(Sup.*) Mon., Feb. 9.
This evening at Goethe's, whom I found alone, in conversation with Meyer. I perused an album belonging to bygone times, containing the handwriting of several renowned men, such as Luther, Erasmus, Mosheim, and others. The last-mentioned has written, in Latin, the following remarkable words: “Renown is a source of toil and sorrow; obscurity is a source of happiness.”
(Sup.*) Mon., Feb. 23.
Goethe has been for some days dangerously ill; yesterday he lay in a hopeless condition. To-day, however, a crisis has arrived, by which he appears to be saved. Still, this morning he said that he considered himself lost; later, at noon, he seemed to hope that he might recover; and again, in the evening, he said that, if he escaped, it must be allowed that, for an old man, he had played too high a game.
(Sup.*) Tues., Feb. 24.
This day has been an anxious one on account of Goethe, because there was not at noon the same improvement in him which was observable yesterday. In a paroxysm of weakness he said to his daughter-in-law, “I feel that the moment is come in which the struggle between life and death begins within me.” Still, in the evening the invalid retained his full intellectual consciousness, and even displayed a playful levity. “You are too timid with your remedies,” said he to Rehbein; “you spare me too much: when one has a patient like me to deal with, one must set to work a little in the Napoleon fashion.” Thereupon he drank off a cup of decoction of arnica, which, employed by Huschke at the most dangerous moment yesterday, had brought on the favourable crisis. Goethe gave a beautiful description of this plant, and extolled its powerful effect to the skies. He was told that the physicians would not allow the grand-duke to see him: “Were I the grand-duke,” exclaimed Goethe, “I would have asked a great deal, and troubled myself a great deal about you.” At a moment when he felt better, and when his chest appeared less oppressed, he spoke with facility and clear intelligence whereupon Rehbein whispered in the ear of a bystander, “A better respiration generally brings with it a better inspiration.” Goethe, who heard this, immediately exclaimed, very pleasantly, “I knew that long ago; but this truth does not apply to you, you rogue.”
Goethe sat upright in his bed, facing the open door of his workroom, where his nearest friends were assembled without his knowledge. His features appeared to me little altered; his voice was clear and distinct, still there was a solemnity in its tone like that of a dying man. “You seem to believe,” said he to his children, “that I am better, but you deceive yourselves.” We endeavoured playfully to reason him out of his apprehensions, and he appeared to take it in good part. More persons were constantly entering the chamber, which appeared to me by no means desirable, for the presence of so many people would needlessly deteriorate the air, and hinder the attendants on the patient. I could not forbear to speak of it, and went down into the lower room, whence I issued my bulletins to her imperial highness.
(Sup.*) Wed., Feb. 25.
Goethe has caused an account to be given of the treatment which has been employed towards him up to the present time; he has also read a list of the persons who have made inquiries concerning the state of his health, of whom the number daily was very great. He afterwards received the grand-duke, and did not appear fatigued by his visit. I found fewer persons in his work-room to-day; whereupon I observed, to my joy, that my remark yesterday had been productive of some good. Now that the disease is removed, people seem to dread the consequences. His left hand is swollen, and there appear threatening precursors of the dropsy. We shall not know for some days what will be the final result of the illness. To-day, for the first time, Goethe has inquired after one of his friends; namely, his oldest friend Meyer. He wished to show him a scarce medal which he has received from Bohemia, and with which he is enraptured.
I came at twelve o'clock; and when Goethe heard that I had arrived, he had me called to his side. He gave me his hand, saying, “You see in me one risen from the dead.” He then commissioned me to thank her imperial highness for the sympathy which she had shown him during his illness. “My recovery will be very slow,” he added; “but to the physicians, notwithstanding, belongs the honour of having worked a little miracle upon me.”
After a few minutes I withdrew. His colour is good; only he has much fallen away, and still breathes with some pain. It appeared to me that he spoke with greater difficulty than yesterday. The swelling of the left arm is very conspicuous. He keeps his eyes closed, and only opens them when he speaks.
(Sup.*) Mon., Mar. 2.
This evening at Goethe's, whom I had not seen for several days. He sat in his arm-chair, and had with him his daughter and Riemer. He was strikingly better. His voice had recovered its natural tone; his breathing was free; his hand was no longer swollen; his appearance again was what it had been in a state of health; and his conversation was easy. He rose and walked, without effort, into his sleeping-room and back. We took tea with him; and as this was the first time, I playfully reproached Frau von Goethe with having forgotten to place a nosegay on the tea-tray. Frau von Goethe directly took a coloured ribbon from her hat, and bound it on the tea-urn. This joke appeared to give Goethe much pleasure.
We afterwards examined a collection of imitated jewels, which the grand-duke had received from Paris.
(Sup.*) Sat., Mar. 22.
To-day, in celebration of Goethe's recovery, his Tasso was represented at the theatre with a prologue by Riemer, spoken by Frau von Heigendorf. His bust was adorned with a crown of laurel, amidst the loud exclamations of the excited spectators. After the performance was over, Frau von Heigendorf went to Goethe's. She was still in the costume of Leonora, and presented to Goethe the crown of Tasso; which he took, to adorn with it the bust of the Grand-Duchess Alexandra.
(Sup.*) Wed., Apr. 1.
I brought Goethe, from her imperial highness, a number of the French “Journal des Modes,” in which a translation of his works was discussed. On this occasion we conversed on “Rameau's Neffe” (Rameau's Nephew), the original of which has long been lost. Many Germans believe that the original never existed, and that it is all Goethe's own invention. Goethe, however, affirms that it would have been impossible for him to imitate Diderot's spirited style and manner, and that the German Rameau is nothing but a very faithful translation.
(Sup.*) Fri., Apr. 3.
A portion of this evening was passed at Goethe's, in company with Herr Coudray, the government architect. We talked about the theatre, and the improvements which have taken place in it lately. “I have remarked it without going there,” said Goethe, laughing. “Two months ago my children always came home in an ill-humour; they were never satisfied with the entertainment which had been provided. But now they have turned over a new leaf; they come with joyful countenances, because for once and away they can have a good cry. Yesterday, they owed this ‘pleasure in weeping’ to a drama by Kotzebue.”
 These words “Wonne der Thränen” are put in inverted commas, probably with reference to “Wonne der Wehmuth,” the title of a little poem by Goethe.—Trans.
(Sup.*) Wed., Apr. 13.
This evening alone with Goethe. We talked about literature, Lord Byron, his Sardanapalus and Werner. We then came to Faust, a subject on which Goethe frequently and willingly speaks. He wished that it might be translated into French, in the style of Marot's period. He considers it as the source whence Byron derived the tone of his “Manfred.” Goethe thinks that Byron has made decided progress in his two last tragedies; because in these he appears less gloomy and misanthropical. We afterwards spoke about the text of “Zauberflöte,” to which Goethe has written a sequel; but he has not yet found a composer to treat the subject properly. He admits that the well-known first part is full of improbabilities and jests which every one cannot understand and appreciate; still we must at all events allow that the author understood, to a high degree, the art of producing great theatrical effects by means of contrasts.
(Sup.*) Wed., Apr. 15.
This evening at Goethe's, with the Countess Caroline Egloffstein. Goethe joked about the German almanacs, and some other periodical publications; all pervaded by a ridiculous sentimentality, which appears to be the order of the day. The Countess remarked that German novelists had made the beginning, by spoiling the taste of numerous readers; and that now the readers spoil the novelists, because, in order to find a publisher for their manuscripts, they must suit the prevailing bad taste of the public.
(Sup.*) Sun., Apr. 26.
I found Coudray and Meyer at Goethe's. We conversed on various subjects. “The library of the grand-duke,” said Goethe, among other things, “contains a globe, which was made by a Spaniard in the reign of Charles V. There are some remarkable inscriptions upon it, as, for example, ‘the Chinese are a people bearing a strong resemblance to the Germans.’”
“In former times,” continued Goethe, “the African deserts were depicted on the maps, with representations of the wild beasts. In the present day, this custom is abandoned; the geographers prefer to leave us carte blanche.”
(Sup.*) Wed., May 6.
This evening at Goethe's. He endeavoured to give me an idea of his theory of colours. “Light,” said he, “is by no means a compound of different colours; neither can light alone produce any colour; for that requires a certain modification and blending of light and shade.”
(Sup.*) Tues., May 13.
I found Goethe occupied with collecting his little poems and short addresses (Blättchen) to persons. “In earlier times,” said he, “when I was more careless with my things, and neglected to make copies, I lost hundreds of such verses.”
(Sup.*) Mon., June 2.
The chancellor, Riemer, and Meyer were with Goethe. We discussed Béranger's poems; and Goethe commented upon, and paraphrased some of them, with great originality and good humour.
The conversation then turned on natural science (physik) and meteorology. Goethe is on the point of working out a theory of the weather, in which he will ascribe the rise and fall of the barometer entirely to the action of the earth, and to her attraction and repulsion of the atmosphere.
“The scientific men, and especially the mathematicians,” continued Goethe, “will not fail to consider my ideas perfectly ridiculous; or else they will do still better: they will totally ignore them in a most stately manner. But do you know why? Because they say that I am not one of the craft.”
“The caste spirit of the learned by profession,” I replied, “is very pardonable. When errors have crept into their theories, and have been borne along with them, we must seek for the cause in this: that such errors were handed down to them as dogmas, at a time when they themselves were still seated on their school-benches.”
“That is true,” exclaimed Goethe; “your learned men act like the bookbinders of Weimar. The masterpiece that is required of them to be admitted into the corporation is not a pretty binding, in the newest style. No; far from that. There must always be supplied a thick folio bible, just in the fashion of two or three hundred years ago, with clumsy covers, and in strong leather. The task is an absurdity. But it would go hard with the poor workman if he were to affirm that his examiners were blockheads.”
I arrived here a few days ago, but did not see Goethe till to-day. He received me with great cordiality; and the impression he made on me was such, that I consider this day as one of the happiest in my life.
