The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. II
Editor-in-Chief: Kuno Francke
Part 7 out of 9
him into contact with Mengs. The latter, whose own great talent was
enthralled by the ancient works of art and especially by such as were
beautiful, immediately introduced his friend to the most excellent--a
fact worthy of our attention. Here Winckelmann learned to recognize
beauty of form and its treatment, and was immediately inspired to
undertake a treatise, _Concerning the Taste of the Greek Artists_. But
one cannot go about studying works of art for any length of time
without discovering that they are the productions not only of different
artists but of different epochs, and that all investigations concerning
the place of their origin, their age, their individual merit must be
undertaken together. Winckelmann, with his unerring perception, soon
found that this was the axis on which the entire knowledge of art
revolves. He confined himself at first to the most sublime works, which
he intended to present in a treatise, _Concerning the Style of Sculpture
in the Age of Phidias_, but he soon rose above these details to the idea
of a history of art, and discovered a new Columbus, a land long
surmised, hinted at and discussed--yea, a land, we might say, that had
formerly been known and forgotten.
It is sad to observe how at first through the Romans, afterward through
the invasion of northern peoples, and the confusion arising in
consequence, mankind came into such a state that all true and pure
culture was for a long time retarded in its development, indeed was
almost made impossible for the entire future. In any field of art and
science that we may contemplate, a direct and unerring perception had
already revealed much to the ancient investigator which, during the
barbarism which followed, and through the barbaric manner of escaping
from barbarism, became and remained a secret; which it will long
continue to be for the masses, because the general progress of higher
culture in modern times is but slow. This remark does not apply to
technical progress, of which mankind happily makes use without asking
questions as to whence it comes and whither it leads.
We are impelled to this observation by certain passages of ancient
authors, in which anticipations, even indications, of a possible and
necessary history of art appear. Velleius Paterculus observes with great
interest, the coincidence in the rise and fall of all the arts. As a man
of the world, he was especially concerned with the observation that they
could be maintained only for a short time at the highest point which it
was possible for them to reach.
From his standpoint he could not regard all arts as a living entity
[Greek: (psoon)], which must necessarily reveal an imperceptible
beginning, a slow growth, a short and brilliant period of perfection,
and a gradual decline--like every other organic being, except that it is
manifested in a number of individuals. He therefore assigns only moral
causes, which certainly must be included as contributory, but hardly
satisfy his own great sagacity, because he probably feels that a
necessity here exists which cannot be compounded out of detached
"That the grammarians, painters and sculptors fared as did also the
orators, every one will find who examines the testimony of the ages; the
highest development of every art is invariably circumscribed by a very
short space of time. Just why a number of similarly endowed, capable men
make their appearance within a certain cycle of years and devote
themselves to the same art and its advancement, is a matter upon which I
have often reflected, without discovering any cause that I might present
as true. Among the most probable causes the following seem to me the
most important: Rivalry nourishes the talents; here envy, and there
admiration, incite to imitation, and the art promoted with so much
diligence quickly reaches its culmination. It is difficult to remain in
a state of perfection, and what does not advance retrogrades. And so in
the beginning we endeavor to attain our models, but when we despair of
surpassing or even approaching them, diligence and hope grow old, and
what we fail to attain, is no longer pursued. We cease to strive after
the possession already obtained by another, and search for something
new. Relinquishing that in which we cannot shine, we seek another goal
for our efforts. From this inconstancy, it seems to me, arises the
greatest obstacle to the production of perfect works of art."
A passage of Quintilian, containing a concise outline of the history of
ancient art, also deserves to be pointed out as an important document in
this domain. In his conversations with Roman art lovers, Quintilian
must also have noticed a striking resemblance between the character of
Greek artists and Roman orators, and then have sought to gain more exact
information from connoisseurs and art-lovers. In his comparative
presentation, in which the character of the art is each time associated
with that of the age, he is compelled, without knowing or wishing it, to
present a history of art.
They say that the first celebrated painters whose works are visited not
by reason of their antiquity alone, were Polygnotus and Aglaophon. Their
simple color still finds eager admirers, who prefer such crude
productions and the beginnings of an art just evolving, to the greatest
masters of the following epoch--as it seems to me in accordance with a
point of view peculiar to themselves. Afterward Zeuxis and Parrhasius,
who lived at about the same period--at the time of the Peloponnesian
war--greatly promoted art. The former is said to have discovered the
laws of light and shadow, the latter to have devoted himself to a
careful investigation of lines. Furthermore, Zeuxis gave more content to
the limbs and painted them fuller and more portly. In this regard, as is
believed, he followed Homer, who delights in the most powerful forms,
even in women. Parrhasius, however, has such a determinative influence
that he is called the law-giver of painting, because the types of gods
and heroes which he created were followed and adopted by others as
Thus painting flourished from about the time of Philip to that of the
successors of Alexander, but with great diversity of talent. Protogenes
surpassed all inexactitude, Pamphilius and Melanthius in thoughtfulness,
Antiphilus in facility, Theon the Samian in invention of strange
apparitions called fantasies, Apelles in spirit and charm. Euphranor is
admired because he must be counted among the best in all the
requirements of art, and excelled at the same time in painting and
"The same difference is also found in sculpture. Kalon and Hegesias
worked in a severe style, like that of the Etruscans; Kalamis was less
austere; Myron more delicate still.
"Polyclitus possessed diligence and elegance above all others. By many
the palm is assigned to him; but that some fault might be ascribed to
him, it was said that he lacked dignity. For while he has made the human
form more graceful than nature reveals it, he does not seem to have been
able to present the dignity of the gods. Indeed, he is said in his art
to have avoided representing mature age, and never to have ventured
beyond unfurrowed cheeks.
"But what Polyclitus lacked is ascribed to Phidias and Alcamenes.
Phidias is said to have formed the images of gods and men most
perfectly, and to have far surpassed his rivals, especially in ivory.
One would form this judgment even if he had designed nothing else than
the Minerva of Athens or the Olympian Jupiter at Elis, the beauty of
which was of great advantage, as has been said, to the established
religion; so closely does the work approach the majesty of the god
"Lysippus and Praxiteles have, according to the universal opinion, most
nearly approached truth; Demetrius, on the other hand, is blamed because
he went too far in this direction, in that he preferred mere resemblance
Man is rarely fortunate enough to secure the aids for his higher
education from quite unselfish patrons. Even those who believe that they
have the best intentions only promote that which they love and know, or,
more readily still, what is of advantage to them. Thus it was literary
and bibliographical accomplishments which recommended Winckelmann
formerly to Count Buenau and later to Cardinal Passione.
The connoisseur of books is everywhere welcome, and he was even more so
at a time when the pleasure of collecting notable and rare books was
livelier than it now is, and the profession of librarian was more
restricted. A great German library resembled a great Roman library; they
could vie with each other in the possession of books. The librarian of a
German count was a desirable member of a cardinal's household, and
immediately found himself at home there. Libraries were real
treasure-houses, instead of being, as now, with the rapid progress of
the sciences and the useful and useless accumulation of printed
matter--nothing more than useful store-rooms and useless lumber-rooms.
So that a librarian has cause, now far more than before, to be informed
of the progress of science and of the value and worthlessness of
writings, and a German librarian has to possess attainments which would
be lost in other countries.
But only for a short time, and only as long as it was necessary to
secure a moderate means of support, did Winckelmann remain true to his
original literary occupation. He soon lost interest also in everything
that related to critical investigation, and was willing neither to
compare manuscripts nor to give information to German scholars who
wished to question him upon many subjects.
But even before this his attainments had served him as an advantageous
introduction. The private life of the Italians, especially of the
Romans, has, for many reasons, something of a secret character. This
secrecy, this isolation, if you will, extended also to literature. Many
a scholar devoted his life in secret to an important work, without
either desiring or being able to have it published. Here also, more than
in any other land, were to be found men who, with diverse attainments
and great insight, could not be moved to make them known, either in
written or printed form. The way to the society of such men Winckelmann
soon found opened. He mentions particularly among them Giacomelli and
Baldani, and speaks with pleasure of his increasing acquaintances and
his growing influence.
But his greatest good fortune was to become a member of the household of
Cardinal Albani. This prelate, possessed of a large fortune and wielding
a powerful influence, showed from his very youth a great love of art; he
had also the best opportunity of satisfying it and a luck in collecting
which verged upon the miraculous. In later years he found his greatest
pleasure in the task of placing this collection in worthy surroundings,
in this wise rivaling those Roman families who had at an earlier period
been cognizant of the value of such treasures. It was, in fact, his
chief pleasure to overload the assigned spaces, in accordance with the
manner of the ancients. Building crowded upon building, hall upon hall,
corridor upon corridor; fountains and obelisks, caryatides and
bas-reliefs, statues and vases were lacking neither in court-yard nor in
garden, while the greater or smaller rooms, galleries and cabinets
contained the choicest art specimens of all times.
We observed in passing that the ancients had in a similar manner filled
their palaces and gardens. The Romans so overloaded their capital that
it seems impossible that everything recorded could have found place
there. The Via Sacra, the Forum, the Palatine were so overloaded with
buildings and monuments that the imagination can hardly conceive of a
crowd of people finding room in any of them. Fortunately the actual
results of excavated cities come to our assistance, and we can see with
our own eyes how narrow, how small, how, so to speak, like architectural
models rather than real buildings these structures are. This remark is
true even of the Villa of Hadrian, in the construction of which there
were space and wealth enough for something extensive.
