Wed., Jan. 3.
At dinner, we talked over Canning's excellent speech for Portugal. “Some people,” said Goethe, “call this speech coarse; but these people know not what they want—they have a morbid desire to be frondeurs against all greatness. It is no opposition, it is mere ‘frondation’; they must have something great, that they may hate it. When Napoleon was alive they hated him, and he served as a good conduit-pipe. When it was all over with him, they grumbled (frondirten) at the Holy Alliance, and yet nothing greater or more beneficial for mankind was ever devised. Now it is Canning's turn. His speech for Portugal is the result of a grand consciousness. He feels very well the extent of his power and the dignity of his position; and he is right to speak as he feels. This the Sans-culottes cannot understand; and what to us seems sublime, seems to them coarse. The grand disturbs them; they are not so constituted as to respect it, and cannot endure it.”
Thurs. evening, Jan. 4.
Goethe praised highly the poems of Victor Hugo.
“He is,” said he, “a man of decided talent, on whom German literature has had an influence. His poetic youth has, unfortunately, been disturbed by the pedantry of the classic school; but now he has the ‘Globe’ on his side, and is thus sure of his game. I am inclined to compare him with Manzoni. He has much objectivity, and seems to me quite as important as MM. De Lamartine and De la Vigne. On closely observing him, I see the source of this and other fresh talent of the same sort. They all come from Chateaubriand, who has really a distinguished rhetorico-poetical talent. That you may see how Victor Hugo writes, only read this poem upon Napoleon—Les Deux Isles.”
Goethe gave me the book, and went to the stove. I read the poem. “Has he not excellent images,” said Goethe, “and has not he managed his subject with great freedom?” He came back to me. “Only look at this passage—how fine it is!” He read the passage about the storm-cloud, from which the lightning darts upward and strikes the hero. “That is fine; for the image is correct: as you will find in the mountains, where we often have the storm beneath us, and where the lightning darts upwards.”
“I praise this in the French,” said I, “that their poetry never deserts the firm ground of reality. We can translate their poems into prose, without losing anything essential.”
“That,” said Goethe, “is because the French poets have knowledge, while our German simpletons think they would lose their talent, if they laboured for knowledge; although, in fact, all talent must derive its nutriment from knowledge, and thus only is enabled to use its strength. But let them pass; we cannot help them, and real talent soon finds its way. The many young poets who are now carrying on their trade have no real talent; they only show an impotence which has been excited into productiveness by the high state of German literature.
“That the French,” continued Goethe, “have passed from their pedantry into a freer manner is not surprising. Even before the revolution, Diderot, and minds like his, sought to break open this path. The revolution itself, and the reign of Napoleon, have been favourable to the cause; for if the years of war allowed no real poetical interest to spring up, and were consequently for the moment unfavourable to the Muses, yet a multitude of free intellects were formed in this period, who now, in times of peace, attain reflection, and come forward as talents of importance.”
I asked Goethe whether the classical party had been opposed to the excellent Béranger. “The genre of Béranger's poetry,” said Goethe, “is old and traditional, and people were accustomed to it. However, he has been in many respects more free than his predecessors, and has therefore been attacked by the pedantic party.”
The conversation turned upon painting, and on the mischief of the antiquity-worshipping school. “You do not pretend to be a connoisseur,” said Goethe; “but I will show you a picture, in which, though it has been painted by one of the best living German artists, you will at the first glance be struck by the most glaring offences against the primary laws of art. You will see that details are nicely done, but you will be dissatisfied with the whole, and will not know what to make of it; and this not because the painter has not sufficient talent, but because his mind, which should have directed his talent, is darkened, like that of all the other bigots to antiquity; so that he ignores the perfect masters, and, going back to their imperfect predecessors, takes them for his patterns.
“Raphael and his contemporaries broke through a limited mannerism, to nature and freedom. And now our artists, instead of being thankful, using these advantages, and proceeding on the good way, return to the state of limitation.
“This is too bad, and it is hard to understand such darkening of the intellect. And since in this course they find no support in art itself, they seek one from religion and faction—without these two they could not sustain themselves in their weakness.
“There is,” continued Goethe, “through all art a filiation. If you see a great master, you will always find that he used what was good in his predecessors, and that it was this which made him great. Men like Raphael do not spring out of the ground. They took root in the antique, and the best which had been done before them. Had they not used the advantages of their time, there would be little to say about them.”
The conversation now turned upon old German poetry. I mentioned Flemming. “Flemming,” said Goethe, “is a very fair talent, a little prosaic and citizen-like, and of no practical use nowadays. It is strange,” he continued, “that with all I have done, there is not one of my poems that would suit the Lutheran hymn-book.” I laughed and assented, while I said to myself that in this odd expression there was more than could be seen at the first glance.
Sun. evening, Jan. 12.
I found a musical party at Goethe's. The performers were the Eberwein family, and some members of the orchestra. Among the few hearers were General Superintendent Röhr, Hofrath Vogel, and some ladies. Goethe had wished to hear a quartet by a celebrated young composer, and this was played first. Karl Eberwein, a boy twelve years old, played the piano entirely to Goethe's great satisfaction, and indeed admirably, so that the quartet was in every respect well performed.
“It is a strange state,” said Goethe, “to which the great improvements in the technical and mechanical part of the art have brought our newest composers. Their productions are no longer music; they go beyond the level of human feelings, and one can give them no response from the mind and heart. How do you feel? I hear with my ears only.”
I replied that I fared no better.
“Yet the Allegro,” said he, “had character; that ceaseless whirling and twirling brought before my mind the witches' dance on the Blocksberg, and thus I had a picture to illustrate this odd music.”
After a pause, during which the party discoursed and took refreshments, Goethe asked Madame Eberwein to sing some songs. She sang the beautiful song, “Um Mitternacht,” with Zelter's music, which made the deepest impression.
“That song,” said Goethe, “remains beautiful, however often it is heard! There is something eternal, indestructible, in the melody!”
The “Erlkönig” obtained great applause; and the aria, “Ich hab's gesagt der guten Mutter,” made every one remark that the music so happily fitted the words, that no one could even conceive it otherwise. Goethe himself was in the highest degree pleased.
By way of conclusion to this pleasant evening, Madame Eberwein, at Goethe's request, sang some songs from his “Divan,” with her husband's music. The passage, “Jussuf's Reize möcht' ich borgen,” pleased Goethe especially. “Eberwein,” he said, “sometimes surpasses himself.” He then asked for the song, “Ach um deine feuchten Schwingen,” which was also of a kind to excite the deepest emotions.
After the party had left, I remained some moments alone with Goethe. “I have,” said he, “this evening made the remark that these songs in the ‘Divan’ have no further connection with me. Both the oriental and impassioned elements have ceased to live in me. I have left them behind, like a cast-off snake-skin on my path. The song, ‘Um Mitternacht,’ on the contrary, has not lost its connection with me; it is a living part of me, and goes on living with me still.
“Oftentimes, my own productions seem wholly strange to me. To-day, I read a passage in French, and thought as I read—‘This man speaks cleverly enough—you would not have said it otherwise:’ when I look at it closely, I find it is a passage translated from my own writings!”
Mon. evening, Jan. 15.
After the completion of the “Helena,” Goethe had employed himself last summer with the continuation of the “Wanderjahre.” He often talked to me about the progress of this work.
“In order the better to use the materials I possess,” said he to me one day, “I have taken the first part entirely to pieces, and intend, by mingling the old with the new, to make two parts. I have ordered everything that is printed to be copied entire. The places where I have new matter to introduce are marked, and when my secretary comes to such a mark, I dictate what is wanting, and thus compel myself never to let my work stop.”
Another day he said to me, “All the printed part of the ‘Wanderjahre’ is now completely copied. The places where I am to introduce new matter are filled with blue paper, so that I have always before my eyes what is yet to be done. As I go on at present, the blue spots gradually vanish, to my great delight.”
Some weeks ago, I had heard from his secretary that he was at work on a new novel. I therefore abstained from evening visits, and satisfied myself with seeing him once a week at dinner. The novel had now been finished for some time, and this evening he showed me the first sheets. I was delighted, and read as far as the important passage where all stand round the dead tiger, and the messenger brings the intelligence that the lion has laid himself in the sun by the ruins.
While reading, I could not but admire the extraordinary clearness with which all objects, down to the very smallest locality, were brought before the eyes. The going out to hunt, the old ruins of the castle, the fair, the way through the fields to the ruins, were all so distinctly painted, that one could not conceive them otherwise than as the poet intended. At the same time, all was written with such circumspection and mastery of subject, that one could never anticipate what was coming, or see a line further than one read.
“Your excellency,” said I, “must have worked after a very defined plan.”
“Yes, indeed,” replied Goethe; “I was going to treat the subject thirty years ago, and have carried it in my head ever since. The work went on oddly enough. At that time, immediately after ‘Hermann and Dorothea,’ I meant to treat it in an epic form and in hexameters, and had drawn up a complete outline with this view. But when I now took up the subject again, not being able to find my old outline, I was obliged to make a new one, and that suitable to the altered form I intended to give the subject. Now my work is ended, the old outline is again found, and I am glad I did not have it earlier; for it would only have confused me. The action and the progress of development were, indeed, unaltered, but the details were entirely different; it had been conceived with a view to an epic treatment in hexameters, and would not therefore have been applicable to this prose form.”
The conversation then turned upon the contents.
“That is a beautiful situation,” said I, “where Honorio, opposite to the princess, stands over the dead tiger, when the lamenting woman with her boy comes up, and the prince, too, with his retinue of huntsmen, hastens to join this singular group; it would make an excellent picture and I should like to see it painted.”
“Yes,” said Goethe, “that would be a fine picture. Yet, perhaps,” continued he, after some reflection, “the subject is almost too rich, and the figures are too many, so that it would be very difficult for the artist to group them, and distribute the light and shade. That earlier moment where Honorio kneels on the tiger, and the princess is opposite to him on horseback, I have imagined as a picture, and that might be done.”
I felt that Goethe was right, and added that this moment contained in fact the gist of the whole situation.
I also remarked that this novel had a character quite distinct from those of the “Wanderjahre,” inasmuch as everything represented the external world—everything was real.
“True,” said Goethe, “you will find in it scarcely anything of the inward world, and in my other things there is almost too much.”
“I am now curious to learn,” said I, “how the lion will be conquered; I almost guess that this will take place in quite a different manner, but how I cannot conceive.” “It would not be right for you to guess it,” said Goethe, “and I will not reveal the secret to-day. On Thursday evening I will give you the conclusion. Till then, the lion shall lie in the sun.”
I turned the conversation to the second part of “Faust,” especially the classical Walpurgis night, which existed as yet only as a sketch, and which Goethe had told me he meant to print in that form. I had ventured to advise him not to do so; for I found that if it were once printed, it would be always left in this unfinished state. Goethe must have thought that over in the mean time, for he now told me that he had resolved not to print the sketch.
“I am very glad of it,” said I; “for now I shall hope to see you complete it.”
“It might be done in three months,” said he; “but when am I to get time for it? The day has too many claims on me; it is difficult to isolate myself sufficiently. This morning, the hereditary Grand Duke was with me; tomorrow at noon, the Grand Duchess proposes visiting me. I must prize such visits as a high favour; they embellish my life, but they occupy my mind. I am obliged to think what I have new to offer to such dignified personages, and how I can worthily entertain them.”
“And yet,” said I, “you finished ‘Helena’ last winter, when you were no less disturbed than now.”
“Why,” he replied, “one goes on, and must go on; but it is difficult.”
“'Tis well,” said I, “that your outline is so completely made out.”
“The outline is indeed complete,” said Goethe, “but the most difficult part is yet to be done; and in the execution of parts, everything depends too much on luck. The classic Walpurgis night must be written in rhyme, and yet the whole must have an antique character. It is not easy to find a suitable sort of verse;—and then the dialogue!”
“Is not that also in the plan?” said I.
“The what is there,” replied Goethe, “but not the how. Then only think what is to be said on that mad night! Faust's speech to Proserpine, when he would move her to give him Helena—what a speech should that be, when Proserpine herself is moved to tears! All this is not easy to do, and depends much on good luck, nay, almost entirely on the mood and strength at the moment.”
Wed., Jan. 17.
Lately, during Goethe's occasional indisposition, we had dined in his work-room, which looks out on the garden. To-day, the cloth was again laid in what is called the Urbino-chamber, which I looked upon as a good omen. When I entered, I found Goethe and his son: both welcomed me in their naive, affectionate manner; Goethe himself was in his happiest mood, as I could perceive by the animation of his face.
Through the open door of the next room, I saw Chancellor von Müller stooping over a large engraving; he soon came in to us, and I was glad to greet him as a pleasant companion at table. Frau von Goethe was still absent, but we sat down to table without her. The engraving was talked about with admiration, and Goethe said that it was a work of the celebrated Parisian Gérard, who had lately sent it to him as a present. “Go you at once,” added he, “and take a peep before the soup comes in.”
I followed his wish and my own inclination, and was delighted both with the sight of the admirable work and with the inscription of the artist, by which he dedicates it to Goethe as a proof of his esteem. I could not look long; Frau von Goethe came in, and I hastened back to my place.
“Is not that something great?” said Goethe. “You may study it days and weeks before you can find out all its rich thoughts and perfections.”
We were very lively at table. The Chancellor produced a letter by an important man at Paris, who had held a difficult post as ambassador here in the time of the French occupation, and had from that period kept up a friendly communication with Weimar. He mentioned the Grand Duke and Goethe, and congratulated Weimar for being able to maintain so intimate an alliance between genius and the highest power.
Frau von Goethe gave a highly graceful tone to the conversation. The discourse was upon certain purchases; and she teazed young Goethe, who would not give in.
“We must not spoil fair ladies too much,” said Goethe; “they are so ready to break all bounds. Even at Elba, Napoleon received milliners' bills, which he had to pay; yet, in such matters, he would as easily do too little as too much. One day, at the Tuileries, a marchand de modes offered, in his presence, some valuable goods to his consort. As Napoleon showed no disposition to buy anything, the man gave him to understand that he was doing but little in this way for his wife. Napoleon did not answer a word, but looked upon the man with such a look, that he packed up his things at once, and never showed his face again.”
“Did he do this when consul?” asked Frau von Goethe.
“Probably when emperor,” replied Goethe, “for otherwise his look would not have been so formidable. I cannot but laugh at the man, who was pierced through by the glance, and who saw himself already beheaded or shot.”
We were in the liveliest mood, and continued to talk of Napoleon.
“I wish,” said young Goethe, “that I had good pictures or engravings of all Napoleon's deeds, to decorate a large room.”
“The room must be very large,” said Goethe, “and even then it would not hold the pictures, so great are the deeds.”
The Chancellor turned the conversation on Luden's “History of the Germans;” and I had reason to admire the dexterity and penetration which young Goethe displayed in deducing all which the reviewers had found to blame in the book from the time in which it was written, and the national views and feelings which had animated the author. We arrived at the result that the wars of Napoleon first explained to us those of Cæsar. “Previously,” said Goethe, “Cæsar's book was really not much more than an exercise for classical schools.”
From the old German time, the conversation turned upon the Gothic. We spoke of a bookcase which had a Gothic character, and from this were led to discuss the late fashion of arranging entire apartments in the old German and Gothic style, and thus living under the influences of a bygone time.
“In a house,” said Goethe, “where there are so many rooms that some are entered only three or four times a year, such a fancy may pass; and I think it a pretty notion of Madame Pankoucke at Paris that she has a Chinese apartment. But I cannot praise the man who fits out the rooms in which he lives with these strange, old-fashioned objects. It is a sort of masquerade, which can, in the long run, do no good in any respect, but must, on the contrary, have an unfavourable influence on the man who adopts it. Such a fashion is in contradiction to the age in which we live, and will only confirm the empty and hollow way of thinking and feeling in which it originates. It is well enough, on a merry winter's evening, to go to a masquerade as a Turk; but what should we think of a man who wore such a mask all the year round? We should think either that he was crazy, or in a fair way to become so before long.”
We found Goethe's remarks on this highly practical subject very convincing, and as the reproof did not even lightly touch any of us, we received the truth with the pleasantest feelings.
The conversation now turned upon the theatre, and Goethe rallied me for having, last Monday evening, sacrificed it to him. “He has now been here three years,” said he, turning to the others, “and this is the first evening that he has given up the theatre for my sake. I ought to think a great deal of it. I had invited him, and he had promised to come, but yet I doubted whether he would keep his word, especially as it struck half-past six and he was not here. Indeed, I should have rejoiced if he had not come; for then I could have said: this is a crazy fellow, who loves the theatre better than his dearest friends, and whom nothing can turn aside from his obstinate partiality. But did I not make it up to you? have I not shown you fine things?” By these words Goethe alluded to the new novel.
We talked of Schiller's “Fiesco,” which was acted last Saturday. “I saw it for the first time,” said I, “and have been much occupied with thinking whether those extremely rough scenes could not be softened; but I find very little could be done to them without spoiling the character of the whole.”
“You are right—it cannot be done,” replied Goethe. “Schiller often talked with me on the matter; for he himself could not endure his first plays, and would never allow them to be acted while he had the direction of the theatre. At last we were in want of pieces, and would willingly have gained those three powerful firstlings for our répertoire. But we found it impossible; all the parts were too closely interwoven one with another; so that Schiller himself despaired of accomplishing the plan, and found himself constrained to give it up, and leave the pieces just as they were.”
“'Tis a pity,” said I; “for, notwithstanding all their roughness, I love them a thousand times better than the weak, forced, and unnatural pieces of some of the best of our later tragic poets. A grand intellect and character is felt in everything of Schiller's.”
“Yes,” said Goethe, “Schiller might do what he would, he could not make anything which would not come out far greater than the best things of these later people. Even when he cut his nails, he showed he was greater than these gentlemen.” We laughed at this striking metaphor.
“But I have known persons,” continued he, “who could never be content with those first dramas of Schiller. One summer, at a bathing place, I was walking through a very secluded, narrow path, which led to a mill. There Prince ——— met me, and as at the same moment some mules laden with meal-sacks came up to us, we were obliged to get out of the way and enter a small house. Here, in a narrow room, we fell, after the fashion of that prince, into deep discussion about things divine and human; we also came to Schiller's ‘Robbers,’ when the prince expressed himself thus: ‘If I had been the Deity on the point of creating the world, and had foreseen, at the moment, that Schiller's ‘Robbers’ would have been written in it, I would have left the world uncreated.’” We could not help laughing. “What do you say to that?” said Goethe; “that is a dislike which goes pretty far, and which one can scarcely understand.”
“There is nothing of this dislike,” I observed, “in our young people, especially our students. The most excellent and matured pieces by Schiller and others may be performed, and we shall see but few young people and students in the theatre; but if Schiller's ‘Robbers’ or Schiller's ‘Fiesco’ is given, the house is almost filled by students alone.”
“So it was,” said Goethe, “fifty years ago, and so it will probably be fifty years hence. Do not let us imagine that the world will so much advance in culture and good taste that young people will pass over the ruder epoch. What a young man has written is always best enjoyed by young people. Even if the world progresses generally, youth will always begin at the beginning, and the epochs of the world's cultivation will be repeated in the individual. This has ceased to irritate me, and a long time ago I made a verse in this fashion:
Still let the bonfire blaze away,
Let pleasure never know decay;
Old brooms to stumps are always worn,
And youngsters every day are born.
“I need only look out of the window to see, in the brooms that sweep the street, and the children who run about, a visible symbol of the world, that is always wearing out and always becoming young again. Children's games and the diversions of youth are preserved from century to century; for, absurd as these may appear to a more mature age, children are always children, and are at all times alike. Hence we ought not to put down the midsummer bonfires, or spoil the pleasure which the little dears take in them.”
With this and the like cheerful conversation the hours at table passed swiftly by. We younger people then went into the upper room, while the Chancellor remained with Goethe.
Thurs. evening, Jan. 18.
Goethe had promised me the rest of the novel this evening. I went to him at half-past six, and found him alone in his comfortable work-room. I sat down with him at table, and after we had talked over the immediate events of the day, Goethe arose and gave me the wished-for last sheets. “There you may read the conclusion,” said he. I began, while Goethe walked up and down the room, and occasionally stood at the stove. As usual, I read softly to myself.
The sheets of the last evening had ended where the lion is lying in the sun outside the wall of the old ruin, at the foot of an aged beech, and preparations are made to subdue him. The prince is going to send the hunters after him, but the stranger begs him to spare his lion, being confident that he can bring him back into his cage by milder means. This child, said he, will accomplish his work by pleasant words and the sweet tones of his flute. The prince consents, and after he has arranged the necessary measures of precaution, rides back into the town with his men. Honorio, with a number of hunters, occupies the defile, that, in case the lion comes down, he may scare him back by kindling a fire. The mother and the child, led by the warder of the castle, ascend the ruin, on the other side of which the lion is lying by the outer wall.
The design is to lure the mighty animal into the spacious castle-yard. The mother and the warder conceal themselves above in the half-ruined hall, while the child goes alone after the lion through the dark opening in the wall of the court-yard. An anxious pause arises. They do not know what has become of the child—his flute gives no sound. The warder reproaches himself that he did not go also, but the mother is calm.
At last the sounds of the flute are again heard. They approach nearer and nearer. The child returns to the castle-yard by the opening in the wall, and the lion, now docile, follows him with heavy step. They go once round the yard. Then the child sits down in a sunny spot, while the lion settles himself peacefully beside him, and lays one of his heavy paws in his lap. A thorn has entered it; the child draws it out, and, taking his silken kerchief from his neck, binds the paw.
The mother and the warder, who have witnessed the whole scene from the hall above, are transported with delight. The lion is tamed and in safety, and, as the child alternately with the sounds of his flute sings his charming pious songs to soothe the monster, he concludes the whole novel by singing the following verses:—
Holy angels thus take heed
Of the good and docile child,
Aiding ev'ry worthy deed,
Checking ev'ry impulse wild.
Pious thoughts and melody
Both together work for good,
Luring to the infant's knee
E'en the tyrant of the wood.
I had not read without emotion the concluding incident. Still I did not know what to say. I was astonished but not satisfied. It seemed to me that the conclusion was too simple, too ideal, too lyrical; and that at least some of the other figures should have reappeared, and, by winding up the whole, have given more breadth to the termination. Goethe observed that I had a doubt in my mind, and endeavoured to set me right. “If,” said he, “I had again brought in some of the other figures at the end, the conclusion would have been prosaic. What could they do and say, when everything is done already? The prince and his men have ridden into the town, where his assistance is needed. Honorio, as soon as he learns that the lion is secured, will follow with his hunters, and the man will soon come from the town with his iron cage and put the lion into it. All these things are foreseen, and therefore should not be detailed. If they were, we should become prosaic. But an ideal, nay, a lyrical conclusion, was necessary; for after the pathetic speech of the man, which in itself is poetical prose, a further elevation is required, and I was obliged to have recourse to lyrical poetry, nay, even to a song.
“To find a simile to this novel,” continued Goethe, “imagine a green plant shooting up from its root, thrusting forth strong green leaves from the sides of its sturdy stem, and at last terminating in a flower. The flower is unexpected and startling, but come it must—nay, the whole foliage has existed only for the sake of that flower, and would be worthless without it.”
At these words I breathed lightly. The scales seemed to fall from my eyes, and a feeling of the excellence of this marvellous composition began to stir within me.
Goethe continued,—“The purpose of this novel was to show how the unmanageable and the invincible is often better restrained by love and pious feeling than by force. And this beautiful aim, which is set forth by the child and the lion, charmed me on to the completion of the work. This is the ideal—this is the flower. The green foliage of the extremely real introductory is only there for the sake of this ideal, and only worth anything on account of it. For what is the real in itself? We take delight in it when it is represented with truth—nay, it may give us a clearer knowledge of certain things, but the proper gain to our higher nature lies alone in the ideal, which proceeds from the heart of the poet.”
I palpably felt how right Goethe was, for the conclusion of his novel still acted upon me, and had produced in me a tone of piety such as I had not known for a long time. How pure and intense, thought I to myself, must be the feelings of the poet, that he can write anything so beautiful at his advanced age. I did not refrain from expressing myself on this point to Goethe, and from congratulating myself that this production, which was unique in itself, had now a visible existence.
“I am glad,” said Goethe, “that you are satisfied with it; and I am also glad on my own account, that I have got rid of a subject which I carried about with me for thirty years. Schiller and Humboldt, to whom I formerly communicated my plan, dissuaded me from going on with it, because they could see nothing in it, and because the poet alone knows what charms he is capable of giving to his subject. One should therefore never ask anybody if one means to write anything. If Schiller had asked me about his ‘Wallenstein’ before he had written it, I should surely have advised him against it; for I could never have dreamed that, from such a subject, so excellent a drama could be made. Schiller was opposed to that treatment of my subject in hexameters, to which I was inclined immediately after my ‘Hermann and Dorothea,’ and advised eight-lined stanzas. You see, however, that I have succeeded, but with prose; for much depended on an accurate description of the locality, and in this I should have been constrained by a verse of the sort recommended. Besides, the very real character at the beginning, and the very ideal character at the conclusion of the novel, tell best in prose; while the little songs have a pretty effect, which could not be produced either by hexameters or by Ottava Rima.”
