(Sup.) Fri., Jan. 2.
Dined at Goethe's, and enjoyed some cheerful conversation. Mention was made of a young beauty belonging to the Weimar society, when one of the guests remarked that he was on the point of falling in love with her, although her understanding could not exactly be called brilliant.
“Pshaw,” said Goethe, laughing, “as if love had anything to do with the understanding. The things that we love in a young lady are something very different from the understanding. We love in her beauty, youthfulness, playfulness, trustingness, her character, her faults, her caprices, and God knows what ‘je ne sais quoi’ besides; but we do not love her understanding. We respect her understanding when it is brilliant, and by it the worth of a girl can be infinitely enhanced in our eyes. Understanding may also serve to fix our affections when we already love; but the understanding is not that which is capable of firing our hearts, and awakening a passion.”
We found much that was true and convincing in Goethe's words, and were very willing to consider the subject in that light. After dinner, and when the rest of the party had departed, I remained sitting with Goethe, and conversed with him on various interesting topics.
We discoursed upon English literature, on the greatness of Shakspeare; and on the unfavourable position held by all English dramatic authors who had appeared after that poetical giant.
“A dramatic talent of any importance,” said Goethe, “could not forbear to notice Shakspeare's works, nay, could not forbear to study them. Having studied them, he must be aware that Shakspeare has already exhausted the whole of human nature in all its tendencies, in all its heights and depths, and that, in fact, there remains for him, the aftercomer, nothing more to do. And how could one get courage only to put pen to paper, if one were conscious in an earnest appreciating spirit, that such unfathomable and unattainable excellences were already in existence!
“It fared better with me fifty years ago in my own dear Germany. I could soon come to an end with all that then existed; it could not long awe me, or occupy my attention. I soon left behind me German literature, and the study of it, and turned my thoughts to life and to production. So on and on I went in my own natural development, and on and on I fashioned the productions of epoch after epoch. And at every step of life and development, my standard of excellence was not much higher than what at such step I was able to attain. But had I been born an Englishman, and had all those numerous masterpieces been brought before me in all their power, at my first dawn of youthful consciousness, they would have overpowered me, and I should not have known what to do. I could not have gone on with such fresh light-heartedness, but should have had to bethink myself, and look about for a long time, to find some new outlet.”
I turned the conversation back to Shakspeare. “When one, to some degree, disengages him from English literature,” said I, “and considers him transformed into a German, one cannot fail to look upon his gigantic greatness as a miracle. But if one seeks him in his home, transplants oneself to the soil of his country, and to the atmosphere of the century in which he lived; further, if one studies his contemporaries, and his immediate successors, and inhales the force wafted to us from Ben Jonson, Massinger, Marlow, and Beaumont and Fletcher, Shakspeare still, indeed, appears a being of the most exalted magnitude; but still, one arrives at the conviction that many of the wonders of his genius are, in some measure, accessible, and that much is due to the powerfully productive atmosphere of his age and time.”
“You are perfectly right,” returned Goethe. “It is with Shakspeare as with the mountains of Switzerland. Transplant Mont Blanc at once into the large plain of Lüneburg Heath, and we should find no words to express our wonder at its magnitude. Seek it, however, in its gigantic home, go to it over its immense neighbours, the Jungfrau, the Finsteraarhorn, the Eiger, the Wetterhorn, St. Gothard, and Monte Rosa; Mont Blanc will, indeed, still remain a giant, but it will no longer produce in us such amazement.
“Besides, let him who will not believe,” continued Goethe, “that much of Shakspear's greatness appertains to his great vigorous time, only ask himself the question, whether a phenomenon so astounding would be possible in the present England of 1824, in these evil days of criticising and hair-splitting journals?
“That undisturbed, innocent, somnambulatory production, by which alone anything great can thrive, is no longer possible. Our talents at present lie before the public. The daily criticisms which appear in fifty different places, and the gossip that is caused by them amongst the public, prevent the appearance of any sound production. In the present day, he who does not keep aloof from all this, and isolate himself by main force, is lost. Through the bad, chiefly negative, æsthetical and critical tone of the journals, a sort of half culture finds its way into the masses; but to productive talent it is a noxious mist, a dropping poison, which destroys the tree of creative power, from the ornamental green leaves, to the deepest pith and the most hidden fibres.
“And then how tame and weak has life itself become during the last two shabby centuries. Where do we now meet an original nature? and where is the man who has the strength to be true, and to show himself as he is? this, however, affects the poet, who must find all within himself, while he is left in the lurch by all without.”
The conversation now turned on “Werther.” “That,” said Goethe, “is a creation which I, like the pelican, fed with the blood of my own heart. It contains so much from the innermost recesses of my breast—so much feeling and thought, that it might easily be spread into a novel of ten such volumes. Besides, as I have often said, I have only read the book once since its appearance, and have taken good care not to read it again. It is a mass of congreve-rockets. I am uncomfortable when I look at it; and I dread lest I should once more experience the peculiar mental state from which it was produced.”
I reminded him of his conversation with Napoleon, of which I knew by the sketch amongst his unpublished papers, which I had repeatedly urged him to give more in detail. “Napoleon,” said I, “pointed out to you a passage in ‘Werther,’ which, it appeared to him, would not stand a strict examination; and this you allowed. I should much like to know what passage he meant.”
“Guess!” said Goethe, with a mysterious smile.
“Now,” said I, “I almost think it is where Charlotte sends the pistols to Werther, without saying a word to Albert, and without imparting to him her misgivings and apprehensions. You have given yourself great trouble to find a motive for this silence, but it does not appear to hold good against the urgent necessity where the life of the friend was at stake.”
“Your remark,” returned Goethe, “is really not bad; but I do not think it right to reveal whether Napoleon meant this passage or another. However, be that as it may, your observation is quite as correct as his.”
I asked the question, whether the great effect produced by the appearance of “Werther” was really to be attributed to the period. “I cannot,” said I, “reconcile to myself this view, though it is so extensively spread. ‘Werther’ made an epoch because it appeared—not because it appeared at a certain time. There is in every period so much unexpressed sorrow—so much secret discontent and disgust for life, and, in single individuals, there are so many disagreements with the world—so many conflicts between their natures and civil regulations, that ‘Werther’ would make an epoch even if it appeared to-day for the first time.”
“You are quite right,” said Goethe; “it is on that account that the book to this day influences youth of a certain age, as it did formerly. It was scarcely necessary for me to deduce my own youthful dejection from the general influence of my time, and from the reading of a few English authors. Rather was it owing to individual and immediate circumstances which touched me to the quick, and gave me a great deal of trouble, and indeed brought me into that frame of mind which produced ‘Werther.’ I had lived, loved, and suffered much—that was it.
“On considering more closely the much-talked-of ‘Werther’ period, we discover that it does not belong to the course of universal culture, but to the career of life in every individual, who, with an innate free natural instinct, must accommodate himself to the narrow limits of an antiquated world. Obstructed fortune, restrained activity, unfulfilled wishes, are not the calamities of any particular time, but those of every individual man; and it would be bad, indeed, if every one had not, once in his life, known a time when ‘Werther’ seemed as if it had been written for him alone.”
(Sup.) Sun., Jan. 4.
To-day, after dinner, Goethe went through a portfolio, containing some works of Raphael, with me. He often busies himself with Raphael, in order to keep up a constant intercourse with that which is best, and to accustom himself to muse upon the thoughts of a great man. At the same time, it gives him pleasure to introduce me to such things.
We afterwards spoke about the “Divan”—especially about the “book of ill-humour,” in which much is poured forth that he carried in his heart against his enemies.
“I have, however,” continued he, “been very moderate: if I had uttered all that vexed me or gave me trouble, the few pages would soon have swelled to a volume.
“People were never thoroughly contented with me, but always wished me otherwise than it has pleased God to make me. They were also seldom contented with my productions. When I had long exerted my whole soul to favour the world with a new work, it still desired that I should thank it into the bargain for considering the work endurable. If any one praised me, I was not allowed, in self-congratulation, to receive it as a well-merited tribute; but people expected from me some modest expression, humbly setting forth the total unworthiness of my person and my work. However, my nature opposed this; and I should have been a miserable hypocrite, if I had so tried to lie and dissemble. Since I was strong enough to show myself in my whole truth, just as I felt, I was deemed proud, and am considered so to the present day.
“In religious, scientific, and political matters, I generally brought trouble upon myself, because I was no hypocrite, and had the courage to express what I felt.
“I believed in God and in Nature, and in the triumph of good over evil; but this was not enough for pious souls: I was also required to believe other points, which were opposed to the feeling of my soul for truth; besides, I did not see that these would be of the slightest service to me.
“It was also prejudicial to me that I discovered Newton's theory of light and colour to be an error, and that I had the courage to contradict the universal creed. I discovered light in its purity and truth, and I considered it my duty to fight for it. The opposite party, however, did their utmost to darken the light; for they maintained that shade is a part of light. It sounds absurd when I express it; but so it is: for they said that colours, which are shadow and the result of shade, are light itself, or, which amounts to the same thing, are the beams of light, broken now in one way, now in another.”
Goethe was silent, whilst an ironical smile spread over his expressive countenance. He continued:—
“And now for political matters. What trouble I have taken, and what I have suffered, on that account, I cannot tell you. Do you know my ‘Aufgeregten?’
“Yesterday, for the first time,” returned I, “I read the piece, in consequence of the new edition of your works; and I regret from my heart that it remains unfinished. But, even as it is, every right-thinking person must coincide with your sentiments.”
“I wrote it at the time of the French Revolution,” continued Goethe, “and it may be regarded, in some measure, as my political confession of faith at that time. I have taken the countess as a type of the nobility; and, with the words which I put into her mouth, I have expressed how the nobility really ought to think. The countess has just returned from Paris; she has there been an eye-witness of the revolutionary events, and has drawn, therefore, for herself, no bad doctrine. She has convinced herself that the people may be ruled, but not oppressed, and that the revolutionary outbreaks of the lower classes are the consequence of the injustice of the higher classes. ‘I will for the future,’ says she, ‘strenuously avoid every action that appears to me unjust, and will, both in society and at court, loudly express my opinion concerning such actions in others. In no case of injustice will I be silent, even though I should be cried down as a democrat.’
“I should have thought this sentiment perfectly respectable,” continued Goethe; “it was mine at that time, and it is so still; but as a reward for it, I was endowed with all sorts of titles, which I do not care to repeat.”
“One need only read ‘Egmont,’” answered I, “to discover what you think. I know no German piece in which the freedom of the people is more advocated than in this.”
“Sometimes,” said Goethe, “people do not like to look on me as I am, but turn their glances from everything which could show me in my true light. Schiller, on the contrary—who, between ourselves, was much more of an aristocrat than I am, but who considered what he said more than I—had the wonderful fortune to be looked upon as a particular friend of the people. I give it up to him with all my heart, and console myself with the thought that others before me have fared no better.
“It is true that I could be no friend to the French Revolution; for its horrors were too near me, and shocked me daily and hourly, whilst its beneficial results were not then to be discovered. Neither could I be indifferent to the fact that the Germans were endeavouring, artificially, to bring about such scenes here, as were, in France, the consequence of a great necessity.
