Mon., Jan. 10.

Goethe, consistently with his great interest for the English, has desired me to introduce to him the young Englishmen who are here at present. At five o'clock this afternoon, he expected me with Mr. H., the English engineer officer, of whom I had previously been able to say much good to him. We went at the expected hour, and were conducted by the servant to a pleasant, well-warmed apartment, where Goethe usually passes his afternoons and evenings. Three lights were burning on the table, but he was not there; we heard him talking in the adjoining saloon.

Mr. H. looked about him for a while, and observed, besides the pictures and a large chart of the mountains which adorned the walls, a book-case full of portfolios. These, I told him, contained many drawings from the hands of celebrated masters, and engravings after the best pictures of all schools, which Goethe had, during a long life, been gradually collecting, and the repeated contemplation of which afforded him entertainment.

After we had waited a few minutes, Goethe came in, and greeted us cordially. He said to Mr. H., “I presume I may address you in German, as I hear you are already well versed in our language.” Mr. H. answered with a few polite words, and Goethe requested us to be seated.

Mr. H.'s manners and appearance must have made a good impression on Goethe; for his sweetness and mild serenity were manifested towards the stranger in their real beauty. “You did well,” said he, “to come hither to learn German; for here you will quickly and easily acquire, not only a knowledge of the language, but also of the elements on which it rests, our soil, climate, mode of life, manners, social habits, and constitution, and carry it away with you to England.”

Mr. H. replied, “The interest taken in the German language is now great, so that there is now scarcely a young Englishman of good family who does not learn German.”

“We Germans,” said Goethe, good-humouredly, “have, however, been half a century before your nation in this respect. For fifty years I have been busy with the English language and literature; so that I am well acquainted with your writers, your ways of living, and the administration of your country. If I went over to England, I should be no stranger there.

“But, as I said before, your young men do well to come to us and learn our language; for, not only does our literature merit attention on its own account, but no one can deny that he who now knows German well can dispense with many other languages. Of the French, I do not speak; it is the language of conversation, and is indispensable in travelling, because everybody understands it, and in all countries we can get on with it instead of a good interpreter. But as for Greek, Latin, Italian, and Spanish, we can read the best works of those nations in such excellent German translations, that, unless we have some particular object in view, we need not spend much time upon the toilsome study of those languages. It is in the German nature duly to honour after its kind, everything produced by other nations, and to accommodate itself to foreign peculiarities. This, with the great flexibility of our language, makes German translations thoroughly faithful and complete. And it is not to be denied that, in general, you get on very far with a good translation. Frederick the Great did not know Latin, but he read Cicero in the French translation with as much profit as we who read him in the original.”

Then, turning the conversation on the theatre, he asked Mr. H. whether he went frequently thither. “Every evening,” he replied, “and find that I thus gain much towards the understanding of the language.”

“It is remarkable,” said Goethe, “that the ear, and generally the understanding, gets the start of speaking; so that a man may very soon comprehend all he hears, but by no means express it all.”

“I experience daily,” said Mr. H., “the truth of that remark. I understand very well whatever I hear or read; I even feel when an incorrect expression is made use of in German. But when I speak, nothing will flow, and I cannot express myself as I wish. In light conversation at court, jests with the ladies, a chat at balls, and the like, I succeed pretty well. But, if I try to express an opinion on any important topic, to say anything peculiar or luminous, I cannot get on.”

“Be not discouraged by that,” said Goethe, “since it is hard enough to express such uncommon matters in one's own mother tongue.”

He then asked what Mr. H. read in German literature. “I have read ‘Egmont,’” he replied, “and found so much pleasure in the perusal, that I returned to it three times. ‘Torquato Tasso,’ too, has afforded me much enjoyment. Now, I am reading ‘Faust,’ but find that it is somewhat difficult.”

Goethe laughed at these last words. “Really,” said he, “I would not have advised you to undertake ‘Faust.’ It is mad stuff, and goes quite beyond all ordinary feeling. But since you have done it of your own accord, without asking my advice, you will see how you will get through. Faust is so strange an individual, that only few can sympathize with his internal condition. Then the character of Mephistophiles is, on account of his irony, and also because he is a living result of an extensive acquaintance with the world, also very difficult. But you will see what lights open upon you. ‘Tasso,’ on the other hand, lies far nearer the common feelings of mankind, and the elaboration of its form is favourable to an easy comprehension of it.”

“Yet,” said Mr. H., “‘Tasso’ is thought difficult in Germany, and people have wondered to hear me say that I was reading it.”

“What is chiefly needed for ‘Tasso,’” replied Goethe, “is that one should be no longer a child, and should have been in good society. A young man of good family, with sufficient mind and delicacy, and also with enough outward culture, such as will be produced by intercourse with accomplished men of the higher class, will not find ‘Tasso’ difficult.”

The conversation turning upon “Egmont,” he said, “I wrote ‘Egmont’ in 1775,—fifty years ago. I adhered closely to history, and strove to be as accurate as possible. Ten years afterwards, when I was in Rome, I read in the newspapers that the revolutionary scenes in the Netherlands there described were exactly repeated. I saw from this that the world remains ever the same, and that my picture must have some life in it.”

Amid this and similar conversation, the hour for the theatre had come. We rose, and Goethe dismissed us in a friendly manner.

As we went homeward, I asked Mr. H. how he was pleased with Goethe. “I have never,” said he, “seen a man who, with all his attractive gentleness, had so much native dignity. However he may condescend, he is always the great man.”

Tues., Jan. 18.

I went to Goethe about five o'clock. I had not seen him for some days, and passed a delightful evening. I found him sitting in his working-room, and talking, during the twilight, with his son and Hofrath Rehbein, his physician. I seated myself at the table with them. We talked a while in the dusk; then lights were brought in, and I had the happiness to see Goethe looking perfectly fresh and cheerful.

As usual, he inquired with interest what had happened to me of late, and I replied that I had made the acquaintance of a poetess. I was able at the same time, to praise her uncommon talent, and Goethe, who was likewise acquainted with some of her productions, agreed with my commendation.

“One of her poems,” said he, “in which she describes the country near her home, is of a highly peculiar character. She has a good tendency towards outward objects, and is besides not destitute of valuable internal qualities. We might indeed find much fault with her; but we will let her alone, and not disturb her in the path which her talent will show her.”

The conversation now turned on poetesses in general; Hofrath Rehbein remarked that the poetical talent of ladies often seemed to him as a sexual instinct of the intellect. “Hear him,” said Goethe, laughing, and looking at me; “sexual instinct, indeed! how the physician explains it!”

“I know not,” said Rehbein, “whether I express myself right; but it is something of the sort. Usually, these beings have not been fortunate in love, and they now seek compensation in intellectual pursuits. Had they been married in time, and borne children, they would never have thought of poetical productions.”

“I will not inquire,” said Goethe, “how far you are right in this case; but, as to the talents of ladies in other departments, I have always found that they ceased on marriage. I have known girls who drew finely; but so soon as they became wives and mothers it was all over: they were busy with their children, and never touched a pencil.

“But our poetesses,” continued he, with much animation, “might write and poetize as they pleased if only our men would not write like women. This it is that does not please me. Look at our periodicals and annuals; see how all becomes weaker and weaker. Were a chapter of Cellini now printed in the ‘Morgenblatt,’ what a figure it would make!

“However,” he continued, in a lively manner, “let us forget all that, and rejoice in our brave girl at Halle, who with masculine spirit introduces us into the Servian world. These poems are excellent. There are some among them worthy of a comparison with ‘Solomon's Song,’ and that is saying something. I have finished my essay on these poems, and it is already in type.” With these words he showed me the first four proof-sheets of a new number of “Kunst und Alterthum,” where I found the essay in question. “I have in a few words,” said he, “characterized these poems according to their chief subjects, and I think you will be pleased with the valuable motives. Rehbein, too, is not ignorant of poetry—at least as to its import and material—and he may perhaps like to hear you read this aloud.”

I read slowly the subjects of the single poems. The situations indicated were so marked and expressive, that at each word a whole poem was revealed to my eye. The following appeared to me especially charming:—

1. Modesty of a Servian girl, who never raises her beautiful eyelashes.

2. Conflict in the mind of a lover, who, as groomsman, is obliged to conduct his beloved to another.

3. Being distressed about her lover, the girl will not sing, lest she should seem gay.

4. Complaint of the corruption of manners; how youths marry widows, and old men virgins.

5. Complaint of a youth that a mother gives her daughter too much liberty.

6. Confidingly joyous talk of a girl with the steed, who betrays to her his master's inclinations and designs.

7. The maiden will not have him she cannot love.

8. The fair bar-maid: her lover is not among the guests.

9. Finding and tender awakening of the beloved.

10. What trade shall my husband be?

11. Joys of love lost by babbling.

12. The lover comes from abroad, watches her by day, surprises her at night.

I remarked that these mere motives excited in me such lively emotions, that I felt as if I were reading the poems themselves, and had no desire for the details.

“You are quite right,” said Goethe, “so it is; and here you see the great importance of motives, which no one will understand. Our women have no notion of it. ‘That poem is beautiful,’ they say, and by this they mean nothing but the feelings, the words, the verses. No one dreams that the true power of a poem consists in the situation,—in the motives.[1] And for this very reason, thousands of poems are written, where the motive is nothing at all, and which merely through feeling and sounding verse reflect a sort of existence. Dilettanti, and especially women, have very weak ideas of poetry. They usually think, if they could but get quit of the technical part, they would have the essential, and would be quite accomplished; but they are much mistaken.”

Professor Riemer was announced, Rehbein took leave, and Riemer sat down with us. The conversation still turned on the motives of the Servian love-poems. Riemer was acquainted with the topic, and made the remark, that according to the table of contents given above, not only could poems be made, but that the same motives had been already used by the Germans, without any knowledge that they had been treated in Servia. He mentioned some poems of his own, and I mentioned some poems by Goethe, which had occurred to me during the reading.

“The world,” said Goethe, “remains always the same; situations are repeated; one people lives, loves, and feels like another; why should not one poet write like another? The situations of life are alike; why, then, should those of poems be unlike?”

“This very similarity in life and sensation,” said Riemer, “makes us all able to appreciate the poetry of other nations. If this were not the case, we should never know what foreign poems were about.”

“I am, therefore,” said I, “always surprised at the learned, who seem to suppose that poetizing proceeds not from life to the poem, but from the book to the poem. They are always saying, ‘He got this here; he got that there.’ If, for instance, they find passages in Shakspeare which are also to be found in the ancients, they say he must have taken them from the ancients. Thus there is a situation in Shakspeare, where, on the sight of a beautiful girl, the parents are congratulated who call her daughter, and the youth who will lead her home as his bride. And because the same thing occurs in Homer, Shakspeare, forsooth, has taken it from Homer. How odd! As if one had to go so far for such things, and did not have them before one's eyes, feel them and utter them every day.”

“Ah, yes,” said Goethe, “it is very ridiculous.”

“Lord Byron, too,” said I, “is no wiser, when he takes ‘Faust’ to pieces, and thinks you found one thing here, the other there.”

“The greater part of those fine things cited by Lord Byron,” said Goethe, “I have never even read, much less did I think of them, when I was writing ‘Faust.’ But Lord Byron is only great as a poet; as soon as he reflects, he is a child. He knows not how to help himself against the stupid attacks of the same kind made upon him by his own countrymen. He ought to have expressed himself more strongly against them. ‘What is there is mine,’ he should have said, ‘and whether I got it from a book or from life, is of no consequence; the only point is, whether I have made a right use of it.’ Walter Scott used a scene from my ‘Egmont,’ and he had a right to do so; and because he did it well, he deserves praise. He has also copied the character of Mignon in one of his romances; but whether with equal judgment, is another question. Lord Byron's transformed Devil[2] is a continuation of Mephistophiles, and quite right too. If, from the whim of originality, he had departed from the model, he would certainly have fared worse. Thus, my Mephistophiles sings a song from Shakspeare, and why should he not? Why should I give myself the trouble of inventing one of my own, when this said just what was wanted. If, too, the prologue to my ‘Faust’ is something like the beginning of Job, that is again quite right, and I am rather to be praised than censured.”

Goethe was in the best humour. He sent for a bottle of wine, and filled for Riemer and me; he himself drank Marienbad water. He seemed to have appointed this evening for looking over, with Riemer, the manuscript of the continuation of his autobiography, perhaps in order to improve it here and there, in point of expression. “Let Eckermann stay and hear it too,” said Goethe; which words I was very glad to hear, and he then laid the manuscript before Riemer, who began to read, commencing with the year 1795.

I had already, in the course of the summer, had the pleasure of repeatedly reading and reflecting on the still unpublished record of those years, down to the latest time. But now to hear them read aloud in Goethe's presence, afforded quite a new enjoyment. Riemer paid especial attention to the mode of expression; and I had occasion to admire his great dexterity, and his affluence of words and phrases. But in Goethe's mind the epoch of life described was revived; he revelled in recollections, and on the mention of single persons and events, filled out the written narrative by the details he orally gave us. That was a precious evening! The most distinguished of his contemporaries were talked over; but the conversation always came back to Schiller, who was so interwoven with this period, from 1795 to 1800. The theatre had been the object of their united efforts, and Goethe's best works belong to this time. “Wilhelm Meister” was completed; “Hermann und Dorothea” planned and written; “Cellini” translated for the “Horen;” the “Xenien” written by both for Schiller's “Musenalmanach;”—every day brought with it points of contact. Of all this we talked this evening, and Goethe had full opportunity for the most interesting communications.