Yesterday, when I called to inquire, he fixed to-day at twelve o'clock as the time when he would be glad to see me. I went at the appointed time, and found a servant waiting for me, preparing to conduct me to him.
The interior of the house made a very pleasant impression upon me; without being showy, everything was extremely simple and noble; even the casts from antique statues, placed upon the stairs, indicated Goethe's especial partiality for plastic art, and for Grecian antiquity. I saw several ladies moving busily about in the lower part of the house, and one of Ottilie's beautiful boys, who came familiarly up to me, and looked fixedly in my face.
After I had cast a glance around, I ascended the stairs, with the very talkative servant, to the first floor. He opened a room, on the threshold of which the motto Salve was stepped over as a good omen of a friendly welcome. He led me through this apartment and opened another, somewhat more spacious, where he requested me to wait, while he went to announce me to his master. The air here was most cool and refreshing; on the floor was spread a carpet: the room was furnished with a crimson sofa and chairs, which gave a cheerful aspect; on one side stood a piano; and the walls were adorned with many pictures and drawings, of various sorts and sizes.
Through an open door opposite, one looked into a farther room, also hung with pictures, through which the servant had gone to announce me.
It was not long before Goethe came in, dressed in a blue frock-coat, and with shoes. What a sublime form! The impression upon me was surprising. But he soon dispelled all uneasiness by the kindest words. We sat down on the sofa. I felt in a happy perplexity, through his look and his presence, and could say little or nothing.
He began by speaking of my manuscript. “I have just come from you,” said he; “I have been reading your writing all the morning; it needs no recommendation—it recommends itself.” He praised the clearness of the style, the flow of the thought, and the peculiarity, that all rested on a solid basis, and had been thoroughly considered. “I will soon forward it,” said he; “to-day I shall write to Cotta by post, and send him the parcel to-morrow.” I thanked him with words and looks.
We then talked of my proposed excursion. I told him that my design was to go into the Rhineland, where I intended to stay at a suitable place, and write something new. First, however, I would go to Jena, and there await Herr von Cotta's answer.
Goethe asked whether I had acquaintance in Jena. I replied that I hoped to come in contact with Herr von Knebel; on which he promised me a letter which would insure me a more favourable reception. “And, indeed,” said he, “while you are in Jena, we shall be near neighbours, and can see or write to one another as often as we please.”
We sat a long while together, in a tranquil, affectionate mood, I was close to him; I forgot to speak for looking at him—I could not look long enough. His face is so powerful and brown! full of wrinkles, and each wrinkle full of expression! And everywhere there is such nobleness and firmness, such repose and greatness! He spoke in a slow composed manner, such as you would expect from an aged monarch. You perceive by his air that he reposes upon himself, and is elevated far above both praise and blame. I was extremely happy near him; I felt becalmed like one who, after many toils and tedious expectations, finally sees his dearest wishes gratified.
He then spoke of my letter, and remarked that I was perfectly right, and that, if one can treat one matter with clearness, one is fitted for many things besides.
“No one can tell what turn this may take,” said he; “I have many good friends in Berlin, and have lately thought of you in that quarter.” Here he smiled pleasantly to himself. He then pointed out to me what I ought now to see in Weimar, and said he would desire secretary Kräuter to be my cicerone. Above all, I must not fail to visit the theatre. He asked me where I lodged, saying that he should like to see me once more, and would send for me at a suitable time.
We bade each other an affectionate farewell; I was supremely happy; for every word of his spoke kindness, and I felt that he was thoroughly well-intentioned towards me.
 This is the first day in Eckermann's first book, and the first time in which he speaks in this book, as distinguished from Soret.—Trans.
Wed., June 11.
This morning I received a card from Goethe, written by his own hand, desiring me to come to him. I went and staid an hour. He seemed quite a different man from that of yesterday, and had the impetuous and decided manner of a youth.
He entered, bringing two thick books. “It is not well,” said he, “that you should go from us so soon; let us become better acquainted. I wish more ample opportunity to see and talk with you. But, as the field of generalities is so wide, I have thought of something in particular, which may serve as a ground-work for intercourse. These two volumes contain the ‘Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen’ (Frankfort Literary Notices) of the years 1772 and 1773, among which are almost all my little critiques written at that time. These are not marked; but, as you are familiar with my style and tone of thought, you will easily distinguish them from the others. I would have you examine somewhat more closely these youthful productions, and tell me what you think of them. I wish to know whether they deserve a place in a future edition of my works. From my present self these things stand so far, that I have no judgment about them. But you younger people can tell whether they are to you of any value, and how far they suit our present literary point of view. I have already had copies taken of them, which you can have by-and-by to compare with the originals. Afterwards, by a careful survey, we might ascertain whether here and there some trifle might not be left out, or touched up with advantage, and without injuring the general character of the whole.”
I replied that I would gladly make the attempt, and that nothing could gratify me more than to proceed according to his intention.
“You will find yourself perfectly competent,” said he, “when you have once entered on the employment; it will come quite naturally to you.”
He then told me that he intended to set off for Marienbad in a week, and that he should be glad if I could remain at Weimar till then; that we might see one another in the mean time, and become better acquainted.
“I wish, too,” said he, “that you would not merely pass a few days or weeks in Jena, but would live there all the summer, till I return from Marienbad towards that autumn. Already I have written about a lodging for you, and other things of the kind necessary to make your stay convenient and pleasant.
“You will find there the most various resources and means for further studies, and a very cultivated social circle; besides, the country presents so many aspects, that you may take fifty walks, each different from the others, each pleasant, and almost all suited for undisturbed meditation. You will find there plenty of leisure and opportunity to write many new things for yourself, and also to accomplish my designs.”
I could make no objection to such good proposals, and consented joyfully to them all. When I departed he was especially amiable, and he fixed another hour the day after to-morrow for further converse.
Mon., June 16.
I have lately been frequently with Goethe. To-day, we talked principally of business. I declared my opinion also of his Frankfort criticisms, calling them echoes of his academic years, an expression which seemed to please him, as marking the point of view from which these youthful productions should be regarded.
He then gave me the first eleven numbers of “Kunst und Alterthum,” that I might take them with me to Jena, together with the Frankfort critiques as a second task.
“It is my wish,” said he, “that you should study carefully these numbers, and not only make a general index of contents, but also set down what subjects are not to be looked upon as concluded, that I may thus see at once what threads I have to take up again and spin longer. This will be a great assistance to me, and so far an advantage to you, that, in this practical way, you will more keenly observe and apprehend the import of each particular treatise, than by common perusal, regulated solely by inclination.”
I found these remarks judicious, and said that I would willingly undertake this labour also.
 Art and Antiquity.
Thurs., June 19.
I was to have gone to Jena to-day; but Goethe yesterday requested earnestly that I would stay till Sunday, and then go by the post. He gave me yesterday the letters of recommendation, and also one for the family of Frommann. “You will enjoy their circle,” said he; “I have passed many delightful evenings there. Jean Paul, Tieck, the Schlegels, and all the other distinguished men of Germany, have visited there, and always with delight; and even now it is the union-point of many learned men, artistes, and other persons of note. In a few weeks, write to me at Marienbad, that I may know how you are going on, and how you are pleased with Jena. I have requested my son to visit you there during my absence.”
I felt very grateful to Goethe for so much care, and was very happy to see that he regarded me as one of his own, and wished me to be so considered.
Saturday, the 21st June, I bade farewell to Goethe, and on the following day went to Jena, where I established myself in a rural dwelling, with very good, respectable people. In the families of von Knebel and Frommann, I found, on Goethe's recommendation, a cordial reception and very instructive society. I made the best possible progress with the work I had taken with me, and had, besides, the pleasure of receiving a letter from Herr von Cotta, in which he not only declared himself ready to publish my manuscript which had been sent him, but promised me a handsome remuneration, adding that I myself should superintend the printing at Jena.
Thus my subsistence was secured for at least a year, and I felt the liveliest desire to produce something new at this time, and so to found my future prosperity as an author. I hoped that I had already, in my “Beiträge zur Poesie,” come to an end with theory and criticism; I had in them endeavoured to get clear views as to the principal laws of art, and my whole inner nature now urged me to a practical application. I had plans for innumerable poems, both long and short, also for dramas of various sorts; and I had now, as I thought, only to think which way I should turn, to produce one after the other, with some degree of convenience to myself.
I was not long content in Jena; my life there was too quiet and uniform. I longed for a great city, where there was not only a good theatre, but where a popular life was developed on a great scale, that I might seize upon important elements of life, and advance my own mental culture as rapidly as possible. In such a town, too, I hoped to live quite unobserved, and to be free always to isolate myself for completely undisturbed production.
Meanwhile, I had sketched the index which Goethe wished for the first four volumes of “Kunst und Alterthum,” and sent it to Marienbad with a letter, in which I openly expressed my plans and wishes. I received in answer the following lines:—
“The index arrived just at the right time, and corresponds precisely with my wishes and intentions. Let me, when I return, find the Frankfort criticisms arranged in a like manner, and receive my best thanks, which I already silently pay beforehand, by carrying about with me your views, situation, wishes, aims, and plans, so that, on my return, I may be able to discuss more solidly your future welfare. To-day I will say no more. My departure from Marienbad gives me much to think of and to do, while my stay, all too brief, with persons of interest, occasions painful feelings.
“May I find you in that state of tranquil activity, from which, after all, views of the world and experiences are evolved in the surest and purest manner. Farewell. Rejoice with me in the anticipation of a prolonged and more intimate acquaintance.—GOETHE.—Marienbad, Aug. 14, 1823.”
By these lines of Goethe's, the reception of which made me extremely happy, I felt tranquillized as to the future. They determined me to take no step for myself, but to be wholly resigned to his will and counsel. Meanwhile, I wrote some little poems, finished arranging the Frankfort criticisms, and expressed my opinion of them in a short treatise, intended for Goethe. I looked forward with eagerness to his return from Marienbad; for my “Beiträge zur Poesie” was almost through the press, and I wished, at all events, to refresh myself this autumn, by going for a few weeks to the Rhine.