“But I was as little a friend to arbitrary rule. Indeed, I was perfectly convinced that a great revolution is never a fault of the people, but of the government. Revolutions are utterly impossible as long as governments are constantly just and constantly vigilant, so that they may anticipate them by improvements at the right time, and not hold out until they are forced to yield by the pressure from beneath.
“Because I hated the Revolution, the name of the ‘Friend of the powers that be’ was bestowed upon me. That is, however, a very ambiguous title, which I would beg to decline. If the ‘powers that be’ were all that is excellent, good, and just, I should have no objection to the title; but, since with much that is good there is also much that is bad, unjust, and imperfect, a friend of the ‘powers that be’ means often little less than the friend of the obsolete and bad.
“But time is constantly progressing, and human affairs wear every fifty years a different aspect; so that an arrangement which, in the year 1800, was perfection, may, perhaps, in the year 1850 be a defect.
“And, furthermore, nothing is good for a nation but that which arises from its own core and its own general wants, without apish imitation of another; since what to one race of people, of a certain age, is a wholesome nutriment, may perhaps prove a poison for another. All endeavours to introduce any foreign innovation, the necessity for which is not rooted in the core of the nation itself, are therefore foolish; and all premeditated revolutions of the kind are unsuccessful, for they are without God, who keeps aloof from such bungling. If, however, there exists an actual necessity for a great reform amongst a people, God is with it, and it prospers. He was visibly with Christ and his first adherents; for the appearance of the new doctrine of love was a necessity to the people. He was also visibly with Luther; for the purification of the doctrine corrupted by the priests was no less a necessity. Neither of the great powers whom I have named was, however, a friend of the permanent; much more were both of them convinced that the old leaven must be got rid of, and that it would be impossible to go on and remain in the untrue, unjust, and defective way.”
 Goethe's “West-östliche (west-eastern) Divan,” one of the twelve divisions of which is entitled “Das Buch des Unmuths” (The Book of Ill-Humour).—Trans.
 “Die Aufgeregten” (the Agitated, in a political sense) is an unfinished drama by Goethe.—Trans.
 The German phrase “Freund des Bestehenden,” which, for want of a better expression, has been rendered above “friend of the powers that be,” literally means “friend of the permanent,” and was used by the detractors of Goethe to denote the “enemy of the progressive.”—Trans.
Tues., Jan. 27.
Goethe talked with me about the continuation of his memoirs, with which he is now busy. He observed that this later period of his life would not be narrated with such minuteness as the youthful epoch of “Dichtung und Wahrheit.” “I must,” said he, “treat this later period more in the fashion of annals: my outward actions must appear rather than my inward life. Altogether, the most important part of an individual's life is that of development, and mine is concluded in the detailed volumes of ‘Dichtung und Wahrheit.’ Afterwards begins the conflict with the world, and that is interesting only in its results.
“And then the life of a learned German—what is it? What may have been really good in my case cannot be communicated, and what can be communicated is not worth the trouble. Besides, where are the hearers whom one could entertain with any satisfaction?
“When I look back to the earlier and middle periods of my life, and now in my old age think how few are left of those who were young with me, I always think of a summer residence at a bathing-place. When you arrive, you make acquaintance and friends of those who have already been there some time, and who leave in a few weeks. The loss is painful. Then you turn to the second generation, with which you live a good while, and become most intimate. But this goes also, and leaves us alone with the third, which comes just as we are going away, and with which we have, properly, nothing to do.
“I have ever been esteemed one of Fortune's chiefest favourites; nor will I complain or find fault with the course my life has taken. Yet, truly, there has been nothing but toil and care; and I may say that, in all my seventy-five years, I have never had a month of genuine comfort. It has been the perpetual rolling of a stone, which I have always had to raise anew. My annals will render clear what I now say. The claims upon my activity, both from within and without, were too numerous.
“My real happiness was my poetic meditation and production. But how was this disturbed, limited, and hindered by my external position! Had I been able to abstain more from public business, and to live more in solitude, I should have been happier, and should have accomplished much more as a poet. But, soon after my ‘Goetz’ and ‘Werther,’ that saying of a sage was verified for me—‘If you do anything for the sake of the world, it will take good care that you shall not do it a second time.’
“A wide-spread celebrity, an elevated position in life, are presumably good things. But, for all my rank and celebrity, I am still obliged to be silent as to the opinion of others, that I may not give offence. This would be but poor sport, if by this means I had not the advantage of learning the thoughts of others without their being able to learn mine.”
 “Poetry and Truth,” the title of Goethe's autobiography.—Trans.
Sun., Feb. 15.
Goethe invited me to take a walk before dinner to-day. I found him at breakfast when I entered the room: he seemed in excellent spirits.
“I have had a pleasant visit,” said he cheerfully. “A promising young Westphalian, named Meyer, has just been with me. He has written poems which warrant high expectations. He is only eighteen, and has made incredible progress.
“I am glad,” continued he, smiling, “that I am not eighteen now. When I was eighteen, Germany was in its teens also, and something could be done; but now an incredible deal is demanded, and every avenue is barred.
“Germany itself stands so high in every department, that we can scarcely survey all it has done; and now we must be Greeks and Latins, and English and French into the bargain. Not content with this, some have the madness of pointing to the East also; and surely this is enough to confuse a young man's head!
“I have, by way of consolation, shown him my colossal Juno, as a token that he had best stick to the Greeks, and find consolation there. He is a fine young man, and, if he takes care not to dissipate his energies, something will be made of him. However, as I said before, I thank Heaven that I am not young in so thoroughly finished a time. I could not stay here. Nay, if I sought refuge in America, I should come too late, for there is now too much light even there.”
Sun., Feb. 22.
Dined with Goethe and his son. The latter related some pleasant stories of the time when he was a student at Heidelberg. He had often been with his friends on an excursion along the Rhine, in his vacations, and especially cherished the remembrance of a landlord, at whose house he and ten other students had once passed the night, and who provided them with wine gratis, merely that he might share the pleasures of a “Commerz.”
After dinner, Goethe showed us some coloured drawings of Italian scenery, especially that of Northern Italy, with the adjoining Swiss mountains, and the Lago Maggiore. The Borromean Isles were reflected in the water; near the shore were skiffs and fishing-tackle, which led Goethe to remark that this was the lake in the “Wanderjahre.” On the north-west, towards Monte Rosa, stood the hills bordering the lake in black-blue heavy masses, as we are wont to see them soon after sunset.
I remarked that, to me, who had been born in the plains, the gloomy sublimity of these masses produced an uncomfortable feeling, and that I, by no means, desired to explore such wild recesses.
“That feeling is natural,” said Goethe. “Really that state is alone suitable to man, in which, and for which, he was born. He who is not led abroad by great objects is far happier at home. Switzerland, at first, made so great an impression upon me, that it disturbed and confused me. Only after repeated visits—only in after years, when I visited those mountains merely as a mineralogist—could I feel at my ease among them.”
We looked, afterwards, at a long series of copper-plates, from pictures by modern artists, in one of the French galleries. The invention displayed in these pictures was almost uniformly weak, and among forty we barely found four or five good ones. These were a girl dictating a love-letter; a woman in a house to let, which nobody will take! “catching fish;” and musicians before an image of the Madonna. A landscape, in Poussin's manner, was not bad; on looking at this, Goethe said, “Such artists get a general idea of Poussin's landscapes, and work upon that. We cannot style their pictures good or bad: they are not bad, because, through every part, you catch glimpses of an excellent model. But you cannot call them good, because the artists usually want the great personal peculiarity of Poussin. It is just so among poets, and there are some who, for instance, would make a very poor figure in Shakspeare's grand style.”
We ended by examining, and talking over for a long while, Rauch's model of Goethe's statue, which is designed for Frankfort.
 The academical word for a student's drinking party.—Trans.
Tues., Feb. 24.
I went to Goethe's at one o'clock to-day. He showed me some manuscripts, which he had dictated for the first number of the fifth volume of “Kunst und Alterthum.” I found that he had written an appendix to my critique of the German “Paria,” in reference both to the French tragedy and to his own lyrical trilogy, by which this subject was, to a certain extent, completed. “You were quite right,” said he, “to avail yourself of the occasion of your critique, to become acquainted with Indian matters, since, in the end, we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply.”
I agreed with him, and said that I had made this experience at the university, since, of all that was said in the lectures, I had only retained that, of which I could, through the tendency of my nature, make a practical application; on the contrary, I had completely forgotten all that I had been unable to reduce to practice. “I have,” said I, “heard Heeren's lectures on ancient and modern history, and know now nothing about the matter. But if I studied a period of history for the sake of treating it dramatically, what I learned would be safely secured to me for ever.”
“Altogether,” said Goethe, “they teach in academies far too many things, and far too much that is useless. Then the individual professors extend their department too much—far beyond the wants of their hearers. In former days lectures were read in chemistry and botany as belonging to medicine, and the physician could manage them. Now, both these have become so extensive, that each of them requires a life; yet acquaintance with both is expected from the physician. Nothing can come of this; one thing must be neglected and forgotten for the sake of the other. He who is wise puts aside all claims which may dissipate his attention, confines himself to one branch, and excels in that.”
Goethe then showed me a short critique, which he had written on Byron's “Cain,” and which I read with great interest.
“We see,” he said, “how the inadequate dogmas of the church work upon a free mind like Byron's, and how by such a piece he struggles to get rid of a doctrine which has been forced upon him. The English clergy will not thank him; but I shall be surprised if he does not go on treating biblical subjects of similar import, and if he lets slip a subject like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
After these literary observations, Goethe directed my attention to plastic art, by showing me an antique gem, of which he had already expressed his admiration the day before. I was enchanted to observe the naïveté of the design. I saw a man who had taken a heavy vessel from his shoulder to give a boy drink. But the boy finds it is not bent down conveniently for him; the drink will not flow; and while he has laid both his little hands on the vessel, he looks up to the man, and seems to ask him to incline it a little more towards him.
“Now, how do you like that?” said Goethe. “We moderns,” continued he, “feel well enough the beauty of such a perfectly natural, perfectly naïve motive; we have the knowledge and the idea how such a thing is to be brought about, but we cannot do it; the understanding is always uppermost, and this enchanting grace is always wanting.”
We looked then at a medal by Brandt of Berlin, representing young Theseus taking the arms of his father from under the stone. The attitude had much that was commendable, but we found the limbs not sufficiently strained to lift such a burden. It seemed, too, a mistake for the youth to have the arms in one hand while he lifted the stone with the other; for, according to the nature of things, he would first roll aside the heavy stone, and then take up the arms. “By way of contrast,” said Goethe, “I will show you an antique gem, where the same subject is treated by an ancient.”
He bade Stadelmann bring a box containing several hundred copies of antique gems, which he had brought with him from Rome, on the occasion of his travels in Italy. I then saw the same subject, treated by an old Greek—and how different it was! The youth was exerting his whole strength upon the stone, and was equal to the task, for the weight was already visibly overcome, and the stone was raised to that point, where it would very soon be cast on one side. All his bodily powers were directed by the young hero against the heavy mass; only his looks were fixed on the arms which lay beneath.