“‘Hermann und Dorothea,’” said he, “is almost the only one of my larger poems which still satisfies me; I can never read it without strong interest. I love it best in the Latin translation; there it seems to me nobler, and as if it had returned to its original form.”

Wilhelm Meister” was often a subject of discourse. “Schiller blamed me for interweaving tragic elements which do not belong to the novel. Yet he was wrong, as we all know. In his letters to me, there are most important views and opinions with respect to ‘Wilhelm Meister.’ But this work is one of the most incalculable productions; I myself can scarcely be said to have the key to it. People seek a central point, and that is hard, and not even right. I should think a rich manifold life, brought close to our eyes, would be enough in itself, without any express tendency, which, after all, is only for the intellect. But if anything of the sort is insisted upon, it will perhaps be found in the words which Frederic, at the end, addresses to the hero, when he says,—‘Thou seem'st to me like Saul, the son of Kish, who went out to seek his father's asses, and found a kingdom.’ Keep only to this; for, in fact, the whole work seems to say nothing more than that man, despite all his follies and errors, being led by a higher hand, reaches some happy goal at last.”

We then talked of the high degree of culture which, during the last fifty years, had become general among the middle classes of Germany, and Goethe ascribed the merit of this not so much to Lessing as to Herder and Wieland. “Lessing,” said he, “was of the very highest understanding, and only one equally great could truly learn of him. To a half faculty he was dangerous.” He mentioned a journalist who had formed himself on Lessing, and at the end of the last century had played a part indeed, but far from a noble one, because he was so inferior to his great predecessor.

“All Upper Germany,” said he, “is indebted to Wieland for its style. It has learned much from him; and the capability of expressing itself correctly is not the least.”

On mentioning the Xenien,”[3] he especially praised those of Schiller, which he called sharp and biting, while he called his own innocent and trivial.

“The ‘Thierkreis’ (Zodiac), which is by Schiller,” said he, “I always read with admiration. The good effects which the ‘Xenien’ had upon the German literature of their time are beyond calculation.” Many persons against whom the “Xenien” were directed, were mentioned on this occasion, but their names have escaped my memory.

After we had read and talked over the manuscript to the end of the year 1800, interrupted by these and innumerable other observations from Goethe, he put aside the papers, and had a little supper placed at one end of the table at which we were sitting. We partook of it, but Goethe did not touch a morsel; indeed, I have never seen him eat in the evening. He sat down with us, filled our glasses, snuffed the candles, and intellectually regaled us with the most agreeable conversation. His remembrance of Schiller was so lively, that the conversation during the latter part of the evening was devoted to him alone.

Riemer spoke of Schiller's personal appearance. “The build of his limbs, his gait in the street, all his motions.” said he, “were proud; his eyes only were soft.”

“Yes,” said Goethe, “everything else about him was proud and majestic, only the eyes were soft. And his talent was like his outward form. He seized boldly on a great subject, and turned it this way and that, and handled it this way and that. But he saw his object, as it were, only in the outside; a quiet development from its interior was not within his province. His talent was desultory. Thus he was never decided—could never have done. He often changed a part just before a rehearsal.

“And, as he went so boldly to work, he did not take sufficient pains about motives. I recollect what trouble I had with him, when he wanted to make Gessler, in ‘Tell,’ abruptly break an apple from the tree, and have it shot from the boy's head. This was quite against my nature, and I urged him to give at least some motive to this barbarity, by making the boy boast to Gessler of his father's dexterity, and say that he could shoot an apple from a tree at a hundred paces. Schiller, at first, would have nothing of the sort: but at last he yielded to my arguments and intentions, and did as I advised him. I, on the other hand, by too great attention to motives, kept my pieces from the theatre. My Eugenie[4] is nothing but a chain of motives, and this cannot succeed on the stage.

Schiller's genius was really made for the theatre. With every piece he progressed, and became more finished; but, strange to say, a certain love for the horrible adhered to him from the time of the ‘Robbers,’ which never quite left him even in his prime. I still recollect perfectly well, that in the prison scene in my ‘Egmont,’ where the sentence is read to him, Schiller would have made Alva appear in the background, masked and muffled in a cloak, enjoying the effect which the sentence would produce on Egmont. Thus Alva was to show himself insatiable in revenge and malice. I, however, protested, and prevented the apparition. He was a great, odd man.

“Every week he became different and more finished; each time that I saw him, he seemed to me to have advanced in learning and judgment. His letters are the fairest memorials of him which I possess, and they are also among the most excellent of his writings. His last letter I preserve as a sacred relic, among my treasures.” He rose and fetched it. “See and read it,” said he, giving it to me.

It was a very fine letter, written in a bold hand. It contained an opinion of Goethe's notes to “Rameau's Nephew,” which exhibit French literature at that time, and which he had given Schiller to look over. I read the letter aloud to Riemer. “You see,” said Goethe, “how apt and consistent is his judgment, and that the handwriting nowhere betrays any trace of weakness. He was a splendid man, and went from us in all the fulness of his strength. This letter is dated the 24th of April, 1805. Schiller died on the 9th of May.”

We looked at the letter by turns, and were pleased both with the clear style and the fine handwriting. Goethe bestowed several other words of affectionate reminiscence upon his friend, until it was nearly eleven o'clock, and we departed.

  • [1] This “motive” (German, motiv) is a very difficult and unmanageable word, and like many words of the sort does not seem always to preserve the same meaning. According to the definition of lexicographers, the German expression is almost the same as the English one, and a poem is said to be well “motived” (motivirt) when it is well organized as a whole,—that is to say, when there is a sufficient motive for the different effects produced. But in the passage above, “motive” seems rather to mean “theme” for a poem, and it will be remembered that “motive” has that sense in music. Wherever motiv occurs it will be represented by motive in italics, and the reader will do his best to understand it from the context.—Trans.

  • [2] This, doubtless, means the “Deformed Transformed,” and the fact that this poem was not published till January, 1824, rendering it probable that Goethe had not actually seen it, accounts for the inaccuracy of the expression.—Trans.

  • [3] It need scarcely be mentioned that this is the name given to a collection of sarcastic epigrams by Goethe and Schiller.—Trans.

  • [4]Die Natürliche Tochter” (The Natural Daughter).—Trans.

Thurs., Feb. 24.

“If I were still superintendent of the theatre,” said Goethe, this evening, “I would bring out Byron's ‘Doge of Venice.’ The piece is indeed long, and would require shortening. Nothing, however, should be cut out, but the import of each scene should be taken, and expressed more concisely. The piece would thus be brought closer together, without being damaged by alterations, and it would gain a powerful effect, without any essential loss of beauty.”

This opinion of Goethe's gave me a new view as to how we might proceed on the stage, in a hundred similar cases, and I was highly pleased with such a maxim, which, however, presupposes a fine intellect—nay, a poet, who understands his vocation.

We talked more about Lord Byron, and I mentioned how, in his conversations with Medwin, he had said there was something extremely difficult and unthankful in writing for the theatre. “The great point is,” said Goethe, “for the poet to strike into the path which the taste and interest of the public have taken. If the direction of his talent accords with that of the public, everything is gained. Houwald hit this path with his Bild (picture), and hence the universal applause he received. Lord Byron, perhaps, would not have been so fortunate, inasmuch as his tendency varied from that of the public. The greatness of the poet is by no means the important matter. On the contrary, one who is little elevated above the general public may often gain the most general favour precisely on that account.”

We continued to converse about Byron, and Goethe admired his extraordinary talent. “That which I call invention,” said he, “I never saw in any one in the world to a greater degree than in him. His manner of loosing a dramatic knot is always better than one would anticipate.”

“That,” said I, “is what I feel about Shakspeare, especially when Falstaff has entangled himself in such a net of falsehoods, and I ask myself what I should do to help him out; for I find that Shakspeare surpasses all my notions. That you say the same of Lord Byron, is the highest praise that can be bestowed on him. Nevertheless,” I added, “the poet who takes a clear survey of beginning and end, has, by far, the advantage with the biassed reader.”

Goethe agreed with me, and laughed to think that Lord Byron, who, in practical life, could never adapt himself, and never even asked about a law, finally subjected himself to the stupidest of laws—that of the three unities.

“He understood the purpose of this law,” said he, “no better than the rest of the world. Comprehensibility[1] is the purpose, and the three unities are only so far good as they conduce to this end. If the observance of them hinders the comprehension of a work, it is foolish to treat them as laws, and to try to observe them. Even the Greeks, from whom the rule was taken, did not always follow it. In the ‘Phaeton’ of Euripides, and in other pieces, there is a change of place, and it is obvious that good representation of their subject was with them more important than blind obedience to law, which, in itself, is of no great consequence. The pieces of Shakspeare deviate, as far as possible, from the unities of time and place; but they are comprehensible—nothing more so—and on this account, the Greeks would have found no fault in them. The French poets have endeavoured to follow most rigidly the laws of the three unities, but they sin against comprehensibility, inasmuch as they solve a dramatic law, not dramatically, but by narration.”

“I call to mind the ‘Feinde’ (enemies) of Houwald. The author of this drama stood much in his own light, when, to preserve the unity of place, he sinned against comprehensibility in the first act, and altogether sacrificed what might have given greater effect to his piece to a whim, for which no one thanks him. I thought, too, on the other hand, of ‘Goetz von Berlichingen,’ which deviates as far as possible from the unity of time and place; but which, as everything is visibly developed to us, and brought before our eyes, is as truly dramatic and comprehensible as any piece in the world. I thought, too, that the unities of time and place were natural, and in accordance with the intention of the Greeks, only when a subject is so limited in its range that it can develop itself before our eyes with all its details in the given time; but that with a large action, which occurs in several places, there is no reason to be confined to one place, especially as our present stage arrangements offer no obstacle to a change of scene.”

Goethe continued to talk of Lord Byron. “With that disposition,” said he, “which always leads him into the illimitable, the restraint which he imposed upon himself by the observance of the three unities becomes him very well. If he had but known how to endure moral restraint also! That he could not was his ruin; and it may be aptly said, that he was destroyed by his own unbridled temperament.

“But he was too much in the dark about himself. He lived impetuously for the day, and neither knew nor thought what he was doing. Permitting everything to himself, and excusing nothing in others, he necessarily put himself in a bad position, and made the world his foe. At the very beginning, he offended the most distinguished literary men by his ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ To be permitted only to live after this, he was obliged to go back a step. In his succeeding works, he continued in the path of opposition and fault-finding. Church and State were not left unassailed. This reckless conduct drove him from England, and would in time have driven him from Europe also. Everywhere it was too narrow for him, and with the most perfect personal freedom he felt himself confined; the world seemed to him a prison. His Grecian expedition was the result of no voluntary resolution; his misunderstanding with the world drove him to it.

“The renunciation of what was hereditary and patriotic not only caused the personal destruction of so distinguished a man, but his revolutionary turn, and the constant mental agitation with which it was combined, did not allow his talent a fair development. Moreover, his perpetual negation and fault-finding is injurious even to his excellent works. For not only does the discontent of the poet infect the reader, but the end of all opposition is negation; and negation is nothing. If I call bad bad, what do I gain? But if I call good bad, I do a great deal of mischief. He who will work aright must never rail, must not trouble himself at all about what is ill done, but only to do well himself. For the great point is, not to pull down, but to build up, and in this humanity finds pure joy.”

I was delighted with these noble words, and this valuable maxim.

“Lord Byron,” continued Goethe, “is to be regarded as a man, as an Englishman, and as a great genius. His good qualities belong chiefly to the man, his bad to the Englishman and the peer, his talent is incommensurable.

“All Englishmen are, as such, without reflection, properly so called; distractions and party spirit will not permit them to perfect themselves in quiet. But they are great as practical men.

“Thus, Lord Byron could never attain reflection on himself, and on this account his maxims in general are not successful, as is shown by his creed, ‘much money, no authority,’ for much money always paralyzes authority.

“But where he will create he always succeeds; and we may truly say that with him inspiration supplies the place of reflection. He was always obliged to go on poetizing, and then everything that came from the man, especially from his heart, was excellent. He produced his best things, as women do pretty children, without thinking about it or knowing how it was done.

“He is a great talent, a born talent, and I never saw the true poetical power greater in any man than in him. In the apprehension of external objects, and a clear penetration into past situations, he is quite as great as Shakspeare. But as a pure individuality, Shakspeare is his superior. This was felt by Byron, and on this account he does not say much of Shakspeare, although he knows whole passages by heart. He would willingly have denied him altogether; for Shakspeare's cheerfulness is in his way, and he feels that he is no match for it. Pope he does not deny, for he had no cause to fear him. On the contrary, he mentions him, and shows him respect when he can, for he knows well enough that Pope is a mere foil to himself.”

Goethe seems inexhaustible on the subject of Byron, and I felt that I could not listen enough. After a few digressions, he proceeded thus:—

“His high rank as an English peer was very injurious to Byron; for every talent is oppressed by the outer world,—how much more, then, when there is such high birth and so great a fortune. A certain middle rank is much more favourable to talent, on which account we find all great artists and poets in the middle classes. Byron's predilection for the unbounded could not have been nearly so dangerous with more humble birth and smaller means. But as it was, he was able to put every fancy into practice, and this involved him in innumerable scrapes. Besides, how could one of such high rank be inspired with awe and respect by any rank whatever? He spoke out whatever he felt, and this brought him into ceaseless conflict with the world.

