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GOETHE'S LIFE AND WORKS.
Ir is a secret to no one interested in books, that the name of Goethe has for several years been spoken of among us with increasing frequency and eagerness. Nor, even on a distant and external view of the case, is this surprising. He is reputed the greatest author in the most lettered of modern nations. The most philosophic race of contemporary critics, the Schlegels for instance, Tieck, and Göschel, regard him as the greatest European poet of the last two centuries. Besides this, men who have observed the ways and thoughts of others, have often been led to remark, that his hold is strongest over the best minds; that his influence is still more peculiar by the depth to which it works, than by the space it covers. Add, that this author lived for more than eighty years, and was, from his boyhood, not merely a sweet singer of his own feelings and fancies, but a laborious student of philosophy, and of many kinds of natural science, without ceasing to be a man of the world, and the friend and counsellor of a prince; and, above all, a keen and patient observer of events and of mankind. We have thus an obvious combination of advantages in his character and story, such as the life of no one else, at least in recent times, appears to present. Indeed, were it only that he had lived through, and noted all the portentous and bewildering changes of European society during the latter half of the last century, and the first quarter of this, the impression of such a series of facts on any sensitive and clear mind could not be other than remarkable. Were there nothing else, it is enough to say that among these events was the rise of democracy in France, feeding its conflagration by the old and stately system which it destroyed. Then the headlong course over the world of its new master, upsetting so many thrones and churches, and awakening by sympathy and antipathy so much new life. And contemporary with, or introductory to these political changes, the burst out of the eighteenth century of a literature totally fresh and unprecedented in its aims and spirit, and consequently, both in its laws and influences, including the whole course of German philosophy, from Kant to Hegel. Of the intellectual life of mankind, in the age which thus displayed itself, Goethe has been held by many, and those not unthinking men, the highest and most complete representative. Whether this be, or be not, a true estimate, must be decided after, not before, the study of his works. But, at all events, what he was, and what he thought, has become a common topic of enquiry, even in England. And among us it has hardly been as much remembered as it deserved, that he has told us his own story, and, by implication, that of the world during his time, with the utmost plainness and sincerity; and that the books, of which this is the purpose, are printed in his works, and may be read by all who understand German. There is, indeed, a novel English version, from a novel French one, of a part of these Memoirs, which has been advertised for some years among us. But probably a charitable silence is the only humane mode of treating the fabricators of this performance. The translation, now offered, of a portion of the poet's narrative, is free from all intentional omissions and interpolations. That it is greatly inferior in ease, clearness, elegance, and vivacity, to the original composition -that it may possibly contain some mistakes of the meaning, can be neither doubtful nor wonderful. But it has been the writer's wish that Goethe should speak for himself in English, precisely as he has spoken in German.
FROM MY LIFE.
POETRY AND TRUTH.
As preface to the present work, which may perhaps require one more than most, I place here the letter of a friend, by which so serious an undertaking was occasioned.
"We have now, my dear friend, the twelve parts of your Poetical Works together, and find in reading them through much of known, much of unknown; nay, much also of forgotten, which this collection brings back to freshness. These twelve volumes standing before us, of the same size, one cannot but consider as a whole, and one would willingly draw from them a sketch of the author and his talent. Now, it is not to be denied, that for the vigour with which he began his literary career, and for the long period which has since elapsed, a dozen volumes must appear too little. Moreover, as to the single works, one cannot conceal from one's self that particular occasions have mostly given rise to them; that they express both particular outward objects, and distinct inward steps of cultivation; and that no less do certain temporary moral and æsthetic maxims and convictions prevail in them. On the whole, in fine, these productions still remain unconnected; and often one can hardly even believe that they have arisen from the same writer.
"In the mean while, your friends have not abandoned the enquiry, and seek, as being better acquainted with your way of life and thought, to unriddle many an enigma, to solve many a problem. Influenced by an old liking, and a long-established connexion, they even find an attraction in the apparent difficulties. Yet here and there it would be not unpleasant to us to have that assistance which you cannot well refuse to our friendly regard.
That, therefore, which we first ask of you, is, that you would range in chronological order your Poetic Works, distributed in the new edition
according to certain inverse relations. And not less do we desire that you would communicate, in some kind of connexion, the states of life and feeling which supplied you the materials, as well as the examples which have influenced you, and also the theoretical principles you have followed. If you take this trouble for the sake of a narrow circle, perhaps something will spring from it which may be agreeable and useful to a larger one. The author ought not, even in his advanced age, to give up the privilege of conversing, though at a distance, with those whom affection binds to him. And if it cannot be granted to every one, at a certain time of life, to come forward anew with unexpected and strongly effective productions; yet precisely in the time when knowledge is most complete, and consciousness most distinct, it must be a very entertaining and re-animating task to treat those old results as new material, and to work them into a last labour, serving once more to cultivate those who have before received their cultivation with and from the artist."
