But a leading conviction, which was continually revived within me, was
that of the importance of the ancient tongues; since from amidst this
literary hurly-burly, thus much continually forced itself upon me, that
in them were preserved all the models of oratory, and at the same time
every thing else of worth that the world has ever possessed. Hebrew,
together with biblical studies, had retired into the background, and
Greek likewise, since my acquaintance with it did not extend beyond the
New Testament. I therefore the more zealously kept to Latin, the
masterpieces in which lie nearer to us, and which, besides its splendid
original productions, offers us the other wealth of all ages in
translations, and the works of the greatest scholars. I consequently
read much in this language, with great ease, and was bold enough to
believe I understood the authors, because I missed nothing of the
literal sense. Indeed, I was very indignant when I heard that Grotius
had insolently declared, "he did not read Terence as boys do." Happy
narrow-mindedness of youth!--nay, of men in general, that they can, at
every moment of their existence, fancy themselves finished, and inquire
after neither the true nor the false, after neither the high nor the
deep, but merely after that which is suited to them.

I had thus learned Latin, like German, French, and English, merely by
practice, without rules, and without comprehension. Whoever knows the
then condition of scholastic instruction will not think it strange that
I skipped grammar as well as rhetoric; all seemed to me to come together
naturally: I retained the words, their forms and inflexions, in my ear
and mind, and used the language with ease in writing and in chattering.

Michaelmas, the time fixed for my going to the university, was
approaching; and my mind was excited quite as much about my life as
about my learning. I grew more and more clearly conscious of an aversion
to my native city. By Gretchen's removal, the heart had been broken out
of the boyish and youthful plant: it needed time to bud forth again from
its sides, and surmount the first injury by a new growth. My ramblings
through the streets had ceased: I now, like others, only went such ways
as were necessary. I never went again into Gretchen's quarter of the
city, not even into its vicinity: and as my old walls and towers became
gradually disagreeable to me, so also was I displeased at the
constitution of the city; all that hitherto seemed so worthy of honor
now appeared to me in distorted shapes. As grandson of the
/Schultheiss/ I had not remained unacquainted with the secret
defects of such a republic; the less so, as children feel quite a
peculiar surprise, and are excited to busy researches, as soon as
something which they have hitherto implicitly revered becomes in any
degree suspicious to them. The fruitless indignation of upright men, in
opposition to those who are to be gained and even bribed by factions,
had become but too plain to me: I hated every injustice beyond measure,
for children are all moral rigorists. My father, who was concerned in
the affairs of the city only as a private citizen, expressed himself
with very lively indignation about much that had failed. And did I not
see him, after so many studies, endeavors, pains, travels, and so much
varied cultivation, between his four walls, leading a solitary life,
such as I could never desire for myself? All this put together lay as a
horrible load on my mind, from which I could only free myself by trying
to contrive a plan of life altogether different from that which had been
marked out for me. In thought I threw aside my legal studies, and
devoted myself solely to the languages, to antiquities, to history, and
to all that flows from them.

Indeed, at all times, the poetic imitation of what I had perceived in
myself, in others, and in nature, afforded me the greatest pleasure. I
did it with ever-increasing facility, because it came by instinct, and
no criticism had led me astray; and, if I did not feel full confidence
in my productions, I could certainly regard them as defective, but not
such as to be utterly rejected. Although here and there they were
censured, I still retained my silent conviction that I could not but
gradually improve, and that some time I might be honorably named along
with Hagedorn, Gellert, and other such men. But such a distinction alone
seemed to me too empty and inadequate; I wished to devote myself
professionally and with zeal to those aforesaid fundamental studies,
and, whilst I meant to advance more rapidly in my own works by a more
thorough insight into antiquity, to qualify myself for a university
professorship, which seemed to me the most desirable thing for a young
man who strove for culture, and intended to contribute to that of

With these intentions I always had my eye upon Göttingen. My whole
confidence rested upon men like Heyne, Michaelis, and so many others: my
most ardent wish was to sit at their feet, and attend to their
instructions. But my father remained inflexible. Howsoever some family
friends, who were of my opinion, tried to influence him, he persisted
that I must go to Leipzig. I was now resolved, contrary to his views and
wishes, to choose a line of studies and of life for myself, by way of
self-defense. The obstinacy of my father, who, without knowing it,
opposed himself to my plans, strengthened me in my impiety; so that I
made no scruple to listen to him by the hour, while he described and
repeated to me the course of study and of life which I should pursue at
the universities and in the world.

All hopes of Göttingen being cut off, I now turned my eyes towards
Leipzig. There Ernesti appeared to me as a brilliant light: Morus, too,
already awakened much confidence. I planned for myself in secret an
opposition-course, or rather I built a castle in the air, on a tolerably
solid foundation; and it seemed to me quite romantically honorable to
mark out my own path of life, which appeared the less visionary, as
Griesbach had already made great progress in a similar way, and was
commended for it by every one. The secret joy of a prisoner, when he has
unbound the fetters, and rapidly filed through the bars of his jail-
window, cannot be greater than was mine as I saw day after day
disappear, and October draw nigh. The inclement season and the bad
roads, of which everybody had something to tell, did not frighten me.
The thought of making good my footing in a strange place, and in winter,
did not make me sad; suffice it to say, that I only saw my present
situation was gloomy, and represented to myself the other unknown world
as light and cheerful. Thus I formed my dreams, to which I gave myself
up exclusively, and promised myself nothing but happiness and content in
the distance.

Closely as I kept these projects a secret from every one else, I could
not hide them from my sister, who, after being very much alarmed about
them at first, was finally consoled when I promised to send after her,
so that she could enjoy with me the brilliant station I was to obtain,
and share my comfort with me.

Michaelmas, so longingly expected, came at last, when I set out with
delight, in company with the bookseller Fleischer and his wife (whose
maiden name was Triller, and who was going to visit her father in
Wittemberg); and I left behind me the worthy city in which I had been
born and bred, with indifference, as if I wished never to set foot in it

Thus, at certain epochs, children part from parents, servants from
masters, /protégés/ from their patrons; and, whether it succeed or
not, such an attempt to stand on one's own feet, to make one's self
independent, to live for one's self, is always in accordance with the
will of nature.

We had driven out through the Allerheiligen (/All Saints/) gate,
and had soon left Hanau behind us, after which we reached scenes which
aroused my attention by their novelty, if, at this season of the year,
they offered little that was pleasing. A continual rain had completely
spoiled the roads, which, generally speaking, were not then in such good
order as we find them now; and our journey was thus neither pleasant nor
happy. Yet I was indebted to this damp weather for the sight of a
natural phenomenon which must be exceedingly rare, for I have seen
nothing like it since, nor have I heard of its having been observed by
others. It was this; namely, we were driving at night up a rising ground
between Hanau and Gelhausen, and, although it was dark, we preferred
walking to exposing ourselves to the danger and difficulty of that part
of the road. All at once, in a ravine on the right-hand side of the way,
I saw a sort of amphitheatre, wonderfully illuminated. In a funnel-
shaped space there were innumerable little lights gleaming, ranged step-
fashion over one another; and they shone so brilliantly that the eye was
dazzled. But what still more confused the sight was, that they did not
keep still, but jumped about here and there, as well downwards from
above as /vice versa/, and in every direction. The greater part of
them, however, remained stationary, and beamed on. It was only with the
greatest reluctance that I suffered myself to be called away from this
spectacle, which I could have wished to examine more closely. The
postilion, when questioned, said that he knew nothing about such a
phenomenon, but that there was in the neighborhood an old stone-quarry,
the excavation of which was filled with water. Now, whether this was a
pandemonium of will-o'-the-wisps, or a company of luminous creatures, I
will not decide.

The roads through Thuringia were yet worse; and unfortunately, at night-
fall, our coach stuck fast in the vicinity of Auerstädt. We were far
removed from all mankind, and did every thing possible to work ourselves
out. I failed not to exert myself zealously, and might thereby have
overstrained the ligaments of my chest; for soon afterwards I felt a
pain, which went off and returned, and did not leave me entirely until
after many years.

Yet on that same night, as if it had been destined for alternate good
and bad luck, I was forced, after an unexpectedly fortunate incident, to
experience a teazing vexation. We met, in Auerstädt, a genteel married
couple, who had also just arrived, having been delayed by a similar
accident; a pleasing, dignified man, in his best years, with a very
handsome wife. They politely persuaded us to sup in their company, and I
felt very happy when the excellent lady addressed a friendly word to me.
But when I was sent out to hasten the soup which had been ordered, not
having been accustomed to the loss of rest and the fatigues of
travelling, such an unconquerable drowsiness overtook me, that actually
I fell asleep while walking, returned into the room with my hat on my
head, and, without remarking that the others were saying grace, placed
myself with quiet unconsciousness behind the chair, and never dreamed
that by my conduct I had come to disturb their devotions in a very droll
way. Madame Fleischer, who lacked neither spirit nor wit nor tongue,
entreated the strangers, before they had seated themselves, not to be
surprised at any thing they might see here; for that their young fellow-
traveller had in his nature much of the peculiarity of the Quakers, who
believe that they cannot honor God and the king better than with covered
heads. The handsome lady, who could not restrain her laughter, looked
prettier than ever in consequence; and I would have given every thing in
the world not to have been the cause of a merriment which was so highly
becoming to her countenance. I had, however, scarcely laid aside my hat,
when these persons, in accordance with their polished manners,
immediately dropped the joke, and, with the best wine from their bottle-
case, completely extinguished sleep, chagrin, and the memory of all past

I arrived in Leipzig just at the time of the fair, from which I derived
particular pleasure; for here I saw before me the continuation of a
state of things belonging to my native city, familiar wares and
traders,--only in other places, and in a different order. I rambled
about the market and the booths with much interest; but my attention was
particularly attracted by the inhabitants of the Eastern countries in
their strange dresses, the Poles and Russians, and, above all, the
Greeks, for the sake of whose handsome forms and dignified costume I
often went to the spot.