“It is surprising to remark,” continued Goethe, “how large a portion of the life of a rich Englishman of rank is passed in duels and elopements. Lord Byron himself says that his father carried off three ladies. And let any man be a steady son after that.

“Properly speaking, he lived perpetually in a state of nature, and with his mode of existence the necessity for self-defence floated daily before his eyes. Hence his constant pistol shooting. Every moment he expected to be called out.

“He could not live alone. Hence, with all his oddities, he was very indulgent to his associates. He one evening read his fine poem on the death of Sir John Moore, and his noble friends did not know what to make of it. This did not move him, but he put it away again. As a poet, he really showed himself a lamb. Another would have commended them to the devil.”

  • [1] We unwillingly adopt this uncouth word as the equivalent for “das Fassliche.” The American translator uses the word “illusion,” but this would be rather a result of “das Fassliche” than the thing itself.—Trans.

(Sup.) Tues., Mar. 22.

Last night, soon after twelve o'clock, we were awoke by an alarm of fire; we heard cries, “The theatre is on fire!” I at once threw on my clothes, and hastened to the spot. The universal consternation was very great. Only a few hours before we had been delighted with the excellent acting of La Roche in Cumberland's “Jew,” and Seidel had excited universal laughter by his good humour and jokes. And now, in the place so lately the scene of intellectual pleasures, raged the most terrible element of destruction.

The fire, which was occasioned by the heating apparatus, appears to have broken out in the pit; it soon spread to the stage and the dry lath-work of the wings, and, as it fearfully increased by the great quantity of combustible material, it was not long before the flames burst through the roof, and the rafters gave way.

There was no deficiency of preparations for extinguishing the fire. The building was, by degrees, surrounded by engines, which poured an immense quantity of water upon the flames. All, however, was without avail. The flames raged upwards as before, and threw up to the dark sky an inexhaustible mass of glowing sparks and burning particles of light materials, which then, with a light breeze, passed sideways over the town. The noise of the cries and calls of the men working the fire-ladders and engines was very great. All seemed determined to subdue the flames. On one side, as near to the spot as the fire allowed, stood a man in a cloak and military cap, smoking a cigar with the greatest composure. At the first glance, he appeared to be an idle spectator, but such was not the case. There were several persons to whom, in a few words, he gave commands, which were immediately executed. It was the Grand Duke Charles Augustus. He had soon seen that the building itself could not be saved; he, therefore, ordered that it should be left to fall, and that all the superfluous engines should be turned upon the neighbouring houses, which were much exposed to the fire. He appeared to think with princely resignation—

Let that burn down,
With greater beauty will it rise again.

He was not wrong. The theatre was old, by no means beautiful; and for a long time, it had ceased to be roomy enough to accommodate the annually increasing public. Nevertheless, it was lamentable to see this building thus irreparably destroyed, with which so many reminiscences of a past time, illustrious and endeared to Weimar, were connected.

I saw in beautiful eyes many tears, which flowed for its downfall. I was no less touched by the grief of a member of the orchestra. He wept for his burnt violin. As the day dawned, I saw many pale countenances. I remarked several young girls and women of high rank, who had awaited the event of the fire during the whole night, and who now shivered in the cold morning air. I returned home to take a little rest, and in the course of the forenoon I called upon Goethe.

The servant told me that he was unwell and in bed. Still Goethe had me called to his side. He stretched out his hand to me. “We have all sustained a loss,” said he; “what is to be done? My little Wolf came early this morning to my bed-side. He seized my hand, and looking full at me, said ‘so it is with human things.’ What more can be said, than these words of my beloved Wolf's, with which he sought to comfort me? The theatre, the scene of my love-labours for nearly thirty years, lies in ashes. But, as Wolf says, ‘so it is with human things.’ I have slept but little during the night; from my front windows, I saw the flames incessantly rising towards the sky.

“You can imagine that many thoughts of old times, of my many years' exertions with Schiller, and of the progress of many a favourite pupil, passed through my mind, and not without causing some emotion. Hence, I intend wisely to remain in bed to-day.”

I praised him for his forethought. Still he did not appear to me in the least weak or exhausted, but in a very pleasant and serene mood. This lying in bed seemed to me to be an old stratagem of war, which he is accustomed to adopt on any extraordinary event, when he fears a crowd of visitors.

Goethe begged me to be seated on a chair before his bed, and to stay there a little time. “I have thought much of you, and pitied you,” said he. “What will you do with your evenings now?”

“You know,” returned I, “How passionately I love the theatre. When I came here, two years ago, I knew nothing at all, except three or four pieces which I had seen in Hanover.

“All was new to me, actors as well as pieces; and since, according to your advice, I have given myself up entirely to the impression of the subject, without much thinking or reflecting, I can say with truth, that I have, during these two winters, passed at the theatre the most harmless and most agreeable hours that I have ever known. I was, moreover, so infatuated with the theatre, that I not only missed no performance, but also obtained admission to the rehearsals; nay, not contented with this, if, as I passed in the day-time, I chanced to find the doors open, I would enter, and sit for half an hour upon the empty benches in the pit, and imagine scenes which might at some time be played there.”

“You are a madman,” returned Goethe, laughing; “but that is what I like. Would to God that the whole public consisted of such children! And in fact you are right. Any one who is sufficiently young, and who is not quite spoiled, could not easily find any place that would suit him so well as a theatre. No one asks you any questions: you need not open your mouth unless you choose; on the contrary, you sit quite at your ease like a king, and let everything pass before you, and recreate your mind and senses to your heart's content. There is poetry, there is painting, there are singing and music, there is acting, and what not besides. When all these arts, and the charm of youth and beauty heightened to an important degree, work in concert on the same evening, it is a bouquet to which no other can compare. But, even when part is bad and part is good, it is still better than looking out of the window, or playing a game at whist in a close party amid the smoke of cigars. The theatre at Weimar is, as you feel, by no means to be despised; it is still an old trunk from our best time, to which new talents have attached themselves; and we can still produce something which charms and pleases, and at least gives the appearance of an organized whole.”

“Would I had seen it twenty or thirty years ago,” answered I. “That was certainly a time,” replied Goethe, “when we were assisted by great advantages. Consider that the tedious period of the French taste had not long gone by; that the public was not yet spoiled by over-excitement; that the influence of Shakspeare was in all its first freshness; that the operas of Mozart were new; and lastly, that the pieces of Schiller were first produced here year after year, and were given at the theatre of Weimar in all their first glory, under his own superintendence. Consider all this, I say, and you will imagine that, with such dishes, a fine banquet was given to old and young, and that we always had a grateful public.”

I remarked, “Older persons, who lived in those times, cannot praise highly enough the elevated position which the Weimar theatre then held.”

“I will not deny that it was something,” returned Goethe. “The main point, however, was this, that the Grand Duke left my hands quite free, and I could do just as I liked. I did not look to magnificent scenery, and a brilliant wardrobe, but I looked to good pieces. From tragedy to farce, every species was welcome; but a piece was obliged to have something in it to find favour. It was necessary that it should be great and clever, cheerful and graceful, and, at all events, healthy and containing some pith. All that was morbid, weak, lachrymose, and sentimental, as well as all that was frightful, horrible, and offensive to decorum, was utterly excluded; I should have feared, by such expedients, to spoil both actors and audience.

“By means of good pieces, I raised the actors; for the study of excellence, and the perpetual practice of excellence, must necessarily make something of a man whom nature has not left ungifted. I was, also, constantly in personal contact with the actors. I attended the first rehearsals,[1] and explained to every one his part; I was present at the chief rehearsals, and talked with the actors as to any improvements that might be made; I was never absent from a performance, and pointed out the next day anything which did not appear to me to be right.

“By these means I advanced them in their art.

“But I also sought to raise the whole class in the esteem of society, by introducing the best and most promising into my own circle, and thus showing to the world that I considered them worthy of social intercourse with myself. The result of this was, that the rest of the higher society in Weimar did not remain behind me, and that actors and actresses gained soon an honourable admission into the best circles. By all this, they acquired a great internal as well as external culture. My scholar Wolff, in Berlin, and our Dürand, are people of the finest tact in society. Oels and Graff have enough of the higher order of culture to do honour to the best circles.

Schiller proceeded in the same spirit as myself. He had a great deal of intercourse with actors and actresses. He, like me, was present at every rehearsal; and after every successful performance of one of his pieces, it was his custom to invite the actors, and to spend a merry day with them. All rejoiced together at that which had succeeded, and discussed how anything might be done better next time. But even when Schiller joined us, he found both actors and the public already cultivated to a high degree; and it is not to be denied that this conduced to the rapid success of his pieces.”

It gave me great pleasure to hear Goethe speak so circumstantially upon a subject which always possessed great interest for me, and which, in consequence of the misfortune of the previous night, was uppermost in my mind.

“This burning of the house,” said I, “in which you and Schiller, during a long course of years, effected so much good, in some degree closes a great epoch, which will not soon return for Weimar. You must at that time have experienced great pleasure in your direction of the theatre, and its extraordinary success.”

“And not a little trouble and difficulty,” returned Goethe, with a sigh.

“It must be difficult,” said I, “to keep such a many-headed being in proper order.”

“A great deal,” said Goethe, “may be done by severity, more by love, but most by clear discernment and impartial justice, which pays no respect to persons.

“I had to beware of two enemies, which might have been dangerous to me. The one was my passionate love of talent, which might easily have made me partial. The other I will not mention, but you can guess it. At our theatre there was no want of ladies, who were beautiful and young, and who were possessed of great mental charms. I felt a passionate inclination towards many of them, and sometimes it happened that I was met half way. But I restrained myself, and said, No further! I knew my position, and also what I owed to it. I stood here, not as a private man, but as chief of an establishment, the prosperity of which was of more consequence to me than a momentary gratification. If I had involved myself in any love affair, I should have been like a compass, which cannot point right when under the influence of a magnet at its side.

“By thus keeping myself quite clear, and always remaining master of myself, I also remained master of the theatre, and I always received that proper respect, without which all authority is very soon at an end.”

This confession of Goethe's deeply impressed me. I had already heard something of this kind about him from others, and I rejoiced now to hear its confirmation from his own mouth. I loved him more than ever, and took leave of him with a hearty pressure of the hand.

I returned to the scene of the fire, where flames and columns of smoke were rising from the great heap of ruins. People were still occupied in extinguishing and pulling to pieces. I found near the spot a burnt fragment of a written part. It contained passages from Goethe's “Tasso.”

  • [1] The word “Leseprobe,” which is here used, answers exactly to the English stage technicality—the “reading.” The chief rehearsals, “Haupt prober,” are by us simply called “rehearsals.”—Trans.

(Sup.) Thurs., Mar. 24.

I dined with Goethe. The loss of the theatre was almost the exclusive subject of conversation. Frau von Goethe and Fräulein Ulrica recalled to mind the happy hours they had enjoyed in the old house. They had been seeking some relics from amongst the rubbish, which they considered invaluable; but which were, after all, nothing but stones and burnt pieces of carpet. Still, these pieces were from the precise spot in the balcony where they had been used to sit.

“The principal thing is,” said Goethe, “to recover oneself, and get in order as soon as possible. I should like the performances to recommence next week, in the palace or in the great town-hall, no matter which. Too long a pause must not be allowed, lest the public should seek some other resource for its tedious evenings.”

“But,” it was observed, “there are scarcely any of the decorations saved.”

“There is no need of much decoration,” returned Goethe. “Neither is there a necessity for great pieces. It is not even necessary to perform whole pieces at all, much less a great whole.

“The main point is, to choose something in which no great change of scene takes place. Perhaps a one act comedy, or a one act farce, or operetta. Then, perhaps, some air, duet, or finale, from a favourite opera, and you will be very passably entertained. We have only to get tolerably through April, for in May you have the songsters of the woods.

“In the mean time,” continued Goethe, “you will, during the summer months, witness the spectacle of the rearing of a new house. This fire appears to me very remarkable. I will now confess to you, that, during the long winter evenings, I have occupied myself with Coudray, in drawing the plan of a new handsome theatre suitable to Weimar.

“We had sent for the ground-plans and sections of some of the principal German theatres, and by taking what was best, and avoiding what appeared defective, we accomplished a sketch which will be worth looking at. As soon as the Grand Duke gives permission, the building may be commenced, and it is no trifle that this accident found us so wonderfully prepared.”

We received this intelligence of Goethe's with great joy.

“In the old house,” continued Goethe, “the nobility were accommodated in the balcony, and the servants and young artisans in the gallery. The greater number of the wealthy and genteel middle class were not well provided for; for when, at the performance of certain pieces, the students occupied the pit, these respectable persons did not know where to go. The few small boxes behind the pit, and the few stalls, were not sufficient. Now we have managed much better. We have a whole tier of boxes running round the pit, and another tier, of the second rank, between the balcony and the gallery.

“By these means we gain a great many places, without enlarging the house too much.”

We rejoiced at this communication, and praised Goethe for his kind consideration of the theatre and the public.

In order to lend my share of assistance to the future theatre, I went, after dinner, with my friend Robert Doolan, to Upper Weimar, and over a cup of coffee at the inn, began to make the libretto of an opera, after the “Issipile” of Metastasio. The first thing was to write a programme, so as to cast the piece with all the favourite singers, male and female, belonging to the Weimar theatre. This gave us great pleasure. It was almost as if we were again seated before the orchestra.

We then set to work in good earnest, and finished a great part of the first act.

(Sup.) Sun., Mar. 27.

I dined at Goethe's with a large party. He showed us the design for the new theatre. It was as he had told us a few days ago; the plan promised a very beautiful building, both externally and internally.

