The German Classics of The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Vol. II
Editor-in-Chief: Kuno Francke
Part 9 out of 9
expedient; aye, the pure and the noble, which is now abandoned for the
moment, will soon be resought with additional ardor."
"It is surprising to me," remarked I, "that even Merimee, who is one of
your favorites, has entered upon this ultra-romantic path, through the
horrible subjects of his _Guzla_."
"Merimee," returned Goethe, "has treated these things very differently
from his fellow-authors. These poems certainly are not deficient in
various horrible _motives_, such as churchyards, nightly crossways,
ghosts and vampires; but the repulsive themes do not touch the intrinsic
merit of the poet. On the contrary, he treats them from a certain
objective distance, and, as it were, with irony. He goes to work with
them like an artist, to whom it is an amusement to try anything of the
sort. He has, as I have said before, quite renounced himself, nay, he
has ever renounced the Frenchman, and that to such a degree that at
first these poems of Guzla were deemed real Illyrian popular poems, and
thus little was wanting for the success of the imposition he had
"Merimee," continued Goethe, "is indeed a thorough fellow! Indeed,
generally, more power and genius are required for the objective
treatment of a subject than is supposed. Thus, too, Lord Byron,
notwithstanding his predominant personality, has sometimes had the power
of renouncing himself altogether, as may be seen in some of his dramatic
pieces, particularly in his _Marino Faliero_. In this piece one quite
forgets that Lord Byron, or even an Englishman, wrote it. We live
entirely in Venice, and entirely in the time in which the action takes
place. The personages speak quite from themselves and from their own
condition, without having any of the subjective feelings, thoughts, and
opinions of the poet. That is as it should be. Of our young French
romantic writers of the exaggerating sort, one cannot say as much. What
I have read of them--poems, novels, dramatic works--have all borne the
personal coloring of the author, and none of them ever makes me forget
that a Parisian--that a Frenchman--wrote them. Even in the treatment of
foreign subjects one still remains in France and Paris, quite absorbed
in all the wishes, necessities, conflicts, and fermentations of the
"Beranger also," I threw in experimentally, "has only expressed the
situation of the great metropolis, and his own interior."
"That is a man," said Goethe, "whose power of representation and whose
interior are worth something. In him is all the substance of an
important personality. Beranger is a nature most happily endowed, firmly
grounded in himself, purely developed from himself, and quite in harmony
with himself. He has never asked--what would suit the times? what
produces an effect? what pleases? what are others doing?--in order that
he might do the like. He has always worked only from the core of his own
nature, without troubling himself as to what the public, or what this or
that party, expects. He has certainly, at different critical epochs,
been influenced by the mood, wishes, and necessities of the people; but
that has only confirmed him in himself, by proving to him that his own
nature is in harmony with that of the people; and has never seduced him
into expressing anything but what already lay in his heart.
"You know that I am, upon the whole, no friend to what is called
political poems, but such as Beranger has composed I can tolerate. With
him there is nothing snatched out of the air, nothing of merely imagined
or imaginary interest; he never shoots at random; but, on the contrary,
has always the most decided, the most important subjects. His
affectionate admiration of Napoleon, and his reminiscences of the great
warlike deeds which were performed under him, and that at a time when
these recollections were a consolation to the somewhat oppressed French;
then his hatred of the domination of priests, and of the darkness which
threatened to return with the Jesuits--these are things to which one
cannot refuse hearty sympathy. And how masterly is his treatment on all
occasions! How he turns about and rounds off every subject in his own
mind before he expresses it! And then, when all is matured, what wit,
spirit, irony, and persiflage, and what heartiness, naivete, and grace,
are unfolded at every step! His songs have every year made millions of
joyous men; they always flow glibly from the tongue, even with the
working-classes, whilst they are so far elevated above the level of the
commonplace, that the populace, in converse with these pleasant spirits,
becomes accustomed and compelled to think itself better and nobler. What
more would you have? and, altogether, what higher praise could be given
to a poet?"
"He is excellent, unquestionably!" returned I. "You know how I loved him
for years, and can imagine how it gratifies me to hear you speak of him
thus. But if I must say which of his songs I prefer, his amatory poems
please me more than his political, in which the particular references
and allusions are not always clear to me."
"That happens to be your case," returned Goethe; "the political poems
were not written for you; but ask the French, and they will tell you
what is good in them. Besides, a political poem, under the most
fortunate circumstances, is to be looked upon only as the organ of a
single nation, and, in most cases, only as the organ of a single party;
but it is seized with enthusiasm by this nation and this party when it
is good. Again, a political poem should always be looked upon as the
mere result of a certain state of the times; which passes by, and with
respect to succeeding times takes from the poem the value which it
derived from the subject. As for Beranger, his was no hard task. Paris
is France. All the important interests of his great country are
concentrated in the capital, and there have their proper life and their
proper echo. Besides, in most of his political songs he is by no means
to be regarded as the mere organ of a single party; on the contrary, the
things against which he writes are for the most part of so universal and
national an interest, that the poet is almost always heard as a great
_voice_ of the people. With us, in Germany, such a thing is not
possible. We have no city, nay, we have no country, of which we could
decidedly say--_Here is Germany_! If we inquire in Vienna, the answer
is--this is Austria! and if in Berlin, the answer is--this is Prussia!
Only sixteen years ago, when we tried to get rid of the French, was
Germany everywhere. Then a political poet could have had an universal
effect; but there was no need of one! The universal necessity, and the
universal feeling of disgrace, had seized upon the nation like something
daemonic; the inspiring fire which the poet might have kindled was
already burning everywhere of its own accord. Still, I will not deny
that Arndt, Koerner, and Rueckert, have had some effect."
"You have been reproached," remarked I, rather inconsiderately, "for not
taking up arms at that great period, or at least cooperating as a poet."
"Let us leave that point alone, my good friend," returned Goethe. "It is
an absurd world, which does not know what it wants, and which one must
allow to have its own way. How could I take up arms without hatred, and
how could I hate without youth? If such an emergency had befallen me
when twenty years old, I should certainly not have been the last; but it
found me as one who had already passed the first sixties.
"Besides, we cannot all serve our country in the same way, but each does
his best, according as God has endowed him. I have toiled hard enough
during half a century. I can say, that in those things which nature has
appointed for my daily work, I have permitted myself no repose or
relaxation night or day, but have always striven, investigated, and done
as much, and that as well, as I could. If every one can say the same of
himself, it will prove well with all."
"The fact is," said I, by way of conciliation, "that you should not be
vexed at that reproach, but should rather feel flattered at it. For what
does it show but that the opinion of the world concerning you is so
great that it desires that he who has done more for the culture of his
nation than any other should at last do everything!"
"I will not say what I think," returned Goethe. "There is more ill-will
towards me hidden beneath that remark than you are aware of. I feel
therein a new form of the old hatred with which people have persecuted
me, and endeavored quietly to wound me for years. I know very well that
I am an eyesore to many; that they would all willingly get rid of me;
and that, since they cannot touch my talent, they aim at my character.
Now, it is said, I am proud; now, egotistical; now, full of envy towards
young men of genius; now, immersed in sensuality; now, without
Christianity; and now, without love for my native country, and my own
dear Germans. You have now known me sufficiently for years, and you feel
what all that talk is worth. But if you would learn what I have
suffered, read my '_Xenien_', and it will be clear to you, from my
retorts, how people have from time to time sought to embitter my life.
"A German author is a German martyr! Yes, my friend, you will not find
it otherwise! And I myself can scarcely complain; none of the others has
fared better--most have fared worse; and in England and France it is
quite the same as with us. What did not Moliere suffer? What Rousseau
and Voltaire? Byron was driven from England by evil tongues, and would
have fled to the end of the world, if an early death had not delivered
him from the Philistines and their hatred.
"And if it were only the narrow-minded masses that persecuted noble men!
But no! one gifted man and one genius persecutes another; Platen
scandalizes Heine, and Heine Platen, and each seeks to make the other
hateful; while the world is wide enough for all to live and to let live;
and every one has an enemy in his own talent, who gives him quite enough
"To write military songs, and sit in a room! That forsooth was my duty!
To have written them in the bivouac, when the horses at the enemy's
outposts are heard neighing at night, would have been well enough;
however, that was not my life and not my business, but that of Theodore
Koerner. His war-songs suit him perfectly. But to me, who am not of a
warlike nature, and who have no warlike sense, war-songs would have been
a mask which would have fitted my face very badly.
"I have never affected anything in my poetry. I have never uttered
anything which I have not experienced, and which has not urged me to
production. I have composed love-songs only when I have loved. How could
I write songs of hatred without hating! And, between ourselves, I did
not hate the French, although I thanked God that we were free from them.
How could I, to whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate
a nation which is among the most cultivated of the earth, and to which I
owe so great a part of my own cultivation?
"Altogether," continued Goethe, "national hatred is something peculiar.
You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the
lowest degree of culture. But there is a degree where it vanishes
altogether, and where one stands to a certain extent above nations, and
feels the weal or woe of a neighboring people, as if it had happened to
one's own. This degree of culture was conformable to my nature, and I
had become strengthened in it long before I had reached my sixtieth
* * * * *
_Sunday_, March 11.--The conversation turned upon the great men who had
lived before Christ, among the Chinese, the Indians, the Persians, and
the Greeks; and it was remarked, that the divine power had been as
operative in them as in some of the great Jews of the Old Testament. We
then came to the question how far God influenced the great natures of
the present world in which we live?