The single tales and novels of the “Wanderjahre” were talked of; and it was observed that each was distinguished from the others by peculiar character and tone. “The reason of this,” said Goethe, “I will explain. I went to work like a painter, who, with certain subjects, shuns certain colours, and makes others predominate. Thus, for a morning landscape, he puts a great deal of blue on his palette, and but little yellow. But if he is to paint an evening scene, he takes a great deal of yellow, and almost omits the blue. I proceeded in the same way with my different literary productions, and this is the cause of their varied character.”
I thought within myself that this was a very wise maxim, and was pleased that Goethe had uttered it.
I then, especially with reference to this last novel, admired the detail with which the scenery was described.
“I have,” said Goethe, “never observed Nature with a view to poetical production; but, because my early drawing of landscapes, and my later studies in natural science, led me to a constant, close observation of natural objects, I have gradually learned Nature by heart even to the minutest details, so that, when I need anything as a poet, it is at my command; and I cannot easily sin against truth. Schiller had not this observation of Nature. The localities of Switzerland, which he used in ‘William Tell,’ were all related to him by me; but he had such a wonderful mind, that even on hearsay, he could make something that possessed reality.”
The conversation now turned wholly on Schiller, and Goethe proceeded thus:—
“Schiller's proper productive talent lay in the ideal; and it may be said he has not his equal in German or any other literature. He has almost everything that Lord Byron has; but Lord Byron is his superior in knowledge of the world. I wish Schiller had lived to know Lord Byron's works, and wonder what he would have said to so congenial a mind. Did Byron publish anything during Schiller's life?”
I could not say with certainty. Goethe took down the “Conversations Lexicon,” and read the article on Byron, making many hasty remarks as he proceeded. It appeared that Byron had published nothing before 1807, and that therefore Schiller could have seen nothing of his.
“Through all Schiller's works,” continued Goethe, “goes the idea of freedom; though this idea assumed a new shape as Schiller advanced in his culture and became another man. In his youth it was physical freedom which occupied him, and influenced his poems; in his later life it was ideal freedom.
“Freedom is an odd thing, and every man has enough of it, if he can only satisfy himself. What avails a superfluity of freedom which we cannot use? Look at this chamber and the next, in which, through the open door, you see my bed. Neither of them is large; and they are rendered still narrower by necessary furniture, books, manuscripts, and works of art; but they are enough for me. I have lived in them all the winter, scarcely entering my front rooms. What have I done with my spacious house, and the liberty of going from one room to another, when I have not found it requisite to make use of them?
“If a man has freedom enough to live healthy, and work at his craft, he has enough; and so much all can easily obtain. Then all of us are only free under certain conditions, which we must fulfil. The citizen is as free as the nobleman, when he restrains himself within the limits which God appointed by placing him in that rank. The nobleman is as free as the prince; for, if he will but observe a few ceremonies at court, he may feel himself his equal. Freedom consists not in refusing to recognize anything above us, but in respecting something which is above us; for, by respecting it, we raise ourselves to it, and by our very acknowledgement make manifest that we bear within ourselves what is higher, and are worthy to be on a level with it.
“I have, on my journeys, often met merchants from the north of Germany, who fancied they were my equals, if they rudely seated themselves next me at table. They were, by this method, nothing of the kind; but they would have been so, if they had known how to value and treat me.
“That this physical freedom gave Schiller so much trouble in his youthful years, was caused partly by the nature of his mind, but still more by the restraint which he endured at the military school. In later days, when he had enough physical freedom, he passed over to the ideal; and I would almost say that this idea killed him, since it led him to make demands on his physical nature which were too much for his strength.
“The Grand Duke fixed on Schiller, when he was established here, an income of one thousand dollars yearly, and offered to give him twice as much in case he should be hindered by sickness from working. Schiller declined this last offer, and never availed himself of it. ‘I have talent,’ said he, ‘and must help myself.’ But as his family enlarged of late years, he was obliged, for a livelihood, to write two dramas annually; and to accomplish this, he forced himself to write days and weeks when he was not well. He would have his talent obey him at any hour. He never drank much; he was very temperate; but, in such hours of bodily weakness, he was obliged to stimulate his powers by the use of spirituous liquors. This habit impaired his health, and was likewise injurious to his productions. The faults which some wiseacres find in his works I deduce from this source. All the passages which they say are not what they ought to be, I would call pathological passages; for he wrote them on those days when he had not strength to find the right and true motives. I have every respect for the categorical imperative. I know how much good may proceed from it; but one must not carry it too far, for then this idea of ideal freedom certainly leads to no good.”
Amid these interesting remarks, and similar discourse on Lord Byron and the celebrated German authors, of whom Schiller had said that he liked Kotzebue best, for he, at any rate, produced something, the hours of evening passed swiftly along, and Goethe gave me the novel, that I might study it quietly at home.
 Those who know the difficulty of the original will not be too severe on the above translation. The words as they stand in Cotta's editions of Goethe are as follows:—
Und so geht mit guten Kindern
Sel'ger Engel gern zu Rath,
Böses Willen zu verhindern,
Zu befördern schöne That.
So beschwören fest zu bannen
Lieben Sohn ans zarte Knie
Ihn des Waldes Hochtyrannen
Frommer Sinn und Melodie.
Unless the most forced construction be adopted, these lines seem to me quite inexplicable. But in the passage as quoted by Eckermann, “liebem” stands in the place of “lieben,” and this reading, which I suspect to be the right one, gives a sense to which my version approximates.—Trans.
 In the sense of a group being simple. The German word is “einsam” (solitary).—Trans.
Sun. evening, Jan. 21.
I went at half-past seven this evening to Goethe, and stayed with him about an hour. He showed me a volume of new French poems, by Mademoiselle Gay, and spoke of them with great praise.
“The French,” said he, “push their way, and it is well worth while to look after them. I have lately been striving hard to form a notion of the present state of the French literature; and if I succeed I shall express my opinion of it. It is very interesting to observe that those elements are now, for the first time, at work with them which we went through long ago.
“A mediocre talent is, indeed, always biassed by its age, and must be fed by the elements of the age. With the French it is the same as with us, down to the most modern pietism, only that with them this appears more galant and spirituel.”
“What says your excellency to Béranger, and the author of ‘Clara Gazul?’”
“Those I except,” said Goethe; “they are great geniuses, who have a foundation in themselves, and keep free from the mode of thinking which belongs to their time.”
“I am glad to hear you say this,” said I, “for I have had a similar feeling about them both.”
The conversation turned from French to German literature. “I will show you something,” said Goethe, “that will be interesting to you. Give me one of those two volumes which lie before you. Solger is known to you.”
“Certainly,” said I; “I am very fond of him, I have his translation of Sophocles, and both this and the preface gave me long since a high opinion of him.”
“You know he has been dead several years,” said Goethe; “and now a collection of the writings and letters he left is published. He is not so happy in his philosophical inquiries, which he has given us in the form of the Platonic dialogues; but his letters are excellent. In one of them, he writes to Tieck upon the Wahlverwandtschaften (elective affinities), and I wish to read it to you; for it would not be easy to say anything better about that novel.”
Goethe read me these excellent remarks, and we talked them over point by point, admiring the dignified character of the views, and the logical sequence of the reasoning. Although Solger admitted that the facts of the “Wahlverwandtschaften” had their germ in the nature of all the characters, he nevertheless blamed that of Edward.
“I do not quarrel with him,” said Goethe, “because he cannot endure Edward. I myself cannot endure him, but was obliged to make him such a man in order to bring out my fact. He is, besides, very true to nature; for you find many people in the higher ranks, with whom, quite like him, obstinacy takes the place of character.
“High above all, Solger placed the Architect; because, while all the other persons of the novel show themselves loving and weak, he alone remains strong and free; and the beauty of his nature consists not so much in this, that he does not fall into the errors of the other characters—but in this, that the poet has made him so noble that he could not fall into them.”
We were pleased with this remark.
“That is really very fine,” said Goethe.
“I have,” said I, “felt the importance and amiability of the Architect's character; but I never remarked that he was so very excellent, just because by his very nature he could not fall into those bewilderments of love.”
“No wonder,” said Goethe, “for I myself never thought of it when I was creating him; yet Solger is right—this certainly is his character.
“These remarks,” continued he, “were written as early as the year 1809. I should then have been much cheered to have heard so kind a word about the ‘Wahlverwandtschaften,’ for at that time, and afterwards, not many pleasant remarks were vouchsafed me about that novel.
“I see from these letters that Solger was much attached to me: in one of them, he complains that I have returned no answer about the ‘Sophocles’ which he sent me. Good Heavens! how am I placed. It is not to be wondered at. I have known great lords, to whom many presents were sent. These had certain formulas and phrases with which they answered everything; and thus they wrote letters to hundreds, all alike, and all mere phrases. This I never could do. If I could not say to each man something distinct and appropriate to the occasion, I preferred not writing to him at all. I esteemed superficial phrases unworthy, and thus I have failed to answer many an excellent man to whom I would willingly have written. You see yourself how it is with me, and what messages and despatches daily flow in upon me from every quarter, and you must confess that more than one man's life would be required to answer all these, in ever so careless a way. But I am sorry about Solger; he was an admirable being, and deserved, better than many, a friendly answer.”
I turned the conversation to the novel, which I had now frequently read and studied at home. “All the first part,” said I, “is only an introduction, but nothing is set forth beyond what is necessary; and this necessary preliminary is executed with such grace, that we cannot fancy it is only for the sake of something else, but would give it a value of its own.”
“I am glad that you feel this,” said Goethe, “but I must do something yet. According to the laws of a good introduction, the proprietors of the animals must make their appearance in it. When the princess and the uncle ride by the booth, the people must come out and entreat the princess to honour it with a visit.” “Assuredly you are right,” said I; “for, since all the rest is indicated in the introduction, these people must be so likewise; and it is perfectly natural that, with their devotion to their treasury, they would not let the princess pass unassailed.”
“You see,” said Goethe, “that in a work of this kind, even when it is finished as a whole, there is still something to be done with the details.”
Goethe then told me of a foreigner who had lately visited him, and had talked of translating several of his works.
“He is a good man,” said Goethe, “but, as to his literature, he shows himself a mere dilettante; for he does not yet know German at all, and is already talking of the translations he will make, and of the portraits which he will prefix to them.
“That is the very nature of the dilettanti, that they have no idea of the difficulties which lie in a subject, and always wish to undertake something for which they have no capacity.”
Thurs. evening, Jan. 29.
At seven o'clock I went with the manuscript of the novel and a copy of Béranger to Goethe. I found M. Soret in conversation with him upon modern French literature. I listened with interest, and it was observed that the modern writers had learned a great deal from De Lille, as far as good versification was concerned. Since M. Soret, as a born Genevese, did not speak German fluently, while Goethe talks French tolerably well, the conversation was carried on in that language, and only became German when I put in a word. I took my “Béranger” out of my pocket, and gave it to Goethe, who wished to read his admirable songs again. M. Soret thought the portrait prefixed to the poems was not a good likeness. Goethe was much pleased to have this beautiful copy in his hands.
“These songs,” said he, “may be looked upon as perfect, and as the best things in their kind, especially when you observe the burden, without which they would be almost too earnest, too pointed, and too epigrammatic for songs. Béranger reminds me ever of Horace and Hafiz, who stood in the same way above their times, satirically and playfully setting forth the corruption of manners. Béranger has the same relation to his contemporaries; but as he belongs to the lower class, the licentious and vulgar are not very hateful to him, and he treats them with a sort of partiality.”
Many similar remarks were made upon Béranger, and other modern French writers, till M. Soret went to court, and I remained alone with Goethe.
A sealed packet lay upon the table. Goethe laid his hand upon it. “This,” said he, “is ‘Helena,’ which is going to Cotta to be printed.”
I felt, at these words, more than I could say; I felt the importance of the moment. For, as it is with a newly built vessel which first goes to sea, and with respect to which we know not what destinies it must encounter, so is it likewise with the intellectual creation of a great master which first goes forth into the world to exercise its influence through many ages, and to produce and undergo manifold destinies.
“I have,” said Goethe, “till now, been always finding little things to add or to touch up; but I must finish now, and I am glad that it is going to the post, and that I shall be at liberty to turn to some other object. Let it meet its proper destiny. My comfort is, that the general culture of Germany stands at an incredibly high point; so that I need not fear that such a production will long remain misunderstood and without effect.”
“There is a whole antiquity in it,” said I.
“Yes,” said Goethe, “the philologists will find work.”
“I have no fear,” said I, “about the antique part; for there we have the most minute detail, the most thorough development of individuals, and each personage says just what he should. But the modern romantic part is very difficult, for half the history of the world lies behind it; the material is so rich that it can only be lightly indicated, and heavy demands are made upon the reader.”
“Yet,” said Goethe, “it all appeals to the senses, and on the stage would satisfy the eye: more I did not intend. Let the crowd of spectators take pleasure in the spectacle; the higher import will not escape the initiated, as has been the case with the ‘Magic Flute,’ and other things beside.”
“It will produce a most unusual effect on the stage,” said I, “that a piece should begin as a tragedy and end as an opera. But something is required to present the grandeur of these persons, and to express the sublime language and verse.”
“The first part,” said Goethe, “requires the first tragic artists, and the operatic part must be sustained by the first vocalists, male and female. That of Helena ought to be played, not by one, but by two great female artists; for we seldom find that a fine vocalist has sufficient talent as a tragic actress.”
“The whole,” said I, “will furnish an occasion for great splendour of scenery and costume, and I cannot deny that I look forward with pleasure to its representation on the stage. If we could only get a good composer.”
“It should be one,” said Goethe, “who, like Meyerbeer, has lived long in Italy, so that he combines his German nature with the Italian style and manner. However, that will be found somehow or other; I only rejoice that I am rid of it. Of the notion that the chorus does not descend into the lower world, but rather disperses itself among the elements on the cheerful surface of the earth, I am not a little proud.”
“It is a new sort of immortality,” said I.
“Now,” continued Goethe, “how do you go on with the novel?”
“I have brought it with me,” said I. “After reading it again, I find that your Excellency must not make the intended alteration. It produces a good effect that the people first appear by the slain tiger as completely new beings, with their outlandish costume and manners, and announce themselves as the owners of the beasts. If you made them first appear in the introduction, this effect would be completely weakened, if not destroyed.”
“You are right,” said Goethe; “I must leave it as it is; unquestionably you are right. It must have been my design, when first I planned the tale, not to bring the people in sooner, otherwise I should not have left them out. The intended alteration was a requisition on the part of the understanding, which would certainly have led me into a fault. This is a remarkable case in æsthetics, that a rule must be departed from if faults are to be avoided.”
We talked over the title which should be given to the novel. Many were proposed; some suited the beginning, others the end, but none seemed exactly suitable to the whole.
“I'll tell you what,” said Goethe, “we will call it ‘The Novel (Die Novelle);’ for what is a novel but a peculiar and as yet unheard-of event? This is the proper meaning of this name; and much which in Germany passes as a novel is no novel at all, but a mere narrative, or whatever else you like to call it. In that original sense of an unheard-of event, even the ‘Wahlverwandtschaften’ may be called a ‘novel.’”
“If we consider rightly,” said I, “a poem has always originated without a title, and is that which it is without a title; so that we may imagine the title is not really essential to the matter.”
“It is not,” said Goethe; “the ancient poems had no titles; but this is a custom of the moderns, from whom also the poems of the ancients obtained titles at a later period. However, this custom is the result of a necessity to name things, and distinguish them from each other, when a literature becomes extensive.”
“Here,” said Goethe, “you have something new;—read it.”
With these words, he handed over to me a translation by Herr Gerhard of a Servian poem. I read it with great pleasure, for the poem was very beautiful, and the translation so simple and clear that one was never disturbed in the contemplation of the object. It was entitled “the Prison-Key.” I say nothing of the course of the action, except that the conclusion seemed to me abrupt, and rather unsatisfactory.
“That,” said Goethe, “is the beauty of it; for it thus leaves a sting in the heart, and the imagination of the reader is excited to devise every possible case which can follow. The conclusion leaves untold the material for a whole tragedy, but of a kind that has often been done already. On the contrary, that which is set forth in the poem is really new and beautiful, and the poet acted very wisely in delineating this alone, and leaving the rest to the reader. I would willingly insert the poem in ‘Kunst und Alterthum,’ but it is too long; on the other hand, I have asked Herr Gerhard to give me these three in rhyme, which I shall print in the next number. What do you say to this? Only listen.”
Goethe read first the song of the old man who loves a young maiden, then the women's drinking song, and finally that animated one beginning “Dance for us, Theodore.” He read them admirably, each in a different tone and manner, so that it would not be easy to hear anything more perfect.
We praised Herr Gerhard for having, in each instance, chosen the most appropriate versification and burden, and for having executed all in such an easy and perfect manner, that we could not easily conceive anything better done. “There you see,” said Goethe, “what technical practice does for such a talent as Gerhard's; and it is fortunate for him that he has no actual literary profession, but one that daily takes him into practical life. He has, moreover, travelled much in England and other countries; and thus, with his sense for the actual, he has many advantages over our learned young poets.
“If he confines himself to making good translations, he is not likely to produce anything bad; but original inventions demand a great deal, and are difficult matters.”
Some reflections were here made upon the productions of our newest young poets, and it was remarked that scarce one of them had come out with good prose. “That is very easily explained.” said Goethe; “to write prose, one must have something to say; but he who has nothing to say can still make verses and rhymes, where one word suggests the other, and at last something comes out, which in fact is nothing, but looks as if it were something.”
Wed., Jan. 31.
Dined with Goethe. “Within the last few days, since I saw you,” said he, “I have read many and various things; especially a Chinese novel, which occupies me still, and seems to me very remarkable.”
“Chinese novel!” said I; “that must look strange enough.”
“Not so much as you might think,” said Goethe; “the Chinamen think, act, and feel almost exactly like us; and we soon find that we are perfectly like them, excepting that all they do is more clear, more pure, and decorous than with us.
“With them all is orderly, citizen-like, without great passion or poetic flight; and there is a strong resemblance to my ‘Hermann and Dorothea,’ as well as to the English novels of Richardson. They likewise differ from us, inasmuch as with them external nature is always associated with the human figures. You always hear the goldfish splashing in the pond, the birds are always singing on the bough, the day is always serene and sunny, the night is always clear. There is much talk about the moon, but it does not alter the landscape, its light is conceived to be as bright as day itself; and the interior of the houses is as neat and elegant as their pictures. For instance, ‘I heard the lovely girls laughing, and when I got a sight of them, they were sitting on cane chairs.’ There you have, at once, the prettiest situation; for cane chairs are necessarily associated with the greatest lightness and elegance. Then there is an infinite number of legends which are constantly introduced into the narrative, and are applied almost like proverbs; as, for instance, one of a girl, who was so light and graceful in the feet, that she could balance herself on a flower without breaking it; and then another, of a young man so virtuous and brave, that in his thirtieth year he had the honour to talk with the Emperor; then there is another of two lovers who showed such great purity during a long acquaintance, that when they were on one occasion obliged to pass the night in the same chamber, they occupied the time with conversation, and did not approach one another.
“And in the same way, there are innumerable other legends, all turning upon what is moral and proper. It is by this severe moderation in everything that the Chinese Empire has sustained itself for thousands of years, and will endure hereafter.
“I find a highly remarkable contrast to this Chinese novel in the ‘Chansons de Béranger,’ which have, almost every one, some immoral licentious subject for their foundation, and which would be extremely odious to me if managed by a genius inferior to Béranger; he, however, has made them not only tolerable, but pleasing. Tell me yourself, is it not remarkable that the subjects of the Chinese poet should be so thoroughly moral, and those of the first French poet of the present day be exactly the contrary?”
“Such a talent as Béranger's,” said I, “would find no field in moral subjects.”
“You are right,” said Goethe; “the very perversions of his time have revealed and developed his better nature.”
“But,” said I, “is this Chinese romance one of their best?”
“By no means,” said Goethe; “the Chinese have thousands of them, and had already when our forefathers were still living in the woods.
“I am more and more convinced,” he continued, “that poetry is the universal possession of mankind, revealing itself everywhere, and at all times, in hundreds and hundreds of men. One makes it a little better than another, and swims on the surface a little longer than another—that is all. Herr von Matthisson must not think he is the man, nor must I think that I am the man; but each must say to himself, that the gift of poetry is by no means so very rare, and that nobody need think very much of himself because he has written a good poem.
“But, really, we Germans are very likely to fall too easily into this pedantic conceit, when we do not look beyond the narrow circle which surrounds us. I therefore like to look about me in foreign nations, and advise every one to do the same. National literature is now rather an unmeaning term; the epoch of World literature is at hand, and every one must strive to hasten its approach. But, while we thus value what is foreign, we must not bind ourselves to anything in particular, and regard it as a model. We must not give this value to the Chinese, or the Servian, or Calderon, or the Nibelungen; but if we really want a pattern, we must always return to the ancient Greeks, in whose works the beauty of mankind is constantly represented. All the rest we must look at only historically, appropriating to ourselves what is good, so far as it goes.”
I was glad to hear Goethe talk at length on a subject of such importance. The bells of passing sledges allured us to the window, as we expected that the long procession which went out to Belvidere this morning would return about this time.
Goethe, meanwhile, continued his instructive conversation. We talked of Alexander Manzoni; and he told me that Count Reinhard, not long since, saw Manzoni at Paris, where, as a young author of celebrity, he had been well received in society, and that he was now living happily on his estate in the neighbourhood of Milan, with a young family and his mother.
“Manzoni,” continued he, “wants nothing except to know what a good poet he is, and what rights belong to him as such. He has too much respect for history, and on this account is always adding notes to his pieces, in which he shows how faithful he has been to detail. Now, though his facts may be historical, his characters are not so, any more than my Thoas and Iphigenia. No poet has ever known the historical characters which he has painted; if he had, he could scarcely have made use of them. The poet must know what effects he wishes to produce, and regulate the nature of his characters accordingly. If I had tried to make Egmont as history represents him, the father of a dozen children, his light-minded proceedings would have appeared very absurd. I needed an Egmont more in harmony with his own actions and my poetic views; and this is, as Clara says, my Egmont.
“What would be the use of poets, if they only repeated the record of the historian? The poet must go further, and give us, if possible, something higher and better. All the characters of Sophocles bear something of that great poet's lofty soul; and it is the same with the characters of Shakspeare. This is as it ought to be. Nay, Shakspeare goes farther, and makes his Romans Englishmen; and there, too, he is right; for otherwise his nation would not have understood him.
“Here, again,” continued Goethe, “the Greeks were so great, that they regarded fidelity to historic facts less than the treatment of them by the poet. We have, fortunately, a fine example in Philoctetes, which subject has been treated by all three of the great tragedians, and lastly and best by Sophocles. This poet's excellent play has, fortunately, come down to us entire, while of the Philoctetes of Æschylus and Euripides only fragments have been found, although sufficient to show how they have managed the subject. If time permitted, I would restore these pieces, as I did the Phäeton of Euripides; it would be to me no unpleasant or useless task.
“In this subject the problem was very simple, namely, to bring Philoctetes, with his bow, from the island of Lemnos. But the manner of doing this was the business of the poet, and here each could show the power of his invention, and one could excel another. Ulysses must fetch him; but shall he be known by Philoctetes or not? and if not, how shall he be disguised? Shall Ulysses go alone, or shall he have companions, and who shall they be? In Æschylus there is no companion; in Euripides, it is Diomed; in Sophocles, the son of Achilles. Then, in what situation is Philoctetes to be found? Shall the island be inhabited or not? and, if inhabited, shall any sympathetic soul have taken compassion on him or not? And so with a hundred other things, which are all at the discretion of the poet, and in the selection and omission of which one may show his superiority in wisdom to another. Here is the grand point, and our present poets should do like the ancients. They should not be always asking whether a subject has been used before, and look to south and north for unheard-of adventures, which are often barbarous enough, and merely make an impression as incidents. But to make something of a simple subject by a masterly treatment requires intellect and great talent, and these we do not find.”
Some passing sledges again allured us to the window; but it was not the expected train from Belvidere. We laughed and talked about trivial matters, and then I asked Goethe how the novel was going on.
“I have not touched it of late,” said he; “but one incident more must yet take place in the introduction. The lion must roar as the princess passes the booth; upon which some good remarks may be made on the formidable nature of this mighty beast.”