In such an overloaded condition was the villa of his lord and friend
when Winckelmann departed this scene of his highest and most gratifying
education. So also it remained after the death of the cardinal, to the
joy and wonder of the world, until in the course of all-changing,
all-dispersing time, it was robbed of its entire adornment. The statues
were removed from their niches and pedestals, the bas-reliefs were torn
from the walls, and the whole enormous collection was packed for
transportation. Through an extraordinary change of affairs these
treasures were conducted only as far as the Tiber. In a short time they
were returned to the possessor, and the greatest part of them, except a
few jewels, still remain in the old location. Winckelmann might have
witnessed the first sad fate of this Elysium of art and its
extraordinary return; but happily for him, death spared him this earthly
suffering for which the joy of the restoration would hardly have made
But he also encountered many a good fortune upon life's journey. Not
only did the excavations of antiquities proceed energetically and
fortunately at Rome, but the discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii were
at that time partly new, or had remained partly unknown through envy,
secrecy and delay. He thus reaped a harvest which furnished work enough
for his mind and his activities.
It is a sad thing when one is compelled to consider the existing as
accomplished and completed. Armories, galleries and museums to which
nothing is added have something funereal and ghostly about them; the
mind is restricted in such a limited field of art. One becomes
accustomed to regard such collections as completed, instead of being
reminded of the necessity of constant acquisition and of the fact that,
in art as in life, nothing is completed but is constantly changing.
Winckelmann found himself in a fortunate position. The earth gave up her
treasures, and through a constant, active commerce in art many ancient
possessions came to light, passed before his eyes, aroused his
enthusiasm, challenged his judgment, and increased his knowledge.
No small advantage accrued to him through his relations with the heir
of the large Stosch collection. Not until after the death of the
collector did he become acquainted with this little world of art, over
which he presided in accordance with his best judgment and convictions.
It is true that all parts of this exceedingly valuable collection were
not treated with equal care; the whole of it deserved a catalogue for
the delectation and the use of later amateurs and collectors. Much was
squandered; but in order to make the excellent gems which it contained
better known and more marketable, Winckelmann undertook in conjunction
with the heir of Stosch to write a catalogue, concerning which
undertaking, its hasty but always able treatment, the surviving
correspondence furnishes remarkable testimony.
Our friend was thus intently occupied with the Stosch possessions before
their dispersal and with the ever increasing Albani collection; and
everything which passed through his hands, either for collection or
dispersal, increased the treasure with which he was storing his mind.
Even when Winckelmann first approached the study of art and learned to
know the artists in Dresden, appearing in this branch as a beginner, he
was fully developed as a writer. He had a comprehensive view of ancient
history and, in many ways, of the development of the various sciences.
Even in his previous humble condition he felt and knew antiquity, as
well as what was worthy in the life and in the character of the present.
He had already formed a style. In the new school which he entered, he
listened to his masters, not only as a docile pupil but as a learned
disciple. He easily acquired their special attainments, and began
immediately to use and to adapt to his purposes everything that he
In a higher sphere of action than was his at Dresden, in the nobler
world revealed to him at Rome, he remained the same. What he learned
from Mengs, what he was taught by his surroundings, he did not keep long
to himself; he did not let the new wine ferment and clarify; but rather
as we say that one learns from teaching, so he learned while planning
and writing. How many a title has he left us, how many subjects has he
not mentioned upon which a work was to follow! Like this beginning was
his entire antiquarian career. We find him always active--occupied with
the moment, which he seizes and holds fast as if it only could be
complete and satisfactory, and even so he let himself be instructed by
the following moment. This attitude of mind should be remembered in
forming an estimate of his works.
That they ultimately received their present form, printed directly from
Winckelmann's manuscript notes, is due to many often unimportant
circumstances. A single month later and we should have had works, more
correct in content, more precise in form, perhaps something quite
different. Just for this reason we so deeply regret his premature death,
because he would have constantly rewritten his works and enriched them
with the attainments of the (ever) later phases of his life.
Everything that he has left us, therefore, was written as something
living for the living, not for those who are dead in the letter. His
works, combined with his correspondence, are the story of a life; they
are a life itself. Like the life of most people, they resemble rather a
preparation for a work than the latter in its accomplishment. They give
cause for hopes, for wishes, for premonitions. If one tries to correct
them he sees that he must first correct himself; if he wishes to
criticize them, he sees that he might himself, upon a higher plane of
knowledge, be subjected to the same criticism; for limitation is
everywhere our lot.
With the progress of civilization, not all parts of human labor and
activity in which culture is revealed, flourish equally; rather in
accordance with the favorable character of persons and conditions, one
necessarily surpasses the other, and thus arouses a more general
interest. A certain jealous displeasure often arises in consequence,
among members of a family so varied in its branches, who often are the
less able to endure one another, the more closely they are related.
It is for the most part a baseless complaint, when this or that adept in
science and art complains that just his branch is being neglected by
contemporaries; for an able master has only to appear in order to
concentrate attention upon himself. If Raphael should reappear today, we
should bestow upon him a superabundance of honor and riches. An able
master arouses excellent pupils and their activities extend their
ramifications into the infinite.
From the earliest times philosophers especially have incurred the
hatred, not only of their fellow scientists, but of men of the world and
_bons vivants_, perhaps more by the position they assume than by their
own fault. For as philosophy in accordance with her nature must make
demands upon the universal and the highest, she must regard worldly
objects as included in and subordinated to herself.
Nor are these pretentious demands specifically denied; every man rather
believes that he has a right to take part in her discoveries, to make
use of her maxims, and to appropriate whatever else she may have to
offer. But as philosophy, in order to become universal, must make use of
her own vocabulary of unfamiliar combinations and difficult
explanations, which are in harmony neither with the life nor with the
momentary needs of men of the world, she is despised by those who cannot
find the handle by which she might easily be grasped.
Yet, if, on the other hand, one wished to accuse the philosophers
because they do not know how to translate doctrine into life, and
because they make the most mistakes exactly where all their convictions
should be converted into action, thereby diminishing their own credit in
the eyes of the world--no lack of examples might be found to verify such
Winckelmann often complains bitterly of the philosophers of his day and
their widespread influence; but I think one can escape from every
influence by limiting oneself to his own line of work. It is strange
that Winckelmann did not attend the University at Leipsic, where, under
the direction of Johann Friedrich Christ, he might, without troubling
himself about a single philosopher in existence, have made much more
comfortable progress in his favorite study.
This is perhaps the proper place for an observation which we should like
to make, in view of recent events--that no scholar can afford to reject,
oppose, or scorn the great philosophical movement begun by Kant, except
the true investigators of antiquity, who by the peculiarity of their
study seem to be especially favored above all other men. For since they
are occupied with the best that the world has produced and only examine
the trivial and the inferior in their relation to the most excellent,
their attainments reach such fullness, their judgment such certainty,
their taste such consistency, that they appear within their own circle
most wonderfully, even astonishingly, cultured. Winckelmann also
attained this good fortune, in which indeed he was greatly assisted by
the influence of the fine arts and of life itself.
Although Winckelmann in reading the ancient authors paid great attention
to the poets, an exact examination of his studies and of the course of
his life reveals no particular inclination to poetry; on the contrary,
an aversion occasionally appears. His preference for the old and
accustomed Lutheran church hymns and his desire to possess an uncensored
song book of this kind in Rome reveals the typical and sturdy German,
but not the friend of poetry.
The works of the poets of past ages appear to have interested him at
first as documents of ancient languages and literature, later as
witnesses for the fine arts. It is all the more wonderful and gratifying
when he himself appears as a poet, as an able, unmistakable one, in his
description of statues and in almost all of his later writings. He sees
with his eyes, he grasps with his mind, works indescribable, and yet he
feels an irresistible impulse to master them by the spoken and the
written word. The perfect master-work, the idea in which it had its
origin, the emotion that was awakened in him in beholding it, he wishes
to impart to the hearer or the reader. Reviewing the array of his
aptitudes, he finds himself compelled to seize upon the most powerful
and dignified expression at his command. He is compelled to be a poet,
whatever he may think, whether he wishes or not.
As much value as Winckelmann placed upon the world's esteem, as much as
he desired a literary reputation, as much as he endeavored to present
his work in the best form and to elevate it by a certain dignified
style, he was nevertheless in no wise blind to its faults, but rather
was the first to observe them, as one would expect from a man of his
progressive nature, always seizing upon and working over new materials.
The more he had labored upon a subject, dogmatically and didactically,
had maintained and established this or that interpretation of a
monument, this or that explanation or application of a passage, the more
conspicuous did his own mistakes seem to him. As soon as he had
convinced himself of them by new data, the more quickly was he inclined
to correct them in any way possible.
If the manuscript was at hand, it was rewritten; if it had been sent to
the printer, corrections and additions were appended. Of all this
penance he made no secret to his friends, for his character was based
upon truth, straight-forwardness, frankness, and honesty.
A happy thought became clear to him, not suddenly but as the work
progressed--we mean his _Monumenti Inediti_. It is quite evident that he
was at first tempted by his desire to make new subjects known, to
explain them in a happy manner and to enlarge the study of antiquity to
the greatest possible extent; added to this was the interest of testing
the method once set forth in his history of art, by means of objects
which he laid before the eyes of the reader. For he had finally
developed the felicitous resolve, in this preliminary treatise, quietly
to correct, purify, compress, and perhaps even partly supplant, his
already completed work on the history of art.
Conscious of former mistakes which people who were not inhabitants of
Rome could scarcely have reproached him with, he wrote a work in the
Italian language, which he intended should be appreciated in Rome
itself. Not only did he devote to it the greatest attention, but he also
selected friendly connoisseurs with whom he carefully went over the
work, most cleverly using their insight and judgment, and thus created a
work which will go down as a heritage for all ages. Not only did he
write it, but he undertook its publication, achieving, as a poor layman,
that which would do honor to a well established publisher, or to
academies of large means.
Should so much be said of Rome without remembering the Pope, who had, at
least indirectly, conferred many, many benefits upon Winckelmann?
Winckelmann's sojourn in Rome fell for the most part under the
government of Benedict XIV. Lambertini, a gay and easy-going man, who
preferred letting others rule to ruling, himself; and so the different
positions which Winckelmann filled may have come to him rather through
the favor of his exalted friends than through the appreciation of his
services by the Pope.