It was remarked that so pretty a theatre required beautiful decorations, and better costumes than the former one. We were also of opinion that the company had gradually become incomplete, and that some distinguished young members should be engaged, both for the drama and the opera. At the same time, we did not shut our eyes to the fact that all this would be attended with great expense, which the present state of the treasury would not allow.

“I know very well,” said Goethe, “that under pretext of sparing the treasury, some insignificant persons will be engaged who will not cost much. But we cannot expect to benefit the treasury by such means.

“Nothing injures the treasury more than the endeavour to save in such essential matters. Our aim must be, to have a full house every evening. And a young singer, male or female, a clever hero, and a clever young heroine of distinguished talents and some beauty, will do much towards this end. Ay, if I still stood at the head of the direction, I would now go a step farther for the benefit of the treasury, and you would perceive that I should not be without the money required.”

Goethe was asked what he meant by this.

“I would employ very simple means,” returned he. “I would have performances on Sundays. I should thus have the receipts of at least forty more evenings, and it would be hard if the treasury did not thus gain ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year.”

This expedient was thought very practical. It was mentioned, that to the great working-class, who are usually occupied until late at night on week days, Sunday is the only day of recreation, when they would prefer the more noble pleasures of a play to a dance, with beer, at a village inn. It was also the general opinion, that all the farmers and land-owners, as well as the officials and wealthy inhabitants of the small towns in the neighbourhood, would consider the Sunday as a desirable day to go to the theatre at Weimar. Besides, at the present time, a Sunday evening at Weimar was very dreary and tedious for every one who did not go to court, or was not a member of a happy family circle, or a select society; since isolated individuals did not know where to go. And still people said that there ought to be some place where they might, on a Sunday evening, be comfortable, and forget the annoyances of the week.

Goethe's idea of permitting Sunday performances, according to the custom in all other German towns, received perfect approbation, and was greeted as a very happy one. Only a slight doubt arose, as to whether the court would approve of it.

“The court of Weimar,” returned Goethe, “is too good and too wise to oppose any regulation which would conduce to the benefit of the town and an important institution. The court will certainly make the small sacrifice of altering its Sunday soirées to another day. But if this were not agreeable, we could find for the Sundays enough pieces which the court does not like to see, but which would suit the common people, and would fill the treasury admirably.”

The conversation then turned upon actors, and much was said about the use and abuse of their powers.

“I have, during my long practice,” said Goethe, “found that the main point is never to allow any play, or scarcely an opera, to be studied, unless one can look forward with some certainty to a good success for years. No one sufficiently considers the expenditure of power, which is demanded for the study of a five act play, or even an opera of equal length. Yes, my good friends, much is required before a singer has thoroughly mastered a part through all the scenes and acts, much more before the choruses go as they ought.

“I am horrified, when I hear how lightly people often give orders for the study of an opera, of the success of which they truly know nothing, and of which they have only heard through some very uncertain newspaper notice. As we, in Germany, already possess very tolerable means of travelling, and are even beginning to have diligences, I would, on the intelligence of any new opera being produced and praised, send to the spot the Regisseur, or some other trustworthy member of the theatre, that by his presence, at an actual representation, he might be convinced how far the highly-praised new opera was good for anything, whether our forces were sufficient for it or not. The expense of such a journey would be inconsiderable in comparison with the enormous advantage to be derived from it, and the fatal mistakes which, by these means, would be avoided.

“And then, when a good play or a good opera has once been studied, it should be represented at short intervals,—be allowed to ‘run’ as long as it draws, and continues at all to fill the house. The same plan would be applicable to a good old play, or a good old opera, which has, perhaps, been long laid aside, and which now requires not a little fresh study to be reproduced with success. Such a representation should be repeated at short intervals, as frequently as the public shows any interest in it. The desire always to have something new, and to see a good play or opera, which has been studied with excessive pains only once, or at the most twice, or even to allow the space of six or eight weeks to elapse between such repetitions, in which time a new study becomes necessary, is a real detriment to the theatre, and an unpardonable misuse of the talents of the performers engaged in it.”

Goethe appeared to consider this matter very important, and it seemed to lie so near his heart that he became more warm than, with his calm disposition, is often the case.

“In Italy,” continued Goethe, “they perform the same opera every evening for four or six weeks, and the great Italian children by no means desire any change. The polished Parisian sees the classical plays of his great poets so often that he knows them by heart, and has a practised ear for the accentuation of every syllable. Here, in Weimar, they have done me the honour to perform my ‘Iphigenia’ and my ‘Tasso,’ but how often? Scarcely once in three or four years. The public finds them tedious. Very probably. The actors are not in practice to play the pieces, and the public is not in practice to hear them. If, through more frequent repetitions, the actors entered so much into the spirit of their parts that their representation gained life, as if it were not the result of study, and everything flowed from their own hearts, the public would, assuredly, no longer remain uninterested and unmoved.

“I really had the notion once that it was possible to form a German drama. Nay, I even fancied that I myself could contribute to it, and lay some foundation-stones for such an edifice. I wrote my ‘Iphigenia’ and my ‘Tasso,’ and thought, with a childish hope, that thus it might be brought about. But there was no emotion or excitement—all remained as it was before. If I had produced an effect, and had met with applause, I would have written a round dozen of pieces such as ‘Iphigenia’ and ‘Tasso.’ There was no deficiency of material. But, as I said, actors were wanting to represent such pieces with life and spirit, and a public was wanting to hear and receive them with sympathy.”

(Sup.) Wed., Mar. 30.

This evening to a great tea party at Goethe's, where I found a young American, besides the young Englishmen. I also had the pleasure of seeing the Countess Julia von Egloffstein, and of conversing with her pleasantly on various subjects.

(Sup.) Wed., April 6.

Goethe's advice has been followed, and a performance has taken place this evening, for the first time, in the great hall of the town-house, consisting of small things and fragments, which were in accordance with the confined space and the want of decorations. The little opera, “Das Hausgesinde” (the domestic servants), went quite as well as that at the theatre. Then a favourite quartet, from the opera “Graf von Gleichen” (Count von Gleichen), by Eberwein, was received with decided approbation. Our first tenor, Herr Moltke, then sang a well-known song from “Die Zauberflöte,” after which, with a pause between, the grand finale to the first act of “Don Juan” came in with powerful effect, and nobly concluded this first substitute for an evening at the theatre.

(Sup.) Sun., April 10.

Dined with Goethe. “I have the good news to tell you,” said he, “that the Grand Duke has approved of our design for the new theatre, and that the foundation will be laid immediately.”

I was very much pleased at this information.

“We had to contend with all sorts of obstacles,” continued Goethe; “we are, at last, happily through them. We owe many thanks, on that account, to the Privy Councillor, Schweitzer, who, as we might have expected of him, stood true to our cause with hearty good will. The sketch is signed in the Grand Duke's own handwriting, and is to undergo no further alteration. Rejoice, then, for you will obtain a very good theatre.”

(Sup.) Thur., April 14.

This evening at Goethe's. Since conversation upon the theatre and theatrical management were now the order of the day, I asked him upon what maxims he proceeded in the choice of a new member of the company.

“I can scarcely say,” returned Goethe; “I had various modes of proceeding. If a striking reputation preceded the new actor, I let him act, and saw how he suited the others; whether his style and manner disturbed our ensemble, or whether he would supply a deficiency. If, however, he was a young man who had never trodden a stage before, I first considered his personal qualities; whether he had about him anything prepossessing or attractive, and, above all things, whether he had control over himself. For an actor who possesses no self-possession, and who cannot appear before a stranger in his most favourable light, has, generally speaking, little talent. His whole profession requires continual self-denial, and a continual existence in a foreign mask.

“If his appearance and his deportment pleased me, I made him read, in order to test the power and extent of his organ, as well as the capabilities of his mind. I gave him some sublime passage from a great poet, to see whether he was capable of feeling and expressing what was really great; then something passionate and wild, to prove his power. I then went to something marked by sense and smartness, something ironical and witty, to see how he treated such things, and whether he possessed sufficient freedom. Then I gave him something in which was represented the pain of a wounded heart, the suffering of a great soul, that I might learn whether he had it in his power to express pathos.

“If he satisfied me in all these numerous particulars, I had a well-grounded hope of making him a very important actor. If he appeared more capable in some particulars than in others, I remarked the line to which he was most adapted. I also now knew his weak points, and, above all, endeavoured to work upon him so that he might strengthen and cultivate himself here. If I remarked faults of dialect, and what are called provincialisms, I urged him to lay them aside, and recommended to him social intercourse and friendly practice with some member of the stage who was entirely free from them. I then asked him whether he could dance and fence; and if this were not the case, I would hand him over for some time to the dancing and fencing masters.

“If he were now sufficiently advanced to make his appearance, I gave him at first such parts as suited his individuality, and I desired nothing but that he should represent himself. If he now appeared to me of too fiery a nature, I gave him phlegmatic characters; if too calm and tedious, I gave him fiery and hasty characters, that he might thus learn to lay aside himself, and assume foreign individuality.”

The conversation turned upon the casting of plays, upon which Goethe made, among others, the following remarkable observations:—

“It is a great error to think,” said he, “that an indifferent piece may be played by indifferent actors. A second or third rate play can be incredibly improved by the employment of first-rate powers, and be made something really good. But if a second or third rate play be performed by second or third rate actors, no one can wonder if it is utterly ineffective.

“Second-rate actors are excellent in great plays. They have the same effect that the figures in half shade have in a picture; they serve admirably to show off more powerfully those which have the full light.”

(Sup.) Sat., April 16.

Dined at Goethe's with D'Alton, whose acquaintance I made last summer at Bonn, and whom it gave me much pleasure to meet again. D'Alton is a man quite after Goethe's own heart; there is also a very pleasant relation between them. In his own science he appears of great importance, so that Goethe esteems his observations, and honours every word he utters. Moreover, D'Alton is, as a man, amiable and witty, while in eloquence and abundance of flowing thoughts few can equal him, and one is never tired of hearing him.

Goethe, who in his endeavours to investigate nature would willingly encompass the Great Whole, stands in a disadvantageous position to every natural philosopher[1] of importance who has devoted a whole life to one special object. The latter has mastered a kingdom of endless details, whilst Goethe lives more in the contemplation of great universal laws. Thence it is that Goethe, who is always upon the track of some great synthesis, but who, from the want of knowledge of single facts, lacks a confirmation of his presentiments, seizes upon, and retains with such decided love, every connection with important natural philosophers. For in them he finds what he himself wants; in them he finds that which supplies his own deficiencies. He will in a few years be eighty years old; but he is not tired of inquiries and experiments. In none of his tendencies has he come to a fixed point: he will always go on further and further. Still learning and learning. Thus he shows himself a man endowed with perpetual, imperishable youth.

These reflections were awakened to-day, by his animated conversation with D'Alton. D'Alton talked about Rodentia,[2] and the formation and modifications of their skeletons, and Goethe was unwearied in hearing new facts.

  • [1] Naturforscher, literally “Investigator into Nature;” for the Germans do not, like us, honour experimentalists with the name of philosophers.—Trans.

  • [2] This word of Cuvier's exactly corresponds to the German Nagethier.—Trans.

Wed., April 20.

Goethe showed me this evening a letter from a young student, who begs of him the plan for the second part of “Faust,” with the design of completing the work himself. In a straightforward, good-humoured, and candid tone, he freely sets forth his wishes and views, and at last, without reserve, utters his conviction that all other literary efforts of later years have been nought, but that in him a new literature is to bloom afresh.

If I met a young man who would set about continuing Napoleon's conquest of the world, or a young dilettante in architecture, who attempted to complete the Cathedral of Cologne, I should not be more surprised, nor find them more insane and ridiculous, than this young poetical amateur, who fancies he could write a second part of “Faust” merely because he has a fancy to do so.

Indeed, I think it more possible to complete the Cathedral of Cologne than to continue “Faust” on Goethe's plan. For the former object might, at any rate, be attained mathematically: it stands visibly before our eyes, and may be touched with our hands; but what line or measure could avail for a mental invisible work, which wholly depends on the subjective peculiarity of the artist, in which the first discovery (aperçu) is everything, and which, for its material, requires a great life actually experienced, and for its execution, a technical skill heightened to perfection by the practice of years.

He who esteems such a work easy, or even possible, has certainly a very moderate talent, since he has not even a suspicion of the high and the difficult; and it may be fairly maintained, that if Goethe had completed his “Faust” with only a deficiency of a few lines, such a youth would be unequal to supply the small gap.

I will not inquire whence the young men of our day acquire the notion that they are born with that which has hitherto been attained only by the study and experience of many years, but I think I may observe that this presumptuousness, now so common in Germany, which audaciously strides over all the steps of gradual culture, affords little hope of future masterpieces.

“The misfortune,” said Goethe, “in the state is, that nobody can enjoy life in peace, but that everybody must govern; and in art, that nobody will enjoy what has been produced, but every one wants to reproduce on his own account. Again, no one thinks to be furthered in his own way by a work of poetry, but every one will do the same thing over again. There is, besides, no earnestness to approach the Whole, no willingness to do anything for the sake of the Whole; but each one tries to make his own Self observable, and to exhibit it as much as possible to the world. This false tendency is shown everywhere, and people imitate the modern musical virtuosi, who do not select those pieces which give the audience pure musical enjoyment, so much as those in which they can gain admiration by the dexterity they have acquired. Everywhere there is the individual who wants to show himself off to advantage, nowhere one honest effort to make oneself subservient to the Whole.