We were pleased with the great natural truth of this treatment.
“Meyer,” said Goethe, laughing, “always says, ‘If thinking were not so hard.’ And the worst is, that all the thinking in the world does not bring us to thought; we must be right by nature, so that good thoughts may come before us like free children of God, and cry ‘Here we are.’”
Wed., Feb. 25.
To-day, Goethe showed me two very remarkable poems, both highly moral in their tendency, but in their several motives so unreservedly natural and true, that they are of the kind which the world styles immoral. On this account, he keeps them to himself, and does not intend to publish them.
“Could intellect and high cultivation,” said he, “become the property of all, the poet would have fair play; he could be always thoroughly true, and would not be compelled to fear uttering his best thoughts. But, as it is, he must always keep on a certain level; must remember that his works will fall into the hands of a mixed society; and must, therefore, take care lest by over-great openness he may give offence to the majority of good men. Then, Time is a strange thing. It is a whimsical tyrant, which in every century has a different face for all that one says and does. We cannot, with propriety, say things which were permitted to the ancient Greeks; and the Englishmen of 1820 cannot endure what suited the vigorous contemporaries of Shakspeare; so that at the present day, it is found necessary to have a Family Shakspeare.”
“Then,” said I, “there is much in the form also. The one of these two poems, which is composed in the style and metre of the ancients, would be far less offensive than the other. Isolated parts would displease, but the treatment throws so much grandeur and dignity over the whole, that we seem to hear a strong ancient, and to be carried back to the age of the Greek heroes. But the other, being in the style and metre of Messer Ariosto, is far more hazardous. It relates an event of our day, in the language of our day, and as it thus comes quite unveiled into our presence, the particular features of boldness seem far more audacious.”
“You are right,” said he; “mysterious and great effects are produced by different poetical forms. If the import of my Romish elegies were put into the measure and style of Byron's ‘Don Juan,’ the whole would be found infamous.”
The French newspapers were brought. The campaign of the French in Spain under the Duke d'Angoulême, which was just ended, had great interest for Goethe. “I must praise the Bourbons for this measure,” said he; “they had not really gained the throne till they had gained the army, and that is now accomplished. The soldier returns with loyalty to his king; for he has, from his own victories, and the discomfitures of the many-headed Spanish host, learned the difference between obeying one and many. The army has sustained its ancient fame, and shown that it is brave in itself, and can conquer without Napoleon.”
Goethe then turned his thoughts backward into history, and talked much of the Prussian army in the Seven Years' War, which, accustomed by Frederic the Great to constant victory, grew careless, so that, in after days, it lost many battles from over-confidence. All the minutest details were present to his mind, and I had reason to admire his excellent memory.
“I had the great advantage,” said he, “of being born at a time when the greatest events which agitated the world occurred, and such have continued to occur during my long life; so that I am a living witness of the Seven Years' War, of the separation of America from England, of the French Revolution, and of the whole Napoleon era, with the downfall of that hero, and the events which followed. Thus I have attained results and insight impossible to those who are born now and must learn all these things from books which they will not understand.
“What the next years will bring I cannot predict; but I fear we shall not soon have repose. It is not given to the world to be contented; the great are not such that there will be no abuse of power; the masses not such that, in hope of gradual improvement, they will be contented with a moderate condition. Could we perfect human nature, we might also expect a perfect state of things; but, as it is, there will always be a wavering hither and thither; one part must suffer while the other is at ease, envy and egotism will be always at work like bad demons, and party strife will be without end.
“The most reasonable way is for every one to follow his own vocation to which he has been born, and which he has learned, and to avoid hindering others from following theirs. Let the shoemaker abide by his last, the peasant by his plough, and let the king know how to govern; for this is also a business which must be learned, and with which no one should meddle who does not understand it.”
Returning to the French papers, Goethe said,—“The liberals may speak, for when they are reasonable we like to hear them; but with the royalists, who have the executive power in their hands, talking comes amiss—they should act. They may march troops, and behead and hang—that is all right; but attacking opinions, and justifying their measures in public prints, does not become them. If there were a public of kings, they might talk.
“For myself,” he continued, “I have always been a royalist. I have let others babble, and have done as I saw fit. I understood my course, and knew my own object. If I committed a fault as a single individual, I could make it good again; but if I committed it jointly with three or four others, it would be impossible to make it good, for among many there are many opinions.”
Goethe was in excellent spirits to-day. He showed me Frau von Spiegel's album, in which he had written some very beautiful verses. A place had been left open for him for two years, and he rejoiced at having been able to perform at last an old promise. After I had read the “Poem to Frau von Spiegel,” I turned over the leaves of the book, in which I found many distinguished names. On the very next page was a poem by Tiedge, written in the very spirit and style of his “Urania.” “In a saucy mood,” said Goethe, “I was on the point of writing some verses beneath those; but I am glad I did not. It would not have been the first time that, by rash expressions, I had repelled good people, and spoiled the effect of my best works.
“However,” continued Goethe, “I have had to endure not a little from Tiedge's ‘Urania;’ for, at one time, nothing was sung and nothing was declaimed but this same ‘Urania.’ Wherever you went, you found ‘Urania’ on the table. ‘Urania’ and immortality were the topics of every conversation. I would by no means dispense with the happiness of believing in a future existence, and, indeed, would say, with Lorenzo de Medici, that those are dead even for this life who hope for no other. But such incomprehensible matters lie too far off to be a theme of daily meditation and thought-distracting speculation. Let him who believes in immortality enjoy his happiness in silence, he has no reason to give himself airs about it. The occasion of Tiedge's ‘Urania’ led me to observe that piety, like nobility, has its aristocracy. I met stupid women, who plumed themselves on believing, with Tiedge, in immortality, and I was forced to bear much dark examination on this point. They were vexed by my saying I should be well pleased if, after the close of this life, we were blessed with another, only I hoped I should hereafter meet none of those who had believed in it here. For how should I be tormented! The pious would throng around me, and say, ‘Were we not right? Did we not predict it? Has not it happened just as we said?’ And so there would be ennui without end even in the other world.
“This occupation with the ideas of immortality,” he continued, “is for people of rank, and especially ladies, who have nothing to do. But an able man, who has something regular to do here, and must toil and struggle and produce day by day, leaves the future world to itself, and is active and useful in this. Thoughts about immortality are also good for those who have not been very successful here; and I would wager that, if the good Tiedge had enjoyed a better lot, he would also have had better thoughts.”
Thurs., Feb. 26.
I dined with Goethe. After the cloth had been removed, he bade Stadelmann bring in some large portfolios of copper-plates. Some dust had collected on the covers, and, as no suitable cloths were at hand to wipe it away, Goethe was much displeased, and scolded Stadelmann. “I tell you for the last time,” said he, “if you do not go this very day to buy the cloths for which I have asked so often, I will go myself to-morrow; and you shall see that I will keep my word.” Stadelmann went.
“A similar case occurred to me with Becker, the actor,” added Goethe to me, in a lively tone, “when he refused to take the part of a trooper in ‘Wallenstein.’ I gave him warning that, if he would not play the part, I would play it myself. That did the business; for they knew me at the theatre well enough, and were aware that I did not understand jesting in such matters, and also that I was mad enough to keep my word in any case.”
“And would you really have played the part?” asked I.
“Yes,” said Goethe, “I would have played it, and would have eclipsed Herr Becker, too, for I knew the part better than he did.”
We then opened the portfolios, and proceeded to the examination of the drawings and engravings. Goethe, in such matters, takes great pains on my account, and I see that it is his intention to give me a higher degree of penetration in the observation of works of art. He shows me only what is perfect in its kind, and endeavours to make me apprehend the intention and merit of the artist, that I may learn to pursue the thoughts of the best, and feel like the best. “This,” said he, “is the way to cultivate what we call taste. Taste is only to be educated by contemplation, not of the tolerably good, but of the truly excellent. I, therefore, show you only the best works; and when you are grounded in these, you will have a standard for the rest, which you will know how to value, without overrating them. And I show you the best in each class, that you may perceive that no class is to be despised, but that each gives delight when a man of genius attains its highest point. For instance, this piece, by a French artist, is galant, to a degree which you see nowhere else, and is therefore a model in its way.”
Goethe handed me the engraving, and I looked at it with delight. There was a beautiful room in a summer residence, with open doors and windows looking into a garden, where one might see the most graceful figures. A handsome lady, aged about thirty, was sitting with a music book, from which she seemed to have just sung. Sitting by her, a little further back, was a young girl of about fifteen. At the open window behind stood another young lady, holding a lute, which she seemed still to be sounding. At this moment a young gentleman was entering, to whom the eyes of the ladies were directed. He seemed to have interrupted the music; and his slight bow gave the notion that he was making an apology, which the ladies were gratified to hear.
“That, I think,” said Goethe, “is as galant as any piece of Calderon's; and you have now seen the very best thing of this kind. But what say you to this?”
With these words he handed me some etchings by Roos, the famous painter of animals; they were all of sheep, in every posture and situation. The simplicity of their countenances, the ugliness and shagginess of the fleece—all was represented with the utmost fidelity, as if it were nature itself.
“I always feel uneasy,” said Goethe, “when I look at these beasts. Their state, so limited, dull, gaping, and dreaming, excites in me such sympathy, that I fear I shall become a sheep, and almost think the artist must have been one. At all events, it is most wonderful how Roos has been able to think and feel himself into the very soul of these creatures, so as to make the internal character peer with such force through the outward covering. Here you see what a great talent can do when it keeps steady to subjects which are congenial with its nature.”
“Has not, then,” said I, “this artist also painted dogs, cats, and beasts of prey with similar truth; nay, with this great gift of assuming a mental state foreign to himself, has he not been able to delineate human character with equal fidelity?”
“No,” said Goethe, “all that lay out of his sphere; but the gentle, grass-eating animals, sheep, goats, cows, and the like, he was never weary of repeating; this was the peculiar province of his talent, which he did not quit during the whole course of his life. And in this he did well. A sympathy with these animals was born with him, a knowledge of their psychological condition was given him, and thus he had so fine an eye for their bodily structure. Other creatures were perhaps not so transparent to him, and therefore he felt neither calling nor impulse to paint them.”
By this remark of Goethe's, much that was analogous was revived within me, and was presented in all its liveliness to my mind. Thus he had said to me, not long before, that knowledge of the world is inborn with the genuine poet, and that he needs not much experience or varied observation to represent it adequately. “I wrote ‘Goetz von Berlichingen,’” said he, “as a young man of two-and-twenty, and was astonished, ten years after, at the truth of my delineation. It is obvious that I had not experienced nor seen anything of the kind, and therefore I must have acquired the knowledge of various human conditions by way of anticipation.
“Generally, I only took pleasure in painting my inward world before I became acquainted with the outer one. But when I found, in actual life, that the world was really just what I had fancied, it vexed me, and I no more felt delight in representing it. Indeed, I may say that if I had waited till I knew the world before I represented it, my representation would have had the appearance of persiflage.
“There is in every character,” said he, another time, “a certain necessity, a sequence, which, together with this or that leading feature, causes secondary features. Observation teaches this sufficiently; but with some persons this knowledge may be innate. Whether with me experience and innate faculty are united, I will not inquire; but this I know, if I have talked with any man a quarter of an hour, I will let him talk two hours.”