“That is a very happy thought,” said I; “for thus you gain an introduction, which is not only good and essential in its place, but which gives a greater effect to all that follows. Hitherto the lion has appeared almost too gentle, inasmuch as he has shown no trace of ferocity; but by roaring he at least makes us suspect how formidable he is, and the effect is heightened when he gently follows the boy's flute.”
“This mode of altering and improving,” said Goethe, “where by continued invention the imperfect is heightened to the perfect, is the right one. But the re-making and carrying further what is already complete—as, for instance, Walter Scott has done with my ‘Mignon,’ whom, in addition to her other qualities, he makes deaf and dumb—this mode of altering I cannot commend.”
 This allusion is to Fenella in “Peveril of the Peak.”
Thurs. evening, Feb. 1.
Goethe told me of a visit which the Crown Prince of Russia had been making him in company with the Grand Duke. “The princes Charles and William of Prussia,” said he, “were also with me this morning. The Crown Prince and Grand Duke stayed nearly three hours, and we talked about many things, which gave me a high opinion of the intellect, taste, knowledge and way of thinking of these young princes.”
Goethe had a volume of the “Theory of Colours” before him. “I still,” said he, “owe you an answer with respect to the phenomenon of the coloured shadows; but as this presupposes a great deal, and is connected with much besides, I will not give you an explanation detached from the rest, but rather think it would be better if, on the evenings when we meet, we read through the whole ‘Theory of Colours’ together. Thus we shall always have a solid subject for discourse; and you yourself will have made the whole theory so much your own, that you will hardly know how you have come by it. What you have already learned begins to live and to be productive within you; and hence I foresee this science will soon be your own property. Now read the first section.”
With these words Goethe laid the open book before me. I felt highly pleased with his good intentions towards me. I read the first paragraph respecting the physiological colours.
“You see,” said Goethe, “that there is nothing without us that is not also within us, and that the eye, like the external world, has its colours. Since a great point in this science is the decided separation of the objective from the subjective, I have properly begun with the colours which belong to the eye, that in all our perceptions we may accurately distinguish whether a colour really exists externally to ourselves, or whether it is only a seeming colour which the eye itself has produced. I think that I have begun at the right end, by first disposing of the organ by means of which all our perceptions and observations must take place.”
I read on as far as those interesting paragraphs where it is taught that the eye has need of change, since it never willingly dwells on the same colour, but always requires another, and that so urgently that it produces colours itself if it does not actually find them.
This remark led our conversation to a great law which pervades all nature, and on which all life and all the joy of life depend. “This,” said Goethe, “is the case not only with all our senses, but also with our higher spiritual nature; and it is because the eye is so eminent a sense, that this law of required change (Gesetz des geforderten Wechsels) is so striking and so especially clear with respect to colours. We have dances which please us in a high degree on account of the alteration of major and minor, while dances in only one of these modes weary us at once.”
“The same law,” said I, “seems to lie at the foundation of a good style, where we like to avoid a sound which we have just heard. Even on the stage a great deal might be done with this law, if it were well applied. Plays, especially tragedies, in which an uniform tone uninterrupted by change prevails, have always something wearisome about them; and if the orchestra plays melancholy, depressing music during the entr'actes of a melancholy piece, we are tortured by an insupportable feeling, which we would escape by all possible means.”
“Perhaps,” said Goethe, “the lively scenes introduced into Shakspeare's plays rest upon this ‘law of required change,’ but it does not seem applicable to the higher tragedy of the Greeks, where, on the contrary, a certain fundamental tone pervades the whole.”
“The Greek tragedy,” said I, “is not of such a length as to be rendered wearisome by one pervading tone. Then there is an interchange of chorus and dialogue; and the sublime sense is of such a kind that it cannot become fatiguing, since a certain genuine reality, which is always of a cheerful nature, constantly lies at the foundation.”
“You may be right,” said Goethe; “and it would be well worth the trouble to investigate how far the Greek tragedy is subject to the general ‘law of required change.’ You see how all things are connected with each other, and how a law respecting the theory of colours can lead to an inquiry into Greek tragedy. We must only take care not to push such a law too far, and make it the foundation for much besides. We shall go more safely if we only apply it by analogy.”
We talked of the manner in which Goethe had set forth his theory of colours, deducing the whole from great fundamental laws, and always referring to these the single phenomena; by which method he had made it very comprehensible and fitted for the intellect.
“This may be the case,” said Goethe, “and you may praise me on that account; but, nevertheless, the method requires students who do not live amid distractions, and are capable of taking up the matter. Some very clever people have been imbued with my theory of colours; but, unfortunately, they do not adhere to the straight path, but before I am aware of it they turn aside, and follow an idea instead of keeping their eyes properly fixed on the object. Nevertheless, a good head-piece, when really seeking the truth, can always do a great deal.”
We talked about the professors who, after they had found a better theory, still talked of that of Newton. “This is not to be wondered at,” said Goethe; “such people continue in error because they are indebted to it for their existence. They would otherwise have to learn everything over again, and that would be very inconvenient.” “But,” said I, “how can their experiments prove the truth when the basis of their doctrine is false?” “They do not prove the truth,” said Goethe, “nor is such the intention; the only point with these professors is to prove their own opinion. On this account, they conceal all those experiments which would reveal the truth, and show their doctrine was untenable. Then, with respect to the scholars—what do they care for the truth? They, like the rest, are perfectly satisfied if they can prate away about the subject empirically;—that is the whole matter. Men altogether are of a peculiar nature: as soon as a lake is frozen over, they flock to it by hundreds, and amuse themselves on the smooth surface; but which of them thinks of inquiring how deep it is, and what sort of fish are swimming about under the ice? Niebuhr has just discovered a very ancient commercial treaty between Rome and Carthage, from which it appears that all Livy's history respecting the early condition of the Roman people is a mere fable, and that Rome at a very early period was in a far higher state of civilization than Livy represents; but if you imagine that this treaty will occasion a great reform in the manner of teaching Roman history, you are mistaken. Think of the frozen lake. I have learned to know mankind: thus it is, and no otherwise.”
“Nevertheless,” said I, “you cannot repent of having written your theory of colours, since not only have you laid a firm foundation for this excellent science, but you have produced a model of scientific treatment, which can always be followed in the treatment of similar subjects.”
“I do not repent it at all,” said Goethe, “though I have expended half a life upon it. Perhaps I might have written half a dozen tragedies more, but that is all, and people enough will come after me to do that.
“After all, you are right; I think the treatment of the subject is good, there is method in it. In the same manner I have also written a musical theory, and my metamorphosis of plants is based on the same method of observation and deduction.
“With my metamorphoses of plants, I went on singularly enough. I came to it as Herschel came to his discoveries. Herschel was so poor that he could not purchase a telescope, but was obliged to make one for himself. In this his good fortune consisted; for the home-made telescope was better than any other, and with it he made his great discoveries. I came to botany by the empirical road. I now know well enough, that with respect to the formation of the sexes, the theory went so far into detail that I had not courage to grasp it. This impelled me to pursue the subject in my own way, and to find that which was common to all plants without distinction, and thus I discovered the law of metamorphosis.
“To pursue botany further in detail is not my purpose; this I leave to others who are my superiors in the matter. My only concern was to reduce the phenomena to a general fundamental law.
“Mineralogy has interested me only for two reasons; first, I valued it for its great practical utility, and then I thought to find a document elucidating the primary formation of the world, of which Werner's doctrine gave hopes. Since this science has been turned upside down by the death of that excellent man, I do not proceed further in it, but remain quiet with my own convictions.
“In the theory of colours, I have next to develop the formation of the rainbow. This is an extremely difficult problem, which, however, I hope to solve. On this account, I am glad to go through the theory of colours once more with you, since thus, especially with your interest for the subject, it becomes quite fresh again.
“I have,” continued Goethe, “attempted natural science in nearly every department; but, nevertheless, my tendencies have always been confined to such objects as lay terrestrially around me, and could be immediately perceived by the senses. On this account, I have never occupied myself with astronomy, because here the senses are not sufficient, and one must have recourse to instruments, calculations, and mechanics, which require a whole life, and were not in my line.
“If I have done anything with respect to the subjects which lay in my way, I had this advantage, that my life fell in a time that was richer than any other in great natural discoveries. As a child, I became acquainted with Franklin's doctrine of electricity, the law of which he had just discovered. Thus through my whole life, down to the present hour, has one great discovery followed another, so that I was not only directed towards nature in my early years, but my interest in it has been maintained in it ever since.
“Advances such as I could never have foreseen are now made even on paths which I opened, and I feel like one who walks towards the morning dawn, and when the sun rises, is astonished at its brilliancy.”
Among the Germans, Goethe here took occasion to mention the names of Carus, D'Alton, and Meyer of Königsberg, with admiration.
“If,” continued Goethe, “when the truth was once found, people would not again pervert and obscure it, I should be satisfied; for mankind requires something positive, to be handed down from generation to generation, and it would be well if the positive were also the true. On this account, I should be glad if people came to a clear understanding in natural science, and then adhered to the truth, not transcending again after all had been done in the region of the comprehensible. But mankind cannot be at peace, and confusion always returns before one is aware of it.
“Thus they are now pulling to pieces the five books of Moses, and if an annihilating criticism is injurious in anything, it is so in matters of religion; for here everything depends upon faith, to which we cannot return when we have once lost it.
“In poetry, an annihilating criticism is not so injurious. Wolf has demolished Homer, but he has not been able to injure the poem; for this poem has a miraculous power like the heroes of Walhalla, who hew one another to pieces in the morning, but sit down to dinner with whole limbs at noon.”
Goethe was in the best humour, and I was delighted to hear him talk once more on such important subjects. “We will quietly keep to the right way,” said he, “and let others go as they please; that is, after all, the best plan.”
 Eckermann says “psychologisch,” but this is manifestly a misprint.—Trans.
Wed., Feb. 7.
To-day Goethe spoke severely of certain critics, who were not satisfied with Lessing, and made unjust demands upon him. “When people,” said he, “compare the pieces of Lessing with those of the ancients, and call them paltry and miserable, what do they mean? Rather pity the extraordinary man for being obliged to live in a pitiful time, which afforded him no better materials than are treated in his pieces; pity him, because in his ‘Minna von Barnhelm,’ he found nothing better to do than to meddle with the squabbles of Saxony and Prussia. His constant polemical turn, too, resulted from the badness of his time. In ‘Emilia Galotti,’ he vented his pique against princes; in ‘Nathan,’ against the priests.”
Fri., Feb. 16.
I told Goethe that I lately had been reading Winckelmann's work upon the imitation of Greek works of art, and I confessed that it often seemed to me that Winckelmann was not perfectly clear about his subject.
“You are quite right,” said Goethe; “we sometimes find him merely groping about; but what is the great matter, his groping always leads to something. He is like Columbus, when he had not yet discovered the new world, yet had a presentiment of it in his mind. We learn nothing by reading him, but we become something.
“Now, Meyer has gone further, and has carried the knowledge of art to its highest point. His history of art is an immortal work; but he would not have become what he is, if, in his youth, he had not formed himself on Winckelmann, and walked in the path which Winckelmann pointed out.
“Thus you see once again what is done for a man by a great predecessor, and the advantage of making a proper use of him.”
(Sup.*) Wed., Feb. 21.
Dined with Goethe. He spoke much, and with admiration, of Alexander von Humboldt, whose work on Cuba and Columbia he had begun to read, and whose views as to the project for making a passage through the Isthmus of Panama appeared to have a particular interest for him. “Humboldt,” said Goethe, “has, with a great knowledge of his subject, given other points where, by making use of some streams which flow into the Gulf of Mexico, the end may be perhaps better attained than at Panama. All this is reserved for the future, and for an enterprising spirit. So much, however, is certain, that, if they succeed in cutting such a canal that ships of any burden and size can be navigated through it from the Mexican Gulf to the Pacific Ocean, innumerable benefits would result to the whole human race, civilized and uncivilized. But I should wonder if the United States were to let an opportunity escape of getting such work into their own hands. It may be foreseen that this young state, with its decided predilection to the West, will, in thirty of forty years, have occupied and peopled the large tract of land beyond the Rocky Mountains. It may, furthermore, be foreseen that along the whole coast of the Pacific Ocean, where nature has already formed the most capacious and secure harbours, important commercial towns will gradually arise, for the furtherance of a great intercourse between China and the East Indies and the United States. In such a case, it would not only be desirable, but almost necessary, that a more rapid communication should be maintained between the eastern and western shores of North America, both by merchant-ships and men-of-war, than has hitherto been possible with the tedious, disagreeable, and expensive voyage round Cape Horn. I therefore repeat, that it is absolutely indispensable for the United States to effect a passage from the Mexican Gulf to the Pacific Ocean; and I am certain that they will do it.
“Would that I might live to see it!—but I shall not. I should like to see another thing—a junction of the Danube and the Rhine. But this undertaking is so gigantic that I have doubts of its completion, particularly when I consider our German resources. And thirdly, and lastly, I should wish to see England in possession of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez. Would I could live to see these three great works! it would be well worth the trouble to last some fifty years more for the very purpose.”
(Sup.*) Thurs., Mar. 1.
Dined with Goethe. He related to me that he had received a communication from Count Sternberg and Zauper, which had given him great pleasure. We then talked a great deal about the theory of colours, the subjective prismatic experiments, and the laws by which the rainbow is formed. He was pleased with my continually increasing interest in these difficult subjects.
(Sup.*) Wed., Mar. 21.
Goethe showed me a little book, by Hinrichs, on the nature of antique tragedy. “I have read it with great interest,” said he. “Hinrichs has taken the Œdipus and Antigone of Sophocles as the foundation whereon to develop his views. It is very remarkable; and I will lend it to you that you may read it, and that we may be able to converse upon it. I am by no means of his opinion; but it is highly instructive to see how a man of such thoroughly philosophical culture regards a poetical work of art from the point of view peculiar to his school. I will say no more to-day, that I may not influence your opinion. Only read it, and you will find that it suggests all kinds of thoughts.”
 That of Hegel.—Trans.
(Sup.*) Wed., Mar. 28.
I brought back to Goethe the book by Hinrichs, which I had read attentively. I had also gone once more through all the plays of Sophocles, to be in complete possession of my subject.
“Now,” said Goethe, “how did you like him? He attacks a matter well—does he not?”
“This book affected me very strangely,” said I. “No other book has aroused so many thoughts in me as this; and yet there is none I have so often been disposed to contradict.”
“That is exactly the point,” said Goethe. “What we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.”
“His intentions,” said I, “appear to me in the highest degree laudable, and he by no means confines himself to the surface of things. But he so often loses himself in refinements and motives—and that in so subjective a manner—that he loses the true aspect of the subject in detail, as well as the survey of the whole: and in such a case one is obliged to do violence both to oneself and the theme to think as he does. Besides, I have often fancied that my organs were not fine enough to apprehend the unusual subtlety of his distinctions.”
“If they were philosophically prepared like his,” said Goethe, “it would be better. But, to speak frankly, I am sorry that a man of undoubted innate power from the northern coast of Germany, like Hinrichs, should be so spoilt by the philosophy of Hegel as to lose all unbiassed and natural observation and thought, and gradually to get into an artificial and heavy style, both of thought and expression; so that we find passages in his book where our understanding comes to a standstill, and we no longer know what we are reading.”
“I have fared no better,” said I. “Still I have rejoiced to meet with some passages, which have appeared to me perfectly clear and fitted for humanity in general; such, for instance, as his relation of the fable of Œdipus.”
“Here,” said Goethe, “he has been obliged to confine himself strictly to his subject. But there are in his book several passages in which the thought does not progress, but in which the obscure language constantly moves on the same spot and in the same circle, just like the ‘Einmaleins’ of the witch in my ‘Faust.’ Give me the book again. Of his sixth lecture upon the chorus, I scarcely understood anything. What do you say, for instance, to this passage, which occurs near the end:—
This realization (i.e. of popular life) is, as the true signification thereof, on this account alone its true realization, which, as a truth and certainty to itself, therefore constitutes the universally mental certainty, which certainly is at the same time the atoning certainty of the chorus, so that in this certainty alone, which has shown itself as the result of the combined movement of the tragic action, the chorus preserves its fitting relation to the universal popular consciousness, and in this capacity does not merely represent the people, but is that people according to its certainty.
“I think we have had enough of this. What must the English and French think of the language of our philosophers, when we Germans do not understand them ourselves.” “And in spite of all this,” said I, “we both agree that a noble purpose lies at the foundation of the book, and that it possesses the quality of awakening thoughts.”
“His idea of the relation between family and state,” said Goethe, “and the tragical conflicts that may arise from them, is certainly good and suggestive; still I cannot allow that it is the only right one, or even the best for tragic art. We are indeed all members both of a family and of a state, and a tragical fate does not often befall us which does not wound us in both capacities. Still we might be very good tragical characters, if we were merely members of a family or merely members of a state; for, after all, the only point is to get a conflict which admits of no solution, and this may arise from an antagonistical position in any relation whatever, provided a person has a really natural foundation, and is himself really tragic. Thus Ajax falls a victim to the demon of wounded honour, and Hercules to the demon of jealousy. In neither of these cases is there the least conflict between family piety and political virtue; though this, according to Hinrichs, should be the element of Greek tragedy.”
“One sees clearly,” says I, “that in this theory he merely had Antigone in his mind. He also appears to have had before his eyes merely the character and mode of action of this heroine, as he makes the assertion that family piety appears most pure in woman, and especially in a sister; and that a sister can love only a brother with perfect purity, and without sexual feeling.”
“I should think,” returned Goethe, “that the love of sister for sister was still more pure and unsexual. As if we did not know that numerous cases have occurred in which the most sensual inclinations have existed between brother and sister, both knowingly and unknowingly!”
“You must have remarked generally,” continued Goethe, “that Hinrichs, in considering Greek tragedy, sets out from the idea; and that he looks upon Sophocles as one who, in the invention and arrangement of his pieces, likewise set out from an idea, and regulated the sex and rank of his characters accordingly. But Sophocles, when he wrote his pieces, by no means started from an idea; on the contrary, he seized upon some ancient ready-made popular tradition in which a good idea existed, and then only thought of adapting it in the best and most effective manner for the theatre. The Atreides will not allow Ajax to be buried; but as in Antigone the sister struggles for the brother, so in the Ajax the brother struggles for the brother. That the sister takes charge of the unburied Polyneices, and the brother takes charge of the fallen Ajax, is a contingent circumstance, and does not belong to the invention of the poet, but to the tradition, which the poet followed and was obliged to follow.”
“What he says about Creon's conduct,” replied I, “appears to be equally untenable. He tries to prove that, in prohibiting the burial of Polyneices, Creon acts from pure political virtue; and since Creon is not merely a man, but also a prince, he lays down the proposition, that, as a man represents the tragic power of the state, this man can be no other than he who is himself the personification of the state itself—namely, the prince; and that of all persons the man as prince must be just that person who displays the greatest political virtue.”
“These are assertions which no one will believe,” returned Goethe with a smile. “Besides, Creon by no means acts out of political virtue, but from hatred towards the dead. When Polyneices endeavoured to reconquer his paternal inheritance, from which he had been forcibly expelled, he did not commit such a monstrous crime against the state that his death was insufficient, and that the further punishment of the innocent corpse was required.
“An action should never be placed in the category of political virtue, which is opposed to virtue in general. When Creon forbids the burial of Polyneices, and not only taints the air with the decaying corpse, but also affords an opportunity for the dogs and birds of prey to drag about pieces torn from the dead body, and thus to defile the altars—an action so offensive both to gods and men is by no means politically virtuous, but on the contrary a political crime. Besides, he has everybody in the play against him. He has the elders of the state, who form the chorus, against him; he has the people at large against him; he has Teiresias against him; he has his own family against him; but he hears not, and obstinately persists in his impiety, until he has brought to ruin all who belong to him, and is himself at last nothing but a shadow.”
“And still,” said I, “when one hears him speak, one cannot help believing that he is somewhat in the right.”
“That is the very thing,” said Goethe, “in which Sophocles is a master; and in which consists the very life of the dramatic in general. His characters all possess this gift of eloquence, and know how to explain the motives for their action so convincingly, that the hearer is almost always on the side of the last speaker.
“One can see that, in his youth, he enjoyed an excellent rhetorical education, by which he became trained to look for all the reasons and seeming reasons of things. Still, his great talent in this respect betrayed him into faults, as he sometimes went too far.
“There is a passage in Antigone which I always look upon as a blemish, and I would give a great deal for an apt philologist to prove that it is interpolated and spurious.
“After the heroine has, in the course of the piece, explained the noble motives for her action, and displayed the elevated purity of her soul, she at last, when she is led to death, brings forward a motive which is quite unworthy, and almost borders upon the comic.
“She says that, if she had been a mother, she would not have done, either for her dead children or for her dead husband, what she has done for her brother. ‘For,’ says she, ‘if my husband died I could have had another, and if my children died I could have had others by my new husband. But with my brother the case is different. I cannot have another brother; for since my mother and father are dead, there is no one to beget one.’
“This is, at least, the bare sense of this passage, which in my opinion, when placed in the mouth of a heroine going to her death, disturbs the tragic tone, and appears to me very far-fetched—to savour too much of dialectical calculation. As I said, I should like a philologist to show us that the passage is spurious.”
We then conversed further upon Sophocles, remarking that in his pieces he always less considered a moral tendency than an apt treatment of the subject in hand, particularly with regard to theatrical effect.
“I do not object,” said Goethe, “to a dramatic poet having a moral influence in view; but when the point is to bring his subject clearly and effectively before his audience, his moral purpose proves of little use, and he needs much more a faculty for delineation and a familiarity with the stage to know what to do and what to leave undone. If there be a moral in the subject, it will appear, and the poet has nothing to consider but the effective and artistic treatment of his subject. If a poet has as high a soul as Sophocles, his influence will always be moral, let him do what he will. Besides, he knew the stage, and understood his craft thoroughly.”
“How well he knew the theatre,” answered I, “and how much he had in view a theatrical effect, we see in his ‘Philoctetes,’ and the great resemblance which this piece bears to ‘Œdipus in Colonos,’ both in the arrangement and the course of action.
“In both pieces we see the hero in a helpless condition; both are old and suffering from bodily infirmities. Œdipus has, at his side, his daughter as a guide and a prop; Philoctetes has his bow. The resemblance is carried still further. Both have been thrust aside in their afflictions; but when the oracle declares with respect to both of them, that the victory can be obtained with their aid alone, an endeavour is made to get them back again; Ulysses comes to Philoctetes, Creon to Œdipus. Both begin their discourse with cunning and honeyed words; but when these are of no avail they use violence, and we see Philoctetes deprived of his bow, and Œdipus of his daughter.”
“Such acts of violence,” said Goethe, “Give an opportunity for excellent altercations, and such situations of helplessness excited the emotions of the audience, on which account the poet, whose object it was to produce an effect upon the public, liked to introduce them. In order to strengthen this effect in the Œdipus, Sophocles brings him in as a weak old man, when he still, according to all circumstances, must have been a man in the prime of life. But at this vigorous age, the poet could not have used him for his play; he would have produced no effect, and he therefore made him a weak, helpless old man.”
“The resemblance to Philoctetes,” continued I, “goes still further. The hero, in both pieces, does not act, but suffers. On the other hand, each of these passive heroes has two active characters against him. Œdipus has Creon and Polyneices, Philoctetes has Neoptolemus and Ulysses; two such opposing characters were necessary to discuss the subject on all sides, and to gain the necessary body and fulness for the piece.”
“You might add,” interposed Goethe, “that both pieces bear this further resemblance, that we see in both the extremely effective situation of a happy change, since one hero, in his disconsolate situation, has his beloved daughter restored to him, and the other, his no less beloved bow.”
The happy conclusions of these two pieces are also similar; for both heroes are delivered from their sorrows: Œdipus is blissfully snatched away, and as for Philoctetes, we are forewarned by the oracle of his cure, before Troy, by Æsculapius.
“When we,” continued Goethe, “for our modern purposes, wish to learn how to conduct ourselves upon the theatre, Molière is the man to whom we should apply.
“Do you know his ‘Malade Imaginaire?’ There is a scene in it which, as often as I read the piece, appears to me the symbol of a perfect knowledge of the boards. I mean the scene where the ‘Malade Imaginaire’ asks his little daughter Louison, if there has not been a young man in the chamber of her eldest sister.
“Now, any other who did not understand his craft so well would have let the little Louison plainly tell the fact at once, and there would have been the end of the matter.
“But what various motives for delay are introduced by Molière into this examination, for the sake of life and effect. He first makes the little Louison act as if she did not understand her father; then she denies that she knows anything; then, threatened with the rod, she falls down as if dead; then, when her father bursts out in despair, she springs up from her feigned swoon with roguish hilarity, and at last, little by little, she confesses all.
“My explanation can only give you a very meagre notion of the animation of the scene; but read this scene yourself till you become thoroughly impressed with its theatrical worth, and you will confess that there is more practical instruction contained in it than in all the theories in the world.