But this animating bustle was soon over; and now the city itself
appeared before me, with its handsome, high, and uniform houses. It made
a very good impression upon me; and it cannot be denied, that in
general, but especially in the silent moments of Sundays and holidays,
it has something imposing; and when in the moonlight the streets were
half in shadow, half-illuminated, they often invited me to nocturnal

[Illustration: Woman with birds.]

In the mean time, as compared with that to which I had hitherto been
accustomed, this new state of affairs was by no means satisfactory.
Leipzig calls up before the spectator no antique time: it is a new,
recently elapsed epoch, testifying commercial activity, comfort and
wealth, which announces itself to us in these monuments. Yet quite to my
taste were the houses, which to me seemed immense, and which, fronting
two streets, and embracing a citizen-world within their large court-
yards, built round with lofty walls, are like large castles, nay, even
half-cities. In one of these strange places I quartered myself; namely,
in the Bombshell Tavern (/Feuerkugel/), between the Old and the New
Newmarket (/Neumarkt/). A couple of pleasant rooms looking out upon
a court-yard, which, on account of the thoroughfare, was not without
animation, were occupied by the bookseller Fleischer during the fair,
and by me taken for the rest of the time at a moderate price. As a
fellow-lodger I found a theological student, who was deeply learned in
his professional studies, a sound thinker, but poor, and suffering much
from his eyes, which caused him great anxiety for the future. He had
brought this affliction upon himself by his inordinate reading till the
latest dusk of the evening, and even by moonlight, to save a little oil.
Our old hostess showed herself benevolent to him, always friendly to me,
and careful for us both.

I now hastened with my letters of introduction to Hofrath Böhme, who,
once a pupil of Maskow, and now his successor, was professor of history
and public law. A little, thick-set, lively man received me kindly
enough, and introduced me to his wife. Both of them, as well as the
other persons whom I waited on, gave me the pleasantest hopes as to my
future residence; but at first I let no one know of the design I
entertained, although I could scarcely wait for the favorable moment
when I should declare myself free from jurisprudence, and devoted to the
study of the classics. I cautiously waited till the Fleischers had
returned, that my purpose might not be too prematurely betrayed to my
family. But I then went, without delay, to Hofrath Böhme, to whom,
before all, I thought I must confide the matter, and with much self-
importance and boldness of speech disclosed my views to him. However, I
found by no means a good reception of my proposition. As professor of
history and public law, he had a declared hatred for every thing that
savored of the /belles-lettres/. Unfortunately he did not stand on
the best footing with those who cultivated them; and Gellert in
particular, in whom I had, awkwardly enough, expressed much confidence,
he could not even endure. To send a faithful student to those men,
therefore, while he deprived himself of one, and especially under such
circumstances, seemed to him altogether out of the question. He
therefore gave me a severe lecture on the spot, in which he protested
that he could not permit such a step without the permission of my
parents, even if he approved of it himself, which was not the case in
this instance. He then passionately inveighed against philology and the
study of languages, but still more against poetical exercises, which I
had indeed allowed to peep out in the background. He finally concluded,
that, if I wished to enter more closely into the study of the ancients,
it could be done much better by the way of jurisprudence. He brought to
my recollection many elegant jurists, such as Eberhard, Otto, and
Heineccius, promised me mountains of gold from Roman antiquities and the
history of law, and showed me, clear as the sun, that I should here be
taking no roundabout way, even if afterwards, on more mature
deliberation, and with the consent of my parents, I should determine to
follow out my own plan. He begged me, in a friendly manner, to think the
matter over once more, and to open my mind to him soon; as it would be
necessary to come to a determination at once, on account of the
impending commencement of the lectures.

It was, however, very polite of him not to press me on the spot. His
arguments, and the weight with which he advanced them, had already
convinced my pliant youth; and I now first saw the difficulties and
doubtfulness of a matter which I had privately pictured to myself as so
feasible. Frau Hofrath Böhme invited me shortly afterwards. I found her
alone. She was no longer young, and had very delicate health; was gentle
and tender to an infinite degree; and formed a decided contrast to her
husband, whose good nature was even blustering. She spoke of the
conversation her husband had lately had with me, and once more placed
the subject before me, in all its bearings, in so cordial a manner, so
affectionately and sensibly, that I could not help yielding: the few
reservations on which I insisted were also agreed upon by the other

Thereupon her husband regulated my hours; for I was to hear lectures on
philosophy, the history of law, the Institutes, and some other matters.
I was content with this; but I carried my point so as to attend
Gellert's history of literature (with Stockhausen for a text-book), and
his "Practicum" besides.

The reverence and love with which Gellert was regarded by all young
people was extraordinary. I had already called on him, and had been
kindly received by him. Not of tall stature; elegant without being lean;
soft and rather pensive eyes; a very fine forehead; a nose aquiline, but
not too much so; a delicate mouth; a face of an agreeable oval,--all
made his presence pleasing and desirable. It cost some trouble to reach
him. His two /Famuli/ appeared like priests who guard a sanctuary,
the access to which is not permitted to everybody, nor at every time:
and such a precaution was very necessary; for he would have sacrificed
his whole time, had he been willing to receive and satisfy all those who
wished to become intimate with him.

At first I attended my lectures assiduously and faithfully, but the
philosophy would not enlighten me at all. In the logic it seemed strange
to me that I had so to tear asunder, isolate, and, as it were, destroy,
those operations of the mind which I had performed with the greatest
ease from my youth upwards, and this in order to see into the right use
of them. Of the thing itself, of the world, and of God, I thought I knew
about as much as the professor himself; and, in more places than one,
the affair seemed to me to come into a tremendous strait. Yet all went
on in tolerable order till towards Shrovetide, when, in the neighborhood
of Professor Winkler's house on the Thomas Place, the most delicious
fritters came hot out of the pan just at the hour of lecture: and these
delayed us so long, that our note-books became disordered; and the
conclusion of them, towards spring, melted away, together with the snow,
and was lost.

The law-lectures very soon fared not any better, for I already knew just
as much as the professor thought good to communicate to us. My stubborn
industry in writing down the lectures at first, was paralyzed by
degrees; for I found it excessively tedious to pen down once more that
which, partly by question, partly by answer, I had repeated with my
father often enough to retain it forever in my memory. The harm which is
done when young people at school are advanced too far in many things was
afterwards manifested still more when time and attention were diverted
from exercises in the languages, and a foundation in what are, properly
speaking, preparatory studies, in order to be applied to what are called
"Realities," which dissipate more than they cultivate, if they are not
methodically and thoroughly taught.

I here mention, by the way, another evil by which students are much
embarrassed. Professors, as well as other men in office, cannot all be
of the same age: but when the younger ones teach, in fact, only that
they may learn, and moreover, if they have talent, anticipate their age,
they acquire their own cultivation altogether at the cost of their
hearers; since these are not instructed in what they really need, but in
that which the professor finds it necessary to elaborate for himself.
Among the oldest professors, on the contrary, many are for a long time
stationary: they deliver on the whole only fixed views, and, in the
details, much that time has already condemned as useless and false.
Between the two arises a sad conflict, in which young minds are dragged
hither and thither, and which can scarcely be set right by the middle-
aged professors, who, though possessed of sufficient learning and
culture, always feel within themselves an active desire for knowledge
and reflection.

Now, as in this way I learned to know much more than I could digest,
whereby a constantly increasing uncomfortableness was forced upon me; so
also from life I experienced many disagreeable trifles,--as, indeed, one
must always pay one's footing when one changes one's place and comes
into a new position. The first thing the ladies blamed me for was my
dress, for I had come from home to the university rather oddly equipped.

My father, who detested nothing so much as when something happened in
vain, when any one did not know how to make use of his time, or found no
opportunity for turning it to account, carried his economy of time and
abilities so far, that nothing gave him greater pleasure than to kill
two birds with one stone. [Footnote: Literally, "to strike two flies
with one flapper."--TRANS.] He had, therefore, never engaged a servant
who could not be useful to the house in something else. Now, as he had
always written every thing with his own hand, and had, latterly, the
convenience of dictating to the young inmate of the house, he found it
most advantageous to have tailors for his domestics, who were obliged to
make good use of their time, as they not only had to make their own
liveries, but the clothes for my father and the children, besides doing
all the mending. My father himself took pains to have the best materials
and the best kind of cloth, by getting fine wares of the foreign
merchants at the fair, and laying them up in store. I still remember
well that he always visited the Herr von Löwenicht, of Aix-la-Chapelle,
and from my earliest youth made me acquainted with these and other
eminent merchants.