Jena, Sept. 15.
Goethe is returned safe from Marienbad, but, as his country-house in this place is not so convenient as he requires, he will only stay here a few days. He is well and active, so that he can take walks several miles long, and it is truly delightful to see him.
After an interchange of joyful greetings, Goethe commenced speaking on the subject of my affairs:—
“To speak out plainly,” he began, “it is my wish that you should pass this winter with me in Weimar.” These were his first words. Approaching closer to me, he continued thus:—“With respect to poetry and criticism, you are in the best possible condition. You have a natural foundation for them. They are your profession, to which you must adhere, and which will soon bring you a good livelihood. But yet there is much, not strictly appertaining to this department, which you ought to know. It is, however, a great point that you should not expend much time upon this, but get over it quickly. This you shall do with us this winter in Weimar, and you will wonder to find what progress you have made by Easter. You shall have the best of everything; because the best means are in my hands. Thus you will have laid a firm foundation for life. You will have attained a feeling of comfort, and will be able to appear anywhere with confidence.”
I was much pleased by this proposal, and replied, that I would regulate myself entirely by his views and wishes.
“With a home in my neighbourhood,” continued Goethe, “I will provide you; you shall pass no unprofitable moment during the whole winter. Much that is good is brought together in Weimar, and you will gradually find, in the higher circles, a society equal to the best in any of the great cities. Besides, many eminent men are personally connected with me. With them you will gradually make acquaintance, and you will find their conversation in the highest degree useful and instructive.”
Goethe then mentioned many distinguished men, indicating, in a few words, the peculiar merits of each.
“Where else,” he continued, “would you find so much good in such a narrow space? We also possess an excellent library, and a theatre which, in the chief requisites, does not yield to the best in other German towns. Therefore,—I repeat it,—stay with us, and not only this winter, but make Weimar your home. From thence proceed highways to all quarters of the globe. In summer you can travel, and see, by degrees, what you wish. I have lived there fifty years; and where have I not been? But I was always glad to return to Weimar.”
I was very happy in being again with Goethe, and hearing him talk, and I felt that my whole soul was devoted to him. If I could only have thee, thought I, all else will go well with me. So I repeated to him the assurance that I was ready to do whatever he, after weighing the circumstances of my peculiar situation, should think right.
Jena, Thurs., Sept. 18.
Yesterday morning, before Goethe's return to Weimar, I had the happiness of another interview with him. What he said at that time was quite important; to me it was quite invaluable, and will have a beneficial influence on all my life. All the young poets of Germany should know it, as it may be of great profit to them.
He introduced the conversation by asking me whether I had written any poems this summer. I replied that I had indeed written some, but that on the whole I lacked the feeling of ease requisite for production.
“Beware,” said he, “of attempting a large work. It is exactly that which injures our best minds, even those distinguished by the finest talents and the most earnest efforts. I have suffered from this cause, and know how much it injured me. What have I not let fall into the well? If I had written all that I well might, a hundred volumes would not contain it.
“The Present will have its rights; the thoughts and feelings which daily press upon the poet will and should be expressed. But, if you have a great work in your head nothing else thrives near it, all other thoughts are repelled, and the pleasantness of life itself is for the time lost. What exertion and expenditure of mental force are required to arrange and round off a great whole, and then what powers, and what a tranquil, undisturbed situation in life, to express it with the proper fluency. If you have erred as to the whole, all your toil is lost; and further, if, in treating so extensive a subject, you are not perfectly master of your material in the details, the whole will be defective, and censure will be incurred. Thus, for all his toil and sacrifice, the poet gets, instead of reward and pleasure, nothing but discomfort and a paralysis of his powers. But if he daily seizes the present, and always treats with a freshness of feeling what is offered him, he always makes sure of something good, and if he sometimes does not succeed, has, at least, lost nothing.
“There is August Hagen, in Königsberg, a splendid talent: have you ever read his ‘Olfried and Lisena?’ There you may find passages which could not be better; the situations on the Baltic, and the other particulars of that locality, are all masterly. But these are only fine passages; as a whole, it pleases nobody. And what labour and power he has lavished upon it; indeed, he has almost exhausted himself. Now, he has been writing a tragedy.” Here Goethe smiled, and paused for a moment. I took up the discourse, and said that, if I was not mistaken, he had advised Hagen (in ‘Kunst und Alterthum’) to treat only small subjects. “I did so, indeed,” he replied; “but do people conform to the instructions of us old ones? Each thinks he must know best about himself, and thus many are lost entirely, and many for a long time go astray. Now it is no more the time to blunder about—that belonged to us old ones; and what was the use of all our seeking and blundering, if you young people choose to go the very same way over again. In this way we can never get on at all. Our errors were endured because we found no beaten path; but from him who comes later into the world more is required; he must not be seeking and blundering, but should use the instructions of the old ones to proceed at once on the right path. It is not enough to take steps which may some day lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.
“Carry these words about with you, and see how you can apply them to yourself. Not that I really feel uneasy about you, but perhaps by my advice I help you quickly over a period which is not suitable to your present situation. If you treat, at present, only small subjects, freshly dashing off what every day offers you, you will generally produce something good, and each day will bring you pleasure. Give what you do the pocket-books and periodicals, but never submit yourself to the requisition of others; always follow your own sense.
“The world is so great and rich, and life so full of variety, that you can never want occasions for poems. But they must all be occasional poems; that is to say, reality must give both impulse and material for their production. A particular case becomes universal and poetic by the very circumstance that it is treated by a poet. All my poems are occasional poems, suggested by real life, and having therein a firm foundation. I attach no value to poems snatched out of the air.
“Let no one say that reality wants poetical interest; for in this the poet proves his vocation, that he has the art to win from a common subject an interesting side. Reality must give the motive, the points to be expressed, the kernel, as I may say; but to work out of it a beautiful, animated whole, belongs to the poet. You know Fürnstein, called the Poet of Nature; he has written the prettiest poem possible, on the cultivation of hops. I have now proposed to him to make songs for the different crafts of working-men, particularly a weaver's song, and I am sure he will do it well, for he has lived among such people from his youth; he understands the subject thoroughly, and is therefore master of his material. That is exactly the advantage of small works; you need only choose those subjects of which you are master. With a great poem, this cannot be: no part can be evaded; all which belongs to the animation of the whole, and is interwoven into the plan, must be represented with precision. In youth, however, the knowledge of things is only one-sided. A great work requires many-sidedness, and on that rock the young author splits.”
I told Goethe that I had contemplated writing a great poem upon the seasons, in which I might interweave the employments and amusements of all classes. “Here is the very case in point,” replied Goethe; “you may succeed in many parts, but fail in others which refer to what you have not duly investigated. Perhaps you would do the fisherman well, and the huntsman ill; and if you fail anywhere, the whole is a failure, however good single parts may be, and you have not produced a perfect work. Give separately the single parts to which you are equal, and you make sure of something good.
“I especially warn you against great inventions of your own; for then you would try to give a view of things, and for that purpose youth is seldom ripe. Further, character and views detach themselves as sides from the poet's mind and deprive him of the fulness requisite for future productions. And, finally, how much time is lost in invention, internal arrangement, and combination, for which nobody thanks us, even supposing our work is happily accomplished.
“With a given material, on the other hand, all goes easier and better. Facts and characters being provided, the poet has only the task of animating the whole. He preserves his own fulness, for he needs to part with but little of himself, and there is much less loss of time and power, since he has only the trouble of execution. Indeed, I would advise the choice of subjects which have been worked before. How many Iphigenias have been written! yet they are all different, for each writer considers and arranges the subject differently; namely, after his own fashion.
“But, for the present, you had better lay aside all great undertakings. You have striven long enough; it is time that you should enter into the cheerful period of life, and for the attainment of this, the working out of small subjects is the best expedient.”
During this conversation, we had been walking up and down the room. I could do nothing but assent, for I felt the truth of each word through my whole being. At each step I felt lighter and happier, for I must confess that various grand schemes, of which I had not as yet been able to take clear view, had been no little burden to me. I have now thrown them aside, and shall let them rest till I can take up and sketch off one subject and one part after another in cheerfulness, as by study of the world I gradually become master of the several parts of the material.
I feel, through these words of Goethe's, several years wiser, and perceive, in the very depths of my soul, the good fortune of meeting with a true master. The advantage is incalculable.
What shall I not learn from him this winter! what shall I not gain merely from intercourse with him, even in times when he does not speak what is so very important! His personality, his mere presence, seems to educate me, even when he does not speak a word.
 The word “Gelegenheitsgedicht” (occasional poem) properly applies to poems written for special occasions, such as birthdays, weddings, &c., 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 event.—Trans.
Weimar, Thurs., Oct. 2.
I came here yesterday from Jena, favoured by very agreeable weather. Immediately after my arrival, Goethe, by way of welcoming me to Weimar, sent me a season-ticket for the theatre. I passed yesterday in making my domestic arrangements; and the rather, as they were very busy at Goethe's; for the French Ambassador from Frankfort, Count Reinhard, and the Prussian State Councillor (Staatsrath) Schultz, from Berlin, had come to visit him.
This forenoon I was again at Goethe's. He was rejoiced to see me, and was in every way kind and amiable. As I was about to take my leave, he said he would first make me acquainted with the State Councillor, Schultz. He took me into the next room, where I found that gentleman busy in looking at the works of art, introduced me, and then left us together for further discourse.
“I am very glad,” said Schultz, “that you are to stay in Weimar, and assist Goethe in arranging his unpublished works. He has been telling me how much advantage he promises himself from your assistance, and that he now hopes to complete many new plans.”
