Sat., Jan. 1.
Of Goethe's letters to various persons, copies of which have been kept in parcels since the year 1807, I have during the last weeks carefully gone through the series of several years. I will in the following paragraphs set down some general remarks, which may be used in some future edition.
1.—In the first place, the question has arisen,—whether it is expedient to give these letters merely in the shape of extracts.
To this I reply that altogether it has been Goethe's nature to go to work with some intention even in the smallest matters, and that this seems to have been particularly the case with regard to these letters, where the author has always devoted his whole soul to the subject, so that not only is every sheet perfectly written from beginning to end, but there is not a line which does not reveal a superior nature and thorough cultivation.
It is my opinion, therefore, that the letters should be given entire, especially as the single passages of importance often receive their true lustre and real significance only through what precedes and follows.
Then, if we look closely at the matter, and fancy these letters laid before a large and varied world, who would presume to say which passage was important and worthy of communication, and which was not? The grammarian, the biographer, the philosopher, the moralist, the man of natural science, the artist, the poet, the academician, the actor, and so on ad infinitum, have each of them his own peculiar interest, so that one will skip a passage which another regards as highly important, and applies to himself.
Thus, for instance, in the first series belonging to 1807, there is a letter to a friend, whose son is about to devote himself to a forest-life, and to whom Goethe prescribes the course which the young man is to adopt. A young author will probably pass over a letter of this kind, while a forester will certainly perceive with delight that the poet has looked at his department as well as others, and has here also tried to give good counsel.
I repeat, therefore, that I am for giving these letters just as they are, without mutilation, especially as they are already distributed entire, and we may be sure that the persons who have received them will some day print them as they have been written.
2.—If, however, there are letters which one would scruple to publish entire, but which contain good isolated passages, one may copy these passages, and either assign them to the year to which they belong, or make of them a special collection, accordingly as it seems most expedient.
3.—It is possible that a letter may appear of no importance in the first parcel in which we find it, and that we may be against its publication. If, however, it is found that such a letter has consequences in after years, and may be regarded as the first link of an extended chain, it will be rendered important by this very circumstance, and may be classed with those fit for publication.
4.—The doubt may arise, whether it is more expedient to arrange the letters according to the persons to whom they are addressed, or to let them follow according to years, without any further order.
I am for the latter method,—first because it will cause a beautiful and ever refreshing variety; for, when another persons is addressed, not only is there always a change in the style, but the subjects themselves are different, so that the theatre, poetical labours, natural studies, domestic affairs, communications with friends and with persons of rank, pass along in ever-varied succession.
I am also for an arrangement according to years, and without further order, because the letters of any one year, through contemporary influences, not only bear the character of that year, but show the circumstances and occupations of the writer in every direction, so that such letters would be perfectly fitted to complete, with a fresh animated detail, the summary biography of the “Tag und Jahreshefte,” already printed.
5.—Letters which other persons have already printed, because, perhaps, they contain an acknowledgment of their merits, or some other commendation or peculiarity, should be again introduced in this collection, partly because they belong to the series, partly because these persons will be gratified by the proof afforded to the world that their documents were genuine.
6.—The question whether a letter of introduction shall be received into the collection or not, shall be decided after due consideration of the person recommended. If he has done nothing, and the letter contains nothing else of value, it is to be omitted; if, on the other hand, he has gained an honourable name in the world, it is to be inserted.
7.—Letters to persons who are known through Goethe's Life, such as Lavater, Jung, Behrisch, Kniep, Hackert, and others, are of themselves interesting, and should be published, even if they contain nothing of importance.
8.—We must not be too fastidious in the publication of these letters, since they give us an idea of Goethe's broad existence and varied influence in all directions; while his deportment towards persons most unlike each other, and in the most different position, may be regarded as highly instructive.
9.—If several letters treat of the same subject, the best are to be selected; and when a certain point appears in several letters, it should be struck out in some, and left where it is best expressed.
10.—In the letters of 1811 and 1812, there are perhaps twenty places where the autograph of remarkable persons is requested. These and similar passages must not be suppressed, as they appear highly characteristic and amiable.
The preceding paragraphs have been occasioned by a survey of the letters of 1807, 1808, and 1809. Any general remarks that may occur in the further progress of the work will be added as a supplement.—E.
Weimar, January 1, 1831.
To-day, after dinner, I discussed this matter with Goethe, point by point, and he gave his assent to my suggestions. “In my will,” said he, “I will appoint you editor of these papers, and thus show that we have perfectly agreed as the method to be observed.”
(Sup.*) Tues., Jan. 4.
I perused, with Goethe, some books of drawings, by my friend Töpfer, of Geneva, whose talent is equally great as an author and as a draughtsman; but who, until now, appears to have liked to express his lively conceptions in visible forms rather than in transient words. The number which contained the adventures of Doctor Festus, in light pen-and-ink sketches, gave quite the impression of a comic novel, and pleased Goethe highly. “This is mad stuff, indeed!” exclaimed he, from time to time, as he turned over one leaf after another; “all sparkles with talent and intelligence Some pages could not be excelled. If, for the future, he would choose a less frivolous subject, and restrict himself a little, he would produce things beyond all conception.”
“He has been compared with Rabelais,” remarked I, “and reproached with having imitated him and borrowed his ideas.”
“People do not know what they would have,” returned Goethe. “I find nothing of the sort; on the contrary, Töpfer appears to me to stand quite upon his own feet, and to be as thoroughly original as any genius I have met.”
(Sup.*) Wed., Jan. 17.
I found Coudray with Goethe, examining some architectural drawings. I had about me a five-franc piece of 1830, with the likeness of Charles the Tenth, which I produced. Goethe joked about the pointed head. “The organ of Veneration appears to have been very largely developed in him.” remarked he. “Doubtless, from his excessive piety, he did not deem it necessary to pay his debts; on the other hand, we are deeply indebted to him, since, thanks to the freaks of his genius, Europe will not soon be quiet again.”
We spoke about “Rouge et Noir,” which Goethe regarded as Stendhal's best work.
“Still I cannot deny,” added he, “that some of his female characters are a little too romantic. Nevertheless, they all give evidence of great observation and psychological penetration, so that one may willingly pardon the author for some improbability in his details.”
(Sup.*) Tues., Jan. 23.
With the Prince at Goethe's. His grandchildren were amusing themselves with conjuring tricks, in which Walter is particularly skilful. “I do not object,” said Goethe, “to the boys filling up their spare hours with these follies. It is, especially in the presence of a small public, an excellent means of exercise in speaking freely, and acquiring some bodily and mental activity, of which we Germans have by no means a superabundance. The slight vanity that is occasioned is a disadvantage which is certainly over-balanced by such a gain.”
“Besides, the spectators take care enough to damp such feelings,” remarked I, “because they generally look very sharply at the little juggler's fingers, and are malicious enough to laugh at his blunders, and to mortify him by publishing his little secrets.”
“It is with them as with actors,” added Goethe; “who are applauded to-day and hissed to-morrow, by which means all is kept in the right track.”
Wed., Feb. 9.
Yesterday I continued reading Voss's “Luise” with the Prince, and made to myself several remarks on the subject of that book. The great merits of the author in depicting the locality, and the external circumstances of the persons, delighted me; still, it appeared to me that the poem should have had a more lofty import,—and this remark especially occurred to me in those passages where the persons express their sentiments in dialogue. In the “Vicar of Wakefield” there is also a country pastor with his family, but the poet had a higher knowledge of the world, and this was communicated to his personages, all of whom exhibit greater mental variety. In the “Luise” all stand on the level of a narrow cultivation, though there is sufficient to satisfy thoroughly a certain class of readers. As for the verse, it seems to me that the hexameter is far too pretentious for such narrow subjects, and is, moreover, often a little forced and affected, and that the periods do not always flow naturally enough to be read with ease.
To-day, at dinner, I talked over this point with Goethe. “The earlier editions of the poem,” said he, “are far better in that respect, and I remember that I read it aloud with pleasure. Afterwards Voss touched it up a great deal, and, from his technical crotchets, spoiled the ease and nature of the verse. Indeed, nowadays technicalities are everything, and the critics begin to torment themselves,—whether in a rhyme an S should be followed by an S, and not an S by a ‘double S.’ If I were young and bold enough, I would purposely offend against all these technical whims; I would employ alliteration, assonance, false rhyme, and anything else that came into my head, but I would keep the main point in view, and endeavour to say such good things that every one would be tempted to read them and to learn them by heart.”
Fri., Feb. 11.
To-day, at dinner, Goethe told me that he had begun the fourth act of “Faust,” and thus intended to proceed, which pleased me highly. He then spoke with great praise of Carl Schöne, a young philologist of Leipsic, who had written a work on the costume in the tragedies of Euripides, and who, notwithstanding his great learning, had displayed no more of it than was necessary for his purpose.
“I like to see,” said Goethe, “how, with a productive sense, he goes to the point at once, while other modern philologists give themselves far too much trouble about technicalities, and long and short syllables.
“It is always a sign that a time is unproductive when it goes so much into technical minutiæ; and thus also it is a sign that an individual is unproductive when he occupies himself in a like manner.
“Then there are other faults which act as impediments. Thus, for instance, in Count Platen there are nearly all the chief requisites of a good poet;—imagination, invention, intellect, and productiveness, he possesses in a high degree; he also shows a thoroughly technical cultivation, and a study and earnestness, to be found in few others. With him, however, his unhappy polemical tendency is a hindrance.
“That amid the grandeur of Naples and Rome he could not forget the miserable trivialities of German literature, is unpardonable in so eminent a genius. The ‘Romantic Œdipus’ shows that, especially with regard to technicalities, Platen was just the man to write the best German tragedy; but now, in this piece, he has used the tragic motives for purposes of parody, how will he write a tragedy in good earnest?
“And then (what is not enough kept in mind) these quarrels occupy the thoughts; the images of our foes are like ghosts which intercept all free production, and cause great disorder in a nature already sufficiently susceptible.
“Lord Byron was ruined by his polemic tendency; and Platen should, for the honour of German literature, quit for ever so unprofitable a path.”
Sat., Feb. 12.
I have been reading the New Testament, and thinking of a picture which Goethe lately showed me, where Christ is walking on the water, and Peter coming towards him, on the waves, begins to sink, in a moment of faint-heartedness.
“This,” said Goethe, “is one of the most beautiful legends, and one which I love better than any. It expresses the noble doctrine that man, through faith and hearty courage, will come off victor in the most difficult enterprises, while he may be ruined by the least paroxysm of doubt.”
Sun., Feb. 13.
Dined with Goethe. He told me that he was going on with the fourth act of “Faust,” and had succeeded to his wish in the beginning.
“I had,” said he, “long since the what, as you know, but was not quite satisfied about the how; hence it is the more pleasant that good thoughts have come to me.
“I will now go on inventing, to supply the whole gap, from the ‘Helena’ to the fifth act, which is finished, and write down a detailed plan, that I may work with perfect comfort and security on those parts which first attract me.
“This act acquires quite a peculiar character, so that, like an independent little world, it does not touch the rest, and is only connected with the whole by a slight reference to what precedes and follows.”
“It will then,” said I, “be perfectly in character with the rest; for, in fact, Auerbach's cellar, the witches' kitchen, the Blocksberg, the imperial diet, the masquerade, the paper-money, the laboratory, the classic Walpurgis-night, the Helena, are all of them little independent worlds, which, each being complete in itself, do indeed work upon each other, yet come but little in contact. The great point with the poet is to express a manifold world, and he uses the story of a celebrated hero merely as a sort of thread on which he may string what he pleases. This is the case with ‘Gil Blas’ and the ‘Odyssey.’”
“You are perfectly right,” said Goethe; “and the only matter of importance in such compositions is, that the single masses should be clear and significant, while the whole always remains incommensurable,—and even on that account, like an unsolved problem, constantly lures mankind to study it again and again.”
I then spoke of a letter from a young soldier, whom I and other friends had advised to go into foreign service, and who now, not being pleased with his situation abroad, blames all those who advised him.
“Advice is a strange matter,” said Goethe, “and when one has looked about one in the world long enough, to see how the most judicious enterprises fail, and the most absurd often succeed, one becomes disinclined to give advice to any one. At bottom, too, there is a confinement with respect to him who asks advice, and a presumption in him who gives it. A person should only give advice in matters where he himself will co-operate. If any one asks me for good advice, I say I am ready to give it, but only on condition that he will promise me not to take it.”
The conversation turned on the New Testament, and I mentioned that I had been reading again the passage where Christ walks on the sea, and Peter meets him.
“When one has not for some time read the Evangelists,” said I, “one is always astonished at the moral grandeur of the figures. We find in the lofty demands made upon our moral power of will a sort of categorical imperative.”
“Especially,” said Goethe, “you find the categorical imperative of faith, which, indeed, Mahomet carried still farther.”
“Altogether,” said I, “the Evangelists, if you look closely into them, are full of differences and contradictions; and the books must have gone through strange revolutions of destiny before they were brought together in the form in which we have them now.”
“It is like trying to drink out a sea,” said Goethe, “to enter into an historical and critical examination of them. It is the best way, without farther ado, to adhere to that which is set down, and to appropriate to oneself so much as one can use for one's moral strengthening and culture. However, it is pleasant to get a clear notion of the localities, and I can recommend you to nothing better than Röhr's admirable book on Palestine. The late Grand Duke was so pleased with this book, that he bought it twice, giving the first copy to the library, after he had read it, and keeping the other always by him.”