The desire, thus kindly expressed, instantly excited in me the wish to comply with it. For if in earlier times we travel eagerly our own way, and, in order not to swerve, impatiently reject the urgencies of others; yet in later days we cannot but strongly wish that any such interest in us may rouse us anew, and cordially determine us to fresh exertion. I therefore undertook at once the preparatory labour of distinguishing the greater and smaller poems of my twelve volumes, and of arranging them by years, I tried to bring before me the time and circumstances in which I produced them. But the task soon became more difficult, because detailed notices and explanations were necessary, in order to fill up the between those already published. For, in the first place, all that is wanting in which I began to practise myself, and much that was begun and not
completed. Nay, even the outward aspect of much that is complete has entirely disappeared, it having been afterwards entirely rewrought, and cast into another form. Besides this, I had also to consider how I had worked in the sciences and in the other arts than my own, and what in such apparently foreign branches, whether singly or in union with friends, I had partly accomplished in silence, partly made public.
All this I wished, for the satisfaction of my wellwishers, to introduce gradually; but these endeavours and reflections led me on further and further. For, while I desired to comply with that very deliberate request, and strove to present in succession the inward promptings, the outward influences, the steps of theory and practice which I had mounted-I was forced out of my narrow private life into the wide world; the forms of a hundred important men, who, from nearer or farther, had acted on me, came forward; even the enormous political movements of the. world at large, which had exerted the greatest influence on me as on the whole mass of my contemporaries, required to be specially regarded. For this seems
the chief problem of biography-to exhibit the man in relation to his time, and to show how far the whole opposes, how far it favours him-how he shapes for himself from it a view of the world and man-and how, if an artist, poet, author, in turn, he outwardly reflects it. But in order to this, something almost unattainable is needed, namely, that the individual should know himself and his age; himself, so far as he has remained the same under all circumstances—his age, as that which drags along with it, and determines, and shapes, both the willing and the unwilling; so that one may well say, any one born only ten years sooner or later, must, as to his own formation and his influence on others, have been entirely different from what he was.
In this manner, from such reflections and attempts, from such recollections and thoughts, arose the present delineation; and from this point of view as to its origin, will it be best enjoyed and used, and most justly estimated. Whatever, in addition, particularly as to the half-poetic halfhistoric treatment, may require to be said, will often, doubtless, find its opportunity in the course of the narrative.
On the 28th of August 1749, at noon, on the stroke of twelve, I came into the world at Frankfort-on-theMaine. The constellation was lucky; the Sun stood in the sign Virgo, and culminated for the day; Jupiter and Venus beheld it amicably, and Mer cury was not adverse; Saturn and Mars remained indifferent; only the Moon, which was just then full, exerted the strength of its reflection so much the more, because, at the same time, its planetary hour had begun. It opposed itself, therefore, to my birth, which could not take place until this hour was past.
These good aspects, which the astrologers afterwards took care to reckon highly in my favour, may perhaps have been the cause of my preservation; for, by the awkwardness of the midwife, I came for dead into the world, and only by efforts of many kinds did they succeed, so far, that I ever saw the light. This circumstance, which had brought my friends
into great distress, turned, however, to the advantage of my fellow-citizens; for my grandfather, the chief magistrate, (Schultheiss) John Wolfgang Textor, took occasion from it to have an accoucheur established, and the instruction of midwives introduced or revived, which may probably have turned to good for many a one born after me.
When one tries to recollect what happened to us in our earliest youth, it often happens that we mix what we have heard from others with that which we really possess by our own immediate experience. Therefore, without attempting an accurate enquiry on this point, which at all events could lead to nothing, I am conscious that we lived in an old house, which consisted really of two houses opened into one. A tower-like staircase led to rooms that did not accord together; and the inequality of the floors was remedied by steps. For us children-ayounger sister and me-the
favourite part was the lower spacious floor, which had, near the entrancedoor, a wooden lattice-work coming out close upon the street and the open air. Such a bird-cage, which many houses were furnished with, was called a frame. The women sat in it to sew and knit the cook picked her salad-thence the female neighbours talked to each other; and thus the streets had, in the fine season of the year, a look of the south. One felt one's self free, by familiarity with the open air. By means also of these frames, the children were brought into connexion with the neighbours; and three brothers Von Ochsenstein, sons of the deceased chief magistrate, gained my fondness, and employed and amused themselves with me in many ways.