“Hence it is that men acquire a bungling mode of production, without knowing it. Children make verses, and go on till they fancy, as youths, they can do something, until at last manhood gives them insight into the excellence that exists, and then they look back in despair on the years they have wasted on a false and highly futile effort. Nay, many never attain a knowledge of what is perfect, and of their own insufficiency, and go on doing things by halves to the end of their days.

“It is certain that if every one could early enough be made to feel how full the world is already of excellence, and how much must be done to produce anything worthy of being placed beside what has already been produced, of a hundred youths who are now poetizing scarcely one would feel enough courage, perseverance, and talent to work quietly for the attainment of a similar mastery.

“Many young painters would never have taken their pencils in hand if they could have felt, known, and understood early enough what really produced a master like Raphael.”

The conversation turned upon false tendencies in general, and Goethe continued—

“Thus my tendency to practise painting was really a false one, for I had not natural talent from which anything of the sort could be developed. A certain sensibility to the surrounding landscapes was one of my qualities, and, consequently, my first attempts were really promising. The journey to Italy destroyed this pleasure in practice. A broad survey took its place, but the talent of love was lost; and as an artistical talent could neither technically nor æsthetically be developed, my efforts melted away into nothing.

“It is justly said,” continued Goethe, “that the cultivation of all human powers in common is desirable, and also the chief end. But man is not born for this: every one must form himself as a particular being, seeking, however, to attain that general idea of which all mankind are constituents.”[1]

I here thought of that passage in “Wilhelm Meister,” where it is likewise said that all men, taken together, are requisite to constitute humanity, and that we are only so far worthy of esteem as we know how to appreciate.

I thought, too, of the “Wanderjahre,” where Jarno advises each man to learn only one trade, and says that this is the time for one-sidedness, and that he is to be congratulated who understands this, and, in that spirit, works for himself and others.

Then comes the question, what occupation shall a man choose, that he may neither overstep his proper limits nor do too little?

He whose business it is to overlook many departments, to judge, to guide others, should endeavour to attain the best insight into many departments. Thus a prince or a future statesman cannot be too many-sided in his culture; for many-sidedness belongs to his craft.

The poet, too, should strive after manifold knowledge, for his subject is the whole world, which he has to handle and to express.

However, the poet should not try to be a painter, but content himself with reflecting the world in words, just as the allows the actor to bring it before our eyes by personally exhibiting himself.

Insight and practical activity are to be distinguished, and we ought to reflect that every art, when we reduce it to practice, is something very great and difficult, and that mastery in it requires a life.

Thus Goethe strove for insight into many things, but has practically confined himself to one thing only. Only one art has he practised, and that in a masterly style, viz. the art of writing German (Deutsch zu schreiben). That the matter which he uttered is of a many-sided nature is another affair.

Culture is likewise to be distinguished from practical activity. Thus it belongs to the cultivation of the poet that his eye should be practised for the apprehension of external objects. And if Goethe calls his practical tendency to painting a false one, it was still of use in cultivating him as a poet.

“The objectivity of my poetry,” said he, “may be attributed to this great attention and discipline of the eye; and I ought highly to prize the knowledge which I have attained in this way.”

But we must take care not to place the limits of our culture too far off.

“The investigators into nature,” said Goethe, “are most in danger of this, because a general harmonious culture of the faculties is really required for the adequate observation of nature.”

But, on the other hand, every one should strive to guard himself against one-sidedness and narrow views, with respect to the knowledge which is indispensable to his own department.

A poet who writes for the stage must have a knowledge of the stage, that he may weigh the means at his command, and know generally what is to be done, and what is to be left alone; the opera-composer, in like manner, should have some insight into poetry, that he may know how to distinguish the bad from the good, and not apply his art to something impracticable.

Carl Maria Von Weber,” said Goethe, “should not have composed ‘Euryanthe.’ He should have seen at once that this was a bad material, of which nothing could be made. So much insight we have a right to expect of every composer, as belonging to his art.”

Thus, too, the painter should be able to distinguish subjects: for it belongs to his department to know what he has to paint, and what to leave unpainted.

“But when all is said,” observed Goethe, “the greatest art is to limit and isolate oneself.”

Accordingly he has, ever since I have been with him, constantly endeavoured to guard me against all distractions, and to concentrate me to a single department. If I showed an inclination to penetrate the secrets of natural science, he always advised me to let it alone, and confine myself to poetry for the present. If I wished to read a book which he thought would not advance me in my present pursuits, he always advised me to let it alone, saying that it was of no practical use to me.

“I myself,” said he one day, “have spent too much time on things which did not belong to my proper department. When I reflect what Lopez de Vega accomplished, the number of my poetical productions seems very small. I should have kept more to my own trade.”

“If I had not busied myself so much with stones,” said he another time, “but had spent my time on something better, I might have won the finest ornament of diamonds.”

For the same cause he esteems and praises his friend Meyer for having devoted his whole life exclusively to the study of art, and thus having obtained beyond a doubt the highest degree of penetration in his department.

“I also grew up with this tendency,” said Goethe, “and passed almost half my life in the contemplation and study of works of art, but in a certain respect I am not on a par with Meyer. I, therefore, never venture to show him a new picture at once, but first see how far I can get on with it myself. When I think I am fully acquainted both with its beauties and defects I show it to Meyer, who sees far more sharply into the matter, and who, in many respects, gives quite new lights. Thus I am ever convinced anew how much is needed to be thoroughly great in any one thing. In Meyer lies an insight into art belonging to thousands of years.”

Why, then, it may be asked, if Goethe was so thoroughly persuaded that one man can only do one thing well, did he employ his life in such extremely various directions?

I answer that, if Goethe now came into the world, and found the literary and scientific endeavours of his native country at the height which they have now, chiefly through him, attained, he certainly would find no occasion or such various tendencies, but would simply confine himself to a single department.

Thus, it was not only in his nature to look in every direction, and to make himself clear about earthly things, but it was needful for his time that he should speak out what he had observed.

On his appearance in the world, he came in for two large inheritances. Error and insufficiency fell to his lot that he might remove them, and required a labour in many directions as long as his life endured.

If the Newtonian theory had not appeared to Goethe as a great error, highly injurious to the human mind, is it to be supposed that he would have had the notion of writing a “theory of colours,” and devoting the labour of years to such a merely collateral object? Certainly not. But it was his love of truth in conflict with error that induced him to make his pure light shine even into this darkness.

The same thing may be said of his doctrine of the “Metamorphosis of Plants,” through which we are indebted to him for a model of scientific treatment. Goethe would certainly never have thought of writing this work if he had seen his contemporaries in the way towards such a goal.

Nay, the same thing may be said of his varied poetical efforts. It is a question whether Goethe would ever have written a novel, if a work like “Wilhelm Meister” had already been in the hands of his nation. It is a question whether in that case he would not have devoted himself exclusively to dramatic poetry.

What he would have effected and produced, if he had been confined to one direction, is not to be seen; but so much is certain, that if we look at the whole, no intelligent person will wish that Goethe had not produced everything to which it pleased his Creator to direct him.

  • [1] Den Begriff zu erlangen suchen, was alle zusammen sind. The word “Begriff” (rendered not quite correctly “idea”) is here used in the sense of the Hegelian school.—Trans.

(Sup.) Wed., April 27.

Towards the evening to Goethe, who had invited me to take a drive to the lower garden. “Before we go,” said he, “I will give you a letter from Zelter, which I received yesterday, and wherein he touches upon the affairs of our theatre.

“‘That you are not the man,’ he writes, amongst other things, ‘to found a drama for the people of Weimar I could have seen long ago. He who makes himself green, the goats will eat. Other high folks should take this into consideration, who would cork wine during its fermentation.

“‘Friends, we have lived to see it; yes, lived to see it.’”

Goethe looked at me, and we laughed. “Zelter is a capital fellow,” said he; “but sometimes he does not quite understand me, and puts a false construction on my words.

“I have devoted my whole life to the people and their improvement, and why should I not also found a drama? But here in Weimar, in this small capital, which, as people jokingly say, has ten thousand poets and a few inhabitants, how can we talk about the people, much more a theatre for the people? Weimar will doubtless become, at some future time, a great city; but we must wait some centuries before the people of Weimar will form a mass sufficient to be able to found and support a drama.”

The horses were now put to, and we drove to the lower garden. The evening was calm and mild, rather sultry, and large clouds appeared gathering in tempestuous masses. We walked up and down the dry gravel path, Goethe quietly by my side, apparently agitated by various thoughts. Meanwhile, I listened to the notes of the blackbird and thrush, who, upon the tops of the still leafless ash-trees, beyond the Ilm, sang against the gathering tempest.

Goethe cast his glances around, now towards the clouds, now upon the green which was bursting forth everywhere, on the sides of the path and on the meadows, as well as on the bushes and hedges. “A warm thunder-shower, which the evening promises,” said he, “and spring will again appear in all her splendour and abundance.”

In the mean time the clouds became more threatening, a low peal of thunder was heard, some drops of rain also fell, and Goethe thought it advisable to drive back into the town. “If you have no engagement,” said he, as we alighted at his dwelling, “go upstairs, and spend an hour or so with me.” This I did with great pleasure.

Zelter's letter still lay upon the table. “It is strange, very strange,” said Goethe, “how easily one falls into a false position with respect to public opinion. I do not know that I ever joined in any way against the people; but it is now settled, once for all, that I am no friend to the people. I am, indeed, no friend to the revolutionary mob, whose object is robbery, murder, and destruction, and who, behind the mask of public welfare, have their eyes only upon the meanest egotistical aims. I am no friend to such people, any more than I am a friend of a Louis XV. I hate every violent overthrow, because as much good is destroyed as is gained by it. I hate those who achieve it, as well as those who give cause for it. But am I therefore no friend to the people? Does any right-minded man think otherwise?

“You know how greatly I rejoice at every improvement, of which the future gives us some prospect. But, as I said, all violent transitions are revolting to my mind, for they are not conformable to nature.

“I am a friend to plants; I love the rose as the most perfect flower which our German nature can produce; but I am not fool enough to desire that my garden should produce them now, at the end of April. I am now satisfied if I now find the first green leaves, satisfied if I see how one leaf after another is formed upon the stem, from week to week; I am pleased when, in May, I perceive the buds, and am happy when, at last, in June, the rose itself appears in all its splendour and all its fragrance. If any one cannot wait, let him go to the hothouses.

“It is farther said that I am a servant, a slave to princes, as if that were saying anything. Do I then serve a tyrant—a despot? Do I serve one who lives at the cost of the people, only for his own pleasures? Such princes and such times lie, God be praised, far behind us. I have been intimately connected with the Grand Duke for half a century, and have, during half a century striven and worked with him; but I should speak falsely if I were to say that I have know a single day in which the Grand Duke has not thought of doing and executing something tending to the benefit of the land, and fitted to improve the condition of individuals. As for himself personally, what has he from his princely station but toil and trouble? Is his dwelling, his apparel, or his table better appointed than that of any wealthy private man? Only go into our seaport towns, and you will find the kitchen and cellar of any considerable merchant better appointed than his.

“This autumn,” continued Goethe, “we are going to celebrate the day on which the Grand Duke will have governed for fifty years. But when I consider it rightly—this government of his—what was it but a continual servitude? What has it been but a servitude in the attainment of great ends,—a servitude to the welfare of his people? If, then, I must perforce be the slave of a prince, it is at least my consolation that I am still only the slave of one who is himself a slave to the common weal.”

(Sup.) Fri., April 29.

The building of the new theatre up to this time had advanced very rapidly; the foundation walls had already risen on every side, and gave promise of a very beautiful building.

But to-day, on going to the site of the building, I saw, to my horror, that the work was discontinued; and I heard it reported that another party, opposed to Goethe and Coudray's plan, had at last triumphed; that Coudray had retired from the direction of the building, and that another architect was going to finish it after a new design, and alter accordingly the foundation already laid.

I was deeply grieved at what I saw and heard, for I had rejoiced, with many others, at the prospect of seeing a theatre arise in Weimar executed according to Goethe's practical view of a judicious internal arrangement, and, as far as beauty was concerned, in accordance with his cultivated taste.

But I also grieved for Goethe and Coudray, who must both, more or less, feel hurt by this event.

(Sup.) Sun., May 1.

Dined with Goethe. It may be supposed that the alteration in the building of the theatre was the first subject we talked upon. I had, as I said, feared that this most unexpected measure would deeply wound Goethe's feelings; but there was no sign of it. I found him in the mildest and most serene frame of mind, quite raised above all sensitive littleness.

“They have,” said he, “assailed the Grand Duke on the side of expenditure, and the great saving of expense which will be effected by the change of plan for the building, and they have succeeded. I am quite content. A new theatre is, in the end, only a new funeral pile which some accident will, sooner or later, set on fire. I console myself with this. Besides, a trifle more or less is not worth mentioning. You will have a very tolerable house, if not exactly such a one as I wished and imagined. You will go to it, and I shall go to it too, and, in the end, all will turn out well enough.

“The Grand Duke,” said Goethe, “disclosed to me his opinion, that a theatre need not be of architectural magnificence, which could not be contradicted. He further said, that it was nothing but a house for the purpose of getting money. This view appears at first sight rather material; but rightly considered, it is not without a higher purport. For if a theatre is not only to pay its expenses, but is, besides, to make and save money, everything about it must be excellent. It must have the best management at its head; the actors must be of the best; and good pieces must continually be performed, that the attractive power required to draw a full house every evening may never cease. But that is saying a great deal in a few words—almost what is impossible.”