I wondered that the Grand Duke should take an interest in such matters.
“Therein,” said Goethe, “he was great. He was interested in everything of any importance, in whatsoever department it lay. He was always progressive, and sought to domesticate with himself all the good inventions and institutions of his time. If anything failed, he spoke of it no more. I often thought how I should excuse to him this or that failure; but he always ignored it in the cheerfulest way, and was immediately engaged with some new plan. This was a greatness peculiar to his own nature; not acquired, but innate.”
We looked, after dinner, at some engravings after the most modern artists, especially in the landscape department, and we remarked with pleasure that nothing false could be detected.
“For ages there has been so much good in the world,” said Goethe, “that one ought not in reason to wonder when it operates and produces good in its turn.”
“The worst of it is,” said I, “that there are so many false doctrines, and that a young genius does not know to what saint he should devote himself.”
“Of this we have proofs,” said Goethe; “we have seen whole generations ruined or injured by false maxims, and have also suffered ourselves. Then there is the facility nowadays of universally diffusing every error by means of printing. Though a critic may think better after some years, and diffuse among the public his better convictions, his false doctrine has operated in the mean while, and will in future, like a spreading weed, continue to co-operate with what is good. My only consolation is, that a really great talent is not to be led astray or spoiled.”
We looked further at the engravings, “These are really good things,” said Goethe. “You have before you the works of very fair talents, who have learned something, and have acquired no little taste and art. Still, something is wanting in all these pictures—the Manly. Take notice of this word, and underscore it. The pictures lack a certain urgent power, which in former ages was generally expressed, but in which the present age is deficient, and that with respect not only to painting, but to all the other arts. We have a more weakly race, of which we cannot say whether it is so by its origin, or by a more weakly training and diet.”
“We see here,” said I, “how much in art depends on a great personality, which indeed was common enough in earlier ages. When, at Venice, we stand before the works of Titian and Paul Veronese, we feel the powerful mind of these men, both in their first conception of the subject, and in the final execution. Their great energetic feeling has penetrated the members of the whole picture, and this higher power of the artist's personality expands our own nature, and elevates us above ourselves, when we contemplate such works. This manly mind of which you speak is also to be found especially in the landscapes of Rubens. They, indeed, consist merely of trees, soil, water, rocks, and clouds, but his own bold temperament has penetrated into the forms, and thus while we see familiar nature we see it penetrated by the power of the artist, and reproduced according to his views.”
“Certainly,” said Goethe, “personality is everything in art and poetry; nevertheless, there are many weak personages among the modern critics who do not admit this, but look upon a great personality in a work of poetry or art merely as a kind of trifling appendage.
“However, to feel and respect a great personality one must be something oneself. All those who denied the sublime to Euripides were either poor wretches incapable of comprehending such sublimity, or shameless charlatans, who, by their presumption, wished to make more of themselves, and really did make more of themselves than they were.”
 “Personality,” which is used here and elsewhere as an equivalent for “Persönlichkeit,” is not a common expression, but its meaning will be obvious.—Trans.
Mon., Feb. 14.
Dined with Goethe. He had been reading the memoirs of General Rapp, through which the conversation turned upon Napoleon, and the feelings which must necessarily have been experienced by Madame Letitia at finding herself the mother of so powerful a family. She had given birth to Napoleon, her second son, when she was eighteen years old, and her husband three-and-twenty, so that he had a physical advantage in the youthful strength of his parents. After him she bore three sons, all remarkably endowed, clever and energetic in practical things, and all with a certain poetical talent. These four sons are followed by three daughters, and last of all comes Jerome, who seems to have been the least endowed of all.
Talent is indeed not hereditary, but it requires an apt physical substratum, and then it is by no means indifferent whether one is the first or the last born, nor whether one is the issue of strong and young, or weak and old parents.
“It is remarkable,” said I, “that, of all talents, the musical shows itself earliest; so that Mozart in his fifth, Beethoven in his eighth, and Hummel in his ninth year, astonished all near them by their performance and compositions.”
“The musical talent,” said Goethe, “may well show itself earliest of any; for music is something innate and internal, which needs little nourishment from without, and no experience drawn from life. Really, however, a phenomenon like that of Mozart remains an inexplicable prodigy. But how would the Divinity find everywhere opportunity to do wonders, if he did not sometimes try his powers on extraordinary individuals, at whom we stand astonished, and cannot understand whence they come?”
Tues., Feb. 15.
Dined with Goethe. I told him about the theatre; he praised the piece given yesterday—“Henry III.,” by Dumas—as very excellent, but naturally found that such a dish would not suit the public.
“I should not,” said he, “have ventured to give it, when I was director; for I remember well what trouble we had to smuggle upon the public the ‘Constant Prince,’ which has far more general human interest, is more poetic, and in fact lies much nearer to us, than ‘Henry III.’”
I spoke of the “Grand Cophta,” which I had been lately re-perusing. I talked over the scenes one by one, and, at last, expressed a wish to see it once on the stage.
“I am pleased,” said Goethe, “that you like that piece, and find out what I have worked into it. It was indeed no little labour to make an entirely real fact first poetical, and then theatrical. And yet you will grant that the whole is properly conceived for the stage. Schiller was, also, very partial to it; and we gave it once, with brilliant effect, for the higher order of persons. But it is not for the public in general; the crimes of which it treats have about them an apprehensive character, which produces an uncomfortable feeling in the people. Its bold character places it, indeed, in the sphere of ‘Clara Gazul;’ and the French poet might really envy me for taking from him so good a subject. I say so good a subject, because it is in truth not merely of moral, but also of great historical significance; the fact immediately preceded the French Revolution, and was, to a certain extent, its foundation. The Queen, through being implicated in that unlucky story of the necklace, lost her dignity, and was no longer respected, so that she lost, in the eyes of the people, the ground where she was unassailable. Hate injures no one; it is contempt that casts men down. Kotzebue had been hated long; but before the student dared to use his dagger upon him, it was necessary for certain journals to make him contemptible.”
 “Il Principe Constante,” by Calderon.—Trans.
Thurs., Feb. 17.
Dined with Goethe. I brought him his “Residence at Carlsbad,” for the year 1807, which I had finished revising that morning. We spoke of wise passages, which occur there as hasty remarks of the day.
“People always fancy,” said Goethe, laughing, “that we must become old to become wise; but, in truth, as years advance, it is hard to keep ourselves as wise as we were. Man becomes, indeed, in the different stages of his life, a different being; but he cannot say that he is a better one, and, in certain matters, he is as likely to be right in his twentieth, as in his sixtieth year.
“We see the world one way from a plain, another way from the heights of a promontory, another from the glacier fields of the primary mountains. We see, from one of these points, a larger piece of the world than from the other; but that is all, and we cannot say that we see more truly from any one than from the rest. When a writer leaves monuments on the different steps of his life, it is chiefly important that he should have an innate foundation and good-will; that he should, at each step, have seen and felt clearly, and that, without any secondary aims, he should have said distinctly and truly what has passed in his mind. Then will his writings, if they were right at the step where they originated, remain always right, however the writer may develop or alter himself in after times.”
I heartily assented to this excellent remark.
“Lately,” continued Goethe, “I found a piece of waste paper which I read. ‘Humph,’ said I to myself, ‘what is written there is not so bad; you do not think otherwise, and would not have expressed yourself very differently.’ But when I looked closely at the leaf, it was a fragment from my own works. For, as I am always striving onwards, I forget what I have written, and soon regard my productions as something quite foreign.”
I asked about “Faust,” and what progress he had made with it.
“That,” said Goethe, “will not again let me loose. I daily think and invent more and more of it. I have now had the whole manuscript of the second part stitched together, that it may lie a palpable mass before me. The place of the yet wanting fourth act I have filled with white paper; and, undoubtedly, what is finished will allure and urge me to complete what has yet to be done. There is more than people think in these matters of sense, and we must aid the spiritual by all manner of devices.”
He sent for the stitched “Faust,” and I was surprised to see how much he had written; for a good folio volume was before me.
“And all,” said I, “has been done in the six years that I have been here; and yet, amid so many other occupations, you could have devoted but little time to it. We see how much a work grows, even if we only now and then add something!”
“Of that one is still more convinced as one grows older,” said Goethe; “while youth believes all must be done in a single day. If fortune favour, and I continue in good health, I hope in the next spring-months to get a great way on with the fourth act. It was, as you know, long since invented; but the other parts have, in the course of the execution, grown so much, that I can now use only the outline of my first invention, and must fill out this introduced portion so as to make it of a piece with the rest.”
“A far richer world is displayed,” said I, “in this second part than in the first.”
“I should think so,” said Goethe. “The first part is almost entirely subjective; it proceeded entirely from a perplexed, impassioned individual, and his semi-darkness is probably highly pleasing to mankind. But, in the second part, there is scarcely anything of the subjective; here is seen a higher, broader, clearer, more passionless world, and he who has not looked about him and had some experience, will not know what to make of it.”
“There will be found exercise for thought,” said I; “some learning may also be needful. I am glad that I have read Schelling's little book on the Cabiri, and that I now know the drift of that famous passage in the Walpurgis-night.”
“I have always found,” said Goethe, laughing, “that it is well to know something.”
Fri., Feb. 18.
Dined with Goethe. We talked of different forms of government; and it was remarked what difficulties an excess of liberalism presents, inasmuch as it calls forth the demands of individuals, and, from the quantity of wishes, one does not know which to satisfy. It will be found that one cannot succeed in the long run with over-great goodness, mildness, and moral delicacy, while one has beneath a mixed and sometimes vicious world to manage and hold in respect.
It was also remarked that the art of governing is a great metier, requiring the whole man, and that it is therefore not well for a ruler to have too strong tendencies for other affairs, as, for instance, a predominant inclination for the fine arts; since thus not only the interest of the Prince, but also the powers of the State, must be withdrawn from more necessary matters. A predominating love for the fine arts better suits rich private persons.
Goethe told me that his “Metamorphosis of Plants,” with Soret's translation, was going on well, and that, in his supplementary labours on these subjects, particularly on the “Spiral,” quite unexpected favourable things had come to his aid from without.
“We have,” said he, “as you know, been busy with this translation for more than a year; a thousand hindrances have come in our way; the enterprise has often come to an absolute standstill, and I have often cursed it in silence. But now I can do reverence to all these hindrances; for during these delays things have ripened abroad among other excellent men, so that they now bring the best grist to my mill, advance me beyond all conception, and will bring my work to a conclusion which I could not have imagined a year ago. The like has often happened to me in life; and, in such cases, one is led to believe in a higher influence, in something dæmonic (dämonisch), which we adore without trying to explain it further.”
Sat., Feb. 19.
Dined at Goethe's, with Hofrath Vogel. A pamphlet on the island of Heligoland had been sent to Goethe, which he read with great interest, telling us what he found most important in it.
After we had talked about this very peculiar locality, conversation took a medical turn, and Vogel told us, as the news of the day, how the natural small-pox, in defiance of all inoculation, had again broken out in Eisenach, and had carried off many in a short time.
“Nature,” said Vogel, “plays us a trick every now and then; and we must watch her very closely, if our theory is to keep pace with her. Inoculation was thought so sure and infallible, that a law was made to enforce it. But now this Eisenach affair, where the persons who have been inoculated are nevertheless attacked by the natural small-pox, casts a suspicion on the infallibility of the remedy, and weakens the motive for observing the law.”
“Nevertheless,” said Goethe, “I am against any departure from the strict law for inoculation, since these trifling exceptions are nothing in comparison with the great benefits which it confers.”
“I am of the same opinion,” said Vogel, “and would even maintain that in all cases where the natural disease is not prevented by the artificial one, the inoculation has been imperfect. For inoculation to have a protective power it must be strong enough to produce fever. Mere irritation of the skin without fever will not suffice. I have this day proposed in council that a stronger inoculation for the small-pox shall be incumbent on all the parties throughout the country who have to perform it.”
“I hope that your proposal has been carried,” said Goethe. “Indeed, I am always for a rigid adherence to a law, especially at a time like ours, when out of weakness and excessive liberality one is always conceding too much.”
It was then remarked that we were beginning to be too gentle and lax with regard to the responsibility of criminals, and that medical testimony and opinion often had the effect of making the criminal evade the penalty he had incurred. On this occasion Vogel praised a young physician, who had always shown strength of character in such cases, and who lately, when the court was in doubt whether a certain infanticide was responsible or not, had given his testimony that she unquestionably was so.
Sun., Feb. 20.
Dined with Goethe. He told me that he had tested my observation on the blue shadows in the snow, viz. that they were produced by the reflection of the blue sky, and that he acknowledged its correctness. “But both causes may, however, co-operate.” said he, “and the demand (Forderung) excited by the yellowish light may strengthen the appearance of the blue.” This I willingly conceded, and rejoiced that Goethe at last agreed with me.
“I am sorry,” said I, “that I did not on the spot write down the observations on colour which I made at Mont Rose and Mont Blanc. The chief result, however, was, that at a distance of from eighteen to twenty miles, in the brightest noonday sun, the snow appeared yellow and even reddish, while the dark parts of the mountains, which were free from snow, stood out in the most decided blue. This phenomenon did not surprise me, as I could have predicted that the semi-transparent mass which intervened would give a deep yellow tone to the white snow as it reflected the noonday sun; but, nevertheless, it pleased me, inasmuch as it fully confuted the erroneous opinion of some scientific persons, that the air has the property of giving a blue colour. For if the air had been blue of itself, the snow, for a space of twenty miles—that is to say, the distance between me and Mont Rose—must have appeared bright blue, or a whitish blue, and not yellow and yellowish red.”