“I have known and loved Molière,” continued Goethe, “from my youth, and have learned from him during my whole life. I never fail to read some of his plays every year, that I may keep up a constant intercourse with what is excellent. It is not merely the perfectly artistic treatment which delights me; but particularly the amiable nature, the highly-formed mind, of the poet. There is in him a grace and a feeling for the decorous, and a tone of good society, which his innate beautiful nature could only attain by daily intercourse with the most eminent men of his age. Of Menander, I only know the few fragments; but these give me so high an idea of him, that I look upon this great Greek as the only man who could be compared to Molière.”
“I am happy,” returned I, “to hear you speak so highly of Molière. This sounds a little different from Herr von Schlegel! I have to-day, with great repugnance, swallowed what he says concerning Molière in his lectures on dramatic poetry. He quite looks down upon him, as a vulgar buffoon, who has only seen good society at a distance, and whose business it was to invent all sorts of pleasantries for the amusement of his lord. In these low pleasantries, Schlegel admits he was most happy, but he stole the best of them. He was obliged to force himself into the higher school of comedy, and never succeeded in it.”
“To a man like Schlegel,” returned Goethe, “a genuine nature like Molière's is a veritable eyesore; he feels that he has nothing in common with him, he cannot endure him. The ‘Misanthrope,’ which I read over and over again, as one of my most favourite pieces, is repugnant to him; he is forced to praise ‘Tartuffe’ a little, but he lets him down again as much as he can. Schlegel cannot forgive Molière for ridiculing the affectation of learned ladies; he feels, probably as one of my friends has remarked, that he himself would have been ridiculed if he had lived with Molière.
“It is not to be denied,” continued Goethe, “that Schlegel knows a great deal, and one is almost terrified at his extraordinary attainments and his extensive reading. But this is not enough. All the learning in the world is still no judgment. His criticism is completely one-sided, because in all theatrical pieces he merely regards the skeleton of the plot and arrangement, and only points out small points of resemblance to great predecessors, without troubling himself in the least as to what the author brings forward of graceful life and the culture of a high soul. But of what use are all the arts of genius, if we do not find in a theatrical piece an amiable or great personality of the author. This alone influences the cultivation of the people.
“I look upon the manner in which Schlegel has treated the French drama as a sort of recipe for the formation of a bad critic, who is wanting in every organ for the veneration of excellence, and who passes over a sound nature and a great character as if they were chaff and stubble.”
“Shakspeare and Calderon, on the other hand,” I replied, “he treats justly, and even with decided affection.”
“Both,” returned Goethe, “are of such a kind that one cannot say enough in praise of them, although I should not have wondered if Schlegel had scornfully let them down also. Thus he is also just to Æschylus and Sophocles; but this does not seem to arise so much from a lively conviction of their extraordinary merit as from the tradition among philologists to place them both very high; for, in fact, Schlegel's own little person is not sufficient to comprehend and appreciate such lofty natures. If this had been the case, he would have been just to Euripides too, and would have gone to work with him in a different manner. But he knows that philologists do not estimate him very highly, and he therefore feels no little delight that he is permitted upon such high authority, to fall foul of this mighty ancient, and to schoolmaster him as much as he can. I do not deny that Euripides has his faults; but he was always a very respectable competitor with Sophocles and Æschylus. If he did not possess the great earnestness and the severe artistic completeness of his two predecessors, and as a dramatic poet treated things a little more leniently and humanely, he probably knew his Athenians well enough to be aware that the chord which he struck was the right one for his contemporaries. A poet whom Socrates called his friend, whom Aristotle lauded, whom Menander admired, and for whom Sophocles and the city of Athens put on mourning on hearing of his death, must certainly have been something. If a modern man like Schlegel must pick out faults in so great an ancient, he ought only to do it upon his knees.”
 This word, which signifies “multiplication table,” refers to the arithmetical jargon uttered by the witch in her kitchen.—Trans.
 The word “derselben,” in the passage as cited, seems to want an antecedent. The reader is requested not to be too critical with this almost unreadable passage, which Goethe only refers to as an instance of obscurity.—Trans.
(Sup.) Sun., April 1.
In the evening with Goethe. I conversed with him upon the yesterday's performance of his “Iphigenia,” in which Herr Krüger, from the Theatre Royal at Berlin, played Orestes with great applause.
“The piece,” said Goethe, “has its difficulties. It is rich in internal but poor in external life: the point is to make the internal life come out. It is full of the most effective means, arising from the various horrors which form the foundation of the piece. The printed words are indeed only a faint reflex of the life which stirred within me during the invention; but the actor must bring us back to this first fire which animated the poet with respect to his subject. We wish to see the vigorous Greeks and heroes, with the fresh sea-breezes blowing upon them, who, oppressed and tormented by various ills and dangers, speak out strongly as their hearts prompt them. But we want none of those feeble, sentimental actors who have only just learned their part by rote, and still less do we want those who are not even perfect in their parts.
“I must confess that I have never succeeded in witnessing a perfect representation of my ‘Iphigenia.’ That was the reason why I did not go yesterday; for I suffer dreadfully when I have to do with these spectres who do not manifest themselves as they ought.”
“You would probably have been satisfied with Orestes as Herr Krüger represented him,” said I. “There was such perspicuity in his acting, that nothing could be more comprehensible or tangible than his part: it seems to comprise everything; and I shall never forget his words and gestures.
“All that belongs to the higher intuition—to the vision in this part, was so brought forward by his bodily movements, and the varying tones of his voice, that one could fancy one saw it with one's own eyes. At the sight of this Orestes, Schiller would certainly not have missed the furies—they were behind him, they were around him.
“The important place where Orestes, awakening from his swoon, believes himself transported to the lower regions, succeeded so as to produce astonishment. We saw the rows of ancestors engaged in conversation: we saw Orestes join them, question them, and become one of their number. We felt ourselves transported into the midst of those blessed persons, so pure and deep was the feeling of the artist, and so great was his power of bringing the impalpable before our eyes.”
“You are just the people to be worked upon,” said Goethe, laughing: “but go on. He appears then to have been really good, and his physical capabilities to have been great.”
“His organ,” said I, “was clear and melodious, besides being well practised, and therefore capable of the highest flexion and variety. He has at command physical strength and bodily activity in the execution of every difficulty. It seemed that, during his whole life, he had never neglected to cultivate and exercise his body in the most various ways.”
“An actor,” said Goethe, “should properly go to school to a sculptor and a painter; for, in order to represent a Greek hero, it is necessary for him to study carefully the antique sculptures which have come down to us, and to impress on his mind the natural grace of their sitting, standing, and going. But the merely bodily is not enough. He must also, by diligent study of the best ancient and modern authors, give a great cultivation to his mind. This will not only assist him to understand his part, but will also give a higher tone to his whole being and his whole deportment. But tell me more! What else did you see good in him?”
“It appeared to me,” said I, “that he possessed great love for his subject. He had by diligent study made every detail clear to himself, so that he lived and moved in his hero with great freedom; and nothing remained which he had not made entirely his own. Thence arose a just expression and a just accentuation for every word; together with such certainty, that the prompter was for him a person quite superfluous.”
“I am pleased with this,” said Goethe; “this is as it ought to be. Nothing is more dreadful than when the actors are not masters of their parts, and at every new sentence must listen to the prompter. By this their acting becomes a mere nullity, without any life and power. When the actors are not perfect in their parts in a piece like my ‘Iphigenia,’ it is better not to play it; for the piece can have success only when all goes surely, rapidly, and with animation. However, I am glad that it went off so well with Krüger. Zelter recommended him to me, and I should have been annoyed if he had not turned out so well as he has. I will have a little joke with him, and will present him with a prettily bound copy of my ‘Iphigenia,’ with some verses inscribed in reference to his acting.”
The conversation then turned upon the “Antigone” of Sophocles, and the high moral tone prevailing in it: and, lastly, upon the question—how the moral element came into the world?
“Through God himself,” returned Goethe, “like everything else. It is no product of human reflection, but a beautiful nature inherent and inborn. It is, more or less, inherent in mankind generally, but to a high degree in a few eminently gifted minds. These have, by great deeds or doctrines, manifested their divine nature; which, then, by the beauty of its appearance, won the love of men, and powerfully attracted them to reverence and emulation.”
“A consciousness of the worth of the morally beautiful and good could be attained by experience and wisdom, inasmuch as the bad showed itself in its consequences as a destroyer of happiness, both in individuals and the whole body, while the noble and right seemed to produce and secure the happiness of one and all. Thus the morally beautiful could become a doctrine, and diffuse itself over whole nations as something plainly expressed.”
“I have lately read somewhere,” answered I, “the opinion that the Greek tragedy had made moral beauty a special object.”
“Not so much morality,” returned Goethe, “as pure humanity in its whole extent; especially in such positions where, by falling into contact with rude power, it could assume a tragic character. In this region, indeed, even the moral stood as a principal part of human nature.
“The morality of Antigone, besides, was not invented by Sophocles, but was contained in the subject, which Sophocles chose the more readily, as it united so much dramatic effect with moral beauty.”
Goethe then spoke about the characters of Creon and Ismene, and on the necessity for these two persons for the development of the beautiful soul of the heroine.
“All that is noble,” said he, “is in itself of a quiet nature, and appears to sleep until it is aroused and summoned forth by contrast. Such a contrast is Creon, who is brought in, partly on account of Antigone, in order that her noble nature and the right which is on her side may be brought out by him, partly on his own account, in order that his unhappy error may appear odious to us.
“But, as Sophocles meant to display the elevated soul of his heroine even before the deed, another contrast was requisite by which her character might be developed; and this is her sister Ismene. In this character, the poet has given us a beautiful standard of the commonplace, so that the greatness of Antigone, which is far above such a standard, is the more strikingly visible.”
The conversation then turned upon dramatic authors in general, and upon the important influence which they exerted, and could exert, upon the great mass of the people.
“A great dramatic poet,” said Goethe, “if he is at the same time productive, and is actuated by a strong noble purpose, which pervades all his works, may succeed in making the soul of his pieces become the soul of the people. I should think that this was something well worth the trouble. From Corneille proceeded an influence capable of forming heroes. This was something for Napoleon, who had need of an heroic people; on which account, he said of Corneille, that if he were still living, he would make a prince of him. A dramatic poet who knows his vocation, should therefore work incessantly at its higher development, in order that his influence on the people may be noble and beneficial.
“One should not study contemporaries and competitors, but the great men of antiquity, whose works have, for centuries, received equal homage and consideration. Indeed, a man of really superior endowments will feel the necessity of this, and it is just this need for an intercourse with great predecessors, which is the sign of a higher talent. Let us study Molière, let us study Shakspeare, but above all things, the old Greeks, and always the Greeks.”
“For highly endowed natures,” remarked I, “the study of the authors of antiquity may be perfectly invaluable; but, in general, it appears to have little influence upon personal character. If this were the case, all philologists and theologians would be the most excellent of men. But this is by no means the case; and such connoisseurs of the ancient Greek and Latin authors are able people or pitiful creatures, according to the good or bad qualities which God has given them, or which they have inherited from their father and mother.”
“There is nothing to be said against that,” returned Goethe; “but it must not, therefore, be said, that the study of the authors of antiquity is entirely without effect upon the formation of character. A worthless man will always remain worthless, and a little mind will not, by daily intercourse with the great minds of antiquity, become one inch greater. But a noble man, in whose soul God has placed the capability for future greatness of character, and elevation of mind, will, by a knowledge of, and familiar intercourse with, the elevated natures of ancient Greeks and Romans, every day make a visible approximation to similar greatness.”
(Sup.) Wed., April 11.
I went to-day about one o'clock to Goethe, who had invited me to take a drive with him before dinner. We took the road to Erfurt. The weather was very fine; the corn-fields on both sides of the way refreshed the eye with the liveliest green. Goethe seemed in his feelings gay and young as the early spring, but in his words old in wisdom.
“I ever repeat it,” he began, “the world could not exist, if it were not so simple. This wretched soil has been tilled a thousand years, yet its powers are always the same; a little rain, a little sun, and each spring it grows green and so forth.”
I could make no answer or addition to these words. Goethe allowed his eyes to wander over the verdant fields, and then, turning again to me, continued thus on other subjects:—
“I have been lately reading something odd,—the letters of Jacobi and his friends. This is a remarkable book, and you must read it; not to learn anything from it, but to take a glance into the state of education and literature at a time of which people now have no idea. We see men who are to a certain extent important, but no trace of a similar direction and a common interest; each one as an isolated being goes his own way, without sympathizing at all in the exertions of others. They seem to me like billiard balls, which run blindly by one another on the green cover, without knowing anything of each other; and which, if they come in contact, only recede so much the further from one another.”
I smiled at this excellent simile. I asked about the corresponding persons, and Goethe named them to me, with some special remark about each.
“Jacobi was really a born diplomatist, a handsome man of slender figure, elegant and noble mien—who, as an ambassador, would have been quite in his place. As a poet, a philosopher, he had deficiencies.
“His relation to me was peculiar. He loved me personally, without taking interest in my endeavours, or even approving of them: friendship was necessary to bind us together. But my connection with Schiller was very peculiar, because we found the strongest bond of union in our common efforts, and had no need of what is commonly called friendship.”
I asked whether Lessing appeared in this correspondence.
“No,” said he, “but Herder and Wieland do. Herder, however, did not enjoy such connections; he stood so high that this hollowness could not fail to weary him in the long run. Hamann, too, treated these people with marked superiority of mind.
“Wieland, as usual, appears in these letters quite cheerful and at home. Caring for no opinion in particular, he was adroit enough to enter into all. He was like a reed, moved hither and thither by the wind of opinion, yet always adhering firmly to its root.
“My personal relation to Wieland was always very pleasant, especially in those earlier days when he belonged to me alone. His little tales were written at my suggestion; but, when Herder came to Weimar, Wieland was false to me. Herder took him away from me, for this man's power of personal attraction was very great.”
The carriage now began to return. We saw towards the east many rain-clouds driving one into another.
“These clouds,” said I, “threaten to descend in rain every moment. Do you think they could possibly dissipate, if the barometer rose?”
“Yes,” said he, “they would be dispersed from the top downwards, and be spun off like distaff at once. So strong is my faith in the barometer. Nay, I always say and maintain, that if, in the night of the great inundation of Petersburg, the barometer had risen, the waves would not have overflowed.
“My son believes that the moon influences the weather, and you perhaps think the same, and I do not blame you; the moon is so important an orb that we must ascribe to it a decided influence on our earth; but the change of the weather, the rise and fall of the barometer, are not effected by the changes of the moon; they are purely telluric.
“I compare the earth and her atmosphere to a great living being perpetually inhaling and exhaling. If she inhale, she draws the atmosphere to her, so that, coming near her surface, it is condensed to clouds and rain. This state I call water-affirmative (Wasser-bejahung). Should it continue an irregular length of time, the earth would be drowned. This the earth does not allow, but exhales again, and sends the watery vapours upwards, when they are dissipated through the whole space of the higher atmosphere, and become so rarified, that not only does the sun penetrate them with his brilliancy, but the eternal darkness of infinite space is seen through as a fresh blue. This state of the atmosphere I call the water-negative (Wasser-verneinung). For as, under the contrary influence, not only water comes profusely from above, but also the moisture of the earth cannot be dried and dissipated,—so, on the contrary, in this state, not only no moisture comes from above, but the damp of the earth itself flies upwards; so that, if this should continue an irregular length of time, the earth, even if the sun did not shine, would be in danger of drying up.”
Thus spoke Goethe on this important subject, and I listened to him with great attention.
“The thing is very simple, and I abide by what is simple and comprehensive, without being disturbed by occasional deviations. High barometer, dry weather, east wind; low barometer, wet weather, and west wind; this is the general rule by which I abide. Should wet clouds blow hither now and then, when the barometer is high, and the wind east, or, if we have a blue sky, with a west wind, this does not disturb me, or make me lose my faith in the general rule. I merely observe that many collateral influences exist, the nature of which we do not yet understand.
“I will tell you something, by which you may abide during your future life. There is in nature an accessible and inaccessible. Be careful to discriminate between the two, be circumspect, and proceed with reverence.
“We have already done something, if we only know this in a general way, though it is always difficult to see where the one begins and the other leaves off. He who does not know it torments himself, perhaps his life long, about the inaccessible, without ever coming near the truth. But he who knows it and is wise, will confine himself to the accessible; and, while he traverses this region in every direction, and confirms himself therein, will be able to win somewhat even from the inaccessible, though he must at last confess that many things can only be approached to a certain degree, and that nature has ever something problematical in reserve, which man's faculties are insufficient to fathom.”
During this discourse we had returned into the town. Conversation turned upon unimportant subjects, so that those high views could still dwell for a while within me.
We had returned too early for dinner, and Goethe had time to show me a landscape, by Rubens, representing a summer's evening. On the left of the foreground, you saw field-labourers going homewards; in the midst of the picture, a flock of sheep followed their shepherd to the hamlet; a little farther back, on the right, stood a hay-cart, which people were busy in loading; while the horses, not yet put in, were grazing near; afar off, in the meadow and thickets, mares were grazing with their foals, and appearances indicated that they would remain there all night. Several villages and a town bordered the bright horizon of the picture, in which the ideas of activity and repose were expressed in the most graceful manner.
The whole seemed to me put together with such truth, and the details painted with such fidelity, that I said, Rubens must have copied the picture from nature.
“By no means,” said Goethe, “so perfect a picture has never been seen in nature; but we are indebted for its composition to the poetic mind of the painter. Still, the great Rubens had such an extraordinary memory, that he carried all nature in his head, and she was always at his command, in the minutest particulars. Thence comes this truth in the whole, and the details, so that we think it is a mere copy from nature. No such landscapes are painted now-a-days. That way of feeling and seeing nature no longer exists. Our painters are wanting in poetry.
“Then our young talents are left to themselves; they are without living masters, to initiate them into the mysteries of art. Something, indeed, may be learned from the dead, but this is rather a catching of details than a penetration into the deep thoughts and method of a master.”
Frau and Herr von Goethe came in, and we sat down to dinner. The lively topics of the day, such as the theatre, balls, and the court, were lightly discussed; but soon we came to more serious matters, and found ourselves deeply engaged in conversation on the religious doctrines of England.
“You ought, like me,” said Goethe, “to have studied Church history for fifty years, to understand how all this hangs together. On the other hand, it is highly remarkable to see with what doctrines the Mahometans commence the work of education. As a religious foundation, they confirm their youth in the conviction that nothing can happen to man, except what was long since decreed by an all-ruling divinity. With this they are prepared and satisfied for a whole life, and scarce need anything further.
“I will not inquire what is true or false, useful or pernicious, in this doctrine; but really something of this faith is held in us all, even without being taught. ‘The ball on which my name is not written, cannot hit me,’ says the soldier in the battle-field; and, without such a belief, how could he maintain such courage and cheerfulness in the most imminent perils? The Christian doctrine, ‘No sparrow falls to the ground without the consent of our Father,’ comes from the same source, intimating that there is a Providence, which keeps in its eye the smallest things, and without whose will and permission nothing can happen.
“Then the Mahometans begin their instruction in philosophy, with the doctrine that nothing exists of which the contrary may not be affirmed. Thus they practise the minds of youth, by giving them the task of detecting and expressing the opposite of every proposition; from which great adroitness in thinking and speaking is sure to arise.
“Certainly, after the contrary of any proposition has been maintained, doubt arises as to which is really true. But there is no permanence in doubt; it incites the mind to closer inquiry and experiment, from which, if rightly managed, certainty proceeds, and in this alone can man find thorough satisfaction.
“You see that nothing is wanting in this doctrine; that with all our systems, we have got no further; and that, generally speaking, no one can get further.”
“You remind me of the Greeks,” said I, “who made use of a similar mode of philosophical instruction, as is obvious from their tragedy, which, in its course of action, rests wholly upon contradiction, not one of the speakers ever maintaining any opinion of which the other cannot, with equal dexterity, maintain the contrary.”
“You are perfectly right,” said Goethe; “and that doubt is brought in which is awakened in the spectator or reader. Thus, at the end, we are brought to certainty by fate, which attaches itself to the moral, and espouses its cause.”
We rose from table, and Goethe took me down with him into the garden, to continue our conversation.
“It is remarkable in Lessing,” said I, “that in his theoretical writings, for instance, in the ‘Laocoon,’ he never leads us directly to results, but always takes us by the philosophical way of opinion, counter opinion, and doubt, before he lets us arrive at any sort of certainty. We rather see the operation of thinking and seeking, than obtain great views and great truths that can excite our own powers of thought, and make ourselves productive.”
“You are right,” said Goethe; “Lessing himself is reported to have said, that if God would give him truth, he would decline the gift, and prefer the labour of seeking it for himself.
“That philosophic system of the Mahometans is a good standard, which we can apply to ourselves and others, to ascertain the degree of mental progress which we have attained.
“Lessing from his polemical nature, loved best the region of doubt and contradiction. Analysis is his province, and there his fine understanding aided him most nobly. You will find me wholly the reverse. I have always avoided contradictions, have striven to dispel the doubts within me, and have uttered only the results I have discovered.”
I asked Goethe which of the new philosophers he thought the highest.
“Kant,” said he, “beyond a doubt. He is the one whose doctrines still continue to work, and have penetrated most deeply into our German civilization. He has influenced even you, although you have never read him; now you need him no longer, for what he could give you, you possess already. If you wish, by and by, to read something of his, I recommend to you his ‘Critique on the power of Judgment,’ in which he has written admirably upon rhetoric, tolerably upon poetry, but unsatisfactorily on plastic art.”
“Has your Excellency ever had any personal connection with Kant?”
“No,” he replied; “Kant never took any notice of me, though from my own nature I went a way like his own. I wrote my ‘Metamorphosis of Plants’ before I knew anything about Kant; and yet it is wholly in the spirit of his doctrine. The separation of subject from object, and further, the opinion that each creature exists for his own sake, and that cork trees do not grow merely that we may stop our bottles—this Kant shared with me, and I rejoiced to meet him on such ground. Afterwards I wrote my ‘doctrine of experiment,’ which is to be regarded as criticism upon subject and object, and a mediation of both.
“Schiller was always wont to advise me against the study of Kant's philosophy. He usually said Kant could give me nothing; but he himself studied Kant with great zeal; and I have studied him too, and not without profit.”
While talking thus, we walked up and down the garden: the clouds had been gathering; and it began to rain, so that we were obliged to return to the house, where we continued our conversation for some time.
 The title of this paper, which appeared in 1793, and is contained in Goethe's works, is “Der Versuch als Vermittler von Object und Subject.”—Trans.
(Sup.) Wed., April 18.
Before dinner, I took a ride with Goethe some distance along the road to Erfurt.
We were met by all sorts of vehicles laden with wares for the fair at Leipsic; also a string of horses, amongst which were some very fine animals.
“I cannot help laughing at the æsthetical folks,” said Goethe, “who torment themselves in endeavouring, by some abstract words, to reduce to a conception that inexpressible thing to which we give the name of beauty. Beauty is a primeval phenomenon, which itself never makes its appearance, but the reflection of which is visible in a thousand different utterances of the creative mind, and is as various as nature herself.”
“I have often heard it said that nature is always beautiful,” said I; “that she causes the artists to despair, because they are seldom capable of reaching her completely.”
“I know well,” returned Goethe, “that nature often reveals an unattainable charm; but I am by no means of opinion that she is beautiful in all her aspects. Her intentions are, indeed, always good; but not so the conditions which are required to make her manifest herself completely.
“Thus, the oak is a tree which may be very beautiful; but how many favourable circumstances must concur before nature can succeed in producing one truly beautiful! If an oak grow in the midst of a forest, encompassed with large neighbouring trunks, its tendency will always be upwards, towards free air and light; only small weak branches will grow on its sides; and these will in the course of a century decay and fall off. But if it has at last succeeded in reaching the free air with its summit, it will then rest in its upward tendency, and begin to spread itself from its sides and form a crown. But it is by this time already past its middle age: its many years of upward striving have consumed its freshest powers, and its present endeavour to put forth its strength by increasing in breadth will not now have its proper results. When full grown, it will be high, strong and slender stemmed, but still without such a proportion between its crown and its stem as would render it beautiful.
“Again; if the oak grow in a moist, marshy place, and the earth is too nourishing, it will, with proper space, prematurely shoot forth many branches and twigs on all sides: but it will still want the opposing, retarding influences; it will not show itself gnarled, stubborn, and indented, and seen from a distance, it will have the appearance of a weak tree of the lime species; and it will not be beautiful—at least, not as an oak.
“If, lastly, it grow upon mountainous slopes, upon poor stony soil, it will become excessively gnarled and knotty; but it will lack free development: it will become prematurely stunted, and will never attain such perfection that one can say of it, ‘there is in that oak something which creates astonishment.’”