"To hear people speak," said Goethe, "one would almost believe that they
were of opinion that God had withdrawn into silence since those old
times, and that man was now placed quite upon his own feet, and had to
see how he could get on without God, and his daily invisible breath. In
religious and moral matters a divine influence is indeed still allowed,
but in matters of science and art it is believed that they are merely
earthly and nothing but the product of human powers.
[Illustration: SCHILLER'S GARDEN HOUSE AT JENA Drawing by Goethe]
"Let any one only try, with human will and human power, to produce
something which may be compared with the creations that bear the names
of Mozart, Raphael, or Shakespeare. I know very well that these three
noble beings are not the only ones, and that in every province of art
innumerable excellent geniuses have operated, who have produced things
as perfectly good as those just mentioned. But if they were as great as
those, they rose above ordinary human nature, and in the same proportion
were as divinely endowed as they.
"And, after all, what does it all come to? God did not retire to rest
after the well-known six days of creation, but, on the contrary, is
constantly active as on the first. It would have been for Him a poor
occupation to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to
keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if He had not had the
plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material
basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the
Goethe was silent. But I cherished his great and good words in my heart.
_Early in March_.--Goethe mentioned at table that he had received a
visit from Baron Carl Von Spiegel, and that he had been pleased with him
"He is a very fine young man," said Goethe; "in his mien and manners he
has something by which the nobleman is seen at once. He could as little
dissemble his descent as any one could deny a higher intellect; for
birth and intellect both give him who once possesses them a stamp which
no incognito can conceal. Like beauty, these are powers which one cannot
approach without feeling that they are of a higher nature."
_Some days later_.--We talked of the tragic idea of Destiny among the
"It no longer suits our way of thinking," said Goethe; "it is obsolete,
and is also in contradiction with our religious views. If a modern poet
introduces such antique ideas into a drama, it always has an air of
affectation. It is a costume which is long since out of fashion, and
which, like the Roman toga, no longer suits us.
"It is better for us moderns to say with Napoleon, 'Politics are
Destiny.' But let us beware of saying, with our latest literati, that
politics are poetry, or a suitable subject for the poet. The English
poet Thomson wrote a very good poem on the Seasons, but a very bad one
on Liberty, and that not from want of poetry in the poet, but from want
of poetry in the subject."
"If a poet would work politically, he must give himself up to a party;
and so soon as he does that, he is lost as a poet; he must bid farewell
to his free spirit, his unbiased view, and draw over his ears the cap of
bigotry and blind hatred.
"The poet, as a man and citizen, will love his native land; but the
native land of his poetic powers and poetic action is the good, noble,
and beautiful, which is confined to no particular province or country,
and which he seizes upon and forms wherever he finds it. Therein is he
like the eagle, who hovers with free gaze over whole countries, and to
whom it is of no consequence whether the hare on which he pounces is
running in Prussia or in Saxony.
"And, then, what is meant by love of one's country? What is meant by
patriotic deeds? If the poet has employed a life in battling with
pernicious prejudices, in setting aside narrow views, in enlightening
the minds, purifying the tastes, ennobling the feelings and thoughts of
his countrymen, what better could he have done? How could he have acted
"To make such ungrateful and unsuitable demands upon a poet is just as
if one required the captain of a regiment to show himself a patriot, by
taking part in political innovations and thus neglecting his proper
calling. The captain's country is his regiment, and he will show himself
an excellent patriot by troubling himself about political matters only
so far as they concern him, and bestowing all his mind and all his
care on the battalions under him, trying so to train and discipline them
that they may do their duty if ever their native land should be in
[Illustration: THE MOAT AT JENA Drawing by GOETHE]
"I hate all bungling like sin, but most of all bungling in
state-affairs, which produces nothing but mischief to thousands and
"You know that, on the whole, I care little what is written about me;
but yet it comes to my ears, and I know well enough that, hard as I have
toiled all my life, all my labors are as nothing in the eyes of certain
people, just because I have disdained to mingle in political parties. To
please such people I must have become a member of a Jacobin club, and
preached bloodshed and murder. However, not a word more upon this
wretched subject, lest I become unwise in railing against folly."
In the same manner he blamed the political course, so much praised by
others, of Uhland.
"Mind," said he, "the politician will devour the poet. To be a member of
the States, and to live amid daily jostlings and excitements, is not for
the delicate nature of a poet. His song will cease, and that is in some
sort to be lamented. Swabia has plenty of men, sufficiently well
educated, well meaning, able, and eloquent, to be members of the States,
but only one poet of Uhland's class."
* * * * *
The last stranger whom Goethe entertained as his guest was the eldest
son of Frau von Arnim; the last words he wrote were some verses in the
album of this young friend.
* * * * *
The morning after Goethe's death, a deep desire seized me to look once
again upon his earthly garment. His faithful servant, Frederic, opened
for me the chamber in which he was laid out. Stretched upon his back, he
reposed as if asleep; profound peace and security reigned in the
features of his sublimely noble countenance. The mighty brow seemed yet
to harbor thoughts. I wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence
prevented me from cutting it off. The body lay naked, wrapped only in a
white sheet; large pieces of ice had been placed near it, to keep it
fresh as long as possible. Frederic drew aside the sheet, and I was
astonished at the divine magnificence of the limbs. The breast was
powerful, broad, and arched; the arms and thighs were full, and softly
muscular; the feet were elegant, and of the most perfect shape; nowhere,
on the whole body, was there a trace either of fat or of leanness and
decay. A perfect man lay in great beauty before me; and the rapture
which the sight caused made me forget for a moment that the immortal
spirit had left such an abode. I laid my hand on his heart--there was a
deep silence--and I turned away to give free vent to my suppressed
[Illustration: VIEW INTO THE SAALE VALLEY NEAR JENA Drawing by GOETHE]
LETTERS TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT AND HIS WIFE
TRANSLATED BY LOUIS H. GRAY, PH.D. GOETHE TO KAROLINE VON HUMBOLDT
January 25, 1804.
How many an hour have I thought of you with genuine and lively interest;
and nearly every time I have marveled at the outrageous intention which
correspondents can express, that, when far apart, they will write to
each other once a month. Distance absolutely precludes interest in
trifles that are close to us; how can we tell each other our daily joys
and sorrows, when the voice which speaks must wait so long for the sound
of the answering voice; and then those unexpected chances happen which
in an instant destroy our careful plans so that, when we would continue,
we know not where we should begin.
This time, in remembrance of so much that has passed, and in
anticipation of so much that is to be, I intend to write you a long
letter that the stream may run once more.
Meanwhile you have suffered a bitter loss, of which I shall not speak. I
trust that all the agencies which nature has contrived for man to
alleviate such woes may have been and may in the future be at your
behest; for they alone can repair the evil they have wrought.
Fernow has come to us; he bears himself gallantly and well, though an
unfortunate fever has given him a deal of trouble. Since he is in
earnest about what he does, and is essentially of an honest disposition,
we are having a good, profitable, and pleasant time together.
Riemer is staying with my August, and I hope they will get along right
Schiller is continually advancing with great strides, as usual; his
_Tell_ is magnificently planned and, so far as I have seen it, executed
in masterly fashion.
I myself have been placed, by the swindling spirit which has come over
the gentlemen of Jena, and especially over the proprietors of the
_Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung_, under the lamentable necessity of again
laboring in person on behalf of this antiquated body of municipal
teachers, wherein I have lost nearly four months of my own time--not
precisely because I did much, but because, notwithstanding, everything
had to be done, and everything that must be done takes time; and thus
for the last three months I have been unable to present you with even a
single little poem.
Meanwhile life has brought us much of interest. Professor Wolf of Halle
spent two weeks with us; Johannes von Mueller is here now; and for four
weeks Madame de Stael has also honored us with her presence.
The drawings of the late Herr Carstens, which Fernow brought with him,
have given me much pleasure, since through them I have first learned to
know this rare talent, which, alas, was held back by circumstances in
earlier days, and which at last was mown down even yet unripe.
A couple of large pictures by Hackert have arrived, and anything more
perfect, as faithful copies of reality, could scarcely be imagined.
As to my studies and hobbies, I do not know whether I have ever said
anything to you about my collection of modern medals in bronze and
copper, beginning with the second half of the fifteenth century, and
coming down to the most recent times.
I chanced upon this in connection with my revision of Cellini; for,
since in the north we must be content with crumbs, it seemed possible
for me to gain even an approximately clear survey of plastic art only
through the aid of original medals from the various centuries, which, as
is generally known, invariably kept close to the sculpture of their
time. Through exertion, favor, and good fortune I have already
succeeded extremely well in making a rather important collection. Permit
me to include a couple of commissions and desiderata.
1. For a couple of old medals said to be in the possession of
2. For papal medals from Innocent XIII inclusive; I have very fine
specimens of Hamerani's medals of Clement XI.
3. For a medal to be ordered from Mercandetti, a commission which I
especially urge both on you and on Humboldt; for the enterprise is, I
must admit, a serious one; in the long run, some satisfaction may
probably be gained; but should it fail, money will be lost and vexation
will be the result.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
July 30, 1804.
