Sun., Jan. 3.

Goethe showed me the English Annual, “The Keepsake,” for 1830, with very fine engravings, and some extremely interesting letters from Lord Byron, which I read after dinner. He himself had taken up the latest French translation of his “Faust,” by Gérard, which he turned over, and seemed occasionally to read.

“Some singular thoughts pass through my head,” said he, “on reflecting that this book is now read in a language over which Voltaire ruled fifty years ago. You cannot understand my thoughts upon this subject, and have no idea of the influence which Voltaire and his great contemporaries had in my youth, and how they governed the whole civilized world. My biography does not clearly show what was the influence of these men in my youth, and what pains it cost me to defend myself against them, and to maintain my own ground in a true relation to nature.”

We talked further about Voltaire, and Goethe recited to me his poem “Les Systèmes,” from which I perceived how he must have studied and appropriated such things in early life.

He praised Gérard's translation as very successful, although mostly in prose.

“I do not like,” he said, “to read my ‘Faust,’ any more in German, but in this French translation all seems again fresh, new, and spirited.”

“‘Faust,’” continued he, “is, however, quite incommensurable, and all attempts to bring it nearer to the understanding are in vain. Also, it should be considered that the first part is the product of a somewhat dark state in the individual. However, this very darkness has a charm for men's minds, and they work upon it till they are tired, as upon all insoluble problems.”

Sun., Jan. 10.

This afternoon Goethe afforded me great pleasure by reading the scene in which Faust visits the Mothers.

The novelty and unexpectedness of the subject, and Goethe's manner of reading the scene, struck me so forcibly, that I felt myself wholly transported into the situation of Faust when he shudders at the communication from Mephistophiles.

Although I had heard and felt the whole, yet so much remained an enigma to me, that I felt myself compelled to ask Goethe for some explanation. But he, in his usual manner, wrapped himself up in mystery, as he looked on me with wide open eyes, and repeated the words—

Die Mütter! Mütter! 's klingt so wunderlich.

The Mothers! Mothers! nay, it sounds so strange.

“I can reveal to you no more,” said he, “except that I found, in Plutarch, that in ancient Greece mention was made of the Mothers as divinities. This is all that I owe to others, the rest is my own invention. Take the manuscript home with you, study it carefully, and see what you can make of it.”

I was very happy while studying this remarkable scene once more in quiet, and took the following view of the peculiar character and influence, the abode and outward circumstances, of the Mothers:—

Could we imagine that that huge sphere our earth had an empty space in its centre, so that one might go hundreds of miles in one direction, without coming in contact with anything corporeal, this would be the abode of those unknown goddesses to whom Faust descends. They live, as it were, beyond all place; for nothing stands firm in their neighbourhood: they also live beyond all time; for no heavenly body shines upon them which can rise or set, and mark the alternation of day and night.

Thus, dwelling in eternal obscurity and loneliness, these Mothers are creative beings; they are the creating and sustaining principle from which everything proceeds that has life and form on the surface of the earth. Whatever ceases to breathe returns to them as a spiritual nature, and they preserve it until a fit occasion arises to come into existence anew. All souls and forms of what has been, or will be, hover about like clouds in the vast space of their abode. So are the Mothers surrounded, and the magician must enter their dominion, if he would obtain power over the form of a being, and call back former existences to seeming life.

The eternal metamorphosis of earthly existence, birth and growth, destruction and new formation, are thus the unceasing care of the Mothers; and, as in everything which receives new life on earth, the female principle is most in operation, these creating divinities are rightly thought of as female, and the august title of Mothers may be given to them not without reason.

All this is, indeed, no more than a poetic creation; but the limited human mind cannot penetrate much further, and is contented to find something on which it can repose. Upon earth we see phenomena, and feel effects, of which we do not know whence they come and whither they go. We infer a spiritual origin—something divine, of which we have no notion, and for which we have no expression, and which we must draw down to ourselves, and anthropomorphize, that we may in some degree embody and make comprehensible our dark forebodings.

Thus have arisen all mythi, which from century to century have lived among nations, and, in like manner, this new one of Goethe's, which has at least the appearance of some natural truth, and may be reckoned among the best that was ever devised.

(Sup.*) Mon., Jan. 18.

Goethe spoke of Lavater, and said a great deal in praise of his character. He also related to me traits of their early intimate friendship, and how in former times they had often slept in the same bed. “It is to be regretted,” continued he, “that a weak mysticism so soon set bounds to the flight of his genius.”

(Sup.*) Fri., Jan. 22.

We spoke about the History of Napoleon by Walter Scott. “It is true,” said Goethe, “that the author may be reproached with great inaccuracy and equally great partiality, but even these two defects give to his work particular value in my eyes. The success of the book, in England, was great beyond all expectation and hence we see that Walter Scott, in this very hatred for Napoleon and the French, has been the true interpreter and representative of the English popular opinion and national feeling. His book will not be by any means a document for the history of France, but it will be one for the history of England. At all events, it is a voice which could not be wanting in this important historical process.

“It is generally agreeable to me to hear the most contrary opinions of Napoleon. I am now reading the work by Bignon, which appears to me to possess particular merit.”

Sun., Jan. 24.

“I have lately received a letter from a celebrated salt-miner at Stotternheim,” said Goethe, “which opens in a remarkable manner, and which I must communicate to you.

“‘I have had an experience,’ he writes, ‘which will not be lost upon me.’ But what follows this introduction? Nothing less than a loss of at least a thousand dollars. The shaft, whence you go down twelve hundred feet to the rock-salt, through a soft soil and stone, he has incautiously neglected to prop up at the sides. The soft soil has detached itself, and has so filled up the pit, that an extremely expensive operation is required to get it out again. He will, then, at a depth of twelve hundred feet, put in metal pipes, to be secure against the consequences of a similar mischance. He should have done this at once, and he certainly would have done it, were there not in such people a degree of rashness of which we have no notion, and which is requisite for such enterprises. He is very easy about his misfortune, and writes, ‘I have had an experience which will not be lost upon me.’ This is quite the sort of man that one likes; a man who, without complaining, is at once active again, and always on his feet. What say you to it? Is it not good?”

“It reminds me of Sterne,” I replied, “who complains that he had not used his sorrows like a reasonable man.”

“It is something similar,” said Goethe.

“I am also reminded of Behrisch,” continued I, “when he tells you what experience is. I have lately been reading the chapter for renewed edification.[1]

“‘Experience,’ says he, ‘is nothing else than that one experiences by experience what one would not willingly have experienced.’”

“Yes,” said Goethe, smiling, “such are the old jokes with which we so shamefully wasted our time.”

Behrisch,” said I, “seems to have been a man full of grace and elegance. How pleasant is the joke in the wine-cellar, where he tries to prevent the young man from visiting his mistress, and accomplishes this in the pleasantest manner, fastening on his sword—now this way, now that—till he makes everybody laugh, and causes the young man to forget the appointed time.”

“Yes,” said Goethe, “that was pleasant; it would have been one of the most attractive scenes on the stage; indeed, Behrisch was altogether a good character for the theatre.”

We then talked over all the oddities told of Behrisch in Goethe's “Life”; his grey clothes, where silk, satin, and wool made strong contrasts one with another, and his constant care always to dress himself in a new grey. Then how he wrote poems, imitated the compositor, and extolled the dignity of the penman; and how it was his favourite pastime to lie at the window, to observe the dress of the passers-by, and in his thoughts so to alter it that the people would have been highly ridiculous if so attired.

“Then his ordinary joke with the postman; how do you like it? is not that droll?”

“I do not know it,” said I; “there is nothing about it in your memoirs.”

“Strange!” said Goethe, “then I will tell it you. When we were lying together at the window, and Behrisch saw the letter-carrier coming up the street, and going from one house to another, he would take out a groschen, and lay it by him on the window-sill.

“‘Do you see the letter-carrier?’ said he, turning to me. ‘He is coming nearer and nearer, and he will be over here immediately, I can see: he has a letter for you; and what a letter! no ordinary affair, but a letter with a check in it; with a check for—I will not say how much; see, he is coming in. No! but he will come immediately. There he is again. Now! Here! here! my friend, this is the place! He goes by—how stupid! O, how stupid! how can one be so stupid, and act so unjustifiably! Unjustifiably in two respects! Unjustifiably towards you, to whom he does not bring the check which he had in his hands; and quite unjustifiably towards himself to lose this groschen, which I had taken out for him, and which I now put up again.’ Then, with the greatest dignity, he would put the groschen again into his pocket, and we had something to laugh at.”

I was amused with this anecdote, which was quite of a piece with the rest. I asked Goethe whether he had ever seen Behrisch in later days.

“I saw him again,” said Goethe, “soon after my arrival at Weimar, about the year 1776, when in company with the Duke I made visit to Dessau, whither Behrisch had been invited as tutor of the Crown Prince. I found him the same as ever—as a polished courtier of the best humour.”

“What did he say,” asked I, “about your becoming so famous in the interval?”

“‘Did I not tell you so,’ were his first words, ‘was it not right that you did not have your verses printed then, and that you waited till you had done something really good? the things were indeed not so bad, otherwise I should not have written them out. If we had remained together, you should not have had even the others printed. I would have copied them out for you, and they would have gone off quite as well.’ You see he was the same as ever. He was liked at Court. I always saw him at the Prince's table. I saw him for the last time in the year 1801, when he had become old, but was still in the best humour. He occupied some very handsome apartments in the castle, one of which he completely filled with geraniums, which were then all the rage. Now, the botanists had made some distinctions and divisions among the geraniums, and had given a certain class the name of pelargoniums. This the old gentleman could not bear, and he abused the botanists sorely. ‘The blockheads!’ said he, ‘I think I have filled my room with geraniums, and now they come in and tell me they are pelargoniums. What have I to do with them if they are not geraniums, and what have I to do with pelargoniums?’ Thus he would go on for the half hour together, and you will see that he quite kept up his old character.”

We then talked about the “Classical Walpurgis-night,”[2] the beginning of which Goethe had lately read me.

“The mythological figures which crowd upon me,” said he, “are innumerable, but I restrain myself, and merely select those that produce the proper pictorial effect. Faust has now met Chiron, and I hope I shall be successful with the scene. If I work hard I shall have done the Walpurgis-night in a couple of months. Nothing more shall take me off ‘Faust,’ for it will be odd enough if I live to finish it, and yet it is possible. The fifth act is as good as done, and the fourth will almost write itself.”

Goethe then talked about his health, and congratulated himself about keeping so constantly well. “My good state of preservation,” said he, “I owe to Vogel—without him I should have gone off long ago. Vogel was born for a physician, and is one of the most decided geniuses I ever knew. However, we will not say how good he is, for fear he should be taken away from us.”

  • [1] That is to say, in Goethe's Autobiography (Dichtung und Wahrheit), Part II. Book vii.—Trans.

  • [2] In the second part of “Faust.”—Trans.

(Sup.*) Mon., Jan. 25.

I brought Goethe the indexes of Dumont's literary remains, which I had made as a preparation for their publication. Goethe read them with great attention, and appeared astonished at the mass of knowledge, interest, and ideas which he had reason to suppose existed in the author of such varied and copious manuscripts.

Dumont,” said he, “must have possessed a mind of great extent. Amongst the subjects which he has treated there is not one which is not interesting and important in itself, and the choice of subjects always shows of what stuff a man is made. It is not desirable that the human intellect should possess such universality as to treat all subjects with equal talent and felicity; but even if the author does not succeed equally with them all, the mere attempt and desire to treat them give me a very high opinion of him. I consider it particularly remarkable and estimable that a practical, useful, and benevolent tendency prevails in all he does.”

I had also brought him the first chapter of the “Travels to Paris,” which I would have read to him, but which he preferred to study alone.

He then joked upon the difficulty of reading, and the presumption of many people, who, without any previous study and preparatory knowledge, would at once read every philosophical and scientific work, as if it were nothing but a romance. “The good people,” continued he, “know not what time and trouble it costs to learn to read. I have been employed for eighteen years on it, and cannot say that I have reached the goal yet.”

(Sup.) Wed., Jan. 27.

I dined very happily with Goethe. He spoke with great commendation of Herr von Martius. “His discovery of the spiral tendency,” said he, “is of the highest importance. If I had anything more to desire in him it would be that he should carry out his discovered primitive phenomenon (Urphänomenon) with decided boldness, and have the courage to announce a fact as a law, without too much seeking its confirmation at a distance.”

He then showed me the transactions of the natural philosophical assembly at Heidelberg, with fac-similes of the handwriting printed on the back, which we observed, and formed our conclusions upon the character.

“I know very well,” said Goethe, “that science does not derive so much benefit from these meetings as one might imagine, but they are excellent, inasmuch as people learn to know and esteem one another; whence it follows that a new doctrine of a distinguished man gains currency, and he in his turn becomes inclined to acknowledge and assist us in our tendencies of another department. Under every circumstance we see that something happens, and no one can tell what may come of it.”

Goethe then showed me a letter from an English author with the address—To his Highness the Prince Goethe. “For this title I have probably to thank the German journalists,” said Goethe, laughing, “who, out of too great love, have named me the prince of German poets. And the consequence of the innocent German error, is the equally innocent English one.”

Goethe then returned to Herr von Martius, and praised him for possessing imagination. “In fact,” continued he, “a great natural philosopher without his high gift is impossible. I do not mean an imagination which goes into the vague and imagines things which do not exist; but I mean one which does not abandon the actual soil of the earth, and which steps to supposed and conjectured things by the standard of the real and the known. Then it may prove whether this or that supposition be possible, and whether it is not in contradiction with known laws. Such an imagination presupposes an enlarged tranquil mind, which has at its command a wide survey of the living world and its laws.”

Whilst we were speaking, a packet arrived containing a translation of “Die Geschwister” (the Brother and Sister) into Bohemian, which appeared to give Goethe great pleasure.

Sun., Jan. 31.

Dined with Goethe. We talked of Milton.

“I have lately,” said Goethe, “read his ‘Samson,’ which has more of the antique spirit than any production of any other modern poet. He is very great, and his own blindness enabled him to describe with so much truth the situation of Samson. Milton was really a poet; one to whom we owe all possible respect.”

The newspapers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin theatrical intelligence that whales and sea monsters had been introduced on the stage there.

Goethe read in the French paper “Le Temps,” an article on the enormous revenue of the English clergy, which amounts to more than in all the rest of Christendom put together.

“It has been maintained,” said Goethe, “that the world is governed by pay; this I know, that from pay we can find out whether it is well or ill governed.”

(Sup.*) Sun., Jan. 31.

Paid a visit to Goethe, in company with the Prince. He received us in his work-room.

We spoke of the different editions of his works, when I was surprised to hear that he himself did not possess the greater part of these editions. He had not even the first edition of his “Roman Carnival,” with engravings from his own original drawing. He had bid, he said, six dollars for it at an auction, but did not get it.

He then showed us the first manuscript of his “Götz von Berlichingen,” quite in the original form, just as he had written it fifty years ago, in a few weeks, at the instigation of his sister. The fine strokes of the handwriting already bore completely the free clear character which his later German writing afterwards retained, and retains even now. The manuscript was very clear, whole pages could be read without the least correction, so that one would rather take it for a copy than the first rough draft.

Goethe wrote his earliest works, as he told us, with his own hand, even his “Werther”; but the manuscript has been lost. In later times, on the contrary, he has dictated almost everything, and there are only poems and lightly noted sketches in his own hand. Very often he did not think of taking a copy of a new production; but frequently abandoned the most valuable works to chance, often sending the only copy he possessed to the printing-office at Stuttgard.

After we had sufficiently looked at the manuscript of “Götz von Berlichingen,” Goethe showed us the original of his “Italian Journey.” In these daily noted down observations and remarks, there are the same good qualities in the handwriting as in the “Götz.” All is decided, firm, and sure; there are no corrections; and one sees that the details of his momentary notes were always fresh and clear in the mind of the writer. Nothing could have been changed for the better excepting the paper, which was different in form and colour in every town at which the traveller stopped.

Towards the end of the manuscript I found a spirited pen-and-ink drawing by Goethe, namely, the representation of an Italian advocate, holding a speech before the court in his robe of office. It was the most remarkable figure that one could imagine, and the dress was so striking, that one would have thought he had chosen it to go to a masquerade. And yet all was but a faithful copy of real life. With his forefinger upon the point of his thumb, and the rest of his fingers stretched out, the stout orator stood comfortably enough, and this slight movement was in perfect accordance with the great perruque with which he had adorned himself.

Wed., Feb. 3.