Nevertheless, we find him on one important occasion in the presence of
the Head of the Church; he was honored by being allowed to read several
passages of the _Monumenti Inediti_ to the Pope, thus achieving also,
along this line, the highest honor which an author could receive.
In the case of very many men, especially in the case of scholars, their
achievements seem the important thing, and in these their character
finds little expression. With Winckelmann the reverse was the case. All
that he produced is principally important and valuable because his
character is always revealed in it. As we have already expressed certain
generalities concerning his character under the headings, The Antique,
Paganism, Friendship, and Beauty, the more detailed account deserves a
place here, near the end of our essay.
Winckelmann was in all respects a character who was honest with himself
and with others. His native love of truth constantly developed, the more
independent and unhampered he felt, until he finally considered the
polite indulgence of errors traditional in life and in literature to be
Such a nature could comfortably withdraw into itself; vet even here we
discover in him the ancient characteristic of always being occupied with
himself, but without really observing himself. He thinks only of
himself, not about himself; his mind is occupied with what he has before
him; he is interested in his whole being, in its entire compass, and he
cherishes the belief that his friends are likewise interested therein.
We, therefore, find everything mentioned in his letters, from the
highest moral to the most common physical need; indeed he directly
states that he preferred to be entertained with personal trifles rather
than with important affairs. At the same time he remains a complete
riddle to himself, and even expresses astonishment over his own being,
especially in consideration of what he was and what he had become. But
every man may thus be regarded as a charade of many syllables, of which
he himself can spell only a few, while others easily decipher the whole
Nor do we find in him any pronounced principles. His unerring feeling
and cultured mind served him as a guide in morals as well as in
aesthetics. His ideal was a kind of natural religion, in which God
appears as the ultimate source of the beautiful and hardly as a being
having any other relation to man. His conduct was most beautiful in all
cases involving duty and gratitude.
His provision for himself was moderate, and not the same at all times.
He always labored most diligently to secure a competence for his old
age. His means are noble; in his efforts to attain every end he shows
himself honest, straightforward, even defiant, and at the same time
clever and persevering. He never works after a fixed plan, but always
instinctively and passionately. His pleasure in every discovery is
intense, for which reason errors are unavoidable, which, however, in his
rapid progress are corrected as quickly as he sees them. Here also he
always maintains an antique principle; the certainty of the point of
departure, the uncertainty of the aim to be reached, as well as the
incomplete and imperfect character of the treatment as soon as it
Little prepared by his early mode of life, Winckelmann did not at first
feel at ease in company, but a feeling of dignity soon took the place of
education and custom, and he learned very rapidly to conduct himself in
accordance with his surroundings. The gratification felt in association
with distinguished, wealthy and celebrated people and the pleasure of
being esteemed by them everywhere appears. As regards facility of
intercourse, he could not have found himself in a better place than
He himself observes, that however ceremonious the Roman grandees,
especially the clerical, appeared in public, at home they were pleasant
and intimate with the members of their household; but he did not observe
that this intimacy concealed the oriental relation of lord and servant.
All southern nations would find it intolerably tiresome to have to
maintain the constant mutual tension in association with their
dependents which the northerners are accustomed to.
Travelers have observed that the slaves in Turkey behave toward their
masters with more ease than northern courtiers toward their princes, or
dependents with us toward their superiors. Yet, examined closely, these
marks of consideration have been really introduced for the benefit of
the dependents, who by these means always remind their superior what is
The southerner, however, craves for hours in which to take his ease, and
this accrues to the advantage of his household. Such scenes are
described by Winckelmann with great relish; they lighten whatever
dependence he may feel, and nourish his sense of freedom which was
averse to every fetter that might restrain him.
Although Winckelmann was very happy in his association with the natives,
he suffered all the more annoyance and tribulation from strangers. It is
true that nothing can be more exasperating than the usual stranger in
Rome. In every other place the traveler can better look out for himself
and find something suitable to his needs; but whoever does not
accommodate himself to Rome is an abomination to the man of real Roman
The English are reproached because they take their tea-kettles
everywhere along with them, even dragging them to the summit of Mt.
AEtna. But has not every nation its own tea-kettle, in which its citizens
on their travels brew a bundle of dried herbs brought along from home?
Such hurrying and arrogant strangers, never looking about them, and
judging everything in accordance with their own narrow limitations, were
denounced by Winckelmann more than once; he vows never to show them
about, and yet finally allows himself to be persuaded to do it. He jests
over his inclination to play the schoolmaster, to teach and to convince,
and indeed many advantages accrued to him through the association with
persons important by reason of their rank and services. We mention only
the Prince of Dessan, the Crown Prince of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and
Brunswick, and Baron von Riedesel, a man who showed himself quite worthy
of our friend in his attitude toward art and antiquity.
Winckelmann constantly sought after esteem and consideration; but he
wished to achieve them through real merit. He always insists upon
thoroughness of subject, of means, and of treatment, and is therefore
very hostile toward French superficiality.
He found in Rome opportunities to associate with strangers of all
nations, and maintained such connections in a clever, effective manner.
He was pleased with, indeed he sought after, honorary degrees of
academies and learned societies.
But he achieved greatest prominence by that great document of his
merits, over which he silently labored with great diligence--I refer to
his _History of Ancient Art_. It was immediately translated into the
French language, and made him known far and wide.
The real value of such a work is perhaps best appreciated immediately
after its publication: its efficiency is recognized, the new matter is
quickly adopted. The contemporaries are astonished at the sudden
assistance they obtained, while a colder posterity nibbles disgustedly
at the works of its masters and teachers, and makes demands which would
never have occurred to it, if the very men criticised had not
accomplished so much.
And so Winckelmann was recognized by the cultured nations of Europe at a
time when he was sufficiently established at Rome to be honored with the
important position of Director of Antiquities.
Notwithstanding his recognized and often vaunted happiness, Winckelmann
was always tortured by a restlessness which, as its foundations lay deep
in his nature, assumed various forms.
During the times of his early poverty and his later dependence upon the
bounty of a court and the favor of many a wellwisher, he always limited
himself to the smallest needs, that he might not become dependent or at
least not more dependent than absolutely necessary. In the meantime he
was always strenuously occupied in gaining by his own exertions a
livelihood for the present and for the future, for which at length the
successful illustrated edition of his Monumenti Inediti offered the
But these uncertain conditions accustomed him to look for his
subsistence now here, then there; now to accept a position with small
advantage to himself--in the house of a cardinal, in the Vatican or
elsewhere; then, when he saw some other prospect, magnanimously to give
up his place, while looking about for something else and lending an ear
to many a proposition.
Further, one who lives in Rome is constantly exposed to the passion for
traveling to all parts of the world. He finds himself in the centre of
the ancient world, and the lands most interesting to the investigator of
antiquity lie close about him. Magna Graecia, Sicily, Dalmatia, the
Peloponnesus, Ionia, and Egypt--all of them are, so to say, offered to
the inhabitants of Rome, and awaken an inexpressible longing in one who,
like Winckelmann, was born with the desire to see. This is increased by
the great number of strangers on their passage through Rome making
sensible or useless preparations to travel in these lands, and who on
their return never tire of describing distant wonders and exhibiting
specimens of them.
And so Winckelmann planned to travel everywhere, partly on his own
responsibility, partly in company with such wealthy travelers as would
recognize the value of a scholarly and talented comrade.
Another cause of this inner restlessness and discomfort does honor to
his heart--the irresistible longing for absent friends. Upon this the
ardent desire of a man that otherwise lived so much in the present seems
to have been peculiarly concentrated; he sees his friends before him, he
converses with them through letters, he longs for their embraces, and
wishes to repeat the days formerly lived together.
These wishes, especially directed toward his friends in the North, were
awakened anew by the Peace of Hubertusbury (Feb., 1763). It would have
been his pride to present himself before the great king who had already
honored him with an offer to enter his service; to see again the Prince
of Dessau, whose exalted, reposeful nature he regarded as a gift of God
to the earth; to pay his respects to the Duke of Brunswick, whose great
capacities he well knew how to prize; to praise in person Minister of
State von Muenchausen, who had done so much for science, and to admire
his immortal foundation at Goettingen; to rejoice again in the lively and
intimate intercourse with his Swiss friends--such allurements filled his
heart and his imagination; with such images was his mind so long
occupied that he unfortunately followed this impulse and so went to his
He was devoted body and soul to his Italian lot to such an extent that
every other one seemed insufferable to him. On his former journey, the
cliffs and mountains of Tyrol had interested, yea, delighted him, and
now, on his return to the fatherland, he felt terrified, as if he were
being dragged through the Cimmerian portal and convinced of the
impossibility of continuing his journey.
And thus upon the highest pinnacle of happiness that he could himself
have wished for, he departed this earth. His fatherland awaited him, his
friends stretched their arms toward him; all the expressions of love
which he so deeply needed, all testimonials of public honor, which he
valued so highly, awaited his appearance, to be heaped upon him. And in
this sense we may count him happy, that from the summit of human
existence he ascended to the blessed, that a momentary shock, a sudden,
quick pain removed him from the living. The infirmities of old age, the
diminution of mental power, he did not experience; the dispersal of the
treasures of art, which he had foretold, although in another sense, did
not occur before his eyes. He lived as a man and departed hence as a
complete man. Now he enjoys in the memory of posterity the advantage of
appearing only as one eternally vigorous and powerful; for in the image
in which a man leaves the earth he wanders among the shadows, and so
Achilles remains for us an ever-striving youth. That Winckelmann
departed so early, works also to our advantage. From his grave the
breath of his power strengthens us, and awakens in us the intense desire
always to continue with zeal and love the work that he has begun.