Months ago I wrote the inclosed sheet to your dear wife. She has
recently been here, and I have had the pleasure of conversing with her;
she has, so I hear, safely reached Paris and been delivered. I trust
that, ere long, she may there embrace your dear brother, who has, in a
sense, risen for us from the dead. Your precious letter of February 25
reached me safely in good time, and as I reflect on the long interval
during which I have left you without news from me, I now note through
what singular emotions I have passed during this time.
Schiller's _Tell_ has been completed for some time and is now on the
stage. It is an extraordinary production wherein his dramatic skill puts
forth new branches, and it justly creates a profound sensation. You will
surely receive it before long, for it is already in press.
I have permitted myself to be persuaded to try to make my _Goetz von
Berlichingen_ suitable for the stage.
This was an undertaking well-nigh impossible, for its very trend is
untheatrical; like Penelope, I, too, have ceaselessly woven and unwoven
it for a year; and in the process I have learned much, though, I fear, I
have not perfectly attained the end which I had in view. In about six
weeks I hope to present it, and Schiller will, no doubt, speak to you
Have you chanced to see our Jena _Literatur-Zeitung_ for this year, and
has anything which it contained aroused your interest?
I am extremely grateful to you for the very welcome information which
you give me regarding an improvisatrice. Could I possibly dare to make
use of it in the advertising columns of the _Literatur-Zeitung_? What
you have said I would modify in every way consonant with its relation to
the public, which needs not know everything. If you could occasionally
communicate to me some information of this type from the wealth of your
observations, you would confer a great pleasure upon us.
Since Jagemann's death, Fernow has received an appointment at the
library of the Duchess Dowager, and his connection with it is of great
value for her house and for the society which assembles there; he makes
love for Italian literature a living force and gives occasion for witty
readings and conversations.
Generally speaking, Weimar is like heaven since the Bottiger goblin 
has been banished; and our school is also going very well indeed. A
professorship has been given to Voss's eldest son, who inherits from his
father that fundamental love for antiquity, especially from the
linguistic side, which, after all, is the principal thing in a teacher
of the classics.
Riemer also conducts himself very well in my house, and I am fairly
satisfied with the progress of my boy, who, I must admit, has a greater
interest in subject-matter than in diction.
Madame de Stael's intention of spending a portion of the summer here has
been frustrated by her father's death. She has taken Schlegel with her
from Berlin; they are together in Coppet; and will probably go to Italy
toward winter. Such a visit would doubtless be more delightful to you,
dear friend, than many another.
My warmest thanks are due you for sending me the _Odes of Pindar_ in
translation; they have given a very pleasant hour of recreation to
Riemer and myself.
I trust to your goodness to see that the inclosed memorandum is
delivered to Mercandetti, and perhaps to confer with him in person about
the matter. Then among your ministering spirits you perhaps have some
one who would keep an eye on the affair in future. I should be glad if
our old patron were given such a public token of gratitude, which
should also be noteworthy from the artistic side, but it must be
acknowledged that it is always a daring venture to place any order at
such a distance, and, therefore, I entreat your friendly participation.
Above all things it is important that Mercandetti should make a moderate
charge. He demands three piasters for his Alfieri, which he offers for
sale and which is said to be as large as his Galvani. If, now, he asks
somewhat more for the archchancellor's medal, which is ordered and which
is not supposed to be any larger, surely the extra expense should not be
much, and if it is relatively cheap, I am confident of securing him two
hundred subscribers. As has already been noted in the memorandum, he
will render himself better known in Germany through this medal than
through any other work, a fact which cannot fail to be of great moment
to him in the series of distinguished men of the previous century, which
he intends to issue. Forgive me for adding this new burden to your many
duties, and yet endeavor to conduct the affair so that it will not
require much writing to and fro, and so that, in his reply to the
memorandum, Mercandetti will accept our offer. Letters are now delayed
intolerably; one from Florence here takes twenty days, and more.
It comforts me greatly that you have been pleased with my _Natural
Daughter_, for though at times I long remain silent toward my absent
friends, my desire is, nevertheless, suddenly to resume relations with
them through that which I have toiled over in silence. Unfortunately, I
have given up this play, and do not know when I shall be able to resume
work on it.
Have you seen the twenty lyric poems which have been published by me in
my _Annual_ of this year? Among them are some that ought not to
displease you. Do not render like for like, but write me soon.
Communicate to me many observations on lands, nations, men, and
languages, which are so instructive and so stimulating. Do not delay,
moreover, to give me some information regarding your own health and that
of your dear wife.
Weimar, July 30, 1804.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
August 31, 1812.
Faithful to its nature, Teplitz continues to be, esteemed friend,
unfavorable to our coming together. This inconvenience is doubly
vexatious to me now that, after your departure from Karlsbad, I
deliberately thought over the value of your presence, and wished to
continue our interviews. I was especially grieved that your beautiful
presentation of the manner in which languages received their expansion
over the world was not completely drawn up, although the most of it
remained with me. If you wish to give me a real proof of friendship,
have the kindness to write out for me such an abstract, and I shall
have a hemispherical map colored for myself accordingly and add it to
Lesage's _Atlas_, since, in view of my residence abroad for so much of
the year, I am compelled to think more and more of my general need of a
compendious and tabulated traveling library. Thus, with the assistance
of Aulic Councillor Meyer, the history of the plastic arts and of
painting is now being written on the margin of Bredow's _Tabellen_, and
thus in a very large number of cases your linguistic map will help to
refresh my memory and serve as a guide in much of my reading.
I would gladly have spoken with you in detail regarding Berlin and all
that which, according to your previous preparations and suggestions, is
going on there. Great cities always contain within themselves the image
of whole empires, and even though distorted by exaggerations which
degenerate into caricature, they nevertheless present the nation in
concentrated form to the eye.
State Councillor Langermann, whose good will and energy are so
beautifully balanced, has now delighted me for two weeks with his
instructive conversation, and both by word and by example revived my
courage for many things which I had been on the point of abandoning. It
is very enlivening indeed to re-behold the world in its entirety through
the medium of a truly energetic man; for the Germans seldom know how to
inspire in details, and never as a whole.
I here find an entirely natural transition to the information which you
give me--that our friend Wolf is not satisfied with Niebuhr's work,
although he preeminently should have had reason to be. I feel, however,
very calm about it, for I value Wolf infinitely when he works and acts,
but I have never known him to be sympathetic, especially as regards the
affairs of the present, and herein he is a true German. Moreover, he
knows entirely too much to permit himself to be instructed further and
not to discover the gaps in the knowledge of others. He has his own
mode of thought; how should he recognize the merits of the views of
others? And the great endowments which he possesses are the very ones
which are adapted to rouse and to maintain the spirit of contradiction
and of rejection.
As to myself, a layman, I have been very greatly indebted to Niebuhr's
first volume, and I hope that the second will increase my gratitude
toward him. I am very curious about his development of the _lex
agraria_. We have heard of it from the time of our youth without gaining
any clear conception of it. How pleasant it is to listen to a learned
and original man on such a theme, especially in these days, when the
summons comes for a more free and unprejudiced consideration of the law
of states and nations, as well as of all the relations of civil law. It
becomes obvious what an advantage it is to know little, and to have
forgotten very much of that little. I never love to mingle in the
wrangles of the day, but I cannot forego the delight of quietly snapping
my fingers at them. I trust that the small leaf inclosed may win a smile
I beg you to give my best regards to your wife, and convey my kindest
greetings to the Koerners. When the young man  again has anything
ready, I beg that it may be sent me at once. This time I should be most
happy to receive a rather large article for January 30, the birthday of
the duchess. A thousand fare-you-wells!
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
Weimar, February 8, 1813.
With sincere thanks I recognize the fact that you have been able so
quickly and so perfectly to fulfil your friendly promise. Your
beautiful sketch has given me an entirely new impulse to studies of all
sorts. It is no longer possible for me to collect materials; but when
they are brought to me in so concentrated a form, it becomes a source of
very real pleasure for me speedily to fill the gaps in my knowledge and
to discover a thousand relations to what information I already possess.
As soon as I can spend a few quiet weeks at Jena in March, I shall get
about my task, which, after your preliminary work, is in reality only a
pastime. Bertuch has had some maps of Europe printed for me in a
brownish tint. One of these is to be laid on a large drawing-board, and
the boundaries are to be colored. I shall then indicate the main
languages and, so far as possible, the dialects as well, by attaching
little slips; and Bertuch is not unwilling then to have such a map
engraved, an easy task in his great establishment which is provided with
artists of every kind. Please have the kindness, therefore, to proceed
and to send me the continuation at the earliest possible moment. A map
of the two hemispheres is now ready and is to have the languages
indicated in like fashion. From my inmost heart I wish success to your
translation of AEschylus, which continually becomes more and more
elaborate, and I rejoice that you have not let yourself be frightened
away from this good work by the threats of the Heidelberg Cyclops
and his crew. At the present moment they menace our friend Wolf, who
certainly is no kitten, with ignominious execution, because he also
dared to land on the translation island which they have received from
Father Neptune in private fief, and to bring with him a readable
Aristophanes. It is written, "Blessed are the dead which die in the
Lord," but still more blessed are they who go mad over some
Our friend Wieland is blessed in the first sense; he has died in his
Lord, and without particular suffering has passed over to his gods and
heroes. What talent and spirit, learning, common sense, receptivity,
and versatility, conjoined with industry and endurance, can accomplish,
_utile nobis proposuit exemplar_. If every man would so employ his gifts
and his time, what marvels would then take place!