I replied that I had no other aim in life than to aid German literature; and that, in the hope of being useful here, I had willingly laid aside, for the present, my own literary designs. I added, that a practical intercourse with Goethe would have a most favourable effect on my own culture. I hoped, by this means, to gain a certain maturity in some years, and thus, in the end, better to perform those tasks for which I was at present less perfectly prepared.
“Certainly,” replied Schultz, “the personal influence of so extraordinary a man and a master as Goethe is quite invaluable. I, too, have come hither to refresh myself once more from his great mind.”
He then inquired about the printing of my book, concerning which Goethe had written to him last summer. I said that I hoped, in a few days, to receive the first copies from Jena, and would not fail to present him with one, and to send it to Berlin, if he should not be here.
We separated with a cordial shake of the hand.
Tues., Oct. 14.
This evening, I went for the first time to a large tea-party at Goethe's. I arrived first, and enjoyed the view of the brilliantly lighted apartments, which, through open doors, led one into the other. In one of the furthest, I found Goethe, who came to meet me, with a cheerful air. He was dressed in black, and wore his star, which became him so well. We were for a while alone, and went into the so-called “covered room” (Deckenzimmer), where the picture of the Aldobrandine Marriage, which was hung above a red couch, especially attracted my attention. On the green curtains being drawn aside, the picture was before my eyes in a broad light, and I was delighted to contemplate it quietly.
“Yes,” said Goethe, “the ancients had not only great intentions, but they carried them into effect. On the contrary, we moderns have also great intentions, but are seldom able to bring them out with such power and freshness as we have thought them.”
Now came Riemer, Meyer, Chancellor von Müller, and many other distinguished gentlemen and ladies of the court. Goethe's son and Frau von Goethe, with whom I was now for the first time made acquainted, also entered. The rooms filled gradually, and there was life and cheerfulness in them all. Some pretty youthful foreigners were present, with whom Goethe spoke French.
The society pleased me, all were so free and unconstrained; each stood or sat, laughed and talked with this person and that, just as he pleased. I had a lively conversation with young Goethe about Houwald's “Bild” (picture), which was given a few days since. We had the same opinion about the piece, and I was greatly pleased to see this young man expound the different points with so much animation and intelligence.
Goethe himself appeared very amiable in society. He went about from one to another, and seemed to prefer listening, and hearing his guests talk, to talking much himself. Frau von Goethe would often come and lean upon him, and kiss him. I had lately said to him that I enjoyed the theatre highly, and that I felt great pleasure in giving myself up to the impression of the piece, without reflecting much upon it. This to him seemed right, and suited to my present state.
He came to me with Frau von Goethe. “This is my daughter-in-law,” said he; “do you know each other?”
We told him that we had just become acquainted.
“He is as much a child about a theatre as you, Ottilie!” said he; and we exchanged congratulations upon this taste which we had in common. “My daughter,” continued he, “never misses an evening.”
“That is all very well,” said I, “as long as they give good lively pieces; but when the pieces are bad, they try the patience.”
“But,” said Goethe, “it is a good thing that you cannot leave, but are forced to hear and see even what is bad. By this means, you are penetrated with the hatred for the bad, and come to a clearer insight into the good. In reading, it is not so,—you throw aside the book, if it displeases you; but at the theatre you must endure.” I gave my assent, and thought how the old gentleman always said something opportune.
We now separated, and joined the rest, who were loudly and merrily amusing themselves about us,—now in this room, now in that. Goethe went to the ladies, and I joined Riemer and Meyer, who told us much about Italy.
Afterwards, Councillor Schmidt seated himself at the piano, and played some of Beethoven's pieces, which seemed to be received with deep sympathy by the company. An intelligent lady then related many interesting particulars respecting Beethoven. Ten o'clock came at last, and thus had passed an extremely pleasant evening.
 A drama of some celebrity.—Trans.
Sun., Oct. 19.
To-day, I dined for the first time with Goethe. No one was present except Frau von Goethe, Fräulein Ulrica, and little Walter, and thus we were all very comfortable. Goethe appeared now solely as father of a family, helping to all the dishes, carving the roast fowls with great dexterity, and not forgetting between whiles to fill the glasses. We had much lively chat about the theatre, young English people, and other topics of the day; Fräulein Ulrica was especially lively and entertaining. Goethe was generally silent, coming out only now and then with some pertinent remark. From time to time he glanced at the newspaper, now and then reading us some passages, especially about the progress of the Greeks.
They then talked about the necessity of my learning English, and Goethe earnestly advised me to do so, particularly on account of Lord Byron; saying, that a character of such eminence had never existed before, and probably would never come again. They discussed the merits of the different teachers here, but found none with a thoroughly good pronunciation; on which account they deemed it better to go to some young Englishman.
After dinner, Goethe showed me some experiments relating to his theory of colours. The subject was, however, new to me; I neither understood the phenomena, nor what he said about them. Nevertheless, I hoped that the future would afford me leisure and opportunity to initiate myself a little into this science.
Tues., Oct. 21.
I went to see Goethe this evening. We talked of his “Pandora.” I asked him whether this poem was to be regarded as a whole, or whether there was anything further. He said there was nothing further in existence, and that he had written no more for the very reason that the first part was planned on so large a scale, that he could not afterwards get through with a second. Besides, what was done might be regarded as a whole, so he felt quite easy about the matter.
I said that I had only penetrated the meaning of this difficult poem by degrees, namely, after I had read it so many times as almost to know it by heart. Goethe smiled, and said, “I can well believe that; for all its parts are, as one may say, wedged one within another.”
I added, that I could not be perfectly satisfied with Schubarth's remarks upon this poem, who found there united all which had been said separately in “Werther,” “Wilhelm Meister,” “Faust,” and the “Elective Affinities,” thus making the matter very incomprehensible and difficult. “Schubarth,” said Goethe, “often goes a little deep, but he is very clever, and all his words are fraught with deep meaning.”
We spoke of Uhland, and Goethe said, “When I see great effects, I am apt to suppose great causes; and, with a popularity so extensive as that of Uhland, there must be something superior about him. However, I can scarcely form a judgment as to his poems (“Gedichte.”) I took up his book with the best intentions, but fell immediately on so many weak and gloomy poems that I could not proceed. I then tried his ballads, where I really did find distinguished talent, and could plainly see that there was some foundation for his celebrity.”
I then asked Goethe his opinion as to the kind of verse proper for German tragedy. “People in Germany,” he replied, “will scarcely come to an agreement on that point. Every one does just as he likes, and as he finds somewhat suitable to his subject. The Iambic trimetre would be the most dignified measure, but it is too long for us Germans, who, for want of epithets, generally find five feet quite enough. The English, on account of their many monosyllables, cannot even get on so far as we do.”
Goethe then showed me some copperplates, and afterwards talked about old German architecture, adding that, by degrees, he would show me a great deal in this way.
“We see in the works of the old German architecture,” he said, “the flower of an extraordinary state of things. Whoever comes immediately close to such a flower, will only stare at it with astonishment; but he who sees into the secret inner life of the plant, into the stirring of its powers, and observes how the flower gradually unfolds itself, sees the matter with quite different eyes—he knows what he sees.
“I will take care that in the course of this winter you attain more insight into this important subject, that when you visit the Rhine next summer, the sight of the Minster of Strasburg and the Cathedral of Cologne may do you some good.”
(Sup.*) Fri., Oct. 24.
This evening at Goethe's. Madame Szymanowska, whose acquaintance he made this summer, at Marienbad, played a fantasia on the piano. Goethe, absorbed in listening, seemed at times much affected.
Sat., Oct. 25.
At twilight, I passed half an hour at Goethe's. He sat in a wooden arm-chair before his table. I found him in a singularly gentle mood, as one who is quite filled with celestial peace, or who is recalling a delicious happiness which he has enjoyed, and which again floats before his soul in all its fulness. Stadelman gave me a seat near him.
We talked of the theatre, which was one of the topics which chiefly interested me this winter. The “Erdennacht” (Night on Earth) of Raupach was the last piece I had seen. I gave it as my opinion that the piece was not brought before us as it existed in the mind of the poet; that the Idea was more predominant than Life; that it was rather lyric than dramatic; and that what was spun out through five acts would have been far better in two or three. Goethe added that the idea of the whole which turned upon aristocracy and democracy, was by no means of universal interest to humanity.
I then praised those pieces of Kotzebue's which I had seen—namely, his “Verwandschaften” (Affinities), and his “Versöhnung” (Reconciliation). I praised in them the quick eye for real life, the dexterity at seizing its interesting side, and the genuine and forcible representation of it. Goethe agreed with me. “What has kept its place for twenty years, and enjoys the favour of the people,” said he, “must have something in it. When Kotzebue contented himself with his own sphere, and did not go beyond his powers, he usually did well. It was the same with him as with Chodowiecky, who always succeeded perfectly with the scenes of common citizens' life, while if he attempted to paint Greek or Roman heroes it proved a failure.”
He named several other good pieces of Kotzebue's, especially “die beiden Klinsberge” (the two Klingsbergs). “None can deny,” said he, “that Kotzebue has looked about a great deal in life, and ever kept his eyes open.
“Intellect, and some poetry, cannot be denied to our modern tragic poets, but most of them are incapable of an easy, living representation; they strive after something beyond their powers; and for that reason I might call them forced talents.”
“I doubt,” said I, “whether such poets could write a piece in prose, and am of opinion that this would be the true touchstone of their talent.” Goethe agreed with me, adding that versification enhanced, and even called forth poetic feeling.
We then talked about various works. The conversation turned upon his “Journey through Frankfort and Stuttgard to Switzerland,” which he has lying by him in three parts, in sheets, and which he will send me, in order that I may read the details, and plan how they may be formed into a whole. “You will see,” said he, “that it was all written off on the impulse of the moment; there was no thought of plan or artistical rounding: it was like pouring water from a bucket.”
I was pleased with this simile, which seemed very appropriate, to illustrate a thing utterly without plan.
Mon., Oct. 27.