[Illustration: GOETHE AND HIS SECRETARY J. J. Schmeller ]
MAXIMS AND REFLECTIONS OF GOETHE
TRANSLATED BY BAILEY SAUNDERS
There is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before; we must
only try to think it again.
How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try
to do your duty, and you will know at once what you are worth. But what
is your duty? The claims of the day.
The longer I live, the more it grieves me to see man, who occupies his
supreme place for the very purpose of imposing his will upon nature, and
freeing himself and his from an outrageous necessity--to see him taken
up with some false notion, and doing just the opposite of what he wants
to do; and then, because the whole bent of his mind is spoilt, bungling
miserably over everything.
In the works of mankind, as in those of nature, it is really the motive
which is chiefly worth attention.
In Botany there is a species of plants called Incompletae; and just in
the same way it can be said there are men who are incomplete and
imperfect. They are those whose desires and struggles are out of
proportion to their actions and achievements.
It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is, or for less
than one is worth.
From time to time I meet with a youth in whom I can wish for no
alteration or improvement, only I am sorry to see how often his nature
makes him quite ready to swim with the stream of the time; and it is on
this that I would always insist, that man in his fragile boat has the
rudder placed in his hand, just that he may not be at the mercy of the
waves, but follow the direction of his own insight.
If I am to listen to another man's opinion, it must be expressed
positively. Of things problematical I have enough in myself.
Piety is not an end, but a means: a means of attaining the highest
culture by the purest tranquility of soul. Hence it may be observed that
those who set up piety as an end and object are mostly hypocrites.
Reading ought to mean understanding; writing ought to mean knowing
something; believing ought to mean comprehending; when you desire a
thing, you will have to take it; when you demand it, you will not get
it; and when you are experienced, you ought to be useful to others.
The stream is friendly to the miller whom it serves; it likes to pour
over the mill wheels; what is the good of it stealing through the valley
Theory is in itself of no use, except in so far as it makes us believe
in the connection of phenomena.
"_Le sens common est le genie de l'humanite_." Common-sense, which is
here put forward as the genius of humanity, must be examined first of
all in the way it shows itself. If we inquire the purpose to which
humanity puts it, we find as follows: Humanity is conditioned by needs.
If they are not satisfied, men become impatient; and if they are, it
seems not to affect them. The normal man moves between these two states,
and he applies his understanding--his so-called common sense--to the
satisfaction of his needs. When his needs are satisfied, his task is to
fill up the waste spaces of indifference. Here, too, he is successful,
if his needs are confined to what is nearest and most necessary. But if
they rise and pass beyond the sphere of ordinary wants, common-sense is
no longer sufficient; it is a genius no more, and humanity enters on the
region of error.
There is no piece of foolishness but it can be corrected by intelligence
or accident; no piece of wisdom but it can miscarry by lack of
intelligence or by accident.
Justice insists on obligation, law on decorum. Justice weighs and
decides, law superintends and orders. Justice refers to the individual,
law to society.
The history of knowledge is a great fugue in which the voices of the
nations one after the other emerge.
If a man is to achieve all that is asked of him, he must take himself
for more than he is, and as long as he does not carry it to an absurd
length, we willingly put up with it.
People whip curds to see if they cannot make cream of them.
Wisdom lies only in truth.
When I err, every one can see it; but not when I lie.
Before the storm breaks, the dust rises violently for the last time--the
dust that is soon to be laid for ever.
Men do not come to know one another easily, even with the best will and
the best purpose. And then ill-will comes in and distorts everything.
In the world the point is, not to know men, but at any given moment to
be cleverer than the man who stands before you. You can prove this at
every fair and from every charlatan.
Not everywhere where there is water, are there frogs; but where you have
frogs, there you will find water.
In the formation of species Nature gets, as it were, into a cul-de-sac;
she cannot make her way through, and is disinclined to turn back. Hence
the stubbornness of national character.
Many a man knocks about on the wall with his hammer, and believes that
he hits the right nail on the head every time.
Those who oppose intellectual truths do but stir up the fire, and the
cinders fly about and burn what they had else not touched.
Those from whom we are always learning are rightly called our masters;
but not every one who teaches us deserves this title.
It is with you as with the sea: the most varied names are given to what
is in the end only salt water.
It is said that vain self-praise stinks in the nostrils. That may be so;
but for the kind of smell which comes from unjust blame by others the
public has no nose at all.
There are problematical natures which are equal to no position in which
they find themselves, and which no position satisfies. This it is that
causes that hideous conflict which wastes life and deprives it of all
Dirt glitters as long as the sun shines.
He is the happiest man who can set the end of his life in connection
with the beginning.
A state of things in which every day brings some new trouble is not the
The Hindoos of the Desert make a solemn vow to eat no fish.
To venture an opinion is like moving a piece at chess it may be taken,
but it forms the beginning of a game that is won.
Truth belongs to the man, error to his age. This is why it has been said
that, while the misfortune of the age caused his error, the force of his
soul made him emerge from the error with glory.
I pity those who make much ado about the transitory nature of all things
and are lost in the contemplation of earthly vanity: are we not here to
make the transitory permanent? This we can do only if we know how to
A rainbow which lasts a quarter of an hour is looked at no more.
Faith is private capital, kept in one's own house. There are public
savings-banks and loan-offices, which supply individuals in their day of
need; but here the creditor quietly takes his interest for himself.
During a prolonged study of the lives of various men both great and
small, I came upon this thought: In the web of the world the one may
well be regarded as the warp, the other as the woof. It is the little
men, after all, who give breadth to the web, and the great men firmness
and solidity; perhaps, also, the addition of some sort of pattern. But
the scissors of the Fates determine its length, and to that all the rest
must join in submitting itself.
Truth is a torch, but a huge one, and so it is only with blinking eyes
that we all of us try to get past it, in actual terror of being burnt.
The really foolish thing in men who are otherwise intelligent is that
they fail to understand what another person says, when he does not
exactly hit upon the right way of saying it.
One need only grow old to become gentler in one's judgments. I see no
fault committed which I could not have committed myself.
Why should those who are happy expect one who is miserable to die before
them in a graceful attitude, like the gladiator before the Roman mob?
By force of habit we look at a clock that has run down as if it were
still going, and we gaze at the face of a beauty as though she still
Dilettantism treated seriously, and knowledge pursued mechanically, end
by becoming pedantry.
No one but the master can promote the cause of Art. Patrons help the
master--that is right and proper; but that does not always mean that Art
The most foolish of all errors is for clever young men to believe that
they forfeit their originality in recognizing a truth which has already
been recognized by others.
It is much easier to recognize error than to find truth; for error lies
on the surface and may be overcome; but truth lies in the depths, and to
search for it is not given to every one.
No one should desire to live in irregular circumstances; but if by
chance a man falls into them, they test his character and show of how
much determination he is capable.
An honorable man with limited ideas often sees through the rascality of
the most cunning jobber.
Against criticism a man can neither protest nor defend himself; he must
act in spite of it, and then criticism will gradually yield to him.
The masses cannot dispense with men of ability, and such men are always
a burden to them.
If you lay duties upon people and give them no rights, you must pay them
I can promise to be sincere, but not to be impartial.
Word and picture are correlatives which are continually in quest of each
other, as is sufficiently evident in the case of metaphors and similes.
So from all time what was said or sung inwardly to the ear had to be
presented equally to the eye. And so in childish days we see word and
picture in continual balance; in the book of the law and in the way of
salvation, in the Bible and in the spelling-book. When something was
spoken which could not be pictured, and something pictured which could
not be spoken, all went well; but mistakes were often made, and a word
was used instead of a picture; and thence arose those monsters of
symbolical mysticism, which are doubly an evil.
The importunity of young dilettanti must be borne with good-will; for as
they grow old they become the truest worshippers of Art and the Master.
People have to become really bad before they care for nothing but
mischief, and delight in it.
Clever people are the best encyclopaedia.
There are people who make no mistakes because they never wish to do
anything worth doing.
A man cannot live for every one; least of all for those with whom he
would not care to live.
I should like to be honest with you, without our falling out; but it
will not do. You act wrongly, and fall between two stools; you win no
adherents and lose your friends. What is to be the end of it?
If a clever man commits a folly, it is not a small one.
I went on troubling myself about general ideas until I learnt to
understand the particular achievements of the best men.
The errors of a man are what make him really lovable.
As in Rome there is, apart from the Romans, a population of statues, so
apart from this real world there is a world of illusion, almost more
potent, in which most men live.
Mankind is like the Red Sea; the staff has scarcely parted the waves
asunder before they flow together again. Thoughts come back; beliefs
persist; facts pass by never to return.
Of all peoples, the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life the best.
We readily bow to antiquity, but not to posterity. It is only a father
that does not grudge talent to his son. The whole art of living consists
in giving up existence in order to exist.
All our pursuits and actions are a wearying process. Well is it for him
who wearies not.
Hope is the second soul of the unhappy.
At all times it has not been the age, but individuals alone, who have
worked for knowledge. It was the age which put Socrates to death by
poison, the age which burnt Huss. The ages have always remained alike.
If a man knows where to get good advice, it is as though he could supply
A man must pay dear for his errors if he wishes to get rid of them, and
even then he is lucky.
Enthusiasm is of the greatest value, so long as we are not carried away
Error is related to truth as sleep to waking. I have observed that on
awakening from error a man turns again to truth as with new vigor.
Every one suffers who does not work for himself. A man works for others
to have them share in his joy.
Common-sense is born pure in the healthy man, is self-developed, and is
revealed by a resolute perception and recognition of what is necessary
and useful. Practical men and women avail themselves of it with
confidence. Where it is absent, both sexes find anything necessary when
they desire it, and useful when it gives them pleasure.
All men, as they attain freedom, give play to their errors. The strong
do too much, and the weak too little.