“The Grand Duke's view,” said I, “of making the theatre gain money appears to be very practical, since it implies a necessity of remaining continually on a summit of excellence.”

“Even Shakspeare and Molière,” returned Goethe, “had no other view. Both of them wished, above all things, to make money by their theatres. In order to attain this, their principal aim, they necessarily strove that everything should be as good as possible, and that, besides good old plays, there should be some clever novelty to please and attract. The prohibition of ‘Tartuffe’ was a thunderbolt to Molière; but not so much for the poet as for the director Molière, who had to consider the welfare of an important troupe, and to find some means to procure bread for himself and his actors.

“Nothing,” continued Goethe, “is more dangerous to the well-being of a theatre than when the director is so placed, that a greater or less receipt at the treasury does not affect him personally, and he can live on in careless security, knowing that, however the receipts at the treasury may fail in the course of the year, at the end of that time he will be able to indemnify himself from another source. It is a property of human nature soon to relax when not impelled by personal advantage or disadvantage. Now, it is not desirable that a theatre, in such a town as Weimar, should support itself, and that no contribution from the Prince's treasury should be necessary. But still everything has its bounds and limits, and a thousand dollars yearly, more or less, is by no means a trifling matter, particularly as diminished receipts and deteriorations are dangers natural to a theatre; so that there is a loss not only of money, but also of honour.

“If I were the Grand Duke, I would in future, on any change in the management, once for all appoint a fixed sum for an annual contribution. I would strike the average of the contributions during the last ten years, and according to that I would settle a sum sufficient to be regarded as a proper support. With this sum the house must be kept. But then I would go a step further, and say, that if the director and his Regisseurs contrived, by means of judicious and energetic management, to have an overplus in the treasury at the end of the year, this overplus should be shared, as a remuneration, between the director, the Regisseurs, and the principal members of the company. Then you would see what activity there would be, and how the establishment would awaken out of the drowsiness into which it must gradually fall.

“Our theatrical laws,” continued Goethe, “contain various penalties; but there is no single law for the encouragement and reward of distinguished merit. This is a great defect. For if, with every failure, I have a prospect of a deduction from my salary, I should also have the prospect of a reward, whenever I do more than can be properly expected of me. And it is by every one's doing more than can be hoped or expected of him that a theatre rises.”

Frau von Goethe and Fräulein Ulrica now entered, both gracefully clothed in summer attire, on account of the beautiful weather. The conversation during dinner was light and cheerful. We spoke about various parties of pleasure during the past week, and also about similar plans for the following one.

“If we continue to have fine evenings,” said Frau von Goethe, “I shall have great pleasure in giving a tea-party in the park, where we can listen to the song of the nightingale. What do you say, dear father?”

“That would be very pleasant,” returned Goethe. “And you, Eckermann,” said Frau von Goethe, “how do you feel disposed? May one invite you?” “But, Ottilie,” rejoined Fräulein Ulrica, “how can you invite the doctor? He will not come; and if he does come, he sits as if upon thorns, and one can see that his mind is elsewhere, and that the sooner he is gone the better he would like it.” “To speak the plain truth,” returned I, “I would certainly rather ramble about the fields with Doolan. Tea, tea-parties, and tea-conversation, are so contrary to my nature, that I feel uncomfortable even when I think of them.” “But, Eckermann,” said Frau von Goethe, “at a tea-party in the park, you are in the open air, and quite in your element.” “On the contrary,” said I, “when I am so near nature, that I scent all her fragrance, and yet cannot thoroughly enjoy it, it is to me as unendurable as it would be to a duck to be brought near to the water, and yet prevented from plunging into it.” “You might say, too,” remarked Goethe, laughing, “that you would feel like a horse who, on raising his head in the stable, sees other horses running wild upon an extensive plain before his eyes. He scents the delights and freedom of fresh nature, but cannot partake of them. Let Eckermann alone; he is as he is, and you cannot alter him. But tell me, my good friend, how do you employ yourself with that Doolan of yours, in the open fields, these long fine afternoons?” “We look out for some retired grove,” said I, “and shoot with bows and arrows.” “Humph!” said Goethe, “that may be a pretty amusement.” “It is a glorious method,” said I, “to get rid of the ills of winter.” “But how in the world,” said Goethe, “did you get bows and arrows here in Weimar?” “As for the arrows,” returned I, “I brought a model with me, on my return from my expedition into Brabant in 1814. Shooting with bows and arrows is there universal. There is no town, however small, that has not an archery society. They take their station in some public-house, like our skittle-ground, and generally assemble late in the afternoon, when I have often watched them with great pleasure. What well-grown men were there, and what picturesque attitudes when they bent the bow! How was their strength displayed, and what excellent marksmen they were! They generally shot from a distance of sixty or eighty steps, at a paper mark upon a moist clay wall; they shot quickly one after another, and left the arrows sticking in. And it was not seldom that out of fifteen arrows five struck the centre, which was about the size of a dollar, while the rest were very near it. When all had shot, each went and drew his arrow out of the soft wall, and the game went on afresh. I was then so enraptured with this archery, that I thought it would be a great thing to introduce it into Germany, and I was so stupid as to deem it possible. I often bargained for a bow, but there were none to be had under twenty francs, and how could a poor Jäger like myself scrape together so much money? I therefore confined myself to an arrow, as the most important and most elaborate article; and bought one at a manufactory at Brussels for a franc, which I brought home, together with a drawing, as my only prize of victory.”

“That is just like you,” said Goethe. “But do not think that you can make anything natural and beautiful popular. A long time, and a confounded deal of work, will be requisite, at any rate. But I can easily imagine that this Brabant archery is very beautiful. Our German amusements in the skittle-ground appear rough and ordinary, in comparison with it, and savour strongly of the Philistine.”[1]

“The beauty of archery,” returned I, “is that it displays the body symmetrically, and exercises the powers in equal proportion. There is the left arm, which holds the bow, stiff, strong, and firm; there is the right, which draws the string with the arrow, and must be no less powerful. At the same time both the feet and the thighs are planted strongly, to form a firm basis for the upper part of the body. The eye directed to the aim, and the muscles of the neck are all in full tension and activity; and then the feeling of joy, when the arrow darts whizzing from the bow, and pierces the desired mark! I know no bodily exercise that can be at all compared to it.”

“It would be very well suited to our gymnastic institutions,” answered Goethe. “And I should not wonder if, in twenty years, we were to have skilful archers by the thousands in Germany. Generally speaking, much is not to be done with a full-grown generation, in physical or in mental pursuits, in matters of taste or of character. Be clever enough to begin with the schools, and you may succeed.”

“But our German teachers of gymnastics,” returned I, “do not understand the use of bows and arrows.”

“Well,” said Goethe, “several gymnastic societies might combine, and a skilful archer might be brought from Flanders or Brabant. Or they might send some fine, well-grown young gymnasts to Brabant, that they might be trained to good archers, and learn how to carve bows and make arrows. These young men might enter the German gymnastic institutions as travelling teachers, who would sojourn for a time, now with one society, and now with another.

“I have,” continued Goethe, “no objection to German gymnastic exercises. On the contrary, I was sorry that so much politics crept into them, so that the authorities were obliged to restrain them, or even to forbid and abolish them. By this means we have thrown away the good for the bad.[2] But I hope that the gymnastic institutions will be revived; for our German youths need them, especially the students, who, with a great deal of mental and intellectual exertion, are without any physical equilibrium, and therefore without any necessary power of action. But tell me something more about your bow and arrow. Then you have really brought an arrow with you from Brabant? I should like to see it.”

“It has been lost long ago,” returned I. “I remembered it so well, that I succeeded in replacing it, and indeed by a dozen instead of one. It was not, however, so easy as I expected, and I made many fruitless attempts and many failures, but by that very means I learned a great deal. The first thing to be attended to was the shaft; I had to see that it was straight, and would not warp in a short time; then that it was light and strong enough not to split in striking against a hard substance. I made experiments with the wood of the poplar, then of the pine, and then of the birch; but they were all deficient in one quality or another, and were not such as they ought to be. I then made experiments with the wood of the lime-tree from a slender straight stem, and I found exactly what I wished for and had sought. Such a shaft was light, straight, and strong, on account of its fine fibres. The next thing to be done was to furnish the lower end with a tip of horn; but it soon became evident that all horn was not fit for the purpose, and that it must be cut out of the kernel, in order that it might not split on being shot against any hard substance. But the most difficult part was yet to do, namely, the feathering of the arrow. How I bungled, and what failures I made, before I succeeded in bringing it to any perfection!”

“The feathers are not let into the shaft, but glued on, are they not?” said Goethe.

“They are glued on,” returned I; “but this must be so strongly and so neatly done, that they shall appear as if they were a part of the shaft, and had grown out of it. It is not a matter of indifference what glue one uses. I have found that isinglass, steeped in water for some hours, and then with some spirit added, dissolved to a jelly over a gentle charcoal fire, makes the best glue. Neither are all feathers serviceable alike. The feathers drawn from the wings of all great birds are indeed good, but I have found the red feathers from the wings of the peacock, the large feathers of the turkey-cock, and particularly the strong and splendid ones of the eagle and bustard, the best of any.”

“I hear all this with great interest,” said Goethe. “One who did not know you, would scarcely believe that your tendencies were so lively. But tell me now, how came you by a bow?”

“I made some myself,” returned I. “But here also I bungled dreadfully at first. I consulted cabinet-makers and cartwrights. I tried all the kinds of wood in this place, and at last arrived at excellent results. In the choice of woods, I had to take care that the bow should bend easily, that it should spring back strongly and quickly, and that its elasticity should last. I made my first experiment with ash, with a branchless stem of about ten years' growth, and of the thickness of a moderate-sized arm. But in working, I came to the heart, which was not good for my purpose, as the wood about it was of too coarse a grain. I was advised to take a stem which would be strong enough to schlachten into four parts.”

Schlachten,” asked Goethe, “what is that?”

“It is a technical term used by cartwrights,” returned I, “and means the same as spalten (to split), so that a wedge is driven quite through the stem, from one end to the other. Now, if the stem grows straight, I mean if the fibres rise in a straight line, the pieces obtained by splitting will be straight and fit for a bow. But if the stem be curved, the pieces will have a curved, crooked direction, and be unfit for a bow, since the wedge follows the fibres.”

“But what would be the result of sawing such a stem into four parts? One could thus obtain straight pieces in every case.”

“One might,” returned I, “cut through a stem in which the fibres were twisted, and this would make the parts of no use for a bow.”

“I understand,” said Goethe; “a bow in which the fibres were cut through would break. But go on further; this subject interests me.”

“I therefore made,” said I, “my second bow with a piece of split ash. There were no fibres divided at the back, the bow was strong and firm; but I discovered this fault, that it was hard, instead of easy to bend. ‘You have taken a piece of a seedling ash,’ said the cartwright, ‘which is always a very stiff wood; but take one of the tough sort, and you will find it better.’ On this occasion I learned that there is a great difference in ash, and that, in all kinds of wood, a great deal depends upon the place and soil on which they grow. I learned that the wood of the Ettersberg is of little value as timber; that, on the contrary, the wood in the neighbourhood of Nohra possesses remarkable strength, on account of which the carriers of Weimar have great confidence in the cart-fittings made at Nohra. In my subsequent experiments I made the discovery that all wood which grows upon the northern side of a declivity is stronger, and of more even fibres than that which grows on the southern side. This is comprehensible. For a young tree which grows on the shady north side of a cliff, must seek light and sun from above; on which account, longing for the sun, it continually struggles upwards, and draws the fibres in a perpendicular direction. Besides, a shady situation is favourable to the formation of a finer fibre, which is very strikingly apparent in those trees which grow in such a situation, that their south side is constantly exposed to the sun, whilst their north side is always in the shade. If such a stem lay sawn in pieces before us, we should remark that the point of the heart was by no means in the centre, but very much on one side. And this eccentricity of the heart arises from the circumstance that the yearly rings of the south side become, through the constant influence of the sun, developed more strongly, and are therefore broader than those on the shady north side. Hence cabinet-makers and cartwrights, when they require a strong fine wood, choose in preference the more finely developed north side of a stem, which they call the winter side, and in which they have great confidence.”

“You can imagine,” said Goethe, “that your observations are very interesting to me, who have, for half my life, occupied myself with the growth of plants and trees. But continue your relation. You probably made then a bow from a tough ash?”

“I did so,” returned I, “and I took a well split piece from the winter side, in which I found a tolerably fine fibre. The bow was also easy to bend, and very elastic. But after it had been in use some months, a very considerable curve showed itself, and it was evident that the elasticity did not continue. I then made experiments with the stem of a young oak, which was moreover a perfectly good wood; but I soon found the same fault in this. I then tried the stem of a walnut tree, which was better; and at last the stem of a fine-leafed maple—a Masholder, as it is called, which was the best, and which left nothing to desire.”

“I know the wood,” returned Goethe; “it is often found in hedges. I can imagine that it is good. But I have seldom found a young stem without knots; and to make a bow, do you not require wood quite free from them?”

“A young stem,” returned I, “is indeed not without knots; but when one rears it to a tree, the knots are taken off, or if it grow in a thicket, they disappear in time of their own accord. Now, if a stem is about two or three inches in diameter when the knots are removed, and if it is allowed to increase yearly, and to form new wood on the outside, at the expiration of fifty or eighty years, the knotty inner part will be encased in about six inches of sound wood, free from knots. Such a stem will present a very smooth exterior; but one cannot tell what imperfections it has within. We shall, therefore, at all events, be safe with a plank sawn from such a stem, if we keep to the outside, and cut a few inches from that piece which is immediately under the bark, that is to say, the splint and what follows, as this is always the youngest and toughest wood, and the most suitable for a bow.”