This morning, I was invited to a tea-party and concert, which were to be given at Goethe's house this evening. The servant showed me the list of persons to be invited, from which I saw that the company would be very large and brilliant. He said a young Polish lady had arrived, who would play on the piano. I accepted the invitation gladly.
Afterwards the bill for the theatre was brought, and I saw that the “Schachmaschine” (Chess-machine) was to be played. I knew nothing of this piece; but my landlady was so lavish in its praise, that I was seized with a great desire to see it. Besides, I had not been in my best mood all day, and the feeling grew upon me that I was more fit for a merry comedy than for such good society.
In the evening, an hour before the theatre opened, I went to Goethe. All was already in movement throughout the house. As I passed I heard them tuning the piano, in the great room, as preparation for the musical entertainment.
I found Goethe alone in his chamber; he was already dressed, and I seemed to him to have arrived at the right moment. “You shall stay with me here,” he said, “and we will entertain one another till the arrival of the others.” I thought, “Now I shall not be able to get away: stop, I must; and, though it is very pleasant to be with Goethe alone, yet, when a quantity of strange gentlemen and ladies come, I shall feel quite out of my element.”
I walked up and down the room with Goethe. Soon the theatre became the subject of our discourse, and I had an opportunity of repeating that it was to me a source of new delight, especially as I had seen scarce anything in early years, and now almost every piece made quite a fresh impression upon me. “Indeed,” added I, “I feel so much about it, that I have had a severe contest with myself, notwithstanding the great attractions of your evening party.”
“Well,” said Goethe, stopping short, and looking at me with kindness and dignity, “go then; do not constrain yourself; if the lively play this evening suits you best, is more suitable to your mood, go there. You have music here, and that you will often have again.” “Then,” said I, “I will go; it will, perhaps, do me good to laugh.” “Stay with me, however,” said Goethe, “till six o'clock: we shall have time to say a word or two.”
Stadelman brought in two wax lights, which he set on the table. Goethe desired me to sit down, and he would give me something to read. And what should this be but his newest, dearest poem, his “Elegy from Marienbad!”
I must here go back a little for a circumstance connected with this poem. Immediately after Goethe's return from Marienbad, the report had been spread that he had there made the acquaintance of a young lady equally charming in mind and person, and had been inspired with a passion for her. When her voice was heard in the Brunnen-Allee, he had always seized his hat, and hastened down to join her. He had missed no opportunity of being in her society, and had passed happy days: the parting had been very painful, and he had, in this excited state, written a most beautiful poem, which, however, he looked upon as a sort of consecrated thing, and kept hid from every eye.
I believed this story, because it not only perfectly accorded with his bodily vigour, but also with the productive force of his mind, and the healthy freshness of his heart. I had long had a great desire to see the poem itself, but naturally felt unwilling to ask Goethe. I had, therefore, to congratulate myself on the fortunate moment which brought it before me.
He had, with his own hand, written these verses, in Roman characters, on fine vellum paper, and fastened them with a silken cord into a red morocco case; so that, from the outside, it was obvious that he prized this manuscript above all the rest.
I read it with great delight, and found that every line confirmed the common report. The first verse, however, intimated that the acquaintance was not first made, but only renewed, at this time. The poem revolved constantly on its own axis, and seemed always to return to the point whence it began. The close, wonderfully broken off, made quite a deep and singular impression.
When I had finished, Goethe came to me again. “Well,” said he, “there I have shown you something good. But you shall tell me what you think a few days hence.” I was very glad that Goethe, by these words, excused me from passing a judgment at the moment; for the impression was too new, and too hastily received, to allow me to say anything that was appropriate.
Goethe promised to let me see it again in some tranquil hour. The time for the theatre had now arrived, and we separated with an affectionate pressure of the hand.
The “Chess-machine” was, perhaps, a good piece, well-acted, but I saw it not—my thoughts were with Goethe. When the play was over, I passed by his house; it was all lighted up; I heard music from within, and regretted that I had not stayed there.
The next day, I was told that the young Polish lady, Madame Szymanowska, in whose honour the party had been given, had played on the piano in most excellent style to the enchantment of the whole company. I learned, also, that Goethe became acquainted with her last summer at Marienbad, and that she had now come to visit him.
At noon, Goethe sent me a little manuscript, “Studies by Zauper,” in which I found some very apt remarks. I sent him some poems I had written this summer at Jena, and of which I had spoken to him.
Wed., Oct. 29.
This evening I went to Goethe just as they were lighting the candles. I found him in a very animated state of mind: his eyes sparkled with the reflection of the candlelight; his whole expression was one of cheerfulness, youth and power.
As he walked up and down with me he began immediately to speak of the poems which I sent him yesterday.
“I understand now,” said he, “why you talked to me at Jena, of writing a poem on the seasons. I now advise you to do so; begin at once with Winter. You seem to have a special sense and feeling for natural objects.
“Only two words would I say about your poems. You stand now at that point where you must necessarily break through to the really high and difficult part of art—the apprehension of what is individual. You must do some degree of violence to yourself to get out of the Idea. You have talent, and have got so far; now you must do this. You have lately been at Tiefurt; that might now afford a subject for the attempt. You may perhaps go to Tiefurt and look at it three or four times before you win from it the characteristic side, and bring all your means (motive) together; but spare not your toil; study it throughout, and then represent it; the subject is well worth this trouble. I should have used it long ago, but I could not; for I have lived through those important circumstances, and my being is so interwoven with them, that details press upon me with too great fulness. But you come as a stranger; you let the Castellan tell you the past, and you will see only what is present, prominent, and significant.”
I promised to try, but could not deny that this subject seemed to me very far out of my way, and very difficult.
“I know well,” said he, “that it is difficult; but the apprehension and representation of the individual is the very life of art. Besides, while you content yourself with generalities, every one can imitate you; but, in the particular, no one can—and why? because no others have experienced exactly the same thing.
“And you need not fear lest what is peculiar should not meet with sympathy. Each character, however peculiar it may be, and each object which you can represent, from the stone up to man, has generality; for there is repetition everywhere, and there is nothing to be found only once in the world.
“At this step of representing what is individual,” continued Goethe, “begins, at the same time, what we call composition.”
This was not at once clear to me, though I refrained from questions. “Perhaps,” thought I, “he means the blending of the Ideal with the Real,—the union of that which is external with that which is innate. But perhaps he means something else.” Goethe continued:
“And be sure you put to each poem the date at which you wrote it.” I looked at him inquiringly, to know why this was so important. “Your poems will thus serve,” he said, “as a diary of your progress. I have done it for many years, and can see its use.”
It was now time for the theatre. “So you are going to Finland?” called he, jestingly, after me; for the piece was “Johann von Finland” (John of Finland), by Frau von Weissenthurn.
The piece did not lack effective situations, but it was so overloaded with pathos, and the design was so obvious in every part, that, on the whole, it did not impress me favourably. The last act, however, pleased me much, and reconciled me to the rest.
This piece suggested to me the following remark: Characters which have been but indifferently drawn by the poet gain on the stage, because the actors, as living men, make them living beings, and impart to them some sort of individuality. But the finely drawn characters of the great poet, which already stand out with a sharply marked individuality, must lose on the stage, because actors are not often perfectly fitted for such parts, and very few can completely lay aside their own individualities. If the actor be not the counterpart of the character, or if he do not possess the power of utterly laying aside his own personality, a mixture ensues, and the character loses its purity. Therefore, the play of a really great poet only appears in single figures, just as it was originally intended.
 The word “motive,” which is of frequent occurrence in critical disquisition, is exactly defined in Heyse's “Fremdwörterbuch,” a means in art calculated to produce an effect.—Trans.
Mon., Nov. 3.
I went to Goethe at five o'clock. I heard them, as I came upstairs, laughing very loud, and talking in the great room. The servant said that the Polish lady dined there to-day, and that the company had not yet left the table. I was going away, but he said he had orders to announce me, and that perhaps his master would be glad of my arrival, as it was now late. I let him have his way, and waited a while, after which Goethe came out in a very cheerful mood, and took me to the opposite room. My visit seemed to please him. He had a bottle of wine brought at once, and filled for me and occasionally for himself.
“Before I forget it,” said he, looking about the table for something, “let me give you a concert-ticket. Madame Szymanowska gives, to-morrow evening, a public concert at the Stadthaus, and you must not fail to be there.” I replied that I certainly should not repeat my late folly. “They say she plays very well,” I added. “Admirably,” said Goethe. “As well as Hummel?” asked I. “You must remember,” said Goethe, “that she is not only a great performer, but a beautiful woman; and this lends a charm to all she does. Her execution is masterly,—astonishing, indeed.” “And has she also great power?” said I, “Yes,” said he, “great power; and that is what is most remarkable in her, because we do not often find it in ladies.” I said that I was delighted with the prospect of hearing her at last.
Secretary Kräuter came in to consult about the library. Goethe, when he left us, praised his talent and integrity in business.
I then turned the conversation to the “Journey through Frankfort and Stuttgard into Switzerland, in 1797,” the manuscript of which he had lately given me, and which I had already diligently studied. I spoke of his and Meyer's reflections on the subjects of plastic art.
“Ay,” said Goethe, “what can be more important than the subject, and what is all the science of art without it? All talent is wasted if the subject is unsuitable. It is because modern artists have no worthy subjects, that people are so hampered in all the art of modern times. From this cause we all suffer. I myself have not been able to renounce my modernness.
“Very few artists,” he continued, “are clear on this point, or know what will really be satisfactory. For instance, they paint my ‘Fisherman’ as the subject of a picture, and do not think that it cannot be painted. In this ballad, nothing is expressed but the charm in water which tempts us to bathe in summer; there is nothing else in it: and how can that be painted?”
I mentioned how pleased I was to see how, in that journey, he had taken an interest in everything, and apprehended everything; shape and situation of mountains, with their species of stones; soil, rivers, clouds, air, wind, and weather; then cities, with their origin and growth, architecture, painting, theatres, municipal regulations and police, trade, economy, laying out of streets, varieties of human race, manner of living, peculiarities; then again, politics, martial affairs, and a hundred things beside.