I rejoiced at these words. “I saw very beautiful oaks,” said I, “when, some years ago, I made short tours from Göttingen into the valley of the Weser. I found them particularly magnificent in the neighbourhood of Höxter.”
“A sandy soil, or one mixed with sand,” continued Goethe, “where the oak is able to spread its strong roots in every direction, appears to be most favourable; and then it needs a situation where it has the necessary space to feel the effects on all sides of light, sun, rain, and wind. If it grows up snugly sheltered from wind and weather, it becomes nothing; but a century's struggle with the elements makes it strong and powerful, so that, at its full growth, its presence inspires us with astonishment and admiration.”
“Cannot one, from these remarks of yours,” returned I, “draw a conclusion and say, ‘a creature is beautiful when it has attained the summit of its natural development?’”
“Certainly,” returned Goethe; “but still one must first explain what one means by the summit of its natural development.”
“I would by that,” returned I, “signify the period of growth in which the character peculiar to any creature appears perfectly impressed on it.”
“In that sense,” said Goethe, “there would be nothing to object, especially if we add that, for such a perfect development of character, it is likewise requisite that the build of the different members of a creature should be conformable to its natural destination.
“In that case, a marriageable girl, whose natural destiny is to bear and suckle children, will not be beautiful without the proper breadth of the pelvis and the necessary fulness of the breasts. Still, an excess in these respects would not be beautiful, for that would go beyond conformity to an end.
“On this account, we might call some of the saddle horses which we met a little time ago beautiful, even according to the fitness of their build. It is not merely the elegance, lightness, and gracefulness of their movements, but something more, of which a good horseman and judge of horses alone can speak, and of which we others merely receive the general impression.”
“Might we not, on the other hand,” said I, “call a cart-horse beautiful, like those strong specimens which we met a little time ago drawing the waggons of the Brabant carriers?”
“Certainly,” said Goethe; “and why not? A painter would probably find a more varied display of all kinds of beauties in the strongly-marked character and powerful development of bone, sinew, and muscle, in such an animal, than in the softer and more equal character of an elegant saddle-horse.”
“The main point is,” continued Goethe, “that the race is pure, and that man has not applied his mutilating hand. A horse with his mane and tail cut, a hound with cropped ears, a tree from which the strongest branches have been lopped and the rest cut into a spherical form, and, above all, a young girl whose youthful form has been spoiled and deformed by stays, are things from which good taste revolts, and which merely occupy a place in the Philistine's catechism of beauty.”
During this and similar conversations, we had returned. We walked about a little in the garden of the house before dinner. The weather was very beautiful; the spring sun had begun to grow powerful, and to bring out all sorts of leaves and blossoms on bushes and hedges. Goethe was full of thought and hopes of a delightful summer.
At dinner we were very cheerful. Young Goethe had read his father's “Helena,” and spoke upon it with much judgment and natural intelligence. He showed decided delight at the part conceived in the antique spirit, while we could see that he had not fully entered into the operatic, romantic half.
“You are right,” said Goethe; “it is something peculiar. One cannot say that the rational is always beautiful; but the beautiful is always rational, or at least, ought to be so. The antique part pleases you because it is comprehensible, because you can take a survey of the details, and approach my reason with your own. In the second half, all sorts of understanding and reason are likewise employed and expended; but it is difficult, and requires some study, before the reader can approach the meaning, and with his own reason discover the reason of the author.”
Goethe then spoke with much praise and acknowledgment of the poems of Madame Tastu, with which he had been lately occupied.
When the rest had departed, and I also prepared to go, he begged of me to remain a little longer. He ordered a portfolio, with engravings and etchings by Dutch masters, to be brought in.
“I will treat you with something good, by way of dessert,” said he. With these words, he placed before me a landscape by Rubens.
“You have,” said he, “already seen this picture; but one cannot look often enough at anything really excellent;—besides, there is something very particular attached to this. Will you tell me what you see?”
“I begin from the distance,” said I. “I see in the remotest background a very clear sky, as if after sunset. Then, still in the extreme distance, a village and a town, in the light of evening. In the middle of the picture there is a road, along which a flock of sheep is hastening to the village. At the right hand of the picture are several haystacks, and a waggon which appears well laden. Unharnessed horses are grazing near. On one side, among the bushes, are several mares with their foals, which appear as if they were going to remain out of doors all night. Then, nearer to the foreground, there is a group of large trees; and lastly, quite in the foreground to the left, there are various labourers returning homewards.”
“Good,” said Goethe, “that is apparently all. But the principal point is still wanting. All these things, which we see represented, the flock of sheep, the waggon with hay, the horses, the returning labourers,—on which side are they lighted?”
“They receive light,” said I, “from the side turned to us, and the shadow is thrown into the picture. The returning labourers in the foreground are especially in the light, which produces an excellent effect.”
“But how has Rubens produced this beautiful effect?”
“By making these light figures appear on a dark ground,” said I.
“But this dark ground,” said Goethe, “whence does it arise?”
“It is the powerful shadow,” said I, “thrown by the group of trees towards the figures. But how?” continued I, with surprise, “the figures cast their shadows into the picture; the group of trees, on the contrary, cast their's towards the spectator. We have, thus, light from two different sides, which is quite contrary to Nature.”
“That is the point,” returned Goethe, with a smile. “It is by this that Rubens proves himself great, and shows to the world that he, with a free spirit, stands above Nature, and treats her conformably to his high purposes. The double light is certainly a violent expedient, and you certainly say that it is contrary to nature. But if it is contrary to nature, I still say it is higher than nature; I say it is the bold stroke of the master, by which he, in a genial manner, proclaims to the world that art is not entirely subject to natural necessities, but has laws of its own.
“The artist,” continued Goethe, “must, indeed, in his details faithfully and reverently copy nature; he must not, arbitrarily, change the structure of the bones, or the position of the muscles and sinews of an animal, so that the peculiar character is destroyed. This would be annihilating nature. But in the higher regions of artistical production, by which a picture really becomes a picture, he has freer play, and here he may have recourse to fictions, as Rubens has done with the double light in this landscape.
“The artist has a twofold relation to nature; he is at once her master and her slave. He is her slave, inasmuch as he must work with earthly things, in order to be understood; but he is her master, inasmuch as he subjects these earthly means to his higher intentions, and renders them subservient.
“The artist would speak to the world through an entirety; however, he does not find this entirety in nature; but it is the fruit of his own mind, or, if you like it, of the aspiration of a fructifying divine breath.
“If we observe this landscape by Rubens only slightly, everything appears as natural to us as if it had been copied exactly from nature. But this is not the case. So beautiful a picture has never been seen in nature, any more than a landscape by Poussin or Claude Lorraine, which appears very natural to us, but which we vainly seek in the actual world.”
“Are there not,” said I, “bold strokes of artistic fiction similar to this double light of Rubens, to be found in literature?”
“We need not go far,” said Goethe, after some reflection; “I could show you a dozen of them in Shakspeare. Only take Macbeth. When the lady would animate her husband to the deed, she says—
I have given suck, &c.
Whether this be true or not does not appear; but the lady says it, and she must say it, in order to give emphasis to her speech. But in the course of the piece, when Macduff hears of the account of the destruction of his family, he exclaims in wild rage—
He has no children!
These words of Macduff contradict those of Lady Macbeth; but this does not trouble Shakspeare. The grand point with him is the force of each speech; and as the lady, in order to give the highest emphasis to her words, must say ‘I have given suck,’ so, for the same purpose, Macduff must say ‘he has no children.’
“Generally,” continued Goethe, “we must not judge too exactly and narrowly of the pencil touches of a painter, or the words of a poet; we should rather contemplate and enjoy a work of art that has been produced in a bold and free spirit, and if possible with the same spirit.
“Thus it would be foolish, if, from the words of Macbeth—
Bring forth men children only! &c.,
the conclusions were drawn that the lady was a young creature who had not yet borne any children. And it would be equally foolish if we were to go still further, and say that the lady must be represented on the stage as a very youthful person.
“Shakspeare by no means makes Macbeth say these words to show the youth of the lady; but these words, like those of Lady Macbeth and Macduff, which I quoted just now, are merely introduced for rhetorical purposes, and prove nothing more than that the poet always makes his character say whatever is proper, effective, and good in each particular place, without troubling himself to calculate whether these words may, perhaps, fall into apparent contradiction with some other passage.
“Shakspeare, in writing his pieces, could hardly have thought that they would appear in print, so as to be told over, and compared one with another; he had rather the stage in view when he wrote; he regarded his plays as a lively and moving scene, that would pass rapidly before the eyes and ears upon the stage, not as one that was to be held firmly, and carped at in detail. Hence, his only point was to be effective and significant for the moment.”
(Sup.) Tues., April 24.
August Wilhelm von Schlegel is here. Before dinner, Goethe took a drive with him round the Webicht, and this evening gave a great tea-party in honour of him, at which Schlegel's fellow-traveller, Doctor Lassen, was present. All in Weimar, of any rank and name, were invited, so that the press in Goethe's room was very great. Herr von Schlegel was quite surrounded by ladies, to whom he showed thin rolled-up strips with Indian idols, as well as the whole text of two great Indian poems, of which no one but himself and Doctor Lassen probably understood anything. Schlegel was dressed with extreme neatness, and had an extremely youthful and blooming appearance, so that some of the assembled guests were pleased to maintain that he appeared not unskilled in the use of cosmetic means.
Goethe drew me to the window. “Now, how does he please you?” “Not better than I expected,” returned I. “He is truly, in many respects, no true man,” continued Goethe; “but still, one must bear with him a little, on account of his extensive knowledge and great deserts.”
(Sup.) Wed., April 25.
Dined with Goethe and Dr. Lassen. Schlegel had once more gone to dine at the court. Here Lassen displayed great knowledge of Indian poetry, which seemed highly acceptable to Goethe, as he could thus complete his own very deficient knowledge of these things.
In the evening I again spent a few moments with Goethe. He related to me that Schlegel had been with him at twilight, and that they had carried on a very important conversation on historical and literary subjects, which had been very instructive to him. “Only,” said he, “one must not expect grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles; for the rest, all is very excellent.”
(Sup.) Thurs., May 3.
The highly successful translation of Goethe's dramatic works, by Stapfer, was noticed by Monsieur J. J. Ampère in the “Parisian Globe” of last year, in a manner no less excellent, and this affected Goethe so agreeably that he very often recurred to it, and expressed his great obligations to it.
“Ampère's point of view is a very high one,” said he. “When German critics on similar occasions start from philosophy, and in the consideration and discussion of a poetical production proceed in a manner that what they intend as an elucidation is only intelligible to philosophers of their own school, while for other people it is far more obscure than the work upon which they intended to throw a light, M. Ampère, on the contrary, shows himself quite practical and popular. Like one who knows his profession thoroughly, he shows the relation between the production and the producer, and judges the different poetical productions as different fruits of different epochs of the poet's life.
“He has studied most profoundly the changing course of my earthly career, and of the condition of my mind, and has had the faculty of seeing what I have not expressed, and what, so to speak, could only be read between the lines. How truly has he remarked that, during the first ten years of my official and court life at Weimar, I scarcely did anything; that despair drove me to Italy; and that I there, with new delight in producing, seized upon the history of Tasso, in order to free myself, by the treatment of this agreeable subject, from the painful and troublesome impressions and recollections of my life at Weimar. He therefore very happily calls Tasso an elevated Werther.
“Then, concerning Faust, his remarks are no less clever, since he not only notes, as part of myself, the gloomy, discontented striving of the principal character, but also the scorn and the bitter irony of Mephistophiles.”
In this, and a similar spirit of acknowledgment, Goethe often spoke of M. Ampère. We took a decided interest in him; we endeavoured to picture to ourselves his personal appearance, and, if we could not succeed in this, we at least agreed that he must be a man of middle age to understand the reciprocal action of life and poetry on each other. We were, therefore, extremely surprised when M. Ampère arrived in Weimar a few days ago, and proved to be a lively youth, some twenty years old; and we were no less surprised when, in the course of further intercourse, he told us that the whole of the contributors to the “Globe,” whose wisdom, moderation, and high degree of cultivation we had often admired, were only young people like himself.
“I can well comprehend,” said I, “that a person may be young and may still produce something of importance—like Mérimée, for instance, who wrote excellent pieces in his twentieth year; but that any one at so early an age should have at his command such a comprehensive view, and such deep insight, as to attain such mature judgment as the gentlemen of the ‘Globe,’ is to me something entirely new.”
“To you, in your Heath,” returned Goethe, “it has not been so easy; and we others also, in Central Germany, have been forced to buy our little wisdom dearly enough. Then we all lead a very isolated miserable sort of life! From the people, properly so called, we derive very little culture. Our talents and men of brains are scattered over the whole of Germany. One is in Vienna, another in Berlin, another in Königsberg, another in Bonn or Düsseldorf—all about a hundred miles apart from each other, so that personal contact and personal exchange of thought may be considered as rarities. I feel what this must be, when such men as Alexander von Humboldt come here, and in one single day lead me nearer to what I am seeking, and what I require to know, than I should have done for years in my own solitary way.
“But now conceive a city like Paris, where the highest talents of a great kingdom are all assembled in a single spot, and by daily intercourse, strife, and emulation, mutually instruct and advance each other; where the best works, both of nature and art, from all the kingdoms of the earth, are open to daily inspection;—conceive this metropolis of the world, I say, where every walk over a bridge or across a square recalls some mighty past, and where some historical event is connected with every corner of a street. In addition to all this, conceive not the Paris of a dull, spiritless time, but the Paris of the nineteenth century, in which, during three generations, such men as Molière, Voltaire, Diderot, and the like, have kept up such a current of intellect as cannot be found twice in a single spot on the whole world, and you will comprehend that a man of talent like Ampère, who has grown up amid such abundance, can easily be something in his four-and-twentieth year.
“You said just now,” said Goethe, “that you could well understand how any one in his twentieth year could write pieces as good as those of Mérimée. I have nothing to oppose to this; and I am, on the whole, quite of your opinion that good productiveness is easier than good judgment in a youthful man. But in Germany, one had better not, when so young as Mérimée, attempt to produce anything so mature as he has done in his pieces of ‘Clara Gazul.’ It is true, Schiller was very young when he wrote his ‘Robbers,’ his ‘Love and Intrigue,’ his ‘Fiesco;’ but, to speak the truth, all three pieces are rather the utterances of an extraordinary talent than signs of mature cultivation in the author. This, however, is not Schiller's fault, but rather the result of the state of culture of his nation, and the great difficulty which we all experience in assisting ourselves on our solitary way.
“On the other hand, take up Béranger. He is the son of poor parents, the descendant of a poor tailor; at one time a poor printer's apprentice, then placed in some office with a small salary: he has never been to a classical school or university; and yet his songs are so full of mature cultivation, so full of wit and the most refined irony, and there is such artistic perfection and masterly handling of the language, that he is the admiration, not only of France, but of all civilized Europe.
“But imagine this same Béranger—instead of being born in Paris, and brought up in this metropolis of the world—the son of a poor tailor in Jena or Weimar, and let him commence his career, in an equally miserable manner, in such small places, ask yourself what fruit would have been produced by this same tree grown in such a soil and in such an atmosphere.
“Therefore, my good friend, I repeat that, if a talent is to be speedily and happily developed, the great point is that a great deal of intellect and sound culture should be current in a nation.
“We admire the tragedies of the ancient Greeks; but, to take a correct view of the case, we ought rather to admire the period and the nation in which their production was possible than the individual authors; for though these pieces differ a little from each other, and though one of these poets appears somewhat greater and more finished than the other, still, taking all things together, only one decided character runs through the whole.
“This is the character of grandeur, fitness, soundness, human perfection, elevated wisdom, sublime thought, pure strong intuition, and whatever other qualities one might enumerate. But when we find all these qualities, not only in the dramatic works that have come down to us, but also in lyrical and epic works, in the philosophers, the orators, and the historians, and in an equally high degree in the works of plastic art that have come down to us, we must feel convinced that such qualities did not merely belong to individuals, but were the current property of the nation and the whole period.
“Now, take up Burns. How is he great, except through the circumstance that the whole songs of his predecessors lived in the mouth of the people,—that they were, so to speak, sung at his cradle; that, as a boy, he grew up amongst them, and the high excellence of these models so pervaded him that he had therein a living basis on which he could proceed further? Again, why is he great, but from this, that his own songs at once found susceptible ears amongst his compatriots; that, sung by reapers and sheaf-binders, they at once greeted him in the field; and that his boon-companions sang them to welcome him at the ale-house? Something was certainly to be done this way.
“On the other hand, what a pitiful figure is made by us Germans! Of our old songs—no less important than those of Scotland—how many lived among the people in the days of my youth? Herder and his successors first began to collect them and rescue them from oblivion; then they were at least printed in the libraries. Then, more lately, what songs have not Bürger and Voss composed! Who can say that they are more insignificant or less popular than those of the excellent Burns? but which of them so lives among us that it greets us from the mouth of the people?—they are written and printed, and they remain in the libraries, quite in accordance with the general fate of German poets. Of my own songs, how many live? Perhaps one or another of them may be sung by a pretty girl to the piano; but among the people, properly so called, they have no sound. With what sensations must I remember the time when passages from Tasso were sung to me by Italian fishermen!
“We Germans are of yesterday. We have indeed been properly cultivated for a century; but a few centuries more must still elapse before so much mind and elevated culture will become universal amongst our people that they will appreciate beauty like the Greeks, that they will be inspired by a beautiful song, and that it will be said of them ‘it is long since they were barbarians.’”
 This doubtless refers to the Heath country in which Eckermann was born.—Trans.
(Sup.) Fri., May 4.
A grand dinner at Goethe's in honour of Ampère and his friend Stapfer. The conversation was loud, cheerful, and varied. Ampère told Goethe a great deal about Mérimée, Alfred de Vigny, and other important men of genius. A great deal also was said about Béranger, whose inimitable songs are daily in Goethe's thoughts. There was a discussion as to whether Béranger's cheerful amatory songs or his political ones merited the preference; whereupon Goethe expressed his opinion that, in general, a purely poetical subject is as superior to a political one as the pure everlasting truth of nature is to party spirit.
“However,” continued he, “Béranger has, in his political poems, shown himself the benefactor of his nation. After the invasion of the allies, the French found in him the best organ for their suppressed feelings. He directed their attention by various recollections to the glory of their arms under the Emperor, whose memory still lives in every cottage, and whose great qualities the poet loved, without desiring a continuance of his despotic sway. Now, under the Bourbons, he does not seem too comfortable. They are, indeed, a degenerate race; and the Frenchman of the present day desires great qualities upon the throne, although he likes to take part in the government, and put in his own word.”
After dinner the company dispersed in the garden, and Goethe beckoned me to take a drive round the wood, on the road to Tiefurt.
Whilst in the carriage he was very pleasant and affable. He was glad that he had formed so pleasant an intimacy with Ampère, promising himself, as a result, the fairest consequences with respect to the acknowledgment and diffusion of German literature in France.
“Ampère,” continued he, “stands indeed so high in culture that the national prejudices, apprehensions, and narrow-mindedness of many of his countrymen lie far behind him; and in mind he is far more a citizen of the world than a citizen of Paris. But I see a time coming when there will be thousands in France who think like him.”
(Sup.) Sun., May 6.
A second dinner party at Goethe's, to which the same people came as the day before yesterday. Much was said about “Helena” and “Tasso.” Goethe related to us that in the year 1797, he had formed the plan of treating the tradition concerning Tell as an epic poem in hexameters.
“In the same year,” said he, “I visited the small cantons, and the lake of the four cantons, and this charming, magnificent, grand nature made once more such an impression upon me, that it induced me to represent in a poem the variety and richness of so incomparable a landscape. But, in order to throw more charm, interest, and life into my representation, I considered it good to people this highly-striking spot with equally striking human figures, for which purpose the tradition concerning Tell appeared to me admirably fitted.
“I pictured Tell to myself as a heroic man, possessed of native strength, but contented with himself, and in a state of childish unconsciousness. He traverses the canton as a carrier, and is everywhere known and beloved, everywhere ready with his assistance. He peacefully follows his calling, providing for his wife and child, and not troubling himself who is lord or who is serf.
“Gessler, on the contrary, I pictured to myself as a tyrant; but as one of the comfortable sort who occasionally does good when it suits him, and occasionally harm when it suits him, and to whom the people, with its weal and woe, is as totally indifferent as if it did not exist.
“The higher and better qualities of human nature, on the contrary, the love of native soil, the feeling of freedom and security under the protection of the laws of the country, the feeling, moreover, of the disgrace of being subjugated, and occasionally ill-treated, by a foreign debauchee, and lastly, strength of mind matured to a determination to throw of so obnoxious a yoke,—all these great and good qualities I had shared between the well-known noble-minded men, Walter Fürst, Stauffacher, Winkelried, and others; and these were my proper heroes, my higher powers, acting with consciousness, whilst Tell and Gessler, though occasionally brought into action, were, upon the whole, rather figures of a passive nature.
“I was quite full of this beautiful subject, and was already humming my hexameters. I saw the lake in the quiet moonlight, illuminated mists in the depths of the mountains. I then saw it in the light of the loveliest morning sun—a rejoicing and a life in wood and meadow. Then I described a storm—a thunder-storm, which swept from the hollows over the lake. Neither was there any lack of the stillness of night, nor of secret meetings approached by bridges.
“I related all this to Schiller, in whose soul my landscapes and my acting figures formed themselves into a drama. And as I had other things to do, and the execution of my design was deferred more and more, I gave up my subject entirely to Schiller, who thereupon wrote his admirable play.”
We were pleased with this communication, which was interesting to us all. I remarked that it appeared to me as if the splendid description of sunrise, in the first scene of the second act of “Faust,” written in terza rima, was founded upon the recalled impressions of the lake of the four cantons.
“I will not deny,” said Goethe, “that these contemplations proceed from that source; nay, without the fresh impressions of those wonderful scenes, I could never have conceived the subject of that terza rima. But that is all which I have coined from the gold of my Tell-localities. The rest I left to Schiller, who, as we know, made the most beautiful use of it.”
The conversation now turned upon “Tasso,” and the idea which Goethe had endeavoured to represent by it.
“Idea!” said Goethe, “as if I knew nothing about it. I had the life of Tasso, I had my own life; and whilst I brought together two odd figures with their peculiarities, the image of Tasso arose in my mind, to which I opposed, as a prosaic contrast, that of Antonio, for whom also I did not lack models. The further particulars of court life and love affairs were at Weimar as they were in Ferrara; and I can truly say of my production, it is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.
“The Germans are, certainly, strange people. By their deep thoughts and ideas, which they seek in everything and fix upon everything, they make life much more burdensome than is necessary. Only have the courage to give yourself up to your impressions, allow yourself to be delighted, moved, elevated, nay, instructed and inspired for something great; but do not imagine all is vanity, if it is not abstract thought and idea.
“Then they come and ask, ‘What idea I meant to embody in my Faust?’ as if I knew myself and could inform them. From heaven, through the world, to hell, would indeed be something; but this is no idea, only a course of action. And further, that the devil loses the wager, and that a man, continually struggling from difficult errors towards something better, should be redeemed, is an effective, and to many, a good enlightening thought; but it is no idea which lies at the foundation of the whole, and of every individual scene. It would have been a fine thing, indeed, if I had strung so rich, varied, and highly diversified a life as I have brought to view in Faust upon the slender string of one pervading idea.
“It was, in short,” continued Goethe, “not in my line, as a poet, to strive to embody anything abstract. I received in my mind impressions, and those of a sensual, animated, charming, varied, hundredfold kind, just as a lively imagination presented them; and I had, as a poet, nothing more to do than artistically to round off and elaborate such views and impressions, and by means of a lively representation so to bring them forward that others might receive the same impression in hearing or reading my representation of them.
“If I still wished, as a poet, to represent any idea, I would do it in short poems, where a decided unity could prevail, and where a complete survey would be easy, as, for instance, in the Metamorphosis of Animals, that of the plants, the poem ‘Bequest’ (Vermächtniss), and many others. The only production of greater extent, in which I am conscious of having laboured to set forth a pervading idea, is probably my ‘Wahlverwandtschaften.’ This novel has thus become comprehensible to the understanding; but I will not say that it is therefore better. I am rather of the opinion, that the more incommensurable, and the more incomprehensible to the understanding, a poetic production is, so much the better it is.”
(Sup.) Tues., May 15.
Herr von Holtey, from Paris, has been here for some time, and has been very well received everywhere, on account of his person and talent. A very friendly intimacy has also been formed between him and Goethe, and his family.
Goethe has for some days been drawn into his garden, where he is very happy with his quiet activity. I called upon him there to-day, with Herr von Holtey and Count Schulenburg, the former of whom took his leave, in order to go to Berlin with Ampère.
Wed., June 20.