I have passed my winter as usual, much distracted with my work, yet with
tolerable health, so that it has gone quickly and not without profit. In
November and December my plans were disarranged by theatrical
preparations for the long-expected Iffland, who did not come till toward
the close of the year, and also by preparations for his performances,
which gave me great pleasure. In January and February there were four
birthdays, when either our inventive genius or our collaboration was
demanded; and thus much has been frittered away, willingly, to be sure,
What I have done meanwhile with pleasure and real interest has been to
make a renewed effort to find among extant monuments a trace of those of
which descriptions have come down to us. Philostrati were again the
order of the day, and as to the statues, I believe that I have got on
the track of the Olympian Zeus, on which so many preliminary studies
have already been made, and also on that of the Hera of Samos, the
Doryphorus of Polycletes, and especially on that of the Cow of Myron and
of the bull that carried Europa. Meyer, whose history of ancient art,
now written in a fair copy, furnished the chief inspiration, takes a
lively interest, since both his doubt and his agreement are invariably
And thus I shall now close for this time, in the hope of soon seeing
something from your dear hand once more.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
Tennstaedt, September 1, 1816. The great work to which you, dearest
friend, have devoted a large portion of your life, could not have
reached me at a better time; it finds me here in Tennstaedt, a little
provincial Thuringian bathing town which is probably not entirely
unknown to you. Here I have now been for five weeks, and alone, since my
friend Meyer left me.
Here, at first, I indulged in a cursory reading both of the introduction
and of the drama itself, to my no small edification; and inasmuch as
I am now, for the second time, enjoying the details together with the
whole, I will no longer withhold my thanks for this gift.
For even though one sympathetically concerns one's self with all the
praiseworthy and with all the good that the most ancient and the most
modern times afford, nevertheless, such a pre-ancient giant figure,
formed like a prodigy, appears amazing to us, and we must collect all
our senses to stand over against it in an attitude even approximately
worthy of it. At such a moment there is no doubt that here the work of
all works of art is seen, or, in more moderate language, a model of the
highest type. That we now can control this easily is our indebtedness to
you; and continuous thanks must fervently reward your efforts, though in
themselves they bring their own reward.
This drama has always been to me one of those most worthy of
consideration, and through your interest it has been made accessible
earlier than the rest. But, more than ever, the texture of this primeval
tapestry now seems most marvelous to me; past, present, and future are
so happily interwoven that the reader himself becomes the seer, that is,
he becomes like unto God, and yet, in the last resort, that is the
triumph of all poetry in the greatest and in the least.
But if we here perceive how the poet had at his service each and every
means by which so tremendous an effort may be produced, we cannot
refrain from the highest admiration. How happily the epic, lyric, and
dramatic diction is interwoven, not compelling, but enticing us to
sympathize with such cruel fates! And how well the scanty didactic
reflection becomes the chorus as it speaks! All this cannot receive too
high a mead of praise.
Forgive me, then, for bringing owls to Athens as a thanks-offering. I
could truly continue thus forever, and tell you what you yourself have
long since better known. Thus I have once more been astonished to see
that each character, except Clytemnestra, the linker of evil unto evil,
has her exclusive Aristeia, so that each one acts an entire poem, and
does not return later for the possible purpose of again burdening us
with her affairs. In every good poem poetry in its entirety must be
contained; but this is a flugleman.
The ideas in your introduction regarding synonymy are precious; would
that our linguistic purists were imbued with them! We will not, however,
contaminate such lofty affairs with the lamentable blunders whereby the
German nation is corrupting its language from the very foundation, an
evil which will not be perceived for thirty years.
You, however, my dearest friend, be and remain blessed for the
benefaction which you have done us. This your _Agamemnon_ shall never
again leave my side.
I cannot judge the rhythmic merit, but I believe I feel it. Our
admirable, talented, and original friend Wolf--although he becomes
intractable in case of contradiction--who spent a number of days with
me, speaks very highly of your careful work. It will be instructive to
see how the Heidelberg gentlemen conduct themselves.
Let me have a word from you before you go to Paris, and give my
greetings to your dear wife. How much I had wished to see you this
summer, for so many things are in progress on every side that only days
suffice to consider what is to be furthered and how. Fortunately for me,
nothing is approaching that I must absolutely refuse, even though
everything is not undertaken and conducted according to my convictions.
And it is precisely this bitter-sweet which can be treated only orally
and in person.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
Weimar, June 22, 1823.
Your letter, dear and honored friend, came at a remarkable juncture
which made it doubly interesting; Schiller's letters had just been
collected, and I was looking them through from the very first, finding
there the most charming traces of the happy and fruitful hours which we
passed together. The invitation to the _Horen_ is contained in the first
letter of June 13, 1794; then the correspondence continues, and with
every letter admiration for Schiller's extraordinary spirit and joy over
his influence on our entire development increases in intensity and
elevation. His letters are an infinite treasure, of which you also
possess rich store; and as, through them, we have made noteworthy
progress, so we must read them again to be protected against backward
steps to which the precious world about us is inclined to tempt us day
by day and hour by hour.
Just imagine to yourself now, my dearest friend, how highly welcome your
announcement seemed to me at this moment when, after ripe reflection, I
desired to give you very friendly counsel to visit us toward the end of
October. Should the gods not dispose otherwise concerning us, you will
surely find me, and whatever else is near and dear to you, assembled
here; quiet, personal communication may very happily alternate with
social recreations, and, above all things, we can take delight in
Schiller's correspondence, since then you will also bring with you the
letters of several years, and in the fruitful present we may edify and
refresh ourselves with the fair bloom of by-gone days. Riemer sends his
very best greetings; he is well; our relation is permanent, mutually
beneficial, and profitable. Aulic Councillor Meyer has left for
Wiesbaden; unfortunately, his health is not of the best.
Two new numbers of _Ueber Kunst und Alterthum_ and _Zur
Naturwissenschaft_ are about to appear--the fruits of my winter's
labors. Fortunately, they have been so carefully prepared that no
noteworthy hindrance was presented by my troubles and by the subsequent
illness of our Grand Duchess, which filled us all, especially my
convalescent self, with fear and anxiety.
Please give my kindest regards to your wife, and, by the way, I need not
assure you that you will certainly be most highly welcome to our most
gracious court. In my household children and grandchildren will meet you
with joyous faces; our nearest friends we shall assemble as we wish. If
in the interval you should have some message for me, I beg you to send
it to my address here, for then it will reach me most quickly.
And now I again send the very best of all kind greetings to your dear
wife; may good fortune bring me once more to her side. Pardon a somewhat
distracted way of writing, indicative of packing.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
October 22, 1826.
Your letter and package, most honored friend, gave me a very welcome
token of your continuous remembrance and friendly sympathy. I wish,
however, that I might have received an equal assurance of your good
health. For my own part, I cannot complain; a ship that is no longer a
deep-sea sailer may perhaps still be useful as a coaster.
I have passed the entire summer at home, laboring undisturbed at editing
my works. Possibly you still remember, my dearest friend, a dramatic
_Helena_, which was to appear in the second part of _Faust_. From
Schiller's letters at the beginning of the century I see that I showed
him the commencement of it, and also that he, with true friendship,
counseled me to continue it. It is one of my oldest conceptions, resting
on the marionette tradition that Faust compelled Mephistopheles to
produce Helen of Troy for his nuptials. From time to time I have
continued to work on it, but the piece could not be completed except in
the fulness of time, for its action has now covered three thousand
years, from the fall of Troy to the capture of Missolonghi. This can,
therefore, also be regarded as a unity of time in the higher sense of
the term; the unities of place and action are, however, likewise most
carefully regarded in the usual acceptation of the word. It appears
under the title:
Interlude to Faust.
This says little indeed, and yet enough, I hope, to direct your
attention more vividly to the first instalment of my works which I hope
to present at Easter.
I next ask, with more confidence, whether perchance you still remember
an epic poem which I had in mind immediately after the completion of
_Hermann and Dorothea_--in a modern hunt a tiger and a lion were
concerned. At the time you dissuaded me from elaborating the idea, and I
abandoned it; now, in searching through old papers, I find the plot
again, and cannot refrain from executing it in prose; for it may then
pass as a tale, a rubric under which an extremely large amount of
remarkable stuff circulates.
Very recently there has reached my hermitage the portrayal of the very
active life of a man of the world, which highly entertains me--the
journal of Duke Bernhard of Weimar, who left Ghent in April, 1825, and
who returned to us only a short time past. It is written
uninterruptedly, and since his station, his mode of thought, and his
demeanor introduced him to the highest circles of society, and since he
was at ease among the middle classes and did not disdain the most
humble, his reader is very agreeably conducted through most diverse
situations, which, for me at least, it was highly important to survey
Now, however, I must assure you that the outline which you have sent is
extremely profitable to Riemer and myself, and has given a most
admirable opportunity for discussions on linguistics and philosophy. I
am by no means averse to the literature of India, but I am afraid of it;
for it draws my imaginative power towards the formless and the deformed,
against which I am forced to guard myself more than ever; but if it
comes over the signature of a valued friend, it will always be welcome,
for it gives me the desired opportunity to converse with him on what
interests him, and what must certainly be of importance.