Goethe had likewise said of Lord Byron, that the world to him was transparent, and that he could paint by way of anticipation. I expressed some doubts whether Byron would succeed in painting, for instance, a subordinate animal nature, for his individuality seemed to me to be too powerful for him to give himself up, with any degree of predilection, to such a subject. Goethe admitted this, and replied that the anticipation only went so far as the objects were analogous to the talent; and we agreed, that in the same proportion as the anticipation is confined or extended, is the representing talent of greater or smaller compass.
“If your excellency,” said I, “maintains that the world is inborn with the poet, you of course mean only the interior world, not the empirical world of appearances and conventions; if the poet is to give a successful representation of this also, an investigation into the actual will surely be requisite.”
“Certainly,” replied Goethe, “so it is; the region of love, hate, hope, despair, or by whatever other names you may call the moods and passions of the soul, is innate with the poet, and he succeeds in representing it. But it is not born with him to know by instinct how courts are held, or how a parliament or a coronation is managed; and if he will not offend against truth, while treating such subjects, he must have recourse to experience or tradition. Thus, in ‘Faust,’ I could, by anticipation, know how to describe my hero's gloomy weariness of life, and the emotions which love excites in the heart of Gretchen; but the lines,
Wie traurig steigt die unvollknommne Scheibe
Des späten Monds mit feuchter Glut heran!
How gloomy does the imperfect disc
Of the late moon with humid glow arise!
required some observation of nature.”
“Yet,” said I, “every line of ‘Faust’ bears marks, not to be mistaken, of a careful study of life and the world; nor does one for a moment suppose otherwise than that the whole is only the result of the amplest experience.”
“Perhaps so,” replied Goethe; “yet, had I not the world already in my soul through anticipation, I should have remained blind with seeing eyes, and all experience and observation would have been dead, unproductive labour. The light is there, and the colours surround us; but, if we had no light and no colours in our own eyes, we should not perceive the outward phenomena.”
Sat., Feb. 28.
“There are,” said Goethe, “excellent men, who are unable to do anything impromptu, or superficially, but whose nature demands that they should quietly and deeply penetrate into every subject they may take in hand. Such minds often make us impatient, for we seldom get from them what we want at the moment; but in this way alone the noblest tasks are accomplished.”
I turned the conversation to Ramberg. “He,” said Goethe, “is an artist of quite a different stamp, of a most genial talent, and indeed unequalled in his power of impromptu. At Dresden, he once asked me to give him a subject. I gave him Agamemnon, at the moment when, on his return from Troy, he is descending from his chariot, and is seized with a gloomy feeling, on touching the threshold of his house. You will agree that this is a subject of a most difficult kind, and, with another artist, would have demanded the most mature deliberation. But the words had scarcely passed my lips, before Ramberg began to draw, and, indeed, I was struck with admiration, to see how correctly he at once apprehended his subject. I cannot deny that I should like to possess some drawings by Ramberg.”
We talked then of other artists, who set to work in a superficial way, and thus degenerated into mannerism.
“Mannerism,” said Goethe, “is always longing to have done, and has no true enjoyment in work. A genuine, really great talent, on the other hand, finds its greatest happiness in execution. Roos is unwearied in drawing the hair and wool of his goats and sheep, and you see by his infinite details that he enjoyed the purest felicity in doing his work, and had no wish to bring it to an end.
“Inferior talents do not enjoy art for its own sake; while at work they have nothing before their eyes but the profit they hope to make when they have done. With such worldly views and tendencies, nothing great was ever yet produced.”
Sun., Feb. 29.
At twelve o'clock, I went to Goethe, who had invited me to take a walk before dinner. I found him at breakfast when I entered, and taking my seat opposite to him, turned the conversation upon those productions which occupy us both on account of the new edition of his works. I counselled him to insert both his “Gods, Heroes, and Wieland,” and his “Letters of a Pastor,” in his new edition.
“I cannot,” said Goethe, “from my present point of view, properly judge the merit of those youthful productions. You younger people may decide, if you will. Yet I will not find fault with those beginnings; I was, indeed, then in the dark, and struggled on, unconscious of what I was seeking so earnestly; but I had a feeling of the right, a divining rod, that showed me where gold was to be found.”
I observed that this must be the case with all great talents, since otherwise, on awaking in a mixed world, they would not seize upon the right and shun the wrong.
The horses had, in the mean while, been put to, and we rode towards Jena. We conversed on different subjects, and Goethe mentioned the last French newspapers. “The constitution of France,” said he, “belonging to a people who have within themselves so many elements of corruption, rests upon a very different basis from that of England. Everything may be done in France by bribery; indeed the whole French revolution was directed by such means.”
He then spoke of the death of Eugéne Napoleon (Duke of Leuchtenberg), the news of which had arrived that morning, and which seemed to grieve him much. “He was one of those great characters,” said Goethe, “which are becoming more and more rare; and the world is once more one important man the poorer. I knew him personally; only last summer I was with him at Marienbad. He was a handsome man, about forty-two, though he looked older, which was not to be wondered at when we call to mind all he went through, and how, through all his life, one campaign and one great deed pressed constantly on another. He told me at Marienbad of a plan, on the execution of which he conversed with me much. This was the union of the Rhine with the Danube, by means of a canal—a gigantic enterprise, when you consider the obstacles offered by the locality. But to a man who has served under Napoleon, and with him shaken the world, nothing appears impossible. Charlemagne had the same plan, and even began the work, but it soon came to a standstill. The sand would not hold, the banks were always falling in on both sides.”
Mon., Mar. 22.
To-day, before dinner, I went with Goethe into his garden. The situation of this garden, on the other side of the Ilm, near the park, and on the western declivity of a hill, gives it a very inviting aspect. It is protected from the north and east winds, but open to the cheering influences of the south and west, which makes it a most delightful abode, especially in spring and autumn.
To the town, which lies north-west, one is so near that one can be there in a few minutes, and yet if one looks round, one does not anywhere see the top of a building, or a even a spire, to remind one of such a proximity; the tall and thickly-planted trees of the park shut out every other object on that side. Under the name of the “Star,” they go to the left, towards the north, close to the carriage-way, which leads immediately from the garden.
Towards the west and south-west, there is a free view over a spacious meadow, through which, at about the distance of a bow-shot, the Ilm winds silently along. On the opposite side of the river, the bank rises like a hill; on the summit and sides of which spreads the broad park, with the mixed foliage of alders, ash-trees, poplars, and birches, bounding the horizon at an agreeable distance on the south and west.
This view of the park over the meadow gives a feeling, especially in summer, as if one were near a wood which extended leagues round about. One thinks that every moment there will be deer bounding out upon the meadows. One feels transplanted into the peace of the deepest natural solitude, for the silence is often uninterrupted, except by the solitary notes of the blackbird, or the frequently-suspended song of the wood-thrush.
Out of this dream of profound solitude, we are, however, awakened by the striking of the tower-clock, the screaming of the peacocks from the park, or the drums and horns of the military from the barracks. And this is not unpleasant; for such tones comfortably remind one of the neighbourhood of the friendly city, from which one has fancied oneself distant so many miles.
At certain seasons, these meadows are the reverse of lonely. One sees sometimes country people going to Weimar to market, or to work, and returning thence; sometimes loungers of all sorts walking along the windings of the Ilm, especially in the direction towards Upper Weimar, which is on certain days much visited. The hay-making season also animates the scene very agreeably. In the background, one sees flocks of sheep grazing, and sometimes the stately Swiss cows of the neighbouring farm.
To-day, however, there was no trace of these summer phenomena, which are so refreshing to the senses. On the meadows, some streaks of green were scarcely visible; the trees of the park as yet could boast nothing but brown twigs and buds; yet the note of the finch, with the occasional song of the blackbird and thrush, announced the approach of spring.
The air was pleasant and summerlike; a very mild south-west wind was blowing. Small, isolated thunder-clouds passed along the clear sky; high above might be observed the dispersing cirrus-streaks. We accurately observed the clouds, and saw that the massive clouds of the lower region were likewise dispersing; from which Goethe inferred that the barometer must be rising.
Goethe then spoke much about the rising and falling of the barometer, which he called the affirmative and negative of water. He spoke of the inhaling and exhaling processes of the earth, according to eternal laws; of a possible deluge, if the “water-affirmative” continued. He said, besides, that, though each place has its proper atmosphere, there is great uniformity in the state of the barometer throughout Europe; nature, he said, was incommensurable, and with her great irregularities, it was often difficult to find her laws.
While he thus instructed me on such high subjects, we were walking up and down the broad gravel-walk of the garden. We came near the house, which he bade the servant to open, that he might show me the interior. Without, the whitewashed walls were covered with rose-bushes, which, trained on espaliers, reached to the roof. I went round the house, and saw with pleasure, on the branches of these rose-bushes, against the wall, a great number of birds' nests of various kinds, which had been there since the preceding summer, and, now that the bushes were bare of leaves, were exposed to the eye. There were especially to be observed the nests of the linnet and of various kinds of hedge-sparrows, built high or low according to the habits of the birds.
Goethe then took me inside the house, which I had not seen since last summer. In the lower story, I found only one inhabitable room, on the walls of which were hung some charts and engravings, besides a portrait of Goethe, as large as life, painted by Meyer shortly after the return of both friends from Italy. Goethe here appears in the prime of his powers and his manhood, very brown, and rather stout. The expression of the countenance is not very animated, and is very serious; one seems to behold a man on whose mind lies the weight of future deeds.
We ascended the stairs to the upper-rooms. I found three, and one little cabinet; but all very small, and not very convenient. Goethe said that, in former years, he had passed a great deal of his time here with pleasure, and had worked very quietly.
These rooms were rather cool, and we returned into the open air, which was mild. As we walked up and down the chief pathway, in the noonday sun, our conversation turned on modern literature, Schelling, and some new plays by Count Platen.
We soon returned to the natural objects. The crown-imperials and lilies were already far advanced; the mallows on both sides of the park were already green.
The upper part of the garden, on the declivity of the hill, is covered with grass, and here and there a few fruit-trees. Paths extend along the summit, and then return to the foot; which awakened in me a wish to ascend and look about me. Goethe, as he ascended these paths, walked swiftly before me, and I was rejoiced to see how active he was.
On the hedge above we found a pea-hen, which seemed to have come from the prince's park; and Goethe remarked that, in summer time, he was accustomed to allure the peacocks, by giving them such food as they loved.
Descending on the winding path on the other side of the hill, I found a stone, surrounded by shrubs, on which was carved this line from the well-known poem—
Hier im stillen gedachte der Liebende seiner Geliebten;
Here in silence reflected the lover upon his beloved;
and I felt as if I were on classic ground.
Near this was a thicket of half-grown oaks, firs, birches, and beech-trees. Beneath the firs, I found the sign of a bird of prey. I showed it to Goethe, who said he had often seen such in this place. From this I concluded that these firs were a favourite abode of some owls, which had been frequently seen in this place.