The family table was covered for five; the rooms were vacant and cool, which was very pleasant, considering the great heat. I went into the spacious room next the dining-hall, where are the worked carpet and the colossal bust of Juno.
After I had walked up and down alone for a short time, Goethe soon came in from his work-room, and greeted me in his cordial manner. He seated himself on a chair by the window. “Take a chair too,” said he, “and sit down by me; we will talk a little before the others arrive. I am glad that you have become acquainted with Count Sternberg at my house; he has departed, and I am now once more in my wonted state of activity and repose.”
“The present appearance and manner of the Count,” said I, “seemed to me very remarkable, as well as his great attainments. Whatever the conversation turned on, he was always at home, and talked about everything with the greatest ease, though with profundity and circumspection.”
“Yes,” said Goethe, “he is a highly remarkable man, and his influence and connections in Germany are very extensive. As a botanist, he is known throughout Europe by his ‘Flora Subterranea,’ and he also stands high as a mineralogist. Do you know his history?”
“No,” said I, “but I should like to hear something about him. I saw him as a Count and a man of the world, and also a person profoundly versed in various branches of science. This is a riddle I should like to see solved.”
Goethe told me that the Count in his youth had been destined for the priesthood, and had commenced his studies at Rome; but that afterwards, when Austria had withdrawn certain favours, he had gone to Naples. Goethe then proceeded in the most profound and interesting manner, to set forth a remarkable life, which would have adorned the “Wanderjahre,” but which I do not feel I can repeat here. I was delighted to listen to him and thanked him with all my soul. The conversation now turned upon the Bohemian schools, and their great advantages, especially for a thorough æsthetic culture.
Frau von Goethe, young Goethe, and Fräulein Ulrica now came in, and we sat down to table. The conversation was gay and varied, the pietists of some cities in Northern Germany being a subject to which we often reverted. It was remarked that these pietistical separations had destroyed the harmony of whole families.
I was able to give an instance of the kind, having nearly lost an excellent friend because he could not convert me to his opinions. He, as I stated, was thoroughly convinced that good works and one's own merits are of no avail, and that man can only win favour with the divinity by the grace of Christ.
“A female friend,” observed Frau von Goethe, “said something of the sort to me; but even now I scarcely know what is meant by grace and what by good works.”
“According to the present course of the world, in conversing on all such topics,” said Goethe, “there is nothing but a medley; and perhaps none of you know whence it comes. I will tell you. The doctrine of good works—namely, that man, by good actions, legacies, and beneficent institutions, can avoid the penalty of sin, and rise in the favour of God—is Catholic. But the reformers, out of opposition, rejected this doctrine, and declared, in lieu of it, that man must seek solely to recognize the merits of Christ, and become a partaker of his grace; which indeed leads to good works. But, nowadays, all this is mingled together, and nobody knows whence a thing comes.”
I remarked, more in thought than openly, that difference of opinion in religious matters had always sown dissension among men, and made them enemies; nay, that the first murder had been caused by a difference in the mode of worshipping God. I said that I had lately been reading Byron's “Cain,” and had been particularly struck by the third act, and the manner in which the murder is brought about.
“It is indeed admirable,” said Goethe. “Its beauty is such as we shall not see a second time in the world.”
“Cain,” said I, “was at first prohibited in England; but now everybody reads it, and young English travellers usually carry a complete Byron with them.”
“It was folly,” said Goethe; “for, in fact, there is nothing in the whole of Cain which is not taught by the English bishops themselves.”
The Chancellor was announced. He came in and sat down with us at table. Goethe's grandchildren, Walter and Wolfgang, also came in, jumping one after the other. Wolf pressed close to the Chancellor.
“Bring your album,” said Goethe, “and show the Chancellor your princess, and what Count Sternberg wrote for you.”
Wolf sprang up and brought the book. The Chancellor looked at the portrait of the princess, with the verses annexed by Goethe. Turning over the leaves, he came to Zelter's inscription, and read aloud, Lerne gehorchen (“Learn to obey”).
“Those are the only rational words in the whole book,” said Goethe, laughing; “as indeed, Zelter is always majestic and to the point. I am now looking over his letters with Riemer; and they contain invaluable things. Those letters which he has written me on his travels are especially of worth; for he has, as a sound architect and musician, the advantage that he can never want interesting subjects for criticism. As soon as he enters a city, the buildings stand before him, and tell him their merits and their faults.
“Then the musical societies receive him at once, and show themselves to the master with their virtues and their defects. If a short-hand writer could but have recorded his conversations with his musical scholars, we should possess something quite unique in its way. In such matters is Zelter great and genial, and always hits the nail on the head.”
Thurs., July 5.
Towards evening, I met Goethe in the park, returning from a ride. As he passed he beckoned to me to come and see him. I went immediately to his house, where I found Coudray. Goethe alighted, and we went up the steps with him. We sat down to the round table in the so-called Juno-room, and had not talked long before the Chancellor came in and joined us. The conversation turned on political subjects—Wellington's embassy to St. Petersburg, and its probable consequences, Capo d'Istria, the delayed liberation of Greece, the restriction upon the Turks to Constantinople, and the like.
We talked, too, of Napoleon's times, especially about the Duke d'Enghien, whose incautious revolutionary conduct was much discussed.
We then came to more pacific topics, and Wieland's tomb at Osmannstedt was a fruitful subject of discourse. Coudray told us that he was engaged with an iron enclosure of the tomb. He gave us a clear notion of his intention by drawing the form of the iron-railing on a piece of paper.
When the Chancellor and Coudray departed, Goethe asked me to stay with him a little while. “For one who, like me, lives through ages,” said he, “it always seems odd when I hear about statues and monuments. I can never think of a statue erected in honour of a distinguished man without already seeing it cast down and trampled upon by future warriors. Already I see Coudray's iron-railing about Wieland's grave forged into horse-shoes, and shining under the feet of future cavalry; and I may even say that I have witnessed such a case at Frankfort. Wieland's grave is, besides, much too near the Ilm; the stream in less than a hundred years will have so worn the shore by its sudden turn, that it will have reached the body.”
We had some good-humoured jests about the terrible inconstancy of earthly things, and then, returning to Coudray's drawing, were delighted with the delicate and strong strokes of the English pencils, which are so obedient to the draughtsman, that the thought is conveyed immediately to the paper, without the slightest loss. This led the conversation to drawing, and Goethe showed me a fine one, by an Italian master, representing the boy Jesus in the temple with the doctors; he then showed me an engraving after the finished picture on this subject; and many remarks were made, all in favour of drawings.
“I have lately been so fortunate,” said he, “as to buy, at a reasonable rate, many excellent drawings by celebrated masters. Such drawings are invaluable, not only because they give, in its purity, the mental intention of the artist, but because they bring immediately before us the mood of his mind at the moment of creation. In every stroke of this drawing of the boy Jesus in the temple, we perceive the great clearness, and quiet, serene resolution, in the mind of the artist; and this beneficial mood is extended to us while we contemplate the work. The arts of painting and sculpture have, moreover, the great advantage that they are purely objective, and attract us without violently exciting our feelings. Such a work either speaks to us not at all, or in a very decided manner. A poem, on the other hand, makes a far more vague impression, exciting in each hearer different emotions, according to his nature and capacity.”
“I have,” said I, “been lately reading Smollett's excellent novel of ‘Roderick Random.’ It gave me almost the same impression as a good drawing. It is a direct representation of the subject, without a trace of a leaning towards the sentimental; actual life stands before us as it is, often repulsive and detestable enough, yet, as a whole, giving a pleasant impression on account of the decided reality.”
“I have often heard the praises of ‘Roderick Random,’ and believe what you say of it, but have never read it. Do you know Johnson's ‘Rasselas?’ Just read it, and tell me what you think of it.”
I promised to do so.
“In Lord Byron,” said I, “I frequently find passages which merely bring objects before us, without affecting our feelings otherwise than the drawing of a good painter. ‘Don Juan’ is, especially, rich in such passages.”
“Yes,” said Goethe, “here Lord Byron was great; his pictures have an air of reality, as lightly thrown off as if they were improvised. I know but little of ‘Don Juan,’ but I remember passages from his other poems, especially sea scenes, with a sail peeping out here and there, which are quite invaluable, for they make us seem to feel the sea-breeze blowing.”
“In his ‘Don Juan,’” said I, “I have particularly admired the representation of London, which his careless verses bring before our very eyes. He is not very scrupulous whether an object is poetical or not; but he seizes and uses all just as they come before him, down to the wigs in the haircutter's window, and the men who fill the street-lamps with oil.”
“Our German æsthetical people,” said Goethe, “are always talking about poetical and unpoetical objects; and, in one respect, they are not quite wrong; yet, at bottom, no real object is unpoetical, if the poet knows how to use it properly.”
“True,” said I; “and I wish this view were adopted as a general maxim.”
We then spoke of the “Two Foscari,” and I remarked that Byron drew excellent women.
“His women,” said Goethe, “are good. Indeed, this is the only vase into which we moderns can pour our ideality; nothing can be done with the men. Homer has got all beforehand in Achilles and Ulysses, the bravest and the most prudent.”
“There is something terrible in the ‘Foscari,’” I continued, “on account of the frequent recurrence of the rack. One can hardly conceive how Lord Byron could dwell so long on this torturing subject, for the sake of the piece.”
“That sort of thing,” said Goethe, “was Byron's element; he was always a self-tormentor; and hence such subjects were his darling theme, as you see in all his works, scarce one of which has a cheerful subject. But the execution of the ‘Foscari’ is worthy of great praise—is it not?”
“Admirable!” said I; “every word is strong, significant, and subservient to the aim; indeed, generally speaking, I have hitherto found no weak lines in Byron. I always fancy I see him issuing from the sea-waves, fresh, and full of creative power. The more I read him, the more I admire the greatness of his talent; and I think you were quite right to present him with that immortal monument of love in ‘Helena.’”
“I could not,” said Goethe, “make use of any man as the representative of the modern poetical era except him, who undoubtedly is to be regarded as the greatest genius of our century. Again, Byron is neither antique nor romantic, but like the present day itself. This was the sort of man I required. Then he suited me on account of his unsatisfied nature and his warlike tendency, which led to his death at Missolonghi. A treatise upon Byron would be neither convenient nor advisable; but I shall not fail to pay him honour and to point him out at proper times.”
Goethe spoke further of “Helena” now it had again become a subject of discourse. “I at first intended a very different close,” said he. “I modified it in various ways, and once very well, but I will not tell you how. Then this conclusion with Lord Byron and Missolonghi was suggested to me by the events of the day, and I gave up all the rest. You have observed the character of the chorus is quite destroyed by the mourning song: until this time it has remained thoroughly antique, or has never belied its girlish nature; but here of a sudden it becomes nobly reflecting, and says things such as it has never thought or could think.
“Certainly,” said I, “I remarked it; but, since I have seen Rubens's landscape with the double shadow, and have got an insight into the idea of fiction, such things do not disturb me. These little inconsistencies are of no consequence, if by their means a higher degree of beauty is obtained. The song had to be sung, somehow or other; and as there was no other chorus present, the girls were forced to sing it.”
“I wonder,” said Goethe, laughing, “what the German critics will say? Will they have freedom and boldness enough to get over this? Understanding will be in the way of the French; they will not consider that the imagination has its own laws, to which the understanding cannot, and should not, penetrate.
“If imagination did not originate things which must ever be problems to the understanding, there would be but little for the imagination to do. It is this which separates poetry from prose; in which latter understanding always is, and always should be, at home.”
I was pleased with this important remark, which I treasured up. I now took leave, for it was ten o'clock. We had been sitting without candles; the clear summer evening shining from the north over the Ettersberg.
Mon. evening, July 9.
I found Goethe alone, examining the plaster casts which had been taken from the Stosch cabinet. “My Berlin friends,” said he, “have had the kindness to send me this whole collection to look at. I am already acquainted with most of these fine things; but now I see them in the instructive arrangement of Winckelmann. I use his description, and consult him in cases where I myself am doubtful.”
We had not long talked before the Chancellor came in and joined us. He told us the news from the public papers, and, among other things, the story of a keeper of a menagerie, who, out of a longing for lion's flesh, had killed a lion, and dressed a large piece of him.
“I wonder,” said Goethe, “he did not rather try an ape; that would have been a tender, relishing morsel.”
We talked of the ugliness of these beasts, remarking that they were the more unpleasant the more they were like men.
“I do not understand,” said the Chancellor, “how princes can keep these animals near them, and, indeed, take pleasure in them.”
“Princes,” said Goethe, “are so much tormented by disagreeable men, that they regard these more disagreeable animals as a means of balancing the other unpleasant impressions. We common people naturally dislike apes and the screaming of parrots, because we see them in circumstances for which they were not made. If we could ride upon elephants among palm-trees, we should there find apes and parroquets quite in their place, perhaps pleasant. But, as I said, princes are right to drive away one repulsive thing with something still more repulsive.
“On this point,” said he, “a scrap of verse occurs to me, which perhaps you do not remember:—
If men should ever beasts become,
Bring only brutes into your room,
And less disgust you'll surely feel:
We all are Adam's children still.
The Chancellor turned the conversation on the present state of the opposition, and the ministerial party at Paris, repeating, almost word for word, a powerful speech, which an extremely bold democrat had made against the minister, in defending himself before a court of justice. We had an opportunity once more to marvel at the happy memory of the Chancellor. There was much conversation upon this subject, and especially upon the censure of the press, between Goethe and the Chancellor; the theme proved fertile, Goethe showing himself, as usual, a mild aristocrat, and his friend, as usual, apparently taking his ground on the side of the people.
“I have no fears for the French,” said Goethe; “they stand upon such a height from a world-historical point of view, that their mind cannot by any means be suppressed. The law restraining the press, can have only a beneficial effect, especially as its limitations concern nothing essential, but are only against personalities. An opposition which has no bounds is a flat affair, while limits sharpen its wits, and this is a great advantage. To speak out an opinion directly and coarsely is only excusable when one is perfectly right; but a party, for the very reason that it is a party, cannot be wholly in the right; therefore the indirect method in which the French have ever been great models is the best. I say to my servant plainly, ‘Hans, pull off my boots,’ and he understands; but if I am with a friend, and wish the service from him, I must not speak so bluntly, but must find some pleasant, friendly way, to ask him to perform this kind office. This necessity excites my mind; and, for the same reason as I have said, I like some restraint upon the press. The French have always had the reputation of being the most spirituel of nations, and they ought to preserve it. We Germans speak out our opinions without ceremony, and have not acquired much skill in the indirect mode.
“The parties at Paris would be still greater than they are, if they were more liberal and free, and understood each other better then they do. They stand upon a higher grade, from a world-historical point of view than the English; whose parliament consists of strong opposing powers, which paralyze one another, and where the great penetration of an individual has a difficulty in working its way, as we see by Canning, and the many annoyances which beset that great statesman.”
We rose to go, but Goethe was so full of life that the conversation was continued a while standing. At last he bid us an affectionate farewell, and I accompanied the Chancellor home to his residence. It was a beautiful evening, and we talked much of Goethe as we went along, especially repeating his remark that an unlimited opposition becomes a flat affair.
 An anecdote which follows here is purposely omitted.—Trans.
Sun. July 15.
I went at eight o'clock this evening to see Goethe, whom I found just returned from his garden.
“See what lies there?” said he; “a romance, in three volumes; and by whom, think you? by Manzoni.”
I looked at the books, which were very handsomely bound, and inscribed to Goethe. “Manzoni is industrious,” said I. “Yes, there is movement there,” said Goethe.
“I know nothing of Manzoni,” said I, “except his ode to Napoleon, which I lately read again in your translation, and have admired to a high degree. Each strophe is a picture.”
“You are right,” said Goethe, “the ode is excellent; but do you find any one who speaks of it in Germany? It might as well not have existed, although it is the best poem which has been made upon the subject.”
Goethe continued reading the English newspapers, with which I had found him engaged when I came in. I took up that volume of Carlyle's translation of “German Romance” which contains Musæus and Fouqué. The Englishman, who is intimately acquainted with our literature, had prefixed to every translation a memoir and a criticism of the author. I read that upon Fouqué, and remarked with pleasure that the biography was written with much thought and profundity, and that the critical point of view, from which this favourite author was to be contemplated, was indicated with great understanding, and a tranquil, mild penetration into poetic merits. At one time the clever Englishman compares Fouqué to the voice of a singer, which has no great compass and but few notes, but those few are good and beautifully melodious. To illustrate his meaning further, he takes a simile from ecclesiastical polity, saying that Fouqué does not hold in the poetic church the place of a bishop or dignitary of the first rank, but rather satisfies himself with the duties of a chaplain, and looks very well in this humble station.
While I was reading this, Goethe had gone into the back chamber. He sent his servant, who invited me to come to him there.
“Sit down,” said he, “and let us talk awhile. A new translation of Sophocles has just arrived. It reads well, and seems to be excellent; I will compare it with Solger. Now, what say you to Carlyle?”
I told him what I had been reading upon Fouqué.
“Is not that very good?” said Goethe. “Ay, there are clever people over the sea, who know us and can appreciate us.
“In other departments,” continued Goethe, “there is no lack of good heads even among us Germans. I have been reading in the Berlin Register, the criticism of an historian upon Schlosser, which is very great. It is signed by Heinrich Leo, a person of whom I never heard, but about whom we must inquire. He stands higher than the French, which, from an historical point of view, is saying something. They stick too much to the real, and cannot get the ideal into their heads; the German has this quite at his command. Leo has admirable views upon the castes of India. Much is said of aristocracy and democracy; but the whole affair is simply this: in youth, when we either possess nothing, or know not how to value tranquil possession, we are democrats; but, when in a long life we have acquired property, we wish not only to be secure of it ourselves, but also that our children and grandchildren shall be secure of inheriting it, and quietly enjoying it. Therefore, in old age, we are always aristocrats, to whatever opinions we may have been inclined in youth. Leo speaks with a great deal of thought upon this point.
“We are weakest in the æsthetic department, and may wait long before we meet such a man as Carlyle. It is pleasant to see that intercourse is now so close between the French, English, and Germans, that we shall be able to correct one another. This is the greatest use of a world-literature, which will show itself more and more.
“Carlyle has written a life of Schiller, and judged him as it would be difficult for a German to judge him. On the other hand, we are clear about Shakspeare and Byron, and can perhaps, appreciate their merits better than the English themselves.”
Wed., July 18.
“I must announce to you,” was Goethe's first salutation at dinner, “that Manzoni's novel soars far above all that we know of the kind. I need say to you nothing more, except that the interior life—all that comes from the soul of the poet, is absolutely perfect; and that the outward—the delineation of localities, and the like, is in no way inferior. That is saying something.” I was astonished and pleased to hear this. “The impression in reading,” continued Goethe, “is such, that we are constantly passing from emotion to admiration, and again from admiration to emotion; so that we are always subject to one of those great influences; higher than this, I think, one cannot go. In this novel we have first seen what Manzoni is. Here his perfect interior is exhibited, which he had no opportunity to display in his dramatic works. I will now read the best novel by Sir Walter Scott,—perhaps Waverley, which I do not yet know,—and I shall see how Manzoni will come out in comparison with this great English writer.
“Manzoni's internal culture here appears so high, that scarcely anything can approach it. It satisfies us like perfectly ripe fruit. Then, in his treatment and exhibition of details, he is as clear as the Italian sky itself.”
“Has he any marks of sentimentality?” said I.
“None at all,” replied Goethe; “he has sentiment, but is perfectly free from sentimentality; his feeling for every situation is manly and genuine; but I will say no more to-day. I am still in the first volume; soon you shall hear more.”
Sat., July 21.
When I came into Goethe's room this evening, I found him reading Manzoni's novel.
“I am in the third volume already,” said he, as he laid aside the book, “and am thus getting many new thoughts. You know Aristotle says of tragedy, ‘It must excite fear, if it is to be good.’ This is true, no only of tragedy, but of many other sorts of poetry. You find it in my ‘Gott und die Bayadere.’ You find it in very good comedy, even in the ‘Sieben Mädchen in Uniform’ (Seven Girls in Uniform), as we do not know how the joke will turn out for the dear creatures.
“This fear may be of two sorts; it may exist in the shape of alarm (Angst), or in that of uneasiness (Bangigkeit). The latter feeling is awakened when we see a moral evil threatening, and gradually overshadowing, the personages, as, for instance, in the ‘Elective Affinities;’ but alarm is awakened, in reader or spectator, when the personages are threatened with physical danger, as, for instance, in the ‘Galley Slave,’ and in ‘Der Freyschütz;’—nay, in the scene of the Wolf's-glen, not only alarm, but a sense of annihilation, is awakened in the spectators. Now, Manzoni makes use of this alarm with wonderful felicity, by resolving it into emotion, and thus leading us to admiration. The feeling of alarm is necessarily of a material character, and will be excited in every reader; but that of admiration is excited by a recognition of the writer's skill, and only the connoisseur will be blessed with this feeling. What say you to these æsthetics of mine? If I were younger, I would write something according to this theory, though perhaps not so extensive a work as this of Manzoni.
“I am now really curious to know what the gentlemen of the ‘Globe’ will say to this novel. They are clever enough to perceive its excellencies; and the whole tendency of the work is so much grist to the mill of these liberals, although Manzoni has shown himself very moderate. Nevertheless, the French seldom receive a work with such pure kindliness as we; they cannot readily adapt themselves to the author's point of view, but, even in the best, always find something which is not to their mind, and which the author should have done otherwise.”
Goethe then described to me some parts of the novel, in order to show me in what spirit it was written.
“There are four things,” said he, “which have contributed especially to the excellence of Manzoni's works. First, he is an excellent historian, and consequently gives his inventions a depth and dignity which raise them far above what are commonly called novels. Secondly, the Catholic religion is favourable to him, giving him many poetical relations, which he could not have had as a Protestant. Thirdly, it is to the advantage of the book that the author has suffered much in revolutionary collisions, which, if they did not affect him, have wounded his friends, and sometimes ruined them. Fourthly, it is in favour of this novel that the scene is laid in the charming country near Lake Como, which has been stamped on the poet's mind, from youth upwards, and which he therefore knows by heart. Hence arises also that distinguishing merit of the work—its distinctness and wonderful accuracy in describing localities.”
Mon., 23rd July.
When I asked for Goethe, about eight o'clock this evening, I heard that he had not yet returned from the garden. I therefore went to meet him, and found him in the park, sitting on a bench in the shade of the lindens; his grandson, Wolfgang, at his side. He seemed glad to see me, and motioned me to sit down by him. We had no sooner exchanged salutations, than the conversation again turned upon Manzoni.
“I told you lately,” Goethe began, “that the historian had been of great use to the port in this novel; but now, in the third volume, I find that the historian hurts the poet, for Signor Manzoni throws off at once the poet's mantle, and stands for some time as a naked historian. This happens in his descriptions of war, famine, and pestilence—things which are repulsive, and are now made insufferable by the circumstantial details of a dry chronicle.
“The German translator must seek to avoid this fault; he must get rid of a great part of the war and famine, and two-thirds of the plague, so as only to leave what is necessary to carry on the action. If Manzoni had had at his side a friendly adviser, he might easily have shunned this fault; but, as a historian, he had too great a respect for reality. This gives him trouble even in his dramatic works, where, however, he helps himself through by adding the superfluous historical matter in the shape of notes. Here, however, he could not get rid of his historical furniture in the same manner. This is very remarkable. Nevertheless, as soon as the persons of the romance reappear, the poet stands once more before us in all his glory, and compels us to our accustomed admiration.”
We rose and directed our steps towards the house.
“You will hardly understand,” said Goethe, “how a poet like Manzoni, capable of such admirable compositions, could even for a moment sin against poetry. Yet the cause is simple—it is this: Manzoni, like Schiller, was born a poet; but our times are so bad, that the poet can find no nature fit for his use in the human life which surrounds him. To build himself up, Schiller seized on two great subjects, philosophy and history; Manzoni, on history alone. Schiller's ‘Wallenstein’ is so great, that there is nothing else like it of the same sort; yet you will find that even these two powerful helpers—history and philosophy—have injured various parts of the work, and hinder a purely poetical success. And so Manzoni suffers from too great a load of history.”
“Your excellency,” said I, “speaks great things, and I am happy in hearing you.”
“Manzoni,” said Goethe, “helps us to good thoughts.”
He was proceeding with his remarks, when the Chancellor met us at the gate of Goethe's house-garden, and the conversation was then interrupted. He joined us as a welcome friend, and we accompanied Goethe up the little stairs, through the chamber of busts, into the long saloon, where the curtains were let down, and two lights were burning on the table near the window. We sat down by the table, and Goethe and the Chancellor talked upon subjects of another kind.
(Sup.) Wed., July 25.
Goethe has lately received a letter from Walter Scott, which has given him great pleasure. He showed it to me to-day, and as the English handwriting was very illegible to him, he begged me to translate the contents to him. It appears that Goethe had first written to the renowned English poet, and that this letter was in reply.