My friends used gladly to relate all manner of fooleries to which these otherwise grave and solitary men encouraged me. I shall introduce only one of these tricks. There had just been the crockery-fair, and not only had the kitchen been supplied for a while with such ware, but the like vessels in small had also been bought as playthings for us children. On a fine afternoon, when all was quiet in the house, I busied myself in the frame with my platters and cups; and when I found that I could do nothing better with them, I threw one into the street, and rejoiced that it smashed so finely. The Von Ochsensteins, who saw me so delighted that I even clapped my hands for joy, called out, "Again!" I did not delay with a basin; and as they kept on calling out "Again!" byand-by all the platters, pipkins, and mugs were dashed upon the pavement. My neighbours continued to express their approbation, and I was greatly rejoiced to give them pleasure. My stock, however, was all gone, and they still called out, "Again!" I therefore ran straight to the kitchen, and brought the delf plates, which indeed produced in breaking a still finer effect; and so I ran backwards and forwards, brought one plate after another, as I could get at them where they stood in order on the shelf; and, because my spectators still showed themselves unsatisfied, I flung at last all the ware that I could lay hands on into the same ruin. It was only afterwards that any one appeared to stop my proceedings and save the property. The mischief was done, and, instead of so much
broken earthenware, there was at least a pleasant story, in which more especially its roguish authors delighted to their lives' end.
My father's mother, whose house it was, properly speaking, and not our own, that we lived in, occupied a large room behind, and at the outside, on the ground floor; and we carried on our games even up to her chair, and, when she was unwell, up to her bedside. I remember her as it were a spirit-a handsome, thin woman, always in a clean white dress; soft, friendly, benignant is her image in my memory.
We had heard the street in which our house lay called the Stag Ditch, (Hirschgraven;) but as we saw neither ditch nor stags, we wished to have this name explained. We were told, then, that our house stood upon a space which once lay outside the city, and that where the street now ran there was formerly a ditch, where a number of stags were kept. These stags were confined and fed here, because, according to ancient custom, the senate every year feasted publicly on a stag, which was therefore always kept at hand here in the ditch for this festival, in case of princes or knights disturbing and hindering the city's right of chase beyond the walls, or of its enemies holding it blockaded or besieged. This pleased us much, and we wished that such a place for hunting tame animals had still been within reach in our day.
The back of the house had, particularly from the upper floor, a very pleasant prospect over an extent of the gardens of our neighbours almost immeasurable by the eye, and which spread to the city walls. But unfortunately, in the change of the public ground, formerly open here, into private gardens, our house, and some others lying towards the corner of the street, had been much stinted, the houses between us and the Horse-market (Rossmarkt) having obtained for themselves spacious back buildings and large gardens, while the rather high wall of our court shut us out from these paradises that lay so near us.
In the second floor there was a room which was called the garden-room, because it had there been attempted, by means of a few plants before the window, to supply the want of a garden. There, as I grew older, I loved to make, not indeed a sorrowful, but a
longing stay. Away beyond these
Within the house, my eyes were most attracted by a series of Roman views, with which my father had ornamented an anteroom. They were engraved by some skilful forerunners of Piranesi, who had a sound knowledge of architecture and perspective, and whose execution is very clear and good. There I saw daily the Piazza del Popolo, the Colosseum, the Piazza of St Peter's, St Peter's within
NO. CCLXXXVIII, VOL. XLVI,
and without, the Castle of St Angelo, and much else. These forms impressed themselves deeply in me; and my father, who in general was very laconic, had even the kindness often to give me a description of the object. His love of the Italian language, and of every thing relating to that country, was very plainly pronounced. also often showed us a small collection of marbles and of natural objects, which he had brought with him from thence; and he employed a large part of his time on the narrative of his travels, composed in Italian, the copying and completion of which he carried on himself, in separate portions, slowly and accurately. An old cheerful Italian language master, named Giovinazzi, gave him help. The old man also sang not badly, and my mother was obliged to make the best of daily accompanying him and herself on the harpsichord. Thus I soon learned the solitario bosco ombroso, and knew it by rote before I understood it.
My father was generally of a vivacious nature, and, in his freedom from business, he was eager to impart to others whatever he himself knew and could succeed in. Thus he had employed my mother, during the first years of their marriage, in diligent writing, or in playing the harpsichord and singing. By this she had found herself compelled to gain some knowledge and scanty expertness in the Italian language.
We commonly spent all our playtime with my grandmother, in whose spacious parlour we found room enough for our games. She knew how to occupy us with all sorts of trifles, and to refresh us with all sorts of nice eatables. But one Christmas evening she put the crown on all her kindnesses, by having a puppet-show exhibited bcfore us, and so created a new world in the old house. This unexpected drama powerfully attracted our young hearts. On the boy especially it made a very strong impression, which continued to produce a great and lasting effect.
The little stage, with its dumb personages, which had in the beginning only been shown, but was afterwards given to us for our own use and dramatic excitation, was the dearer to us children, as the last bequest of our good grandmother, who soon after was