Dined with Goethe. We talked of Mozart.

“I saw him,” said Goethe, “at seven years old, when he gave a concert while travelling our way. I myself was about fourteen years old, and remember perfectly the little man, with his frisure and sword.”

I stared, for it seemed to me almost wonderful that Goethe was old enough to have seen Mozart when a child.

(Sup.*) Wed., Feb. 3.

We spoke of the “Globe” and the “Temps,” and this led to the French literature and literati.

Guizot,” said Goethe, amongst other things, “is a man after my own heart; he is solid. He possesses deep knowledge, combined with an enlightened liberality, which being above parties goes its own way. I am curious to see what part he will play in the Chamber, to which he has just been elected.”

“People, who only appear to know him superficially,” returned I, “have described him as somewhat pedantic.”

“It remains to be known,” answered Goethe, “with what sort of pedantry he is reproached. All distinguished men who, in their mode of life adopt a sort of regularity and firm principles, who have reflected much, and who do not trifle with the affairs of life, may very easily appear to be pedants in the eyes of superficial observers. Guizot is a far-seeing, calm, constant man, who in the face of fickleness cannot be sufficiently prized, and is exactly such a man as they want.

Villemain,” continued Goethe, “is perhaps more brilliant as an orator; he possesses the art of thoroughly developing a subject from its foundation; he is never at a loss for striking expressions with which to fix the attention of his hearers, and awaken them to loud applause; but he is far more superficial than Guizot, and far less practical.

“As for Cousin, he can indeed give little to us Germans, since the philosophy which he introduces to his countrymen as something new has been known to us for years; but he is of great importance for the French. He will give them an entirely new tendency.

Cuvier, the great naturalist, is admirable for his power of representation and his style. No one expounds a fact better than he; but he has scarcely any philosophy. He will bring up very well informed, but few profound scholars.”

It was the more interesting to me to hear all this, as it accorded with Dumont's view of the persons in question. I promised Goethe to copy the passages relating to this subject from Dumont's manuscript, that he might compare them with his own opinion.

The mention of Dumont brought the conversation to the intimacy of Dumont with Bentham, on which subject Goethe expressed himself as follows:—

“It is an interesting problem for me,” said he, “when I see that a rational and moderate man like Dumont could be the disciple and faithful worshipper of that madman Bentham.”

“To a certain extent,” returned I, “Bentham is to be looked upon as a twofold person. I distinguish Bentham the genius—who discovered the principles which Dumont rescued from oblivion, by working them out—from Bentham the impassioned, who, through an exaggerated zeal for utility, overstepped the limits of his own doctrine, and thus became a radical both in politics and in religion.”

“That is a new problem for me,” returned Goethe, “that an old man can close the career of a long life, by becoming a radical in his last days.”

I endeavoured to solve this contradiction, by remarking that Bentham, being fully convinced of the excellence of his doctrine and his legislation, and of the impossibility of introducing them into England without an entire change in the system of Government, allowed himself to be carried away so much the more by his passionate zeal, as he came but little into contact with the outward world, and was unable to judge of the danger of violent overthrow.

Dumont, on the contrary,” continued I, “who possesses more clearness and less passion, has never approved of Bentham's exaggeration, and has been far removed from falling into a like fault himself. Besides, he has had the advantage of applying Bentham's principles in a country which, in consequence of the political events of the times, might be regarded as new—namely, in Geneva, where everything perfectly succeeded, and the fortunate result proved the worth of the principle.”

Dumont,” returned Goethe, “is a moderate liberal, just as all rational people are and ought to be, and as I myself am. It is in this spirit I have endeavoured to act during a long life.

“The true liberal,” he continued, “endeavours to effect as much good as he can, with the means which he has at command; but he would not extirpate evils, which are often inevitable, with fire and sword. He endeavours, by a judicious progress, gradually to remove glaring defects, without at the same time destroying an equal amount of good by violent measures. He contents himself in this ever imperfect world with what is good, until time and circumstances favour his attaining something better.”

(Sup.) Sat., Feb. 6.

Dined with Frau von Goethe. Young Goethe related some pleasant anecdotes of his grandmother, “Frau Rath Goethe,” of Frankfort whom he had visited twenty years before as a student, and with whom he was one day invited to dine at the Prince Primate's. The Prince, as a mark of particular politeness, had come to meet the Frau Rath on the stairs; but as he wore his usual clerical costume, she took him for an Abbé, and paid him no particular respect. Even when first seated by his side at table, she did not put on the most friendly face. In the course of the conversation, however, she gradually perceived, from the deportment of the rest of the guests, that he was the Primate. The Prince then drank the health of her and her son, whereupon she rose and proposed the health of his Highness.

Sun., Feb. 7.

Dined with Goethe. A great deal of conversation about the Prince Primate—that he had contrived to defend him by a skilful turn at the Empress of Austria's table; the Prince's deficiency in philosophy; his dilettante love of painting, without taste; the picture given to Miss Gore; his goodness of heart and weak liberality, which at last brought him to poverty. Conversation on the nature of the “Desobligeant.” After dinner young Goethe, with Walter and Wolf, appeared in his masquerade dress, in the character of Klingsohr, and then went to Court.

Wed., Feb. 10.

Dined with Goethe. He spoke with real gratification of the poem written by Riemer, for the festival of the 2nd February.

“All,” added Goethe, “that Riemer does is fit to be seen both by master and journeyman.”

We talked also of the classic Walpurgis-night, and he said that he came to things which surprised even himself. The subject, too, had become more diffuse than he had expected.

“I am not half through it,” said he, “but I will keep to it, and hope to have finished it by Easter. You shall see nothing more of it before, but, as soon as it is done, I will give it to you to take home, that you may examine it quietly. If you made up the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth volumes,[1] so that we might send off the last part at Easter, it would be a good arrangement, and we should have the summer open for something great. I would occupy myself with Faust, and endeavour to get over the fourth act.”

I was pleased with this notion, and promised every assistance on my part.

Goethe then sent his servant to inquire after the Grand Duchess Dowager, who had been very ill, and seemed to him in a dangerous situation.

“She should not have seen the masquerade,” said he; “but princes are accustomed to have their own way, and thus all the protests of the Court and the physicians were in vain. With the same strong will with which she once confronted Napoleon, she now resists her bodily weakness; and can foresee already that she will go off, like the Grand Duke, in the full vigour and mastery of her mind, although her body may have ceased to obey it.”

Goethe appeared in low spirits, and remained silent for a while. Soon, however, we again conversed on cheerful subjects; and he told me of a book written in defence of Sir Hudson Lowe.

“It contains,” he said, “most valuable traits, which can only have been derived from immediate eye-witnesses. You know that Napoleon ordinarily wore a dark-green uniform. It was at last so much worn and sunburnt as entirely to lose its colour, and a necessity was felt of supplying its place with another. He wished for the same dark-green colour, but no article of the sort was to be found in the island. There was indeed a green cloth, but the colour was not pure, and ran into a yellowish tinge. The lord of the world found it intolerable to put such a colour on his body, and nothing was left but to turn his old uniform, and wear it in that way.

“What do you say to that? Is it not a perfectly tragic trait? Is it not touching to see the master of kings so reduced at last that he must wear a turned uniform? And yet, when we reflect that such an end befell a man who had trampled underfoot the life and happiness of millions, his fate appears after all very mild. Fate is here a Nemesis, who, in consideration of the hero's greatness, cannot avoid being a little generous. Napoleon affords us an example of the danger of elevating oneself to the Absolute, and sacrificing everything to the carrying out of an idea.”

We said a good deal more in reference to this subject, and then I went to the theatre to see the “Star of Seville.”

  • [1] That is, of Goethe's complete works.

(Sup.*) Wed., Feb. 10.

To-day, after dinner, I was for a moment with Goethe. He rejoiced at the approaching spring, and the increasing length of the days. We then spoke of the theory of colours. He appeared to doubt the possibility of opening a path for his simple theory. “The errors of my opponents,” said he, “have been too generally spread during a century for me to hope to find any companions on my solitary way. I shall remain alone! I often compare myself to a shipwrecked man, who has seized upon a plank which is only sufficient to bear one person. This one is saved, whilst all the rest are miserably drowned.”

Sun., Feb. 14.

To-day, on my way to Goethe, who had invited me to dinner, I heard of the Grand Duchess Dowager's death, which had just happened. “What effect will this news have on Goethe at his advanced age?” was my first thought, and I entered the house with some apprehension. The servants said his daughter-in-law was gone to him to tell him the sad news.

“For more than fifty years.” thought I, “he was attached to this princess, and blessed with her especial favour and friendship; her death must deeply move him.”

With such feelings I entered his room, but was not a little surprised to find him in his usual cheerfulness and vigour, taking his soup with his daughter-in-law and grand-children, as if nothing had happened.

We went on talking cheerfully of indifferent things. Presently all the bells began to toll; Frau von Goethe looked at me, and we talked louder, that the tone of the death-bells might not shock him; for we thought he felt like us. However, he did not feel like us; his mind was in a wholly different position. He sat before us, like a being of a higher order, inaccessible to earthly woes.

Hofrath Vogel was announced. He sat down, and told us all the circumstances of the last hours of the noble departed; to which Goethe listened with the same perfect calmness and composure. Vogel went away, and we continued our conversation at dinner on other subjects.

We talked a great deal about the “Chaos,” and Goethe praised the “Reflections on Play,” in the last number, as excellent. When Frau von Goethe retired with her children, I was left alone with Goethe.

He talked to me of his classic Walpurgis-night, saying he was getting forward in it every day, and effecting wonderful things, beyond his expectation.

He then showed me a letter which he had to-day received from the King of Bavaria, and which I read with great interest. The King's true and noble turn of mind was manifested in every line; and Goethe seemed much pleased by his remaining so constantly the same towards him.

Hofrath Soret was now announced, and joined us; he came with a message of condolence from her Imperial Highness to Goethe, which contributed to make him even more cheerful. He continued the conversation, and spoke of the celebrated Ninon de l'Enclos, who, in her sixteenth year, and in all her beauty, lay apparently on her deathbed, and with the most perfect composure comforted those who stood around it, saying, “What is it, after all? I leave mere mortals behind me!” However, she lived to the age of ninety; after having to her eightieth year made happy or desperate hundreds of lovers.

Goethe then talked of Gozzi, and his theatre at Venice, where the actors had merely subjects given them, and filled up the details impromptu. Gozzi said there were only six-and-thirty tragic situations. Schiller thought there were more, but could never succeed in finding even so many.

Then many interesting things were said about Grimm; his life and character, and his distrust of paper-money.

(Sup.*) Sun., Feb. 14.[1]

This was a day of mourning for Weimar; the Grand Duchess Louise died this afternoon, at half-past one o'clock. The reigning Grand Duchess ordered me to pay visits of condolence, in her name, to Fräulein von Waldner and Goethe.

I went first to Fräulein von Waldner. I found her in tears and deep affliction, quite abandoned to the feeling of her loss. “I was,” said she, “for more than fifty years in the service of the late Princess. She herself chose me for her maid of honour. And this free choice on her side was my pride and my happiness. I forsook my native land to live in her service. Would she had now taken me with her, that I should not have so long to sigh for a reunion!”

I then went to Goethe. But how very different was his condition! He certainly did not feel the loss less deeply; but he appeared to be perfectly master of his own feelings. I found him sitting at dinner with a good friend, and drinking a bottle of wine. He spoke with animation, and appeared to be altogether in a very cheerful mood. “Well,” said he, when he saw me, “come here, take your place. The blow which has long menaced us has at last fallen, and at least we have no longer to struggle with cruel uncertainty. We must now see how we can reconcile ourselves to life again.”

“These are your comforters,” said I, pointing to his papers. “Work is an excellent means of reviving our spirits under trials.”

“As long as it is day,” returned Goethe, “we can keep our heads up, and as long as we can produce we shall not fail.”

He then spoke of persons who had attained a great age, and mentioned the renowned Ninon.

“Even in her ninetieth year,” said he, “she was young; but she understood how to maintain her equilibrium, and did not trouble herself with worldly affairs more than she ought. Death itself inspired her with no very great respect. When in her eighteenth[2] year she was afflicted with a severe illness, and the bystanders represented to her the danger she was in, she said quite calmly—‘What would it be after all? I should leave only mortals behind me!’ She lived seventy years after that, amiable and beloved, and enjoying all the pleasures of life; but with this peculiar equanimity constantly upholding herself above every consuming passion. Ninon knew what she was about; there are few who imitate her.”

He then handed me a letter from the King of Bavaria, which he had received to-day, and which probably contributed not a little to his cheerful humour. “Read,” said he, “and confess that the kindness which the King continually shows me, and the lively interest which he takes in the progress of literature and the higher human development, is calculated to give me pleasure. And I thank Heaven, as for a particular favour, that I have received this letter just on this day.”

We then spoke of the theatre, and dramatic poetry.

Gozzi,” said Goethe, “would maintain that there are only six-and-thirty tragical situations. Schiller took the greatest pains to find more, but he did not find even so many as Gozzi.”

This led to an article in the “Globe,” viz., a critical exposition of the “Gustavus Vasa” of Arnault. The style and manner which the critic adopted gave Goethe great pleasure, and received his perfect approbation. The judge has contented himself with mentioning all the reminiscences of the author, without further attacking him or his poetical principles.

“The critic of ‘Le Temps,’” added Goethe, “has not been so wise. He presumes to point out to the poet the way he should go. This is a great fault; for one cannot thus make him better. Generally, there is nothing more foolish than to say to a poet: ‘You should have done this in this way—and that in that.’ I speak from long experience. One can never make anything of a poet but what nature has intended him to be. If you force him to be another, you will destroy him. Now, the gentlemen of the ‘Globe,’ as I said before, act very wisely. They print a long list of all the commonplaces which M. Arnault has picked up from every hole and corner; and by doing this they very cleverly point out the rock which the author has to avoid in future. It is almost impossible, in the present day, to find a situation which is thoroughly new. It is merely the manner of looking at it, and the art of treating and representing it, which can be new, and one must be the more cautious of every imitation.”

Goethe then related to us how Gozzi managed his “Teatro del Arte” in Venice, and how much his improvising troop was liked. “I have,” said he, “seen two actresses of that troop, particularly ‘La Brighella’; and I have seen several other improvised pieces of the sort. The effect produced by these people was extraordinary.”

Goethe then spoke of the Neapolitan “Pulcinella.”

“One of the chief jokes of this hero of low comedy,” said he, “consisted in seeming sometimes to forget his part as an actor. He pretended to have returned home, talked familiarly with his family, told them about the piece in which he had acted, and of another in which he was about to act,—‘But, my dear husband,’ his wife would exclaim, ‘you appear to forget the august company in whose presence you are.’ ‘E Vero! E Vero!’ returned Pulcinella, recollecting himself; and then, amidst the applause of the spectators, he returned to his former part. The theatre of Pulcinella is in such repute, that no one in good society boasts of having been there. Ladies, as you may suppose, never go there at all; it is only frequented by men. Pulcinella is, in fact, a sort of living newspaper. Everything remarkable that has happened in Naples during the day may be heard from him in the evening. However, these local allusions, combined with his low popular dialect, make it almost impossible for foreigners to understand him.”

Goethe turned the conversation to other reminiscences of his former days. He spoke of his small confidence in paper currency, and of the experiences he had had in this respect. By way of confirmation, he told us an anecdote of Grimm, about the time of the French Revolution, when thinking it no longer safe to remain in Paris, he returned to Germany, and lived at Gotha.

“We were one day dining at Grimm's,” said Goethe. “I know not now how the conversation led to it, but Grimm said: ‘I wager that no monarch in Europe possesses so costly a pair of ruffles as I do; and that no one has paid so high a price as I have.’ You may imagine that we loudly expressed incredulous astonishment, particularly the ladies, and that we were all very curious to see so wonderful a pair of ruffles. Grimm rose accordingly, and brought from his press a pair of lace ruffles, of such beauty, that we all burst into loud admiration. We endeavoured to set a price upon them, but still we could not value them more highly than at about a hundred or two hundred louis d'or. Grimm laughed and exclaimed: ‘You are very far from the mark; I paid twice a hundred and fifty thousand francs, and was lucky in laying out my assignats so well. The next day they were not worth a groschen.’”

  • [1] This conversation, recorded by Soret, is the same as the preceding one recorded by Eckermann, but is given at greater length.—Trans.

  • [2] “Sixteenth” in Eckermann's narrative.—Trans.

(Sup.*) Mon., Feb. 15.