Now, as I prepare to close, I simply say that I am engaged in combining
and uniting the scattered _Wanderings of Wilhelm Meister_, in its old
and new portions, as two volumes. While engaged in which task nothing
could give me greater delight than to welcome the chief of wanderers,
your highly esteemed brother, to our house, and to learn directly of his
ceaseless activity; nor do I fail to express my hearty wishes to your
dear wife for the best results from the cure which she is seeking in
such lofty regions.
And so, for ever and ever, in truest sympathy, GOETHE.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
October 19, 1830.
How often during these weeks, my dear and honored friend, have I sought
refuge at your side, again taken out your magnificent letters, and found
refreshment in them!
As almost in an instant the earthquake of Lisbon caused its influences
to be felt in the remotest lakes and springs, so we also have been
shaken directly by that western explosion, as was the case forty years
How comforting it must have been for me in such moments to take up your
priceless letters, you yourself will feel and graciously express.
Through a decided antithesis I was carried back to those times when we
felt mutually pledged to procure a preliminary culture, when, united
with our great and noble friend, we strove after concrete truths, and
most faithfully and diligently sought to attain all that was most
beautiful and sublime in the world about us, for the edification of our
willing, yearning spirits, and to fill to its full an atmosphere which
required substance and contents.
How beautiful and splendid is it now that you should lay the foundations
for your latest composition (_Review of Goethe's Italian Travels_) in
that happy soil, that you should seek to explain me and my endeavors at
that laborious time, and that attentively and lovingly you should have
traced back that which in my efforts might seem incidental or lacking in
coherence, in sequence, to a spiritual necessity and to individual
Here, now, there would be a most beautiful theme for discussion by word
of mouth. It is impossible to commit to writing how I was mirrored in
your words; how I received elucidation on many things; how, at the same
time, I was again challenged to reflect on the many enigmas that ever
remain unsolved in man, even as regards himself; and seriously to
reflect on the inner nexus of many qualities which cross in the
individual and which, despite a certain degree of contradiction, are
intertwined and united.
Here belongs preeminently my relation to plastic art, to which you have
devoted an attention so deserving of thanks. It is marvelous enough that
man feels an irresistible impulse to prosecute what he cannot achieve,
and yet that by this very process he is most essentially furthered in
his actual achievements.
That, however, this long-delayed letter may no further lag behind, I
shall close, but shall, nevertheless, at the same time inform you that,
while I uttered the sentiments written above, I once more returned to
your letters, and by seeing myself mirrored in them afresh was
challenged to new considerations, and was powerfully reminded of those
times when, united in spirit though not in body, we, already advanced in
years, enjoyed with the strength of youth and with delight those idyllic
For six months  now my son has shared in the exuberance with which,
on the priceless peninsula, nature and centuries have, with most
marvelous intricacy, amassed and destroyed in life, created and
demolished in the arts, and played with the fates of men and nations.
He went by steamer from Leghorn to Naples, where he may be even yet, a
decision which, once carried out, has brought very special advantages.
He found Professor Zahn there, and himself, under this scholar's
guidance, completely at home both above and below the ground.
Since now you, too, my dearest friend, are accustoming yourself to
dictating, send me in a happy hour of leisure often a tiny friendly
word, so that, from time to time, I may more frequently and concretely
be aware of the coexistence which has already so long been vouched us on
this terrestrial ball. I tear myself unwillingly from this
communication; how much I have to say floats before me, but at this time
I shall delay only to bless the fortunate star which at this moment
rises over you and your estimable brother. May what has so charmingly
been inaugurated endure for the enjoyment of rich results to you and to
And so ever!
Weimar, October 19, 1830. J. W. VON GOETHE.
* * * * *
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
Weimar, December 1, 1831.
Already informed by the public press, honored friend, that the beating
waves of that wild Baltic have exercised so happy an influence on the
constitution of my dearest friend, I have rejoiced in a high degree,
and have done all honor and reverence to the waters which so often wreak
destruction. Your welcome note gave the fairest and the best of all
substantiation to these good tidings, so that with comfort I could look
forth from my hermitage over the monastery gardens veiled in snow, since
I could fancy to myself my dearest friend in his four-towered castle,
amid roomy surroundings, surveying a landscape over which winter had
spread far and wide, and at the same time with good courage pursuing to
the minutest detail his deep-founded tasks.
Generally speaking, I can perhaps say that the apperception of great
productive maxims of nature absolutely compels us to continue our
investigations to the minutest possible details, just as the final
ramifications of the arteries meet, at the extreme finger-tips, the
nerves to which they are linked. In particular I might perhaps say that
I have often been brought more closely to you than you probably know;
for conversations with Riemer very often turn on a word, its
etymological signification, formation and mutation, relationship, and
I have been highly grateful to your brother, for whom I find no epithet,
for several hours of frank, friendly conversation; for although
assimilation of his theory of geology, and practical work in accordance
with it, are impossible for my mental process, yet I have seen with true
sympathy and admiration how that of which I cannot convince myself in
him obtains a logical coherence and is amalgamated with the tremendous
mass of his knowledge, where it is then held together by his priceless
If I may express myself with my old frankness, my most honored friend, I
gladly admit that in my advanced years everything becomes more and more
historical to me. Whether a thing has happened in days gone by, in
distant realms, or very close to myself, is quite immaterial; I even
seem to become more and more historical to myself; and when, in the
evening, Plutarch is read to me, I often appear ridiculous to myself,
should I narrate my biography in this way.
Forgive me expressions of this character! In old age men become
garrulous, and since I dictate, it is very easy for this natural
tendency to get the better of me.
Of my _Faust_ there is much and little to say; at a peculiarly happy
time the apothegm occurred to me:
"If bards ye are, as ye maintain;
Now let your inspiration show it."
And through a mysterious psychological turn, which probably deserves
investigation, I believe that I have risen to a type of production which
with entire consciousness has brought forth that which I myself still
approve of--though perhaps without being able ever again to swim in this
current--but which Aristotle and other prose-writers would even ascribe
to a sort of madness. The difficulty of succeeding consisted in the fact
that the second part of _Faust_--to whose printed portions you have
possibly devoted some attention--has been pondered for fifty years in
its ends and aims, and has been elaborated in fragmentary fashion, as
one or the other situation occurred to me; but the whole has remained
Now, the second part of _Faust_ demands more of the understanding than
the first does, and therefore it was necessary to prepare the reader,
even though he must still supply bridges. The filling of certain gaps
was obligatory both for historical and for aesthetic unity, and this I
continued until at last I deemed it advisable to cry:
"Close ye the wat'ring canal; to their fill have the meadows now drunken."
And now I had to take heart to seal the stitched copy in which printed
and unprinted are thrust side by side, lest I might possibly be led into
temptation to elaborate it here and there; at the same time I regret
that I cannot communicate it to, my most valued friends, as the poet so
I will not send my _Metamorphosis of Plants_, translated, with an
appendix, by M. Soret, unless certain confessions of life would satisfy
your friendship. Recently I have become more and more entangled in these
phenomena of nature; they have enticed me to continue my labors in my
original field, and have finally compelled me to remain in it. We shall
see what is to be done there likewise, and shall trust the rest to the
future, which, between ourselves, we burden with a heavier task than
would be supposed.
From time to time let us not miss on either side an echo of continued
GOETHE TO WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT
Weimar, March 17, 1832.
After a long, involuntary pause I begin as follows, and yet simply on
the spur of the moment. Animals, the ancients said, were taught by their
organs. I add to this, men also, although they have the advantage of
teaching their organs in return.
For every act, and, consequently, for every talent, an innate tendency
is requisite, working automatically, and unconsciously carrying with
itself the necessary predisposition; yet, for this very reason, it works
on and on inconsequently, so that, although it contains its laws within
itself, it may, nevertheless, ultimately run out, devoid of end or aim.
The earlier a man perceives that there is a handicraft or an art which
will aid him to attain a normal increase of his natural talents, the
more fortunate is he. Moreover, what he receives from without does not
impair his innate individuality. The best genius is that which absorbs
everything within itself, which knows how to adapt everything, without
prejudicing in the least the real fundamental essence--the quality which
is called character--so that it becomes the element which truly elevates
that quality and endows it throughout so far as may be possible.
Here, now, appear the manifold relations between the conscious and the
unconscious. Imagine a musical talent that is to compose an important
score; consciousness and unconsciousness will be related like the warp
and the woof, a simile that I am so fond of using. Through practice,
teaching, reflection, failure, furtherance, opposition, and renewed
reflection the organs of man unconsciously unite, in a free activity,
the acquired and the innate, so that this process creates a unity which
sets the world in amaze. This generalization may serve as a speedy reply
to your query and as an explanation of the note that is herewith
Over sixty years have passed since, in my youth, the conception of Faust
lay before me clear from the first, although the entire sequence was
present in less detailed form. Now, I have always kept my purpose in the
back of my mind and I have elaborated only the passages that were of
special interest to me, so that gaps remain in the second part which are
to be connected with the remainder through the agency of a uniform
interest. Here, I must admit, appeared the great difficulty of attaining
through resolution and character what should properly belong only to a
nature voluntarily active. It would, however, not have been well had
this not been feasible after so long a life of active reflection, and I
let no fear assail me that it may be possible to distinguish the older
from the newer, and the later from the earlier; which point, then, we
shall intrust to future readers for their friendly examination.