He answered, “But you find no word upon music, because that was not within my sphere. Each traveller should know what he has to see, and what properly belongs to him, on a journey.”
The Chancellor came in. He talked a little with Goethe, and then spoke to me very kindly, and with much acuteness, about a little paper which he had lately read. He soon returned to the ladies, among whom I heard the sound of a piano.
When he had left us, Goethe spoke highly of him, and said, “All these excellent men, with whom you are now placed in so pleasant a relation, make what I call a home, to which one is always willing to return.”
I said that I already began to perceive the beneficial effect of my present situation, and that I found myself gradually leaving my ideal and theoretic tendencies, and more and more able to appreciate the value of the present moment.
“It would be a pity,” said Goethe, “if it were not so. Only persist in this, and hold fast by the present. Every situation—nay, every moment—is of infinite worth; for it is the representative of a whole eternity.”
After a short pause, I turned the conversation to Tiefurt, and the mode of treating it. “The subject,” said I, “is complex, and it will be difficult to give it proper form. It would be most convenient to me to treat it in prose.”
“For that,” said Goethe, “the subject is not sufficiently significant. The so-called didactic, descriptive form would, on the whole, be eligible; but even that is not perfectly appropriate. The best method will be to treat the subject in ten or twelve separate little poems, in rhyme, but in various measures and forms, such as the various sides and views demand, by which means light will be given to the whole.” This advice I at once adopted as judicious. “Why, indeed,” continued he, “should you not for once use dramatic means, and write a conversation or so with the gardener? By this fragmentary method you make your task easy, and can better bring out the various characteristic sides of the subject. A great, comprehensive whole, on the other hand, is always difficult; and he who attempts it seldom produces anything complete.”
Wed., Nov. 10.
Goethe has not been very well for the last few days; it seems he cannot get rid of a very bad cold. He coughs a great deal, very loud, and with much force; but, nevertheless, the cough seems to be painful, for he generally has his hand on his left side.
I passed half an hour with him this evening before the theatre. He sat in an arm-chair, with his back sunk in a cushion, and seemed to speak with difficulty. After we had talked a little, he wished me to read a poem with which he intended to open a new number of “Kunst und Alterthum.” He remained sitting, and showed me where it was kept. I took the light, and sat down at his writing-table to read it, at a little distance from him.
This poem was singular in its character, and, though I did not fully understand it on the first reading, it affected me in a peculiar manner. The glorification of the Paria was its subject, and it was treated as a Trilogy. The prevailing tone seemed to me that of another world, and the mode of representation such, that I found it very difficult to form a lively notion of the subject. The personal presence of Goethe was also unfavourable to thorough abstraction: now I heard him cough; now I heard him sigh; and thus I was, as it were, divided in two—one half read, and the other felt his presence. I was forced to read the poem again and again, only to approximate to it. However, the more I penetrated into it, the more significant in character, and the higher in art, did it seem to be.
At last I spoke to Goethe, both as to the subject and treatment, and he gave me much new light by some of his remarks.
“Indeed,” said he, “the treatment is very terse, and one must go deep into it to seize upon its meaning. It seems, even to me, like a Damascene blade hammered out of steel wire. I have borne this subject about with me for forty years; so that it has had time to get clear of everything extraneous.”
“It will produce an effect,” said I, “when it comes before the public.”
“Ah, the public!” sighed Goethe.
“Would it not be well,” said I, “to aid the comprehension, and to add an explanation as we do to pictures, when we endeavour to give life to what is actually present, by describing the preceding circumstances?”
“I think not,” said he; “with pictures it is another matter; but, as a poem is already expressed in words, one word only cancels another.”
I thought Goethe was here very happy in pointing out the rock on which those who interpret poems are commonly wrecked. Still it may be questioned whether it be not possible to avoid this rock, and affix some explanatory words to a poem without at all injuring the delicacy of its inner life.
When I went away, he asked me to take the sheets of “Kunst und Alterthum” home with me, that I might read the poem again, and also the “Roses from the East” (Oestliche Rosen) of Rückert, a poet whom he seems highly to value, and to regard with great expectation.
(Sup.*) Tues., Nov. 11.
No evening company at Goethe's, who has again been suffering for some time. His feet were wrapped in a woollen coverlet, which he had taken with him everywhere since the campaign in Champagne. Apropos of this coverlet, he related an anecdote of the year 1806, when the French had occupied Jena, and the chaplain of a French regiment required some hangings to adorn his altar. “He was supplied with a splendid piece of crimson stuff,” said Goethe; “but this was not good enough for him. He complained of this to me. ‘Send me the stuff,’ said I; ‘I will see if I can procure something better.’ In the mean time, we were just bringing out a new piece at the theatre, and I made use of the magnificent red stuff to decorate my actors. As for my chaplain, he received nothing else; he was forgotten; and he must have seen what good he got.”
Wed., Nov. 12.
Towards evening, I went to see Goethe; but heard, before I went upstairs, that the Prussian minister, von Humboldt, was with him, at which I was pleased, being convinced that this visit of an old friend would cheer him up and do him good.
I then went to the theatre, where “Die Schwestern von Prag” (the Sisters of Prague), got up to perfection, was done admirably, so that it was impossible to leave off laughing throughout the whole piece.
Thurs., Nov. 13.
Some days ago, as I was walking one fine afternoon towards Erfurt, I was joined by an elderly man, whom I supposed, from his appearance, to be an opulent citizen. We had not talked together long, before the conversation turned upon Goethe. I asked him whether he knew Goethe. “Know him?” said he, with some delight; “I was his valet almost twenty years!” He then launched into the praises of his former master. I begged to hear something of Goethe's youth, and he gladly consented to gratify me.
“When I first lived with him,” said he, “he might have been about twenty-seven years old; he was thin, nimble, and elegant in his person. I could easily have carried him in my arms.”
I asked whether Goethe, in that early part of his life here, had not been very gay. “Certainly,” replied he; “he was always gay with the gay, but never when they passed a certain limit; in that case he usually became grave. Always working and seeking; his mind always bent on art and science; that was generally the way with my master. The duke often visited him in the evening, and then they often talked on learned topics till late at night, so that I got extremely tired, and wondered when the duke would go. Even then he was interested in natural science.
“One time he rang in the middle of the night, and when I entered his room I found he had rolled his iron bed to the window, and was lying there, looking out upon the heavens. ‘Have you seen nothing in the sky?’ asked he, and when I answered in the negative, he bade me run to the guard-house, and ask the man on duty if he had seen nothing. I went there; the guard said he had seen nothing, and I returned with this answer to my master, who was still in the same position, lying in his bed, and gazing upon the sky. ‘Listen,’ said he to me; ‘this is an important moment; there is now an earthquake, or one is just going to take place;’ then he made me sit down on the bed, and showed me by what signs he knew this.”
I asked the good old man “what sort of weather it was.”
“It was very cloudy,” he replied; “no air stirring; very still and sultry.”
I asked if he at once believed there was an earthquake on Goethe's word.
“Yes,” said he, “I believed it, for things always happened as he said they would. Next day he related his observations at court, when a lady whispered to her neighbour, ‘Only listen, Goethe is dreaming.’ But the duke, and all the men present, believed Goethe, and the correctness of his observations was soon confirmed; for, in a few weeks, the news came that a part of Messina, on that night, had been destroyed by an earthquake.”
Fri., Nov. 14.
Towards evening Goethe sent me an invitation to call upon him. Humboldt, he said, was at court, and therefore I should be all the more welcome. I found him, as I did some days ago, sitting in his arm-chair; he gave me a friendly shake of the hand, and spoke to me with heavenly mildness. The chancellor soon joined us. We sat near Goethe, and carried on a light conversation, that he might only have to listen. The physician, Counsellor (Hofrath) Rehbein, soon came also. To use his own expression, he found Goethe's pulse quite lively and easy. At this we were highly pleased, and joked with Goethe on the subject. “If I could only get rid of the pain in my left side!” he said. Rehbein prescribed a plaster there; we talked on the good effect of such a remedy, and Goethe consented to it. Rehbein turned the conversation to Marienbad, and this appeared to awaken pleasant reminiscences in Goethe. Arrangements were made to go there again, it was said that the great duke would join the party, and these prospects put Goethe in the most cheerful mood. They also talked about Madame Szymanowska, and mentioned the time when she was here, and all the men were solicitous for her favour.
When Rehbein was gone, the chancellor read the Indian poems, and Goethe, in the mean while, talked to me about the Marienbad Elegy.
At eight o'clock, the chancellor went, and I was going too, but Goethe bade me stop a little, and I sat down. The conversation turned on the stage, and the fact that “Wallenstein” was to be done to-morrow. This gave occasion to talk about Schiller.
“I have,” said I, “a peculiar feeling towards Schiller. Some scenes of his great dramas I read with genuine love and admiration; but presently I meet with something which violates the truth of nature, and I can go no further. I feel this even in reading ‘Wallenstein.’ I cannot but think that Schiller's turn for philosophy injured his poetry, because this led him to consider the idea far higher than all nature; indeed, thus to annihilate nature. What he could conceive must happen, whether it were in conformity with nature or not.”
“It was sad,” said Goethe, “to see how so highly gifted a man tormented himself with philosophical disquisitions which could in no way profit him. Humboldt has shown me letters which Schiller wrote to him in those unblest days of speculation. There we see how he plagued himself with the design of perfectly separating sentimental from naïve poetry. For the former he could find no proper soil, and this brought him into unspeakable perplexity. As if,” continued he, smiling, “sentimental poetry could exist at all without the naïve ground in which, as it were, it has its root.
“It was not Schiller's plan,” continued Goethe, “to go to work with a certain unconsciousness, and as it were instinctively; he was forced, on the contrary, to reflect on all he did. Hence it was that he never could leave off talking about his poetical projects, and thus he discussed with me all his late pieces, scene after scene.