I was this morning with Goethe for a moment, to inquire after his health in the name of the Grand Duchess. I found him sad and thoughtful, without a trace of yesterday's rather violent excitement. He appeared to-day to feel deeply the chasm which death had made in the friendly intimacy of fifty years.

“I must work very hard,” said he, “to keep myself up, and to support myself under this sudden separation. Death is something so strange, that, notwithstanding all experience, one thinks it impossible for it to seize a beloved object; and it always presents itself as something incredible and unexpected. It is, to a certain extent, an impossibility which suddenly becomes a reality. And this transition from an existence which we know, to another of which we know nothing, is something so violent, that it cannot take place without the greatest shock to the survivors.”

Wed., Feb. 17.

We talked of the theatre—of the colour of the scenes and costumes. The result was as follows:—

Generally, the scenes should have a tone favourable to every colour of the dresses, like Beuther's scenery, which has more or less of a brownish tinge, and brings out the colour of the dresses with perfect freshness. If, however, the scene-painter is obliged to depart from so favourable an undecided tone, and to represent a red or yellow chamber, a white tent or a green garden, the actors should be clever enough to avoid similar colours in their dresses. If an actor in a red uniform and green breeches enters a red room, the upper part of his body vanishes, and only his legs are seen; if, with the same dress, he enters a green garden, his legs vanish, and the upper part of his body is conspicuous. Thus I saw an actor in a white uniform and dark breeches, the upper part of whose body completely vanished in a white tent, while the legs disappeared against a dark background.

“Even,” said Goethe, “when the scene-painter is obliged to have a red or yellow chamber, or a green garden or wood, these colours should be somewhat faint and hazy, that every dress in the foreground may be relieved and produce the proper effect.”

We talked about the Iliad, and Goethe called my attention to the following beautiful motive,—viz., that Achilles is put into a state of inaction for some time, that the other characters may appear and develop themselves.

Of his “Wahlverwandtschaften,” he says that there is not a touch in it which he had not experienced, and, at the same time, not a touch just as he had experienced it. He said the same thing of the Sesenheim story.[1]

After dinner we looked through a portfolio of the Netherland school. A view of a harbour, where on one side men are taking in fresh water, and on the other some are playing dice on a barrel, gave occasion to some fine remarks, as to how the real must be avoided, not to injure the effect of a work of art. The principal light falls on the top of the barrel; the dice are thrown, as may be seen by the gestures of the men, but they are not marked on the surface of the barrel, as they would have intercepted the light, and thus have marred the effect.

Ruysdael's studies for his Churchyard were then looked over, and we saw what pains even such a master had taken.

  • [1] The story of Frederica in “Dichtung und Wahrheit.”—Trans.

Sun., Feb. 21.

Dined with Goethe. He showed me the air-plant (Luft-pflanze), which I looked at with great interest. I remarked therein an effort to continue its existence as long as possible, before permitting its successor to manifest itself.

“I have determined,” said Goethe, “to read neither the ‘Temps’ nor the ‘Globe’ for a month to come. Things are in such a position, that some event of importance must happen within that time; I will wait till the news comes to me from without. My classical Walpurgis-night will gain from this abstinence; besides, one gets nothing from such interests—a consideration oftentimes left too much out of mind.”

He then showed me a letter, written by Boisserée, from Munich, which had given him great pleasure, and which I likewise read with delight. Boisserée spoke especially of the “Second Residence in Rome,” and on some points in the last number of “Kunst and Alterthum” (Art and Antiquity). His judgment showed equal good will and profundity; and we found an opportunity to talk much of the culture and activity of this valuable man.

Goethe then spoke of a new picture, by Cornelius, as being very fine in conception and execution; and the remark was made, that the real occasion for the good colouring of a picture lay in the composition.


Afterwards, during a walk, the air-plant came again into my mind, and I had the thought that a being goes on continuing its existence, and then collects itself to reproduce its like. This law of nature reminded me of the legend in which we conceive God living alone in the beginning of all things, and then creating the Son, who is like Himself. So, too, good masters find nothing more appropriate to do than to form good scholars, by whom their efforts and principles may be continued. Even so every work of a poet or artist must be looked upon as his like; if that is excellent, he who made it must also have been excellent. Thus no good work by another shall ever excite envy in me, since from its existence I must infer that of an excellent man worthy to produce it.

Wed., Feb. 24.

Dined with Goethe. We talked of Homer. I remarked that the interposition of the gods immediately borders on the Real.

“That is infinitely delicate and human,” said Goethe, “and I thank Heaven the times are gone by when the French called this interposition of the gods machinery. But really to learn to appreciate merits so vast required some time, for it demanded a complete regeneration of their culture.”

He said he had given a new touch to the apparition of Helena, to enhance her beauty, which was suggested by a remark of mine, and did honour to my perceptions.

After dinner, Goethe showed me a sketch from a picture by Cornelius—Orpheus, before the throne of Pluto, supplicating for the release of Eurydice. The picture seemed to us well considered, and the details excellent; yet it did not quite satisfy or yield a genuine pleasure to the mind. Perhaps, we thought, the colouring may bring with it greater harmony, or perhaps the following moment, when Orpheus has conquered the heart of Pluto, and Eurydice is restored to him, would have been more favourable. The situation would not in that case have been so fraught with excitement and expectation, but would rather have given complete satisfaction.

Mon., March 1.

Dined at Goethe's, with Hofrath Voigt, of Jena. The conversation turned entirely on subjects of natural history, in which Hofrath Voigt displayed the most various and comprehensive knowledge.

Goethe mentioned that he had received a letter containing this objection to his system,—that the cotyledons are not leaves, because they have no eyes behind them. But we satisfied ourselves, by examining various plants, that the cotyledons have eyes, as well as all the following leaves.

Voigt says that the aperçu of the “Metamorphosis of Plants” is one of the most fruitful discoveries which researches into natural history have give to modern times.

We spoke of collections of stuffed birds; and Goethe told us how an Englishman kept several hundreds of living birds in large cages. The stuffed birds pleased him so well, that the thought occurred to him it would be better to kill them all, and have them stuffed; and this whim he at once carried into effect.

Voigt mentioned that he was about to translate Cuvier's “Natural History,” and publish it, with some additions of his own.

After dinner, when Voigt had gone, Goethe showed me the manuscript of his “Walpurgis-nacht,” and I was astonished to see to what a bulk it had grown.

Wed., March. 3.

Went to walk with Goethe before dinner. He spoke favourably of my poem on the King of Bavaria, observing that Lord Byron had had a favourable influence upon me, but that I still wanted what is called convenance, in which Voltaire was so great; and he recommended me to take him as my model.

At table we talked of Wieland, particularly of his “Oberon;” and Goethe was of opinion that the foundation was weak, and that the plan had not been sufficiently thought over before the execution was begun. It was not well judged, he thought, to let a spirit procure the hairs and teeth, because the hero is thus left inactive. But the pregnant, graceful, ingenious treatment of this great poet makes the book so attractive to the reader, that he never thinks of the foundation, but reads on.

We continued talking on various subjects, till at last we came to the entelecheia.

“The obstinacy of the individual, and the fact that man shakes off what does not suit him,” said Goethe, “is a proof to me that something of the kind exists.”

I had for some minutes thought the same thing, and was about to express it, and hence I was doubly pleased to hear it uttered by Goethe.

Leibnitz,” he continued, “had similar thoughts about independent beings, and indeed what we term an entelecheia he called a monad.”

I determined to read further on the subject in Leibnitz.

(Sup.*) Fri., March 5.

A near relation of Goethe's youthful love, Fräulein von Türkheim, had spent some time in Weimar. I expressed to Goethe to-day my regret at her departure. “She is so young,” said I, “and shows a lofty feeling, and a mature mind, such as one seldom finds at such an age. Besides, her appearance has made a great impression at Weimar. If she had remained longer, she might have become dangerous to many.

“I am very sorry,” said Goethe, “that I did not see her oftener; and that I at first constantly delayed inviting her, in order that I might converse with her undisturbed, and retrace in her the beloved features of her relation.

“The fourth volume of ‘Wahrheit und Dichtung,’” continued he, “in which is related the youthful tale of happiness and woe relating to my love for Lili, has been finished for some time. I should have written and published it earlier, if I had not been restrained by certain delicate considerations—not on my own account, but on account of my beloved, who was then living. I should have been proud to proclaim to the world how much I loved her, and I think that she would not have blushed to confess that my affection was returned. But had I the right to publish this without her consent? It was always my intention to beg for it; but I delayed, until at last it was no longer necessary.

“Whilst you speak with such interest,” continued Goethe, “of the amiable girl who has just left us, you awaken in me all my old recollections. I again see the charming Lili living before me; it is just as if I again felt the aspiration of her loved presence. She was, in fact, the first whom I deeply and truly loved. I may also say that she was the last; for all the little affections which I have felt, in the after part of my life, are, when compared with this first one, only light and superficial.

“I have never been so near a happiness after my own heart,” continued Goethe, “as during the time of this love for Lili. The obstacles which separated us were not really insurmountable, and yet she was lost to me!

“My affection for her had about it something so delicate, and something so peculiar, that even now, in the representation of that painfully happy epoch, it has an influence upon my style. When, at some future time, you read the fourth volume of ‘Wahrheit und Dichtung,’ you will find that this love is something very different from the love in novels.”

“The same might be said,” returned I, “of your love for Gretchen and Frederica. The description of both is so new and original, that novelists do not invent or imagine anything like it. This appears to proceed from the extreme veracity of the narrator, who has not endeavoured to cloak his experiences, in order to make them appear to greater advantage, and who has avoided every sentimental phrase, where the simple statement of the events is sufficient.

“Besides, love itself,” continued I, “is never alike; it is always original, and always modifies itself according to the character and the personality of those whom we love.”

“You are perfectly right,” returned Goethe, “for not merely we are the love, but also the beloved object that charms us. And then—what we must not forget—we have as a powerful third element the Dæmonic (dämonisch) which accompanies every passion, and which finds its proper element in love. This was particularly active in my connection with Lili; it gave another turn to my whole life, and I do not say too much when I assert that my coming to Weimar, and my presence here now, were immediate consequences of it.”

(Sup.*) Sat., Mar., 6.

Goethe had been reading, for some time, the “Memoirs of St. Simon.”

“With the death of Louis the Fourteenth,” said he to me some days ago, “I came to a stop. Until then the dozen volumes interested me to a high degree, through the contrast of the will of the master and the aristocratic virtue of the servant. But from the moment when that monarch takes his departure, and another personage enters, who is so bad that St. Simon himself appears to advantage by his side, I felt no more pleasure in reading; repugnance followed, and I left the book where the ‘Tyrant’ left me.”

Goethe has also ceased, during the last fortnight, to read the “Globe” and the “Temps,” which he had read for many months with the greatest ardour. Now, when the numbers arrive folded up, he lays them aside unopened. However, he begs his friends to tell him what is going on in the world. He has been for some time very productive, and quite buried in the second part of his “Faust.” It is the classical “Walpurgis-nacht” which has especially absorbed him for some weeks, and which is therefore making rapid and striking progress. In such thoroughly productive epochs Goethe does not like reading, unless, as something light and cheerful, it affords him a healthy repose, or stands in harmony and assists him with the subject he has immediately in hand. He avoids it, on the contrary, when it has so strong and exciting an effect as to disturb his quiet and calm production, and dissipate and distract his active interest. The last appears to have been the case with the “Globe” and the “Temps.”

“I see,” said he, “that important events are about to take place in Paris; we are on the eve of a great explosion. But since I have no influence upon it, I shall wait for it quietly, without allowing myself to be unnecessarily excited every day by the interesting progress of the drama. I now read neither the ‘Globe’ nor the ‘Temps,’ and my ‘Walpurgis-nacht’ progresses the better for it.”

He spoke of the state of the most modern French literature, which interests him much.

“What the French,” said he, “in their present literary tendency, consider something new, is in fact nothing but the reflection of what the German literature has intended, and has been for fifty years. The germ of the historical pieces which are now new to them, is to be found in my ‘Götz,’ written half a century ago.

“Besides,” continued he, “the German authors have never thought, and have never written with the view of exerting an influence over the French. I myself have always had only Germany before my eyes, and it was only yesterday or the day before that it occurred to me to turn my glances westward, to see what our neighbours think of me on the other side of the Rhine. And even now they have no influence over my productions. Wieland himself, who imitated the French forms and manner, always remained a German at bottom, and would make a bad figure in a translation.”

Sun., Mar. 7.

Went to Goethe about twelve, and found him remarkably fresh and strong. He told me that he had been forced to lay aside the classical Walpurgis-night, to finish the last number.[1]

“I have shown my wisdom,” said he, “in leaving off when I was in a good vein, and had much to say that I had already invented. In this way, it is much easier to resume my subject, than if I had gone on writing till I came to a standstill.”

I noted down this as good doctrine. We had intended to take a ride before dinner, but we both found it so pleasant in the room that the horses were countermanded.

In the meanwhile, Frederic, the servant, had unpacked a large chest, which had arrived from Paris. It was a present from the sculptor David, of bas-relief portraits in plaster of fifty-seven celebrated persons. Frederic brought in the casts in the different drawers, and we were much amused in looking at all the persons of distinction. I was particularly curious about Mérimée; the head appeared as powerful and bold as his talent, and Goethe remarked that he had something humourous about him. Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Emile Deschamps, appeared with clear, free, cheerful faces. We were also pleased to see Mademoiselle Gay, Madame Tastu, and other young female writers. The powerful head of Fabvier reminded us of the men of earlier ages; we felt delight in looking at it again and again.

Thus we went on from one eminent person to another, and Goethe could not help saying repeatedly that through this present from David he possessed a treasure for which he could not sufficiently thank the admirable artist. He would not fail to show this collection to travellers, and in that way attain verbal information about some of those personages who were unknown to him.

Some books had also been packed up in the chest, which he had ordered to be taken into the front rooms, whither we followed them and sat down to dine. We were in good spirits, and spoke of works and plans of works.

“It is not good for man to be alone,” said Goethe, “and especially to work alone. On the contrary, he needs sympathy and suggestion to do anything well. I owe to Schiller the ‘Achilleis,’ and many of my ballads, to which he urged me; and you may take the credit to yourself, if I complete the second part of ‘Faust.’ I have often told you so before, but I must repeat it, that you may know it.”

These words rejoiced me, for I felt that there might be much truth in what he said. After dinner, Goethe opened one of the packets. This contained the poems of Emile Deschamps, accompanied by a letter, which Goethe gave me to read. I saw with delight what influence was attributed to Goethe over the new life of French literature, and how the young poets loved and revered him as their intellectual head. Thus had Shakspeare worked upon the youth of Goethe. It could not be said of Voltaire that he had had an influence of the kind on the young poets of other countries, that they assembled in his spirit, and recognized him as their lord and master. The letter of Deschamps was written altogether with a very amiable cordiality and freedom.

“You see there the spring-time of a beautiful mind,” said Goethe.

We found also a leaf, which David had sent with drawings of Napoleon's hat in various positions.

“That is something for my son,” said Goethe, and sent him the leaf immediately. It produced its effect, for young Goethe soon came down full of glee, and declared that these hats of his hero were the ne plus ultra of his collection. Five minutes had not passed before the leaf, under glass and in a frame, was in its place among other attributes and monuments of the hero.

  • [1] Of his entire works.—Trans.

(Sup.) Sun., Mar. 14.

This evening at Goethe's. He showed me all the treasures, now put in order, from the chest which he had received from David, and with the unpacking of which I had found him occupied some days ago. The plaster medallions, with the profiles of the principal young poets of France, he had laid in order side by side upon tables. On this occasion, he spoke once more of the extraordinary talent of David, which was as great in conception as in execution. He also showed me a number of the newest works, which had been presented to him, through the medium of David, as gifts from the most distinguished men of the romantic school. I saw works by St. Beuve, Ballanche, Victor Hugo, Balzac, Alfred de Vigny, Jules Janin, and others.

David,” said he, “has prepared happy days for me, by this present. The young poets have already occupied me the whole week, and afford me new life by the fresh impressions which I receive from them. I shall make a separate catalogue of these much esteemed portraits and books, and shall give them both a special place in my collection of works of art and my library.”

One could see from Goethe's manner that this homage from the young poets of France afforded him the heartiest delight.

He then read something from the “Studies,” by Emile Deschamps. He praised the translation of the “Bride of Corinth,” as faithful, and very successful.

“I possess,” said he, “the manuscript of an Italian translation of this poem, which gives the original, even to the rhymes.”