“I feel myself highly honoured,” writes Walter Scott, “that any of my productions should have been so fortunate as to attract the attention of Goethe, to the number of whose admirers I have belonged since the year 1798, when, notwithstanding my slight knowledge of the German language, I was bold enough to translate into English the ‘Götz von Berlichingen.’ In this youthful undertaking, I had quite forgotten that it is not enough to feel the beauty of a work of genius, but that one must also thoroughly understand the language in which it is written before one can succeed in making such beauty apparent to others. Nevertheless, I still set some value on that youthful effort, because it at least shows that I knew how to choose a subject which was worthy of admiration.
“I have often heard of you, through my son-in-law, Lockhart, a young man of literary eminence, who, some years before he became connected with my family, had the honour of being introduced to the father of German literature. It is impossible that you should recollect every individual of the great number of those who feel themselves urged to pay you their respects; but I believe no one is more heartily devoted to you than that young member of my family.
“My friend Sir John Hope, of Pinkie, has lately had the honour of seeing you, and I hoped to write to you by him; I afterwards took this liberty through two of his relations, who designed to travel over Germany; but illness prevented them putting their project into execution, so that after two or three months my letter returned to me. I also, at an earlier period, dared to seek Goethe's acquaintance, and that before the flattering notice which he has been so kind as to take of me.
“It is highly gratifying to all admirers of genius to know that one of the greatest European models enjoys a fortunate and honourable retreat, at an age when he sees himself respected in so remarkable a manner. Poor Lord Byron's destiny did not grant him so fortunate a lot, since it carried him off in the prime of life, and cut short all that had been hoped and expected from him. He esteemed himself fortunate in the honour which you paid him, and felt how much he was indebted to a poet to whom all the writers of the present generation owe so much, that they feel themselves bound to look up to him with childlike veneration.
“I have taken the liberty of requesting MM. Treuttel and Würtz to send to you my attempt at a biography of that remarkable man who for so many years had so terrible an influence in the world which he governed. Besides, I do not know whether I am not under some obligation to him, insasmuch as he made me carry arms for 12 years, during which time I served in a corps of our militia, and, in spite of a long standing lameness, became a good horseman, huntsman, and shot. These good qualities have latterly a little forsaken me; rheumatism, that sad torment of our northern climate, having affected my limbs. However, I do not complain; for I see my sons join in the pleasures of the chase, since I have been obliged to give them up.
“My eldest son has a squadron of hussars, which is a great deal for a young man of five-and-twenty. My younger son has lately taken the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Oxford, and is now going to spend some months at home, before he enters into the world. As it has pleased God to take their mother from me, my youngest daughter manages my domestic affairs. My eldest daughter is married, and has a family of her own.
“This is the domestic condition of a man concerning whom you have so kindly inquired. For the rest, I possess enough to live quite as I wish, notwithstanding some very heavy losses. I inhabit a stately old mansion, where every friend of Goethe's will at all times be welcome. The hall is filled with armour, which would even have suited Jaxthausen; a large bloodhound guards the entrance.
“I have, however, forgotten him who contrived that people should not forget him while alive. I hope you will pardon the faults of the work, whilst you consider that the author was animated by the wish to treat the memory of this extraordinary man as sincerely as his island prejudices would allow.
“As this opportunity of writing to you has suddenly and accidentally been afforded me by a traveller, and admits of no delay, I have not time to say more, excepting that I wish you a continuance of good health and repose, and subscribe myself, with the most sincere and deepest esteem, WALTER SCOTT.
“Edinburgh, July 9, 1827.”
Goethe was, as I said, delighted with this letter. He was, however, of opinion that it paid him so much respect that he must put a great deal to the account of the courtesy of a man of rank and refined cultivation.
He then mentioned the good and affectionate manner in which Walter Scott spoke of his family connections, which pleased him highly, as a sign of brotherly confidence.
“I am really quite impatient,” continued he, “for his ‘Life of Napoleon,’ which he announces to me. I hear so many contradictions and vehement protestations concerning the book, that I am already certain it will, in any case, be very remarkable.”
I asked about Lockhart, and whether he still recollected him.
“Perfectly well!” returned Goethe. “His personal appearance makes so decided an impression that one cannot easily forget him. From all I hear from Englishmen, and from my daughter-in-law, he must be a young man from whom great things in literature are to be expected.
“I almost wonder that Walter Scott does not say a word about Carlyle, who has so decided a German tendency that he must certainly be known to him.
“It is admirable in Carlyle that, in his judgment of our German authors, he has especially in view the mental and moral core as that which is really influential. Carlyle is a moral force of great importance. There is in him much for the future, and we cannot foresee what he will produce and effect.”
Mon., Sep. 24.
I went with Goethe to Berka. We drove off soon after eight o'clock; the morning was very beautiful. The road is up-hill at first, and, as there was nothing in the scenery worth looking at, Goethe talked on literary subjects. A well-known German poet had lately passed through Weimar, and shown Goethe his album.
“You cannot imagine what stuff it contains,” said Goethe. “All the poets write as if they were ill, and the whole world were a lazaretto. They all speak of the woe and the misery of this earth, and of the joys of a hereafter; all are discontented, and one draws the other into a state of still greater discontent. This is a real abuse of poetry, which was given to us to hide the little discords of life, and to make man contented with the world and his condition. But the present generation is afraid of all such strength, and only feels poetical when it has weakness to deal with.
“I have hit on a good word,” continued Goethe, “to tease these gentlemen. I will call their poetry ‘Lazaretto-poetry,’ and I will give the name of Tyrtæan-poetry to that which not only sings war-songs, but also arms men with courage to undergo the conflicts of life.”
Goethe's words received my full assent.
At the bottom of the carriage lay a basket made of rushes, with two handles, which attracted my attention. “I brought it with me from Marienbad,” said Goethe, “where there are baskets of the sort of every variety of size, and I am so accustomed to it that I cannot travel without it. You see when it is empty it folds up, and occupies but little room, but when it is full it stretches out very wide, and holds more than you would imagine. It is soft and pliant, and at the same time so tough and strong, that the heaviest things can be carried in it.”
“It has a very picturesque and even an antique appearance,” said I.
“You are right,” said Goethe; “it does approach the antique character, since it is not only as fit for its purpose as possible; but it has the simplest and most pleasing form, so that we may say it stands on the highest point of perfection. During my mineralogical excursions in the Bohemian mountains, I have found it especially serviceable; now, it contains our breakfast. If I had a hammer, I should not lack an opportunity to-day to knock off a piece here and there, and bring home the basket full of stones.”
We had now reached the heights, and had a free prospect towards the hills behind which Berka lies. A little to the left we saw into the valley which leads to Hetschburg, and where, on the other side of the Ilm, is a hill, which now turned towards us its shadowy side, and, on account of the vapours of the valley which hovered before it, seemed blue to my eye. I looked at the same spot through my glass, and the blue was obviously diminished. I observed this to Goethe. “Thus you see,” said I, “what a great part the subject plays with these purely objective colours; a weak eye increases the density, while a sharpened one drives it away, or, at any rate, makes it diminish.”
“Your remark is perfectly just,” said Goethe; “a good telescope dispels the blue tint of the most distant mountains. The subject is, in all the phenomena, far more important than is supposed. Even Wieland knew this very well, for he was wont to say, ‘One could easily amuse people, if they were only amusable.’”
We laughed at the pleasant meaning of these words. We had, in the meanwhile, descended the little valley where the road passes over a roofed wooden bridge, under which the rain torrents, which flow down to Hetschburg, had made a channel, which was now dry. Highway labourers were employed in setting up against the bridge some reddish sandstones, which attracted Goethe's attention. At about a stone's throw over the bridge, where the road goes gradually up the hill which separates the traveller from Berka, Goethe bade the coachman stop.
“We will get out here,” said he, “and see whether we shall not relish a little breakfast in the open air.”
We got out and looked about us. The servant spread a napkin upon a four-cornered pile of stones, such as usually lie by the road-side, and brought the osier basket from the carriage, out of which he took roast partridges, new wheaten rolls, and pickled cucumbers. Goethe cut a partridge, and gave me half; I ate, standing up and walking about. Goethe had seated himself on the corner of a heap of stones. The coldness of the stones, on which the night-dew was still resting, must hurt him, I thought, and I expressed my anxiety. Goethe, however, assured me it would not hurt him at all, and then I felt quite tranquil, regarding it as a new token of the inward strength he must feel. In the meanwhile, the servant had brought a bottle of wine from the carriage, and filled for us.
“Our friend Schütze,” said Goethe, “is quite right to fly to the country every week; we will take pattern by him, and if this fine weather continues for a while, this shall not be our last excursion.”
I was rejoiced by this assurance.
I passed, afterwards, with Goethe, a most interesting day, partly in Berka, partly in Tonndorf. He was inexhaustible in intellectual communications, and talked much of the second part of “Faust,” on which he was just beginning to work in earnest; I therefore lament so much the more, that nothing is noted down in my journal beyond this introduction.
(Sup.) Wed., Sep. 26.
Goethe had invited me to take a drive this morning to the Hottelstedt Ecke, the most western summit of the Ettersberg, and thence to the Ettersberg hunting lodge. The day was very fine, and we drove early out of the Jacob's gate. Behind Lützendorf, where the journey was up-hill, and we could only drive leisurely, we had an opportunity for various observations. Goethe observed in the hedges a number of birds, and asked me if they were larks. Thou great and beloved one, thought I, though thou hast investigated nature as few others have, in ornithology thou appearest a mere child.
“These are yellow-hammers and sparrows,” returned I, “and some late grasmücken, which, after moulting, come from the thicket of the Ettersberg down to the gardens and fields, and prepare for their migration; but there are no larks. It is not in the nature of larks to settle upon bushes. The field or sky-larks, rise upwards into the air, and dart down again to the earth; they also, in the autumn, fly through the air in flocks, and settle themselves somewhere in a stubble-field; but they do not settle upon hedges and bushes. The tree-lark, on the contrary, lives on the summit of high trees, whence it rises singing into the air, and then drops down again to its tree-top. There is still another lark, which is found in woodland glades, and which has a soft, flute-like, but rather melancholy, song. It is not found on the Ettersberg, which is too lively, and too near the dwellings of man; neither does it perch upon bushes.”
“Humph!” said Goethe, “you appear to be no novice in these things.”
“I have pursued the subject with ardour from my youth,” returned I, “and have always had my eyes and ears open to it. In the whole wood of the Ettersberg, there are few spots through which I have not repeatedly rambled. Now, when I hear any note, I can venture to say from what bird it proceeds. I have also gone so far that, if any one brings me a bird that has lost its feathers in captivity through bad treatment, I will undertake very soon to restore it to health and full feather.”
“That certainly shows,” returned Goethe, “that you have already made much progress in these matters; I would advise you to pursue the study earnestly; it must, with your decided inclination, lead to very good results. But tell me something about moulting. You just now spoke of grasmücken, which, after the completion of their moulting, come down into the fields from the thickets of the Ettersberg. Is moulting, then, confined to a certain time, and do all birds moult at once?”
“Most birds,” returned I, “commence at the end of the breeding season; that is to say, as soon as the young of the last brood are so far advanced as to be able to take care of themselves. But now the question is, whether the bird has time to moult between this period and that of its migration? If it has, it moults, and migrates with fresh feathers; but if it has not, it migrates with its old feathers, and moults later, in the warm south. Birds do not all return to us at the same time in the spring, neither do they migrate at the same time in the autumn. And this proceeds from the circumstance that some are less affected by cold and rough weather, and can bear it better than others. But a bird which comes to us early migrates late, and a bird which comes to us late, migrates early.
“Thus, even amongst the grasmücken, though they belong to one class, there is a great difference. The chattering grasmücke, or the müllerchen, are heard at the end of March; a fortnight after comes the black-headed one, or the monk (Mönch); then, a week afterwards, the nightingale; and quite at the end of April, or the beginning of May, the grey one. All these birds moult in August with us, as well as the young of the first brood; wherefore, at the end of August, young monks are caught, which have already black heads. The young of the last brood, however, migrate with their first feathers, and moult later in the southern countries, for which reason young monks are caught at the beginning of September, especially young male birds, which have red heads like their mother.”
“Is, then,” asked Goethe, “the grey grasmücke the latest bird that returns to us, or are there others later?”
“The so-called yellow spottvogel (mocking-bird), and the magnificent golden pirol (yellow thrush),” returned I, “do not appear till about Whitsuntide. Both migrate in the middle of August, after the breeding season, and moult, with their young, in the south. If they are kept in cages, they moult with us in the winter; on which account they are very difficult to rear. They require much warmth, yet if we hang them near the stove they pine from the want of fresh air; while if, on the contrary, we place them near the window, they pine in the cold of the long nights.”
“It is supposed, then,” said Goethe, “that moulting is a disease, or at least is attended by bodily weakness.”
“I would not say that,” said I. “It is a state of increased productiveness, which is gone through without difficulty in the open air, and with somewhat strong birds perfectly well in a room. I have had grasmücken which have not ceased singing during their moulting, a sign that they were thoroughly well. But if a bird kept in a room appears at all sickly during its moulting, it may be concluded that it has not been properly treated, with respect either to food, water, or fresh air. If, in the course of time, a bird kept in a room has grown so weak from want of air and freedom, that it has not the productive power to moult, and if it is then taken into the fruitful, fresh air, the moulting will go on as well as possible. With a bird at liberty, on the other hand, it passes off so gently and gradually that it is scarcely felt.”
“But, still, you just now seemed to hint,” added Goethe, “that during their moulting the grasmücken retire into the depths of the forest.”
“During that time,” returned I, “they certainly need shelter; and in this case nature proceeds with such wisdom and moderation, that a bird during its moulting never loses so many feathers at once as to render it incapable of flying sufficiently to reach its food. But it may still happen that it loses, for instance, at the same time the fourth, fifth, and sixth principal feathers of the left wing, and the fourth, fifth, and sixth feathers of the right one, so that, although it can still fly very well, it cannot fly well enough to escape from the pursuing birds of prey—especially the swift and active tree falcon—and then a bushy thicket is very useful.”
“Good,” returned Goethe. “But,” continued he, “does the moulting take place in both wings equally and symmetrically?”
“As far as my observation extends, quite so,” returned I; “and that is very beneficial. For if a bird lost, for instance, three principal feathers from the left wing and not so many from the right, the wings would be without equilibrium, and the bird would have no proper control over itself or its movements. It would be like a ship, the sails of which are too heavy on one side, and too light on the other.”
“I see,” returned Goethe, “we may penetrate into nature on whatever side we please, and always come to some wisdom.”
We were, meantime, continually going up-hill, and were now on the edge of a pine wood. We came to a place where some stones had been broken, and lay in a heap. Goethe ordered the coachman to stop, and begged me to alight and see if I could discover any petrifactions. I found some shells, and also some broken ammonites, which I handed to him when I again took my seat. We drove on.
“Always the old story,” said Goethe; “always the old bed of the sea! When one looks down from this height upon Weimar, and upon the numerous villages around, it appears wonderful when one thinks that there was a time when whales sported in the broad valley below. And yet there was such a time—at least it is highly probable. But the mew that flew over the sea which then covered this mountain certainly never thought that we two should drive here to-day. And who knows whether, in some thousands of years, the mew may not again fly over this mountain.”
We were now upon the height, and drove quickly along. On our right were oaks, beeches, and other leafy trees: Weimar was behind us, but out of sight. We had reached the western height;—the broad valley of the Unstrut with many villages and small towns, lay before us, in the clearest morning sun.
“This is a good resting-place,” said Goethe, as he ordered the coachman to stop. “I think we may as well try how a little breakfast would suit us in this good air.”
We alighted, and walked up and down for a few minutes upon the dry earth, at the foot of some half-grown oaks, stunted by many storms, whilst Frederick unpacked the breakfast we had brought with us, and spread it upon a turfy hillock. The view from this spot, in the clear morning light of the autumn sun, was truly magnificent. On the south and south-west we saw the whole range of the Thüringer-wald mountains; on the west, beyond Erfut, the towering Castle Gotha and the Inselsberg; farther north, the mountains behind Langensalza and Mühlhausen, until the view was bounded on the north by the blue Hartz Mountains. I thought of the verses—
Far, high, splendid the view,
Around into life!
From mountain to mountain,
Soars the eternal spirit,
Presaging endless life.
We seated ourselves with our backs against the oak; so that, during breakfast, we had constantly before us the extensive view over half Thüringia. In the meanwhile we demolished a brace of roast partridges, with new white bread, and drank a flask of very good wine, out of a cup of pure gold which Goethe always carried with him on such excursions in a yellow leather case.
“I have very often been in this spot,” said he, “and of late years I have often thought it would be the last time that I should look down hence on the kingdoms of the world, and their glories; but it has happened still once again, and I hope that even this is not the last time that we shall both spend a pleasant day here. We will, for the future, often come hither. One shrinks in the narrow confinement of the house. Here one feels great and free, as the great nature which one has before one's eyes, and as one ought, properly, always to be.”
“From this spot,” continued Goethe, “I look down upon many points which are bound up with the richest recollections of a long life. What have I not, in my youth, gone through yonder in the mountains of Ilmenau? Then, how many adventures have I had down below there, in dear Erfut! In early times, too, I often liked to be at Gotha; but for many years I have scarcely been there at all.”
“Since I have been in Weimar,” remarked I, “I do not recollect you going there.”
“There is a reason for that,” returned Goethe, laughing, “I am not in the best favour there. I will tell you the story. When the mother of the present ruler was in the bloom of youth, I was very often there. I was sitting one evening alone with her at the tea-table, when the two princes, of ten and twelve years of age, two pretty, fair-haired boys, burst in and came to the table. With great audacity, I put a hand through the hair of each prince, with the words—‘Now, you floury heads, what do you want?’ The boys stared in the greatest astonishment at my boldness, and they have never forgotten the affair! I will not boast of it now; but so it was, and it lay deep in my nature. I never had much respect for mere princely rank as such, when there was not behind it sound human nature, and sound human worth. Nay, I felt so satisfied with myself, that if I had been made a prince I should not have thought the change so very remarkable. When the diploma of nobility was given me, many thought that I should feel elevated by it; but, between ourselves, it was nothing to me—really nothing! We Frankfort patricians always considered ourselves equal to the nobility; and when I held the diploma in my hands I had nothing more, in my own opinion, than I had possessed long ago.”
We took another good draught from the golden cup, and then drove round the northern side of the Ettersberg to the Ettersberg hunting-lodge. Goethe had all the chambers opened, which were hung with beautiful tapestry and pictures. He told me that Schiller had for some time inhabited the chamber at the western angle of the first story.
“In early times,” continued he, “we have here spent many a good day, and wasted many a good day. We were all young and wanton: in the summer we had impromptu comedies, and in the winter many a dance and sledge-race by torch-light.”
We returned into the open air, and Goethe led me, in a westerly direction, along a footpath into the wood.
“I will show you the beech,” said he, “on which we cut our names fifty years ago. But how it has altered, and how everything has grown! That must be the tree; you see that it is still in the fullest vigour. Even our names are still to be traced; but they are so confused and distorted that they are scarcely to be made out. This beech then stood upon a dry, open spot. It was quite sunny and pleasant around it, and here, in the beautiful summer evenings, we played our impromptu farces. Now the spot is damp and cheerless. What were then only low bushes have now grown up into shady trees, so that one can scarcely distinguish in the thicket the magnificent beech of one's youth.”
We returned to the lodge, and after we had seen the tolerably rich collection of arms, we drove back to Weimar.
(Sup.) Thurs., Sept. 27.
This afternoon spent a short time with Goethe, when I made the acquaintance of Privy-councillor Streckfuss, of Berlin, who had taken a drive with him in the forenoon, and had then stayed to dinner. When Streckfuss went, I accompanied him, and took a walk through the park. On my return across the market-place, I met the Chancellor and Raupach, with whom I went into the “Elephant.” In the evening I returned to Goethe, who talked with me about a new number of “Kunst und Alterthum” (Art and Antiquity), and also about a dozen pencil-drawings, in which the brothers Riepenhausen endeavoured to represent the painting of Polygnotus, in the Lesche at Delphi, according to the description of Pausanias, an attempt which Goethe could not sufficiently praise.
(Sup.) Mon., Oct. 1.
At the theatre, “Das Bild” (The Picture), by Houwald. I saw two acts, and then went to Goethe, who read to me the second scene of his new Faust.
“In the emperor,” said he, “I have endeavoured to represent a prince who has all the necessary qualities for losing his land, and at last succeeds in so doing.
“He does not concern himself about the welfare of his kingdom and his subjects; he only thinks of himself, and how he can amuse himself from day to day with something new. The land is without law and justice; the judge himself is on the side of the criminals; the most atrocious crimes are committed without check and with impunity. The army is without pay, without discipline, and roams about plundering, in order to provide its own pay, and help itself as it can. The state treasury is without money, and without hope of replenishment. In the emperor's own household, things are no better; there is scarcity both in kitchen and cellar. The marshal, who cannot devise means how to get on from day to day, is already in the hands of usurious Jews, to whom everything is pawned, so that bread already eaten comes to the emperor's table.
“The councillor of state wishes to remonstrate with his Majesty upon all these evils, and advises as to their remedy; but the gracious sovereign is very unwilling to lend his sublime ear to anything so disagreeable; he prefers amusing himself. Here now is the true element for Mephisto, who quickly supplants the former fool, and is at once at the side of the emperor as new fool and counsellor.”
Goethe read the scene and the interspersed murmuring of the crowd excellently, and I had a very pleasant evening.
(Sup.) Sun., Oct. 7.
This morning, the weather being very beautiful, I found myself in the chariot with Goethe before eight o'clock, and on the road to Jena, where he intended to stay until the next evening.
Having arrived there early we first called at the botanical garden, where Goethe surveyed all the shrubs and plants, and found them all thriving and in beautiful order. We also looked over the mineralogical cabinets, and some other collections of natural objects, and then drove to Herr von Knebel's, who expected us to dinner.
Knebel, who had attained a great age, almost stumbled towards Goethe at the door, to fold him in his arms. At dinner all were very lively and hearty, although there was no conversation of any importance. The two old friends were quite enough occupied with the pleasure of their friendly meeting. After dinner we took a drive in a southerly direction, up the Saale. I had known this charming region in earlier times, but everything appeared as fresh as if I had never seen it before.
When we returned into the streets of Jena, Goethe gave orders to drive along a brook, and to stop at a house the external appearance of which was not very striking.
“This was the dwelling of Voss,” said he, “and I will conduct you on this classic ground.” We walked through the house, and entered the garden. There were but few traces of flowers and the finer species of culture; we walked on the turf completely under fruit trees.
“This was something for Ernestine,” said Goethe, “who could not even here forget her excellent Eutiner apples, which she praised to me as incomparable. But they were the apples of her childhood, there was the charm! I have spent many pleasant evenings here with Voss and his excellent Ernestine, and I still like to think of the old time. Such a man as Voss will not soon come again. There are few who have had such influence as he upon the higher German culture. With him everything was sound and solid; and on this account he had no artificial, but a purely natural relation to the Greeks, which produced the noblest fruits for us. One who is so penetrated with his worth as I am scarcely knows how to honour his memory sufficiently.”
It was by this time about six o'clock, and Goethe considered it time to go to our night quarters, which he had bespoken at the “Bear.”
We were accommodated with a roomy chamber, together with an alcove containing two beds. The sun had not long set—the evening light reposed upon our windows, and it was pleasant to sit for some time without a candle.
Goethe brought the conversation back to Voss. “He was very valuable to me,” said he, “and I would willingly have retained him for the University and myself; but the advantages offered from Heidelberg were too important for us, with our limited means, to be able to outweigh them. I was obliged, with mournful resignation, to let him go. It was, however, fortunate for me at that time,” continued Goethe, “that I had Schiller; for, different as our natures were, our tendencies were still towards one point, which made our connection so intimate that one really could not live without the other.”
Goethe related me some anecdotes of his friend, which appeared to me very characteristic.
“Schiller was, as you may imagine from his high character,” said he, “a decided enemy to all the hollow reverence, and all the vain idolatry, which people paid him, or wished to pay him. When Kotzebue proposed to get up a public demonstration in his house, it was so distasteful to him that he was almost ill with inward disgust. It was also repulsive to him when a stranger was announced. If he were hindered for a moment from seeing him, and made an appointment for four o'clock in the afternoon, it generally happened that at the appointed hour he was ill from mere apprehension. On these occasions he could now and then be very impatient, and sometimes even rude. I was witness of his impetuous conduct toward a foreign surgeon, who entered unannounced to pay him a visit. The poor man, quite put out of countenance, did not know how he could retreat rapidly enough.