“This observation,” said Goethe, “is important, and completely confutes every error.”
“In fact,” said I, “the doctrine of the dense medium is so simple that one is easily misled into the belief that it can be communicated to another in a few days. The difficulty is to apply the law, and to recognize a primitive phenomenon in phenomena that are conditioned and concealed a thousand different ways.”
“I will compare it with whist,” said Goethe, “the laws and rules of which are very easy to teach, but which one must have played a long time before one can become a master. Altogether we learn nothing from mere hearing, and he who does not take an active part in certain subjects knows them but half and superficially.”
Goethe then told me of the book of a young natural philosopher, which he could not help praising, on account of the clearness of his descriptions, while he pardoned him for his teleological tendency.
“It is natural to man,” said Goethe, “to regard himself as the final cause of creation, and to consider all other things merely in relation to himself so far as they are of use to him. He makes himself master of the vegetable and animal world, and while he claims other creatures as a fitting diet, he acknowledges his God, and praises His goodness in this paternal care. He takes milk from the cow, honey from the bee, wool from the sheep; and while he gives these things a purpose which is useful to himself, he believes that they were made on that account. Nay, he cannot conceive that even the smallest herb was not made for him, and if he has not yet ascertained its utility, he believes that he may discover it in future.
“Then, too, as man thinks in general, so does he always think in particular, and he does not fail to transfer his ordinary views from life into science, and to ask the use and purpose of every single part of our organic being.
“This may do for a time, and he may get on so for a time in science, but he will soon come to phenomena, where this small view will not be sufficient, and where, if he does not take a higher stand, he will soon be involved in mere contradictions.
“The utility-teachers say that oxen have horns to defend themselves; but I ask, why is the sheep without any—and when it has them, why are they twisted about the ears so as to answer no purpose at all?
“If, on the other hand, I say the ox defends himself with his horns because he has them, it is quite a different matter.
“The question as to the purpose—the question Wherefore is completely unscientific. But we get on farther with the question How? For if I ask how has the ox horns, I am led to study his organization, and learn at the same time why the lion has no horns, and cannot have any.
“Thus, man has in his skull two hollows which are never filled up. The question wherefore could not take us far in this case, but the question how informs me that these hollows are remains of the animal skull, which are found on a larger scale in inferior organization, and are not quite obliterated in man, with all his eminence.
“The teachers of utility would think that they lost their God if they did not worship Him who gave the ox horns to defend itself. But I hope I may be allowed to worship Him who, in the abundance of His creation, was great enough, after making a thousand kinds of plants, to make one more, in which all the rest should be comprised; and after a thousand kinds of animals, a being which comprises them all—a man.
“let people serve Him who gives to the beast his fodder, and to man meat and drink as much as he can enjoy. But I worship Him who has infused into the world such a power of production, that, when only the millionth part of it comes out into life, the world swarms with creatures to such a degree that war, pestilence, fire, and water cannot prevail against them. That is my God!”
Mon., Feb. 21.
Goethe praised Schelling's last discourse, with which he had calmed the students at Munich.
“It is thoroughly good,” said he; “and we rejoice once again at the distinguished talent which we have long known and revered. In this case he had an excellent subject and a worthy purpose, and his success has been as great as possible. If the same could be said of the subject and purpose of his work on the Cabiri, that would claim praise from us also, since there also he has displayed in it his rhetorical talent and art.”
Schelling's “Cabiri” brought the conversation to the classic Walpurgis-night, and the difference between this and the scenes on the Brocken in the first part.
“The old Walpurgis-night,” said Goethe, “is monarchical, since the devil is there respected throughout as a decided chief. But the classic Walpurgis-night is thoroughly republican; since all stand on a plain near one another, so that each is as prominent as his associates, and nobody is subordinate or troubled about the rest.”
“Moreover,” said I, “in the classic assembly all are sharply outlined individualities, while, on the German Blocksberg, each individuality is lost in the general witch-mass.”
“Therefore,” said Goethe, “Mephistophiles knows what is meant when the Homunculus speaks to him of Thessalian witches. A connoisseur of antiquity will have something suggested by these words (Thessalian witches), while to the unlearned it remains a mere name.”
“Antiquity,” said I, “must be very living to you, else you could not make all these figures step so freshly into life, and treat them with such freedom as you have.”
“Without a lifelong occupation with plastic art,” said Goethe, “it would not have been possible to me. The difficulty was in observing due moderation amid such plenty, and avoiding all figures that did not perfectly fit into my plan. I made, for instance, no use of the Minotaur, the Harpies, and certain other monsters.”
“But what you have exhibited in that night,” said I, “is so grouped, and fits so well together, that it can be easily recalled by the imagination and made into a picture. The painters will certainly not allow such good subjects to escape them; and I especially hope to see Mephistophiles among the Phorcyades, when he tries the famous mask in profile.”
“There are a few pleasantries there,” said Goethe, “which will more or less occupy the world in all sorts of ways. Suppose the French are the first to perceive ‘Helena,’ and to see what can be done with it for the stage. They will spoil the piece as it is, but they will make a wise use of it for their own purposes, and that is all we can expect or desire. To Phorcyas they will certainly add a chorus of monsters, as is indeed already indicated in one passage.”
“It would be a great matter,” said I, “if a clever part of the romantic school treated the piece as an opera throughout, and Rossini collected all his great talent for a grand composition, to produce an effect with the ‘Helena.’ It affords opportunities for magnificent scenes, surprising transformations, brilliant costumes, and charming ballets, which are not easily to be found elsewhere, to say nothing of the fact that this abundance of sensible material rests on the foundation of an ingenious fable that could scarcely be excelled.”
“We will wait for what the gods bring us,” said Goethe, “such things are not to be hurried. The great matter is for people to enter into it, and for managers, poets, and composers to see their advantage in it.”
Tues., Feb. 22.
Upper-Consistorial Councillor Schwabe met me in the street. I walked with him a little way; he told me of his manifold occupations, and thus I was enabled to look into the important sphere of action of this distinguished man. He said that he employed his spare hours in editing a little volume of new sermons; that one of his school-books had lately been translated into Danish, that forty-thousand copies of it had been sold, and that it had been introduced into the best schools of Prussia. He begged me to visit him, which I gladly promised to do.
At dinner with Goethe, I spoke of Schwabe, and Goethe agreed entirely with my praises of him.
“The Grand Duchess,” said he, “values him highly; and, indeed, she always knows what people are worth. I shall have him drawn for my collection of portraits, and you will do well to visit him, and ask his permission in this respect.
“Visit him, and show sympathy in what he is doing and planning. It will be interesting for you to observe a peculiar sphere of action, which cannot be rightly understood without a closer intercourse with such a man.”
Wed., Feb. 23.
Before dinner, while walking in the Erfurt road, I met Goethe, who stopped me and took me into his carriage. We went a good way by the fir-wood, and talked about natural history.
The mountains and hills were covered with snow, and I mentioned the great delicacy of the yellow, observing that at a distance of nine miles, with some density intervening, a dark surface rather appeared blue than a white one yellow. Goethe agreed with me, and we then spoke of the high significance of the primitive phenomena, behind which we believe the Deity may directly be discerned.
“I ask not,” said Goethe, “whether this highest Being has reason and understanding, but I feel that He is Reason, is Understanding itself. Therewith are all creatures penetrated; and man has so much of it that he can recognize parts of the Highest.”
At table, the efforts of certain inquirers into nature were mentioned, who, to penetrate the organic world, would ascend through mineralogy.
“This,” said Goethe, “is a great mistake. In the mineralogical world the simplest, in the organic world the most complex, is the most excellent. We see, too, that these two worlds have quite different tendencies, and that a stepwise progress from one to the other is by no means to be found.”
I treasured this remark as of great importance.
Thurs., Feb. 24.
I read Goethe's essay on Zahn in the Viennese Jahrbücher, and was filled with admiration when I thought of the premises which the writing of it presupposed.
At dinner Goethe told me that Soret had been with him, and that they had made good progress with the translation of the Metamorphosis.
“The difficulty in nature,” said Goethe, “is to see the law where it is concealed from us, and not to be misled by phenomena which contradict our senses. For in nature there is much which contradicts our senses, and is nevertheless true. That the sun stands still, that he does not rise and set, but that the earth performs a diurnal revolution with incredible swiftness, contradicts the senses as much as anything, but yet no well-informed person doubts that this is the case. Thus, too, there are in the vegetable kingdom contradictory phenomena, with which we must be very careful not to be led into false ways.”
Sat., Feb. 26.
To-day I read a great deal of Goethe's “Theory of Colours,” and was pleased to find that, by frequently exercising myself on the phenomena, I had become sufficiently master of the work to feel its great merits with some degree of clearness. I thought, with admiration, what it must have cost to put such work together, since I observed not merely the final results, but looked deeper, and saw what must have been gone through that these firm results might be attained.
Only a man of great moral power could accomplish this, and whoever would imitate him must take a very high position. All that is indelicate, untrue, egotistical, must vanish from the mind, or real true nature must scorn him. If men considered this, they would willingly devote some years of their life to master the sphere of such a science in such a manner, that they might thus test their senses, intellect, and character. They would have respect for all that is according to law, and approach the Deity as closely as it is possible for a terrestrial mind.
On the contrary, people occupy themselves too much with poetry, and supersensuous mysteries which are subjective, pliable things, making no further claims on man, but flattering him, and, at best, leaving him just where he was.
In poetry, only the really great and pure advances us; and this exists as a second nature, either elevating us to itself or rejecting us. On the other hand, defective poetry develops our faults, inasmuch as we take into ourselves the infectious weaknesses of the poet. Yes, take them in, without knowing it, because we cannot perceive a defect in that which is consonant to our nature.
To draw advantage from both the good and the bad in poetry, we must already be in a very high position, and have such a foundation that we can regard things of the sort as objects external to ourselves.
Hence I commend an intercourse with nature, who in no wise favours our weaknesses, but either makes something out of us, or will have nothing at all to do with us.
Mon., Feb. 28.
I have been occupied all day with the manuscript of the fourth volume of Goethe's life, which he sent me yesterday, that I might see if anything remained to be done. I am very happy with this work, when I reflect what it already is, and what it may become. Some books appear quite complete, and leave nothing to desire. In others, on the contrary, a certain want of congruity may be observed, which may have arisen from the fact that the author has worked at very different epochs.
This fourth volume is altogether very different from the three preceding. Those constantly proceed in a certain given direction, while the course is through many years. In this volume, on the contrary, time seems scarcely to move, and we can see no decisive effort on the part of the principal character; much is undertaken but not completed, much is willed but otherwise directed, and thus we everywhere feel the influence of a secret power, a kind of destiny, drawing out many threads for the web which future years must complete.
This volume, therefore, affords a suitable occasion to speak of that secret, problematical power, which all men feel, which no philosopher explains, and over which the religious help themselves with consoling words.
Goethe names this unspeakable world and life-enigma the Dæmonic (dämonisch); and, while he defines its nature, we feel that so it is, and the curtains seem to have been drawn away from before certain backgrounds of our life. We seem to see further and more clearly, but soon perceive that the object is too great and manifold, and that our eyes only reach a certain limit.
Man is born only for the little; only what is known to him can be comprehended by him, or give him pleasure. A great connoisseur understands a picture; he knows how to combine the various particulars into the Universal, which is familiar to him; the whole is, to him, as living as the details. Neither does he entertain a predilection for detached portions; he asks not whether a face is ugly or beautiful, whether a passage is light or dark, but whether everything is in its place, according to law and order. But if we show an ignorant man a picture of some compass, we shall see that, as a whole, it leaves him unmoved or confused; that some parts attract, others repel him; and that he at last abides by little things which are familiar to him, praising, perhaps, the good execution of a helmet or plume.
But, in fact, we men play more or less the part of this ignorant person before the great destiny-picture of the world. The lighted part, the Agreeable, attracts us, the shadowy and unpleasant parts repel us, the whole confuses us, and we vainly seek the idea of a single Being to whom we attribute such contradictions.
Now, in human things, one may indeed become a great connoisseur, inasmuch as one may appropriate to oneself the art and knowledge of a master, but, in divine things, this is only possible with a being equal to the Highest. Nay, if the Supreme Being attempted to reveal such mysteries to us, we should not understand them or know what to do with them; but again resemble that ignoramus before the picture, to whom the connoisseur cannot by all the talking in the world impart the premises on which he judges. On this account it is quite right that forms of religion have not been given directly by God himself, but, as the work of eminent men, have been conformed to the wants and the understanding of a great mass of their fellows. If they were the work of God, no man could understand them; but, being the work of men, they do not express the Inscrutable.
The religion of the highly-cultivated ancient Greeks went no further than to give separate expressions of the Inscrutable by particular Deities. As these individualities were only limited beings, and a gap was obvious in the connection of the whole, they invented the idea of a Fate, which they placed over all; but as this in its turn remained a many-sided Inscrutable, the difficulty was rather set aside than disposed of.