“On the other hand, it was contrary to my nature to talk over my poetic plans with anybody—even with Schiller. I carried everything about with me in silence, and usually nothing was known to any one till the whole was completed. When I showed Schiller my ‘Herman and Dorothea’ finished, he was astonished, for I had said not a syllable to him of any such plan.
“But I am curious to hear what you will say of ‘Wallenstein’ to-morrow. You will see noble forms, and the piece will make an impression on you such as you probably do not dream of.”
Sat., Nov. 15.
In the evening I was in the theatre, where I for the first time saw “Wallenstein.” Goethe had not said too much; the impression was great, and stirred my inmost soul. The actors, who had almost all belonged to the time when they were under the personal influence of Schiller and Goethe, gave an ensemble of significant personages, such as on a mere reading were not presented to my imagination with all their individuality. On this account the piece had an extraordinary effect upon me, and I could not get it out of my head the whole night.
Sun., Nov. 16.
In the evening at Goethe's; he was still sitting in his elbow-chair, and seemed rather weak. His first question was about “Wallenstein.” I gave him an account of the impression the piece had made upon me as represented on the stage, and he heard me with visible satisfaction.
M. Soret came in, led in by Frau von Goethe, and remained about an hour. He brought from the duke some gold medals, and by showing and talking about these seemed to entertain Goethe very pleasantly.
Frau von Goethe and M. Soret went to court, and I was left alone with Goethe.
Remembering his promise to show me again his Marienbad Elegy at a fitting opportunity, Goethe arose, put a light on the table, and gave me the poem. I was delighted to have it once more before me. He quietly seated himself again, and left me to an undisturbed perusal of the piece.
After I had been reading a while, I turned to say something to him, but he seemed to be asleep. I therefore used the favourable moment, and read the poem again and again with rare a delight. The most youthful glow of love, tempered by the moral elevation of the mind, seemed to me its pervading characteristic. Then I thought that the feelings were more strongly expressed than we are accustomed to find in Goethe's other poems, and imputed this to the influence of Byron—which Goethe did not deny.
“You see the product of a highly impassioned mood,” said he. “While I was in it I would not for the world have been without it, and now I would not for any consideration fall into it again.
“I wrote that poem immediately after leaving Marienbad, while the feeling of all I had experienced there was fresh. At eight in the morning, when we stopped at the first stage, I wrote down the first strophe; and thus I went on composing in the carriage, and writing down at every stage what I had just composed in my head, so that by the evening the whole was on paper. Thence it has a certain directness, and is, as I may say, poured out at once, which may be an advantage to it as a whole.”
“It is,” said I, “quite peculiar in its kind, and recalls no other poem of yours.”
“That,” said he, “may be, because I staked upon the present moment as a man stakes a considerable sum upon a card, and sought to enhance its value as much as I could without exaggeration.”
These words struck me as very important, inasmuch as they threw a light on Goethe's method so as to explain that many-sidedness which has excited so much admiration.
It was now near nine o'clock; Goethe bade me call Stadelmann, which I did.
He then let Stadelmann put the prescribed plaster on his left side. I turned to the window, but heard him lamenting to Stadelmann that his illness was not lessening, but assumed a character of permanence. When the process was over, I sat down by him again for a little while. He now complained to me also that he had not slept for some nights, and had no appetite. “The winter,” said he, “thus passes away; I can put nothing together; my mind has no force.” I tried to soothe him, requesting him not to think so much of his labours at present, and representing that there was reason to hope he would soon be better. “Ah,” said he, “I am not impatient; I have lived through too many such situations not to have learned to suffer and to endure.” He was in his white flannel gown, and a woollen coverlet was laid on his knees and feet. “I shall not go to bed,” he said, “but will pass the night thus in my chair, for I cannot properly sleep.”
In the mean while the time for my departure was come, he extended his dear hand to me, and I left.
When I went down into the servants' room, to fetch my cloak, I found Stadelmann much agitated. He said he was alarmed about his master, for if he complained, it was a bad sign indeed! His feet, too, which had lately been a little swollen, had suddenly become thin. He was going to the physician early in the morning, to tell him these bad signs. I endeavoured to pacify him, but he would not be talked out of his fears.
(Sup.*) Sun., Nov. 16.
Goethe is not any better. The grand-duchess sent him, this evening, by me, some very beautiful medals, the examination of which might perhaps divert and cheer him. Goethe was manifestly pleased at this delicate attention on the part of the duchess. He complained to me that he felt the same pain in the left side, which had preceded his severe illness last winter. “I cannot work,” said he, “I cannot read, and even thinking only succeeds with me in my happy moments of alleviation.”
(Sup.*) Mon., Nov. 17.
Humboldt is here. I have spent a few moments with Goethe to-day; when it appeared to me that Humboldt's presence and conversation had a favourable effect upon him. His disease does not appear to be merely of a physical kind. It seems more likely that the violent affection which he formed for a young lady, at Marienbad, in the summer, and which he is now trying to overcome, may be considered as the principal cause of his present illness.
Mon., Nov. 17.
When I entered the theatre this evening, many persons pressed towards me, asking very anxiously how Goethe was. His illness must have spread rapidly over the town, and perhaps has been exaggerated. Some said he had water on the chest. I felt depressed all the evening.
Wed., Nov. 19.
Yesterday, I walked about in a state of great anxiety. No one besides his family was admitted to see him.
In the evening I went to his house, and he received me.
I found him still in his arm-chair; his outward appearance was quite the same as when I left him on Sunday, but he was in good spirits.
We talked of Zauper, and the widely differing results which proceed from the study of ancient literature.
Fri., Nov. 21.
Goethe sent for me. To my great joy I found him walking up and down in his chamber. He gave me a little book, the “Ghazels” of Count Platen. “I had intended,” said he, “to say something of this in ‘Kunst und Alterthum,’ for the poems deserve it; but my present condition will not allow me to do anything. Just see if you can fathom the poems and get anything out of them.”
I promised to make the attempt.
“‘Ghazels,’” continued he, “have this peculiarity, that they demand great fulness of meaning. The constantly recurring similar rhymes must find ready for them a store of similar thoughts. Therefore it is not every one that succeeds in them; but these will please you.” The physician came in, and I departed.
Mon., Nov. 24.
Saturday and Sunday I studied the poems: this morning I wrote down my view of them, and sent it to Goethe; for I had heard that no one had been admitted to him for some days, the physician having forbidden him to talk.
However, he sent for me this evening. When I entered, I found a chair already placed for me near him; he gave me his hand, and was extremely affectionate and kind. He began immediately to speak of my little critique. “I was much pleased with it,” said he; “you have a fine talent. I wish now to tell you something,” he continued; “if literary proposals should be made to you from other quarters, refuse them, or at least consult me before deciding upon them; for since you are now linked with me, I should not like to see you connected with others also.”
I replied that I wished to belong to him alone, and had at present no reason to think of new connections.
This pleased him, and he said that we should this winter get through much pleasant work together.
We then talked of the “Ghazels.” Goethe expressed his delight at the completeness of these poems, and that our present literature produced so much that was good.
“I wish,” said he, “to recommend the newest talent to your especial study and observation. I wish you to become acquainted with whatever our literature brings forth worthy of note, and to place before me whatever is meritorious, that we may discuss it in the numbers of ‘Kunst und Alterthum,’ and mention what is good, sound, and elevated, with due acknowledgment. For, with the best intentions, I cannot, at my advanced age, and with my manifold duties, do this without aid from others.”
I said I would do this, and was very glad to find that our latest writers and poets were more interesting to Goethe than I had supposed.
He sent me the latest literary periodicals to assist in the proposed task. I did not go to him for several days, nor was I invited. I heard his friend Zelter had come to visit him.
(Sup.*) Fri., Nov. 28.
The first part of Meyer's “History of Art,” which has just appeared, seems to occupy Goethe very agreeably. He spoke of it to-day in terms of the highest praise.
Mon., Dec. 1.
To-day, I was invited to dine with Goethe. I found Zelter sitting with him when I arrived. Both advanced to meet me, and gave me their hands. “Here,” said Goethe, “we have my friend Zelter. In him you make a valuable acquaintance. I shall send you soon to Berlin; he will take excellent care of you.” “Is Berlin a good place?” said I. “Yes,” replied Zelter, laughing; “a great deal may be learned and unlearned there.”
We sat down and talked on various subjects. I asked after Schubarth. “He visits me at least every week,” said Zelter. “He is married now, but has no appointment, because he has offended the philologists in Berlin.”
Zelter asked me then if I knew Immermann. I said I had often heard his name, but as yet knew nothing of his writings. “I made his acquaintance at Münster,” said Zelter; “he is a very hopeful young man, and it is a pity that his appointment leaves him no more time for his art.” Goethe also praised his talent. “But we must see,” said he, “how he comes out; whether he will submit to purify his taste, and, with respect to form, adopt the acknowledged best models as his standard. His original striving has its merit, but leads astray too easily.”
Little Walter now came jumping in, asking many questions, both of Zelter and his grandfather. “When thou comest, uneasy spirit,” said Goethe, “all conversation is spoiled.” However, he loves the boy, and was unwearied in satisfying his wishes.
Frau von Goethe and Fräulein Ulrica now came in, and with them, young Goethe, in his uniform and sword, ready for court. We sat down to table. Fräulein Ulrica and Zelter were very gay, and rallied each other in the pleasantest way during the whole of dinner. The person and presence of Zelter had an agreeable effect on me. As a healthy, happy man, he could give himself up wholly to the influence of the moment, and always had the word fit for the occasion. Then he was very lively and kindly, and so perfectly unconstrained, that he could speak out whatever was in his mind, sometimes giving a hard hit. He imparted to others his own freedom of spirit, so that all narrowing views were soon dispelled by his presence. I silently thought how much I should like to live with him a while, and I am sure it would do me good.
Zelter went away soon after dinner. He was invited to visit the grand-duchess that evening.