Care was also taken for the fitness of the stuff: and there was a
plentiful stock of different kinds of cloth, serge, and Götting stuff,
besides the requisite lining; so that, as far as the materials were
concerned, we might well venture to be seen. But the form spoiled almost
every thing. For, if one of our home-tailors was any thing of a clever
hand at sewing and making up a coat which had been cut out for him in
masterly fashion, he was now obliged also to cut out the dress for
himself, which did not always succeed to perfection. In addition to
this, my father kept whatever belonged to his clothing in very good and
neat order, and preserved more than used it for many years. Thus he had
a predilection for certain old cuts and trimmings, by which our dress
sometimes acquired a strange appearance.

In this same way had the wardrobe which I took with me to the university
been furnished: it was very complete and handsome, and there was even a
laced suit amongst the rest. Already accustomed to this kind of attire,
I thought myself sufficiently well dressed; but it was not long before
my female friends, first by gentle raillery, then by sensible
remonstrances, convinced me that I looked as if I had dropped down out
of another world. Much as I felt vexed at this, I did not see at first
how I was to mend matters. But when Herr von Masuren, the favorite
poetical country squire, once entered the theatre in a similar costume,
and was heartily laughed at, more by reason of his external than his
internal absurdity, I took courage, and ventured at once to exchange my
whole wardrobe for a new-fashioned one, suited to the place, by which,
however, it shrunk considerably.

When this trial was surmounted, a new one was to come up, which proved
to be far more unpleasant, because it concerned a matter which one does
not so easily put off and exchange.

I had been born and bred in the Upper-German dialect; and although my
father always labored to preserve a certain purity of language, and,
from our youth upwards, had made us children attentive to what may be
really called the defects of that idiom, and so prepared us for a better
manner of speaking, I retained nevertheless many deeper-seated
peculiarities, which, because they pleased me by their /naïvete/, I
was fond of making conspicuous, and thus every time I used them incurred
a severe reproof from my new fellow-townsmen. The Upper-German, and
perhaps chiefly he who lives by the Rhine and Main (for great rivers,
like the seacoast, always have something animating about them),
expresses himself much in similes and allusions, and makes use of
proverbial sayings with a native common-sense aptness. In both cases he
is often blunt: but, when one sees the drift of the expression, it is
always appropriate; only something, to be sure, may often slip in, which
proves offensive to a more delicate ear.

Every province loves its own dialect; for it is, properly speaking, the
element in which the soul draws its breath. But every one knows with
what obstinacy the Misnian dialect has contrived to domineer over the
rest, and even, for a long time, to exclude them. We have suffered for
many years under this pedantic tyranny, and only by reiterated struggles
have all the provinces again established themselves in their ancient
rights. What a lively young man had to endure from this continual
tutoring, may be easily inferred by any one who reflects that modes of
thought, imagination, feeling, native character, must be sacrificed with
the pronunciation which one at last consents to alter. And this
intolerable demand was made by men and women of education, whose
convictions I could not adopt, whose injustice I thought I felt, though
I was unable to make it plain to myself. Allusions to the pithy biblical
texts were to be forbidden me, as well as the use of the honest-hearted
expressions from the Chronicles. I had to forget that I had read the
"Kaiser von Geisersberg," and eschew the use of proverbs, which
nevertheless, instead of much fiddle-faddle, just hit the nail upon the
head,--all this, which I had appropriated to myself with youthful ardor,
I was now to do without: I felt paralyzed to the core, and scarcely knew
any more how I had to express myself on the commonest things. I was,
moreover, told that one should speak as one writes, and write as one
speaks; while to me, speaking and writing seemed once for all two
different things, each of which might well maintain its own rights. And
even in the Misnian dialect had I to hear many things which would have
made no great figure on paper.

Every one who perceives in this the influence which men and women of
education, the learned, and other persons who take pleasure in refined
society, so decidedly exercise over a young student, would be
immediately convinced that we were in Leipzig, even if it had not been
mentioned. Each one of the German universities has a particular
character; for, as no universal cultivation can pervade our fatherland,
every place adheres to its own fashion, and carries out, even to the
last, its own characteristic peculiarities: exactly the same thing holds
good of the universities. In Jena and Halle roughness had been carried
to the highest pitch: bodily strength, skill in fighting, the wildest
self-help, was there the order of the day; and such a state of affairs
can only be maintained and propagated by the most universal riot. The
relations of the students to the inhabitants of those cities, various as
they might be, nevertheless agreed in this, that the wild stranger had
no regard for the citizen, and looked upon himself as a peculiar being,
privileged to all sorts of freedom and insolence. In Leipzig, on the
contrary, a student could scarcely be any thing else than polite, as
soon as he wished to stand on any footing at all with the rich, well-
bred, and punctilious inhabitants.

All politeness, indeed, when it does not present itself as the flowering
of a great and comprehensive mode of life, must appear restrained,
stationary, and, from some points of view, perhaps, absurd; and so those
wild huntsmen from the Saale [Footnote: The river on which Halle is
built.--TRANS.] thought they had a great superiority over the tame
shepherds on the Pleisse. [Footnote: The river near Leipzig.--TRANS.]
Zachariä's "Renommist" will always be a valuable document, from which
the manner of life and thought at that time rises visibly forth; as in
general his poems must be welcome to every one who wishes to form for
himself a conception of the then prevailing state of social life and
manners, which was indeed feeble, but amiable on account of its
innocence and child-like simplicity.

All manners which result from the given relations of a common existence
are indestructible; and, in my time, many things still reminded us of
Zachariä's epic poem. Only one of our fellow-academicians thought
himself rich and independent enough to snap his fingers at public
opinion. He drank acquaintance with all the hackney-coachmen, whom he
allowed to sit inside the coach as if they were gentlemen, while he
drove them on the box; thought it a great joke to upset them now and
then, and contrived to satisfy them for their smashed vehicles as well
as for their occasional bruises; but otherwise he did no harm to any
one, seeming only to make a mock of the public /en masse/. Once, on
a most beautiful promenade-day, he and a comrade of his seized upon the
donkeys of the miller in St. Thomas's square: well-dressed, and in their
shoes and stockings, they rode around the city with the greatest
solemnity, stared at by all the promenaders, with whom the glacis was
swarming. When some sensible persons remonstrated with him on the
subject, he assured them, quite unembarrassed, that he only wanted to
see how the Lord Christ might have looked in a like case. Yet he found
no imitators and few companions.

For the student of any wealth and standing had every reason to show
himself attentive to the mercantile class, and to be the more solicitous
about the proper external forms, as the colony [Footnote: Leipzig was so
called, because a large and influential portion of its citizens were
sprung from a colony of Huguenots, who settled there after the
revocation of the edict of Nantes.--/American Note/.] exhibited a
model of French manners. The professors, opulent both from their private
property and from their liberal salaries, were not dependent upon their
scholars; and many subjects of the state, educated at the government
schools or other gymnasia, and hoping for preferment, did not venture to
throw off the traditional customs. The neighborhood of Dresden, the
attention thence paid to us, and the true piety of the superintendent of
the course of study, could not be without a moral, nay, a religious,

At first this kind of life was not repugnant to me: my letters of
introduction had given me the /entrée/ into good families, whose
circle of relatives also received me well. But as I was soon forced to
feel that the company had much to find fault with in me, and that, after
dressing myself in their fashion, I must now talk according to their
tongue also; and as, moreover, I could plainly see that I was, on the
other hand, but little benefited by the instruction and mental
improvement I had promised myself from my academical residence,--I began
to be lazy, and to neglect the social duties of visiting, and other
attentions; and indeed I should have sooner withdrawn from all such
connections, had not fear and esteem attached me firmly to Hofrath
Böhme, and confidence and affection to his wife. The husband,
unfortunately, had not the happy gift of dealing with young people, of
winning their confidence, and of guiding them, for the moment, as
occasion might require. When I visited him I never got any good by it:
his wife, on the contrary, showed a genuine interest in me. Her ill
health kept her constantly at home. She often invited me to spend the
evening with her, and knew how to direct and improve me in many little
external particulars: for my manners were good, indeed; but I was not
yet master of what is properly termed /étiquette/. Only one friend
spent the evenings with her; but she was much more dictatorial and
pedantic, for which reason she displeased me excessively: and, out of
spite to her, I often resumed those unmannerly habits from which the
other had already weaned me. Nevertheless she always had patience enough
with me, taught me piquet, ombre, and similar games, the knowledge and
practice of which is held indispensable in society.