Christ thought of a God, comprising all in one, to whom he ascribed all qualities which he found excellent in himself. This God was the essence of his own beautiful soul; full of love and goodness, like himself: and every way suited to induce good men to give themselves up trustingly to him, and to receive this Idea, as the sweetest connection with a higher sphere. But, as the great Being whom we name the Deity manifests himself not only in man, but in a rich, powerful nature, and in mighty world-events, a representation of him, framed from human qualities, cannot of course be adequate, and the attentive observer will soon come to imperfections and contradictions, which will drive him to doubt, nay, to despair, unless he be either little enough to let himself be soothed by an artful evasion, or great enough to rise to a higher point of view.
Such a point Goethe early found in Spinoza; and he acknowledges with joy how much the views of that great thinker answered the wants of his youth. In him he found himself, and in him therefore could he fortify himself to the best advantage.
And as these views were not of the subjective sort, but had a foundation in the works and manifestations of God through the world, so were the not mere husks which he, after his own later, deeper search into the world and nature, threw aside as useless, but were the first root and germ of a plant that went on growing with equally healthy energy for many years, and at last unfolded the flower of a rich knowledge.
His opponents have often accused him of having no faith; but he merely had not theirs, because it was too small for him. If he spoke out his own, they would be astonished; but they would not be able to comprehend him.
But Goethe is far from believing that he knows the Highest Being as it is. All his written and oral expressions intimate that it is somewhat inscrutable, of which men can only have approximating perceptions and feelings.
For the rest, nature and we men are all so penetrated by the Divine, that it holds us; that we live, move, and have our being in it; that we suffer and are happy under eternal laws; that we practise these, and they are practised on us, whether we recognize them or not.
The child enjoys his cake without knowing anything of the baker; the sparrow the cherries, without thinking how they grew.
Wed., Mar. 2.
I dined with Goethe to-day, and the conversation soon turning again on the Dæmonic, he added the following remarks to define it more closely.
“The Dæmonic,” said he, “is that which cannot be explained by Reason or Understanding; it lies not in my nature, but I am subject to it.”
“Napoleon,” said I, “seems to have been of the dæmonic sort.”
“He was so thoroughly,” said Goethe, “and in the highest degree, so that scarce any one is to be compared with him. Our late Grand Duke, too, was a dæmonic nature, full of unlimited power of action and unrest, so that his own dominion was too little for him, and the greatest would have been too little. Dæmonic beings of such sort the Greeks reckoned among their demigods.”
“Is not the Dæmonic,” said I, “perceptible in events also?”
“Particularly,” said Goethe, “and, indeed, in all which we cannot explain by Reason and Understanding. It manifests itself in the most varied manner throughout all nature—in the invisible as in the visible. Many creatures are of a purely dæmonic kind; in many parts of it are effective.”
“Has not Mephistophiles,” said I, “dæmonic traits too?”
“No,” said Goethe, “Mephistophiles is much too negative a being. The Dæmonic manifests itself in a thoroughly active power.
“Among artists,” he continued, “it is found more among musicians—less among painters. In Paganini, it shows itself in a high degree; and it is thus he produces such great effects.”
I was much pleased at all these remarks, which made more clear to me what Goethe meant by the Dæmonic.
Thurs., Mar. 3.
At noon with Goethe. He was looking through some architectural designs, and observed it required some courage to build palaces, inasmuch as we are never certain how long one stone will remain upon another.
“Those are most fortunate,” said he, “who live in tents, or who, like some Englishmen, are always going from one city and one inn to another, and find everywhere a good table ready.”
Sun., Mar. 6.
At dinner talked on various subjects with Goethe. We spoke of children and their naughty tricks, and he compared these to the stem-leaves of a plant, which fall away gradually of their own accord; and which need not be corrected with great severity.
“Man,” said he, “has various stages which he must go through, and each brings with it its peculiar virtues and faults, which, in the epoch to which they belong, are to be considered natural, and in a manner right. On the next step he is another man; there is no trace left of the earlier virtues or faults; but others have taken their place. And so on to the final transformation, with respect to which we know not what we shall be.”
After dinner, Goethe read me fragments, which he had kept from 1775, of Hanswurst's Hochzeit (“Hanswurst's wedding”). Kilian Brustfleck opens the piece with a monologue, in which he complains that Hanswurst's education, despite all his care, has come to no good. This scene, and all the rest, were written in the tone of Faust. A productive force, powerful even to wantonness, displayed itself in every line; and I could not but lament that it went so far beyond all bounds, that even the fragments cannot be communicated.
Goethe read me the list of the dramatis personæ, which nearly filled three pages, and were about a hundred in number. There were all the nicknames imaginable; some of them so comic and ludicrous, that we could not help laughing at them. Many referred to bodily defects, and distinguished a figure so that it came like life before the eye; others indicated the most various follies and vices, and afforded a deep look into the breadth of the immoral world. Had the piece been finished, people must have admired the invention that could combine such various symbolical figures in one single action.
“It was not to be imagined that I could finish the piece,” said Goethe; “for it demanded a high degree of wanton daring, which I had at moments, but which did not in fact lie in the serious tenor of my nature, and on which I could not depend. Then in Germany our circles are too limited for one to come forward with such an undertaking. On a broad ground, like Paris, one might venture such eccentricities, just as one can there be a Béranger, which would be quite impossible at Frankfort or Weimar.”
Tues., Mar. 8.
Dined to-day with Goethe, who began by telling me that he had been reading “Ivanhoe.”
“Walter Scott,” said he, “is a great genius; he has not his equal; and we need not wonder at the extraordinary effect he produces on the whole reading world. He gives me much to think of; and I discover in him a wholly new art, with laws of its own.”
We spoke then of the fourth volume of the biography, and came upon the subject of the Dæmonic before we were aware.
“In poetry,” said Goethe, “especially in that which is unconscious, before which reason and understanding fall short, and which therefore produces effects so far surpassing all conception, there is always something dæmonic.
“So it is with music, in the highest degree, for it stands so high that no understanding can reach it, and an influence flows from it which masters all, and for which none can account. Hence, religious worship cannot dispense with it; it is one of the chief means of working upon men miraculously. Thus the Dæmonic loves to throw itself into significant individuals, especially when they are in high places, like Frederic and Peter the Great.
“Our late Grand Duke had it to such a degree, that nobody could resist him. He had an attractive influence upon men by his mere tranquil presence, without needing even to show himself good-humoured and friendly. All that I undertook by his advice succeeded; so that, in cases where my own understanding and reason were insufficient, I needed only to ask him what was to be done, when he gave me an answer instinctively, and I could always be sure of happy results.
“He would have been enviable indeed if he could have possessed himself of my ideas and higher strivings; for when the dæmonic spirit forsook him, and only the human was left, he knew not how to set to work, and was much troubled at it.
“In Byron, also, this element was probably active in a high degree, whence he possessed powers of attraction to a great extent, so that women especially could not resist him.”
“Into the idea of the Divine,” said I, by way of experiment, “this active power which we name the Dæmonic would not seem to enter.”
“My good friend,” said Goethe, “what do we know of the idea of the Divine? and what can our narrow ideas tell of the Highest Being? Should I, like a Turk, name it with a hundred names, I should still fall short, and, in comparison with such boundless attributes, have said nothing.”
Wed., Mar. 9.
Goethe continued to speak of Sir Walter Scott with the highest acknowledgment.
“We read far too many poor things,” said he; “thus losing time, and gaining nothing. We should only read what we admire, as I did in my youth, and as I now experience with Sir Walter Scott. I have just begun ‘Rob Roy,’ and will read his best novels in succession. All is great—material, import, characters, execution; and then what infinite diligence in the preparatory studies! what truth of detail in the execution! We see, too, what English history is; and what a thing it is when such an inheritance falls to the lot of a clever poet. Our German history, in five volumes, is, on the other hand, sheer poverty; so that, after ‘Goetz von Berlichingen,’ writers went immediately into private life, giving us an ‘Agnes Bernauerin,’ and an ‘Otto von Wittelsbach,’ which was really not much.”
I said that I had been reading “Daphnis and Chloe,” in Courier's translation.
“That, also,” said Goethe, “is a masterpiece, which I have often read and admired, in which Understanding, Art, and Taste appear at their highest point, and beside which the good Virgil retreats somewhat into the background. The landscape is quite in the Poussin style, and appears, behind the personages, finished with a very few strokes.
“You know Courier found, in the Florentine Library, a new manuscript, containing the principal passage of the poem which was not in the preceding editions. Now, I must acknowledge that I have always read and admired the poem in its imperfect state, without observing or feeling that the proper apex was wanting. But this may be a proof of the excellence of the poem, since what we possessed satisfied us so completely that we never thought of what was deficient.”
After dinner, Goethe showed me a drawing by Coudray, of an extremely tasteful door for the Dornburg Castle, with a Latin inscription, signifying, that he who entered should find friendly reception and entertainment, and that to him who passed by a happy journey was wished.
Goethe had translated this inscription into a German distich, and placed it as a motto over a letter which he had written, in the summer of 1828, after the death of the Grand Duke, during his residence at Dornburg, to Colonel von Beulwitz. I had heard much in public of this letter, and was very glad when Goethe showed it me to-day, with the drawing of the door.
I read the letter with great interest, admiring the skill with which he had used the localities of the Dornburg Castle and the valley below to introduce the noblest views—views suited to raise man up after sustaining a great loss, and to place him on his feet again.
I was much pleased with this letter, observing that one need not travel far in search of good material, but that all depends on the aptness of the poet's mind to produce something valuable from the most trifling occasions.
Goethe put the letter and drawing in a portfolio by themselves to preserve both for the future.
 These are two plays written after the manner of “Gotz”: the first is by Count Joseph von Törring; the second, by Francis Babo.
Thurs., Mar. 10.
I read to-day, with the Prince, Goethe's novel of the “Tiger and the Lion,” and while he was highly pleased at feeling the effect of a great art, I was no less so at taking a clear view of a finished composition. I felt a certain omnipresence of thought, which may have arisen from the fact that the poet cherished the subject in his mind for so many years, and thus became so completely master of his subject that he could survey the whole and the details with the greatest clearness, and place every single part just where it was wanted, and might prepare and influence what was coming. Everything has a relation to what is to come and to what has preceded, everything is right in its place, so that as a composition we can scarcely conceive anything more perfect. As we went on reading I felt the strongest wish that Goethe could contemplate this gem of a novel as the work of another. At the same time, I reflected that there was a great advantage in the dimensions of the subject, enabling the poet to put all skilfully together, and the reader to approach the whole and its details with some reason.
 “Die Novelle.”—Trans.
(Sup.*) Thurs., Mar. 10.
This morning a short half hour with Goethe. I had to bring him the information that the Grand Duchess had determined to bestow the sum of a thousand dollars upon the directors of the theatre, to be employed in the cultivation of promising young talent. This information gave evident pleasure to Goethe, who has at heart the further prosperity of the theatre.
I had then to consult him concerning a commission of another kind. It is the intention of the Grand Duchess to invite to Weimar the best German author of the present time, provided he is without employment or fortune, and merely lives on the fruits of his talent, and to provide a sinecure place for him, so that he may find leisure to allow all his works to attain the utmost perfection, and not be in the piteous case of working hastily from necessity, to the prejudice of his own talent and of literature.
“The intention of the Grand Duchess,” returned Goethe, “is most princely, and I bow before her noble views; but it will be very difficult to make a proper choice. The most distinguished of our present men of genius are already in easy circumstances, through state employment, pensions, and their own private resources. Besides, every one would not suit here, and every one would not be really assisted by coming. I will, however, bear the noble design in mind, and see what good the next year may bring us.”
Fri., Mar. 11.
At dinner with Goethe, talked on various subjects. “It is a peculiarity of Walter Scott's,” said he, “that his great talent in representing details often leads him into faults. Thus, in ‘Ivanhoe,’ there is a scene where they are seated at a table in a castle-hall, at night, and a stranger enters. Now, he is quite right in describing the stranger's appearance and dress, but it is a fault that he goes to the length of describing his feet, shoes, and stockings. When we sit down in the evening, and some one comes in, we see only the upper part of his body. If I describe the feet, daylight enters at once, and the scene loses its nocturnal character.”
I felt the force of these words, and noted them down for future occasions.
Goethe then continued to speak with great admiration of Sir Walter Scott. I requested him to put his view on paper, which he refused to do, remarking that Scott's art was so high that it is hard to give a public opinion about him.
Mon., Mar. 14.
Dined with Goethe, and talked of several subjects. I had to tell him of the “Dumb Girl of Portici,” which had been represented the day before yesterday; when we said that a properly-grounded motive for a revolution was not shown at all, and that this very circumstance pleased people, inasmuch as every one could fill up the gap with something that was offensive in his own city and country.
“The whole opera,” said Goethe, “is, in fact, a satire upon the people, for when it makes a public matter of a fisher-girl's amour, and calls the prince a tyrant because he marries a princess, it appears as absurd and ridiculous as possible.”
After dinner Goethe showed me some drawings, illustrative of Berlin phrases, in which the liveliest subjects were represented, and we praised the moderation of the artist in approaching caricature, without actually going into it.
Tues., Mar. 15.
I occupied myself the whole morning with the manuscript of the fourth volume of “Truth and Poetry,” and wrote the following notes for Goethe:—
The second, fourth, and fifth books may be deemed complete, with the exception of some trifles that can easily be settled in a final revision.