Beyond all question it will give me infinite pleasure to dedicate and
communicate these very serious jests to my valued, ever thankfully
recognized, and widely scattered friends while still living, and to
receive their reply. But, as a matter of fact, the age is so absurd and
so insane that I am convinced that the candid efforts which I have long
expended upon this unusual structure would be ill rewarded, and that,
driven ashore, they will lie like a wreck in ruins and speedily be
covered over by the sand-dunes of time. In theory and practice,
confusion rules the world, and I have no more urgent task than to
augment, wherever possible, what is and has remained within me, and to
redistill my peculiarities, as you also, worthy friend, surely also do
in your castle.
But do you likewise tell me something about your work. Riemer is, as you
doubtless know, absorbed in the same and similar studies, and our
evening conversations often lead to the confines of this specialty.
Forgive this delayed letter! Despite my retirement, there is seldom an
hour when these mysteries of life may be realized.
GOETHE'S CORRESPONDENCE WITH ZELTER
TRANSLATED BY FRANCES H. KING
Weimar, July 28, 1803.
I have followed you so often in my thoughts that unfortunately I have
neglected to do so in writing. Just a few lines today, to accompany the
inclosed page. Of Mozart's Biography I have heard nothing further, but I
will inquire about it and also about the author. Your beautiful Queen
made many happy while on her journey, and no one happier than my mother;
nothing could have caused her greater joy in her declining years.
Do write me something about the performance of The _Natural Daughter_,
frankly and without consideration for my feelings. I have a mind anyhow
to shorten some of the scenes, which must seem long, even if they are
excellently acted. Will you outline for me sometime the duties of a
concert conductor, so much, at all events, as one of our kind needs to
know in order to form a judgment of such a man, and in case of need, to
be able to direct him? Madame Mara sang on Tuesday in Lauchstaedt; how
it went off I do not yet know. For the songs which I received through
Herr von Wolzogen I thank you mostly heartily in my own name and in the
name of our friends. It was no time to think of producing them. I hope
soon to send you the proof-sheets of my songs, and I beg you to keep
them secret at first, until they have appeared in print.
You now have the _Bride of Messina_ before you in print and as you learn
the poet's intentions from his introductory essay, you will know better
how to appreciate what he has done, and how far you can agree with
him. I will, regarding your letter, jot down my thoughts on the subject;
we can come to an understanding in a few words.
[Illustration: K. F. ZELTER, E. A. Seemann]
In Greek tragedy four forms of the chorus are found, representing four
epochs. In the first, between the songs in which gods and heroes are
extolled and genealogies, great deeds, and monstrous destinies are
brought before the imagination, a few persons appear and carry the
spectator back into the past. Of this we find an approximate example in
the _Seven before Thebes_ of, _Eschylus_. Here, therefore, are the
beginnings of dramatic art, the old style. The second epoch shows us the
chorus in the mass as the mystical, principal personage of the piece, as
in the _Eumenides_ and _Supplicants_. Here I am inclined to find the
grand style. The chorus is independent, the interest centres in it; one
might call this the Republican period of dramatic art; the rulers and
the gods are only attendant personages. In the third epoch it is the
chorus which plays the secondary part; the interest is transferred to
the families, and the members and heads who represent them in the play,
with whose fate that of the surrounding people is only loosely
connected. Then, the chorus is subordinate, and the figures of the
princes and heroes stand preeminent in all their exclusive magnificence.
This I consider the beautiful style. The pieces of Sophocles stand on
this plane. Since the crowd is forced merely to look on at the heroes
and at fate, and can have no effect on either their special or general
nature, it takes refuge in reflection and assumes the office of an able
and welcome spectator. In the fourth epoch the action withdraws more and
more into the sphere of private interests, and the chorus often appears
as a burdensome custom, as an inherited fixture. It becomes unnecessary,
and therefore, as a part of a living poetic composition, it is useless,
wearisome, and disturbing; as, for example, when it is called upon to
guard secrets in which it has no interest, and things of that sort.
Several examples are to be found in the pieces of Euripides, of which I
will mention _Helen_ and _Iphigenia in Tauris_.
From all this you will see that, for a musical reconstruction of the
chorus, it would be necessary to make experiments in the style of the
first two epochs; and this might be accomplished by means of quite short
* * * * *
Weimar, June 1, 1805.
Since writing to you last, I have had few happy days. I thought I should
die myself, and instead I lose a friend, and with him the half of my
being. I would really begin a different mode of life, but for one of my
years there is no way of doing that. I only look straight ahead of me
each day, and do the thing nearest to me without thinking of the
But as people in every loss and misfortune try to find a pretext for
amusement, I have been urgently solicited in behalf of our theatre, and
on many other sides, to celebrate on the stage the memory of the
departed one. I wish to say nothing further on the subject, except that
I am not disinclined to it, and all I would ask of you now is whether
you are willing to assist me in the matter; and, first, whether you
would furnish me with your motet--"Man lives," etc., about which I have
read in the _Musical Review_, No. 27; also whether you would either
compose some other pieces of a solemn character, or else select and make
over to me some musical pieces already composed--the style of which I
will indicate later--as a foundation for appropriate compositions. As
soon as I know your real opinion on the subject, you shall receive
Your beautiful series of little essays on orchestra organization I have
left lying around till now, and the reason is that they contained a sort
of satire on our own conditions.
Now Reichard wishes them for the _Musical Review_. I hunt them up
again, look them over, and I feel that I really could not deprive the
Intelligence Page of our _Literatur-Zeitung_ of them. Some of our
conditions here have changed, and, after all, a man may surely be
allowed to censure those things which he did not try to hinder.
Privy Councillor Wolf of Halle is here at present. If only I could hope
to see you also here this year! Would it not be possible for you to come
to Lauchstaedt the end of July, so as to help, there on the spot, in the
preparation and performance of the above-mentioned work?
Think it over and only tell me there is a possibility of it; we shall
then be able to devise the means of bringing it to pass.
* * * * *
Weimar, October 30, 1808.
The world of art is just now too much run down for a young man to be
able to realize exactly where he stands. People always search for
inspiration everywhere but in the place where it originates, and if they
do once catch sight of the source, then they cannot find the path
leading to it. Therefore I am reduced to despair by half a dozen of the
younger poetic spirits, who, though endowed with extraordinary natural
talent, will scarcely accomplish much that I can ever take pleasure in.
Werner, Ochlenschlaeger, Arnim, Brentano and others are still working
and practising at their art, but everything they do is absolutely
lacking in form and character. Not one of them can understand that the
highest and only operation of nature and art is the creation of form,
and in the form, detail, so that each single thing shall become, be, and
remain something separate and important. There is no art in letting your
talent go to suit your humor and convenience.
The sad part of it is that the humorous, because it has no support and
no law within itself, sooner or later degenerates into melancholy and
bad temper. We have been forced to experience the most horrible examples
of this in Jean Paul (see his last production in the _Ladies' Calendar_)
and in Goerres (see his _Specimens of Writing_). Moreover, there are
always people enough to admire and esteem that sort of thing, because
the public is always grateful to every one who tries to turn its head.
Will you be obliging enough, when you have a quarter of an hour's spare
time, to sketch for me, in a few rough lines, the aberrations of our
youthful musicians? I should like to compare them with the errors of the
painters; for a man must once for all set his heart at rest about these
things, execrate the whole business, stop thinking about the culture of
others, and employ the short time that remains to him on his own works.
But even while I express myself thus disagreeably, I must, as always
happens to good-natured blusterers, contradict myself immediately, and
beg you to continue your interest in Eberwein at least until Easter; for
then I will send him to you again. He has acquired great confidence in
you, and great respect for your institution, but unhappily even that
does not mean much with young people. They still secretly think it would
also be possible to produce something extraordinary by their own foolish
methods. Many people gain some comprehension that there is a goal, but
they would like very much to reach it by loitering along mazy paths.
You have been sufficiently reminded of us throughout this month by the
newspapers. It was worth much to be present in person at these events. I
also came in for a share of the favorable influence of such an unusual
constellation. The Emperor of France was very gracious to me. Both
Emperors decorated me with stars and ribbons, which we desire in all
modesty thankfully to acknowledge. Forgive me for not writing you more
about the latest events. You must have already wondered when you read
the papers that this stream of the great and mighty ones of earth
should have rolled on as far as Weimar, and even over the battlefield of
Jena. I cannot refrain from inclosing to you a remarkable engraving. The
point where the temple is placed, is the farthest point toward the
north-east reached by Napoleon on this tour. When you visit us, I will
place you on the spot where the little man with the cane is shown
parceling off the world.
* * * * *
Weimar, February 28, 1811.
I have read somewhere that the celebrated first secretary of the London
Society, Oldenburg, never opened a letter until he had placed pen, ink,
and paper before him, and that he then and there, immediately after the
first reading, wrote down his answer. Thus he was able to meet
comfortably the demands of an immense correspondence. If I could have
imitated this virtue, so many people would not now be complaining of my
silence. But this time your dear letter just received has roused in me
such a desire to answer, by recalling to my mind all the fullness of our
life during the summer, that I am writing these lines, if not
immediately after the first reading, at least on awaking the next
I think I anticipated that the good _Pandora_ would slow down somewhat
when she reached home again. Life in Toeplitz was really too favorable to
this sort of work, and your meditations and efforts were so steadily and
undividedly centred upon it, that an interruption could not help calling
forth a pause. But leave it alone; there is so much done on it already
that, at the right moment, the remainder will, in all likelihood, come
of its own accord.