But it was in the matter of taste that Madame Böhme had the greatest
influence upon me,--in a negative way truly, yet one in which she agreed
perfectly with the critics. The Gottsched waters [Footnote: That is to
say, the influence of Gottsched on German literature, of which more is
said in the next book.--TRANS.] had inundated the German world with a
true deluge, which threatened to rise up, even over the highest
mountains. It takes a long time for such a flood to subside again, for
the mire to dry away; and as in any epoch there are numberless aping
poets, so the imitation of the flat and watery produced a chaos, of
which now scarcely a notion remains. To find out that trash was trash
was hence the greatest sport, yea, the triumph, of the critics of those
days. Whoever had only a little common sense, was superficially
acquainted with the ancients, and was somewhat more familiar with the
moderns, thought himself provided with a standard scale which he could
everywhere apply. Madame Böhme was an educated woman, who opposed the
trivial, weak, and commonplace: she was, besides, the wife of a man who
lived on bad terms with poetry in general, and would not even allow that
of which she perhaps might have somewhat approved. She listened, indeed,
for some time with patience, when I ventured to recite to her the verse
or prose of famous poets who already stood in good repute,--for then, as
always, I knew by heart every thing that chanced in any degree to please
me; but her complaisance was not of long duration. The first whom she
outrageously abused were the poets of the Weisse school, who were just
then often quoted with great applause, and had delighted me very
particularly. If I looked more closely into the matter, I could not say
she was wrong. I had sometimes even ventured to recite to her, though
anonymously, some of my own poems; but these fared no better than the
rest of the set. And thus, in a short time, the beautiful variegated
meadows at the foot of the German Parnassus, where I was fond of
luxuriating, were mercilessly mowed down; and I was even compelled to
toss about the drying hay myself, and to ridicule that as lifeless
which, a short time before, had given me such lively joy.

Without knowing it, Professor Morus came to strengthen her instructions.
He was an uncommonly gentle and friendly man, with whom I became
acquainted at the table of Hofrath Ludwig, and who received me very
pleasantly when I begged the privilege of visiting him. Now, while
making inquiries of him concerning antiquity, I did not conceal from him
what delighted me among the moderns; when he spoke about such things
with more calmness, but, what was still worse, with more profundity than
Madame Böhme; and he thus opened my eyes, at first to my greatest
chagrin, but afterwards to my surprise, and at last to my edification.

Besides this, there came the Jeremiads, with which Gellert, in his
course, was wont to warn us against poetry. He wished only for prose
essays, and always criticised these first. Verses he treated as a sorry
addition: and, what was the worst of all, even my prose found little
favor in his eyes; for, after my old fashion, I used always to lay, as
the foundation, a little romance, which I loved to work out in the
epistolary form. The subjects were impassioned, the style went beyond
ordinary prose, and the contents probably did not display any very deep
knowledge of mankind in the author; and so I stood in very little favor
with our professor, although he carefully looked over my labors as well
as those of the others, corrected them with red ink, and here and there
added a moral remark. Many leaves of this kind, which I kept for a long
time with satisfaction, have unfortunately, in the course of years, at
last disappeared from among my papers.

If elderly persons wish to play the pedagogue properly, they should
neither prohibit nor render disagreeable to a young man any thing which
gives him pleasure, of whatever kind it may be, unless, at the same
time, they have something else to put in its place, or can contrive a
substitute. Everybody protested against my tastes and inclinations; and,
on the other hand, what they commended to me lay either so far from me
that I could not perceive its excellencies, or stood so near me that I
thought it not a whit better than what they inveighed against. I thus
became thoroughly perplexed on the subject, and promised myself the best
results from a lecture of Ernesti's on "Cicero de Oratore." I learned
something, indeed, from this lecture, but was not enlightened on the
subject which particularly concerned me. What I demanded was a standard
of opinion, and thought I perceived that nobody possessed it; for no one
agreed with another, even when they brought forward examples: and where
were we to get a settled judgment, when they managed to reckon up
against a man like Wieland so many faults in his amiable writings, which
so completely captivated us younger folks?

Amid this manifold distraction, this dismemberment of my existence and
my studies, it happened that I took my dinners at Hofrath Ludwig's. He
was a medical man, a botanist; and his company, with the exception of
Morus, consisted of physicians just commencing or near the completion of
their studies. Now, during these hours, I heard no other conversation
than about medicine or natural history, and my imagination was drawn
over into quite a new field. I heard the names of Haller, Linnaeus,
Buffon, mentioned with great respect; and, even if disputes often arose
about mistakes into which it was said they had fallen, all agreed in the
end to honor the acknowledged abundance of their merits. The subjects
were entertaining and important, and enchained my attention. By degrees
I became familiar with many names and a copious terminology, which I
grasped more willingly as I was afraid to write down a rhyme, however
spontaneously it presented itself, or to read a poem, for I was fearful
that it might please me at the time, and that perhaps immediately
afterwards, like so much else, I should be forced to pronounce it bad.

This uncertainty of taste and judgment disquieted me more and more every
day, so that at last I fell into despair. I had brought with me those of
my youthful labors which I thought the best, partly because I hoped to
get some credit by them, partly that I might be able to test my progress
with greater certainty; but I found myself in the miserable situation in
which one is placed when a complete change of mind is required,--a
renunciation of all that one has hitherto loved and found good. However,
after some time and many struggles, I conceived so great a contempt for
my labors, begun and ended, that one day I burnt up poetry and prose,
plans, sketches, and projects, all together on the kitchen hearth, and
threw our good old landlady into no small fright and anxiety by the
smoke which filled the whole house.


About the condition of German literature of those times so much has been
written, and so exhaustively, that every one who takes any interest in
it can be completely informed; in regard to it critics agree now pretty
well; and what at present I intend to say piecemeal and disconnectedly
concerning it, relates not so much to the way in which it was
constituted in itself, as to its relation to me. I will therefore first
speak of those things by which the public is particularly excited; of
those two hereditary foes of all comfortable life, and of all cheerful,
self-sufficient, living poetry,--I mean, satire and criticism.

In quiet times every one wants to live after his own fashion: the
citizen will carry on his trade or his business, and enjoy the fruits of
it afterwards; thus will the author, too, willingly compose something,
publish his labors, and, since he thinks he has done something good and
useful, hope for praise, if not reward. In this tranquillity the citizen
is disturbed by the satirist, the author by the critic; and peaceful
society is thus put into a disagreeable agitation.

The literary epoch in which I was born was developed out of the
preceding one by opposition. Germany, so long inundated by foreigners,
interpenetrated by other nations, directed to foreign languages in
learned and diplomatic transactions, could not possibly cultivate her
own. Together with so many new ideas, innumerable foreign words were
obtruded necessarily and unnecessarily upon her; and, even for objects
already known, people were induced to make use of foreign expressions
and turns of speech. The German, having run wild for nearly two hundred
years in an unhappy tumultuary state, went to school with the French to
learn manners, and with the Romans in order to express his thoughts with
propriety. But this was to be done in the mother-tongue, when the
literal application of those idioms, and their half-Germanization, made
both the social and business style ridiculous. Besides this, they
adopted without moderation the similes of the southern languages, and
employed them most extravagantly. In the same way they transferred the
stately deportment of the prince-like citizens of Rome to the learned
German small-town officers, and were at home nowhere, least of all with

But as in this epoch works of genius had already appeared, the German
sense of freedom and joy also began to stir itself. This, accompanied by
a genuine earnestness, insisted that men should write purely and
naturally, without the intermixture of foreign words, and as common
intelligible sense dictated. By these praiseworthy endeavors, however,
the doors and gates were thrown open to an extended national insipidity,
nay,--the dike was dug through by which the great deluge was shortly to
rush in. Meanwhile, a stiff pedantry long stood its ground in all the
four faculties, until at last, much later, it fled for refuge from one
of them to another.

Men of parts, children of nature looking freely about them, had
therefore two objects on which they could exercise themselves, against
which they could labor, and, as the matter was of no great importance,
give a vent to their petulance: these were,--a language disfigured by
foreign words, forms, and turns of speech on the one hand, and the
worthlessness of such writings as had been careful to keep themselves
free from those faults on the other; though it occurred to nobody, that,
while they were battling against one evil, the other was called on for

Liskow, a daring young man, first ventured to attack by name a shallow,
silly writer, whose awkward demeanor soon gave him an opportunity to
proceed still more severely. He then went farther, and constantly aimed
his scorn at particular persons and objects, whom he despised and sought
to render despicable,--nay, even persecuted them with passionate hatred.
But his career was short; for he soon died, and was gradually forgotten
as a restless, irregular youth. The talent and character shown in what
he did, although he had accomplished little, may have seemed valuable to
his countrymen; for the Germans have always shown a peculiar pious
kindliness to talents of good promise, when prematurely cut off. Suffice
it to say, that Liskow was very soon praised and recommended to us as an
excellent satirist, who could have attained a rank even above the
universally beloved Rabener. Here, indeed, we saw ourselves no better
off than before; for we could discover nothing in his writings, except
that he had found the silly, silly, which seemed to us quite a matter of

Rabener, well educated, grown up under good scholastic instruction, of a
cheerful, and by no means passionate or malicious, disposition, took up
general satire. His censure of the so-called vices and follies springs
from the clear views of a quiet common sense, and from a fixed moral
conception of what the world ought to be. His denunciation of faults and
failings is harmless and cheerful; and, in order to excuse even the
slight boldness of his writings, it is supposed that the improving of
fools by ridicule is no fruitless undertaking.

Rabener's personal character will not easily appear again. As an able,
punctual man of business, he does his duty, and thus gains the good
opinion of his fellow-townsmen and the confidence of his superiors;
along with which, he gives himself up to the enjoyment of a pleasant
contempt for all that immediately surrounds him. Pedantic
/literati/, vain youngsters, every sort of narrowness and conceit,
he banters rather than satirizes; and even his banter expresses no
contempt. Just in the same way does he jest about his own condition, his
misfortune, his life, and his death.