“The Bride of Corinth,” induced Goethe to speak of the rest of his ballads. “I owe them, in a great measure, to Schiller,” said he, “who impelled me to them, because he always wanted something new for his ‘Horen.’ I had already carried them in my head for many years; they occupied my mind as pleasant images, as beautiful dreams, which came and went, and by playing with which my fancy made me happy. I unwillingly resolved to bid farewell to these brilliant visions, which had so long been my solace, by embodying them in poor, inadequate words. When I saw them on paper, I regarded them with a mixture of sadness. I felt as if I were about to be separated for ever from a beloved friend.

“At other times,” continued Goethe, “it has been totally different with my poems. They have been preceded by no impressions or forebodings, but have come suddenly upon me, and have insisted on being composed immediately, so that I have felt an instinctive and dreamy impulse to write them down on the spot. In such a somnambulistic condition, it has often happened that I have had a sheet of paper lying before me all on one side, and I have not discovered it till all has been written, or I have found no room to write any more. I have possessed many such sheets written crossways, but they have been lost one after another, and I regret that I can no longer show any proofs of such poetic abstraction.”

The conversation then returned to the French literature an the modern ultra-romantic tendency of some not unimportant men of genius. Goethe was of opinion that this poetic revolution, which was still in its infancy, would be very favourable to literature, but very prejudicial to the individual authors who effect it.

“Extremes are never to be avoided in any revolution,” said he. “In a political one, nothing is generally desired in the beginning but the abolition of abuses; but before people are aware, they are deep in bloodshed and horror. Thus the French, in their present literary revolution, desired nothing at first but a freer form; however, they will not stop there, but will reject the traditional contents together with the form. They begin to declare the representation of noble sentiments and deeds as tedious, and attempt to treat of all sorts of abominations. Instead of the beautiful subjects from Grecian mythology, there are devils, witches, and vampires, and the lofty heroes of antiquity must give place to jugglers and galley slaves. This is piquant! This is effective! But after the public has once tasted this highly seasoned food, and has become accustomed to it, it will always long for more, and that stronger. A young man of talent, who would produce an effect and be acknowledged, and who is great enough to go his own way, must accommodate himself to the taste of the day—nay, must seek to outdo his predecessors in the horrible and frightful. But in this chase after outward means of effect, all profound study, and all gradual and thorough development of the talent and the man from within, is entirely neglected. And this is the greatest injury which can befall a talent, although literature in general will gain by this tendency of the moment.

“But,” added I, “how can an attempt which destroys individual talents be favourable to literature in general?”

“The extremes and excrescences which I have described,” returned Goethe, “will gradually disappear; but at last this great advantage will remain—besides a freer form, richer and more diversified subjects will have been attained, and no object of the broadest world and the most manifold life will be any longer excluded as unpoetical. I compare the present literary epoch to a state of violent fever, which is not in itself good and desirable, but of which improved health is the happy consequence. That abomination which now often constitutes the whole subject of a poetical work, will in future only appear as an useful expedient; aye, the pure and the noble, which is now abandoned for the moment, will soon be resought with additional ardour.”

“It is surprising to me,” remarked I, “that even Mérimée, who is one of your favourites, has entered upon this ultra-romantic path, through the horrible subjects of his ‘Guzla.’”

Mérimée,” returned Goethe, “has treated these things very differently from his fellow-authors. These poems certainly are not deficient in various horrible motives, such as churchyards, nightly crossways, ghosts and vampires; but the repulsive themes do not touch the intrinsic merit of the poet. On the contrary, he treats them from a certain objective distance, and, as it were, with irony. He goes to work with them like an artist, to whom it is an amusement to try anything of the sort. He has, as I have said before, quite renounced himself, nay, he has ever renounced the Frenchman, and that to such a degree, that at first these poems of Guzla were deemed real Illyrian popular poems, and thus little was wanting for the success of the imposition he had intended.

Mérimée,” continued Goethe, “is indeed a thorough fellow! Indeed, generally, more power and genius are required for the objective treatment of a subject than is supposed. Thus, too, Lord Byron, notwithstanding his predominant personality, has sometimes had the power of renouncing himself altogether, as may be seen in some of his dramatic pieces, particularly in his ‘Marino Faliero.’ In this piece one quite forgets that Lord Byron, or even an Englishman, wrote it. We live entirely in Venice, and entirely in the time in which the action takes place. The personages speak quite from themselves, and from their own condition, without having any of the subjective feelings, thoughts, and opinions of the poet. That is as it should be. Of our young French romantic writers of the exaggerating sort, one cannot say as much. What I have read of them—poems, novels, dramatic works—have all borne the personal colouring of the author, and none of them ever make me forget that a Parisian—that a Frenchman—wrote them. Even in the treatment of foreign subjects one still remains in France and Paris, quite absorbed in all the wishes, necessities, conflicts, and fermentations of the present day.”

Béranger also,” I threw in experimentally, “has only expressed the situation of the great metropolis, and his own interior.”

“That is a man,” said Goethe, “whose power of representation and whose interior are worth something. In him is all the substance of an important personality. Béranger is a nature most happily endowed, firmly grounded in himself, purely developed from himself, and quite in harmony with himself. He has never asked—what would suit the times? what produces an effect? what pleases? what are others doing?—in order that he might do the like. He has always worked only from the core of his own nature, without troubling himself as to what the public, or what this or that party expects. He has certainly, at different critical epochs, been influenced by the mood, wishes, and necessities of the people; but that has only confirmed him in himself, by proving to him that his own nature is in harmony with that of the people; and has never seduced him into expressing anything but what already lay in his heart.

“You know that I am, upon the whole, no friend to what is called political poems, but such as Béranger has composed I can tolerate. With him there is nothing snatched out of the air, nothing of merely imagined or imaginary interest; he never shoots at random; but, on the contrary, has always the most decided, the most important subjects. His affectionate admiration of Napoleon, and his reminiscences of the great warlike deeds which were performed under him, and that at a time when these recollections were a consolation to the somewhat oppressed French; then his hatred of the domination of priests, and of the darkness which threatened to return with the Jesuits: these are things to which one cannot refuse hearty sympathy. And how masterly is his treatment on all occasions! How he turns about and rounds off every subject in his own mind before he expresses it! And then, when all is matured, what wit, spirit, irony, and persiflage, and what heartiness, naïveté, and grace, and unfolded at every step! His songs have every year made millions of joyous men; they always flow glibly from the tongue, even with the working-classes, whilst they are so far elevated above the level of the commonplace, that the populace, in converse with these pleasant spirits, becomes accustomed and compelled to think itself better and nobler. What more would you have? and, altogether, what higher praise could be given to a poet?”

“He is excellent, unquestionably!” returned I. “You know how I loved him for years, and can imagine how it gratifies me to hear you speak of him thus. But if I must say which of his songs I prefer, his amatory poems please me more than his political, in which the particular references and allusions are not always clear to me.”

“That happens to be your case,” returned Goethe; “the political poems were not written for you; but ask the French, and they will tell you what is good in them. Besides, a political poem, under the most fortunate circumstances, is to be looked upon only as the organ of a single nation, and in most cases only as the organ of a single party; but it is seized with enthusiasm by this nation and this party when it is good. Again, a political poem should always be looked upon as the mere result of a certain state of the times; which passes by, and with respect to succeeding times takes from the poem the value which it derived from the subject. As for Béranger, his was no hard task. Paris is France. All the important interests of his great country are concentrated in the capital, and there have their proper life and their proper echo. Besides, in most of his political songs he is by no means to be regarded as the mere organ of a single party; on the contrary, the things against which he writes are for the most part of so universal and national an interest, that the poet is almost always heard as a great voice of the people. With us, in Germany, such a thing is not possible. We have no city, nay, we have no country, of which we could decidedly say—Here is Germany! If we inquire in Vienna, the answer is—this is Austria! and if in Berlin, the answer is—this is Prussia! Only sixteen years ago, when we tried to get rid of the French, was Germany everywhere. Then a political poet could have had an universal effect; but there was no need of one! The universal necessity, and the universal feeling of disgrace, had seized upon the nation like something dæmonic; the inspiring fire which the poet might have kindled was already burning everywhere of its own accord. Still, I will not deny that Arndt, Körner, and Rückert, have had some effect.”

“You have been reproached,” remarked I, rather inconsiderately, “for not taking up arms at that great period, or at least co-operating as a poet.”

“Let us leave that point alone, my good friend,” returned Goethe. “It is an absurd world, which does not know what it wants, and which one must allow to have its own way. How could I take up arms without hatred, and how could I hate without youth? If such an emergency had befallen me when twenty years old, I should certainly not have been the last; but it found me as one who had already passed the first sixties.

“Besides, we cannot all serve our country in the same way, but each does his best, according as God has endowed him. I have toiled hard enough during half a century. I can say, that in those things which nature has appointed for my daily work, I have permitted myself no repose or relaxation night or day, but have always striven, investigated, and done as much, and that as well, as I could. If every one can say the same of himself, it will prove well with all.”

“The fact is,” said I, by way of conciliation, “that you should not be vexed at that reproach, but should rather feel flattered at it. For what does it show, but that the opinion of the world concerning you is so great, that it desires that he who has done more for the culture of his nation than any other, should at last do everything!”

“I will not say what I think,” returned Goethe. “There is more ill-will towards me hidden beneath that remark than you are aware of. I feel therein a new form of the old hatred with which people have persecuted me, and endeavoured quietly to wound me for years. I know very well that I am an eyesore to many; that they would all willingly get rid of me; and that, since they cannot touch my talent, they aim at my character. Now, it is said, I am proud; now, egotistical; now, full of envy towards young men of genius; now, immersed in sensuality; now, without Christianity; and now, without love for my native country, and my own dear Germans. You have now known me sufficiently for years, and you feel what all that talk is worth. But if you would learn what I have suffered, read my ‘Xenien,’ and it will be clear to you, from my retorts, how people have from time to time sought to embitter my life.

“A German author is a German martyr! Yes, my friend, you will not find it otherwise! And I myself can scarcely complain; none of the others have fared better—most have fared worse; and in England and France it is quite the same as with us. What did not Molière suffer? What Rousseau and Voltaire? Byron was driven from England by evil tongues; and would have fled to the end of the world, if an early death had not delivered him from the Philistines and their hatred.

“And if it were only the narrow-minded masses that persecuted noble men! But no! one gifted man and one genius persecutes another; Platen scandalizes Heine, and Heine Platen, and each seeks to make the other hateful; while the world is wide enough for all to live and to let live; and every one has an enemy in his own talent, who gives him quite enough to do.

“To write military songs, and sit in a room! That forsooth was my duty! To have written them in the bivouac, when the horses at the enemy's outposts are heard neighing at night, would have been well enough; however, that was not my life and not my business, but that of Theodore Körner. His war-songs suit him perfectly. But to me, who am not of a warlike nature, and who have no warlike sense, war-songs would have been a mask which would have fitted my face very badly.

“I have never affected anything in my poetry. I have never uttered anything which I have not experienced, and which has not urged me to production. I have only composed love-songs when I have loved. How could I write songs of hatred without hating! And, between ourselves, I did not hate the French, although I thanked God that we were free from them. How could I, to whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate a nation which is among the most cultivated of the earth, and to which I owe so great a part of my own cultivation?”

“Altogether,” continued Goethe, “national hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture. But there is a degree where it vanishes altogether, and where one stands to a certain extent above nations, and feels the weal or woe of a neighbouring people, as if it had happened to one's own. This degree of culture was conformable to my nature, and I had become strengthened in it long before I had reached my sixtieth year.”

(Sup.) Mon., Mar. 15.

This evening, passed a short hour at Goethe's. He spoke a great deal of Jena, and of the arrangements and improvements which he had made in the different branches of the university. For chemistry, botany, and mineralogy, which had formerly been treated only so far as they belonged to pharmacy, he had introduced especial chairs. Above all, he had done much good for the museum of natural history and the library. On this occasion he again related to me, with much self-satisfaction and good humour, the history of his violent occupation of a room adjoining the library, of which the medical faculty had taken possession, and which they would not give up.

“The library,” said he, “was in very bad condition. The situation was damp and close, and by no means fit to contain its treasures in a proper manner; particularly as by the purchase of the Büttner library, on the part of the Grand Duke, an addition had been made of 13,000 volumes, which lay in large heaps upon the floor, because, as I have said, there was no room to place them properly. I was really in some distress on that account. An addition should have been made to the building, but for this the means were wanting; and, besides, this addition could easily be avoided, since adjoining the library there was a large room which was standing empty, and which was quite calculated to supply all our necessities most admirably. However, this room was not in the possession of the library, but was used by the medical faculty, who sometimes employed it for their conferences. I therefore applied to these gentlemen, with this very civil request,—that they would give up this room to me for the library. To this the gentlemen would not agree. They were willing, they said, to give it up if I would have a new room built for their conferences, and that immediately. I replied that I should be very ready to have another place prepared for them, but that I could not promise them a new building immediately. This answer did not appear to have satisfied the gentlemen; for when I sent the next morning for the key, I was told that it could not be found!

“There now remained no other course but to enter as a conqueror. I therefore sent for a bricklayer, and took him into the library, before the wall of the said adjoining room. ‘This wall, my friend,’ said I, ‘must be very thick, for it separates two different parts of the dwelling: just try how strong it is.’ The bricklayer went to work, and scarcely had he given five or six hearty blows, when bricks and mortar fell in, and one could see, through the opening, some venerable perukes, with which the room had been decorated. ‘Go on, my friend,’ said I; ‘I cannot yet see clearly enough. Do not restrain yourself, but act just as if you were in your own house.’ This friendly encouragement so animated the bricklayer, that the opening was soon large enough to serve perfectly for a door; when my library attendants rushed into the room each with an armful of books, which they threw upon the ground as a sign of possession.

“Benches, chairs, and desks vanished in a moment; and my assistants were so quick and active, that in a few days all the books were arranged in the most beautiful order along the walls of their repository. The doctors, who soon afterwards entered their room, in corpore, through their usual door, were quite confounded to find so great and unexpected a change. They did not know what to say, and retired in silence; but they all harboured a secret grudge against me. Still, when I see them singly, and particularly when I have any one of them to dine with me, they are quite charming, and my very dear friends. When I related to the Grand Duke the course of this adventure, which was certainly achieved with his consent and perfect approbation, it amused him right royally, and we have very often laughed at it since.”

Goethe was in a very good humour, and happy in these reminiscences.

“Yes, my friend,” continued he, “we had our share of trouble in doing good. Afterwards, when, on account of the great dampness in the library, I wished to take down and remove the whole of the old city wall, which was quite useless, I found no better success. My entreaties, good reasons, and rational representations found no hearing, and I was obliged, at last, here also to go to work as a conqueror. When the city authorities saw my workmen at work upon their old wall, they sent a deputation to the Grand Duke, who was then at Dornburg, with the humble request that his Highness would be pleased, by a word of command, to check my violent destruction of their venerable old city wall. But the Grand Duke, who had secretly authorized me to take this step, answered very wisely,—‘I do not intermeddle with Goethe's affairs. He knows what he has to do, and must act as he thinks right. Go to him, and speak to him yourself, if you have the courage!’

“However, no one made his appearance at my house,” continued Goethe laughing; “I went on pulling down as much of the old wall as was in my way, and had the happiness of seeing my library dry at last.”

Tues., Mar. 16.

This morning Herr von Goethe paid me a visit, and informed me that his long contemplated tour to Italy had been decided on; that his father had allowed the necessary money; and that he wished me to accompany him. We were both highly pleased, and talked a great deal about our preparations.

When I passed Goethe's house at noon, Goethe beckoned me at the window, and I hastened up to him. He was in the front apartments, and seemed very fresh and cheerful. He began to talk about his son's tour, saying that he approved of it, thought it very rational, and was glad that I would accompany him.

“It will be a good thing for you both,” said he, “and your cultivation in particular will receive no small advantage.”

He then showed me a Christ with twelve Apostles, and we talked of the poverty of these forms as subjects for sculpture.

“One Apostle,” said Goethe, “is always much like another, and very few have enough life and action connected with them to give them character and significance. I have on this occasion amused myself with making a cycle of twelve biblical figures, in which every one is significant and distinct from the rest, and therefore every one is a grateful subject for the artist.

“First comes Adam—the most beautiful of men, as perfect as can be imagined. He may have his hand upon a spade, as a symbol that man is called to till the earth.

“Next Noah, with whom a new creation begins. He cultivates the vine, and therefore this figure may have something of the character of the Indian Bacchus.

“Next Moses, as the first lawgiver.

“Then David, as warrior and king.