Passing round this thicket, we found ourselves once more on the principal path near the house. The oaks, firs, birches, and beeches, which we had just gone round, being mingled together, here form a semicircle, overarching like a grotto the inner space, in which we sat down on little chairs, placed about a round table. The sun was so powerful, that the shade even of these leafless trees was agreeable. “I know,” said Goethe, “no better refuge, in the heats of summer, than this spot. I planted all the trees, forty years ago, with my own hand; I have had the pleasure of watching their growth, and have now for a long time enjoyed their refreshing shade. The foliage of these oaks and beeches is impervious to the most potent sun. In hot summer days, I like to sit here after dinner; and often over the meadows and the whole park such stillness reigns, that the ancients would say, ‘Pan sleeps.’”
We now heard the town-clock striking two, and returned to the house.
 The word here rendered by the general expression “sign” is “Gewölle,” a sporting term, which signifies the hair, feathers, or other indigestible matter swallowed by a bird of prey and afterwards vomited.—Trans.
Tues., Mar. 30.
This evening I was with Goethe. I was alone with him; we talked on various subjects, and drank a bottle of wine. We spoke of the French drama, as contrasted with the German.
“It will be very difficult,” said Goethe, “for the German public to come to a kind of right judgment, as they do in Italy and France. We have a special obstacle in the circumstance, that on our stage a medley of all sorts of things is represented. On the same boards where we saw Hamlet yesterday, we see Staberle to-day; and if to-morrow we are delighted with ‘Zauberflöte,’ the day after we shall be charmed with the oddities of the next lucky wight. Hence the public becomes confused in its judgment, mingling together various species, which it never learns rightly to appreciate and to understand. Furthermore, every one has his own individual demands and personal wishes, and returns to the spot where he finds them realized. On the tree where he has plucked figs to-day, he would pluck them again to-morrow, and would make a long face if sloes had grown in their stead during the night. If any one is a friend to sloes, he goes to the thorns.
“Schiller had the happy thought of building a house for tragedy alone, and of giving a piece every week for the male sex exclusively. But this notion presupposed a very large city, and could not be realized with our humble means.”
We talked about the plays of Iffland and Kotzebue, which, in their way, Goethe highly commended. “From this very fault,” said he, “that people do not perfectly distinguish between kinds in art, the pieces of these men are often unjustly censured. We may wait a long time before a couple of such popular talents come again.”
I praised Iffland's “Hagestolz” (Old Bachelor), with which I had been highly pleased on the stage. “It is unquestionably Iffland's best piece,” said Goethe; “it is the only one in which he goes from prose into the ideal.”
He then told me of a piece, which he and Schiller had made as a continuation to the “Hagestolz”; that is to say, in conversation, without writing it down. Goethe told me the progress of the action, scene by scene; it was very pleasant and cheerful, and gave me great delight.
Goethe then spoke of some new plays by Platen. “In these pieces,” said he, “we may see the influence of Calderon. They are very clever, and, in a certain sense, complete; but they want specific gravity, a certain weight of import. They are not of a kind to excite in the mind of the reader a deep and abiding interest; on the contrary, the strings of the soul are touched but lightly and transiently. They are like cork, which, when it swims on the water, makes no impression, but is easily sustained by the surface.
“The German requires a certain earnestness, a certain grandeur of thought, and a certain fulness of sentiment. It is on this account that Schiller is so highly esteemed by them all. I do not in the least doubt the abilities of Platen; but those, probably from mistaken views of art, are not manifested here. He shows distinguished culture, intellect, pungent wit, and artistical completeness; but these, especially in Germany, are not enough.
“Generally, the personal character of the writer influences the public rather than his talents as an artist. Napoleon said of Corneille, ‘S'il vivait, je le ferais prince;’ yet he never read him. Racine he read, but did not say this of him. Lafontaine, too, is looked upon with a high degree of esteem by the French, not on account of his poetic merits, but of the greatness of character which he manifests in his writings.”
We then talked of the “Elective Affinities” (Wahlverwandtschaften); and Goethe told me of a travelling Englishman, who meant to be separated from his wife when he returned to England. He laughed at such folly, and gave me several examples of persons who had been separated, and afterwards could not let each other alone.
“The late Reinhard of Dresden,” said he, “often wondered that I had such severe principles with respect to marriage, while I was so tolerant in everything else.”
This expression of Goethe's was remarkable to me, because it clearly showed what he really intended by that often misunderstood work (“Die Wahlverwandtschaften”).
We then talked about Tieck, and his personal relation to Goethe.
“I entertain the greatest kindness for Tieck,” said Goethe; “and I think that, on the whole, he is well disposed towards me. Still, there is something not as it ought to be in his relation to me. This is neither my fault nor his, but proceeds from causes altogether foreign.
“When the Schlegels began to make themselves important, I was too strong for them; and to balance me, they were forced to look about for some man of talent, whom they might set up in opposition. Such a talent they found in Tieck; and that, when placed in contrast to me, he might appear sufficiently important in the eyes of the public, they were forced to make more of him than he really was. This injured our mutual relation; for Tieck, without being properly conscious of it himself, was thus placed in a false position with respect to me.
“Tieck is a genius of great importance, and no one can be more sensible than myself to his extraordinary merits; only when they raise him above himself, and place him on a level with me, they are in error. I can speak this out plainly; it matters nothing to me, for I did not make myself. I might just as well compare myself with Shakspeare, who likewise did not make himself, and who is nevertheless a being of a higher order, to whom I must look up with reverence.”
Goethe was this evening full of energy and gaiety. He brought some manuscript poems, which he read aloud. It was quite a peculiar pleasure to hear him, for not only did the original force and freshness of the poems excite me to a high degree, but Goethe, by his manner of reading them, showed himself to me on a side hitherto unknown, but highly important. What variety and force in his voice! What life and expression in the noble countenance, so full of wrinkles! And what eyes!
 A Viennese buffoon.—Trans.
Wed., April 14.
I went out walking with Goethe about one. We discussed the styles of various writers.
“On the whole,” said Goethe, “Philosophical speculation is an injury to the Germans, as it tends to make their style vague, difficult, and obscure. The stronger their attachment to certain philosophical schools, the worse they write. Those Germans who, as men of business and actual life, confine themselves to the practical, write the best. Schiller's style is most noble and impressive whenever he leaves off philosophizing, as I observe every day in his highly interesting letters, with which I am now busy.
“There are likewise among the German women, genial beings who write a really excellent style, and, indeed, in that respect surpass many of our celebrated male writers.
“The English almost always write well; being born orators and practical men, with a tendency to the real.
“The French, in their style, remain true to their general character. They are of a social nature, and therefore never forget the public whom they address; they strive to be clear, that they may convince their reader—agreeable, that they may please him.
“Altogether, the style of a writer is a faithful representative of his mind; therefore, if any man wish to write a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.”
Goethe then spoke of his antagonists as a race which would never become extinct. “Their number,” said he, “is legion; yet they may be in some degree classified. First, there are my antagonists from stupidity—those who do not understand me, and find fault with me without knowing me. This large company has wearied me much in the course of my life; yet shall they be forgiven, for they knew not what they did.
“The second large class is composed of those who envy me. These grudge me the fortune and the dignified station I have attained through my talents. They pluck at my fame, and would like to destroy me. If I were poor and miserable, they would assail me no more.
“There are many who have been my adversaries, because they have failed themselves. In this class are many of fine talent, but they cannot forgive me for casting them into the shade.
“Fourthly, there are my antagonists from reasons. For, as I am a human being, and as such have human faults and weaknesses, my writings cannot be free from them. Yet, as I was constantly bent on my own improvement, and always striving to ennoble myself, I was in a state of constant progress, and it often happened that they blamed me for faults which I had long since left behind. These good folks have injured me least of any, as they shot at me, when I was already miles distant. Generally when a work was finished, it became uninteresting to me; I thought of it no more, but busied myself with some new plan.
“Another large class comprises those who are adversaries, because they differ from me in their views and modes of thought. It is said of the leaves on a tree, that you will scarcely find two perfectly alike, and thus, among a thousand men, you will scarce find two, who harmonize entirely in their views and ways of thinking. This being allowed, I ought less to wonder at having so many opponents, than at having so many friends and adherents. My tendencies were opposed to those of my time, which were wholly subjective; while in my objective efforts, I stood quite alone to my own disadvantage.
“Schiller had, in this respect, great advantage over me. Hence, a certain well-meaning general once gave me plainly to understand that I ought to write like Schiller. I replied by analyzing Schiller's merits, for I knew them better than he. I went quietly on in my own way, not troubling myself further about success, and taking as little notice as possible of my opponents.”
We returned, and had a very pleasant time at dinner. Frau von Goethe talked much of Berlin, where she had lately been. She spoke with especial warmth of the Duchess of Cumberland, who had shown her much kindness. Goethe remembered this princess, who, when very young, had passed some time with his mother, with particular interest.
In the evening, I had a musical treat of a high order at Goethe's house, where some fine singers, under the superintendence of Eberwein, performed part of Handel's Messiah. The Countess Caroline von Egloffstein, Fraulein von Froriep, with Frau von Pogwisch and Frau von Goethe, joined the female singers, and thus kindly gratified a wish which Goethe had entertained long since.
Goethe, sitting at some distance, wholly absorbed in hearing, passed a happy evening, full of admiration at this noble work.
Mon., April 19.
The greatest philologist of our time, Friedrich August Wolf, from Berlin, is here, on his way towards the south of France. Goethe gave, to-day, on his account, a dinner to his Weimar friends, at which General Superintendent Röhr, Chancellor von Müller, Oberbau-director Coudray, Professor Riemer, and Hofrath Rehbein, and myself, were present. The conversation was very lively. Wolf was full of witty sallies, Goethe being constantly his opponent in the pleasantest way. “I cannot,” said Goethe to me afterwards, “get on with Wolf, at all, without assuming the character of Mephistophiles. Nothing else brings out his hidden treasures.”
The bon mots at table were too evanescent, and too much the result of the moment, to bear repetition. Wolf was very great in witty turns and repartees, but nevertheless it seemed to me that Goethe always maintained a certain superiority over him.
The hours at table flew by as if with wings, and six o'clock came before we were aware. I went with young Goethe to the theatre, where “Zauberflöte” was played. Afterwards I saw Wolf in the box, with the Grand Duke Carl August.
Wolf remained in Weimar till the 25th, when he set out for the south of France. The state of his health was such that Goethe did not conceal the greatest anxiety about him.
Sun., May 2.
Goethe reproved me for not having visited a certain family of distinction. “You might,” said he, “have passed there, during the winter, many delightful evenings, and have made the acquaintance of many interesting strangers; all which you have lost from God knows what caprice.”
“With my excitable temperament,” I replied, “and with my disposition to a broad sympathy with others, nothing can be more burdensome and hurtful to me than over-abundance of new impressions. I am neither by education nor habit fitted for general society. My situation in earlier days was such, that I feel as if I had never lived till I came near you. All is new to me. Every evening at the theatre, every conversation with you, makes an era in my existence. Things perfectly indifferent to persons of different education and habits make the deepest impression on me, and as the desire of instructing myself is great, my mind seizes on everything with a certain energy, and draws from it as much nourishment as possible. In this state of mind, I had quite enough in the course of this winter, from the theatre and my connection with you; and I should not have been able to give myself up to other connections and engagements, without disturbing my mind.”