Thurs., Dec. 4.
This morning, Secretary Kräuter brought me an invitation to dine with Goethe; at the same time, by Goethe's desire, giving me a hint to present Zelter with a copy of my “Beiträge zur Poesie.” I took the copy to him at his hotel. Zelter, in return, put Immermann's poems into my hands. “I would willingly make you a present of this copy,” said he, “but, you see, the author has dedicated it to me, and I must therefore keep it as a valuable memorial.”
Before dinner, I walked with Zelter through the park towards Upper Weimar. Many spots recalled to him former days, and he told me much of Schiller, Wieland, and Herder, with whom he had been on terms of great intimacy, which he considered had been one of the great benefits of his life.
He then talked much of musical composition, and recited many of Goethe's songs. “If I am to compose music for a poem,” said he, “I first try to penetrate into the meaning of the words, and to bring before me a living picture of the situation. I then read it aloud till I know it by heart, and thus, when I again recite it, the melody comes of its own accord.”
Wind and rain obliged us to return sooner than we wished. I accompanied him to Goethe's house, where he went up to Frau von Goethe to sing with her before dinner.
About two, I returned there to dinner, and found Goethe and Zelter already engaged in looking at engravings of Italian scenery. Frau von Goethe came in, and we sat down to dinner. Fräulein Ulrica was absent to-day; and so was young Goethe, who just came in to say Good-day, and then returned to court.
The conversation at table was especially varied. Many very original anecdotes were told both by Zelter and Goethe, all illustrating the peculiarities of their common friend, Friedrich August Wolf, of Berlin. There was a great deal of talk about the “Nibelungen,” and then about Lord Byron and his hoped-for visit to Weimar, in which Frau von Goethe took especial interest. The Rochus festival at Bingen was also a very cheerful subject; and Zelter particularly remembered two beautiful girls, whose amiability had made a deep impression upon him, and the memory of whom seemed still to exhilarate him. Goethe's social song, “Kriegsglück” (Fortune of War), was then gaily talked over. Zelter was inexhaustible in his anecdotes of wounded soldiers and beautiful women, and they all tended to show the truthfulness of the poem. Goethe himself said that he had had no need to go so far for such realities; he had seen them all at Weimar. Frau von Goethe maintained a lively opposition, saying that she would not admit women were so bad as that “nasty” poem represented them.
Thus the time at table passed pleasantly enough.
When, afterwards, I was alone with Goethe, he asked me about Zelter. “Well,” said he, “how do you like him?” I described the good effect produced on me by his presence. “On a first acquaintance,” said Goethe, “he may appear somewhat blunt, even rough; but that is only external. I scarcely know any man who is really so tender as Zelter. Besides, we must not forget that he has passed more than half a century in Berlin, where, as I remark generally, there is such an audacious set of men, that one cannot get on well with delicacy, but must have one's eyes wide open, and be a little rough now and then, only to keep one's head above water.”
(Sup.*) Fri., Dec. 5.
I brought Goethe some minerals; amongst them was a piece of clayey ochre, found by Deschamps in Cormayan, which Herr Massot praises very highly. How astonished was Goethe, when he recognised in this colour, the very same which Angelica Kauffmann used to employ for the fleshy parts of her pictures. “She valued the little that she possessed,” said he, “at its weight in gold. However, the place whence it came, and where it is to be found, was unknown to her.” Goethe said to his daughter-in-law that I treated him like a sultan, to whom new presents are brought every day. “He treats you much more like a child,” said Frau von Goethe; at which he could not help smiling.
(Sup.*) Sun., Dec. 7.
I asked Goethe how he felt to-day. “Not quite so bad as Napoleon on his island,” was the answer he returned, with a sigh.
The long protraction of his indisposition seems gradually to produce an effect upon him.
(Sup.*) Sun., Dec. 21.
Goethe's good humour was again brilliant to-day. We have reached the shortest day; and the hope that, with each succeeding week, we shall see a considerable increase in the days, appears to have exerted a favourable effect on his spirits. “To-day we celebrate the regeneration of the sun!” exclaimed he, joyfully, as I entered his room this morning. I hear that it is his custom, every year, to pass the weeks before the shortest day in a most melancholy frame of mind—to sigh them away, in fact.
Frau von Goethe entered, to inform her papa-in-law that she was on the point of travelling to Berlin, in order to meet her mother, who was just returning.
When Frau von Goethe was gone, Goethe joked with me on the lively imagination which characterizes youth. “I am too old,” said he, “to contradict her, and to make her comprehend that the joy of seeing her mother again, for the first time, would be the same whether here or there. This winter journey is much trouble about nothing, but such a nothing is often of infinite importance in the minds of youth: and in the long run what difference does it make! One must often undertake some folly only to be able to live on again a little. In my youth I did no better and still I have escaped with a tolerably whole skin.”
(Sup.*) Tues., Dec. 30.
This evening was spent alone with Goethe in diversified conversation. He told me that he had some intention of including in his works his journey into Switzerland in the year 1797. The conversation then turned upon “Werther,” which he had only read once, about ten years after its publication. The same had been the case with his other works. We then talked upon translation, when he told me that he found it very difficult to render English poetry in German verse. “When we try to express a strong English monosyllable by German polysyllables or compounds, all force and effect are lost at once.” He said that he had made the translation of his “Rameau” in four weeks, dictating every word.
We then talked about the natural sciences, especially about the narrow-mindedness with which learned men contend amongst themselves for priority. “There is nothing,” said Goethe, “through which I have learned to know mankind better, than through my philosophical exertions. It has cost me a great deal, and has been attended with great annoyance, but I nevertheless rejoice that I have gained the experience.”
I remarked, that in the sciences, the egotism of men appears to be excited in a peculiar manner; and when this is once called into action, all infirmities of character very soon appear.
“Scientific questions,” answered Goethe, “are very often questions of existence. A single discovery may make a man renowned, and lay the foundation of his worldly prosperity. It is for this reason that, in the sciences, there prevails this great severity, this pertinacity, and this jealousy concerning the discovery of another. In the sphere of æsthetics, everything is deemed more venial; the thoughts are, more or less, an innate property of all mankind, with respect to which the only point is the treatment and execution—and, naturally enough, little envy is excited. A single idea may give foundation for a hundred epigrams; and the question is, merely, which poet has been able to embody this idea in the most effective and most beautiful manner.
“But in science the treatment is nothing, and all the effect lies in the discovery. There is here little that is universal and subjective, for the isolated manifestations of the laws of nature lie without us—all sphinx-like, motionless, firm, and dumb. Every new phenomenon that is observed is a discovery—every discovery a property. Now only let a single person meddle with property, and man will soon be at hand with all his passions.”
“However,” continued Goethe, “in the sciences, that also is looked upon as property which has been handed down or taught at the universities. And if any one advances anything new which contradicts, perhaps threatens to overturn, the creed which we have for years repeated, and have handed down to others, all passions are raised against him, and every effort is made to crush him. People resist with all their might; they act as if they neither heard nor could comprehend; they speak of the new view with contempt, as if it were not worth the trouble of even so much as an investigation or a regard, and thus a new truth may wait a long time before it can make its way. A Frenchman said to a friend of mine, concerning my theory of colours, ‘We have worked for fifty years to establish and strengthen the kingdom of Newton, and it will require fifty years more to overthrow it.’ The body of mathematicians has endeavoured to make my name so suspected in science that people are afraid of even mentioning it. Some time ago, a pamphlet fell into my hands, in which subjects connected with the theory of colours were treated: the author appeared quite imbued with my theory, and had deduced everything from the same fundamental principles. I read the publication with great delight, but, to my no small surprise, found that the author did not once mention my name. The enigma was afterwards solved. A mutual friend called on me, and confessed to me that the clever young author had wished to establish his reputation by the pamphlet, and had justly feared to compromise himself with the learned world, if he ventured to support by my name the views he was expounding. The little pamphlet was successful, and the ingenious young author has since introduced himself to me personally, and made his excuses.”
“This circumstance appears to me the more remarkable,” said I, “because in everything else people have reason to be proud of you as an authority, and every one esteems himself fortunate who has the powerful protection of your public countenance. With respect to your theory of colours, the misfortune appears to be, that you have to deal not only with the renowned and universally acknowledged Newton, but also with his disciples, who are spread all over the world, who adhere to their master, and whose name is legion. Even supposing that you carry your point at last, you will certainly for a long space of time stand alone with your new theory.”
“I am accustomed to it, and prepared for it.” returned Goethe. “But say yourself,” continued he, “have I not had sufficient reason to feel proud, when for twenty years I have been forced to own to myself that the great Newton and all mathematicians and august calculators with him, have fallen into a decided error respecting the theory of colours; and that I, amongst millions, am the only one who knows the truth on this important subject? With this feeling of superiority, it was possible for me to bear with the stupid pretensions of my opponents. People endeavoured to attack me and my theory in every way, and to render my ideas ridiculous; but, nevertheless, I rejoiced exceedingly over my completed work. All the attacks of my adversaries only serve to expose to me the weakness of mankind.”
While Goethe spoke thus, with such a force and a fluency of expression as I have not the power to reproduce with perfect truth, his eyes sparkled with unusual fire; an expression of triumph was observable in them; whilst an ironical smile played upon his lips. The features of his fine countenance were more imposing than ever.
(Sup.) Wed., Dec. 31.
Dined at Goethe's; conversing on various subjects. He showed me a portfolio containing sketches; amongst which the first attempts of Henry Füssli were especially remarkable.
We then spoke upon religious subjects, and the abuse of the divine name. “People treat it,” said Goethe, “as if that incomprehensible and most high Being, who is even beyond the reach of thought, were only their equal. Otherwise, they would not say the Lord God, the dear God, the good God. This expression becomes to them, especially to the clergy, who have it daily in their mouths, a mere phrase, a barren name, to which no thought is attached whatever. If they were impressed by His greatness they would be dumb, and through veneration unwilling to name Him.”