“I thought,” said Goethe, “that the wood for a bow should not be sawn, but must be split, or as you call it Geschlachet.”

“Certainly, when it can be split,” returned I. “Ash, oak, and walnut may be split, because they are woods of coarse fibre. But not the Masholder. For it is a wood of such a fine interwoven fibre, that it will not divide according to the course of the fibres, but splits quite against the natural grain. The wood of the Masholder must therefore be divided with the saw, and that without endangering the strength of the bow.”

“Humph! Humph!” said Goethe. “You have acquired considerable knowledge through your bow mania. And it is that lively kind of knowledge which is attained only in a practical way. But that is the advantage of a passionate liking for any pursuit, that it carries one to the very bottom of the subject. Besides, seeking and blundering are good, for it is by seeking and blundering that we learn. And, indeed, one learns not merely the thing itself, but everything connected with it. What should I have known of plants and colours, if my theory had been handed down to me ready made, and I had learned it by heart? But from the very circumstance that I was obliged to seek and find everything for myself, and occasionally to make mistakes, I can say that I know something of both these subjects, and more than stands on paper. But tell me something more about your bow. I have seen some Scotch ones, which were quite straight to the point, and others the points of which were curved. Which do you consider the best?”

“I consider,” returned I, “that the elasticity is much greater when the ends of the bow are curved backwards. At first I made them straight, because I did not understand how to bend the ends. But when I had learned how to do it, I bent the ends, and I find that the bow not only has a more beautiful appearance, but also that it acquires more power.”

“The curves are made by heat, are they not?” said Goethe.

“Yes; by moist heat,” returned I. “When the bow is so far finished that the elasticity is equally distributed, and that it is nowhere stronger or weaker than it ought to be, I place one end of it in boiling water, about six or eight inches deep, and let it boil for about an hour. I then screw this softened end, while it is hot, between two small blocks, the inner surface of which has the form of the curve that I wish to give to my bow. In this state of pressure, I let it remain at least a day and a night, that it may be perfectly dry, and I then proceed with the other end in the same manner. Points so treated are as indestructible as if they had grown in such a curve.”

“What do you think?” said Goethe, with a mysterious laugh. “I believe I have something for you, which will not be unacceptable. Suppose we went down together, and I were to put a genuine Baschkir[3] bow in your hands.”

“A Baschkir bow!” exclaimed I, full of animation, “and a genuine one?”

“Yes, mad fellow, a genuine one,” said Goethe. “Come along.” We went down into the garden. Goethe opened the under chamber of a small outhouse, the tables and walls of which appeared crammed with rarities and curiosities of every description. I cast only a transient glance at these treasures; my eyes sought the bow. “Here it is,” said Goethe, “as he took it from a corner, out of a heap of all sorts of strange implements. I see it is in the same condition as when it was presented to me in the year 1814, by a Baschkir chief. Now, what do you say?”

I was delighted to hold the precious weapon in my hands. It appeared quite uninjured, and even the string appeared perfectly serviceable. I tried it in my hands, and found that it was still tolerably elastic. “It is a good bow,” said I. “The form especially pleases me, and for the future it shall serve me as a model.”

“Of what wood is it made, do you think?”

“It is, as you see, so covered with birch bark,” replied I, “that very little of the wood is visible, and only the curved ends remain exposed. Even these are so embrowned by time, that one cannot well distinguish what the wood is. At the first glance, it looks like young oak, and then again like nut tree. I think that it is nut tree, or a wood that resembles it. Maple or masholder it is not. It is a wood of coarser fibre; besides, I observe signs of its having been split (geschlachtet).”

“Suppose you were to try it now,” said Goethe. “Here you have an arrow. But be cautious with the iron point, it may be poisoned.”

We went again into the garden, and I bent the bow. “Now, where will you shoot?” said Goethe. “Into the air at first, I think,” said I. “Go on, then,” said Goethe. I shot up towards the sunny clouds in the blue sky. The arrow supported itself well, then turned round, came whizzing downwards, and stuck into the ground. “Now let me try,” said Goethe. I was pleased that he, too, was going to shoot. I gave him the bow, and fetched the arrow.

Goethe placed the notch of the arrow upon the string, and held the bow right, but was some time before he could manage it properly. He now aimed upwards, and drew the string. There he stood like an Apollo, with imperishable youth of soul, although old in body. The arrow only attained a very moderate height, and then fell to the ground. I ran and fetched the arrow. “Once more,” said Goethe. He now took aim along the gravel path of the garden. The arrow supported itself about thirty paces tolerably well, then fell, and whizzed along upon the ground. Goethe pleased me beyond measure, by thus shooting with the bow and arrow. I thought of the verses—

Does old age leave me in the lurch?
   Am I again a child?

I brought him back the arrow. He begged me to shoot once in a horizontal direction, and gave me for a mark a spot in the window-shutter of his workroom. I shot. The arrow was not far from the mark; but penetrated so deep into the soft wood, that I could not get it out again. “Let it stick there,” said Goethe, “it shall serve me for some days as a remembrance of our sport.”

We walked up and down the garden, enjoying the fine weather; we then sat upon a bench with our backs against the young leaves of a thick hedge. We spoke about the bow of Ulysses, about the heroes of Homer, then about the Greek tragic poets, and lastly about the widely diffused opinion, that Euripides caused the decline of the Greek drama. Goethe was, by no means, of this opinion.

“Altogether,” said he, “I am opposed to the view that any single man can cause the decline of an art. Much, which it is not so easy to set forth, must co-operate to this end. The decline of the tragic art of the Greeks could no more have been caused by Euripides, than could that of sculpture by any great sculptor who lived in the time of Phidias, but was inferior to him. For when an epoch is great, it proceeds in the path of improvement, and an inferior production is without results. But what a great epoch was the time of Euripides! It was the time, not of a retrograde, but of a progressive taste. Sculpture had not yet reached its highest point, and painting was still in its infancy.

“If the pieces of Euripides, compared with those of Sophocles, had great faults, it was not necessary that succeeding poets should imitate these faults, and be spoilt by them. But if they had great merits, so that some of them were even preferable to plays of Sophocles, why did not succeeding poets strive to imitate their merits; and why did they not thus become at least as great as Euripides himself?

“But if after the three celebrated tragic poets, there appeared no equally great fourth, fifth, or sixth—this is, indeed, a matter difficult to explain; nevertheless, we may have our own conjectures, and approach the truth in some degree.

“Man is a simple being. And however rich, varied, and unfathomable he may be, the cycle of his situations is soon run through.

“If the same circumstances had occurred, as with us poor Germans, for whom Lessing has written two or three, I myself three or four, and Schiller five or six passable plays, there might easily have been room for a fourth, fifth, and sixth tragic poet.

“But with the Greeks and the abundance of their productions—for each of the three great poets has written a hundred, or nearly a hundred pieces, and the tragical subjects of Homer, and the heroic traditions, were some of them treated three or four times—with such abundance of existing works, I say, one can well imagine that by degrees, subjects were exhausted, and that any poet who followed the three great ones would be puzzled how to proceed.

“And, indeed, for what purpose should he write? Was there not, after all, enough for a time? And were not the productions of Æschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides of that kind and of that depth, that they might be heard again and again without being esteemed trite, or put on one side? Even the few noble fragments which have come down to us are so comprehensive and of such deep significance, that we poor Europeans have already busied ourselves with them for centuries, and shall find nutriment and work in them for centuries still.”

  • [1]Philister,” the academical slang corresponding to the English “snob.”—Trans.

  • [2] Literally, “thrown away the child with the bath” (das Kind mit dem Bade verschüttet)—a German proverbial expression.—Trans.

  • [3] The Baschkiren are a Tartar race subject to Russia.—Trans.

Thurs., May 12.

Goethe spoke with much enthusiasm of Menander. “I know no one, after Sophocles,” said he, “whom I love so well. He is thoroughly pure, noble, great, and cheerful, and his grace is unattainable. It is certainly to be lamented that we possess so little of him, but that little is invaluable, and highly instructive to gifted men.

“The great point is, that he from whom we would learn should be congenial to our nature. Now, Calderon, for instance, great as he is, and much as I admire him, has exerted no influence over me for good or for ill. But he would have been dangerous to Schiller—he would have led him astray; and hence it is fortunate that Calderon was not generally known in Germany till after Schiller's death. Calderon is infinitely great in the technical and theatrical; Schiller, on the contrary, far more sound, earnest, and great in his intention, and it would have been a pity if he had lost any of these virtues, without, after all, attaining the greatness of Calderon in other respects.”

We spoke of Molière. “Molière,” said Goethe, “is so great, that one is astonished anew every time one reads him. He is a man by himself—his pieces border on tragedy; they are apprehensive; and no one has the courage to imitate them. His ‘Miser,’ where the vice destroys all the natural piety between father and son, is especially great, and in a high sense tragic. But when, in a German paraphrase, the son is changed into a relation, the whole is weakened, and loses its significance. They feared to show the vice in its true nature, as he did; but what is tragic there, or indeed anywhere, except what is intolerable?

“I read some pieces of Molière's every year, just as, from time to time, I contemplate the engravings after the great Italian masters. For we little men are not able to retain the greatness of such things within ourselves; we must therefore return to them from time to time, and renew our impressions.

“People are always talking about originality; but what do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world begins to work upon us, and this goes on to the end. And, after all, what can we call our own except energy, strength, and will? If I could give an account of all that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, there would be but a small balance in my favour.

“However, the time of life in which we are subjected to a new and important personal influence is, by no means, a matter of indifference. That Lessing, Winckelmann, and Kant were older than I, and that the first two acted upon my youth, the latter on my advanced age,—this circumstance was for me very important. Again, that Schiller was so much younger than I, and engaged in his freshest strivings, just as I began to be weary of the world—just, too, as the brothers von Humboldt and Schlegel were beginning their career under my eye—was of the greatest importance. I derived from it unspeakable advantages.”

After these remarks respecting the influence which important persons had had upon him, the conversation turned on the influence which he had exerted over others; and I mentioned Bürger, whose case appeared to me problematical, inasmuch as his purely natural tendency showed no trace of influence on the part of Goethe.

Bürger,” said Goethe, “had an affinity to me as a talent; but the tree of his moral culture had its root in a wholly different soil, and took a wholly different direction. Each man proceeds as he has begun, in the ascending line of his culture. A man who, in his thirtieth year, could write such a poem as ‘Frau Schnips,’ had obviously taken a path which deviated a little from mine. He had also, by his really great talents, won for himself a public which he perfectly satisfied; and he had no need of troubling himself about a contemporary who did not affect him at all.

“Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love. There is a favourable disposition towards me in the young talents who are now growing up, but I very rarely found it among my contemporaries. Nay, I can scarcely name one man, of any weight, who was perfectly satisfied with me, Even with ‘Werther,’ people found so much fault, that if I had erased every passage that was censured, scarcely a line of the whole book would have been left. However, all the censure did me no harm, for these subjective judgments of individuals, important as they may be, are at least rectified by the masses. He who does not expect a million of readers should not write a line.

“For twenty years, the public has been disputing which is the greatest, Schiller or I; and it ought to be glad that it has got a couple of fellows about whom it can dispute.”

(Sup.) Mon., June 5.[1]

Goethe related to me that Preller had been with him, and had taken leave, as he is going to spend some years in Italy.

“As a parting word,” said Goethe, “I counselled him not to allow himself to be distracted, but to confine himself particularly to Poussin and Claude Lorraine, and, above all, to study the works of these two great men, that he might plainly see how they regarded nature, and used her for the expression of their artistical views and feelings.

Preller is an important talent, and I have no fear of him. He appears to me, besides, of a very earnest character. I am almost certain that he will rather incline to Poussin than to Claude Lorraine; still I have particularly recommended him to study the latter—and not without reason; for it is with the cultivation of an artist as with the cultivation of every other talent. Our strong points, to a certain extent, develope themselves; but those germs of our nature which are not in daily exercise, and are therefore less powerful, need particular care, in order that they may become strong likewise.

“So may a young singer, as I have often said, possess certain natural tones which are very excellent, and which leave nothing to desire; while other tones in his voice may be found less strong, clear, and full. But even these he must by constant exercise seek to bring to equal perfection with the others.

“I am certain that Preller will one day succeed admirably in the solemn, the grand, and perhaps also the wild. Whether he will be equally happy in the cheerful, the graceful, and the lovely, is another question; and therefore have I especially recommended to him Claude Lorraine, in order that, by study, he may acquire that which does not lie in the actual tendency of his nature.

“There is one thing more to which I called his attention. I have seen many of his studies from nature: they were excellent, and executed with great energy and life; but they were all isolated objects, of which little can afterwards be made when one comes to inventions of one's own. I have now advised him never for the future to delineate an isolated object, such as single trees, single heaps of stones, or single cottages, but always to add a background and some surrounding objects.

“And for the following reasons. In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it, and over it. A single object, I grant, may strike us as particularly picturesque: it is not, however, the object alone which produces this effect, but it is the connection in which we see it, with that which is beside, behind, and above it, all of which contributes to that effect.

