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THE

NEW YORK REVIEW.

No. IX.

JULY, 1839.

ART. 1.-1. GOETHE'S Werke und nachgelassene Werke. In 55 Bänden. Stuttgart und Tubingen. In der J. G. Cottas'chen Buchhandlung: 1834.

In a former number of our Journal, we devoted an article to the Life of Goethe; in that which we now present, our attention will be especially directed to the peculiar characteristics of his mind and writings.

This wonderful man was born in 1749. He died in 1832. Eighty-three of the most remarkable years in human history, were accordingly comprised within the period of his life.

He was born in Frankfort, on the Main, and lived nearly all his life in Weimar. His position was thus exactly in the centre of civilized Europe.

Here was an individual, placed as it were in the stage box of the vast European theatre, and allowed by destiny to witness at his ease, and entirely as a spectator, the representation of all the extraordinary dramas which astonished the world, from the middle of the eighteenth, until nearly the middle of the nineteenth century.

With expectations raised accordingly by this knowledge of his position, let us then cast a glance at the chronicle of the world, during the long period allotted to him, and recall a few only of the astonishing phenomena, which from their first appearance

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until their final and complete development, were thus displayed before his composed and quiet observation.

In his boyhood were the bloody wars of the Austrian succession; the Seven Years War of the immortal Frederick; and more important than all, the first conflict between the half fledged eagle of Russia, and the crushed and torpid Ottoman serpent; the first attempt of the Czars to monopolize the succession of the Cesars, and the first stride of the most modern Despotism, to universal Empire.

As he grew up, there appeared in the opposite part of the world, the opposite phenomenon. While on the Eastern verge of christianity, one tyranny was struggling to engulph another; in the West, and beyond the ocean, the American revolution reproduced the Republic. Thus the new Despotism and the new Democracy, both gigantic in their cradles, and both destined, perhaps, in the depths of futurity, to embody in one grand struggle the conflict between the two opposite elements of humanity, sprang into existence almost at the same moment, at the distance of a whole hemisphere from each other, and held out to the philosophical spectator, prodigious material for contemplation and prophecy.

To the American independence, succeeded the French revolution. The political bands of Europe were broken — the earth was rent, and the whole ancient fabric of feudality fell with one crash. Then, before the eyes of our European spectator, was displayed in one moment what had hitherto only been the result of ages. Every political and social element, every invention of polity, every system of government which the world had hitherto recognised or employed, were reproduced in one moment, and by one prodigious impulse, as from the bosom of a volcano. A wild and chaotic revolution, a fantastic Republic, a gorgeous Despotism, a legitimate Dynasty, a constitutional Monarchy, succeeded each other as in one rapid and bewildering phantasmagoria.

The French revolution and the empire, the final destruction of Poland, the downfall of the holy Roman Empire of Germany, the overthrow of Holland and of Venice, the Hundred Days, and the restoration of the Lord's anointed, and, even later yet, the Three Days and their second expulsion these were but a handful of the remarkable events which characterized the second period of his life.

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Frederick the Great, Maria Theresa, the Empress Catharine; Washington, Franklin, Kosciusko; Mirabeau, Robespierre, Na

poleon; Nelson, Wellington, Canning; Charles Xth, Louis Philippe, and Lafayette, names whose catalogue is in itself a history; of these, and of countless others, was he a contemporary, and with many placed in occasional or in familiar contact.

Shut now the chronicle, and turn to the fifty enchanted volumes of the poet. Look for the effect which these men and these events have necessarily produced upon his whole character and genius. Look for the passionate lyrics, the impromptu dramas, the adventurous romances, the subtle political pamphlets, the splendid histories and biographies, struck out successively and involuntarily, as it were, by the collision of each day's events upon a poetic and observant mind. Look for all these, and you will find nothing. Upon the whole unruffled surface of his poetry, there is not the slightest reflection of the troubled and portentous atmosphere in which he lived.

Having noted this, and we believe it to be entirely indisputable, let us turn to the preface of his autobiography, and read the following sentence: "It may truly be said that any man if born ten years earlier or later, would be, as far as regards his own development, and his external tendencies, a totally different person." (Dichtung und Wahrheit.) This may be true, for aught we know, and we are willing to concede it to be true of the whole world, with a single exception, that of Goethe himself. But of all writers and of all philosophers of whom we have ever read, we know of no one who seems so totally independent of his age. We do not maintain that he was before it or behind it, above it or below it; but he had certainly nothing at all to do with it. If he had lived half a dozen centuries earlier, he would have been likely to have produced much the same works, and have exhibited much the same individuality of character, which he has now done. You might have looked through the hundred illuminated manuscripts, which he would have left behind him, for a trace of events like the Crusades or the Mongolian conquest; of characters like Peter the Hermit, Gengis Khan, or Peter de Courtenay; as vainly as you now hearken for even the faintest echo rendered by his genius, to the majestic epic of his own time's history.

Recollecting that this passive and unmoved spectator, was no stupid idler, incapable of comprehending or sympathising with the great movements of the world, we are naturally surprised at his extraordinary apathy; and it is therefore not idly nor unintentionally that we have made these reflections. It is in fact this very idiosyncrasy of Goethe, which furnishes us, we think, with the true key to his character and genius. The most apparent

feature of Goethe's literary character, is egotism, a vast and unparalleled intellectual egotism. The great characteristic of his genius, is its universality; or rather, we would express our idea of Goethe thus: He was a great naturalist. His whole life was spent in an ardent and systematic study of nature; and as he was unwilling to attach himself to any particular science, we find that his genius and time were devoted to the universal investigation of all. Every subject, therefore, in the whole universe, attracted and engaged his attention. He pursued with eagerness all the real and palpable sciences: anatomy, geology, chemistry, astronomy, botany, the fine arts; all subjects in which truth is to be learned, and in which the student is placed in immediate contact with his great teacher, nature. The collections which he formed during his life, in the various branches of natural history, particularly in geology and botany, to say nothing of his extensive cabinets of medals, antiques, and the other subjects of archæology, continue to be objects of exhibition since his death, and would furnish, in themselves, even had he not been the author of a whole library, of a whole literature, as his works may truly be entitled, a satisfactory result, even for a life as long as his. Habituated to these studies, and having, both from nature and education, a propensity to examine and investigate every thing that met his eye, as a fragment of universal science, containing, however apparently insignificant, a truth or at least a problem; it was natural that he should regard, with equal interest and equal composure, things vastly differing in importance in the estimate of the world. A bubble or a solar system were to him perfect specimens of nature's workmanship, and he recognized that the one as well as the other, contained within itself a whole world of scientific truth, which the intellect of man was unable wholly to master. Perceiving more accurately than any man, the circumference of the human intelligence, and possessed with the desire and determination to occupy the whole contents of the circle, rather than to strive beyond the barrier which hems us in, he devoted himself to the study of nature in all her revelations. His universalism therefore led him to observe all things, but to estimate them as it were equally. The development of a national revolution was observed by him with the same calm and unimpassioned attention, as the development of a passion flower in his garden. Both were interesting to him as natural phenomena, both claimed his attention as a naturalist, and both were to him equally interesting, equally perfect, equally important. Immersed in the most profound egotism then, he studied Arabic, while the

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