Here followed some remarks on the first and third books:—
FIRST BOOK.—The narrative of Jung's failure with the ophthalmic operation is so seriously important that it induces deep internal reflection; and, if told in society, would assuredly occasion a pause in conversation. I therefore suggest that it should terminate the first book, in order that a kind of pause may be produced.
The pretty anecdotes of the fire in the Judengasse (Jew's lane), and the skating in the mother's red velvet cloak, which are now at the end of the first book, and are not rightly placed there, should properly be connected with the portion which treats of unconscious, unpremeditated poetic production. For those events refer to a similarly happy state of mind, which, once in action, does not long think and ask what is to be done, but has already acted before the thought comes.
THIRD BOOK.—According to our plan, the book would comprise all that might be dictated respecting the external political condition of 1775, the internal condition of Germany, the education of the nobility, &c.
All that belongs to “Hanswurst's Hochzeit” and other poetical projects—carried out and not carried out—might, if it did not better suit the fourth book, which is already very thick, or interrupt the connection, which is well observed there, be properly introduced in the third.
I have collected all the outlines and fragments for this purpose in the third book, and wish all happiness and inclination to dictate what is still wanting, with fresh spirit and wonted grace.—E.
Dined with the Prince and M. Soret. We talked a great deal about Courier, and then about the conclusion of Goethe's “Novel,” when I made the remark that in that work import and art stood too high for people to know what to make of it. They like to hear and see over and over again what they have seen and heard already; and as they are accustomed to find the flower Poetry in thoroughly poetical fields, they are amazed when they see it springing from a thoroughly real soil. In the poetical region people will put up with anything, and no wonder is too great for belief; but here, in the broad light of real day, they are startled by the slightest deviation from the ordinary course of things. Being surrounded by a thousand wonders to which we are accustomed, we are troubled at a single one which has hitherto been new. Again, mankind finds no difficulty in believing the wonders of an earlier period, but to give a sort of actuality to a wonder that happens to-day, and to know it is a higher reality by the side of that which is visibly real,—this does not seem to lie in human capacity, or, if it does, it seems to have been expelled by education. Our age will hence become more and more prosaic, and, with the exception of faith in the supernatural, all poetry will gradually disappear.
As a conclusion to Goethe's “Novel,” nothing is required but the feeling that man is not quite deserted by higher beings, but that, on the contrary, they keep their eye on him, sympathize with him, and, in case of need, come to his assistance.
There is something so natural in this belief, that it belongs to man, is a constituent part of his being, and is innate with all nations, as the foundation of all religion. In the first human beginnings, it appears strong; but it does not yield to the highest culture, so that we find it still great in Plato, and, last of all, just as brilliant in the author of “Daphnis and Chloe.” In this charming poem, the Divine operates under the form of Pan and the nymphs, who take an interest in pious shepherds and lovers, save and protect them in the daytime, appear to them in dreams at night, and tell them what is to be done. In Goethe's “Novel,” this Invisible Guardian is conceived under the form of the Eternal and the Angels, who once, in a den, amid fierce lions, guarded the prophet, and who here, in the presence of a similar monster, afford their protection to a good child. The lion does not tear the boy to pieces, but rather appears mild and docile; for those higher beings who have been active through all eternity participate in the affair.
But that this may not appear too marvellous to an incredulous nineteenth century, the poet makes use of a second powerful motive, namely, that of music, the magic power of which has been felt by mankind from the earliest times, and by which we allow ourselves to be governed every day, without knowing how it happens.
And as Orpheus by this magic drew after him all the beasts of the forest, and as in the last Greek poem a young shepherd leads goats with his flute, so that to different melodies they disperse and assemble, fly from the enemy and graze in quiet, so in Goethe's “Novel” does music exercise its power on the lion, inasmuch as the violent beast yields to the melodies of the dulcet flute, and follows whithersoever he is led by the innocence of the boy.
When I have spoken with divers people about such inexplicable things, I have observed that man is so deeply impressed with his excellent qualities, that he does not hesitate to endow the gods with them, but cannot easily resolve to give a part of them to brutes.
 The remarks here referred to are in the second book of the fourth volume (the 17th of the whole); otherwise, Eckermann's suggestions seem to have been followed.—Trans.
Wed., Mar. 16.
Dined with Goethe, to whom I brought back the fourth volume of his life, and conversed much about it.
We also spoke of the conclusion to “William Tell,” and I expressed my wonder that Schiller should have committed the fault of lowering his hero by his unworthy conduct to the fugitive Duke of Suabia, whom he judges severely while he boasts of his own deed.
“It is scarcely conceivable,” said Goethe, “but Schiller, like others, was subject to the influence of women; and, if he committed such a fault, it was rather on account of this influence, than from his own fine nature.”
Fri., Mar. 18.
Dined with Goethe. I brought him “Daphnis and Chloe,” which he wished to read once more.
We spoke of higher maxims, whether it was good or possible to communicate them to others. “The capacity of apprehending what is high,” said Goethe, “is very rare; and therefore, in common life, a man does well to keep such things for himself, and only to give out so much as is needful to have some advantage against others.”
We touched upon the point that many men, especially critics and poets, wholly ignore true greatness, while they assign an extraordinary value to mediocrity.
“Man,” said Goethe, “recognizes and praises only that which he himself is capable of doing; and as certain people have their proper existence in the mediocre, they get a trick of thoroughly depreciating that in literature which, while faulty, may have good points, that they may elevate the mediocre, which they praise, to a greater eminence.”
I noted this that I might know how to think of such a practice in future.
We then spoke of the “Theory of Colours,” and of certain German professors who continue to warn their pupils against it as a great error.
“I am sorry, for the sake of many a good scholar,” said Goethe; “but, for myself, it is quite indifferent; my theory is as old as the world, and cannot always be repudiated and set aside.”
Goethe then told me that he was making good progress with his new edition of the “Metamorphosis of Plants,” and Soret's translation, which was more and more felicitous.
“It will be a remarkable book,” said he, “inasmuch as the most varied elements are worked up into one whole. I have inserted some passages from some important young German naturalists, and it is pleasing to see that such a good style has been formed among the better writers in Germany, that we cannot tell whether one or the other is speaking. However, the book gives me more trouble than I thought, and I was at first led into the undertaking almost against myself, but something Dæmonic prevailed, which was not to be resisted.”
“You did well,” said I, “in yielding to such influences, for the Dæmonic seems to be of such a powerful nature, that it is sure to carry its point at last.”
“Only,” replied Goethe, “man, in his turn, must endeavour to carry his point against the Dæmonic, and, in the present case, I must try by all industry and toil to make my book as good as lies in my power, and as circumstances will allow. Such matters are in the same predicament as the game which the French call codille, where a great deal is decided by the dice which are thrown, but where it is left to the skill of the player to place the men well on the board.”
I respected these excellent remarks, which I stored up as good doctrine, and as a rule for practice.
Sun., Mar. 20.
Goethe told me at table that he had been lately reading “Daphnis and Chloe.”
“The book,” said he, “is so beautiful, that, amid the bad circumstances in which we live, we cannot retain the impression we receive from it, but are astonished anew every time we read it. The clearest day prevails in it, and we think we are looking at nothing but Herculanean pictures, while these paintings react upon the book, and assist our fancy as we read.”
“I was much pleased,” said I, “at a certain isolation in which the whole is placed. There is scarcely a foreign allusion to take us out of those happy regions. Of the deities, Pan and the nymphs are alone active, and other is scarcely named, and still we see that these are quite enough for the wants of shepherds.”
“And yet, notwithstanding all this isolation,” said Goethe, “a complete world is developed. We see shepherds of every kind, agriculturists, gardeners, vine-dressers, sailors, robbers, and warriors, besides genteel townsmen, great lords, and serfs.”
“We also see man,” said I, “in all his grades of life, from his birth to his old age; and all the domestic cicumstances which are occasioned by changes of season pass before our eyes.”
“Then the landscape,” said Goethe,—“how clearly is it given with a few touches! We can see, rising behind the persons, vineyards, fields, and orchards; below, the meadow and the stream; and, in the distance, the broad sea. Then there is not a trace of gloomy days, of mists, clouds, and damp, but always the clearest bluest sky, a charming air and the driest soil, so that one would readily stretch one's naked limbs anywhere.
“The whole poem,” continued Goethe, “shows the highest art and cultivation. It has been so well considered, that not a motive is wanting, but all are of the best and most substantial kind; as, for instance, that of the treasure near the dolphin on the shore. Then there is a taste, and a perfection, and a delicacy of feeling, which cannot be excelled. Everything that is repulsive and disturbs from without the happy condition which the poem expresses—such as invasion, robbery, and war—is got rid of as quickly as possible, so that scarcely a trace of it is left. Then vice appears in the train of the townsmen, and there not in the principal characters, but in a subordinate personage. All this is of the highest beauty.”
“Then,” said I, “I was much pleased to see how well the relation between master and servant is expressed. On the one hand, there is the kindest treatment; on the other, in spite of all naïve freedom, great respect and an endeavour to gain, in any way, the favour of the master. Thus the young townsman, who has rendered himself odious to Daphnis, endeavours, when the latter is recognized as his master's son, to regain his favour by boldly rescuing Chloe from the cowherds, and bringing her back to him.”
“All these things,” said Goethe, “show great understanding; it is excellent also that Chloe preserves her innocence to the end,—and the motives for this are so well contrived, that the greatest human affairs are brought under notice. One must write a whole book properly to estimate all the great merits of this poem, and one would do well to read it every year, to be instructed by it again and again, and to receive anew the impression of its great beauty.”
 “Gedicht” has a wider meaning than the English word “poem.”—Trans.
Mon., Mar. 21.
We talked on political subjects,—of the incessant disturbances at Paris, and the fancy of young people to meddle in the highest affairs of state.
“In England, also,” said I, “the students some time ago tried to obtain an influence on the decision of the Catholic question by sending in petitions; but they were laughed at, and no further notice was taken of them.”
“The example of Napoleon,” said Goethe, “has, especially in the young people of France who grew up under that hero, excited a spirit of egotism; and they will not rest until a great despot once again rises up among them, in whom they may see the perfection of what they themselves wish to be. The misfortune is, that a man like Napoleon will not so soon again be born; and I almost fear that some hundred thousands of human lives will be wasted before the world is again tranquillized.
“Of literary influence there can be no thought at present; one can now do nothing further than quietly prepare good things for a more peaceful time.”
After these few political remarks, we spoke again of “Daphnis and Chloe.” Goethe praised Courier's translation as perfect.
“Courier did well,” said he, “to respect and retain Amyot's old translation, and only in parts to improve, to purify, and bring it nearer the original. The old French is so naïve, and suits the subject so perfectly, that it will not be easy to make, in any language, a more perfect translation of this book.”
We then spoke of Courier's own works,—of his little fugitive pieces, and the defence of the famous ink-spot on the manuscript at Florence.
“Courier,” said Goethe, “is a great natural talent. He has features of Lord Byron, as also of Beaumarchais and Diderot. He is like Byron in command over all things which may serve him as argument,—like Beaumarchais in his adroitness as an advocate,—like Diderot in dialectic skill,—and it is not possible to be more spirited and witty. However, he seems not entirely to clear himself from the ink-spot accusation, and is, in his whole tendency, not sufficiently positive to claim unqualified praise. He is at variance with all the world, and we cannot but suppose that some fault is on his side.”
We spoke of the difference between the German notion of Geist, and the French Esprit.
“The French Esprit,” said Goethe, “means nearly the same with our German word Witz. Our Geist might, perhaps, be expressed in French by Esprit and Ame. It includes the idea of productivity, which is not in the French Esprit.”
“Voltaire,” said I, “had nevertheless what we name Geist in the German sense of the word. And as Esprit does not suffice, what word do the French use?”
“In such a lofty instance,” said Goethe, “they say Génie.”
“I am now reading,” said I, “a volume of Diderot, and am astonished by the extraordinary talent of the man. And what knowledge! what a power of language! We look into a great animated world, where one constantly stimulated another, and mind and character were kept in such constant exercise, that both must be flexible and strong. But it seems to me quite extraordinary to see what men the French had in their literature in the last century. I am astonished when I only look at it.”
“It was the metamorphosis of a hundred-year-old literature,” said Goethe, “which had been growing ever since Louis XIV., and stood now in full flower. But it was really Voltaire who excited such minds as Diderot, D'Alembert, and Beaumarchais; for to be somewhat near him a man needed to be much, and could take no holidays.”
Goethe then told me of a young professor of the Oriental languages and literature at Jena, who had lived a long time at Paris, and was so highly cultivated, that he wished I would make his acquaintance.
As I went, he gave me an essay, by Schrön, on the expected comet, that I might not remain entirely a stranger to such matters.
 The words “spirited and witty” are used by the American translator as an equivalent for the untranslatable “geistreich.” The remarks which immediately follow touch upon this most difficult word.—Trans.
Tues., Mar. 22.
After dinner, Goethe read to me passages from the letter of a young friend, at Rome. Some German artists appeared there with long hair, moustachios, shirt-collars turned over on old-fashioned German coats, tobacco-pipes, and bull-dogs. They do not seem to visit Rome for the sake of the great masters, or to learn anything. To them Raphael seems weak, and Titian merely a good colourist.
“Niebuhr,” said Goethe, “was right when he saw a barbarous age coming. It is already here, we are in the midst of it; for wherein does barbarism consist, unless in not appreciating what is excellent!”
Our young friend then gave an account of the carnival, the election of the new pope, and the revolution which broke out immediately after.