There is little of the aesthetic in the manner in which this writer
treats his subjects. In external forms he is indeed varied enough, but
throughout he makes too much use of direct irony; namely, in praising
the blameworthy and blaming the praiseworthy, whereas this figure of
speech should be used but extremely seldom; for, in the long run, it
becomes annoying to clear-sighted men, perplexes the weak, while indeed
it pleases the great middle class, who, without any special expense of
mind, can fancy themselves more knowing than others. But whatever he
brings before us, and however he does it, alike bears witness to his
rectitude, cheerfulness, and equanimity; so that we always feel
prepossessed in his favor. The unbounded applause of his own times was a
consequence of such moral excellencies.

That people looked for originals to his general descriptions and found
them, was natural; that individuals complained of him, followed from the
above; his lengthy apologies that his satire is not personal, prove the
spite it provoked. Some of his letters crown him at once as a man and an
author. The confidential epistle in which he describes the siege of
Dresden, and how he loses his house, his effects, his writings, and his
wigs, without having his equanimity in the least shaken or his
cheerfulness clouded, is highly valuable; although his contemporaries
and fellow-citizens could not forgive him his happy turn of mind. The
letter where he speaks of the decay of his strength and of his
approaching death is in the highest degree worthy of respect; and
Rabener deserves to be honored as a saint by all cheerful, intelligent
men, who cheerfully resign themselves to earthly events.

I tear myself away from him reluctantly, yet I would make this remark:
his satire refers throughout to the middle class; he lets us see here
and there that he is also well acquainted with the higher ranks, but
does not hold it advisable to come in contact with them. It may be said,
that he has had no successor, that no one has been found who could
consider himself equal or even similar to him.

Now for criticism! and first of all for the theoretic attempts. It is
not going too far when we say that the ideal had, at that time, escaped
out of the world into religion; it scarcely even made its appearance in
moral philosophy; of a highest principle of art no one had a notion.
They put Gottsched's "Critical Art of Poetry" into our hands; it was
useful and instructive enough, for it gave us a historical information
of all the kinds of poetry, as well as of rhythm and its different
movements: the poetic genius was presupposed! But, besides that, the
poet was to have acquirements and even learning: he should possess
taste, and every thing else of that kind. They directed us at last to
Horace's "Art of Poetry:" we gazed at single golden maxims of this
invaluable work, but did not know in the least what to do with it as a
whole, or how we should use it.

The Swiss stepped forth as Gottsched's antagonists: they must take it
into their heads to do something different, to accomplish something
better; accordingly we heard that they were, in fact, superior.
Breitinger's "Critical Art of Poetry" was taken in hand. Here we reached
a wider field, but, properly speaking, only a greater labyrinth, which
was so much the more tiresome, as an able man, in whom we had
confidence, was driving us about in it. Let a brief review justify these

For poetry in itself they had been able to find no fundamental axiom: it
was too spiritual and too volatile. Painting, an art which one could
hold fast with one's eyes, and follow step by step with the external
senses, seemed more favorable for such an end: the English and French
had already theorized about plastic art; and, by a comparison drawn from
this, it was thought that poetry might be grounded. The former presented
images to the eye, the latter to the imagination: poetical images,
therefore, were the first thing which was taken into consideration.
People began with comparisons, descriptions followed, and only that was
expressed which had always been apparent to the external senses.

Images, then! But where should these images be got except from nature?
The painter professedly imitated nature: why not the poet also? But
nature, as she lies before us, cannot be imitated: she contains so much
that is insignificant and worthless, that one must make a selection; but
what determines the choice? one must select that which is important: but
what is important?

To answer this question, the Swiss may have taken a long time to
consider; for they came to a notion, which is indeed singular, but
clever, and even comical, inasmuch as they say, the new is always the
most important: and after they have considered this for a while, they
discover that the marvellous is always newer than every thing else.

They had now pretty well collected their poetical requisitions; but they
had still to consider that the marvellous might also be empty, and
without relation to man. But this relation, demanded as necessary, must
be a moral one, from which the improvement of mankind should manifestly
follow; and thus a poem had reached its utmost aim when, with every
thing else accomplished, it was useful besides. They now wished to test
the different kinds of poetry according to all these requisites: those
which imitated nature, besides being marvellous, and at the same time of
a moral aim and use, were to rank as the first and highest. And, after
much deliberation, this great pre-eminence was at last ascribed, with
the highest degree of conviction, to Aesop's fables!

Strange as such a deduction may now appear, it had the most decided
influence on the best minds. That Gellert and subsequently Lichtwer
devoted themselves to this department, that even Lessing attempted to
labor in it, that so many others turned their talents towards it, speaks
for the confidence which this species of poetry had gained. Theory and
practice always act upon each other: one can see from their works what
is the men's opinion, and, from their opinions, predict what they will

Yet we must not dismiss our Swiss theory without doing it justice.
Bodmer, with all the pains he took, remained theoretically and
practically a child all his life. Breitinger was an able, learned,
sagacious man, whom, when he looked rightly about him, the essentials of
a poem did not all escape,--nay, it can be shown that he may have dimly
felt the deficiencies of his system. Remarkable, for instance, is his
query, "Whether a certain descriptive poem by König, on the 'Review-camp
of Augustus the Second,' is properly a poem?" and the answer to it
displays good sense. But it may serve for his complete justification
that he, starting from a false point, on a circle almost run out
already, still struck upon the main principle, and at the end of his
book finds himself compelled to recommend as additions, so to speak, the
representation of manners, character, passions,--in short, the whole
inner man; to which, indeed, poetry pre-eminently belongs.

It may well be imagined into what perplexity young minds felt themselves
thrown by such dislocated maxims, half-understood laws, and shivered-up
dogmas. We adhere to examples, and there, too, were no better off;
foreigners as well as the ancients stood too far from us; and from the
best native poets always peeped out a decided individuality, to the good
points of which we could not lay claim, and into the faults of which we
could not but be afraid of falling. For him who felt any thing
productive in himself it was a desperate condition.

When one considers closely what was wanting in the German poetry, it was
a material, and that, too, a national one: there was never a lack of
talent. Here we make mention only of Günther, who may be called a poet
in the full sense of the word. A decided talent, endowed with
sensuousness, imagination, memory, the gifts of conception and
representation, productive in the highest degree, ready at rhythm,
ingenious, witty, and of varied information besides,--he possessed, in
short, all the requisites for creating, by means of poetry, a second
life within life, even within common real life. We admire the great
facility with which, in his occasional poems, he elevates all
circumstances by the feelings, and embellishes them with suitable
sentiments, images, and historical and fabulous traditions. Their
roughness and wildness belong to his time, his mode of life, and
especially to his character, or, if one would have it so, his want of
fixed character. He did not know how to curb himself; and so his life,
like his poetry, melted away from him.

By his vacillating conduct, Günther had trifled away the good fortune of
being appointed at the court of Augustus the Second, where, in addition
to every other species of ostentation, they were also looking about for
a court-poet, who could give elevation and grace to their festivities,
and immortalize a transitory pomp. Von König was more mannerly and more
fortunate: he filled this post with dignity and applause.

In all sovereign states the material for poetry comes downwards from
above; and "The Review-camp at Mühlberg" ("Das Lustlager bei Mühlberg")
was, perhaps, the first worthy object, provincial, if not national,
which presented itself to a poet. Two kings saluting one another in the
presence of a great host, their whole courts and military state around
them, well-appointed troops, a mock-fight, /fêtes/ of all kinds,--
this is business enough for the outward sense, and overflowing material
for delineating and descriptive poetry.

This subject had, indeed, the internal defect, that it was only pomp and
show, from which no real action could result. None except the very first
distinguished themselves; and, even if they had done so, the poet could
not render any one conspicuous lest he should offend the others. He had
to consult the "Court and State Calendar;" and the delineation of the
persons therefore went off pretty dryly,--nay, even his contemporaries
very strongly reproached him with having described the horses better
than the men. But should not this redound to his credit, that he showed
his art just where an object for it presented itself? The main
difficulty, too, seems soon to have manifested itself to him,--since the
poem never advanced beyond the first canto.