“Thus during a walk I may meet with an oak, the picturesque effect of which surprises me. But if I represent it alone, it will perhaps no longer appear to me as it did, because that is wanting which contributed to and enhanced the picturesque effect in nature. Thus, too, a wood may appear beautiful through the influence of one particular sky, one particular light, and one particular situation of the sun. But if I omit all these in my drawing, it will perhaps appear without any force, and as something indifferent to which the proper charm is wanting.

“Further; there is in nature nothing beautiful which is not produced (motivirt) as true in conformity with the laws of nature. In order that that truth of nature may also appear true in the picture, it must be accounted for by the introduction of the influential circumstances.

“I find by a brook well-formed stones, the parts of which exposed to the air are in a picturesque manner covered with green moss. Now it is not alone the moisture of the water which has caused this formation of moss; but perhaps a northerly aspect, or the shade of the trees and bushes, have co-operated in this formation at this part of the brook. If I omit these influential causes in my picture, it will be without truth, and without the proper convincing power.

“Thus the situation of a tree, the kind of soil beneath it, and other trees behind and beside it, have a great influence on its formation. An oak which stands exposed to the wind on the western summit of a rocky hill, will acquire quite a different form from that of one which grows below on the moist ground of a sheltered valley. Both may be beautiful in their kind, but they will have a very different character, and can, therefore, in an artistically conceived landscape, only be used for such a situation as they occupied in nature. And therefore the delineation of surrounding objects, by which any particular situation is expressed, is of high importance to the artist. On the other hand, it would be foolish to attempt to represent all those prosaic casualties which have had as little influence upon the form of the principal objects, as upon its picturesque effect for the moment.

“I have imparted the substance of all these little hints to Preller, and I am certain that they will take root and thrive in him—as a born genius.”

  • [1] In the original this is dated 1826, but from its position in the volume it may be conjectured that this is a misprint.—Trans.

Sat., June 11.

To-day Goethe talked much at dinner about Major Parry's book on Lord Byron. He gave it unqualified praise, and remarked that Lord Byron in this account appeared a far more complete character, and far more clear as to himself and his views, than in anything which had been written about him.

“Major Parry,” continued Goethe, “must be an elevated—nay, a noble man, so fully to have conceived, and so perfectly to have described, his friend. One passage in his book has pleased me particularly;—it is worthy of an old Greek—of a Plutarch. ‘The noble lord,’ says Parry, ‘was destitute of all those virtues which adorn the bourgeois class, and which he was prevented from attaining by his birth, education, and mode of life. Now all his unfavourable judges are from the middle class, and these censoriously pity him, because they miss in him that which they have reason to prize in themselves. The good folks do not reflect that for his own high station he possessed virtues of which they can form no conception.’ How do you like that?” said Goethe: “we do not hear so good a thing every day.”

“I am glad,” said I, “to see publicly expressed a view by which all the puny censors and detractors of a man higher than themselves must be at once disabled and cast down.”

We then spoke of subjects of universal history in relation to poetry, and as to how far the history of one nation may be more favourable to the poet than that of another.

“The poet,” said Goethe, “should seize the Particular, and he should, if there be anything sound in it, thus represent the Universal. The English history is excellent for poetry, because it is something genuine, healthy, and therefore universal, which repeats itself over and over again. The French history, on the contrary, is not for poetry, as it represents an era that cannot come again. The literature of the French, so far as it is founded on that era, stands as something of merely particular interest, which must grow old with time.

“The present era of French literature,” said Goethe afterwards, “cannot be judged fairly. The German influence causes a great fermentation there, and we probably shall not know for twenty years what the result will be.”

We then talked of the æsthetic writers, who labour to express the nature of poetry and the poet in abstract definitions, without arriving at any clear result.

“What need of much definition?” said Goethe. “Lively feeling of situations, and power to express them, make the poet.”

Wed., Oct. 15.

I found Goethe in a very elevated mood this evening, and had the pleasure of hearing from him many significant remarks. We talked about the state of the newest literature, when Goethe expressed himself as follows:—

“Deficiency of character in individual investigators and writers is,” he said, “the source of all the evils of our newest literature.

“In criticism, especially, this defect produces mischief to the world, for it either diffuses the false instead of the true, or by a pitiful truth deprives us of something great, that would be better.

“Till lately, the world believed in the heroism of a Lucretia,—of a Mucius Scævola,—and suffered itself, by this belief, to be warmed and inspired. But now comes your historical criticism, and says that those persons never lived, but are to be regarded as fables and fictions, divined by the great mind of the Romans. What are we to do with so pitiful a truth? If the Romans were great enough to invent such stories, we should at least be great enough to believe them.

“Till lately, I was always pleased with a great fact in the thirteenth century, when the Emperor Frederic the Second was at variance with the Pope, and the north of Germany was open to all sorts of hostile attacks. Asiatic hordes had actually penetrated as far as Silesia, when the Duke of Liegnitz terrified them by one great defeat. They then turned to Moravia, but were here defeated by Count Sternberg. These valiant men had on this account been living in my heart as the great saviours of the German nation. But now comes historical criticism, and says that these heroes sacrificed themselves quite uselessly, as the Asiatic army was already recalled, and would have returned of its own accord. Thus is a great national fact crippled and destroyed, which seems to me most abominable.”

After these remarks on historical critics, Goethe spoke of another class of seekers and literary men.

“I could never,” said he, “have known so well how paltry men are, and how little they care for really high aims, if I had not tested them by my scientific researches. Thus I saw that most men only care for science so far as they get a living by it, and that they worship even error when it affords them a subsistence.

“In belles lettres it is no better. There, too, high aims and genuine love for the true and sound, and for their diffusion, are very rare phenomena. One man cherishes and tolerates another, because he is by him cherished and tolerated in return. True greatness is hateful to them; they would fain drive it from the world, so that only such as they might be of importance in it. Such are the masses; and the prominent individuals are not better.

———'s great talents and world-embracing learning might have done much for his country. But his want of character has deprived the world of such great results, and himself of the esteem of the country.

“We want a man like Lessing. For how was he great, except in character,—in firmness? There are many men as clever and as cultivated, but where is such character?

“Many are full of esprit and knowledge, but they are also full of vanity; and that they may shine as wits before the short-sighted multitude, they have no shame or delicacy—nothing is sacred to them.

Madame de Genlis was therefore perfectly right when she declaimed against the freedoms and profanities of Voltaire. Clever as they all may be, the world has derived no profit from them; they afford a foundation for nothing. Nay, they have been of the greatest injury, since they have confused men, and robbed them of their needful support.

“After all, what do we know, and how far can we go with all our wit?

“Man is born not to solve the problems of the universe, but to find out where the problem begins, and then to restrain himself within the limits of the comprehensible.

“His faculties are not sufficient to measure the actions of the universe; and an attempt to explain the outer world by reason is, with his narrow point of view, but a vain endeavour. The reason of man and the reason of the Deity are two very different things.

“If we grant freedom to man, there is an end to the omniscience of God; for if the Divinity knows how I shall act, I must act so perforce. I give this merely as a sign how little we know, and to show that it is not good to meddle with divine mysteries.

“Moreover, we should only utter higher maxims so far as they can benefit the world. The rest we should keep within ourselves, and they will diffuse over our actions a lustre like the mild radiance of a hidden sun.”

Sun., Dec. 25.

I went to Goethe this evening at six o'clock. I found him alone, and passed with him some delightful hours.

“My mind,” said he, “has of late been burdened by many things. So much good has been flowing in to me on all sides, that the mere ceremony of returning thanks has prevented me from having any practical life. The privileges respecting the publication of my works have been gradually coming in from the different courts; and as the position was different in each case, each required a different answer. Then came the proposals of innumerable booksellers, which also had to be considered, acted upon, and answered. Then my Jubilee has brought me such thousand-fold attentions, that I have not yet got through with my letters of acknowledgment. I cannot be content with hollow generalities, but wish to say something appropriate to every one. Now I am gradually becoming free, and feel again disposed for conversation.

“I have of late made an observation, which I will impart to you.

“Everything we do has a result. But that which is right and prudent does not always lead to good, nor the contrary to what is bad; frequently the reverse takes place. Some time since, I made a mistake in one of these transactions with booksellers, and was sorry that I had done so. But now circumstances have so altered, that, if I had not made that very mistake, I should have made a greater one. Such instances occur frequently in life, and hence we see men of the world, who know this, going to work with great freedom and boldness.”

I was struck by this remark, which was new to me.

I then turned the conversation to some of his works, and we came to the elegy “Alexis and Dora.”

“In this poem,” said Goethe, “people have blamed the strong, passionate conclusion, and would have liked the elegy to end gently and peacefully, without that outbreak of jealousy; but I could not see that they were right. Jealousy is so manifestly an ingredient of the affair, that the poem would be incomplete if it were not introduced at all. I myself knew a young man who, in the midst of his impassioned love for an easily-won maiden, cried out, ‘But would she not act to another as she has acted to me?’”

I agreed entirely with Goethe, and then mentioned the peculiar situations in this elegy, where, with so few strokes and in so narrow a space, all is so well delineated, that we think we see the whole life and domestic environment of the persons engaged in the action. “What you have described,” said I, “appears as true as if you had worked from actual experience.”

“I am glad it seems so to you,” said Goethe. “There are, however, few men who have imagination for the truth of reality; most prefer strange countries and circumstances, of which they know nothing, and by which their imagination may be cultivated, oddly enough.

“Then there are others who cling altogether to reality, and, as they wholly want the poetic spirit, are too severe in their requisitions. For instance, in this elegy, some would have had me give Alexis a servant to carry his bundle, never thinking that all that was poetic and idyllic in the situation would thus have been destroyed.”

From “Alexis and Dora,” the conversation then turned to “Wilhelm Meister.” “There are odd critics in this world,” said Goethe; “they blamed me for letting the hero of this novel live so much in bad company; but by this very circumstance, that I considered this so called bad company as a vase, into which I could put everything I had to say about good society, I gained a poetical body, and a varied one into the bargain. Had I, on the contrary, delineated good society by the so-called good society, nobody would have read the book.

“In the seeming trivialities of ‘Wilhelm Meister’ there is always something higher at bottom, and nothing is required but eyes and knowledge of the world, and power of comprehension to perceive the great in the small. For those who are without such qualities, let it suffice to receive the picture of life as real life.”

Goethe then showed me a very interesting English work, which illustrated all Shakspeare in copper plates. Each page embraced, in six small designs, one piece with some verses written beneath, so that the leading idea and the most important situations of each work were brought before the eyes. All these immortal tragedies and comedies thus passed before the mind like processions of masks.

“It is even terrifying,” said Goethe, “to look through these little pictures. Thus are we first made to feel the infinite wealth and grandeur of Shakspeare. There is no motive in human life which he has not exhibited and expressed! And all with what ease and freedom!

“But we cannot talk about Shakspeare; everything is inadequate. I have touched upon the subject in my ‘Wilhelm Meister,’ but that is not saying much. He is not a theatrical poet; he never thought of the stage; it was far too narrow for his great mind: nay, the whole visible world was too narrow.

“He is even too rich and too powerful. A productive nature[1] ought not to read more than one of his dramas in a year if it would not be wrecked entirely. I did well to get rid of him by writing Goetz,’ and ‘Egmont,’[2] and Byron did well by not having too much respect and admiration for him, but going his own way. How many excellent Germans have been ruined by him and Calderon!

“Shakspeare gives us golden apples in silver dishes. We get, indeed, the silver dishes by studying his works; but, unfortunately, we have only potatoes to put into them.”

I laughed, and was delighted with this admirable simile.

Goethe then read me a letter from Zelter, describing a representation of ‘Macbeth’ at Berlin, where the music could not keep pace with the grand spirit and character of the piece, as Zelter set forth by various intimations. By Goethe's reading, the letter gained its full effect, and he often paused to admire with me the point of some single passage.

“‘Macbeth,’” said Goethe, “is Shakspeare's best acting play, the one in which he shows most understanding with respect to the stage. But would you see his mind unfettered, read ‘Troilus and Cressida,’ where he treats the materials of the ‘Iliad’ in his own fashion.”

The conversation turned upon Byron,—the disadvantage to which he appears when placed beside the innocent cheerfulness of Shakspeare, and the frequent and generally not unjust blame which he drew upon himself by his manifold works of negation.

“If Lord Byron,” said Goethe, “had had an opportunity of working off all the opposition in his character, by a number of strong parliamentary speeches, he would have been much more pure as a poet. But, as he scarcely ever spoke in parliament, he kept within himself all his feelings against his nation, and to free himself from them, he had no other means than to express them in poetical form. I could, therefore, call a great part of Byron's works of negation ‘suppressed parliamentary speeches,’ and think this would be no bad name for them.”

We then mentioned one of our most modern German poets, Platen, who had lately gained a great name, and whose negative tendency was likewise disapproved. “We cannot deny,” said Goethe, “that he has many brilliant qualities, but he is wanting in—love. He loves his readers and his fellow-poets as little as he loves himself, and thus we may apply to him the maxim of the apostle—‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love (charity), I am become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.’ I have lately read the poems of Platen, and cannot deny his great talent. But, as I said, he is deficient in love, and thus he will never produce the effect which he ought. He will be feared, and will be the idol of those who would like to be as negative as himself, but have not his talent.”

  • [1] Vide v12_1824-12-03_p11, where a remark is made on the word nature, as applied to a person.—Trans.

  • [2] These plays were intended to be in the Shakspearian style, and Goethe means that by writing them he freed himself from Shakspeare, just as by writing ‘Werther’ he freed himself from thoughts of suicide.—Trans.