“You are an odd fellow,” said Goethe, laughing. “Well, do as you please; I will let you have your way.”
“And then,” continued I, “I usually carry into society my likes and dislikes, and a certain need of loving and being beloved; I seek a nature which may harmonize with my own; I wish to give myself up to this, and to have nothing to do with the others.”
“This natural tendency of yours,” replied Goethe, “is indeed not of a social kind; but what would be the use of culture, if we did not try to control our natural tendencies? It is a great folly to hope that other men will harmonize with us; I have never hoped this. I have always regarded each man as an independent individual, whom I endeavoured to study, and to understand with all his peculiarities, but from whom I desired no further sympathy. In this way have I been enabled to converse with every man, and thus alone is produced the knowledge of various characters, and the dexterity necessary for the conduct of life. For it is in a conflict with natures opposed to his own that a man must collect his strength to fight his way through, and thus all our different sides are brought out and developed, so that we soon feel ourselves a match for every foe. You should do the same; you have more capacity for it than you imagine; indeed, you must at all events plunge into the great world, whether you like it or not.”
I took due heed of these good, kind words, and determined to act in accordance with them as much as possible.
Towards evening, Goethe invited me to take a drive with him. Our road lay over the hills through Upper Weimar, by which we had a view of the park towards the west. The trees were in blossom, the birches already in full leaf, and the meadows were one green carpet, over which the setting sun cast a glow. We sought out picturesque groups, and could not look enough. We remarked that trees full of white blossoms should not be painted, because they make no picture, just as birches with their foliage are unfit for the foreground of a picture, because the delicate leaf does not sufficiently balance the white trunk; there are no large masses for strong effects of light and shade. “Ruysdael,” said Goethe, “never introduced the birch with its foliage into his foregrounds, but only birch trunks broken off, without any leaves. Such a trunk is perfectly suited to a foreground, as its bright form comes out with most powerful effect.”
After some slight discussion of other topics, we came upon the mistake of those artists who made religion art, while for them art should be religion. “Religion,” said Goethe, “stands in the same relation to art as any other of the higher interests in life. It is merely to be looked upon as a material, with similar claims to any other vital material. Faith and want of faith are not the organs with which a work of art is to be apprehended. On the contrary, human powers and capacities of a totally different character are required. Art must address itself to those organs with which we apprehend it; otherwise it misses its effect. A religious material may be a good subject for art, but only in so far as it possesses general human interest. The Virgin with the Child is on this account an excellent subject, and one that may be treated a hundred times, and always seen again with pleasure.”
In the mean while, we had gone round the thicket (the Webicht), and had turned by Tiefurt into the Weimar road, where we had a view of the setting sun. Goethe was for a while lost in thought; he then said to me, in the words of one of the ancients—
Untergehend sogar ist's immer dieselbige Sonne.
Still it continues the self-same sun, e'en while it is sinking.
“At the age of seventy-five,” continued he, with much cheerfulness, “one must, of course, think sometimes of death. But this thought never gives me the least uneasiness, for I am fully convinced that our spirit is a being of a nature quite indestructible, and that its activity continues from eternity to eternity. It is like the sun, which seems to set only to our earthly eyes, but which, in reality, never sets, but shines on unceasingly.”
The sun had, in the mean while, sunk behind the Ettersberg; we felt in the wood the chill of the evening, and drove all the quicker to Weimar, and to Goethe's house. Goethe urged me to go in with him for a while, and I did so. He was in an extremely engaging, amiable mood. He talked a great deal about his theory of colours, and of his obstinate opponents; remarking that he was sure that he had done something in this science.
“To make an epoch in the world,” said he, “two conditions are notoriously essential—a good head and a great inheritance. Napoleon inherited the French Revolution; Frederick the Great, the Silesian War; Luther, the darkness of the Popes; and I, the errors of the Newtonian theory. The present generation has no conception of what I have accomplished in this matter, but posterity will grant that I have by no means come into a bad inheritance!”
Goethe had sent me this morning a roll of papers relative to the theatre, among which I had found some detached remarks, containing the rules and studies which he had made with Wolff and Grüner to qualify them for good actors. I found these details important and highly instructive for young actors, and therefore proposed to put them together, and make from them a sort of theatrical catechism. Goethe consented, and we discussed the matter further. This gave us occasion to speak of some distinguished actors who had been formed in his school; and I took the opportunity to ask some questions about Frau von Heigendorf. “I may,” said Goethe, “have influenced her, but, properly speaking, she is not my pupil. She was, as it were, born on the boards, and was as decided, ready, and adroit in anything as a duck in the water. She needed not my instruction, but did what was right instinctively, and perhaps without knowing it.”
We then talked of the many years he had superintended the theatre, and the infinite time which had thus been lost to literary production. “Yes,” said he, “I may have missed writing many a good thing, but when I reflect, I am not sorry. I have always regarded all I have done solely as symbolical; and, in fact, it has been tolerably indifferent to me whether I have made pots or dishes.”
(Sup.*) Wed., May 5.
The papers containing the studies which Goethe prosecuted with the actors Wolff and Grüner have occupied me very pleasantly during the last few days; and I have succeeded in bringing these dismembered notices into a sort of form, so that something has arisen from them which may be regarded as the beginning of a catechism for actors. I spoke with Goethe about this work to-day, and we went through the various topics in detail. The remarks concerning pronunciation, and the laying aside of provincialisms, appeared to us particularly important.
“I have, in my long practice,” said Goethe, “become acquainted with beginners from all parts of Germany. The pronunciation of the North German leaves little to be desired: it is pure, and may in many respects be looked upon as a model. On the contrary, I have often had a great deal of trouble with native Suabians, Austrians, and Saxons. The natives of our beloved town, Weimar, have also given me a great deal to do. Among these have arisen the most ridiculous mistakes; because in schools here they are not forced to distinguish, by a marked pronunciation, b from p, and d from t. One would scarcely believe that b, p, d, and t are generally considered to be four different letters; for they only speak of a hard and a soft b, and of a hard and a soft d, and thus seem tacitly to intimate that p and t do not exist. With such people, Pein (pain) sounds like Bein (leg), Pas (pass) like Bass (bass), and Teckel like Deckel (cover).”
“An actor of this town,” added I, “who did not properly distinguish t from d, lately made a mistake of the kind, which appeared very striking. He was playing a lover, who had been guilty of a little infidelity; whereupon the angry young lady showered upon him various violent reproaches. Growing impatient, he had to exclaim, ‘O ende!’ (O cease!); but being unable to distinguish the T from the D, he exclaimed, ‘O ente!’ (O duck!) which excited general laughter.”
“The circumstance is very quaint,” returned Goethe, “and will do well to mention in our ‘Theatrical Catechism.’”
“Lately, a young singer, likewise of this town,” continued I, “who could not make the distinction between the t and the d, had to say, ‘Ich will dich den Eingeweihten übergeben’ (I will give you up to the initiated); but as she pronounced the t as d, it sounded as if she said, ‘Ich will dich den Eingeweiden übergeben’ (I will give you up to the bowels).
“Again, an actor of this town,” continued I, “who played the part of a servant, had to say to a stranger, ‘Mein Herr ist nicht zu Haus, er sitzt im Rathe’ (my master is not at home, he sits in council); but as he could not distinguish the t from the d, it sounded as if he said ‘Mein Herr ist nicht zu Haus, er sitzt im Rade’ (my master is not at home, he sits in the wheel).”
“These incidents,” said Goethe, “are not bad, and we will notice them. Thus, if any one who does not distinguish the p from the b, has to call out, ‘Packe ihn an!’ (seize him), but, instead of this, exclaims, ‘Backe ihn an!’ (stick him on), it is very laughable.
“In a similar manner,” said Goethe, “the ü is frequently pronounced like i, which has been the cause of not a few scandalous mistakes. I have frequently heard said, instead of Küstenbewohner (inhabitant of the coast), Kistenbewohner (inhabitant of the box); instead of Thürstück (a painting over a door), Thierstück (animal-picture); instead of Trübe (gloomy), Triebe (impulses); and instead of Ihr müsst (you must), Ihr misst (you miss);—not, however, without a hearty laugh.”
“I lately noticed at the theatre,” said I, “a very ludicrous case of the kind, in which a lady, in a critical situation, has to follow a man, whom she had never seen before. She had to say, ‘Ich kenne Dich zwar nicht, aber ich setze mein ganzes Vertrauen in den Edelmuth Deiner Züge’ (I do not know you, but I place entire confidence in the nobility of your countenance); but as she pronounced the ü like i, she said ‘Ich kenne Dich zwar nicht, aber ich setze mein ganzes Vertrauen in den Edelmuth Deiner Ziege’ (I do not know you, but I place entire confidence in the nobility of your goat).” This caused great laughter.
“This anecdote is not bad,” returned Goethe, “and we will notice it also. Thus, too,” continued he, “g and k are here frequently confounded; g being used instead of k, and k instead of g, possibly from uncertainty whether the letter should be hard or soft, a result of the doctrine so much in vogue here. You have probably often heard, or will hear, at some future time, in our theatre, Kartenhaus (card-house) instead of Gartenhaus (garden-house), Kasse (chest) instead of Gasse (lane), Klauben (to pick out) instead of Glauben (to believe), bekränzen (to enreath) instead of begrenzen (to bound), and Kunst (art) instead of Gunst (favour).”
“I have already heard something similar,” returned I. “An actor of this town had to say, ‘Dein Gram geht mir zu Herzen,’ (thy grief touches my heart). But he pronounced the g like k, and said very distinctly, ‘Dein Kram geht mir zu Herzen’ (thy goods touch my heart).”
“Besides,” answered Goethe, “we hear this substitution of g for k, not merely amongst actors, but even amongst very learned theologians. I once personally experienced an incident of this sort; and I will relate it to you.
“When I, some five years ago, stayed for some time at Jena, and lodged at the ‘Fir Tree,’ a theological student one morning presented himself to me. After he had conversed with me very agreeably for some time, he made, as he was just going, a request of a most peculiar kind. He begged me to allow him to preach in my stead on the next Sunday. I immediately discovered which way the wind blew, and that the hopeful youth was one of those who confound g for k. I, therefore, answered him in a friendly manner, that I could not personally assist him in this affair; but that he would be sure to attain his object, if he would be so good as to apply to Archdeacon Koethe.”
Thurs., May 6.
When I came to Weimar, last summer, it was not, as I have said, my intention to remain here, I only intended to make Goethe's personal acquaintance, and then to visit the Rhine, where I intended to live some time in a suitable place.
However, I had been detained in Weimar by Goethe's remarkable kindness, and my relation to him had become more and more practical, inasmuch as he drew me more and more into his own interest, and gave me much important work to do, preparatory to a complete edition of his works.
Thus in the course of last winter, I collected several divisions of “tame Xenia” (zahme Xenien) from the most confused bundles of paper, arranged a volume of new poems, and the “Theatrical Catechism,” and also the outlines of a treatise on “Dilettantism,” in the different arts.