“Next to him Isaiah, as prince and prophet.

“Then Daniel, who points to the future Christ.


“Next to him John, who loves the present Christ. Thus Christ would be placed between two youthful figures, one of whom, viz. Daniel, should be painted with a mild expression and long hair, while the other should be impassioned and with short curly hair. But who shall come after John?

The Captain of Capernaum, as a representation of the faithful, who expect immediate aid.

“Then the Magdalen, as a symbol of penitent man urging forgiveness and eager for reformation. In these two figures the idea of Christianity would be contained.

“Then Paul may follow, who most vigorously propagated the new doctrine.

“After him James, who went to the remotest nations, and represents missionaries.

“Peter would conclude the whole. The artist should place him near the door, and give him an expression as if he examined those who entered, in order to see whether they were worthy to tread the sanctuary.

“What do you say to this cycle? I think it would be richer than that of the twelve Apostles, where all look like each other. Moses and the Magdalen I would represent sitting.”

I was very pleased to hear all this, and requested Goethe to write it down, which he promised to do. “I will think it over again,” he said, “and then give it with other new things for the thirty-ninth volume.”

Wed., Mar. 17.

Dined with Goethe. I asked him respecting a passage in his poems, whether it should be read,—“As thy priest Horace in his rapture promised,” as it stands in all the older editions,—or, “As thy priest Propertius,” &c., as it stands in the new edition.

“I allowed myself,” said Goethe, “to be seduced by Göttling into this last reading. ‘Priest Propertius’ sounds badly, and therefore I am for the earlier reading.”

“Thus, too,” said I, “it stood in the manuscript of your ‘Helena,’ that Theseus carries her off as a slim roe of ten years. In consequence of Göttling's suggestions, you have printed—‘a slim roe of seven years,’ which is too young both for the beautiful girl herself, and for the twin-brothers Castor and Pollux, who rescue her. The whole story lies so completely in the fabulous ages, that no one can tell how old she really was; and, besides, mythology altogether is so pliant, that we may use things just as we find most convenient.”

“You are right,” said Goethe; “I also am in favour of her being ten years old when Theseus carries her off, and hence I have written afterwards,—‘From her tenth year she has been good for naught.’ In the future edition you may again make the roe of seven years into one of ten.”

After dinner Goethe showed me two new numbers by Neureuther, after his ballads, and we admired above everything the free cheerful mind of this amiable artist.

(Sup.*) Wed., Mar. 17.

This evening at Goethe's for a couple of hours. By order of the Grand Duchess I brought him back “Gemma von Art,” and told him the good opinion I entertained of this piece.

“I am always glad,” returned he, “when anything is produced which is new in invention, and bears the stamp of talent.” Then, taking the volume between his hands, and looking at it somewhat askance, he added, “but I am never quite pleased when I see a dramatic author make pieces too long to be represented as they are written. This imperfection takes away half the pleasure that I should otherwise feel. Only see what a thick volume this ‘Gemma von Art’ is.”

Schiller,” returned I, “has not managed much better, and yet he is a very great dramatic author.”

“He too has certainly committed this fault.” returned Goethe. “His first pieces particularly, which he wrote in the fulness of youth, seem as if they would never end. He had too much on his heart, and too much to say to be able to control it. Afterwards, when he became conscious of this fault, he took infinite trouble, and endeavoured to overcome it by work and study; but he never perfectly succeeded. It really requires a poetical giant, and is more difficult than is imagined, to control a subject properly, to keep it from overpowering one, and to concentrate one's attention on that alone which is absolutely necessary.”

Hofrath Riemer was announced, and entered. I prepared to depart, as I knew that this was the evening on which Goethe was accustomed to work with Riemer. But Goethe begged me to remain, which I did very willingly, and thus became a witness of a conversation full of recklessness, irony, and Mephistophilistic humour on Goethe's part.[1]

“So Sömmering is dead,” began Goethe. “and scarcely seventy-five wretched years old. What blockheads men are, that they have not the courage to last longer than that! There I praise my friend Bentham, that extremely radical madman; he keeps himself well, and yet he is some weeks older than I am.”

“It might be added,” returned I, “that he equals you in one other point, for he still works with all the activity of youth.”

“That may be,” returned Goethe; “but we are at opposite ends of the chain: he wishes to pull down, and I wish to support and build up. To be such a radical, at his age, is the height of all madness.”

“I think,” rejoined I, “we should distinguish between two kinds of radicalism. The one to build up for the future will first make a clean path by pulling down everything; whilst the other is contented to point out the weak parts and the faults of an administration, in hopes of attaining good without the aid of violent measures. If you had been born in England, you would not certainly have avoided belonging to this last class.”

“What do you take me for?” returned Goethe, who now adopted the mien and tone of his Mephistophiles. “I forsooth should have searched out abuses, and detected and published them into the bargain? I who in England should have lived upon abuses? If I had been born in England, I should have been a rich Duke, or rather a Bishop with £30,000 a year.”

“Very good,” returned I; “but if, by chance, you had not drawn the great prize, but a blank? there are so many blanks.”

“It is not every one, my dear friend,” returned Goethe, “who is made for the great prize. Do you believe that I should have committed the folly of lighting on a blank? I should, above all things, have taken the part of the Thirty-Nine Articles; I should have advocated them on all sides, and in all directions—particularly the Ninth Article, which would have been for me an object of special attention and tender devotion. I would have played the hypocrite, and lied so well and so long, both in rhyme and prose, that my £30,000 a year should not have escaped me. And then, having once attained this eminence, I would have neglected nothing to keep my position. Above all, I would have done everything to make the night of ignorance if possible still darker. Oh, how would I have tried to cajole the good, silly multitude; and how would I have humbled the schoolboys, so that no one should have observed, or even have had the courage to remark, that my brilliant position was based upon the most scandalous abuses.”

“With you,” answered I, “people would at least have had the consolation of thinking that you had attained such eminence by means of eminent talent. But in England, the most stupid and incapable people are often those who are in enjoyment of the highest worldly prosperity, for which they have to thank not their own deserts, but patronage, chance—and, above all, birth.”

“It is the same in the end,” returned Goethe, “whether one attains brilliant worldly prosperity through one's own exertions, or through inheritance. The first possessors were still, in every case, people of genius, who turned to their own account the ignorance and weakness of others. The world is so full of simpletons and madmen, that one need not seek them in a madhouse. This reminds me that the late Grand Duke, who knew my objection to madhouses, once endeavoured to take me into one by a sudden stratagem. However, I smelt the rat in time, and told him that I felt no necessity to see the madmen who were in confinement, as I had already seen enough of those who went about at liberty. ‘I am very ready,’ said I, ‘to follow your Highness anywhere, with the sole exception of a madhouse.’ . . .

“By the way, I have already made a trial in the religious style. As a boy of sixteen, I wrote a dithyrambic poem upon the Descent into hell, which has been printed but not acknowledged, and which has but lately fallen into my hands again. You know it, Riemer?”

“No, your excellency,” returned Riemer, “I do not know it. But I recollect that, in the first year after my arrival, you were seriously ill, and that in a state of delirium you recited the most beautiful verses on that subject. These were, doubtless, recollections of that poem of your early youth.”

“That is very probable,” said Goethe. “I knew a case in which an old man of low condition, who lay at the last gasp, quite unexpectedly recited the most beautiful Greek sentences. People were perfectly convinced that the man did not understand a word of Greek, and there was no end to their astonishment; the cunning had already begun to derive advantage from the credulity of the fools, when it was unfortunately discovered that the old man in his early youth had been obliged to learn all sorts of Greek sentences by heart, in the presence of a boy of high family, whom his example, it was hoped, would incite. He had learned truly classical Greek quite mechanically, without understanding it, and had not thought of it again for fifty years, until, in his last illness, this lumber of words with which he was crammed began to revive.”


Conversation now turned upon romances and plays, and their moralizing or demoralizing effect upon the public.

“It must be bad indeed,” said Goethe, “if a book has a more demoralizing effect than life itself, which daily displays the most scandalous scenes in abundance, if not before our eyes, at least before our ears. Even with children, people need by no means be so anxious about the effect of a book or a play. Daily life is, as I said before, more instructive than the most effective book.”

“But still,” remarked I, “with respect to children people take care not to utter things in their presence which are considered improper for them to hear.”

“That is laudable enough,” said Goethe, “and I do the same myself, but I consider the precaution quite useless. Children, like dogs, have so sharp and fine a scent, that they detect and hunt out everything—the bad before all the rest. They also know well enough how this or that friend stands with their parents; and as they practice no dissimulation whatever, they serve as excellent barometers by which to observe the degree of favour or disfavour at which we stand with their parents.

“Some one had once spoken ill of me in company; and, indeed, the circumstance appeared to me of such importance, that I wished much to discover whence the blow came. People here were generally well disposed towards me. I turned my thoughts in every direction, and could not make out with whom the odious report had originated. All of a sudden a light dawned upon me. I one day met, in the street, some little boys of my acquaintance, who did not greet me as they had been accustomed. This was enough for me, and upon this track I very soon discovered that it was their beloved parents who had set their tongues wagging, at my cost, in so shameful a manner.”

  • [1] Some passages which border on the profane are purposely omitted in this conversation.—Trans.

Sun., Mar. 21.

Dined with Goethe. He spoke first about his son's journey, saying that we ought not to form too great expectations as to the result.

“People usually come back as they have gone away,” said he; “indeed, we must take care not to return with thoughts which do not fit us for after life. Thus, I brought from Italy the idea of fine staircases, and have consequently spoiled my house, making the rooms all smaller than they should have been. The most important thing is to learn to rule oneself. If I allowed myself to go on unchecked, I could easily ruin myself and all about me.”

We talked then about ill health, and the reciprocity of body and mind.

“It is incredible,” said Goethe, “how much the mind can do to sustain the body. I suffer often from a disordered state of the bowels, but my will, and the strength of the upper part of my body, keep me up. The mind must not yield to the body. Thus I work more easily when the barometer is high than when it is low: since I know this, I endeavour, when the barometer is low, to counteract the injurious effect by great exertion,—and my attempt is successful.”

“But there are things in poetry which cannot be forced; and we must wait for favourable hours to give us what we cannot obtain by mental determination. Thus I now take my time with my Walpurgis-night, that there may be throughout the proper strength and grace. I have advanced a good way, and hope to have finished it before your departure.

“Wherever there is a point, I have detached it from the individual objects, and given it a general application, so that the reader has no want of allusions, but cannot tell how they are really directed. I have, however, endeavoured to mark out everything in distinct outline, in the antique style, so that there may be nothing vague or undecided, which might suit the romantic style well enough.

“The idea of the distinction between classical and romantic poetry, which is now spread over the whole world, and occasions so many quarrels and divisions, came originally from Schiller and myself. I laid down the maxim of objective treatment in poetry, and would allow no other; but Schiller, who worked quite in the subjective way, deemed his own fashion the right one, and to defend himself against me, wrote the treatise upon ‘Naïve and Sentimental Poetry.’ He proved to me that I myself, against my will, was romantic, and that my ‘Iphigenia,’ through the predominance of sentiment, was by no means so classical and so much in the antique spirit as some people supposed.

“The Schlegels took up this idea, and carried it further, so that it has now been diffused over the whole world; and every one talks about classicism and romanticism—of which nobody thought fifty years ago.”

I turned the conversation again upon the cycle of the twelve figures, and Goethe made some explanatory remarks.

“Adam must be represented as I have said, but not quite naked, as I best conceive him after the Fall; he should be clothed with a thin deer skin; and, at the same time, in order to express that he is the father of the human race, it would be well to place by him his eldest son, a fearless boy, looking boldly about him—a little Hercules stifling a snake in his hand.

“And I have had another thought about Noah, which pleases me better than the first. I would not have him like an Indian Bacchus; but I would represent him as a vintager; this would give the notion of a sort of redeemer, who, as the first fosterer of the vine, made man free from the torment of care and affliction.”

I was charmed with the happy thought, and resolved to note it down.

Goethe then showed me the engraving of Neureuther, for his legend of the horse-shoe.

“The artist,” said I, “has given the Saviour only eight disciples.”

“And even these eight,” replied Goethe, “are too many; and he has very wisely endeavoured to divide them into two groups, and thus to avoid the monotony of an unmeaning procession.”

Wed., Mar. 24.

The liveliest conversation at table to-day with Goethe. He told me about a French poem which had come in manuscript, in the collection of David, under the title “Le Rire de Mirabeau.”

“The poem is full of spirit and boldness,” said Goethe, “and you must see it. It seems as if Mephistophiles had prepared the ink for the poet. It is great if he wrote it without having read ‘Faust,’ and no less great if he had read it.”

(Sup.) Mon., Mar. 29.

This evening for some moments at Goethe's; he appeared very calm and cheerful, and in the mildest mood. I found him surrounded by his grandson Wolf and the Countess Caroline Egloffstein, his intimate friend. Wolf gave his dear grandfather a great deal of trouble. He climbed about him, and sat now upon one shoulder, and now upon another. Goethe bore all with the utmost gentleness, inconvenient as the weight of this boy of ten years old must have been to him at his advanced age.

“But, dear Wolf,” said the Countess, “do not torment your good grandfather so terribly! He must be quite tired with your weight.”

“That does not matter,” said Wolf, “we shall soon go to bed, and then my grandfather will have time enough to recover from his fatigue.”

“You see,” rejoined Goethe, “that love is always somewhat of an impertinent nature.”

The conversation turned upon Campe, and his writings for children.

“I have only met with Campe twice in my life,” said Goethe. “After an interval of forty years, I last saw him at Carlsbad. I then found him very old, withered, stiff, and formal. He had, during a long life, written only for children, not even for great children of twenty years. He could not endure me. I was an eyesore, a stumbling-block, and he did all he could to avoid me. Chance, however, one day brought me to him quite unexpectedly, and he could not help saying some words to me. ‘I have,’ said he, ‘great respect for the capabilities of your mind! You have attained extraordinary eminence in various departments. But things of that sort do not effect me, and I cannot set the value upon them which others do.’ This rather uncivil candour by no means offended me, and I said all sorts of obliging things in return. Besides, I really have a high opinion of Campe. He has conferred incredible benefits upon children; he is their delight, and, so to speak, their gospel. I should like to see him a little corrected, merely on account of two or three terrible stories which he has had the indiscretion not only to write, but also to introduce into his collection for children. Why should we burden the cheerful, fresh, innocent fancy of children with such horrid impressions?”

(Sup.) Mon., April 5.

It is well known that Goethe is no friend to spectacles.

“It may be a mere whim of mine,” said he, on various occasions, “but I cannot overcome it. Whenever a stranger steps up to me with spectacles on his nose, a discordant feeling comes over me, which I cannot master. It annoys me so much, that on the very threshold it takes away a great part of my benevolence, and so spoils my thoughts, that an unconstrained natural development of my own nature is altogether impossible. It always makes on me the impression of the desobligeant, as if a stranger would say something rude to me at the first greeting. I feel this still stronger, since it has been impressed upon me for years how obnoxious spectacles are. If a stranger now comes with spectacles, I think immediately—‘he has not read my latest poems!’ and that is of itself a little to his disadvantage; or ‘he has read them, knows their peculiarity, and sets them at nought,’ and that is still worse. The only man with whom spectacles do not annoy me is Zelter; with all others they are horrible. It always seems to me as if I am to serve strangers as an object for strict examination, and as if with their armed glances they would penetrate my most secret thoughts, and spy out every wrinkle of my old face. But whilst they thus endeavour to make my acquaintance, they destroy all fair equality between us, as they prevent me from compensating myself by making theirs. For what do I gain from a man into whose eyes I cannot look when he is speaking, and the mirror of whose soul is veiled to me by a pair of glasses which dazzle me?”

“Some one has remarked,” added I, “that wearing spectacles makes men conceited, because spectacles raise them to a degree of sensual perfection which is far above the power of their own nature, but through which the delusion at last creeps in that this artificial eminence is the force of their own nature after all.”

“The remark is very good,” returned Goethe, “it appears to have proceeded from a natural philosopher. However, when examined, it is not tenable. For if this were actually the case, all blind men would of necessity be very modest; and, on the other hand, all endowed with excellent eyes would be conceited. But this is not the case; we rather find that all mentally and bodily endowed men are the most modest, while, on the other hand all who have some peculiar mental defect think a great deal more of themselves. It appears that bountiful Nature has given to all those whom she has not enough endowed in higher respects, imagination and presumption by way of compensation and complement.