The conflict of the old, the existing, the continuing, with development,
improvement and reform, is always the same. Order of every kind turns at
last to pedantry, and to get rid of the one, people destroy the other;
and so it goes on for a while, until people perceive that order must be
established anew. Classicism and Romanticism; close corporations and
freedom of trade; the maintenance of large estates and the division of
the land--it is always the same conflict which ends by producing a new
one. The best policy of those in power would be so to moderate this
conflict as to let it right itself without the destruction of either
element. But this has not been granted to men, and it seems not to be
the will of God.
A great work limits us for the moment, because we feel it above our
powers; and only in so far as we afterward incorporate it with our
culture, and make it part of our mind and heart, does it become a dear
and worthy object.
There are many things in the world that are at once good and excellent,
but they do not come into contact.
When men have to do with women, they get spun off like a distaff.
It may well be that a man is at times horribly threshed by misfortunes,
public and private: but the reckless flail of Fate, when it beats the
rich sheaves, crushes only the straw; and the corn feels nothing of it
and dances merrily on the floor, careless whether its way is to the mill
or the furrow.
In the matter of knowledge, it has happened to me as to one who rises
early and in the dark impatiently awaits the dawn and then the sun, but
is blinded when it appears.
People often say to themselves in life that they should avoid a variety
of occupation, and, more particularly, be the less willing to enter upon
new work the older they grow. But it is easy to talk, easy to give
advice to oneself and others. To grow old is itself to enter upon a new
business; all the circumstances change, and a man must either cease
acting altogether, or willingly and consciously take over the new role.
To live in a great idea means to treat the impossible as though it were
possible. It is just the same with a strong character; and when an idea
and a character meet, things arise which fill the world with wonder for
thousands of years.
Napoleon lived wholly in a great idea, but he was unable to take
conscious hold of it. After utterly disavowing all ideals and denying
them any reality, he zealously strove to realize them. His clear,
incorruptible intellect could not, however, tolerate such a perpetual
conflict within; and there is much value in the thoughts which he was
compelled, as it were, to utter, and which are expressed very peculiarly
and with much charm.
Man is placed as a real being in the midst of a real world, and endowed
with such organs that he can perceive and produce the real and also the
All healthy men have the conviction of their own existence and of an
existence around them. However, even the brain contains a hollow spot,
that is to say, a place in which no object is mirrored; just as in the
eye itself there is a little spot that does not see. If a man pays
particular attention to this spot and is absorbed in it, he falls into a
state of mental sickness, has presentiments of 'things of another
world,' which are, in reality, no things at all, possessing neither form
nor limit, but alarming him like dark, empty tracts of night, and
pursuing him as something more than phantoms, if he does not tear
himself free from them.
To the several perversities of the day a man should always oppose only
the great masses of universal history. That we have many criticisms to
make on those who visit us, and that, as soon as they depart, we pass no
very amiable judgment upon them, seems to me almost natural; for we
have, so to speak, a right to measure them by our own standard. Even
intelligent and fair-minded men hardly refrain from sharp censure on
But if, on the contrary, we have been in their homes, and have seen them
in their surroundings and habits and the circumstances which are
necessary and inevitable for them; if we have seen the kind of influence
they exert on those around them, or how they behave, it is only
ignorance and ill-will that can find food for ridicule in what must
appear to us in more than one sense worthy of respect.
Women's society is the element of good manners.
The most privileged position, in life as in society, is that of an
educated soldier. Rough warriors, at any rate, remain true to their
character, and as great strength is usually the cover for good nature,
we get on with them at need.
No one would come into a room with spectacles on his nose, if he knew
that women at once lose any inclination to look at or talk to him.
There is no outward sign of politeness that will be found to lack some
deep moral foundation. The right kind of education would be that which
conveyed the sign and the foundation at the same time.
A man's manners are the mirror in which he shows his portrait.
Against the great superiority of another there is no remedy but love.
It is a terrible thing for an eminent man to be gloried in by fools.
It is said that no man is a hero to his valet. That is only because a
hero can be recognized only by a hero. The valet will probably know how
to appreciate his like--his fellow-valet.
Fools and wise folk are alike harmless. It is the half-wise, and the
half-foolish, who are the most dangerous.
To see a difficult thing lightly handled gives us the impression of the
Difficulties increase the nearer we come to our aim.
Sowing is not so painful as reaping.
If any one meets us who owes us a debt of gratitude, it immediately
crosses our mind. How often can we meet some one to whom we owe
gratitude, without thinking of it!
To communicate oneself is Nature; to receive a communication as it is
given is Culture.
Contradiction and flattery make, both of them, bad conversation.
By nothing do men show their character more than by the things they
An intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, a wise man hardly
A man well on in years was reproved for still troubling himself about
young women. "It is the only means," he replied, "of regaining one's
youth; and that is something every one wishes to do."
A man does not mind being blamed for his faults, and being punished for
them, and he patiently suffers much for the sake of them; but he becomes
impatient if he is required to give them up.
Passion is enhanced and tempered by avowal. In nothing, perhaps, is the
middle course more desirable than in confidence and reticence toward
those we love.
To sit in judgment on the departed is never likely to be equitable. We
all suffer from life; who, except God, can call us to account? Let not
their faults and sufferings, but what they have accomplished and done,
occupy the survivors.
It is failings that show human nature, and merits that distinguish the
individual; faults and misfortunes we all have in common; virtues belong
to each one separately.
It would not be worth while to see seventy years if all the wisdom of
this world were foolishness with God. The true is Godlike; we do not see
it itself; we must guess at it through its manifestations.
The real scholar learns how to evolve the unknown from the known, and
draws near the master.
In the smithy the iron is softened by blowing up the fire, and taking
the dross from the bar. As soon as it is purified, it is beaten and
pressed, and becomes firm again by the addition of fresh water. The same
thing happens to a man at the hands of his teacher.
What belongs to a man he cannot get rid of, even though he throws it
Of true religions there are only two: one of them recognizes and
worships the Holy that, without form or shape, dwells in and around us;
and the other recognizes and worships it in its fairest form. Everything
that lies between these two is idolatry.
The Saints were all at once driven from heaven; and senses, thought and
heart were turned from a divine mother with a tender child, to the grown
man doing good and suffering evil, who was later transfigured into a
being half-divine in its nature, and then recognized and honored as God
himself. He stood against a background where the Creator had opened out
the universe; a spiritual influence went out from him; his sufferings
were adopted as an example, and his transfiguration was the pledge of
As a coal is revived by incense, so prayer revives the hopes of the
From a strict point of view we must have a reformation of ourselves
every day, and protest against others, even though it be in no religious
It should be our earnest endeavor to use words coinciding as closely as
possible with what we feel, see, think, experience, imagine and reason.
It is an endeavor which we cannot evade, and which is daily to be
Let every man examine himself, and he will find this a much harder task
than he might suppose; for, unhappily, a man usually takes words as mere
make-shifts; his knowledge and his thought are in most cases better than
his method of expression.
False, irrelevant, and futile ideas may arise in ourselves and others,
or find their way into us from without. Let us persist in the effort to
remove them as far as we can, by plain and honest purpose.
Where I cannot be moral, my power is gone.
A man is not deceived by others; he deceives himself.
Laws are all made by old people and by men. Youths and women want the
exceptions, old people the rules.
Chinese, Indian and Egyptian antiquities are never more than
curiosities; it is well to make acquaintance with them; but in point of
moral and aesthetic culture they can help us little.
The German runs no greater danger than to advance with and by the
example of his neighbors. There is perhaps no nation that is fitter for
the process of self-development; so that it has proved of the greatest
advantage to Germany to have obtained the notice of the world so late.
The greatest difficulties lie where we do not look for them.
The mind endowed with active powers and keeping with a practical object
to the task that lies nearest, is the worthiest there is on earth.
Perfection is the measure of heaven, and the wish to be perfect the
measure of man.
When a great idea enters the world as a Gospel, it becomes an offense to
the multitude, which stagnates in pedantry; and to those who have much
learning, but little depth, it is folly.
You may recognize the utility of an idea, and yet not quite understand
how to make a perfect use of it.
_Credo Deum_! That is a fine, a worthy thing to say; but to recognize
God where and as he reveals himself, is the only true bliss on earth.
Kepler said: 'My wish is that I may perceive the God whom I find
everywhere in the external world, in like manner also within and inside
me.' The good man was not aware that, in that very moment, the divine in
him stood in the closest connection with the divine in the Universe.
What is predestination? It is this: God is mightier and wiser than we
are, and so he does with us as he pleases.
Toleration should, strictly speaking, be only a passing mood; it ought
to lead to acknowledgment and appreciation. To tolerate a person is to
Faith, Love and Hope once felt, in a quiet sociable hour, a plastic
impulse in their nature; they worked together and created a lovely
image, a Pandora in the higher sense, Patience.
'I stumbled over the roots of the tree which I planted.' It must have
been an old forester who said that.
Does the sparrow know how the stork feels?
Lamps make oil spots, and candles want snuffing; it is only the light of
heaven that shines pure and leaves no stain.
If you miss the first button-hole, you will not succeed in buttoning up
A burnt child dreads the fire; an old man who has often been singed is
afraid of warming himself.
It is not worth while to do anything for the world that we have with us,
as the existing order may in a moment pass away. It is for the past and
the future that we must work: for the past, to acknowledge its merits;
for the future, to try to increase its value.
Let no one think that people have waited for him as for the Savior.
Character in matters great and small consists in a man steadily pursuing
the things of which he feels himself capable.
Can a nation become ripe? That is a strange question. I would answer,
Yes! if all the men could be born thirty years of age. But as youth will
always be too forward and old age too backward, the really mature man is
always hemmed in between them, and has to resort to strange devices to
make his way through.