We saw Horace Vernet ensconcing himself like a knight, while some German artists stay quietly at home, and cut off their beards, which seems to intimate that they have not, by their conduct, made themselves very popular among the Romans.
We discussed the question whether the errors now perceptible in some young German artists had proceeded from individuals, and spread abroad by intellectual contagion, or whether they had their origin in the general tendency of the time.
“They come,” said Goethe, “from a few individuals, and have now been in operation for forty years. The doctrine was, that the artist chiefly needs piety and genius to be equal to the best. Such a doctrine was very flattering, and was eagerly snatched up. For, to become pious, a man need learn nothing, and genius each one inherited from his mother. One need only utter something that flatters indolence and conceit, to be sure of plenty of adherents among commonplace people.”
Fri., Mar. 25.
Goethe showed me an elegant green elbow-chair, which he had lately bought at an auction
“However,” said he, “I shall use it but little, or not at all; for all kinds of commodiousness are against my nature. You see in my chamber no sofa; I always sit in my old wooden chair, and never till a few weeks ago have I had a leaning-place put for my head. If surrounded by convenient tasteful furniture, my thoughts are absorbed, and I am placed in an agreeable but passive state. Unless we are accustomed to them from early youth, splendid chambers and elegant furniture are for people who neither have nor can have any thoughts.”
Sun., Mar. 27.
After long expectations, the finest spring weather has come at last. On the perfectly blue heaven floats only some little white cloud now and then, and it is warm enough to resume summer clothing.
Goethe had the table covered in a pavilion in the garden, and so we dined once more in the open air. We talked of the Grand Duchess; how she is quietly at work in all directions, doing good, and making the hearts of all her subjects her own.
“The Grand Duchess,” said Goethe, “has as much intellect and sweetness as good-will; she is a true blessing to the country. And as men are everywhere quick to feel whence they receive benefits, worshipping the sun and kindly elements, I wonder not that all hearts turn to her with love, and that she is speedily appreciated, as she deserves to be.”
I mentioned that I had begun “Minna von Barnhelm” with the Prince, and observed how excellent this piece appeared to me.
“Lessing,” said I, “has been spoken of as a cold man of understanding; but I find in this drama as much heart, soul, charming naturalness, and free world culture of a fresh, cheerful, living man, as one could desire.”
“You may imagine,” said Goethe, “what an effect that work produced on us young people when it came out in that dark time. Truly it was a glittering meteor. It taught us to perceive that there was something higher than that of which the weak literary epoch gave any notion. The first two acts are a model in the art of introduction; from which much has been learned, and much may be learned still. Nowadays, indeed, writers are not curious about this art: the effect, which was once expected in the third act, they will now have in the first scene: and they do not reflect that it is with poetry as with going to sea, where we should push from the shore, and reach a certain elevation before we unfurl all our sails.”
Goethe had some excellent Rhine wine brought, which had been sent by his Frankfort friends, as a present, on his last birthday. He told some stories about Merck, and how he could not pardon the Grand Duke for having once, in the Ruhl near Eisenach, praised an ordinary wine as excellent.
“Merck and I,” he continued, “were always to one another as Mephistophiles to Faust. Thus he scoffed at a letter written by my father from Italy, in which the latter complained of the miserable way of living,—the heavy wine, the food to which he was unaccustomed, and the mosquitoes. Merck could not forgive him, in that delicious country and surrounded by such magnificence, for being troubled about such little matters as eating, drinking, and flies.
“All Merck's tauntings, no doubt, proceeded from a high state of culture; only, as he was not productive, but had, on the contrary, a decidedly negative tendency, he was ever more inclined to blame than praise, and was involuntarily always seeking for means to gratify this inclination.”
We talked of Vogel, and his ministerial talents; of ———, and his character.
“———,” said Goethe, “is a man by himself—a man who can be compared with no other. He was the only one who sided with me in opposing the freedom of the press: he stands fast; one can depend on him; he will always abide by what is legitimate.”
After dinner, we walked up and down in the garden, taking our pleasure in the white snowdrops and yellow crocuses, now in full flower. The tulips, too, were coming out; and we talked of the splendour and costliness of this growth of Holland.
“A great flower-painter,” said Goethe, “is not now to be expected: we have attained too high a degree of scientific truth; and the botanist counts the stamina after the painter, while he has no eye for picturesque lights and grouping.”
Mon., Mar. 28.
To-day I again passed some very delightful hours with Goethe. “My ‘Metamorphosis of Plants,’” said he, “is as good as finished. What I have to say about the spiral and Herr von Martius is also as good as done, and I have this morning resumed the fourth volume of my ‘Autobiography,’ and drawn up a scheme of what I have yet to do. I may almost say that I find it enviable to be allowed, at my advanced age, to write the history of my youth, and to describe an epoch which is, in many respects, of high significance.”
We talked over the several particulars, which were present to my mind as well as to his.
“In the description of your love-affair with Lili,” said I, “we never miss your youth, but these scenes bear the perfect breath of early years.”
“That is because such scenes are poetical,” said Goethe, “and I was able to compensate by the force of poetry for the feeling of youthful love, in which I was deficient.”
We then talked of the remarkable passage, in which Goethe describes his sister's situation. “This chapter,” said he, “will be read with interest by many ladies of education, for there will be many like my sister in this respect, that, with superior mental and moral endowments, they are without the advantage of personal beauty.”
“That, when a ball or festival was at hand,” said I, “she was generally afflicted with an eruption in the face, is so odd that it may be ascribed to the influence of something dæmonic.”
“She was a remarkable being,” said Goethe; “she stood morally very high, and had not a trace of sensuality about her. The thought of resigning herself to a man was repulsive to her, and we may imagine that this peculiarity caused many unpleasant hours in marriage. Women who have a similar aversion, or do not love their husbands, will feel the force of this. On this account I could never look upon my sister as married; she would have been much more in her place as an abbess in a convent.
“Although she was married to one of the best of men, she was still unhappy in a married life, and hence it was that she so passionately opposed my projected union with Lili.”
Tues., Mar. 29.
We talked to-day about Merck, and Goethe told me some more characteristic features.
“The late Grand Duke,” said he, “was very fond of Merck, so that he at once became his security for a debt of four thousand dollars. Before long, Merck, to our astonishment, sent the bond back. His circumstances had not improved, and we could not divine what sort of negociation he had made. When I saw him again, he explained the enigma thus—
“‘The Duke,’ said he, ‘is an excellent, generous man, who trusts and helps men whenever he can. Now, I thought to myself, ‘If you cheat him out of his money, that will prejudice a thousand others; for he will lose his precious trustfulness, and many unfortunate but worthy men will suffer, because one was a rascal.’ Well now—what have I done? I have made a speculation, and borrowed the money from a scoundrel, for if I cheat him it will be no matter; but if I had cheated our good lord, it would have been a pity.’”
We laughed at the whimsical greatness of the man.
“Merck had a habit,” continued Goethe, “of continually shouting he, he, as he talked. This habit grew upon him with advancing years, till at length it was like the bark of a dog. He fell at last into a deep hypochondriacal gloom, the consequence of his many speculations, and finished by shooting himself. He imagined he must become bankrupt; but it was found that his affairs were by no means in so bad a state as he had supposed.”
Wed., Mar. 30.
We talked again of the Dæmonic.
“It throws itself willingly into figures of importance,” said Goethe, “and prefers somewhat dark times. In a clear prosaic city, like Berlin, for instance, it would scarcely find occasion to manifest itself.”
In this remark Goethe expressed what I had been thinking some days since. This gave me pleasure, as we always feel delight in finding our thoughts confirmed.
Yesterday and this morning I had been reading the third volume of his “Biography,” and felt, as in the case of a foreign language, when, after making some progress, we again read a book, which we thought we understood before, but now first perceive in its minutest touches and delicate shades.
“Your ‘Biography,’” said I, “is a book by which we find our culture greatly assisted.”
“Those are merely results from my life,” said he; “and the particular facts that are related serve only to confirm a general reflection—a higher truth.”
“What you state about Basedow,” said I, “how, in order to attain his higher ends, he stood in need of persons, and would have gained their favour, but never reflected that he would spoil all by such a totally reckless utterance of his offensive religious views, and by making men regard with suspicion that to which they adhered with love,—these and similar traits appear to me highly important.”
“I imagine,” said Goethe, “that there are in the book some symbols of human life. I called it Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth), because it raises itself by higher tendencies from the region of a lower Reality. Now Jean Paul, in the spirit of contradiction, has written Wahrheit aus meinem Leben (Truth out of my Life), as if the truth from the life of such a man could be any other than that the author was a Philistine. But the Germans do not easily understand how to receive anything out of the common course, and what is of a high nature often passes by them without their being aware of it. A fact of our lives is valuable, not so far as it is true, but so far as it is significant.”
Thurs., Mar. 31.
Dined at the Prince's with Soret and Meyer. We talked of literary matters, and Meyer gave an account of his first acquaintance with Schiller.
“I was walking with Goethe,” said he, “in the place called the Paradise, near Jena, where we met Schiller, and conversed with him for the first time. He had not yet completed his ‘Don Carlos;’ he had just returned from Swabia, and seemed very sick, and in a state of nervous suffering. His face was like the picture of a crucified Christ. Goethe thought he could not live a fortnight; but as his situation became more agreeable he grew better, and, indeed, it was not till then that he wrote all his important works.”
Meyer then related some traits of Jean Paul and Schlegel—both of whom he had met at a public-house in Heidelberg—and some pleasant reminiscences of his residence in Italy, which entertained us highly.
I always feel happy near Meyer; probably because he is a self-relying, satisfied person, who takes but little notice of the circumstances around him, but at suitable intervals exhibits his own comfortable soul. At the same time, he is everywhere well-grounded, possesses the greatest treasure of knowledge, and a memory to which the most remote events are as present as if they happened yesterday. He has a preponderance of understanding which might make us dread him, if it did not rest upon the noblest culture; but, as it is, his quiet presence is always agreeable, always instructive.
(Sup.*) Wed., Mar. 31.
Goethe had been for some time very unwell, so that he could only see his most intimate friends. Some weeks before, bleeding had been ordered him; then he felt uneasiness and pain in his right leg, until at last his internal complaint vented itself by a wound in the foot; when improvement speedily followed. This wound, too, has now healed for some days, and he is now as lively as ever.
The Grand Duchess had paid him a visit to-day, and had returned very well satisfied. She had inquired after his health; when he very gallantly answered, that until to-day he had not perceived his recovery, but that her presence had made him once more feel the blessing of restored health.
Fri., April 1.
At table talked with Goethe on various subjects. He showed me a water-colour drawing by Herr von Reutern, representing a young peasant, who stands in the market-place of a small town near a female basket-seller. The young man is surveying the baskets, which lie before him, while two females, who are seated, and a stout lass, who stands by them, regard his comely, youthful face with satisfaction. The picture is so prettily composed, and there is such naïveté and truth in the expression of the figures, that one cannot look at it enough.
“Water-colour painting,” said Goethe, “is brought to a very high degree in this picture. There are some silly folks who say that Herr von Reutern is indebted to no one in his art, but has everything from himself, as if a man could have anything from himself but clumsiness and stupidity. If this artist has had no master so called, he has nevertheless had intercourse with excellent masters, and from these, as well as from great predecessors and ever present nature, he has acquired what he now possesses. Nature has given him an excellent talent, and nature and art together have perfected him. He is excellent, and in many respects unique, but we cannot say that he has everything from himself. Of a thoroughly crazy and defective artist, we may, indeed, say he has everything from himself; but of an excellent one, never.”
Goethe then showed me a work by the same artist, a frame richly painted with gold and various colours, with a place left in the middle for an inscription. At the top there was a building in the Gothic style; rich arabesques, with landscapes and domestic scenes interwoven, ran down the two sides; at the bottom was a pleasant woodland scene, with the freshest grass and foliage.
“Herr von Reutern,” says Goethe, “wishes I would write neatly in the blank space; but his frame is such a splendid work of art, that I dread to spoil the picture with my handwriting. I have composed some verses for the purpose, and think it will be better to have them inserted by the hand of a caligrapher. I would then sign them myself. What do you advise in this matter?”
“If I were Herr von Reutern,” said I, “I should be grieved to have the poem in the hand of another; happy, if it were written in your own. The painter has displayed art enough in the frame—none is needed in the writing; it is only important that it should be genuine—in your own hand. I advise you, too, not to use the Roman, but the German text; for your hand has in that a more peculiar character, and, besides, it harmonizes better with the Gothic design in the frame.”
“You may be right,” said Goethe; “and in the end it will be the shortest way. Perhaps to-day will bring a courageous moment, in which I may venture upon it. But if I make a blot on the beautiful picture,” he added, laughing, “you shall answer for it.”
“Write only,” said I, “and it will be well, however it may be.”
Tues., April 5.
At noon with Goethe. “In Art,” said he, “we do not easily meet a talent that gives us more pleasure than that of Neureuther. Artists seldom confine themselves to what they can do well; most are always trying to do more than they can, and are too fond of going beyond the circle in which Nature has placed their talent. But of Neureuther, we can say that he stands above his talent. Objects from all departments of nature are at his command; he draws ground, rocks, and trees, as well as men or animals, and, while he lavishes such wealth on slight marginal drawings, he seems to play with his capabilities, and the spectator feels that pleasure which is ever wont to accompany a free, easy libation from abundant means.