I had, however, never forgotten my design of seeing the Rhine; and Goethe himself, that I might not carry within me the sting of an unsatisfied desire, advised me to devote some months of this summer to a visit to that region.
It was, however, decidedly his wish that I should return to Weimar. He observed that it was not good to break ties scarcely formed, and that everything in life to be of value must have sequence. He, at the same time, plainly intimated to me that he had selected me and Riemer, not only to aid him in preparing a new and complete edition of his works, but to take the whole charge of it in case he should be suddenly called away, as might naturally happen at his advanced age.
He showed me this morning immense packages of letters, laid out in what is called the Chamber of Busts (Büsten-Zimmer). “These,” said he, “are all letters which I have received since 1780, from the most distinguished men of our country. There lies hoarded in these a rich treasure of thoughts, which it shall some time be your office to impart to the public. I am now having a chest made, in which these letters will be put, together with the rest of my literary remains. I wish you, before you set out on your journey, to put them all in order, that I may feel easy about them, and have a care the less.”
He then told me that he intended to visit Marienbad this summer, but did not intend to go till the end of July, the reasons for which he disclosed to me in confidence. He expressed a wish that I should be back before his departure, that he might speak to me.
A few weeks afterwards, I visited my friends in Hanover, then stopped during the months of June and July on the Rhine, where, especially at Frankfort, Heidelberg, and Bonn, I made many valuable acquaintances among Goethe's friends.
(Sup.) Tues., May 18.
This evening at Goethe's, in company with Riemer.
Goethe talked to us about an English poem, of which geology was the subject. He made, as he went on, an impromptu translation of it, with so much spirit, imagination, and good humour, that every individual object stood before us, with as much life as if it were his own invention at the moment. The hero of the poem, King Coal, was seen, in his brilliant hall of audience, seated upon his throne, his consort Pyrites by his side, waiting for the nobles of the kingdom. Entering according to their rank, they appeared one by one before the king, and were introduced as Duke Granite, Marquis Slate, Countess Porphyry, and so on with the rest, who were all characterized by some excellent epithet and joke. Then followed Sir Lorenzo Chalk, a man of great possessions, and well received at court. He excuses his mother, the Lady Marble, on the ground that her residence is rather distant. She is a very polished and accomplished lady, and a cause of her non-appearance at court, on this occasion, is, that she is involved in an intrigue with Canova, who likes to flirt with her. Tufa, whose hair is decked with lizards and fishes, appears rather intoxicated. Hans Marl and Jacob Clay do not appear till the end; the last is a particular favourite of the queen, because he has promised her a collection of shells. Thus the whole went on for a long time in the most cheerful tone; but the details were too minute for me to note the further progress of the story.
“Such a poem,” said Goethe, “is quite calculated to amuse people of the world; while at the same time it diffuses a quantity of useful information, which no one ought properly to be without. A taste for science is thus excited amongst the higher circles; and no one knows how much good may ultimately result from such an entertaining half-joke. Many a clever person may be induced to make observations himself, within his own immediate sphere. And such individual observations, drawn from the natural objects with which we are in contact, are often the more valuable, the less the observer professionally belongs to the particular department of science.”
“You appear, then, to intimate,” returned I, “that the more one knows, the worse one observes.”
“Certainly,” said Goethe, “when the knowledge which is handed down is combined with errors. As soon as any one belongs to a certain narrow creed in science, every unprejudiced and true perception is gone. The decided Vulcanist always sees through the spectacles of a Vulcanist; and every Neptunist, and every professor of the newest elevation-theory, through his own. The contemplation of the world, with all these theorists, who are devoted to an exclusive tendency, has lost its innocence, and the objects no longer appear in their natural purity. If these learned men, then, give an account of their observations, we obtain, notwithstanding their love of truth as individuals, no actual truth with reference to the objects themselves; but we always receive these objects with the taste of a strong, subjective mixture.
“I am, however, far from maintaining that an unprejudiced, correct knowledge is a drawback to observation. I am much more inclined to support the old truth, that we, properly speaking, have only eyes and ears for what we know. The musician by profession hears, in an orchestral performance, every instrument and every single tone, whilst one unacquainted with the art is wrapped up in the massive effect of the whole. A man merely bent upon enjoyment sees in a green or flowery meadow only a pleasant plain, while the eye of a botanist discovers an endless detail of the most varied plants and grasses.”
“Still everything has its measure and goal, and as it has been said in my ‘Goetz von Berlichingen,’ that the son, from pure learning, does not know his own father, so in science do we find people who can neither see nor hear through sheer learning and hypothesis. Such people look at once within; they are so occupied by what is revolving in themselves, that they are like a man in a passion, who passes his dearest friends in the street without seeing them. The observation of nature requires a certain purity of mind, which cannot be disturbed or pre-occupied by anything. The beetle on the flower does not escape the child; he has devoted all his senses to a single, simple interest; and it never strikes him that, at the same moment, something remarkable may be going on in the formation of the clouds to distract his glances in that direction.”
“Then,” returned I, “children and the child-like would be good hod-men in science.”
“Would to God!” exclaimed Goethe, “we were all nothing more than good hod-men. It is just because we will be more, and carry about with us a great apparatus of philosophy and hypothesis, that we spoil all.”
Then followed a pause in the conversation, which Riemer broke by mentioning Lord Byron and his death. Goethe thereupon gave a brilliant elucidation of his writings, and was full of the highest praise and the purest acknowledgment.
“However,” continued he, “although Byron has died so young, literature has not suffered an essential loss, through a hindrance to its further extension. Byron could, in a certain sense, go no further. He had reached the summit of his creative power, and whatever he might have done in the future, he would have been unable to extend the boundaries of his talent. In the incomprehensible poem, ‘The Vision of Judgment,’ he has done the utmost of which he was capable.”
The discourse then turned upon the Italian poet, Torquato Tasso, and his resemblance to Lord Byron, when Goethe could not conceal the superiority of the Englishman, in spirit, grasp of the world, and productive power. “One cannot,” continued he, “compare these poets with each other, without annihilating one by the other. Byron is the burning thorn-bush which reduces the holy cedar of Lebanon to ashes. The great epic poem of the Italian has maintained its fame for centuries; but yet, with a single line of ‘Don Juan,’ one could poison the whole of ‘Jerusalem delivered.’”
(Sup.) Wed., May 26.
To-day I took leave of Goethe, in order to visit my friends in Hanover, and thence to proceed to the Rhine, according to my long meditated plan. Goethe was very affectionate, and pressed me in his arms. “If at Hanover you should chance to meet, at Rehberg's Charlotte Kestner, the old friend of my youth, remember me to her kindly. In Frankfort, I commend you to my friends Willemmers, the Count Reinhardt, and the Schlossers. Then both in Heidelberg and Bonn, you will find friends who are truly devoted to me, and from whom you will receive a most hearty welcome. I did intend again to spend some time at Marienbad this summer; but I shall not go until after your return.”
The parting with Goethe was very trying to me; though I went away with the firm conviction of seeing him again, safe and sound, at the end of two months.
Nevertheless, I felt very happy next day when the carriage conveyed me toward my beloved home in Hanover, to which my heartiest wishes are constantly directed.
Tues., Aug. 10.
About a week ago. I returned from my tour on the Rhine. Goethe expressed much joy at my arrival; and I, on my part, was not less pleased to be with him again. He had a great deal to say to me; so that for the first few days I stirred but little from his side. His design of going to Marienbad he has abandoned, and does not intend to travel this summer. “Now you are again here,” he said, “I may have a very pleasant August.”
A few days ago, he put into my hands the commencement of a continuation of “Wahrheit und Dichtung,” written on quarto leaves, and scarcely a finger's breadth thick. Part is complete, but the greater part consists of mere indications. However, it is already divided into five books, and the leaves containing the sketch are so arranged that, with a little trouble, one can take a survey of the general import.
The portion that is already finished appears to me so excellent, and the import of the sketched portion to be so valuable, that I regret exceedingly to see a work which promises so much instruction and enjoyment come to a standstill, and I shall make every effort to urge Goethe to continue and complete it as soon as possible.
The plan of the whole has much of the character of a novel. A graceful, tender, passionate love-affair, cheerful in its origin, idyllic in it progress, tragic at the end, through a tacit but mutual renunciation, runs through four books, and combines them to an organized whole. The charm of Lili's character, described in detail, is of a sort to captivate every reader, just as it held the lover himself in such bonds that he could only save himself by repeated flight.
The epoch of life set forth is of a highly romantic nature, or, at least, becomes so as it is developed in the principal character. But it acquires special significance and importance from the circumstance that, as an epoch preceding the position at Weimar, it is decisive for the whole life. If, therefore, any section of Goethe's life has any interest, and raises a wish for a detailed description, it is precisely this.
To excite in Goethe a new ardour for this work, which bas been interrupted and has lain untouched for years, I have not only talked with him on the subject, but have sent him the following notes, that he may see at once what is finished and what has still to be worked out and arranged.
FIRST BOOK.—This book, which, according to the original intention, may be regarded as complete, contains a sort of exposition, inasmuch as it expresses the wish for a participation in worldly affairs, the fulfilment of which takes place at the end of the whole epoch, through the invitation to Weimar. However, that it may be connected more closely with the whole, I suggest that the relation to Lili, which runs through the four following books, should begin in this first book, and continue as far as the excursion to Offenbach. Thus, too, this book would gain in compass and importance, and too great an increase of the second would be prevented.
SECOND BOOK.—The idyllic life at Offenbach would then open this second book, and would go through with the happy love affair, till it, at last, begins to assume a doubtful, earnest, and even tragical character. The contemplation of serious matters, promised by the sketch in reference to Stilling, is well placed here, and much that is instructive may be anticipated from the design, which is simply indicated by a few words.
THIRD BOOK.—The third book, which contains the plan of a continuation of “Faust,” is to be regarded as an episode, but is connected with the other books, by the attempt at a separation from Lili, which remains to be carried out. Whether the plan of “Faust” is to be communicated or kept back is a doubtful point, which cannot be resolved until we examine the fragments now ready, and make up our minds whether the hope of a continuation of “Faust” is to be given up or not.
FOURTH BOOK.—The third book would terminate with the attempt at a separation from Lili. This fourth book, therefore, very aptly begins with the arrival of the Stolbergs and of Haugwitz, by which the journey into Switzerland and the first flight from Lili are brought about. The complete sketch of this book promises the most interesting matter, and excites a wish for the most thorough details. The passion for Lili, which is constantly bursting forth, and which cannot be suppressed, glows through the whole book with the fire of youthful love, and gives a peculiar, pleasant, and magical light to the situation of the traveller.
FIFTH BOOK.—This beautiful book is likewise nearly finished; at least the latter part, up to the conclusion, which touches on the unfathomable nature of fate, may be regarded as quite finished; and only a little is wanting for the introduction, of which there is already a very clear sketch. The working-out is, however, the more necessary and desirable, as the first mention is made of the Weimar affairs, and thus our interest for them is first excited.
 The last five books of “Wahrheit und Dichtung” were afterwards published in Goethe's posthumous works, but Eckermann's arrangement was not adopted.—Trans.
Mon., Aug. 16.