The most important matters of feeling as of reason, of experience as of
reflection, should be treated of only by word of mouth. The spoken word
at once dies if it is not kept alive by some other word following on it
and suited to the hearer. Observe what happens in social converse. If
the word is not dead when it reaches the hearer, he murders it at once
by a contradiction, a stipulation, a condition, a digression, an
interruption, and all the thousand tricks of conversation. With the
written word the case is still worse. No one cares to read anything to
which he is not already to some extent accustomed; he demands the known
and the familiar under an altered form. Still, the written word has this
advantage, that it lasts and can await the time when it is allowed to
Opponents fancy they refute us when they repeat their own opinion and
pay no attention to ours.
It is with history as with nature and with everything of any depth, it
may be past, present or future: the further we seriously pursue it, the
more difficult are the problems that appear.
Every phenomenon is within our reach if we treat it as an inclined
plane, which is of easy ascent, though the thick end of the wedge may be
steep and inaccessible.
If a man would enter upon some course of knowledge, he must either be
deceived or deceive himself, unless external necessity irresistibly
determines him. Who would become a physician if, at one and the same
time, he saw before him all the horrible sights that await him?
Literature is a fragment of fragments: the least of what happened and
was spoken, has been written; and of the things that have been written,
very few have been preserved.
And yet, with all the fragmentary nature of literature, we find
thousandfold repetition; which shows how limited is man's mind and
We must remember that there are many men who, without being productive,
are anxious to say something important, and the results are most
Some books seem to have been written, not to teach us anything, but to
let us know that the author has known something.
An author can show no greater respect for his public than by never
bringing it what it expects, but what he himself thinks right and proper
in that stage of his own and others' culture in which for the time he
That glorious hymn, _Veni Creator Spiritus_, is really an appeal to
genius. That is why it speaks so powerfully to men of intellect and
Translators are like busy match-makers; they sing the praises of some
half-veiled beauty, and extol her charms, and arouse an irresistible
longing for the original.
My relations with Schiller rested on the decided tendency of both of us
toward a single aim, and our common activity rested on the diversity of
the means by which we endeavored to attain that aim.
The best that history gives us is the enthusiasm it arouses.
We really learn only from those books which we cannot criticise. The
author of a book which we could criticise would have to learn from us.
That is the reason why the Bible will never lose its power; because, as
long as the world lasts, no one can stand up and say: I grasp it as a
whole and understand all the parts of it. But we say humbly: as a whole
it is worthy of respect, and in all its parts it is applicable.
There is and will be much discussions as to the use and harm of
circulating the Bible. One thing is clear to me mischief will result, as
heretofore, by using it fantastically as a system of dogma; benefit, as
heretofore, by a loving acceptance of its teachings.
I am convinced that the Bible will always be more beautiful the more it
is understood; the more, that is, we see and observe that every word
which we take in a general sense and apply specially to ourselves, had,
under certain circumstances of time and place, a peculiar, special and
directly individual reference.
If one has not read the newspapers for some months and then reads them
altogether, one sees, as one never saw before, how much time is wasted
with this kind of literature.
Shakespeare's Henry IV. If everything were lost that has ever been
preserved to us of this kind of writing, the arts of poetry and rhetoric
could be completely restored out of this one play.
Shakespeare's finest dramas are wanting here and there in facility: they
are something more than they should be, and for that very reason
indicate the great poet.
The dignity of Art appears perhaps most conspicuously in Music; for in
Music there is no material to be deducted. It is wholly form and
intrinsic value, and it raises and ennobles all that it expresses.
It is only by Art, and especially by Poetry, that the imagination is
regulated. Nothing is more frightful than imagination without taste.
Art rests upon a kind of religious sense; it is deeply and ineradicably
in earnest. Thus it is that Art so willingly goes hand in hand with
A noble philosopher spoke of architecture as frozen music; and it was
inevitable that many people should shake their heads over his remark. We
believe that no better repetition of this fine thought can be given than
by calling architecture a speechless music.
In every artist there is a germ of daring, without which no talent is
Higher aims are in themselves more valuable, even if unfulfilled, than
lower ones quite attained.
In every Italian school the butterfly breaks loose from the chrysalis.
Let us be many-sided! Turnips are good, but they are best mixed with
chestnuts. And these two noble products of the earth grow far apart.
In the presence of Nature even moderate talent is always possessed of
insight; hence drawings from Nature that are at all carefully done
always give pleasure.
A man cannot well stand by himself, and so he is glad to join a party;
because if he does not find rest there, he at any rate finds quiet and
It is difficult to know how to treat the errors of the age. If a man
oppose them, he stands alone; if he surrender to them, they bring him
neither joy nor credit.
There are some hundred Christian sects, every one of them acknowledging
God and the Lord in its own way, without troubling themselves further
about one another. In the study of nature, nay, in every study, things
must of necessity come to the same pass. For what is the meaning of
every one speaking of toleration, and trying to prevent others from
thinking and expressing themselves after their own fashion?
We more readily confess to errors, mistakes and short-comings in our
conduct than in our thought. And the reason of it is that the
conscience is humble and even takes a pleasure in being ashamed. But the
intellect is proud, and if forced to recant is driven to despair. * * *
This also explains how it is that truths which have been recognized are
at first tacitly admitted, and then gradually spread, so that the very
thing which was obstinately denied appears at last as something quite
Ignorant people raise questions which were answered by the wise
thousands of years ago.
Our advice is that every man should remain in the path he has struck out
for himself, and refuse to be overawed by authority, hampered by
prevalent opinion, or carried away by fashion.
Every investigator must, before all things, look upon himself as one who
is summoned to serve on a jury. He has only to consider how far the
statement of the case is complete and clearly set forth by the evidence.
Then he draws his conclusion and gives his vote, whether it be that his
opinion coincides with that of the foreman or not.
The history of philosophy, of science, of religion, all shows that
opinions spread in masses, but that that always comes to the front
which is more easily grasped, that is to say, is most suited and
agreeable to the human mind in its ordinary condition. Nay, he who has
practised self-culture in the higher sense may always reckon upon
meeting an adverse majority.
What is a musical string, and all its mechanical division, in comparison
with the musician's ear? May we not also say, what are the elementary
phenomena of nature itself compared with man, who must control and
modify them all before he can in any way assimilate them to himself?
Everything that we call Invention or Discovery in the higher sense of
the word is the serious exercise and activity of an original feeling for
truth, which, after a long course of silent cultivation, suddenly
flashes out into fruitful knowledge. It is a revelation working from
within on the outer world, and lets a man feel that he is made in the
image of God. It is a synthesis of World and Mind, giving the most
blessed assurance of the eternal harmony of things.
A man must cling to the belief that the incomprehensible is
comprehensible; otherwise he would not try to fathom it. A man does not
need to have seen or experienced everything himself. But if he is to
commit himself to another's experiences and his way of putting them, let
him consider that he has to do with three things--the object in question
and two subjects.
If we look at the problems raised by Aristotle, we are astonished at his
gift of observation. What wonderful eyes the Greeks had for many things!
Only they committed the mistake of being overhasty, of passing
straightway from the phenomenon to the explanation of it, and thereby
produced certain theories that are quite inadequate. But this is the
mistake of all times, and still made in our own day.
Hypotheses are cradle-songs by which the teacher lulls his scholars to
sleep. The thoughtful and honest observer is always learning more and
more of his limitations; he sees that the further knowledge spreads,
the more numerous are the problems that make their appearance.
If many a man did not feel obliged to repeat what is untrue, because he
has said it once, the world would have been quite different.
There is nothing more odious than the majority; it consists of a few
powerful men to lead the way; of accommodating rascals and submissive
weaklings; and of a mass of men who trot after them, without in the
least knowing their own mind.
When I observe the luminous progress and expansion of natural science in
modern times, I seem to myself like a traveler going eastward at dawn,
and gazing at the growing light with joy, but also with impatience;
looking forward with longing to the advent of the full and final light,
but, nevertheless, having to turn away his eyes when the sun appeared,
unable to bear the splendor he had awaited with so much desire.
We praise the eighteenth century for concerning itself chiefly with
analysis. The task remaining to the nineteenth is to discover the false
syntheses which prevail, and to analyze their contents anew.
A school may be regarded as a single individual who talks to himself for
a hundred years, and takes an extraordinary pleasure in his own being,
however foolish and silly it may be.
In science it is a service of the highest merit to seek out those
fragmentary truths attained by the ancients, and to develop them
Nature fills all space with her limitless productivity. If we observe
merely our own earth, everything that we call evil and unfortunate is so
because Nature cannot provide room for everything that comes into
existence, and still less endow it with permanence.
The finest achievement for a man of thought is to have fathomed what may
be fathomed, and quietly to revere the unfathomable.
There are two things of which a man cannot be careful enough: of
obstinacy, if he confines himself to his own line of thought; of
incompetency, if he goes beyond it.
The century advances; but every individual begins anew.
What friends do with us and for us is a real part of our life; for it
strengthens and advances our personality. The assault of our enemies is
not part of our life; it is only part of our experience; we throw it off
and guard ourselves against it as against frost, storm, rain, hail or
any other of the external evils which may be expected to happen.
A man cannot live with every one, and therefore he cannot live for every
one. To see this truth aright is to place a high value upon one's
friends, and not to hate or persecute one's enemies. Nay, there is
hardly any greater advantage for a man to gain than to find out, if he
can, the merits of his opponents: it gives him a decided ascendency over
Every one knows how to value what he has attained in life; most of all
the man who thinks and reflects in his old age. He has a comfortable
feeling that it is something of which no one can rob him.
The best metempsychosis is for us to appear again in others.
It is very seldom that we satisfy ourselves; all the more consoling is
it to have satisfied others.
We look back upon our life only as on a thing of broken pieces, because
our misses and failures are always the first to strike us, and outweigh
in our imagination what we have done and attained.
Nature! We are surrounded by her and locked in her clasp--powerless to
leave her, and powerless to come closer to her. Unasked and unwarned she
takes us up into the whirl of her dance, and hurries on with us till we
are weary and fall from her arms.