“Besides, modesty and presumption are moral things of so spiritual a nature, that they have little to do with the body. With narrow-minded persons, and those in a state of mental darkness, we find conceit; while with mental clearness and high endowments we never find it. In such cases there is generally a joyful feeling of strength; but since this strength is actual, the feeling is anything else you please, only not conceit.”

We still conversed on various other subjects, and came at last to the “Chaos”—the Weimar journal conducted by Frau von Goethe—in which not only the German gentlemen and ladies of the place take part, but also the young English, French, and other foreigners who reside here; so that almost every number presents a mixture of nearly all the best known European tongues.

“It was a good thought of my daughter,” said Goethe, “and she should be praised and thanked for having achieved this highly original journal, and kept the individual members of our society in such activity that it has now lasted for nearly a year. It is certainly only a dilettante pastime, and I know very well that nothing great and durable will proceed from it; but still it is very neat, and, to a certain extent, a mirror of the intellectual eminence of our present Weimar society. Then, which is the principal thing, it gives employment to our young gentlemen and ladies, who often do not know what to do with themselves; through this, too, they have an intellectual centre which affords them subjects for discussion and conversation, and preserves them from mere empty hollow chat. I read every sheet just as it comes from the press, and can say that, on the whole, I have met with nothing stupid, but occasionally something very pretty. What, for instance, could you say against the elegy, by Frau von Bechtolsheim, upon the death of the Grand Duchess Dowager? Is not the poem very pretty? The only thing that could be said against it, or, indeed, against most that is written by our young ladies and gentlemen, is, that, like trees too full of sap, which have a number of parasitical shoots, they have a superabundance of thoughts and feelings which they cannot control, so that they often do not know how to restrain themselves, or to leave off in the right place. This is the case with Frau von Bechtolsheim. In order to preserve a rhyme, she had added another line, which was completely detrimental to the poem, and in some measure spoiled it. I saw this fault in the manuscript, and was able to strike it out in time.

“One must be an old practitioner,” he added, laughing, “to understand striking out. Schiller was particularly great in that. I once saw him, on the occasion of his ‘Musenalmanach,’ reduce a pompous poem of two-and-twenty strophes to seven; and no loss resulted from this terrible operation. On the contrary, those seven strophes contained all the good and effective thoughts of the two-and-twenty.”

(Sup.*) Mon., April 19.

Goethe gave me an account of a visit, which he had received to-day, from two Russians. “They were, upon the whole, very agreeable people,” said he; “but one of them did not appear very amiable, inasmuch as he did not utter a single word during his whole visit. He entered with a silent bow, did not open his lips during his stay, and after half an hour took his leave with another silent salutation. He appeared to have come merely to see me and to observe me. He did not take his eyes off me, whilst I sat opposite. That annoyed me, and I therefore began to rattle away the maddest stuff, just as it came into my head. I believe I took the United States of North America as my theme, which I treated with the utmost levity, saying at random all I knew and all I did not know. However, this appeared to please my two foreigners, for they quitted me, as it seemed, not at all dissatisfied.”

Wed., April 21.

To-day I took my leave of Goethe, as I was to set out with his son for Italy to-morrow morning. We said a great deal in reference to the journey, and he especially recommended me to observe well, and now and then to write to him.

I felt some emotion at leaving Goethe, but was consoled by his strong healthy appearance, and the confident hope that I should be happy enough to see him again.

When I took my departure he gave me an album, in which he had written these words—


‘Es geht vorüber eh' ich's gewahr werde,
Und verwandelt sich eh' ich's merke

Weimar, 21st April, 1830.

  • [1] “Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not; he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.”—Job.—Trans.

(Sup.*) Thur., April 22.

Dined with Goethe. Frau von Goethe was present, and the conversation was agreeably animated. Still, little or nothing of it remains in my mind.

During dinner, a foreigner, who was passing through this town, was announced, with the remark that he had no time to wait, and must set off the next morning. Goethe sent word to him, that he regretted that he could not see any one to-day, but that he would perhaps see him to-morrow at noon. “I think,” said he, laughing, “that will be enough.” But, at the same time, he promised his daughter that he would wait after dinner the visit of young Henning, whom she had introduced, out of consideration for his brown eyes, which were said to be like those of his mother.

Frankfort, Sat., April 24.

At about eleven o'clock I took a walk round the city, and through the gardens towards the Taunus Mountain, and was delighted with the noble prospect and vegetation. The day before yesterday, at Weimar, the trees were only in the bud, but here I find the new shoots of the chestnuts already a foot long, and those of the linden trees a quarter of a yard. The grass was a foot high, and thus at the gate I met some girls carrying heavy basket-loads.

I went through the gardens to get a free prospect of the Taunus Mountain; there was a fresh breeze, the clouds moved from the south-west, and cast their shadows upon the mountain as they proceeded to the north-east. Between the gardens I saw some storks alight and rise again, which, taking place in the sunlight between the passing white clouds and the blue sky, produced a pretty effect, and completed the character of the scene. When I returned, I met at the gate the finest cows, brown, white, speckled, and with sleek coats.

The air here is pleasant and healthy, and the water has a sweetish taste. I have never tasted such good beef-steaks at Hamburg as here, and I have excellent white bread.

It is fair time, and the bustle, fiddling, and piping in the streets lasts from morning till late at night. I was much struck by a Savoyard boy, who turned a hurdy-gurdy, and led behind him a dog, on which a monkey was riding. He whistled and sang to us, and for a long time tried to make us give him something. We threw him down more than he could have expected, and I thought he would throw up to us a look of gratitude. However, he did nothing of the kind, but pocketed his money, and immediately looked after others to give him more.

Frankfort, Sun., April 25.

This morning we took a ride about the city, in a very elegant carriage belonging to our host. The magnificent buildings, the beautiful stream, the gardens and grounds, and enticing summer-houses, were refreshing to the senses. However, I soon made the remark, that it is requisite for the mind to elicit thoughts from objects, and that without this everything, after all, will prove indifferent and unmeaning.

At dinner, at the table d'hôte, I saw many faces, but few expressive enough to fix my attention. However, the head waiter interested me highly, so that my eyes constantly followed him and all his movements; and indeed he was a remarkable being. The guests who sat at the long table were about two hundred in number, and it seems almost incredible when I say that nearly the whole of the attendance was performed by the head waiter, since he put on and took off all the dishes, while the other waiters only handed them to him and received them from him. During all this proceeding nothing was spilt, no one was incommoded, but all went off lightly and nimbly, as if by the operation of a spirit. Thus, thousands of plates and dishes flew from his hands upon the table, and again from the table to the hands of the attendants behind him. Quite absorbed in his vocation, the whole man was nothing but eyes and hands, and he merely opened his closed lips for short answers and directions. Then he not only attended to the table, but to the orders for wine and the like, and so well remembered everything, that when the meal was over he knew everybody's score, and took the money. I admired the comprehensive power, the presence of mind, and the strong memory of this remarkable young man. At the same time he was perfectly quiet and self-possessed, and always ready for a jest and a smart retort, so that a constant smile played upon his lips. A French captain of the old guard complained to him, at the end of the meal, that the ladies retired. He at once gave the evasive answer:—“C'est pour vous autres; nous sommes sans passion.” He spoke French and English perfectly, and I was told that he was master of three languages besides. I afterwards entered into conversation with him, and found reason to admire his rare cultivation in every respect.

At the performance of “Don Juan,” in the evening, we found reason to regret Weimar. The voices of the company were good, and their talents were fair, but they all played like children of nature who owed nothing to tuition. They did not enunciate clearly, and went on as if no public were present. The acting of some of them gave occasion to the remark that the ignoble without character is vulgar and intolerable, while character at once elevates it into the higher region of art. The public was very loud and boisterous, and there was no lack of calls and encores. Zerlina fared both well and ill, for one-half of the house hissed, while the other applauded. Party spirit was thus heightened, and always resulted in an uproar.

(Sup.*) Wed., May 12.

Before Goethe's window stood a little bronze figure of Moses; a copy of the renowned original, by Michael Angelo. The arms appeared to me too long and too stout in proportion to the rest of the body, and I openly expressed this opinion to Goethe.

“But the two heavy tables with the Ten Commandments,” exclaimed he, sharply, “do you think it was a trifle to carry them? And do you believe that Moses, who had to command and to curb an army of Jews, could have been contented with mere ordinary arms?”

Goethe laughed as he said this, so that I could not find out whether I was really in error, or whether he was defending the artist by way of a joke.

Milan, May 28.

I have now been here for three weeks, and it is high time for me to write down something.

The great Teatro de la Scala, to our regret, was closed. We went in and saw it filled with scaffolding. Various repairs are going on, and we are told that an addition is being made of a tier of boxes. The principal singers have taken advantage of this opportunity to travel. Some, they say, are in Paris, some in Vienna.

I visited the Marionette theatre (Puppet-show). This theatre is, perhaps, of its kind, the best in the world. It has a high celebrity, and as soon as you approach Milan you hear of it.

The Teatro de la Canobiana, with its five tiers of boxes, is the largest after La Scala, and holds three thousand persons. I like it very much. I have often been in it, and have always seen the same opera and the same ballet. For three weeks they have performed Rossini's opera “Il Conte Ory,” and the ballet “L' Orfana di Genevra.” The scenes painted by San Quirico, or under his direction, have a most pleasing effect, and are modest enough to allow themselves to be outshone by the dresses of the actors. San Quirico, it is said, has many clever persons in his employ. All orders are sent to him in the first instance, and he sends them to others, and gives directions, so that everything is done in his name, and he himself does but little. It is said that he gives a handsome yearly salary to several artists of talent, and pays it even when they are ill and do nothing throughout the year.

During the performance of the opera I was highly pleased not to see the prompter's box, which generally so unpleasantly conceals the feet of the actor. I was also pleased with the situation of the conductor. He stood a little raised in the middle of the orchestra, next to the stalls, so that he could see and be seen by his whole band, giving directions to the right and left, and having a full view of the stage over their heads. In Weimar, on the contrary, the conductor is so placed that he has indeed a full view of the stage, but the band is behind him, so that he is always obliged to turn round if he would give directions to any one of the players. The band itself is very numerous. I counted sixteen basses, eight of which were placed at each extremity. The players, who are nearly a hundred in number, are turned towards the conductor on both sides, so that they have their backs turned to the pit-boxes by the proscenium, with one eye towards the stage and the other towards the pit, and with the conductor directly in front.

With respect to the voices of the singers, I was delighted with the purity and strength of the tone, and the freedom and absence of effort in their enunciation.

I thought of Zelter, and wished he was by my side. I was pleased above all with the voice of Signora Corradi-Pantanelli, who played the page. I spoke with others concerning this excellent singer, and heard that she was engaged for next winter at La Scala. The prima donna who played the Countess Adele, was Signora Albertini, a young débutante. There is in her voice something very soft and pure, as the light of the sun. Every one who comes from Germany must be delighted with her to the highest degree. A young basso also distinguished himself. His voice is very powerful, but somewhat inflexible; and his acting, though unconstrained, indicates the infancy of his art. The choruses went admirably, and kept the greatest precision with regard to the orchestra. With respect to the gesticulation of the actors, I observed a certain quiet moderation, whereas I had anticipated an expression of the lively Italian temperament. The paint was a mere tinge of red, such as one likes to see in nature, and did not at all give the impression of rouged cheeks.

Considering the strength of the orchestra, I found it remarkable that the players never drowned the voices of the singers, but that these always were predominant. I spoke on the subject at the table d'hôte, and heard an intelligent young man give the following explanation:—

“The German bands,” said he, “are egotistical, and wish as bands to come out and do something. An Italian band, on the other hand, is discreet. It knows well enough that in an opera the singing of the human voices is the principal matter, and that the orchestral accompaniment should only be subservient. Hence, however many violins, clarionets, trumpets, and basses, are played in an Italian orchestra, the impression of the whole will always be soft and pleasant; while a German band, with a third of the strength, very soon becomes loud and noisy.”

I could not answer words so convincing, and was glad to find my problem so well solved.

“Still,” I remarked, “are not the modern composers also in fault, through making the instrumental part of their operas too strong?”

“Certainly,” replied the stranger, “modern composers have fallen into this fault; but never truly great masters, like Mozart and Rossini. These, indeed, in their accompaniments, introduce distinct themes, independent of the melody of the vocal part; but, nevertheless, they have always used such moderation, that the voice of the singer is always in the ascendant. On the other hand, while with modern masters there is real poverty in the accompaniment, they often drown the singing by their violent instrumentation.”

I gave my assent to these remarks of the intelligent young stranger. The person who sat next to me at table told me he was a young Livonian Baron, who had long resided in London and Paris, and had now been here for five years, studying very hard.

I must mention something else which I observed in the opera, and which gave me much pleasure. It is the circumstance that the Italians treat night on the stage not as actual night, but only symbolically. It was always unpleasant to me that, in the German theatres, when it was supposed to be night, a perfect night set it, so that the expression of the actors, and often their persons vanished altogether, and nothing but mere darkness was visible. The Italians manage more wisely. On their stage night is never actual, but only an indication. The back of the stage is a little darkened—that is all—and the actors come so much into the foreground that they are completely lighted, and not the least expression escapes us. In painting the same method should be adopted, and I should be surprised to find pictures in which the faces were so darkened by night that their expression could not be recognized. I hope I shall never find such a picture by a good master.

I find the same excellent maxim applied in the ballet. A nocturnal scene was represented, in which a girl was attacked by a robber. The stage is only a little darkened, so that all the movements and the expression of the face are perfectly visible. At the shrieks of the girl the assassin escapes, and the peasants hasten from their cottages with lights. These are not dim, but of a whitish flame, and it is only by the contrast of this very great brilliancy that we perceive it was night in the previous scene.

What I had been told in Germany about the loud Italian public I have found confirmed; and, indeed, the longer the opera is played, the more does the noise of the public increase. A fortnight ago I saw one of the first representations of the “Conte Ory.” The singers were received with applause on their entrance; the audience, to be sure, talked during the less striking scenes, but when good airs were sung all was still, and general approbation rewarded the singers. The choruses went excellently, and I admired the precision with which voices and orchestra always kept together. But now, when the opera has been given every evening since that time, the public has totally ceased to pay attention; everybody talks, and the house resounds with the noise. Scarcely a hand is stirred, and one can scarcely imagine how the singers can open their lips on the stage, or how the instrumentalists can play a note in the orchestra. There is an end to zeal and precision; and the foreigner, who likes to hear something, would be in despair—if despair were at all possible in so cheerful an assembly.

Milan, May 30.

I will here record something which I have hitherto remarked with pleasure, or which has at any rate interested me in Italy.

On the Simplon, amid the desert of snow and mist, in the vicinity of a refuge, a boy and his little sister were journeying up the mountain by the side of our carriage. Both had on their backs little baskets filled with wood, which they had gathered in the lower mountains, where there is still some vegetation. The boy gave us some specimens of rock crystal and other stone, for which we gave him some small coins. The delight with which he cast stolen glances at his money as he passed by our carriage, made upon me an indelible impression. Never before had I seen such a heavenly expression of felicity. I could not but reflect that God has placed all sources and capabilities for happiness in the human heart; and that, with respect to happiness, it is perfectly indifferent how and where one dwells.

(Sup.*) Mon., Aug. 2.

The news of the Revolution of July, which had already commenced, reached Weimar to-day, and set every one in a commotion. I went in the course of the afternoon to Goethe's. “Now,” exclaimed he to me, as I entered, “what do you think of this great event? The volcano has come to an eruption; everything is in flames, and we have no longer a transaction with closed doors!”

“A frightful story,” returned I. “But what could be expected under such notoriously bad circumstances, and with such a ministry, otherwise than that the whole would end in the expulsion of the royal family?”

“We do not appear to understand each other, my good friend,” returned Goethe. “I am not speaking of those people, but of something quite different. I am speaking of the contest, so important for science, between Cuvier and Geoffrey de Saint Hilaire, which has come to an open rupture in the academy.”

This expression of Goethe's was so very unexpected that I did not know what to say, and for some minutes felt my thoughts perfectly at a standstill.

“The matter is of the highest importance,” continued Goethe, “and you can form no conception of what I felt at the intelligence of the sitting of the 19th of July. We have now in Geoffrey de Saint Hilaire a powerful and permanent ally. I see how great must be the interest of the French scientific world in this affair, because, notwithstanding the terrible political commotion, the sitting of the 19th of July was very fully attended. However, the best of it is, that the synthetic manner of treating nature, introduced by Geoffrey into France, cannot be kept back any more. The affair has now become public, through the free discussion of the academy, and that in the presence of so large an audience. It is no longer referred to secret committees, and arranged and got rid of, and smothered behind closed doors. From the present time, mind will rule over matter in the physical investigations of the French. There will be glances of the great maxims of creation, of the mysterious workshop of God! Besides, what is all intercourse with nature, if, by the analytical method, we merely occupy ourselves with individual material parts, and do not feel the breath of the spirit, which prescribes to every part its direction, and orders, or sanctions, every deviation, by means of an inherent law!