Amidst such studies and reflections, an unexpected event surprised me,
and frustrated my laudable design of becoming acquainted with our new
literature from the beginning. My countryman, John George Schlosser,
after spending his academical years with industry and exertion, had
repaired to Frankfort-on-the-Main, in the customary profession of an
advocate; but his mind, aspiring and seeking after the universal, could
not reconcile itself to this situation for many reasons. He accepted,
without hesitation, an office as private secretary to the Duke Ludwig of
Wurtemberg, who resided in Treptow; for the prince was named among those
great men who, in a noble and independent manner, purposed to enlighten
themselves, their families, and the world, and to unite for higher aims.
It was this Prince Ludwig who, to ask advice about the education of his
children, had written to Rousseau, whose well-known answer began with
the suspicious-looking phrase, "/Si j'avais le malheur d'être né

Not only in the affairs of the prince, but also in the education of his
children, Schlosser was now willingly to assist in word and deed, if not
to superintend them. This noble young man, who harbored the best
intentions and strove to attain a perfect purity of morals, would have
easily kept men from him by a certain dry austerity, if his fine and
rare literary cultivation, his knowledge of languages, and his facility
at expressing himself by writing, both in verse and prose, had not
attracted every one, and made living with him more agreeable. It had
been announced to me that he would pass through Leipzig, and I expected
him with longing. He came and put up at a little inn or wine-house that
stood in the /Brühl/ (Marsh), and the host of which was named
Schönkopf. This man had a Frankfort woman for his wife; and although he
entertained few persons during the rest of the year, and could lodge no
guests in his little house, yet at fair-time he was visited by many
Frankforters, who used to eat, and, in case of need, even take quarters,
there also. Thither I hastened to find Schlosser, when he had sent to
inform me of his arrival. I scarcely remembered having seen him before,
and found a young, well-formed man, with a round, compressed face,
without the features losing their sharpness on that account. The form of
his rounded forehead, between black eyebrows and locks, indicated
earnestness, sternness, and perhaps obstinacy. He was, in a certain
measure, the opposite of myself; and this very thing doubtless laid the
foundation of our lasting friendship. I had the greatest respect for his
talents, the more so as I very well saw, that, in the certainty with
which he acted and produced, he was completely my superior. The respect
and the confidence which I showed him confirmed his affection, and
increased the indulgence he was compelled to have for my lively,
impetuous, and ever-excitable disposition, in such contrast with his
own. He studied the English writers diligently: Pope, if not his model,
was his aim; and, in opposition to that author's "Essay on Man," he had
written a poem in like form and measure, which was to give the Christian
religion the triumph over the deism of the other work. From the great
store of papers which he carried with him, he showed me poetical and
prose compositions in all languages, which, as they challenged me to
imitation, once more gave me infinite disquietude. Yet I contrived to
get over it immediately by activity. I wrote German, French, English,
and Italian poems, addressed to him, the subject-matter of which I took
from our conversations, which were always important and instructive.

Schlosser did not wish to leave Leipzig without having seen face to face
the men who had a name. I willingly took him to those I knew: with those
whom I had not yet visited, I in this way became honorably acquainted;
since he was received with distinction as a well-informed man of
education, of already established character, and well knew how to pay
for the outlay of conversation. I cannot pass over our visit we paid to
Gottsched, as it exemplifies the character and manners of that man. He
lived very respectably in the first story of the Golden Bear, where the
elder Breitkopf, on account of the great advantage which Gottsched's
writings, translations, and other aids had brought to the trade, had
promised him a lodging for life.

We were announced. The servant led us into a large chamber, saying his
master would come immediately. Now, whether we misunderstood a gesture
which he made, I cannot say: it is enough, we thought he directed us
into an adjoining room. We entered, to witness a singular scene: for, on
the instant, Gottsched, that tall, broad, gigantic man, came in at the
opposite door in a morning-gown of green damask lined with red taffeta;
but his monstrous head was bald and uncovered. This, however, was to be
immediately provided for: the servant rushed in at a side-door with a
great full-bottomed wig in his hand (the curls came down to the elbows),
and handed the head-ornament to his master with gestures of terror.
Gottsched, without manifesting the least vexation, raised the wig from
the servant's arm with his left hand, and, while he very dexterously
swung it up on his head, gave the poor fellow such a box on the ear with
his right paw, that the latter, as often happens in a comedy, went
spinning out at the door; whereupon the respectable old grandfather
invited us quite gravely to be seated, and kept up a pretty long
discourse with good grace.

As long as Schlosser remained in Leipzig, I dined daily with him, and
became acquainted with a very pleasant set of boarders. Some Livonians,
and the son of Hermann (chief court-preacher in Dresden), afterwards
burgomaster in Leipzig, and their tutor, Hofrath Pfeil, author of the
"Count von P.," a continuation of Gellert's "Swedish Countess;"
Zachariä, a brother of the poet; and Krebel, editor of geographical and
genealogical manuals,--all these were polite, cheerful, and friendly
men. Zachariä was the most quiet; Pfeil, an elegant man, who had
something almost diplomatic about him, yet without affectation, and with
great good humor; Krebel, a genuine Falstaff, tall, corpulent, fair,
with prominent, merry eyes, as bright as the sky, always happy and in
good spirits. These persons all treated me in the most handsome manner,
partly on Schlosser's account--partly, too, on account of my own frank
good humor and obliging disposition; and it needed no great persuasion
to make me partake of their table in future. In fact, I remained with
them after Schlosser's departure, deserted Ludwig's table, and found
myself so much the better off in this society, which was limited to a
certain number, as I was very well pleased with the daughter of the
family, a very neat, pretty girl, and had opportunities to exchange
friendly glances with her,--a comfort which I had neither sought nor
found by accident since the mischance with Gretchen. I spent the dinner-
hours with my friends cheerfully and profitably. Krebel, indeed, loved
me, and continued to tease me and stimulate me in moderation: Pfeil, on
the contrary, showed his earnest affection for me by trying to guide and
settle my judgment upon many points.

During this intercourse, I perceived through conversation, through
examples, and through my own reflections, that the first step in
delivering ourselves from the wishy-washy, long-winded, empty epoch,
could be taken only by definiteness, precision, and brevity. In the
style which had hitherto prevailed, one could not distinguish the
commonplace from what was better; since all were brought down to a level
with each other. Authors had already tried to escape from this wide-
spread disease, with more or less success. Haller and Ramler were
inclined to compression by nature: Lessing and Wieland were led to it by
reflection. The former became by degrees quite epigrammatical in his
poems, terse in "Minna," laconic in "Emilia Galotti,"--it was not till
afterwards that he returned to that serene /naiveté/ which becomes
him so well in "Nathan." "Wieland, who had been occasionally prolix in
"Agathon," "Don Sylvio," and the "Comic Tales," becomes condensed and
precise to a wonderful degree, as well as exceedingly graceful in
"Musarion" and "Idris." Klopstock, in the first cantos of "The Messiah,"
is not without diffuseness: in his "Odes" and other minor poems he
appears compressed, as also in his tragedies. By his emulation of the
ancients, especially Tacitus, he sees himself constantly forced into
narrower limits, by which he at last becomes obscure and unpalatable.
Gerstenberg, a fine but eccentric talent, also distinguishes himself:
his merit is appreciated, but on the whole he gives little pleasure.
Gleim, diffuse and easy by nature, is scarcely once concise in his war-
songs. Ramler is properly more a critic than a poet. He begins to
collect what the Germans have accomplished in lyric poetry. He now
finds, that scarcely one poem fully satisfies him: he must leave out,
arrange, and alter, that the things may have some shape or other. By
this means he makes himself almost as many enemies as there are poets
and amateurs; since every one, properly speaking, recognizes himself
only in his defects: and the public interests itself sooner for a faulty
individuality than for that which is produced or amended according to a
universal law of taste. Rhythm lay yet in the cradle, and no one knew of
a method to shorten its childhood. Poetical prose came into the
ascendant. Gessner and Klopstock excited many imitators: others, again,
still demanded an intelligible metre, and translated this prose into
rhythm. But even these gave nobody satisfaction, for they were obliged
to omit and add; and the prose original always passed for the better of
the two. But the more, with all this, conciseness is aimed at, the more
does a judgment become possible; since that which is important, being
more closely compressed, allows a certain comparison at last. It
happened, also, at the same time, that many kinds of truly poetical
forms arose; for, as they tried to represent only what was necessary in
the objects they wished to imitate, they were forced to do justice to
every one of these: and in this manner, though no one did it
consciously, the modes of representation multiplied themselves, among
which, indeed, were some which were really caricatures, while many an
attempt proved unsuccessful.

Without question, Wieland possessed the finest natural gifts of all. He
had early cultivated himself thoroughly in those ideal regions where
youth so readily lingers; but when, by what is called experience, by the
events of the world, and women, these were rendered distasteful to him,
he threw himself on the side of the actual, and pleased himself and
others with the contest of the two worlds, where, in light skirmishing
between jest and earnest, his talent displayed itself most beautifully.
How many of his brilliant productions fall into the time of my academic
years! "Musarion" had the most effect upon me; and I can yet remember
the place and the very spot where I got sight of the first proof-sheet,
which Oeser gave me. Here it was that I believed I saw antiquity again
living and fresh. Every thing that is plastic in Wieland's genius here
showed itself in its highest perfection; and when that Phanias-Timon,
condemned to an unhappy insipidity, finally reconciles himself to his
mistress and to the world, one can well, with him, live through the
misanthropical epoch. For the rest, we readily conceded to these works a
cheerful aversion from those exalted sentiments, which, by reason of
their easy misapplication to life, are often open to the suspicion of
dreaminess. We pardoned the author for prosecuting with ridicule what we
held as true and reverend, the more readily as he thereby gave us to
understand that it caused him continual trouble.