We live in the midst of her and are strangers. She speaks to us
unceasingly and betrays not her secret.
We are always influencing her and yet can do her no violence.
Individuality seems to be all her aim, and she cares naught for
individuals. She is always building and always destroying, and her
work-shop is not to be approached.
Nature lives in her children only, and the mother, where is she? She is
the sole artist--out of the simplest materials the greatest diversity;
attaining, with no trace of effort, the finest perfection, the closest
precision, always softly veiled. Each of her works has an essence of its
own; every shape that she takes is in idea utterly isolated; and yet all
She plays a drama; whether she sees it herself, we know not; and yet she
plays it for us who stand but a little way off.
She has thought, and she ponders unceasingly; not as a man, but as
Nature. The meaning of the whole she keeps to herself, and no one can
learn it of her.
She rejoices in illusion. If a man destroys this in himself and others,
she punishes him like the hardest tyrant. If he follows her in
confidence, she presses him to her heart as if it were her child.
Her children are numberless. To no one of them is she altogether
niggardly; but she has her favorites, on whom she lavishes much, and for
whom she makes many a sacrifice. Over the great she has spread the
shield of her protection.
She spurts forth her creatures out of nothing, and tells them not whence
they come and whither they go. They have only to go their way; she knows
The drama she plays is always new, because she is always bringing new
spectators. Life is her fairest invention, and Death is her device for
having life in abundance.
She envelops man in darkness, and urges him constantly to the light. She
makes him dependent on the earth, heavy and sluggish, and always rouses
him up afresh.
She creates wants, because she loves movement. How marvelous that she
gains it all so easily! Every want is a benefit, soon satisfied, soon
growing again. If she gives more, it is a new source of desire; but the
balance quickly rights itself.
She lets every child work at her, every fool judge of her, and thousands
pass her by and see nothing; and she has her joy in them all, and in
them all finds her account.
Man obeys her laws even in opposing them; he works with her even when he
wants to work against her.
Speech or language she has none; but she creates tongues and hearts
through which she feels and speaks.
Her crown is Love. Only through Love can we come near her. She puts
gulfs between all things, and all things strive to be interfused. She
isolates everything, that she may draw everything together. With a few
draughts from the cup of Love she repays for a life full of trouble.
She is all things. She rewards herself and punishes herself; and in
herself rejoices and is distressed. She is rough and gentle, loving and
terrible, powerless and almighty. In her everything is always present.
Past or Future she knows not. The present is her Eternity. She is kind.
I praise her with all her works. She is wise and still. No one can force
her to explain herself, or frighten her into a gift that she does not
give willingly. She is crafty, but for a good end; and it is best not to
notice her cunning.
She is whole, and yet never finished. As she works now, so can she work
She has placed me in this world; she will also lead me out of it. I
trust myself to her. She may do with me as she pleases. She will not
hate her work. I did not speak of her. No! what is true and what is
false, she has spoken it all. Everything is her fault, everything is her
ECKERMANN'S CONVERSATIONS WITH GOETHE
(Extracts from the Author's Preface.) TRANSLATED BY JOHN OXENFORD
This collection of Conversations with Goethe took its rise chiefly from
an impulse, natural to my mind, to appropriate to myself by writing any
part of my experience which strikes me as valuable or remarkable.
Moreover, I felt constantly the need of instruction, not only when I
first met with that extraordinary man, but also after I had lived with
him for years; and I loved to seize on the import of his words, and to
note it down, that I might possess them for the rest of my life.
When I think how rich and full were the communications by which he made
me so happy for a period of nine years, and now observe how small a part
I have retained in writing, I seem to myself like a child who,
endeavoring to catch the refreshing spring shower with open hands, finds
that the greater part of it runs through his fingers.
* * * * *
I think that these conversations not only contain many valuable
explanations and instructions on science, art, and practical life, but
that these sketches of Goethe, taken directly from life, will be
especially serviceable in completing the portrait which each reader may
have formed of Goethe from his manifold works.
Still, I am far from imagining that the whole internal Goethe is here
adequately portrayed. We may, with propriety, compare this extraordinary
mind and man to a many-sided diamond, which in each direction shines
with a different hue. And as, under different circumstances and with
different persons, he became another being, so I, too, can only say, in
a very modest sense, this is _my_ Goethe.
* * * * *
[Illustration: GOETHE'S STUDY]
My relation to him was peculiar, and of a very intimate kind: it was
that of the scholar to the master; of the son to the father; of the poor
in culture to the rich in culture. He drew me into his own circle, and
let me participate in the mental and bodily enjoyments of a higher state
of existence. Sometimes I saw him but once a week, when I visited him in
the evening; sometimes every day, when I had the happiness to dine with
him either alone or in company. His conversation was as varied as his
works. He was always the same, and always different. Now he was occupied
by some great idea, and his words flowed forth rich and inexhaustible;
they were often like a garden in spring where all is in blossom, and
where one is so dazzled by the general brilliancy that one does not
think of gathering a nosegay. At other times, on the contrary, he was
taciturn and laconic, as if a cloud pressed upon his soul; nay, there
were days when it seemed as if he were filled with icy coldness, and a
keen wind was sweeping over plains of frost and snow. When one saw him
again he was again like a smiling summer's day, when all the warblers of
the wood joyously greet us from hedges and bushes, when the cuckoo's
voice resounds through the blue sky, and the brook ripples through
flowery meadows. Then it was a pleasure to hear him; his presence then
had a beneficial influence, and the heart expanded at his words.
Winter and summer, age and youth, seemed with him to be engaged in a
perpetual strife and change; nevertheless, it was admirable in him, when
from seventy to eighty years old, that youth always recovered the
ascendancy; those autumnal and wintry days I have indicated were only
His self-control was great--nay, it formed a prominent peculiarity in
his character. It was akin to that lofty deliberation (_Besonnenheit_)
through which he always succeeded in mastering his material, and giving
his single works that artistical finish which we admire in them. Through
the same quality he was often concise and circumspect, not only in many
of his writings, but also in his oral expressions. When, however, in
happy moments, a more powerful demon was active within him, and that
self-control abandoned him, his discourse rolled forth with youthful
impetuosity, like a mountain cataract. In such moments he expressed what
was best and greatest in his abundant nature, and such moments are to be
understood when his earlier friends say of him, that his spoken words
were better than those which he wrote and printed. Thus Marmontel said
of Diderot, that whoever knew him from his writings only knew him but
half; but that as soon as he became animated in actual conversation he
was incomparable, and irresistibly carried his hearers along.
* * * * *
_Weimar, June 10.--I arrived here a few days ago, but did not see
Goethe till today. He received me with great cordiality; and the
impression he made on me was such, that I consider this day as one of
the happiest in my life.
Yesterday, when I called to inquire, he fixed today at twelve o'clock as
the time when he would be glad to see me. I went at the appointed time,
and found a servant waiting for me, preparing to conduct me to him.
The interior of the house made a very pleasant impression upon me;
without being showy, everything was extremely simple and noble; even the
casts from antique statues, placed upon the stairs, indicated Goethe's
especial partiality for plastic art, and for Grecian antiquity. I saw
several ladies moving busily about in the lower part of the house, and
one of Ottilie's beautiful boys, who came familiarly up to me, and
looked fixedly in my face.
After I had cast a glance around, I ascended the stairs, with the very
talkative servant, to the first floor.
He opened a room, on the threshold of which the motto _Salve_ was
stepped over as a good omen of a friendly welcome. He led me through
this apartment and opened another, somewhat more spacious, where he
requested me to wait, while he went to announce me to his master. The
air here was most cool and refreshing; on the floor was spread a carpet;
the room was furnished with a crimson sofa and chairs, which gave a
cheerful aspect; on one side stood a piano; and the walls were adorned
with many pictures and drawings, of various sorts and sizes.
Through an open door opposite, one looked into a farther room, also hung
with pictures, through which the servant had gone to announce me.
It was not long before Goethe came in, dressed in a blue frock-coat, and
with shoes. What a sublime form! The impression upon me was surprising.
But he soon dispelled all uneasiness by the kindest words. We sat down
on the sofa. I felt in a happy perplexity, through his look and his
presence, and could say little or nothing.
He began by speaking of my manuscript. "I have just come from _you_,"
said he; "I have been reading your writing all the morning; it needs no
recommendation--it recommends itself." He praised the clearness of the
style, the flow of the thought, and the peculiarity that all rested on a
solid basis and had been thoroughly considered. "I will soon forward
it," said he; "today I shall write to Cotta by post, and send him the
parcel tomorrow." I thanked him with words and looks.
We then talked of my proposed excursion. I told him that my design was
to go into the Rhineland, where I intended to stay at a suitable place,
and write something new. First, however, I would go to Jena, and there
await Herr von Cotta's answer.
Goethe asked whether I had acquaintance in Jena. I replied that I hoped
to come in contact with Herr von Knebel; on which he promised me a
letter which would insure me a more favorable reception. "And, indeed,"
said he, "while you are in Jena, we shall be near neighbors, and can see
or write to one another as often as we please." We sat a long while
together, in a tranquil, affectionate mood. I was close to him; I forgot
to speak for looking at him--I could not look enough. His face is so
powerful and brown! full of wrinkles, and each wrinkle full of
expression! And everywhere there is such nobleness and firmness, such
repose and greatness! He spoke in a slow, composed manner, such as you
would expect from an aged monarch. You perceive by his air that he
reposes upon himself, and is elevated far above both praise and blame. I
was extremely happy near him; I felt becalmed like one who, after many
toils and tedious expectations, finally sees his dearest wishes
_Thursday, September_ 18.--"The world is so great and rich, and life so
full of variety, that you can never want occasions for poems. But they
must all be occasional poems; that is to say, reality must give both
impulse and material for their production. A particular case becomes
universal and poetic by the very circumstance that it is treated by a
poet. All my poems are occasional poems, suggested by real life, and
having therein a firm foundation. I attach no value to poems snatched
out of the air.