“No one has gone so far as he in marginal drawings; even the greater talent of Albert Dürer has been to him less a pattern than an incitement. I will send a copy of these drawings to Scotland, to Mr. Carlyle, and hope thus to make no unwelcome present to that friend.”
(Sup.*) Wed., April 14.
A soirée at the Prince's. One of the old gentlemen present, who remembered many things of the first years of Goethe's residence here, related to us the following very characteristic anecdote:—
“I was present,” said he, “when Goethe, in the year 1784, made his well-known renowned speech, on the solemn opening of the Ilmenau mine, to which he had invited all the officers and influential persons of the town and environs. He appeared to have had his speech well in his head; for he spoke for a long while with perfect fluency, and without any hesitation. All at once, however, he appeared to be quite forsaken by his good genius; the thread of his thoughts seemed to be cut off, and he appeared quite to have lost the power of grasping what he had further to say. This would have thrown any one else into great embarrassment, but it was not so with him. On the contrary, he looked for at least ten minutes, steadily and quietly, round the circle of his numerous audience, who were so struck by his personal power, that during the very long and almost ridiculous pause, every one remained perfectly quiet. At last he appeared to have again become master of his subject; he went on with his speech, and, without hesitation, continued it very ably to the end, as unembarrassed and serene as if nothing had happened.”
Mon., May 2.
Goethe delighted me with the information that he had lately succeeded in almost finishing the fifth act of “Faust,” which had hitherto been wanting.
“The purport of these scenes,” said he, “is above thirty years old; it was of such importance that I could not lose my interest in it, but so difficult to carry out that it frightened me. By various arts I am now in the right train again, and, if fortune favours, I shall write off the fourth act at once.”
Goethe then mentioned a well-known author. “He is a genius,” said he, “to whom party-hatred serves as an alliance, and who would have produced no effect without it. We find frequent instances in literature, where hatred supplies the place of genius, and where men of small talent appear important, by coming forward as organs of a party. Thus too, in life, we find a multitude of persons, who have not character enough to stand alone; these in the same way attach themselves to a party, by which they feel themselves strengthened, and can at last make some figure.
Sun., May 15.
Dined alone with Goethe in his work-room. After much cheerful discourse he at last turned the conversation to his personal affairs, by rising and taking from his desk a written paper.
“When one, like myself,” said he, “has passed the age of eighty, one has hardly a right to live, but ought each day to hold oneself ready to be called away, and think of setting one's house in order. I have, as I lately told you appointed you in my will editor of my literary remains, and have this morning drawn up, as a sort of contract, a little paper, which I wish you to sign with me.”
With these words, Goethe placed before me the paper, in which I found mentioned by name the works, both finished and unfinished, which were to be published after his death. I had come to an understanding with him upon essentials, and we both signed the contract.
The material, which I had already from time to time been busy in revising, I estimated at about fifteen volumes. We then talked of certain matters of detail, which had not been yet decided.
“The case may arise,” said Goethe, “that the publisher is unwilling to go beyond a certain number of sheets, and that hence some part of the material must be omitted. In that case, you may omit the polemic part of my ‘Theory of Colours.’ My peculiar doctrine is contained in the theoretical part; and as the historical part is already of a polemic character, inasmuch as the leading errors of the Newtonian theory are discussed there, you will almost have polemics enough. I by no means disavow my severe dissection of the Newtonian maxims; it was necessary at the time, and will also have its value hereafter; but, at bottom, all polemic action is repugnant to my proper nature, and I can take but little pleasure in it.”
We next talked about the “Maxims and Reflections,” which had been printed at the end of the second and third volumes of the “Wanderjahre.”
When he began to remodel and finish this novel, which had previously appeared in one volume, Goethe intended to expand it into two, as indeed is expressed in the announcement of the new edition of his entire works. But, as the work progressed, the manuscript grew beyond expectation; and, as his secretary wrote widely, Goethe was deceived, and thought that he had enough not only for two but for three volumes, and accordingly the manuscript went in three volumes to the publishers. However, when the printing had reached a certain point, it was found that Goethe had made a miscalculation, and that the two last volumes especially were too small. They sent for more manuscript, and, as the course of the novel (Roman) could not be altered, and it was impossible to invent, write, and insert a new tale (Novelle) in the hurry of the moment, Goethe was really in some perplexity.
Under these circumstances he sent for me, told me the state of the case, and mentioned at the same time how he thought to help himself out of the difficulty, laying before me two large bundles of manuscript, which he had caused to be fetched for that purpose.
“In these two parcels you will find various papers hitherto unpublished, detached pieces, finished and unfinished, opinions on natural science, art, literature, and life, all mingled together. Suppose you were to make up from these, six or eight printed sheets to fill the gaps in my ‘Wanderjahre.’ Strictly speaking, they have nothing to do with it, but the proceeding may be justified by the fact that mention is made of an archive in Makaria's house, in which such detached pieces are preserved. Thus we shall not only get over a great difficulty for the moment, but find a fitting vehicle for sending a number of very interesting things into the world.”
I approved of the plan, set to work at once, and completed the desired arrangement in a short time. Goethe seemed well satisfied. I had put together the whole in two principal parts, one under the title—“From Makaria's Archive;” the other under the head—“According to the Views of the Wanderer.” And as Goethe, at this time, had just finished two important poems, one—“On Schiller's Skull,” and the other—“Kein Wesen kann zu nichts zerfallen” (No being can fall away to nothing), he was desirous to bring out these also, and we added them at the close of the two divisions.
But when the “Wanderjahre” came out, no one knew what to make of it. The progress of the romance was seen to be interrupted by a number of enigmatical sayings, the explanation of which could be expected only from men of certain departments, such as artists, literati, and natural philosophers, and which greatly annoyed all other readers, especially those of the fair sex. Then, as for the two poems, people could as little understand them as they could guess how they got into such a place. Goethe laughed at this.
“What is done, is done,” said he to-day, “and all you have to do is, when you edit my literary remains, to insert these things in their proper places, so that when my works are republished, they may be distributed in proper order, and the ‘Wanderjahre’ may be reduced to two volumes, according to the original intention.”
We agreed that I should hereafter arrange all the aphorisms relating to Art in a volume on subjects of art, all relating to Nature in a volume on natural science in general, and all the ethical and literary maxims in a volume likewise adapted for them.
 This original shorter “Wanderjahre” is the one translated by Mr. Carlyle, and inserted in his “Specimens of German Romance.” The larger novel, which appears in Goethe's collected works, has not, to my knowledge, been translated.—Trans.
Wed., May 25.
We talked of “Wallenstein's Camp.” I had often heard that Goethe had assisted in the composition of this piece, and, in particular, that the Capuchin sermon came from him. To-day, at dinner, I asked him, and he replied—
“At bottom, it is all Schiller's own work. But, as we lived in such a relation that Schiller not only told me his plan, and talked it over with me, but also communicated what he did from day to day, hearing and using my remarks, I may be said to have had some share in it. For the Capuchin sermon, I sent him a discourse, by Abraham a Sancta Clara, from which he immediately composed his with great talent.
“I scarcely remember that any passages came from me except the two lines—
Ein Hauptmann den ein andrer erstach
Liess mir ein paar glückliche Würfel nach.
A captain, whom another slew,
Left me a pair of lucky dice.
Wishing to give some motive for the peasant's possession of the false dice, I wrote down these lines in the manuscript with my own hand. Schiller had not troubled himself about that, but, in his bold way, had given the peasant the dice without inquiring much how he came by them. A careful linking together of motives was, as I have said, not in his way; whence, perhaps, his pieces had so much the greater effect on the stage.”
Sun., May 29.
Goethe told me of a boy who could not console himself after he had committed a trifling fault.
“I was sorry to observe this,” said he, “for it shows a too tender conscience, which values so highly its own moral self that it will excuse nothing in it. Such a conscience makes hypochondriacal men, if it is not balanced by great activity.”
A nest of young hedge-sparrows, with one of the old birds, which had been caught with bird-lime, had lately been brought me. I saw with admiration that the bird not only continued to feed its young in my chamber, but even, when set free through the window, returned to them again. Such parental love, superior to danger and imprisonment, moved me deeply, and I, to-day, expressed my surprise to Goethe.
“Foolish man!” he replied, with a meaning smile; “if you believed in God, you would not wonder.
“Ihm ziemt's, die Welt im Innern zu bewegen,
Natur in Sich, Sich in Natur zu hegen,
So daas, was in Ihm lebt, und webt, und ist,
Nie Seine Kraft, nie Seinen Geist vermisst.
He from within glories to move the world,
To foster Nature in Himself, Himself
In Nature, so that all that lives in Him
Is ne'er without His spirit and His strength.
“Did not God inspire the bird with this all-powerful love for its young, and did not similar impulses pervade all animate nature, the world could not subsist. But thus is the divine energy everywhere diffused, and divine love everywhere active.”
Goethe made a similar remark a short time ago, when a model from Myron's cow, with the suckling calf, was sent him by a young sculptor.
“Here,” said he, “we have a subject of the highest sort—the nourishing principle which upholds the world, and pervades all nature, is here brought before our eyes by a beautiful symbol. This, and similar images, I call the true symbols of the omnipresence of God.”
Mon., June 6.
Goethe showed me to-day the beginning of the fifth act of “Faust,” which has hitherto been wanting. I read to the place where the cottage of Philemon and Baucis is burned, and Faust, standing by night on the balcony of his palace, smells the smoke, which is borne to him by a light breeze.
“These names, Philemon and Baucis,” said I, “transport me to the Phrygian coast, reminding me of the famous couple of antiquity. But our scene belongs to modern days, and a Christian landscape.”
“My Philemon and Baucis,” said Goethe, “have nothing to do with that renowned ancient couple, and the tradition connected with them. I gave this couple the names merely to elevate the characters. The persons and relations are similar, and hence the use of the names has a good effect.”
We then spoke of Faust, whom the hereditary portion of his character—discontent—has not left even in his old age, and who, amid all the treasures of the world, and in a new dominion of his own making, is annoyed by a couple of lindens, a cottage, and a bell, which are not his. He is therein not unlike Ahab, King of Israel, who fancied he possessed nothing, unless he could also make the vineyard of Naboth his own.
“Faust,” said Goethe, “when he appears in the fifth act, should, according to my design, be exactly a hundred years old, and I rather think it would be well expressly to say so in some passage.”
We then spoke of the conclusion, and Goethe directed my attention to the passage—
Delivered is the noble spirit
From the control of evil powers;
Who ceaselessly doth strive with merit
That we should save and make him ours
If Love celestial never cease
To watch him from its upper sphere;
The children of eternal peace
Bear him to cordial welcome there.
“In these lines,” said he “is contained the key to Faust's salvation. In Faust himself there is an activity which becomes constantly higher and purer to the end, and from above there is eternal love coming to his aid. This harmonizes perfectly with our religious views, according to which we cannot obtain heavenly bliss through our own strength alone, but with the assistance of divine grace.
“You will confess that the conclusion, where the redeemed soul is carried up, was difficult to manage; and that I, amid such supersensual matters, about which we scarcely have even an intimation, might easily have lost myself in the vague, if I had not, by means of sharply-drawn figures, and images from the Christian Church, given my poetical design a desirable form and substance.”
In the following weeks Goethe finished the fourth act, which had yet been wanting; so that in August the whole second part was sewed together quite complete. Goethe was extremely happy in having at last attained this object, towards which he had been striving so long.
“My remaining days,” said he, “I may now consider a free gift; and it is now, in fact, of little consequence what I now do, or whether I do anything.”
 This is Mrs. Fuller's version, with a slight alteration.—Trans.
(Sup.) Sun., June 20.
This afternoon a short half hour at Goethe's, whom I found still at dinner.
We conversed upon some subjects of natural science; particularly upon the imperfection and insufficiency of language, by which errors and false views which afterwards could not easily be overcome were spread abroad. “The case is simply this,” said Goethe. “All languages have arisen from surrounding human necessities, human occupations, and the general feelings and views of man. If, now, a superior man gains an insight into the secret operations of nature, the language which has been handed down to him is not sufficient to express anything so remote from human affairs. He ought to have at command the language of spirits to express adequately his peculiar perceptions. But as this is not the case, he must, in his views of the extraordinary in nature, always grasp at human expressions, with which he almost always falls too short, lowering his subject, or even injuring and destroying it.”
“If you say this,” said I, “you who always pursue your subjects very closely, and, as an enemy to phrases, can always find the most fitting expressions for your higher perceptions, there is something in it. But I should have thought that, generally, we Germans might be contented. Our language is so extraordinarily rich, elaborated, and capable of progress, that even if we are obliged sometimes to have recourse to a trope, we can still arrive pretty nearly at the proper expression. The French are at a great disadvantage when compared with us. With them the expression for some higher view of nature by a trope, generally borrowed from a technicality, is at once material and vulgar, so that it is by no means adequate to a higher view.”
“How right you are,” said Goethe, “has appeared to me lately, on the occasion of the dispute between Cuvier and Geoffrey de St. Hilaire. Geoffrey de St. Hilaire is a man who has certainly a great insight into the spiritual workings of nature; but his French language, so far as he is constrained to use traditional expressions, leaves him quite in the lurch. And this not only in mysteriously spiritual, but also in visible, purely corporeal subjects and relations. If he would express the single parts of an organic being, he has no other word but materialien: thus, for instance, the bones, which, as homogeneous parts, form the organic whole of an arm, are placed upon the same scale of expression as the stones and planks with which a house is built.