How miserably criticism then received such labors may be seen from the
first volumes of "The Universal German Library." Of "The Comic Tales"
there is honorable mention, but there is no trace of any insight into
the character of the kind of poetry. The reviewer, like every one at
that time, had formed his taste by examples. He never takes it into
consideration, that, in a judgment of such parodistical works, one must
first of all have before one's eyes the original noble, beautiful
object, in order to see whether the parodist has really gotten from it a
weak and comical side, whether he has borrowed any thing from it, or,
under the appearance of such an imitation, has perhaps given us an
excellent invention of his own. Of all this there is not a notion, but
the poems are praised and blamed by passages. The reviewer, as he
himself confesses, has marked so much that pleased him, that he cannot
quote it all in print. When they even meet the highly meritorious
translation of Shakespeare with the exclamation, "By rights, a man like
Shakespeare should not have been translated at all!" it will be
understood, without further remark, how infinitely "The Universal German
Library" was behind-hand in matters of taste, and that young people,
animated by true feeling, had to look about them for other guiding

The material which, in this manner, more or less determined the form,
the Germans sought everywhere. They had handled few national subjects,
or none at all. Schlegel's "Hermann" only showed the way. The idyllic
tendency extended itself without end. The want of distinctive character
with Gessner, with all his great gracefulness and child-like heartiness,
made every one think that he could do something of the same kind. Just
in the same manner, out of the more generally human, some snatch those
poems which should have portrayed a foreign nationality, as, for
instance, the Jewish pastoral poems, those on the patriarchs altogether,
and whatever else related to the Old Testament. Bodmer's "Noachide" was
a perfect symbol of the watery deluge that swelled high around the
German Parnassus, and which abated but slowly. The leading-strings of
Anacreon likewise allowed innumerable mediocre geniuses to reel about at
large. The precision of Horace compelled the Germans, though but slowly,
to conform to him. Comic heroic poems, mostly after the model of Pope's
"Rape of the Lock," did not serve to bring in a better time.

I must here mention a delusion, which operated as seriously as it must
be ridiculous when one examines it more closely. The Germans had now
sufficient historical knowledge of all the kinds of poetry in which the
different nations had distinguished themselves. This pigeon-hole work,
which, properly speaking, totally destroys the inner conception of
poetry, had been already pretty completely hammered together by
Gottsched in his "Critical Art of Poetry;" and it had been shown at the
same time that German poets, too, had already known how to fill up all
the rubrics with excellent works. And thus it ever went on. Each year
the collection was more considerable, but every year one work pushed
another out of the place in which it had hitherto shone. We now
possessed, if not Homers, yet Virgils and Miltons; if not a Pindar, yet
a Horace; of Theocrituses there was no lack: and thus they weighed
themselves by comparisons from without; whilst the mass of poetical
works always increased, so that at last there could be a comparison from

Now though matters of taste stood on a very uncertain footing, there
could be no dispute but that, within the Protestant part of Germany and
of Switzerland, what is generally called common sense began to stir
briskly at that epoch. The scholastic philosophy--which always has the
merit of propounding according to received axioms, in a favorite order,
and under fixed rubrics, every thing about which man can at all inquire-
-had, by the frequent darkness and apparent uselessness of its subject-
matter, by its unseasonable application of a method in itself
respectable, and by its too great extension over so many subjects, made
itself foreign to the mass, unpalatable, and at last superfluous. Many a
one became convinced that nature had endowed him with as great a portion
of good and straightforward sense as, perchance, he required to form
such a clear notion of objects that he could manage them and turn them
to his own profit, and that of others, without laboriously troubling
himself about the most universal problems, and inquiring how the most
remote things which do not particularly affect us may hang together. Men
made the trial, opened their eyes, looked straight before them,
observant, industrious, active, and believed, that, when one judges and
acts correctly in one's own circle, one may well presume to speak of
other things also, which lie at a greater distance.

In accordance with such a notion, every one was now entitled, not only
to philosophize, but also by degrees to consider himself a philosopher.
Philosophy, therefore, was more or less sound, and practised common
sense, which ventured to enter upon the universal, and to decide upon
inner and outer experiences. A clear-sighted acuteness and an especial
moderation, while the middle path and fairness to all opinions was held
to be right, procured respect and confidence for writings and oral
statements of the sort; and thus at last philosophers were found in all
the faculties,--nay, in all classes and trades.

In this way the theologians could not help inclining to what is called
natural religion; and, when the discussion was how far the light of
nature may suffice to advance us in the knowledge of God and the
improving and ennobling of ourselves, they commonly ventured to decide
in its favor without much scruple. According to the same principle of
moderation, they then granted equal rights to all positive religions, by
which they all became alike indifferent and uncertain. For the rest,
they let every thing stand; and since the Bible is so full of matter,
that, more than any other book, it offers material for reflection and
opportunity for meditation on human affairs, it could still, as before,
be always laid as the foundation of all sermons and other religious

But over this work, as well as over the whole body of profane writers,
was impending a singular fate, which, in the lapse of time, was not to
be averted. Hitherto it had been received as a matter of implicit faith,
that this book of books was composed in one spirit; that it was even
inspired, and, as it were, dictated by the Divine Spirit. Yet for a long
time already the discrepancies of the different parts of it had been now
cavilled at, now apologized for, by believers and unbelievers. English,
French, and Germans had attacked the Bible with more or less violence,
acuteness, audacity, and wantonness; and just as often had it been taken
under the protection of earnest, sound-thinking men of each nation. As
for myself, I loved and valued it; for almost to it alone did I owe my
moral culture: and the events, the doctrines, the symbols, the similes,
had all impressed themselves deeply upon me, and had influenced me in
one way or another. These unjust, scoffing, and perverting attacks,
therefore, disgusted me; but people had already gone so far as very
willingly to admit, partly as a main ground for the defense of many
passages, that God had accommodated himself to the modes of thought and
power of comprehension in men; that even those moved by the Spirit had
not on that account been able to renounce their character, their
individuality, and that Amos, a cow-herd, did not use the language of
Isaiah, who is said to have been a prince.

Out of such views and convictions, especially with a constantly
increasing knowledge of languages, was very naturally developed that
kind of study by which it was attempted to examine more accurately the
Oriental localities, nationalities, natural products, and phenomena, and
in this manner to make present to one's self that ancient time.
Michaelis employed the whole strength of his talents and his knowledge
on this side. Descriptions of travels became a powerful help in
explaining the Holy Scriptures; and later travellers, furnished with
numerous questions, were made, by the answers to them, to bear witness
for the prophets and apostles.

But whilst they were on all sides busied to bring the Holy Scriptures to
a natural intuition, and to render peculiar modes of thought and
representation in them more universally comprehensible, that by this
historico-critical aspect many an objection might be removed, many
offensive things effaced, and many a shallow scoffing be made
ineffective, there appeared in some men just the opposite disposition,
since these chose the darkest, most mysterious, writings as the subject
of their meditations, and wished, if not to elucidate them, yet to
confirm them through internal evidence, by means of conjectures,
calculations, and other ingenious and strange combinations, and, so far
as they contained prophecies, to prove them by the results, and thus to
justify a faith in what was next to be expected.

The venerable Bengel had procured a decided reception for his labors on
the Revelation of St. John, from the fact that he was known as an
intelligent, upright, God-fearing, blameless man. Deep minds are
compelled to live in the past as well as in the future. The ordinary
movements of the world can be of no importance to them, if they do not,
in the course of ages up to the present, revere prophecies which have
been revealed, and in the immediate, as well as in the most remote
futurity, predictions still veiled. Hence arises a connection that is
wanting in history, which seems to give us only an accidental wavering
backwards and forwards in a necessarily limited circle. Doctor Crusius
was one of those whom the prophetic part of Scripture suited more than
any other, since it brings into action the two most opposite qualities
of human nature, the affections, and the acuteness of the intellect.
Many young men had devoted themselves to this doctrine, and already
formed a respectable body, which attracted the more attention, as
Ernesti with his friends threatened, not to illuminate, but completely
to disperse, the obscurity in which these delighted. Hence arose
controversies, hatred, persecution, and much that was unpleasant. I
attached myself to the lucid party, and sought to appropriate to myself
their principles and advantages; although I ventured to forebode, that
by this extremely praiseworthy, intelligent method of interpretation,
the poetic contents of the writings must at last be lost along with the

But those who devoted themselves to German literature and the /belles-
lettres/ were more nearly concerned with the efforts of such men,
who, as Jerusalem, Zollikofer, and Spalding, tried, by means of a good
and pure style in their sermons and treatises, to gain, even among
persons of a certain degree of sense and taste, applause and attachment
for religion, and for the moral philosophy which is so closely related
to it. A pleasing manner of writing began to be necessary everywhere;
and since such a manner must, above all, be comprehensible, so did
writers arise, on many sides, who undertook to write about their studies
and their professions clearly, perspicuously, and impressively, and as
well for the adepts as for the multitude.

After the example of Tissot, a foreigner, the physicians also now began
to labor zealously for the general cultivation. Haller, Unzer,
Zimmerman, had a very great influence; and whatever may be said against
them in detail, especially the last, they produced a very great effect
in their time. And mention should be made of this in history, but
particularly in biography; for a man remains of consequence, not so far
as he leaves something behind him, but so far as he acts and enjoys, and
rouses others to action and enjoyment.

The jurists, accustomed from their youth upward to an abstruse style,
which, in all legal papers, from the petty court of the Immediate Knight
up to the Imperial Diet at Ratisbon, was still maintained in all its
quaintness, could not easily elevate themselves to a certain freedom,
the less so as the subjects of which they had to treat were most
intimately connected with the external form, and consequently also with
the style. But the younger Von Moser had already shown himself an
independent and original writer; and Putter, by the clearness of his
delivery, had also brought clearness into his subject, and the style in
which he was to treat it. All that proceeded from his school was
distinguished by this. And even the philosophers, in order to be
popular, now found themselves compelled to write clearly and
intelligibly. Mendelssohn and Garve appeared, and excited universal
interest and admiration.