My conversations with Goethe have lately been very abundant in matter, but I have been so much engaged with other things as to render it impossible to write down anything of importance, from the fulness of his discourse.
Only the following detached sentences are found noted down in my diary; the connection between them and the occasion that gave rise to them, I have forgotten:—
Men are swimming pots, which knock against each other.
In the morning we are shrewdest, but also most anxious; for even anxiety is a species of shrewdness, though only a passive one. Stupidity is without anxiety.
We must not take the faults of our youth into our old age; for old age brings with it its own defects.
Court life is like music, in which every one must keep time.
Courtiers would died of ennui, if they could not fill up their time with ceremonies.
It is not right to counsel a prince to give way, even in the most trivial matter.
He who would train actors must have infinite patience.
Tues., Nov. 9.
I passed this evening with Goethe. We talked of Klopstock and Herder; and I liked to listen to him, as he explained to me the merits of those men.
“Without those powerful precursors,” said Goethe, “our literature could not have become what it now is. When they appeared, they were before their age, and were obliged, as it were, to drag it after them; but now the age has far outrun them, and they who were once so necessary and important have now ceased to be means to an end. A young man who would take Klopstock and Herder for his teachers nowadays would be far behindhand.”
We talked over Klopstock's “Messiah” and his Odes, touching on their merits and their defects. We agreed that he had no faculty for observing and apprehending the visible world, or for drawing characters; and that he therefore wanted the qualities most essential to the epic and dramatic poet, or, perhaps it might be said, to the poet generally.
“An ode occurs to me,” said Goethe, “where he makes the German Muse run a race with the British; and, indeed, when one thinks what a picture it is, where the two girls run one against the other, throwing about their legs, and kicking up the dust, one must assume that the good Klopstock did not really have before his eyes such pictures as he wrote, else he could not possibly have made such mistakes.”
I asked how he had felt towards Klopstock in his youth.
“I venerated him,” said Goethe, “with the devotion which was peculiar to me; I looked upon him as my uncle. I revered whatever he had done, and never thought of reflecting upon it, or finding fault with it. I let his fine qualities work upon me; for the rest, I went my own way.”
We came back to Herder, and I asked Goethe which of his works he thought the best. “His ‘Ideas for the History of Mankind’” (Ideen zur Geschichte der Menschheit), replied Goethe, “are undoubtedly the best. In after days, he took the negative side, and was not so agreeable.”
“Considering the great weight of Herder,” said I, “I cannot understand how he had so little judgment on some subjects. For instance, I cannot forgive him, especially at that period of German literature, for sending back the manuscript of ‘Goetz von Berlichingen’ without any praise of its merits, and with taunting remarks. He must have utterly wanted organs to perceive some objects.”
“Yes, Herder was unfortunate in this respect,” replied Goethe; “nay,” added he, with vivacity, “if his spirit were present at this conversation, it would not understand us.”
“On the other hand,” said I, “I must praise Merck, who urged you to print ‘Goetz.’”
“He was indeed an odd but important man,” said Goethe. “‘Print the thing,’ quoth he, ‘it is worth nothing, but print it.’ He did not wish me to make any alteration in it, and he was right; for it would have been different, but not better.”
Wed., Nov. 24.
I went to see Goethe this evening, before going to the theatre, and found him very well and cheerful. He inquired about the young Englishmen who are here. I told him that I proposed reading with Mr. Doolan a German translation of Plutarch. This led the conversation to Roman and Grecian history; and Goethe expressed himself as follows:—
“The Roman history,” said he, “is no longer suited to us. We have become too humane for the triumphs of Cæsar not to be repugnant to our feelings. Neither are we much charmed by the history of Greece. When this people turns against a foreign foe, it is, indeed, great and glorious; but the division of the states, and their eternal wars with one another, where Greek fights against Greek, are insufferable. Besides, the history of our own time is thoroughly great and important; the battles of Leipsic and Waterloo stand out with such prominence, that that of Marathon and others like it are gradually eclipsed. Neither are our individual heroes inferior to theirs; the French Marshals, Blücher, and Wellington, vie with any of the heroes of antiquity.”
We then talked of the late French literature, and the daily increasing interest in German works manifested by the French.
“The French,” said Goethe, “do well to study and translate our writers; for, limited as they are both in form and motives, they can only look without for means. We Germans may be reproached for a certain formlessness; but in matter we are their superiors. The theatrical productions of Kotzebue and Iffland are so rich in motives that they may pluck them a long time before all is used up. But, especially, our philosophical Ideality is welcome to them; for every Ideal is serviceable to revolutionary aims.
“The French have understanding and esprit, but neither a solid basis nor piety. What serves the moment, what helps his party, seems right to the Frenchman. Hence they praise us, never from an acknowledgement of our merits, but only when they can strengthen their party by our views.”
We then talked about our own literature, and of the obstacles in the way of some of our latest young poets.
“The majority of our young poets,” said Goethe, “have no fault but this, that their subjectivity is not important, and that they cannot find matter in the objective. At best, they only find a material, which is similar to themselves, which corresponds to their own subjectivity; but as for taking the material on its own account, when it is repugnant to the subjectivity, merely because it is poetical, such a thing is never thought of.
“Still, as I have said, if we only had important personages, formed by great studies and situations in life, it might still go well with us, at least as far as our young lyric poets are concerned.”
Fri., Dec. 3.
A proposal has lately reached me to write for an English periodical, on very favourable terms, monthly notices of the latest productions in German literature. I was much inclined to accept the proposal, but thought it would be good first to talk over the affair with Goethe.
I went to him this evening. The curtains were down, and he was seated before a table, on which dinner had been served, and on which burned two lights which illuminated at once his own face and a colossal bust which stood before him on the table, and at which he was looking. “Now,” said Goethe, pointing at the bust, after greeting me in a friendly manner, “who is this?” “Apparently, a poet, and an Italian,” I replied. “It is Dante,” said he: “it is well done; a fine head, yet not very pleasing. He seems old, bowed down, and peevish; the features are lax, and drawn down, as if he had just come from hell. I have a medal which was struck during his life, and there everything appears much better.”
He rose and brought the medal. “Do you see what power there is in the nose and the swell of the upper lip, the energy of the chin, and its fine blending with the cheek bone? The part about the eyes and the forehead are the same in this bust; but all the rest is weaker and older. Yet I will not find fault with the new work, which, on the whole, has great merit, and deserves praise.”
Goethe then inquired what I had been doing and thinking about of late. I told him that a proposal had reached me to write for an English periodical, on very advantageous terms, monthly notices of the newest productions of the German prose belles lettres, and that I was much inclined to accept the offer.
Goethe's face, which had hitherto worn so friendly an expression, clouded over at these words, and I could read in every movement his disapproval of my project.
“I wish,” said he, “your friends would leave you in peace. Why should you trouble yourself with things which lie quite out of your way, and are contrary to the tendencies of your nature? We have gold, silver, and paper money, and each has its own value; but to do justice to each, you must understand the exchange. And so in literature. You understand the metallic, but not the paper currency: you are not equal to this; your criticisms will be unjust, and do hurt. If you wish to be just, and give everything its proper place, you must first become acquainted with our middle literature, and make up your mind to a study by no means trifling. You must look back and see what the Schlegels proposed and performed, and then read all our later authors, Franz Horn, Hoffmann, Clauren, &c. Even this is not enough. You must also take in all the journals of the day, from the ‘Morgenblatt’ to the ‘Abend zeitung,’ in order that nothing which comes out may escape you; and thus you will spoil your best days and hours. Then all new books, which you would criticise with any degree of profundity, you must not only skim over, but study. How would you relish that? And, finally, if you find that what is bad is bad, you must not say so, if you would not run the risk of being at war with all that world.
“No; as I have said, decline the proposal; it is not in your way. Generally, beware of dissipating your powers, and strive to concentrate them. Had I been so wise thirty years ago, I should have done very differently. How much time I lost with Schiller on his ‘Horen’ and ‘Musen-Almanachs!’ Now, when I have just been looking over our correspondence, I feel this most forcibly, and cannot think without chagrin on those undertakings which made the world abuse us, and which were entirely without result for ourselves. Talent thinks it can do whatever it sees others doing; but this is not the case, and it will have to repent its Faux-frais (idle expenses). What good does it do to curl up your hair for a single night? You have paper in you hair, that is all; next night, it is straight again.”
“The great point,” he continued, “is to make a capital that will not be exhausted. This you will acquire by the study of the English language and literature, which you have already begun. Keep to that, and continually make use of the advantages you now possess in the acquaintance of the young Englishmen. You studied the ancient languages but little during your youth; therefore, seek now a stronghold in the literature of so able a nation as the English. And, besides, our own literature is chiefly the offspring of theirs! Whence have we our novels, our tragedies, but from Goldsmith, Fielding, and Shakspeare? And in our own day, where will you find in Germany three literary heroes, who can be placed on a level with Lord Byron, Moore, and Walter Scott? Once more, ground yourself in English, concentrate your powers for something good, and give up everything which can produce no result of consequence to you, and is not suited to you.”
I rejoiced that I had thus made Goethe speak. I was perfectly satisfied in my mind, and determined to comply with his advice in every respect.
Chancellor von Müller was now announced, and sat down with us. The conversation turned once more on the bust of Dante, which stood before us, and on his life and works. The obscurity of this author was especially mentioned—how his own countrymen had never understood him, so that it would be impossible for a foreigner to penetrate such darkness. “To you,” said Goethe, turning towards me, with a friendly air, “the study of this poet is hereby absolutely forbidden by your father confessor.”
Goethe also remarked that the difficult rhyme is, in a great measure, the cause of his obscurity. For the rest, he spoke of Dante with extreme reverence; and I observed that he was not satisfied with the word talent, but called him a nature, as if thus wishing to express something more comprehensive, more full of prescience, of deeper insight, and wider scope.
Thurs., Dec. 9.
I went this evening to Goethe. He cordially held out his hand, and greeted me with praises of my poem on “Schellhorn's Jubilee.” I told him that I had written to refuse the proposal from England.
“Thank Heaven!” said he; “then you are free and at peace once more. And now let me warn you against something else. The composers will come and want an opera; but you must be steadfast and refuse them, for that is a work which leads to nothing, and only loses time.”
Goethe then told me that he had sent the author of the “Paria,” who is now at Bonn, the play bill, through Nees of Esenbeck, that the poet might see his piece had been played here. “Life is short,” he added; “we must try to do one another a good turn.”
The Berlin Journals lay before him, and he told me of the great inundation at Petersburg. He gave me the paper to read, and talked about the bad situation of Petersburg, laughing approvingly at an expression of Rousseau's, who said that we could not hinder an earthquake by building a city near a burning mountain. “Nature goes her own way,” said he, “and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order.”
We then talked of the great tempests which had raged on every coast, and of other violent outbreaks of nature, mentioned in the journals, and I asked Goethe whether it was known how such things were connected. “That no one knows,” replied Goethe; “we have scarcely a suspicion respecting such mysteries, much less can we speak about them.”
Coudray and Professor Riemer were announced. Both joined us, and the inundation of Petersburg was again discussed. M. Coudray, by drawing the plan of that city, plainly showed us the position of the Neva, and the rest of the locality.