I cannot blame you for declining to compose the music to _Faust_. My
proposition was somewhat ill-considered, like the undertaking itself.
It can very well rest in peace for another year; for the trouble which I
had in working over the _Resolute Prince_ has about exhausted the
inclination which we must feel when we set about things of that sort.
This piece has indeed turned out beyond all expectation, and it has
given much pleasure to me and to others. It is no small undertaking to
conjure up a work written almost two hundred years ago, for an entirely
different clime, for a people of entirely different customs, religion,
and culture, and to make it appear fresh and new to the eyes of a
spectator. For nowhere is anything antiquated and without direct appeal
more out of place than on the stage.
Touching my works you shall, before everything else, receive the
thirteenth volume. It is very kind of you not to neglect the _Theory of
Color_; and the fact that you absorb it in small doses will have its
good effect too. I know very well that my way of handling the matter,
natural as it is, differs very widely from the usual way, and I cannot
demand that every one should immediately perceive and appropriate its
advantages. The mathematicians are foolish people, and are so far from
having the least idea what my work means that one really must overlook
their presumption. I am very curious about the first one who gets an
insight into the matter and behaves honestly about it; for not all of
them are blindfolded or malicious. But, at any rate, I now see more
clearly than ever what I have long held in secret, that the training
which mathematics give to the mind is extremely one-sided and narrow.
Yes, Voltaire is bold enough to say somewhere: "I have always remarked
that geometry leaves the mind just where it found it." Franklin also has
clearly and plainly expressed a special aversion to mathematicians, in
respect to their social qualities, and finds their petty contradictory
As concerns the real Newtonians, they are in the same case as the old
Prussians in October, 1806. The latter believed that they were winning
tactically, when they had long since been conquered strategically. When
once their eyes are opened they will be startled to find me already in
Naumburg and Leipzig, while they are still creeping along near Weimar
and Blankenheim. That battle was lost in advance; and so is this. The
Newtonian Theory is already annihilated, while the gentlemen still think
their adversary despicable. Forgive my boasting; I am just as little
ashamed of it as those gentlemen are of their pettiness. I am going
through a strange experience with Kugelchen, as I have done with many
others. I thought I was making him the nicest compliment possible; for
really the picture and the frame had turned out most acceptably, and now
the good man takes offence at a superficial act of politeness, which one
really ought not to neglect, since many persons' feelings are hurt if we
omit it. A certain lack of etiquette on my part in such matters has
often been taken amiss, and now here I am troubling some excellent
people with my formality. Never get rid of an old fault, my dear friend;
you will either fall into a new one, or else people will look upon your
newly acquired virtue as a fault; and no matter how you behave, you will
never satisfy either yourself or others. In the meantime I am glad that
I know what the matter is; for I wish to be on good terms with this
Regarding the antique bull, I should propose to have him carefully
packed in a strong case, and sent to me for inspection. In ancient times
these things were often made in replica, and the specimens differ
greatly in value. To give any good bronze in exchange for another would
be a bad bargain, as there are scarcely ever duplicates of them, and
those that we do find are doubly interesting on account of their
resemblances and dissimilarities. The offer I could make at present is
as follows: I have a very fine collection of medals, mostly in bronze,
from the middle of the fifteenth century up to our day. It was collected
principally in order to illustrate to amateurs and experts the progress
of plastic art, which is always reflected in the medals. Among these
medals I have some very beautiful and valuable duplicates, so that I
could probably get together a most instructive series of them to give
away. An art lover, who as yet possessed nothing of this description,
would in them get a good foundation for a collection, and a sufficient
inducement to continue. Further, such a collection, like a set of Greek
and Roman coins, affords opportunity for very interesting observations;
indeed it completes the conception furnished us by the coins, and brings
it up to present times. I may also say that the bull would have to be
very perfect, if I am not to have a balance to my credit in the bargain
Something very pleasing has occurred to me in the last few days; it was
the presentation to me, from the Empress of Austria, of a beautiful gold
snuff-box with a diamond wreath, and the name Louisa engraved in full.
I know you too will take an interest in this event, as it is not often
that we meet with such unexpected and refreshing good fortune.
* * * * *
Weimar, December 3, 1812.
Your letter telling me of the great misfortune which has befallen your
house, depressed me very much, indeed quite bowed me down; for it
reached me in the midst of very serious reflections on life, and it is
owing to you alone that I have been able to pluck up courage. You have
proved yourself to be pure refined gold when tried by the black
touchstone of death. How beautiful is a character when it is so compact
of mind and soul, and how beautiful must be a talent that rests on such
Of the deed or the misdeed itself, I know of nothing to say. When the
_toedium vitoe_ lays hold on a man, he is to be pitied, not to be
blamed. That all the symptoms of this strange, natural, as well as
unnatural, disease have raged within me--of that _Werther_ leaves no one
in doubt. I know right well what amount of resolution and effort it cost
me then to escape from the waves of death, with what difficulty I saved
myself from many a later shipwreck, and how hard it was for me to
recover. And all the stories of mariners and fishermen are the same.
After the night of storm the shore is reached again; he who was wet
through dries himself, and the next morning when the beautiful sun
shines once more on the sparkling waves "the sea has regained its
appetite for new victims."
When we see not only that the world in general, and especially the
younger generation, are given over to their lusts and passions, but also
that what is best and highest in them is misplaced and distorted through
the serious follies of the age; when we see that what should lead them
to salvation really contributes to their damnation--to say nothing of
the unspeakable stress brought to bear upon them from without--then we
cease to wonder at the misdeeds which a man performs in rage against
himself and others. I believe I am capable of writing another _Werther_,
which would make people's hair stand on end, even more than the first
did. Let me add one remark. Most young people, who feel themselves
possessed of merit, demand of themselves more than is right. They are,
however, pressed and forced into it by their gigantic surroundings. I
know half a dozen of that kind who will certainly perish, and whom it
would be impossible to help, even if one could make clear to them where
their real advantage lies. Nobody realizes that reason, courage, and
will-power are given to us so that we shall refrain, not only from evil,
but from excess of goodness.
I thank you for your comments on the pages of my autobiography. I had
already heard much that was good and kind about them in a general way.
You are the first and only one who has gone into the heart of the
I am glad that the description of my father impressed you favorably. I
will not deny that I am heartily tired of the German bourgeois, these
_Lorenz Starks_, or whatever they may be called, who, in humorous gloom,
give free play to their pedantic temperament, and by standing dubiously
in the way of their good-natured desires, destroy them, as well as the
happiness of other people. In the two following volumes the figure of my
father is completely developed, and if on his side as well as on the
side of his son, a grain of mutual understanding had entered into this
precious family relationship, both would have been spared much. But it
was not to be; and indeed such is life. The best laid plan for a journey
is upset by the stupidest kind of accident, and a man goes farthest when
he does not know where he is going.
Do have the goodness to continue your comments; for I go slowly, as the
subject demands, and keep much _in petto_ (on which account many readers
grow impatient who would be quite satisfied to have the whole meal from
beginning to end, well braised and roasted, served up at one sitting, so
that they could the sooner swallow it, and on the morrow seek better or
worse cheer at random, in a different eating-house or cook's-shop). But
I, as I have already said, remain in ambush, in order to let my lancers
and troopers rush forward at the right moment. It is, therefore, very
interesting for me to learn what you, as an experienced Field-Marshal,
have already noticed about the vanguard. I have as yet read no
criticisms of this little work; I will read them all at once after the
next two volumes are printed. For many years I have observed that those
who should and would speak of me in public, be their intentions good or
bad, seem to find themselves in a painful position, and I have hardly
ever come face to face with a critic who did not sooner or later show
the famous countenance of Vespasian, and a _faciem duram_.
If you could sometime give me a pleasant surprise by sending the
_Rinaldo_, I should consider it a great favor.
It is only through you that I can keep in touch with music. We are
really living here absolutely songless and soundless. The opera, with
its old standbys, and its novelties dressed up to suit a little theatre,
and produced at pretty long intervals, is no consolation. At the same
time I am glad that the court and the city can delude themselves into
thinking that they have a species of enjoyment handy. The inhabitant of
a large city is to be accounted happy in this respect, because so much
that is of importance in other lands is attracted thither.
You have made a point-blank shot at Alfieri. He is more remarkable than
enjoyable. His works are explained by his life. He torments his readers
and listeners, just as he torments himself as an author. He had the true
nature of a count and was therefore blindly aristocratic. He hated
tyranny, because he was aware of a tyrannical vein in himself, and fate
had meted out to him a fitting tribulation, when it punished him,
moderately enough, at the hands of the Sansculottes. The essential
patrician and courtly nature of the man comes at last very laughably
into evidence, when he can think of no better way to reward himself for
his services than by having an order of knighthood manufactured for
himself. Could he have showed more plainly how ingrained these
formalities were in his nature? In the same way I must agree to what you
say of Rousseau's _Pygmalion_. This production certainly belongs among
the monstrosities, and is most remarkable as a symptom of the chief
malady of that period, when State and custom, art and talent were
destined to be stirred into a porridge with a nameless substance--which
was, however, called nature--yes, when they were indeed thus stirred and
beaten up together. I hope that my next volume will bring this operation
to light; for was not I, too, attacked by this epidemic, and was it not
beneficently responsible for the development of my being, which I cannot
now picture to myself as growing in any other fashion?