With the cultivation of the German language and style in every
department, the capacity for forming a judgment also increased, and we
admire the reviews then published of works upon religious and moral, as
well as medical, subjects; while, on the contrary, we remark that the
judgments of poems, and of whatever else may relate to the /belles-
lettres/, will be found, if not pitiful, at least very feeble. This
holds good of the "Literary Epistles" ("Literaturbriefen"), and of "The
Universal German Library," as well as of "The Library of the Belles-
Lettres," notable instances of which could easily be produced.

No matter in how motley a manner all this might be confused, still, for
every one who contemplated producing any thing from himself,--who would
not merely take the words and phrases out of the mouths of his
predecessors,--there was nothing further left but, early and late, to
look about him for some subject-matter which he might determine to use.
Here, too, we were much led astray. People were constantly repeating a
saying of Kleist, which we had to hear often enough. He had sportively,
ingeniously, and truly replied to those who took him to task on account
of his frequent, lonely walks, "that he was not idle at such times,--he
was going to the image-hunt." This simile was very suitable for a
nobleman and soldier, who by it placed himself in contrast with the men
of his rank, who did not neglect going out, with their guns on their
shoulders, hare-hunting and partridge-shooting, as often as an
opportunity presented itself. Hence we find in Kleist's poems many such
individual images, happily seized, although not always happily
elaborated, which, in a kindly manner, remind us of nature. But now they
also recommended us, quite seriously, to go out on the image-hunt, which
did not at last leave us wholly without fruit; although Apel's garden,
the kitchen-gardens, the Rosenthal, Golis, Raschwitz, and Konnewitz,
would be the oddest ground to beat up poetical game in. And yet I was
often induced by that motive to contrive that my walk should be
solitary; and because many objects neither beautiful nor sublime met the
eye of the beholder, and, in the truly splendid Rosenthal, the gnats, in
the best season of the year, allowed no tender thoughts to arise, so did
I, by unwearied, persevering endeavor, become extremely attentive to the
small life of nature (I would use this word after the analogy of "still
life"); and, since the pretty events which one perceives within this
circle represent but little in themselves, so I accustomed myself to see
in them a significance, which inclined now towards the symbolical, now
towards the allegorical, side, accordingly as intuition, feeling, or
reflection had the preponderance. I will relate one incident in place of

I was, after the fashion of humanity, in love with my name, and, as
young, uneducated people commonly do, wrote it down everywhere. Once I
had carved it very handsomely and accurately on the smooth bark of a
linden-tree of moderate age. The following autumn, when my affection for
Annette was in its fullest bloom, I took the trouble to cut hers above
it. Towards the end of the winter, in the mean time, like a capricious
lover, I had wantonly sought many opportunities to tease her and cause
her vexation: in the spring I chanced to visit the spot; and the sap,
which was rising strongly in the trees, had welled out through the
incisions which formed her name, and which were not yet crusted over,
and moistened with innocent vegetable tears the already hardened traces
of my own. Thus to see her here weeping over me,--me, who had so often
called up her tears by my ill conduct, filled me with confusion. At the
remembrance of my injustice and of her love, even the tears came into my
eyes; I hastened to implore pardon of her, doubly and trebly: and I
turned this incident into an idyl, [Footnote: Die Laune des Verliebten,
translated as The Lover's Caprice, see p. 241.] which I never could read
to myself without affection, or to others without emotion.

While I now, like a shepherd on the Pleisse, was absorbed childishly
enough in such tender subjects, and always chose only such as I could
easily recall into my bosom, provision from a greater and more important
side had long been made for German poets.

The first true and really vital material of the higher order came into
German poetry through Frederick the Great and the deeds of the Seven
Years' War. All national poetry must be shallow or become shallow which
does not rest on that which is most universally human,--upon the events
of nations and their shepherds, when both stand for one man. Kings are
to be represented in war and danger, where, by that very means, they
appear as the first, because they determine and share the fate of the
very least, and thus become much more interesting than the gods
themselves, who, when they have once determined the fates, withdraw from
all participation in them. In this view of the subject, every nation, if
it would be worth any thing at all, must possess an epopee, to which the
precise form of the epic poem is not necessary.

The war-songs started by Gleim maintain so high a rank among German
poems, because they arose with and in the achievements which are their
subject; and because, moreover, their felicitous form, just as if a
fellow-combatant had produced them in the loftiest moments, makes us
feel the most complete effectiveness.

Ramler sings the deeds of his king in a different and most noble manner.
All his poems are full of matter, and occupy us with great, heart-
elevating objects, and thus already maintain an indestructible value.

For the internal matter of the subject treated is the beginning and end
of art. It will not, indeed, be denied that genius, that thoroughly
cultivated artistical talent, can make every thing out of every thing by
its method of treatment, and can subdue the most refractory material.
But, when closely examined, the result is rather a trick of art than a
work of art, which should rest upon a worthy object, that the treatment
of it, by skill, pains, and industry, may present to us the dignity of
the subject-matter only the more happily and splendidly.

The Prussians, and with them Protestant Germany, acquired thus for their
literature a treasure which the opposite party lacked, and the want of
which they have been able to supply by no subsequent endeavors. Upon the
great idea which the Prussian writers might well entertain of their
king, they first established themselves, and the more zealously as he,
in whose name they did it all, wished once for all to know nothing about
them. Already before this, through the French colony, afterwards through
the king's predilection for the literature of that nation and for their
financial institutions, had a mass of French civilization come into
Prussia, which was highly advantageous to the Germans, since by it they
were challenged to contradiction and resistance; thus the very aversion
of Frederick from German was a fortunate thing for the formation of its
literary character. They did every thing to attract the king's
attention, not indeed to be honored, but only noticed, by him; yet they
did it in German fashion, from an internal conviction; they did what
they held to be right, and desired and wished that the king should
recognize and prize this German uprightness. That did not and could not
happen; for how can it be required of a king, who wishes to live and
enjoy himself intellectually, that he shall lose his years in order to
see what he thinks barbarous developed and rendered palatable too late?
In matters of trade and manufacture, he might indeed force upon himself,
but especially upon his people, very moderate substitutes instead of
excellent foreign wares; but here every thing comes to perfection more
rapidly, and it needs not a man's life-time to bring such things to

But I must here, first of all, make honorable mention of one work, the
most genuine production of the Seven Years' War, and of perfect North-
German nationality: it is the first theatrical production caught from
the important events of life, one of specific, temporary value, and one
which therefore produced an incalculable effect,--"Minna von Barnhelm."
Lessing, who, in opposition to Klopstock and Gleim, was fond of casting
off his personal dignity, because he was confident that he could at any
moment grasp and take it up again, delighted in a dissipated life in
taverns and the world, as he always needed a strong counterpoise to his
powerfully laboring interior; and for this reason, also, he had joined
the suite of Gen. Tauentzien. One easily discovers how the above-
mentioned piece was generated betwixt war and peace, hatred and
affection. It was this production which happily opened the view into a
higher, more significant, world, from the literary and citizen world in
which poetic art had hitherto moved.

The intense hatred in which the Prussians and Saxons stood towards each
other during this war could not be removed by its termination. The Saxon
now first felt, with true bitterness, the wounds which the upstart
Prussian had inflicted upon him. Political peace could not immediately
re-establish a peace between their dispositions. But this was to be
brought about symbolically by the above-mentioned drama. The grace and
amiability of the Saxon ladies conquer the worth, the dignity, and the
stubbornness of the Prussians; and, in the principal as well as in the
subordinate characters, a happy union of bizarre and contradictory
elements is artistically represented.

If I have put my reader in some perplexity by these cursory and
desultory remarks on German literature, I have succeeded in giving them
a conception of that chaotic condition in which my poor brain found
itself, when, in the conflict of two epochs so important for the
literary fatherland, so much that was new crowded in upon me before I
could come to terms with the old, so much that was old yet made me feel
its right over me, when I believed I had already cause to venture on
renouncing it altogether. I will at present try to impart, as well as
possible, the way I entered on to extricate myself from this difficulty,
if only step by step.

The period of prolixity into which my youth had fallen, I had labored
through with genuine industry, in company with so many worthy men. The
numerous quarto volumes of manuscript which I left behind with my father
might serve for sufficient witnesses of this; and what a mass of essays,
rough draughts, and half-executed designs, had, more from despondency
than conviction, gone up in smoke! Now, through conversation, through
instruction in general, through so many conflicting opinions, but
especially through my fellow-boarder Hofrath Pfeil, I learned to value
more and more the importance of the subject-matter and the conciseness
of the treatment; without, however, being able to make it clear to
myself where the former was to be sought, or how the latter was to be
attained. For, what with the great narrowness of my situation; what with
the indifference of my companions, the reserve of the professors, the
exclusiveness of the educated inhabitants; and what with the perfect
insignificance of the natural objects,--I was compelled to seek for
every thing within myself. Whenever I desired a true basis in feeling or
reflection for my poems, I was forced to grasp into my own bosom;
whenever I required for my poetic representation an immediate intuition
of an object or an event, I could not step outside the circle which was
fitted to teach me, and inspire me with an interest. In this view I

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