“In the same inappropriate manner,” continued Goethe, “the French use the expression composition, in speaking of the productions of nature. I can certainly put together the individual parts of a machine made of separate pieces, and, upon such a subject, speak of a composition; but not when I have in my mind the individual parts of an organic whole, which produce themselves with life, and are pervaded by a common soul.”
“It appears to me,” added I, “that the expression composition is also inappropriate and degrading to genuine productions of art and poetry.”
“It is a thoroughly contemptible word,” returned Goethe, “for which we have to thank the French, and of which we should endeavour to rid ourselves as soon as possible. How can one say, Mozart has composed (componirt) Don Juan! Composition! As if it were a piece of cake or biscuit, which had been stirred together out of eggs, flour, and sugar! It is a spiritual creation, in which the details, as well as the whole, are pervaded by one spirit, and by the breath of one life; so that the producer did not make experiments, and patch together, and follow his own caprice, but was altogether in the power of the dæmonic spirit of his genius, and acted according to his orders.”
(Sup.*) Sun., June 27.
We spoke of Victor Hugo. “He has a fine talent,” said Goethe, “but quite entangled in the unhappy romantic tendency of his time, by which he is seduced to represent, together with what is beautiful, also that which is most insupportable and hideous. I have lately been reading his ‘Notre Dame de Paris,’ and required no little patience to support the horror with which this reading has inspired me. It is the most abominable book that ever was written! Besides, one is not even indemnified for the torture one has to endure by the pleasure one might receive from a truthful representation of human nature or human character. His book is, on the contrary, utterly destitute of nature and truth! The so-called acting personages whom he brings forward are not human beings with living flesh and blood, but miserable wooden puppets, which he deals with as he pleases, and which he causes to make all sorts of contortions and grimaces just as he needs them for his desired effects. But what an age it must be which not only renders such a book possible, and calls it into existence, but even finds it endurable and delightful.”
(Sup.*) Wed., July 14.
I and the Prince accompanied his Majesty, the King of Würtemburg, to Goethe's. On our return the king appeared much pleased, and deputed me to convey his thanks to Goethe, for the pleasure this visit had given him.
(Sup.*) Thurs., July 15.
A moment with Goethe, when I executed my yesterday's commission from the king. I found him occupied in studies relative to the spiral tendency of plants; of which new discovery his opinion is, that it will be carried a great way, and that it will exercise a great influence upon science. “There is nothing,” said he, “beyond the pleasure which the study of nature produces. Her secrets are of unfathomable depth, but it is granted to us men to look into them more and more; and the very fact that she remains unfathomable at last perpetually charms us to approach her again and again, and ever to seek for new lights and new discoveries.”
(Sup.*) Tues., July 20.
After dinner, a short half hour with Goethe, whom I found in a very cheerful, mild, humour. He spoke of various things, at last of Carlsbad; and he joked about the various love affairs which he had experienced there. “A little passion,” said he, “is the only thing which can render a watering-place supportable; without it, one dies of ennui. I was almost always lucky enough to find there some little ‘elective affinity’ (Wahlverwandtschaft), which entertained me during the few weeks. I recollect one circumstance in particular, which even now gives me pleasure.
“I one day visited Frau von Reck. After a commonplace chat, I had taken my leave, and met, as I went out, a lady with two very pretty young girls. ‘Who was that gentleman who just now left you?’ asked the lady. ‘It was Goethe,’ answered Frau von Reck. ‘Oh, how I regret,’ returned the lady, ‘that he did not stay, and that I have not had the happiness of making his acquaintance!’ ‘You have lost nothing by it, my dear,’ said Frau von Reck. ‘He is very dull amongst ladies, unless they are pretty enough to inspire him with some interest. Ladies of our age must not expect to make him talkative or amiable.’
“When the two young ladies left the house with their mother, they thought of Frau von Reck's words. ‘We are young, we are pretty,’ said they, ‘let us see if we cannot succeed in captivating and taming this renowned savage!’ The next morning, on the promenade by the Sprudel, they made me, in passing, the most graceful and amiable salutations, and I could not forbear taking the opportunity of approaching and accosting them. They were charming! I spoke to them again and again, they led me to their mother, and so I was caught. From that time we saw each other daily, nay, we spent whole days together. In order to make our connection more intimate, it happened that the betrothed of the one arrived, when I devoted myself more exclusively to the other. I was also very amiable to the mother, as may be imagined; in fact, we were all thoroughly pleased with one another, and I spent so many happy days with this family, that the recollection of them is even now highly agreeable. The two girls soon related to me the conversation between their mother and Frau von Reck, describing the conspiracy which they had contrived for my conquest, and brought to a fortunate issue.”
An anecdote of another kind occurs to me, which Goethe had related to me before, but which may find a place here.
“I was once walking,” said he, “towards evening, in the castle garden with a friend, when, at the end of an avenue, we unexpectedly remarked two other persons of our circle, who were walking in quiet conversation with one another. I cannot name either the lady or the gentleman; but that is not to the purpose. They conversed and appeared to think of nothing,—when, suddenly, their heads inclined towards each other, and they exchanged a hearty kiss. They then resumed their former direction, and continued their conversation as if nothing had happened. ‘Did you see it?’ exclaimed my friend, full of astonishment; ‘may I believe my eyes?’ ‘I did see it,’ returned I, quietly, ‘but I do not believe it.’”
(Sup.*) Mon., Aug. 2.
We spoke of the metamorphosis of plants, and especially of Decandolle's doctrine of symmetry, which Goethe considers a mere delusion.
“Nature,” added he, “does not reveal herself to every one. On the contrary, she deports herself towards many like a young tantalizing girl, who allures us by a thousand charms, but at the moment when we expect to seize her and to possess her, slips from our arms.”
(Sup.*) Wed., Oct. 19.
The meeting of the society for the promotion of agriculture was held to-day at Belvidere. We had also the first exposition of products and objects of industry, which was richer than had been expected. Then there was a great dinner of the numerous assembled members. Goethe joined them, to the joyful surprise of all present. He remained some time, and surveyed the objects exhibited with evident interest. His appearance made a most agreeable impression, especially upon those who had not seen him before.
(Sup.) Thurs., Dec. 1.
Passed a short time with Goethe, in varied conversation. We then came to Soret.
“I have lately been reading a very pretty poem of his,” said Goethe, “a trilogy,—the first two parts of which possess an agreeable rusticity, but the last, under the title ‘Midnight,’ bears a sombre character. In this ‘Midnight’ he has succeeded. In reading it, one actually breathes the breath of night; almost as in the pictures of Rembrandt, in which one also seems to feel the night-air. Victor Hugo has treated similar subjects, but not with such felicity. In the nocturnal scenes of this indisputably great man, it is never actually night; on the contrary, the subjects remain always as distinct and visible as if it were still day, and the represented night were merely a deception. Soret has, unquestionably, surpassed the renowned Victor Hugo in his ‘Midnight.’”
I was pleased at this commendation, and resolved to read the said trilogy, by Soret, as soon as possible. “We possess, in our literature, very few trilogies,” remarked I.
“This form,” returned Goethe, “is very rare amongst the moderns generally. It sometimes happens that one finds a subject which seems naturally to demand a treatment in three parts; so that in the first there is a sort of introduction, in the second a sort of catastrophe, and in the third a satisfying denouement. In my poem of ‘The Youth and the Fair Miller’ these requisites are found, although when I wrote it I by no means thought of making a trilogy. My ‘Paria,’ also, is a perfect trilogy; and, indeed, it was a trilogy that I intentionally treated this cycle. My ‘Trilogie der Leidenschaft’ (Trilogy of Passion), as it is called, was, on the contrary, not originally conceived as a trilogy, but became a trilogy gradually, and to a certain extent incidentally. At first, as you know, I had merely the elegy, as an independent poem. Then Madame Szymanowska, who had been at Marienbad with me that summer, visited me, and, by her charming melodies, awoke in me the echo of those youthful happy days. The strophes which I dedicated to this fair friend are therefore written quite in the metre and tone of the elegy, and suit very well as a satisfactory conclusion. Then Weygand wished to prepare a new edition of my ‘Werther,’ and asked me for a preface; which to me was a very welcome occasion to write ‘My poem to Werther.’ But as I had still a remnant of that passion in my heart, the poem as it were formed itself into an introduction to the elegy. Thus it happened that all three poems which now stand together are pervaded by the same love-sick feeling; and the ‘Trilogie der Leidenschaft’ formed itself I knew not how.
“I have advised Soret to write more trilogies, and, indeed he should do it as I have described. He should not take the trouble to seek a particular subject for a trilogy, but should rather select, from the rich store of his unprinted poems, one that is especially pregnant with meaning, and, when occasion offers, add a sort of introduction, and conclusion, yet still so that the three productions are separated by a perceptible gap. In this manner one attains one's end far more easily, and spares oneself much thinking, which is notoriously, as Meyer says, a very difficult thing.”
We then spoke of Victor Hugo, remarking that his too great fertility had been highly prejudicial to his talent.
“How can a writer help growing worse, and destroying the finest talent in the world,” said Goethe, “if he has the audacity to write in a single year two tragedies and a novel; and further, when he only appears to work in order to scrape together immense sums of money. I do not blame him for trying to become rich, and to earn present renown; but if he intends to live long in futurity, he must begin to write less and to work more.”
Goethe then went through “Marie de Lorme,” and endeavoured to make it clear to me that the subject only contained sufficient material to make one single good and really tragical act; but that the author had allowed himself, by considerations of quite a secondary nature, to be misled into stretching out his subject to five long acts. “Under these circumstances,” said Goethe, “we have merely the advantage of seeing that the poet is great in the representation of details, which certainly is something, and that no trifle.”
Wed., Dec. 21.
Dined with Goethe. We talked of the reason why his “Theory of Colours” had been so little diffused.
“It is very hard to communicate,” said he, “for, as you know, it requires not only to be read and studied, but to be done, and this is difficult. The laws of poetry and painting may likewise be communicated to a certain extent; but to be a good poet and painter genius is required, which is not to be communicated. To receive a simple, primitive phenomenon, to recognize it in its high significance, and to go to work with it, requires a productive spirit, which is able to take a wide survey, and is a rare gift, only to be found in very superior natures.
“And even this is not enough. For, as with every rule, and with all genius, one is yet no painter, but still requires uninterrupted practice, so with the ‘Theory of Colours’ it is not enough for one to know the chief laws and have a suitable mind, but it is necessary to occupy oneself constantly with the several single phenomena, which are often very mysterious, and with their deductions and combinations.
“Thus, for instance, we know well enough the general proposition that a green colour is produced by a mixture of yellow and blue; but before a person can say that he comprehends the green of the rainbow, or of foliage, or of sea-water, there will be requisite a thorough investigation of the whole region of colour, with a consequent acme of acuteness, which scarcely any one has yet attained.
After dinner, we looked at some landscapes by Poussin.
“Those places,” observed Goethe, “on which the painter throws the principal light, do not admit of detail in the execution; and therefore water, masses of rock, bare ground, and buildings, are most suitable subjects to bear the principal light. Things, on the contrary, which require more detail in the drawing cannot well be used by the artist in those light places.
“A landscape painter,” continued Goethe, “should possess various sorts of knowledge. It is not enough for him to understand perspective, architecture, and the anatomy of men and animals; he must also have some insight into botany and mineralogy, that he may know how to express properly the characteristics of trees, plants, and the character of the different sorts of mountains. It is not, indeed, necessary that he should be an accomplished mineralogist, since he has to do chiefly with lime, slate and sandstone mountains, and only needs know in what forms they lie, how they are acted upon by the atmosphere, and what sort of trees thrive, and are stunted upon them.”
He showed me then some landscapes, by Hermann von Schwanefeld, making various remarks upon the art and personality of that eminent man.
“We find in him,” said he, “art and inclination more completely identified than in any other. He has a deep love for nature, and a divine tranquillity, which communicates itself to us when we look upon his pictures. He was born in the Netherlands, and studied at Rome, under Claude Lorraine. On this master he formed himself to the highest degree of perfection, and developed his fine capacities in the freest manner.”
We looked into an “Artist's Lexicon,” to see what was said of Hermann von Schwanefeld, and found him censured for not equalling his master.
“The fools!” said Goethe; “Von Schwanefeld was a different man from Claude Lorraine, and the latter could not boast of being the better of the two. If there were nothing more in one's life than is told by our biographers and lexicon writers, it would be a bad business, not worth the trouble it costs.”
At the close of this, and in the beginning of the next year, Goethe turned again to his favourite studies, the natural sciences. At the suggestion of Boisserée, he occupied himself with deeper inquiries into the laws of the rainbow; and also, from sympathy with the dispute between Cuvier and St. Hilaire, with subjects referring to the metamorphoses of the plant and animal world. He, likewise, revised with me the historical part of the “Theory of Colours,” taking also lively interest in a chapter on the blending of colours, which I, by his desire, was arranging to be inserted in the theoretical volume.
During this time, there was no lack of interesting conversation between us, or of valuable utterances on his side. But, as he was daily before my eyes, fresh and energetic as ever, I fancied this must always be the case, and was too careless of recording his words till it was too late, and, on the 22nd March, 1832, I, with thousands of noble Germans, had to weep for his irreparable loss.