Now I must answer your question about the first Walpurgis-night. The
state of the case is as follows: Among historians there are some, and
they are men to whom one cannot refuse one's esteem, who try to find a
foundation in reality for every fable, every tradition, let it be as
fantastic and absurd as it will, and, inside the envelope of the
fairy-tale, believe they can always find a kernel of fact.
We owe much that is good to this method of treatment. For in order to go
into the matter great knowledge is required; yes, intelligence, wit, and
imagination are necessary to turn poetry into prose in this way. So now,
in this case, one of our German antiquarians has tried to vindicate the
ride of the witches and devils in the Hartz mountains, which has been
well known to us in Germany for untold ages, and to place it upon a firm
foundation, by the discovery of an historical origin. Which is, namely,
that the German heathen priests and forefathers, after they had been
driven from their sacred groves, and Christianity had been forced upon
the people, betook themselves with their faithful followers, at the
beginning of Spring, to the wild inaccessible mountains of the Hartz;
and there, according to their old custom, they offered prayers and fire
to the incorporeal God of Heaven and earth. In order to secure
themselves against the spying, armed converters, they hit upon the idea
of masking a number of their party, so as to keep their superstitious
opponents at a distance, and thus, protected by caricatures of devils,
to finish in peace the pure worship of God.
I found this explanation somewhere, but cannot put my finger on the
author; the idea pleased me and I have turned this fabulous history into
a poetical fable again.
* * * * *
Weimar, October 30, 1824.
It had long been my wish that you might be invited to take a trip,
because I was certain that I should then hear something from you; for,
of course, I am convinced that in over-lively Berlin no one is likely to
remember to write letters to those who are far away. Now a perilous and
hazardous journey gives my worthy friend an opportunity for a very
characteristic and pleasing description; a crowded family party
furnishes material for a sketch that would certainly find a place in any
English novel. For my part, I will reply with a couple of matters from
my quiet sphere.
In the first place, then, my sojourn at home has this time been quite
successful; yet we must not boast of it, only quietly and modestly
continue our activities.
Langermann has probably communicated to you what I sent him. The
introductory poem to _Werther_ I lately resurrected and read to myself,
quietly and thoughtfully, and immediately afterward the _Elegie_ which
harmonizes with it very well; only I missed in them the direct effect of
your pleasing melody, although it gradually revived and rose out of my
I am now also concluding the instalment on natural science, which was
inconveniently delayed this year, and am editing my _Correspondence with
Schiller from 1794_ to 1805. A great boon will be offered to the
Germans, yes, I might even say to humanity in general, revealing the
intimacy between two friends, of the kind who keep contributing to each
other's development in the very act of pouring out their hearts to each
other. I have a strange feeling at my task, for I am learning what I
once was. However, it is most instructive of all to see how two people
who mutually further their purposes _par force_, fritter away their time
through inner over-activity and outer excitement and disturbance; so
that there is, after all, no result fully worthy of their capacities,
tendencies, aims. The effect will be extremely edifying; for every
thoughtful man will be able to find in it consolation for himself.
Moreover, it contributes to various other things which are revived by
the excited life of that period. If what you recognized a year ago as
the cause of my illness now proves itself the apparent element of my
good health, everything will be running smoothly and you will hear
pleasant news from time to time.
In order that I may, however, hear from you soon, I wish to inform you
that it would give me especial pleasure to receive a concise, forceful
description of the Konigstadter theatricals. From what they are playing
and rehearsing and from the notices and criticisms that reach me in the
newspapers, I can form some notion for myself, to be sure; but, in any
case, you will correct and strengthen my ideas. At your suggestion the
architect sent me a plan which I found very acceptable, because, from it
I can see for myself that the theatre is situated in a large residential
section. This probably makes it very nice and cheerful, just as setting
back the various rows of boxes is a very convenient arrangement for the
audience who wish to be seen while they themselves see. This much I
already know, and you, with a few strokes, will assist me to picture the
most vivid actuality.
J. A. Stumpff, of London, Harp Maker to his Majesty, is just leaving me.
A native of Ruhl, he was sent at an early age to England, where he is
now working as an able mechanic, a sturdy man of good stature in which
you would take delight; at the same time he manifests the most patriotic
sentiments for our language and literature. Through Schiller and myself
he has been awakened to all that is good, and he is highly pleased to
see our literary products become gradually known and appreciated. He
revealed a remarkable personality.
Our sonorous bells are just announcing the celebration of the
anniversary of the Reformation. It resounds with a ring that must not
leave us indifferent. Keep us, Lord, in Thy word, and guide.
[Footnote 1: _Morgenblatt_ 1815. Nr. 113 12. Mai.]
[Footnote 2: (King Henry IV, Part II, Act 4, Scene 4.)]
[Footnote 3: The works referred to are the nine volumes of A. W.
Schlegel's translation, which appeared 1797-1810, and were subsequently
(since 1826) supplemented by the missing dramas, translated under
[Footnote 4: Delivered before the Amalia Lodge of Freemasons in Weimar,
[Footnote 5: Permission The Macmillan Co., New York.]
[Footnote 6: Permission The Macmillan Co., New York, and G. Bell & Sons,
[Footnote 7: It is almost needless to observe that the word "demon" is
her reference to its Greek origin, and implies nothing evil.--_Trans._]
[Footnote 8: This is the first day in Eckermann's first book, and the
first time in which he speaks in this book, as distinguished from
[Footnote 9: The word "Gelegenheitsgedicht" (occasional poem) properly
applies to poems written for special occasions, such as birthdays,
weddings, etc., but Goethe here extends the meaning, as he himself
explains. As the English word "occasional" often implies no more than
"occurrence now and then," the phrase "occasional poem" is not very
happy, and is only used for want of a better. The reader must conceive
the word in the limited sense, produced on some special
[Footnote 10: Goethe's "West-oestliche (west-eastern) Divan," one of the
twelve divisions of which is entitled "Das Buch des Unmuths" (The Book
[Footnote 11: _Die Aufgeregten_ (the Agitated, in a political sense) is
an unfinished drama by Goethe.--Trans.]
[Footnote 12: The German phrase "Freund des Bestehenden," which, for
want of a better expression, has been rendered above "friend of the
powers that be," literally means "friend of the permanent," and was used
by the detractors of Goethe to denote the "enemy of the
[Footnote 13: Poetry and Truth, the title of Goethe's
[Footnote 14: This, doubtless, means the "Deformed Transformed," and the
fact that this poem was not published till January, 1824, rendering it
probable that Goethe had not actually seen it, accounts for the
inaccuracy of the expression.--Trans.]
[Footnote 15: It need scarcely be mentioned that this is the name given
to a collection of sarcastic epigrams by Goethe and Schiller.--Trans.]
[Footnote 16: "Die Natuerliche Tochter" (the Natural
[Footnote 17: Vide p. 185, where a remark is made on the word _nature_,
as applied to a person.--_Trans._]
[Footnote 18: These plays were intended to be in the Shakesperian style,
and Goethe means that by writing them he freed himself from Shakespeare,
just as by writing _Werther_ he freed himself from thoughts of
[Footnote 19: This doubtless refers to the Heath country in which
Eckermann was born.--Trans.]
[Footnote 20: This poem is simply entitled "Ballade," and begins
"Herein, O du Guter! du Alter herein!"--_Trans_.]
[Footnote 21: A It must be borne in mind that this was said before the
appearance of "Robert le Diable," which was first produced in Paris, in
[Footnote 22: B That is, the second act of the second part of "Faust,"
which was not published entire till after Goethe's death.--_Trans._]
[Footnote 23: In the original book this conversation follows immediately
the one of December 21, 1831, and with the remainder of the book is
prefaced thus:--"The following I noted down shortly afterwards (that is,
after they took place) from memory."--Trans.]
[Footnote 24: A distinguished die-cutter in Rome.]
[Footnote 25: Giovanni Hamerani was papal die-cutter from 1675 to 1705.]
[Footnote 26: A C. A. Bottiger had surrendered his position as director
of the Gymnasium of Weimar and had gone to Dresden, while Heinrich Voss
(1779-1822), an enthusiastic young admirer of Goethe, had come to the
[Footnote 27: An association of civil officials of Mannheim had
intrusted to Goethe a sum of money to erect a memorial to Count von
Dalberg, but the plan was never carried out.]
[Footnote 28: a Theodor Koerner (1791-1813), at that time a dramatist in
Vienna, and closely connected with the Humboldt family through Wilhelm's
friendship for Christian G. Koerner.]
[Footnote 29: J. H. Voss, although his translation of AEschylus was not
printed until 1826.]
[Footnote 30: Humboldt's translation of the _Agamemnon of AEschylus_.]
[Footnote 31: Voss and his son.]
[Footnote 32: August, who went to Italy, in March, 1830, and died there
eight days after this letter was written.]
[Footnote 33: Schiller died May 9, 1805]
[Footnote 34: By Calderon]
[Footnote 35: Zelter's eldest son had shot himself.]
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