“I have exerted myself in this great affair for fifty years. At first, I was alone, then I found support, and now at last, to my great joy, I am surpassed by congenial minds. When I sent my first discovery of intermediate bones to Peter Camper, I was, to my infinite mortification, utterly ignored. With Blumenbach I fared no better, though, after personal intercourse, he came over to my side. But then I gained kindred spirits in Sömmering, Oken, Dalton, Carus, and other equally excellent men. And now Geoffrey de Saint Hilaire is decidedly on our side, and with him all his important scholars and adherents in France. This occurrence is of incredible value to me; and I justly rejoice that I have at last witnessed the universal victory of a subject to which I have devoted my life, and which, moreover, is my own par excellence.”

(Sup.*) Sat., Aug. 21.

I recommended to Goethe a hopeful young man. He promised to do something for him, but appeared to have little confidence.

“Whoever,” said he, “has, like myself, during a whole life lost valuable time and money through the protection of young talents, and those talents which have at first awakened the highest hopes, but of which nothing has come in the end, must, by degrees, lose all enthusiasm and pleasure in pursuing such a course. It is now the turn of you younger people to take my part and play the Mæcenas.”

Apropos of this declaration of Goethe's, I compared the delusive promises of youth with trees which bear double blossom, but not fruit.

I[1] was about to proceed with my communication, but I was interrupted, and wrote nothing more during my further residence in Italy, though there was not a day in which I did not receive some important impression, and make some important observation. It was not until I had parted from Goethe's son, and had left the Alps behind me, that I wrote as follows to Goethe:—

  • [1] Here, of course, Eckermann speaks.—Trans.

Geneva, Sept. 12, 1830.

I have so much to tell you, that I do not know where I shall begin, and where I shall end.

Your excellency has remarked in jest that travelling on is a very pleasant matter, if there were no coming back. I find this remark confirmed to my sorrow, as I feel myself at a sort of crossway, and do not know which direction to take.

My residence in Italy, short as it was, has not been—as indeed might be expected—without important influence upon me. A bountiful nature has been discovered to me with its wonders, and has asked me how far I have advanced to comprehend such a language. Great works of man, great actions have excited me, and have made me look to myself to ascertain my own capabilities. Existences of a thousand kinds have come into contact with me, and have asked me how it stands with my own. Thus I find living within me three great requisites,—namely, to increase my knowledge; to improve my condition; and above all, in order to secure these, to do something.

With respect to this last requisite, I am by no means in doubt as to what is to be done. For a long time I have had at heart a work, which has occupied my leisure for some years, and which is as far complete as a new-built ship, which still lacks its sails and rigging to be fit for sea.

I mean those conversations on great maxims in all departments of science and art, as well as on the various revelations touching higher human interests, works of mind, and the chief personages of the age, to which the six years, which I have been happy enough to pass in your society, have offered such frequent occasion. These conversations have been for me a source of infinite culture; and, as I have found the greatest delight in hearing them, and being instructed by them, I wish to give the same pleasure to others, by writing them down, and thus preserving them for the better class of humanity.

Your excellency has occasionally seen some sheets of these conversations; you have honoured them with your approbation, and have frequently encouraged me to proceed in my undertaking. This I have done at intervals, as well as my unsettled life at Weimar allowed, so that now I have abundant materials for about two volumes.

When I set out for Italy I did not put these important manuscripts into my trunk with my other papers, but, after sealing them up in a separate parcel, confided them to the care of our friend Soret, with the request that if any mishap befell me on the journey, and I did not return, he would place them in your hands.

After the visit to Venice, during our second stay at Milan, I was attacked by a fever, so that I was very ill for some nights, and lay for a whole week in a very miserable condition, without the slightest appetite. In my lonely hours I chiefly thought of the manuscript, and felt uneasy when I reflected that it was not in a state sufficiently clear and complete to be used at once. The fact occurred to me that a great deal was written only with pencil, that some was obscure and improperly expressed, that much was merely hinted, and that, in a word, a regular revision and a last hand would be requisite.

Under these circumstances, and with this feeling, I had an anxious desire for my papers. The pleasure of seeing Naples and Rome was gone, and I felt a wish to return to Germany, that, secluded from everybody, I might complete the manuscript.

Without mentioning what was working within me, I spoke to your son about the state of my health. He felt the danger of dragging me farther in the sultry climate, and we agreed that I should in the first place visit Genoa, and that, if my health did not improve there, I should be at liberty to return to Germany.

In accordance with this view we had resided for some time in Genoa, when we received a letter from you, in which you seemed, though at a distance, to feel our position, and stated that, if I had any inclination to return, I should be welcome.

We paid all reverence to your hint, and were delighted that, from the other side of the Alps, you gave your assent to an arrangement which had just been made between us. I resolved to set off at once, but your son thought it better that I should remain a little longer, and set off on the same day as himself.

This I did readily, and it was at five o'clock in the morning, on Sunday, the 25th July, that we gave each other a farewell embrace in the streets of Genoa. Two carriages were stationed; one was to go along the coast up to Leghorn, the other was to cross the mountains for Turin, and in this I placed myself with other passengers. Thus we parted in opposite directions, both deeply moved, and with the heartiest wishes for our mutual welfare.

After a three days' journey, in great heat and dust, through Novi, Alexandria, and Asti, I came to Turin, where it was necessary for me to rest some days, looking about me, and to wait a more fitting opportunity to cross the Alps. This occurred on Monday, the 2nd of August, when we crossed Mount Cenis, and arrived at Chambery at six o'clock in the evening. On the afternoon of the 7th, I found opportunity to proceed to Aix; and late on the 8th, amid rain and darkness, I reached Geneva, where I put up at the sign of the “Crown.”

This inn was thronged with Englishmen, who, having just come from Paris, and having been eyewitnesses of the extraordinary scenes that had taken place there, had a great deal to tell. You may imagine what an effect the first experience of these world-shaking events had upon me, with what interest I read the newspapers, which had been suppressed in Piedmont, and how eagerly I listened to the narratives of the new comers who arrived every day, and to the gossip and disputes of the politicians at the table d'hôte. Everybody was in a state of the greatest excitement, and an endeavour was made to trace the consequences which might result to the rest of Europe from such violent measures. I visited our fair friend, Sylvestre, and Soret's parents and brother; and as in such excited times one must have an opinion, I laid it down in my own mind that the French ministers were chiefly culpable for reducing the monarch to measures, by which confidence and respect for the sovereign were compromised with the people.

It was my intention to write to you in detail immediately on my arrival at Geneva; but the excitement and distraction of the first days were so great, that I could not collect myself to communicate facts in the form I desired. Then, on the 15th of August, I received a letter from Genoa, from our friend Sterling, containing information which troubled me exceedingly, and prevented all communication with Weimar. Sterling told me in this letter that your son, on the very day when he had parted from me, had broken his collar-bone, in consequence of the carriage overturning, and had been laid up at Spezzia. I wrote at once, by way of reply, that I was ready to cross the Alps at the very first hint, and that I should not leave Geneva to proceed on my way to Germany until I received perfectly satisfactory news from Genoa. In expectation of this, I took a private lodging, and made use of my stay to improve myself in the French language.

At last, on the 28th of August, a double day of rejoicing was prepared for me; a second letter from Sterling delighted me with the information that your son had in a short time quite recovered from his accident, was thoroughly safe, sound, and in excellent spirits. Thus all my anxiety on his account was at once removed and in the stillness of my heart I cited the lines—

Du danke Gott wenn er dich presst,
Und dank' ihm wenn er dich wieder entlässt.

Give thanks to God when hard he presses,
And thank him, too, when he releases.

I now seriously set about giving you an account of myself, and was about to tell you much the same as what is written in the preceding pages. I was about to inquire again whether I might not be permitted, in quiet seclusion, far away from Weimar, to complete that manuscript which I have so much at heart, since I felt that I could not be perfectly free and happy till I had laid before you the long-cherished work, stitched and fairly copied, that you might sanction its publication.

Now, however, I have received letters from Weimar, in which I see that my speedy return is expected, and that there is an intention to give me a place. I can but return thanks for such kindness, though it seems counter to my present plans, and brings me into a state of discord with myself.

If I now returned to Weimar, a speedy completion of my literary plans would be impossible. The old distractions would return, and in our little city, where one person is perpetually in contact with another, I should again be disturbed by various trivial circumstances, without being of decided use to myself or any one else.

Weimar, I grant, contains much that is good and excellent, much that I have long loved, and that I love still. Nevertheless, when I look back upon it, I fancy that I see, at the city gates, an angel with a fiery sword, to prevent my entrance, and to drive me back.

I am, to my own knowledge, a strange sort of being. To certain things I adhere most constantly—I cleave to my plans for many years and obstinately carry them out through a thousand windings and difficulties; but in the several collisions of ordinary life no one is more dependent, wavering, and susceptible of impressions than myself. These two peculiarities constitute the varying, and, at the same time, secure destiny of my life. If I look back upon the path along which I have travelled, the circumstances through which I have passed present a motley variety; but if I look deeper, I see through all a certain simple track leading to a higher aspiration, and that I have even succeeded in ennobling and improving myself at successive steps of the scale.

Even now it is this very impressionable and pliable peculiarity of my character which, from time to time, compels me to rectify my mode of life; just as a mariner, whom the caprices of various winds have turned from his course, always sails again the old track.

Taking an office is now not compatible with the literary plans I have so long deferred. Neither is it any longer my plan to give lessons to young Englishmen. I have learned the language, which is all I wanted, and at this I am delighted. I do not deny the advantages I have gained from a long intercourse with young foreigners, but everything has its end, and its period of change.

Altogether, oral instruction and influence are quite out of my way. They belong to a profession for which I have neither talent nor training. I am totally without the gift of eloquence; so that, generally speaking, any living soul who sits opposite to me exercises such an influence over me, that I forget myself, that I am absorbed in the peculiarities and interests of another, and that, on this account, I feel a sense of oppression, and can rarely attain a free and powerful operation of my thoughts.

On the other hand, with my paper before me, I feel quite free and self-possessed. Hence the written development of my thoughts is my real delight, and my real life, so that I regard every day as lost on which I have not written some pages to my own satisfaction.

It is now an impulse of my whole nature to act from myself upon a wide circle, to acquire influence in literature, and, as a furtherance of my good fortune, to gain some renown.

Literary fame considered by itself is, indeed, scarcely worth the trouble of earning; I have even see that it can be very burthensome and distressing. Nevertheless, it has this advantage, that it shows the active aspirant that his operations have found a soil,—and this is a divine sort of feeling, which elevates, and gives a degree of thought and power which would not otherwise be attained.

If, on the other hand, one has confined oneself too long in a narrow sphere, the mind and character are injured; one becomes at last incapable of great things, and to elevate oneself becomes a difficulty.

If the Grand Duchess really intends to do something for me, persons of such high rank can easily find a form in which to manifest their friendly disposition. If she will support and patronize my next literary efforts she will do a good work, the fruits of which shall not be lost.

Of the prince, I can say that he has a special place in my heart. I expect much good from his mental capacity and his character, and shall be glad to place my little acquirements at his disposal. I shall constantly endeavour to increase in cultivation, and he will constantly grow older; so that while I improve in giving, he will improve in receiving.

But, above all, I have at heart the completion of that manuscript, which I mention once more. I should like to remain for some months in quiet seclusion, with my betrothed and her relations, in the neighbourhood of Göttingen, and to devote myself to this task, that freeing myself from an old burden, I may prepare myself for others anew. My life has been for some years at a stand-still, and I should like it once more to flow freely. Moreover, my health is delicate and uncertain, I am not sure of remaining long in this world, and I should like to leave behind me something good, that would preserve my name for a while in the memory of mankind.

I can, however, do nothing without you—without your sanction and your blessing. Your further wishes with respect to myself are unknown to me, nor do I know the good that is designed for me among those in high places. With me the case stands as I have stated, and from my clear explanation you will easily see whether reasons important for my happiness render my speedy return desirable, or whether, with a heart at ease, I may carry out my own mental plans.

In a few days I shall go from here through Neufchatel, Colmar, and Strasbourg, stopping by the way to look about me, and shall proceed to Frankfort, if occasion occurs. Now, I should be happy if I could receive a few lines from you at Frankfort, and beg of you to address me there, poste restante.

I am glad to relieve my mind by the confession of its heavy burden, and hope in my next letter to communicate something of a lighter nature to your excellency.

Pray give my compliments to Hofrath Meyer, Oberbaudirector Coudray, Professor Riemer, Chancellor von Müller, and whoever is with you, and may be kind enough to remember me.

As for yourself, I press you to my heart, and, retaining feelings of the deepest love and reverence, remain, wherever I may be,

Ever yours, E.

Geneva, Sept. 14th, 1830.

To my great delight I learned, from your last letter at Genoa, that the gaps and the conclusion of the “Classical Walpurgis-night” have been happily surmounted. The first three acts, it seems, are quite done, the “Helen” is connected together, and thus the hardest task is accomplished. The end, as you have told me, is already complete, and I hope that the fourth act will likewise be soon conquered, and that thus something great may be accomplished for the edification and exercise of future ages. My expectations are extraordinary, and every piece of news which shows me a triumph of the poetical powers will be received by me with delight.

During my travels in Italy I have had frequent occasion to think of “Faust,” and to apply some classical passages. When in Italy I saw the handsome men, and the fresh thriving children, I thought of the verses:—

Hier ist das Wohlbehagen erblich, &c.

On every cheek and lip we trace
   Joy, as the patrimonial wealth;
Each is immortal in his place,
   Each glowing with content and health.

And thus beneath the sunny days
   To manly strength the infant grows,
We look, exclaiming with amaze—
   ‘Children of men, or gods, are those?’

On the other hand, when I was absorbed in the sight of the beautiful scenery, and feasted my heart and my eyes on lakes, mountains, and valleys, some invisible little devil seemed to be making sport with me, whispering into my ear:—

If I had not rattled and shaken
Would the world have been so fair?

All power of calm contemplation was then gone, absurdity began to rule, I felt a sort of revolution in my soul, and I could not do otherwise than finish with a laugh.

On these occasions I felt plainly enough that the poet should be always positive. Men use poets to express what they cannot express themselves. They are overcome by a feeling—by a phenomenon; they look after words, but find their own stock insufficient, and then the poet comes to their assistance, and by satisfying them sets them free.

With this feeling I have often blessed those first lines, while I have laughingly cursed the others every day. But who could do without them in the position for which they are made, and in which they have the most beautiful influence?

I have not kept a regular journal in Italy; the phenomena are too great, too numerous, and too varied for me to be willing or able to master them in a moment. Nevertheless, I have kept my eyes and ears open, and have made many observations. I shall group my reminiscences together, and treat of them under separate heads. I have especially made some good observations relative to the “Theory of Colours,” which I hope shortly to produce. There is in them nothing actually new, but still it is pleasant to find new manifestations of an old law.

At Genoa, Sterling displayed a great interest for the theory. What he has learned of Newton's theory has not satisfied him, and hence he has open ears for those principles of your theory which I am often able to communicate. If opportunity could be found to send a copy of the work to Genoa, I may venture to say that such a present would not be unacceptable to him.

Here in Geneva, I found, three weeks ago, an ardent disciple in our lady-friend, Sylvestre. In this instance, I have remarked that the simple is harder to be apprehended than one supposes, and that it requires great practice to find constantly the fundamental principle amid the various details of the phenomena. The exercise, however, gives great dexterity to the mind, since nature is very delicate, and one must always take care not to do her violence by too hasty an expression.

Generally, however, there is not in Geneva the trace of any interest in so large a subject. Not only is the library here without a copy of your “Theory of Colours,” but it is not even known that there is such a work in the world. This may be the fault more of the Germans than of the Genevese, but it annoys me and provokes me to caustic remarks.

Lord Byron, it is well known, remained here for some time; and as he did not like society, he passed his days and nights in the open country, and on the lake, of which I have more to say in this place, and of which there is a noble monument in his “Childe Harold.” He also remarked the colour of the Rhone; and though he could not divine the cause of it, he nevertheless showed a susceptible eye. In a note to the third canto, he says:

“The colour of the Rhone at Geneva is blue to a depth of tint which I have never seen equalled in water, salt or fresh, except in the Mediterranean and Archipelago.”