"Let no one say that reality wants poetical interest; for in this the
poet proves his vocation, that he has the art to win from a common
subject an interesting side. Reality must give the motive, the points to
be expressed, the kernel, as I may say; but to work out of it a
beautiful, animated whole, belongs to the poet. You know Fuernstein,
called the Poet of Nature; he has written the prettiest poem possible,
on the cultivation of hops.
"I have now proposed to him to make songs for the different crafts of
working-men, particularly a weaver's song, and I am sure he will do it
well, for he has lived among such people from his youth; he understands
the subject thoroughly, and is therefore master of his material. That is
exactly the advantage of small works; you need only choose those
subjects of which you are master. With a great poem, this cannot be: no
part can be evaded; all which belongs to the animation of the whole, and
is interwoven into the plan, must be represented with precision. In
youth, however, the knowledge of things is only one-sided. A great work
requires many-sidedness, and on that rock the young author splits."
[Illustration: THE GARDEN AT GOETHE'S CITY HOUSE WEIMAR After a Water
Color by PETER WOLTZE]
I told Goethe that I had contemplated writing a great poem upon the
seasons, in which I might interweave the employments and amusements of
all classes. "Here is the very case in point," replied Goethe; "you may
succeed in many parts, but fail in others which refer to what you have
not duly investigated. Perhaps you would do the fisherman well, and the
huntsman ill; and if you fail anywhere, the whole is a failure, however
good single parts may be, and you have not produced a perfect work. Give
separately the single parts to which you are equal, and you make sure of
"I especially warn you against great inventions of your own; for then
you would try to give a view of things, and for that purpose youth is
seldom ripe. Further, character and views detach themselves as sides
from the poet's mind, and deprive him of the fulness requisite for
future productions. And, finally, how much time is lost in invention,
internal arrangement, and combination, for which nobody thanks us, even
supposing our work is happily accomplished.
"With a _given_ material, on the other hand, all goes easier and better.
Facts and characters being provided, the poet has only the task of
animating the whole. He preserves his own fulness, for he needs to part
with but little of himself, and there is much less loss of time and
power, since he has only the trouble of execution. Indeed, I would
advise the choice of subjects which have been worked before. How many
Iphigenias have been written! yet they are all different, for each
writer considers and arranges the subject differently; namely, after his
"But, for the present, you had better lay aside all great undertakings.
You have striven long enough; it is time that you should enter into the
cheerful period of life, and for the attainment of this, the working out
of small subjects is the best expedient."
_Sunday, October_ 19.--Today, I dined for the first time with Goethe. No
one was present except Frau von Goethe, Fraeulein Ulrica, and little
Walter, and thus we were all very comfortable. Goethe appeared now
solely as father of a family, helping to all the dishes, carving the
roast fowls with great dexterity, and not forgetting between whiles to
fill the glasses. We had much lively chat about the theatre, young
English people, and other topics of the day; Fraeulein Ulrica was
especially lively and entertaining. Goethe was generally silent, coming
out only now and then with some pertinent remark. From time to time he
glanced at the newspaper, now and then reading us some passages,
especially about the progress of the Greeks.
They then talked about the necessity of my learning English, and Goethe
earnestly advised me to do so, particularly on account of Lord Byron;
saying, that a character of such eminence had never existed before, and
probably would never come again. They discussed the merits of the
different teachers here, but found none with a thoroughly good
pronunciation; on which account they deemed it better to go to some
After dinner, Goethe showed me some experiments relating to his theory
of colors. The subject was, however, new to me; I neither understood
the phenomena, nor what he said about them. Nevertheless, I hoped that
the future would afford me leisure and opportunity to initiate myself a
little into this science.
* * * * *
_Thursday, November_ 13.--Some days ago, as I was walking one fine
afternoon towards Erfurt, I was joined by an elderly man, whom I
supposed, from his appearance, to be an opulent citizen. We had not
talked together long, before the conversation turned upon Goethe. I
asked him whether he knew Goethe. "Know him?" said he, with some
delight; "I was his valet almost twenty years!" He then launched into
the praises of his former master. I begged to hear something of Goethe's
youth, and he gladly consented to gratify me.
"When I first lived with him," said he, "he might have been about
twenty-seven years old; he was thin, nimble, and elegant in his person.
I could easily have carried him in my arms."
I asked whether Goethe, in that early part of his life here, had not
been very gay. "Certainly," replied he; "he was always gay with the gay,
but never when they passed a certain limit; in that case he usually
became grave. Always working and seeking; his mind always bent on art
and science; that was generally the way with my master. The duke often
visited him in the evening, and then they often talked on learned topics
till late at night, so that I got extremely tired, and wondered when the
duke would go. Even then he was interested in natural science.
"One time he rang in the middle of the night, and when I entered his
room I found he had rolled his iron bed to the window, and was lying
there, looking out upon the heavens. 'Have you seen nothing in the sky?'
asked he; and when I answered in the negative, he bade me run to the
guard-house, and ask the man on duty if he had seen nothing. I went
there; the guard said he had seen nothing, and I returned with this
answer to my master, who was still in the same position, lying in his
bed, and gazing upon the sky. 'Listen,' said he to me; 'this is an
important moment; there is now an earthquake, or one is just going to
take place;' then he made me sit down on the bed, and showed me by what
signs he knew this."
I asked the good old man "what sort of weather it was." "It was very
cloudy," he replied; "no air stirring; very still and sultry."
I asked if he at once believed there was an earthquake on Goethe's word.
"Yes," said he, "I believed it, for things always happened as he said
they would. Next day he related his observations at court, when a lady
whispered to her neighbor, 'Only listen, Goethe is dreaming.' But the
duke, and all the men present, believed Goethe, and the correctness of
his observations was soon confirmed; for, in a few weeks, the news came
that a part of Messina, on that night, had been destroyed by an
_Friday, November_ 14.--Towards evening Goethe sent me an invitation to
call upon him. Humboldt, he said, was at court, and therefore I should
be all the more welcome. I found him, as I did some days ago, sitting in
his armchair; he gave me a friendly shake of the hand, and spoke to me
with heavenly mildness. The chancellor soon joined us. We sat near
Goethe, and carried on a light conversation, that he might only have to
listen. The physician, Counsellor Rehbein, soon came also. To use his
own expression, he found Goethe's pulse quite lively and easy. At this
we were highly pleased, and joked with Goethe on the subject. "If I
could only get rid of the pain in my left side!" he said. Rehbein
prescribed a plaster there; we talked on the good effect of such a
remedy, and Goethe consented to it. Rehbein turned the conversation to
Marienbad, and this appeared to awaken pleasant reminiscences in Goethe.
Arrangements were made to go there again, it was said that the great
duke would join the party, and these prospects put Goethe in the most
cheerful mood. They also talked about Madame Szymanowska, and mentioned
the time when she was here, and all the men were solicitous for her
When Rehbein was gone, the chancellor read the Indian poems, and Goethe,
in the meanwhile, talked to me about the Marienbad Elegy.
At eight o'clock, the chancellor went, and I was going, too, but Goethe
bade me stop a little, and I sat down. The conversation turned on the
stage, and the fact that _Wallenstein_ was to be done tomorrow. This
gave occasion to talk about Schiller.
"I have," said I, "a peculiar feeling towards Schiller. Some scenes of
his great dramas I read with genuine love and admiration; but presently
I meet with something which violates the truth of nature, and I can go
no further. I feel this even in reading _Wallenstein_. I cannot but
think that Schiller's turn for philosophy injured his poetry, because
this led him to consider the idea far higher than all nature; indeed,
thus to annihilate nature. What he could conceive must happen, whether
it were in conformity with nature or not."
"It was sad," said Goethe, "to see how so highly gifted a man tormented
himself with philosophical disquisitions which could in no way profit
him. Humboldt has shown me letters which Schiller wrote to him in those
unblest days of speculation. There we see how he plagued himself with
the design of perfectly separating sentimental from _naive_ poetry. For
the former he could find no proper soil, and this brought him into
"As if," continued he, smiling, "sentimental poetry could exist at all
without the _naive_ ground in which, as it were, it has its root."
"It was not Schiller's plan," continued Goethe, "to go to work with a
certain unconsciousness, and as it were instinctively; he was forced, on
the contrary, to reflect on all he did. Hence it was that he never could
leave off talking about his poetical projects, and thus he discussed
with me all his late pieces, scene after scene.
"On the other hand, it was contrary to my nature to talk over my poetic
plans with anybody--even with Schiller. I carried everything about with
me in silence, and usually nothing was known to any one till the whole
was completed. When I showed Schiller my _Hermann and Dorothea_
finished, he was astonished, for I had said not a syllable to him of any
"But I am curious to hear what you will say of _Wallenstein_ tomorrow.
You will see noble forms, and the piece will make an impression on you
such as you probably do not dream of."
_Saturday, November_ 15.--In the evening I was in the theatre, where I
for the first time saw _Wallenstein_. Goethe had not said too much; the
impression was great, and stirred my inmost soul. The actors, who had
almost all belonged to the time when they were under the personal
influence of Schiller and Goethe, gave an ensemble of significant
personages, such as on a mere reading were not presented to my
imagination with all their individuality. On this account the piece had
an extraordinary effect upon me, and I could not get it out of my head
the whole night.
_Sunday, November 16_.--In the evening at Goethe's; he was still sitting
in his elbow-chair, and seemed rather weak. His first question was about
_Wallenstein_. I gave him an account of the impression the piece had
made upon me as represented on the stage, and he heard me with visible
M. Soret came in, led in by Frau von Goethe, and remained about an hour.
He brought from the duke some gold medals, and by showing and talking
about these seemed to entertain Goethe very pleasantly.
Frau von Goethe and M. Soret went to court, and I was left alone with
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