“However, as I have said, and as we all know,” continued Goethe, “we were, in spite of the similarity of our tendencies, very different in our natures, and that not merely in mental but also in physical matters. An air that was beneficial to Schiller acted on me like poison. I called on him one day, and as I did not find him at home, and his wife told me that he would soon return, I seated myself at his work-table to note down various matters. I had not been seated long before I felt a strange indisposition steal over me, which gradually increased, until at last I nearly fainted. At first I did not know to what cause I should ascribe this wretched and, to me, unusual state, until I discovered that a dreadful odour issued from a drawer near me. When I opened it, I found to my astonishment that it was full of rotten apples. I immediately went to the window and inhaled the fresh air, by which I felt myself instantly restored. In the mean time his wife had re-entered, and told me that the drawer was always filled with rotten apples, because the scent was beneficial to Schiller, and he could not live or work without it.
“To-morrow morning,” continued Goethe, “I will also show you where Schiller lived in Jena.”
In the mean time lights were brought in; we took a little supper, and afterwards sat for a little time engaged in various conversations and recollections.
I related to Goethe a wonderful dream of my boyish years, which was literally fulfilled the next morning.
“I had,” said I, “brought up three young linnets, to which I devoted my whole heart, and which I loved above all things. They flew freely about my chamber, and came towards me and settled on my hand as soon as I entered at the door. One day at noon, I had the misfortune, that, on my entrance into the chamber, one of the birds flew over me, out of the house—I knew not whither. I sought it the whole afternoon, on all the roofs, and was inconsolable when evening came and I had discovered no traces of it. I went to sleep with sad thoughts in my heart, and towards morning I had the following dream:—Methought I roamed about the neighbouring houses in search of my lost bird. All at once I heard the sound of its voice, and saw it behind the garden of our cottage, seated upon the roof of a neighbour's house. I called to it, and it approached me, moved its wings towards me as if asking for food, but still it could not venture to fly down to my hand. I ran quickly through our garden into my chamber, and returned with a cup of soaked rape seed! I held the favourite food towards it, and it perched upon my hand, when, full of joy, I carried it back into my chamber to the other two.
“With this dream I awoke; and as it was then broad daylight, I quickly put on my clothes, and with the utmost haste ran down through our little garden to the house where I had seen the bird. But how great was my astonishment when the bird was really there! Everything happened literally as I had seen it in the dream. I called the bird, it approached, but it hesitated to fly to my hand. I ran back and brought the food, when it flew upon my hand, and I took it back to the others.”
“This boyish adventure of yours,” said Goethe, “is certainly very remarkable. But there are many such things in nature, though we have not the right key to them. We all walk in mysteries. We are surrounded by an atmosphere of which we do not know what is stirring in it, or how it is connected with our own spirit. So much is certain,—that in particular cases we can put out the feelers of our soul beyond its bodily limits, and that a presentiment, nay, an actual insight into the immediate future, is accorded to it.”
“I have lately experienced something similar,” returned I. “As I was returning from a walk along the Erfurt road, about ten minutes before I reached Weimar, I had the mental impression that a person whom I had not seen, and of whom I had not even thought for a length of time, would meet me at the corner of the theatre. It troubled me to think that this person might meet me, and great was my surprise when, as I was about to turn the corner, this very person actually met me, in the same place which I had seen in my imagination ten minutes before.”
“That is also very wonderful, and more than chance,” returned Goethe. “As I said, we are all groping among mysteries and wonders. Besides, one soul may have a decided influence upon another, merely by means of its silent presence, of which I could relate many instances. It has often happened to me that, when I have been walking with an acquaintance, and have had a living image of something in my mind, he has at once begun to speak of that very thing. I have also known a man who, without saying a word, could suddenly silence a party engaged in cheerful conversation, by the mere power of his mind. Nay, he could also introduce a tone which would make everybody feel uncomfortable. We have all something of electrical and magnetic forces within us, and we put forth, like the magnet itself, an attractive or repulsive power, accordingly as we come in contact with something similar or dissimilar. It is possible, nay, even probable, that if a young girl were, without knowing it, to find herself in a dark chamber with a man who designed to murder her, she would have an uneasy sense of his unknown presence, and that an anguish would come over her, which would drive her from the room to the rest of the household.”
“I know a scene in an opera,” returned I, “in which two lovers, who had long been separated by a great distance, find themselves together in a dark room without knowing it; but they do not remain long together before the magnetic power begins to work! one feels the proximity of the other—they are involuntarily attracted towards each other—and it is not long before the young girl is clasped in the arms of the youth.”
“With lovers,” answered Goethe, “this magnetic power is particularly strong, and acts even at a distance. In my younger days I have experienced cases enough, when, during solitary walks, I have felt a great desire for the company of a beloved girl, and have thought of her till she has really come to meet me. ‘I was so restless in my room,’ she has said, ‘that I could not help coming here.’
“I recollect an instance during the first years of my residence here, where I soon fell in love again. I had taken a long journey, and had returned some days; but, being detained late at night by court affairs, I had not been able to visit my mistress; besides, our mutual affection had already attracted attention, and I was afraid to pay my visits by day, lest I should increase the common talk. On the fourth or fifth evening, however, I could resist no longer, and I was on the road to her, and stood before her house, before I had thought of it. I went softly upstairs, and was upon the point of entering her room, when I heard, by the different voices, that she was not alone. I went down again unnoticed, and was quickly in the dark streets, which at that time were not lighted. In an impassioned and angry mood I roamed about the town in all directions, for about an hour, and passed the house once more, full of passionate thoughts of my beloved. At last I was on the point of returning to my solitary room, when I once more went past her house, and remarked that she had no light. ‘She must have gone out,’ said I to myself, ‘but whither, in this dark night? and where shall I meet her?’ I afterwards went through many streets—I met many people, and was often deceived, inasmuch as I often fancied I saw her form and size; but, on nearer approach invariably found that it was not she. I then firmly believed in a strong mutual influence, and that I could attract her to me by a strong desire. I also believed myself surrounded by invisible beings of a higher order, whom I entreated to direct her steps to me, or mine to her. ‘But what a fool thou art!’ I then said to myself; ‘thou wilt not seek her and go to her again, and yet thou desirest signs and wonders!’
“In the mean time I had gone down the esplanade, and had reached the small house in which Schiller afterwards lived, when it occurred to me to turn back towards the palace, and then go down a little street to the right. I had scarcely taken a hundred steps in this direction, when I saw a female form coming towards me which perfectly resembled her I expected. The street was faintly lighted by the weak rays which now and then shone from a window, and since I had been already often deceived in the course of the evening with an apparent resemblance, I did not feel courage to speak to her in doubt. We passed quite close to each other, so that our arms touched. I stood still and looked about me; she did the same. ‘Is it you?’ said she, and I recognised her beloved voice. ‘At last!’ said I, and was enraptured even to tears. Our hands clasped each other. ‘Now,’ said I, ‘my hopes have not deceived me; I have sought you with the greatest eagerness; my feelings told me that I should certainly find you; now I am happy, and I thank God that my forebodings have proved true.’ ‘But, you wicked one!’ said she, ‘why did you not come? I heard to-day, by chance, that you had been back three days, and I have wept the whole afternoon, because I thought you had forgotten me. Then, an hour ago, I was seized with a longing and uneasiness on your account, such as I cannot describe. There were two female friends with me, whose visit appeared interminable. At last, when they were gone, I involuntarily seized my hat and cloak, and was impelled to go out into the air and darkness, I knew not whither; you were constantly in my mind, and I could not help thinking that I should meet you.’ Whilst she thus spoke truly from her heart, we still held each other's hands, and pressed them, and gave each other to understand that absence had not cooled our love. I accompanied her to her door, and into the house. She went up the dark stairs before me, holding my hand and drawing me after her. My happiness was indescribable; both because I at last saw her again, and also because my belief had not deceived me, and I had not been deluded in my sense of an invisible influence.”
Goethe was in a most amiable mood; I could have listened to him for hours; but he seemed to be gradually growing tired, and so we very soon went to bed in our alcove.
(Sup.) Jena, Mon., Oct. 8.
We arose early. Whilst we were dressing, Goethe related to me a dream of the previous night, in which he imagined himself at Göttingen, where he had various pleasant conversations with the professors of his acquaintance.
We drank a few cups of coffee, and then drove to the building which contains a collection of natural objects. We saw the anatomical cabinet, various skeletons of animals, modern and primeval, as well as skeletons of men of former ages, on which Goethe remarked that their teeth showed them to have been a very moral race. We then drove to the observatory, where Dr. Schrön showed and explained to us the most important instruments. We also examined the adjacent meteorological cabinet with great interest, and Goethe praised Dr. Schrön, on account of the great order which prevailed in all these things.
We then went down into the garden, where Goethe had caused a little breakfast to be laid out upon a stone table in an arbour. “You scarcely know,” said Goethe, “in what a remarkable place we are now seated. Here it was that Schiller dwelt. In this arbour, upon these benches, which are now almost broken, we have often sat at this old stone table, and have exchanged many good and great words. He was then in the thirties, I in the forties; both were full of aspirations, and indeed it was something. Everything passes away; I am no more what I was; but the old earth still remains, and air, water, and land are still the same.
“Afterwards you shall go upstairs with Schrön, who will show you the room in the mansarde, which Schiller occupied.”
In the mean time we relished our breakfast very much in this pleasant air, and on this delightful spot. Schiller was present, at least in our minds; and Goethe devoted to him many kind words of affectionate remembrance.
I then went with Schrön to the mansarde, and enjoyed the magnificent prospect from Schiller's windows. The direction was due south, so that one might see the beautiful stream, interrupted by thickets and windings, flowing along for miles. There was also a wide expanse of sky. One could admirably observe the rising and setting of the planets; and it could not be denied that this locality was very favourable for the conception of the astronomical and astrological part of Wallenstein.
I returned to Goethe, who drove to Hofrath Döbereiner, whom he highly esteems, and who showed him some new chemical experiments.
It was by this time noon. We were again seated in the carriage.
“I think,” said Goethe, “we will not return to ‘The Bear,’ to dinner, but will enjoy the splendid day in the open air. I think we will go to Burgau. We have wine with us, and, in any case, we shall find there some good fish, which can be either boiled or broiled.”
We did so, and the plan proved splendid. We drove along the bank of the Saale, by the thickets and the windings, the pleasantest way, as I had already seen from Schiller's mansarde. We were soon in Burgau. We alighted at the little inn near the river, and the bridge, where there is a crossing to Lobeda, a little town which was close before our eyes across the meadows.
At the little inn we found all as Goethe had said. The hostess apologized for having nothing prepared; but said we should have some soup and some good fish.
In the mean time we walked in the sunshine, up and down the bridge, amusing ourselves by looking at the river, which was animated by raftmen, who, upon planks of pine-wood bound together, glided under the bridge from time to time, and were very noisy and merry over their troublesome, wet occupation.
We ate our fish in the open air, and then remained sitting over a little wine, and had all sorts of pleasant conversation. A small hawk flew past, which in its flight and its form bore a strong resemblance to the cuckoo.
“There was a time,” said Goethe, “when the study of natural history was so much behindhand that the opinion was universally spread that the cuckoo was a cuckoo only in summer, but in winter a bird of prey.”
“This opinion still exists amongst the people,” returned I. “And it is also laid to the charge of this good bird, that as soon as it is full grown, it devours its own parents. It is, therefore, used as a simile of shameful ingratitude. I know people at the present moment who will not allow themselves to be talked out of these absurdities, and who cling to them as firmly as to any article of their Christian belief.”
“As far as I know,” said Goethe, “the cuckoo is classed with the woodpecker.”
“That is sometimes done,” returned I, “probably because two of the toes of its weak feet have a backward inclination. I, however, should not so class it. For the woodpecker's life it has neither the strong beak, capable of breaking the decayed bark of a tree, nor the sharp and very strong feathers in the tail, which are fit to support it during the operation. Its toes, also, want the sharp claws necessary to sustain it; and I, therefore, consider its small feet as not actually, but only apparently, made for climbing.”
“The ornithologists,” added Goethe, “are probably delighted when they have brought any peculiar bird under some head; but still nature carries on her own free sport, without troubling herself with the classes marked out by limited men.”
“The nightingale, too,” continued I, “is numbered amongst the grasmücken, whilst in the energy of its nature, its movements, and its mode of life, it bears far more resemblance to the thrush. But still, I would not class it among the thrushes. It is a bird between the two; a bird by itself, as the cuckoo is a bird by itself, with a strongly expressed individuality.”
“All that I have heard concerning the cuckoo,” said Goethe, “excites in me a great interest in this wonderful bird. It is of a highly problematical nature, a manifest mystery, but not the less difficult to interpret because it is so manifest. And with how many things do we not find ourselves in the same predicament? We stand in mere wonderment, and the best part of things is closed to us. Let us take the bees. We see them fly for miles after honey, and always in a different direction. Now they fly westward for a week, to a field of blooming rape-seed; then, for a long time, northward, to a blooming heath; then in another direction to the blossom of the buckwheat; then somewhere else, to a blooming clover-field; and at last, in some other direction, to a blossoming lime. But who has said to them, ‘Now fly thither, there is something for you?’ and ‘now thither, there is something fresh?’ And who has led them back to their village and their cell? They go hither and thither, as if in invisible leading-strings; but what these really are we do not know. It is the same with the lark. She rises, singing, from a cornfield; she soars over a sea of corn, which the wind blows backwards and forwards, and in which one wave looks like the other; she then returns to her young, and drops down, without fail, upon the little spot where her nest is placed. All these outward things are as clear as the day to us; but their inward, spiritual tie is concealed.”
“With the cuckoo,” said I, “it is not otherwise. We know that it does not brood itself, but lays its egg in the nest of some other bird. We know, furthermore, that it lays it in the nest of the grasmücke, the yellow wagtail, the monk; also in the nests of the braunelle, the robin, and the wren. This we know. We also know that these are all insect-eating birds; and must be so, because the cuckoo itself is an insect-eating bird, and the young cuckoo cannot be brought up by a seed-eating bird. But how does the cuckoo find out that these are all actually insect-eating birds? For all the above-mentioned birds differ extremely from each other, both in form and colour; and also in their song and their call-note. Further, how comes it that the cuckoo can trust its egg and its tender young to nests which are as different as possible with respect to structure, temperature, dryness, and moisture? The nest of the grasmücke is built so lightly, with dry hay and horse-hair, that all cold penetrates into it, and every breeze blows through it; it is also open at the top, and without shelter; still, the young cuckoo thrives in it excellently. The nest of the wren, on the other hand, is on the outside built firmly and thickly, with moss, straw, and leaves, and carefully lined within with all sorts of wool and feathers; so that not a breeze can pierce through it. It is also covered at the top, and arched over, only a small aperture being left for the very small birds to slip in and out. One would think that in the hot days of June, the heat in such an enclosed hole must be suffocating; but the young cuckoo thrives there best. Then how different is the nest of the yellow-wagtail. This bird lives by the water, by brooks, and in various damp places. It builds its nest upon damp commons, in a tuft of rushes. It scrapes a hole in the moist earth, and lines it scantily with some blades of grass, so that the young cuckoo is hatched, and must grow up in the damp and cold; and still it thrives excellently. But what a bird this must be, to which, at the most tender age, varieties of heat and cold, dryness and damp, which would be fatal to any other bird, are indifferent. And how does the old cuckoo know that they are so, when it is so susceptible to damp and cold at an advanced age.”
“This is a mystery,” returned Goethe; “but tell me, if you have observed it, how the cuckoo places its egg in the nest of the wren, when this has so small an opening that she cannot enter, and sit upon it.”
“The cuckoo lays it upon a dry spot,” returned I, “and takes it to the nest with her beak. I believe, too, that she does this not only with the wren's nest, but with every other. For the nests of the other insect-eating birds, even when they are open at the top, are still so small or so closely surrounded by twigs, that the great long-tailed cuckoo cannot sit upon them. This can well be imagined; but how it happens that the cuckoo lays so unusually small an egg, nay, so small that it might be the egg of a small insect-eating bird, is a new riddle which one may silently admire without being able to unravel. The egg of the cuckoo is only a little larger than that of the grasmücke; and, indeed, it ought not to be larger, as it has to be hatched by the small insect-eating birds. This is good and rational; but that nature, to be wise in a particular instance, should deviate from a great pervading law, according to which there exists a certain proportion between the size of the egg and that of the bird, from the hummingbird to the ostrich, this arbitrary proceeding, I say, is enough to inspire us with astonishment.”
“It certainly astonishes us,” said Goethe, “because our point of view is too small for us to comprehend it. If more were revealed to us, we should probably find that these apparent deviations are really within the compass of the law. But go on, and tell me something more. Is it known how many eggs the cuckoo lays?”
“Whoever tried to say anything definite on that point would be a great blockhead. The bird is very fleeting. She is now here, now there; there is never more than one of her eggs found in a single nest. She certainly lays several; but who knows where these are, and who could look for them? But, supposing that she lays five eggs, and that all these are properly hatched, and brought up by affectionate foster-parents, we must still wonder that nature can resolve to sacrifice at least fifty of the young of our best singing birds for five young cuckoos.”
“In such things, as well as others,” returned Goethe, “nature does not appear to be very scrupulous. She has a good fund of life to lavish, and she does so now and then without much hesitation. But how does it happen that so many young singing birds are lost for a single young cuckoo?”
“In the first place,” I replied, “the first brood is generally lost; for even if it should happen that the eggs of the singing bird are hatched at the same time with that of the cuckoo, which is very probable, the parents are so much delighted with the larger bird, and show it such fondness, that they think of and feed that alone, whilst their own young are neglected, and vanish from the nest. Besides, the young cuckoo is always greedy, and demands as much nourishment as the little insect-eating birds can procure. It is a very long time before it attains its full size and plumage, and before it is capable of leaving the nest, and soaring to the top of a tree. And even long after it has flown it requires to be fed continually, so that the whole summer passes away, while the affectionate foster-parents constantly attend upon their great child, and do not think of a second brood. It is on this account that a single young cuckoo causes the loss of so many other young birds.”
“That is very convincing,” said Goethe. “But tell me, is the young cuckoo, as soon as it has flown, fed also by other birds which have not hatched it? I fancy I have heard something of the kind.”
“It is so,” answered I. “As soon as the young cuckoo has left its lower nest, and has taken its seat on the top of a tall oak, it utters a loud sound, which says that it is there. Then all the small birds in the neighbourhood, which have heard it, come up to greet it. The grasmücke and the monk come, the yellow wagtail flies up, and even the wren, whose nature it is constantly to slip into low hedges and thick bushes, conquers its nature, and rises towards the beloved stranger to the top of the tall oak. But the pair which has reared it is more constant with food, whilst the rest only occasionally fly to it with a choice morsel.”
“There also appears to be,” said Goethe, “a great affection between the young cuckoo and the small insect-eating birds.”
“The affection of the small insect-eating birds for the young cuckoo,” returned I, “is so great, that if one approaches a nest in which there is a young cuckoo, the little foster-parents do not know how to contain themselves for terror or anxiety. The monk especially expresses the deepest despair, and flutters on the ground almost as if it were in convulsions.”
“This is wonderful enough,” returned Goethe; “but it can be readily conceived. Still it appears very problematical to me, that a pair of grasmücken, for instance, on the point of hatching their own eggs, should allow the old cuckoo to approach their nest, and lay her egg in it.”
“That is truly very enigmatical,” returned I; “but not quite inexplicable. For, from the very circumstance that all small insect-eating birds feed the cuckoo after it has flown, and that even those feed it which did not hatch it; from this circumstance, I say, arises a sort of affinity between the two, so that they continue to know each other, and to consider each other members of one large family. Indeed, it may happen that the same cuckoo which was hatched and reared by a pair of grasmücken last year, may this year bring her egg to them.”
“There is something in that,” returned Goethe, “little as one can comprehend it. But it still appears to me a wonder, that the young cuckoo is fed by those birds which have neither hatched it nor reared it.”
“That is, indeed, a wonder,” returned I; “but still it is not without analogy. I foresee, in this inclination, a great law which pervades all nature.
“I had once caught a young linnet, which was too big to be fed by man, but still too young to eat by itself. I took a great deal of trouble about it for half a day; but as it would not eat anything at all, I placed it with an old linnet, a good singer, which I had kept for some time in a cage, and which hung outside my window. I thought to myself, if the young bird sees how the old one eats, perhaps it will go to its food and imitate it. However, it did not do so, but opened its beak towards the old one, and fluttered its wings, uttering a beseeching cry; whereupon the old linnet at once took compassion on it, and adopting it as a child, fed it as if it had been its own.
“Afterwards, some one brought me a grey grasmücke and three young ones, which I put together in a large cage, and which the old one fed. On the following day, some one brought me two young nightingales already fledged, which I put in with the grasmücke, and which the mother bird likewise adopted and fed. Some days afterwards, I added a nest of young müllerchen nearly fledged, and then a nest with five young plattmönchen. The grasmücke adopted all these and fed them, and tended them like a true mother. She had her beak always full of ant's eggs, and was now in one corner of the roomy cage, and now in the other, so that whenever a hungry throat opened, there she was. Nay, still more. One of the young grasmücken, which had grown up in the mean time, began to feed some of the less ones. This was, indeed, done in rather a playful, childish manner; but still with a decided inclination to imitate the excellent mother.”
“There is certainly something divine in this,” said Goethe, “which creates in me a pleasing sense of wonder. If it were a fact that this feeding by strangers was an universal law of nature, it would unravel many enigmas, and one could say with certainty, that God pities the deserted young ravens that call upon him.”
“It certainly appears to be an universal law,” returned I; “for I have observed this assistance in feeding, and this pity for the forlorn, even in a wild state.
“Last summer, in the neighbourhood of Tiefurt, I took two young wrens, which had probably only just left their nest, for they sat upon a bush on a twig with seven other young ones in a row, and the old bird was feeding them. I put the young birds in my silk pocket-handkerchief, and went towards Weimar, as far as the shooting house; I then turned to the right towards the meadow, down along the Ilm, and passed the bathing-place, and then again to the left to the little wood. Here I thought I had a quiet spot to look once more at the wrens. But when I opened my handkerchief they both slipped out, and disappeared in the bushes and grass, so that I sought them in vain. Three days afterwards, I returned by chance to the same place, and hearing the note of a robin, guessed there was a nest in the neighbourhood, which, after looking about for some time, I really found. But how great was my astonishment, when I saw in this nest, besides some young robins nearly fledged, my two young wrens, which had established themselves very comfortably, and allowed themselves to be fed by the old robins. I was highly delighted at this very remarkable discovery. Since you are so cunning, thought I to myself, and have managed to help yourselves so nicely, and since the good robins have taken such care of you, I should be very sorry to destroy this hospitable intimacy; on the contrary, I wish you the greatest possible prosperity.”
“That is one of the best ornithological stories I have ever heard,” said Goethe. “I drink success to you, and good luck to your investigations. Whoever hears that, and does not believe in God, will not be aided by Moses and the prophets. That is what I call the omnipresence of the Deity, who has everywhere spread and implanted a portion of his endless love, and has intimated even in the brute as a germ, that which only blossoms to perfection in noble man. Continue your observations and your studies! You appear to be particularly successful with them, and may arrive at invaluable results.”
Whilst we thus conversed on good and deep matters over our dinner in the open air, the sun had declined towards the summit of the western hills, and Goethe thought it time to retrace our steps. We drove quickly through Jena, and after we had settled our account at “The Bear,” and had paid a short visit to Fromman, we drove at a rapid rate to Weimar.
(Sup.) Thurs., Oct. 18.
Hegel is here, whom Goethe personally esteems very highly, though he does not much relish some of the fruits produced by his philosophy. Goethe gave a tea-party in honour of him this evening, at which Zelter was also present, who intended to take his departure again to-night.
A great deal was said about Hamann, with respect to whom Hegel was chief spokesman, displaying a deep insight into this extraordinary mind, such as could only have arisen from a most earnest and scrupulous study of the subject.
The discourse then turned upon the nature of dialectics. “They are, in fact,” said Hegel, “nothing more than the regulated, methodically-cultivated spirit of contradiction which is innate in all men, and which shows itself great as a talent in the distinction between the true and the false.”
“Let us only hope,” interposed Goethe, “that these intellectual arts and dexterities are not frequently misused, and employed to make the false true, and the true false.”
“That certainly happens,” returned Hegel; “but only with people who are mentally diseased.”
“I therefore congratulate myself,” said Goethe, “upon the study of nature, which preserves me from such a disease. For here we have to deal with the infinitely and eternally true, which throws off as incapable every one who does not proceed purely and honestly with the treatment and observation of his subject. I am also certain that many a dialectic disease would find a wholesome remedy in the study of nature.”
We were still discussing in the most cheerful manner, when Zelter arose and went out, without saying a word. We knew that it grieved him to take leave of Goethe, and that he chose this delicate expedient for avoiding a painful moment.