The Rhone, as it narrows itself to pass through Geneva, divides itself into two arms, which are crossed by four bridges, and on these the colour of the water may be well observed by all who are coming or going.

Now, it is remarkable that the water of one arm is blue, as was perceived by Byron, while that of the other is green. The arm in which the water appears blue flows more rapidly, and has so deep a channel that no light can penetrate it, and consequently there is perfect darkness below. The very clear water acts as a dense medium, and from our well-known laws the finest blue is produced. The water of the other arm is not so deep, the light reaches the bottom, so that we see the pebbles; and as it is not dark enough to become blue, but at the same time is not smooth, and the ground is not sufficiently pure, white, and shining to be yellow, the colour remains between the two extremes, and appears as green.

If, like Byron, I had a taste for mad pranks, and the means to play them off, I would make the following experiments:

In the green arm of the Rhone, near the bridge, where people pass by thousands every day, I would fasten a large black board, or something of the kind, so far below the surface that a pure blue would be produced; and, not far from this, a very large piece of white shining tin, at such a depth that a clouded yellow would appear in the sunshine. When the people as they passed saw the yellow and blue spots in the green water, they would be teased by a riddle, which they would not be able to solve. One thinks of all sorts of pleasantries when one travels; but this seems to me to be good of its kind, inasmuch as there is some sense in it, and it might be of some use.

Some time ago I was at a bookseller's, and in the first duodecimo which I took into my hands, my eye fell upon a passage, which I translate thus:

“But tell me; if we discover a truth, must we communicate it to others? If you make it known, you are persecuted by an infinite number of people who gain their living from the error you oppose, saying that this error itself is the truth, and that the greatest error is that which tends to destroy it.”

It seemed to me that this passage applied so well to the manner in which the scientific by profession have received your “Theory of Colours,” that it must have been written on purpose; and I was so highly pleased, that I bought the book for the sake of the passage. It contained the “Paul and Virginia,” and the “Indian Cottage,” by Bernardin de St. Pierre, and hence I had no reason to regret my bargain. I read it with delight; the clear noble sense of the author was quite refreshing, and I could perceive and appreciate his refined art, especially in the apt application of well-known similes.

I have here, too, made my first acquaintance with Rousseau and Montesquieu, but lest my letter should itself become a book, I will for the present pass over these, as well as much else which I should like to say.

Since I have disburdened my mind of the long letter of the day before yesterday, I have felt more free and cheerful than I have been for years, and I could go on writing and talking for ever. It will be absolutely necessary for me to stay, at least for the present, at a distance from Weimar. I hope that you approve this plan, and can already anticipate the time when you will say that I have done right.

To-morrow the theatre here will be open with the “Barber of Seville,” which I mean to see; then I seriously intend to take my departure. The weather seems to clear up and be favourable. It has rained here since your birthday, which opened with storms. These were passing all day long in this direction, from Lyons up the Rhone, across the lake, and towards Lausanne, so that it was thundering constantly. I pay 16 sous a day for a room, which commands a beautiful prospect of the lake and the mountains. Yesterday it was raining below, the weather was cold, and the summits of the Jura appeared, after the passing shower, for the first time white with snow, which, however, has disappeared to-day. The promontory of Mont-Blanc begins already to array itself in permanent white; along the shore of the lake, amid the green of a luxuriant vegetation, some trees are still yellow and brown; the nights become cold, and we can see that autumn is at hand.

My hearty remembrances to Frau von Goethe, Fräulein Ulrica, and Walter, Wolf, and Alma. I have a great deal to tell Frau von Goethe about Sterling, and shall write to-morrow.

I hope to receive a letter from your excellency at Frankfort, and am happy in the anticipation.

With the best wishes and most constant affection, I remain,—E.


On the 21st of September I set off from Geneva, and after remaining a couple of days at Berne, I arrived on the 27th at Strasburg, where, again, I remain for some days.

Here, as I passed a hair-dresser's window, I saw a small bust of Napoleon, which, viewed from the street against the darkness of the room, exhibited all the gradations of blue, from a pale milky hue to a deep violet. I suspected that this bust, seen from the interior of the room against the light, would exhibit all the gradations of yellow; and I could not resist the impulse of the moment to rush into the house, though the owners were unknown to me.

My first glance was at the bust, which to my great delight shone upon me with the most brilliant colours on the active side from the palest yellow to a dark ruby-red. I asked eagerly whether this bust of the great hero was not to be disposed of. The master replied that, from a similar respect for the emperor, he had lately brought the bust from Paris, but that since my affection seemed, from my enthusiastic joy, greatly to exceed his own, the right of possession belonged to me, and he would readily part with it.

This glass image was of inestimable value in my eyes, and I could not refrain from looking at the worthy owner with some astonishment, when for a few francs he placed it in my hands. I sent it with a remarkable medal, purchased at Milan, as a little present to Goethe, who could prize it according to its merits.

Afterwards, at Frankfort, I received the following letters:—


I write to tell you as briefly as possible that both your letters from Geneva arrived safe, though not before the 26th of September. I have only to say in haste,—remain in Frankfort till we have thoroughly considered how you are to pass next winter.

I enclose a letter for Herr Geheimrath von Willemer and his lady, which you will be kind enough to deliver as soon as possible. You will find in them two friends, who are united with me in the fullest sense of the word, and will render your abode at Frankfort useful and agreeable.

So much for the present. Write to me as soon as you have received this letter.—Yours faithfully, GOETHE.

Weimar, September 26th, 1830.


I send you the heartiest greetings, my dearest friend, in my native city, and hope that you will have passed the few days there in social enjoyments with my excellent friends. If you wish to go to Nordheim, and to remain there for a short time, I have nothing to object. If you intend in your quiet hours to occupy yourself with the manuscript which is in Soret's hands, I shall be all the better pleased, as I do not wish it to be soon published, but shall be glad to go through it with you and correct it. Its value will be increased if I can attest that it is conceived perfectly in my spirit. More I do not say, but leave the rest to yourself, and expect to hear farther. Of your other friends I have not spoken to one since the receipt of your letter.—Your hearty well-wisher, J. W. VON GOETHE.

Weimar, 12th October, 1830.


The lively impression which you received from the remarkable bust, and the colours it produced—the desire to obtain it—the pleasant adventure you achieved on that account, and the kind thought of making me a present of it—all this shows how thoroughly you are penetrated with the grand primitive phenomenon which here appears thoroughly revealed. This idea—this feeling, with all its fruitfulness, will accompany you through your whole life, and will manifest itself in various productive ways. Error belongs to libraries, truth to the human mind,—books may be increased by books, while the intercourse with living primitive law gratifies the mind that can embrace the simple, disentangle the perplexed, and enlighten the obscure.

If your Dæmon again brings you to Weimar, you shall see the image standing in a strong clear sum, where beneath the calm blue of the transparent face the thick mass of the breast and the epaulettes go through the ascending and descending scale of every shade from the strongest ruby-red. As the granite head of Memnon utters sounds, so does this glass figure produce a coloured halo. Here we see the hero victorious even for the theory of colours. Receive my warmest thanks for this unexpected confirmation of a doctrine I have so much at heart.

With your medal, too, you have doubly and trebly enriched my cabinet. My attention has been called to a man called Dupré, an excellent sculptor, brass founder, and medallist. He it was who modelled and cast the likeness of Henry IV. on the Pont-Neuf. Being stimulated by the medal you sent me, I looked over the rest of my collection, and found some very excellent ones of the same name, and others probably by the same hand, so that your gift has afforded me a pleasant impulse.

As for my “Metamorphosis” with Soret's translation, we have only reached the fifth sheet, and I long doubted whether I should curse or bless this undertaking, but now I again find myself forced back to the contemplation of organic nature; I am pleased, and willingly pursue my task. The maxims which I have entertained for forty years are still valid,—they serve to guide one successfully through the whole labyrinth of the comprehensible to the very limit of the incomprehensible, where, after much profit, one may reasonably stop. No philosopher of the old or new world has been able to reach any farther. One can scarcely venture to say more in writing.—J. W. VON GOETHE.

(Sup.*) Wed., Oct. 13.

Goethe showed me some tables in which he had written many names of Plants in the Latin and German languages, in order to learn them by heart. He told me that he had a room which had been completely papered with such tables, and in which, whilst walking round, he had studied and learned from the walls. “It grieved me,” said he, “that it was afterwards whitewashed. I had also another room, upon which were written chronological notes of my labours during a long series of years, and to which I always added the latest. This also was unfortunately whitewashed, which I regret no less, as it might now be of great service to me.”

(Sup.*) Wed., Oct. 20.

For a short hour with Goethe, in order to consult with him, on the part of the Grand Duchess, concerning a silver escutcheon, which the Prince intends to present to the Cross-bow Archers Company in this town, of which he has become a member.

Our conversation soon turned upon other subjects, and Goethe begged me to give him my opinion upon the Saint-Simonians.

“The principal aim of their theory,” returned I, “appears to be—that each should work for the happiness of the whole, as a necessary condition of his own happiness.”

“I think,” returned Goethe, “that each ought to begin with himself, and make his own fortune first, from which the happiness of the whole will at last unquestionably follow. Altogether, this theory appears to me perfectly impracticable. It is in opposition to all nature, all experience, and all the course of events for thousands of years. If each one only does his duty as an individual, and if each one works rightly in his own vocation, it will be well with the whole. Never, in my vocation as an author, have I asked,—what would the multitude have, and how can I be of service to the whole, but I have always endeavoured to improve myself and sharpen my own faculties, to raise the standard of my own personality, and then to express only that which I had recognized as good and true. This has certainly, as I will not deny, worked usefully in a large sphere; still, it was not my aim, but the necessary result, which is found in all the effects of natural powers. If, as an author, I had made the wishes of the great multitude my aim, and had endeavoured to satisfy these, I should have told them short stories, and made sport with them, like the late Kotzebue.”

“That cannot be contradicted,” returned I. “But, however, there is not merely a happiness which I enjoy as a single individual, but also one which I enjoy as a citizen and member of a great community. If one does not lay down as a principal the attainment of the greatest possible happiness for a whole people, from what basis should legislation proceed?”

“If that is what you are driving at,” said Goethe, “I have nothing to reply. But in such a case, only a very select few could make use of your principle. It would be only a receipt for princes and legislators, although it appears to me that the tendency of laws should be rather to diminish the amount of evil than to produce an amount of happiness.”

“Both,” returned I, “come pretty much to the same thing. Bad roads, for instance, appear to me a great evil. But if a prince introduce good roads into his state down to the poorest hamlet, not only is a great evil removed, but a great good is gained for his people. Again, a tardy administration of justice is a great evil. But if a prince, by establishing a public civil mode of proceeding, affords to his people speedy justice, not merely is a great evil removed, but a great good is conferred.”

“In this key,” rejoined Goethe, “I would pipe quite another song. However, we leave some evils untouched that something may remain upon which mankind can further develop their powers. In the mean while, my doctrine is this,—let the father take care of his house, the artizan of his customers, and the clergy of mutual love, and the police will not disturb our joy.”


During my stay at Nordheim, which I did not reach till the end of October, having stopped some time at Frankfort and Cassel, every circumstance combined to make my return to Weimar desirable.

Goethe had not approved of a speedy publication of my conversations, and hence a successful opening of a purely literary career was not to be thought of.

Then the sight of her whom I had ardently loved for many years, and the feeling of her great qualities, which was every day renewed, excited in me the desire of a speedy union, and the wish for a secure subsistence.

Under these circumstances I received a message from Weimar, by order of the Grand Duchess, and hailed it with delight, as may be seen by the following letter to Goethe:—

Nordheim, Nov. 6, 1830.—Man appoints, and God disappoints; and, before we can turn about, our circumstances and our wishes have been otherwise than we anticipated.

Some weeks ago I had a certain dread of returning to Weimar, and now, as matters stand, I shall not only soon and gladly return, but I shall harbour the thought, and take up my residence there, and settle for good.

I received a few days ago a letter from Soret, with the offer of a fixed salary, on the part of the Grand Duchess, if I will return and go on as hitherto instructing the Prince. Some other good news Soret will communicate by word of mouth; and from all this I gather that I am kindly thought of.

I should like to write an answer in the affirmative to Soret, but I hear that he is gone to his family at Geneva, and hence I can only address your excellency with the request that you will be pleased to communicate to her imperial highness my resolution to return soon.

I hope at the same time that this intelligence will give you some pleasure, since you have so long had at heart my happiness and peace of mind.

I send you the warmest greetings from all your friends, and hope shortly to see you once more.—E.

On the afternoon of the 20th November I left Nordheim, and set off for Göttingen, which I reached at dusk.

In the evening, at the table d'hôte, when the landlord heard that I had come from Weimar, and was on my way back, he calmly told me that the great poet Goethe had had to undergo a severe misfortune in his old age, since, according to the papers of the day, his only son had died of paralysis, in Italy.

I passed a sleepless night. The event which affected me so nearly was constantly before my eyes. The following days and nights, which I passed on the road, and in the Mühlhausen and Gotha, were no better. Being alone in the carriage, under the influence of the gloomy November days, and in desert fields, where there was no external object to distract my attention or to cheer me, I in vain endeavoured to fix my attention upon other thoughts. While among the people at the inns, I constantly heard of the mournful event which so nearly affected myself, as of one of the novelties of the day. My greatest fear was, that Goethe, at his advanced years, would not be able to surmount the violent storm of paternal feelings. And what an impression, I thought, will my own arrival make—when I departed with his son, and now come back alone. It will seem as though he has not really lost him till he sees me.

With these thoughts and feelings, I reached the last station before Weimar, on Tuesday, the 23rd of November, at six o'clock in the evening. I felt, for the second time in my life, that human existence has heavy moments through which one must pass. I communed in thought with higher beings above me, when I was struck by the light of the moon, which came from amid thick clouds, and after shining brightly for some moments was wrapped in darkness as before. Whether this was chance, or something more, I took it as a favourable omen from above, and thus received unexpected encouragement.

I just greeted the people at my residence, and then set off at once for Goethe's house. I first went to Frau von Goethe. I found her already in mourning, but calm and collected, and we had a great deal to say to each other.

Thur., Nov. 25.

This morning Goethe sent me some books, which had arrived as presents for me from English and German authors.

At noon I went to dine with him. I found him looking at a portfolio of engravings and drawings, which had been offered him for sale. He told me he had had the pleasure that morning of a visit from the Grand Duchess, to whom he had mentioned my return.

Frau von Goethe joined us, and we sat down to dinner. I was obliged to give an account of my travels. I spoke of Venice, Milan, Genoa; and he seemed particularly interested about the family of the English consul there. I then spoke of Geneva; and he asked with sympathy after the Soret family, and Herr von Bonstetten. He wished for a particular description of the latter, which I gave him as well as I could.

After dinner, I was pleased that Goethe began to speak of my “Conversations.”

“It must be your first work,” said he; “and we will not let it go till the whole is complete, and in order.”

Still, Goethe appeared to me unusually silent to-day, and oftentimes lost in thought, which I feared was no good sign.

Tues., Nov. 30.

Last Friday, we were thrown into no small anxiety. Goethe was seized with a violent hemorrhage in the night, and was near death all the day. He lost, counting the vein they opened, six pounds of blood, which is a great quantity, considering that he is eighty years old. However, the great skill of his physician, Hofrath Vogel, and his incomparable constitution, have saved him this time, so that he recovers rapidly, has once more an excellent appetite, and sleeps again all night. Nobody is admitted, and he is forbidden to speak; but his ever active mind cannot rest; he is already thinking of his work. This morning, I received from him the following note, written in bed, with a lead pencil:—

“Have the goodness, my best doctor, to look once again at the accompanying poems, with which you are familiar, and to re-arrange the others which are new, so as to adapt them to their place in the whole. ‘Faust’ shall presently follow. In hope of a happy meeting, GOETHE.

Weimar, 30th November 1830.”

On Goethe's complete recovery, which soon followed, he devoted his whole attention to the first act of “Faust,” and to the completion of the fourth volume of “Dichtung und Wahrheit.”

He wished me to examine his short heretofore unpublished papers, and to look through his journals and letters, that we might know how to proceed with the new edition.

Examining my “Conversations” with him was at present out of the question. Besides, I thought it wiser, instead of occupying myself with what I had already written, to increase my stock with something new, while opportunity was still vouchsafed me by a kindly fate.