(Sup.*) Thurs., Jan. 5.

Some new pen-and-ink sketches and water-colour drawings had arrived from my friend Töpfer, in Geneva; the greater part of them were views in Switzerland and Italy, which he had collected during his pedestrian tour. Goethe was so much struck with the beauty of the sketches—particularly those in water-colour—that he said it appeared to him as if he were looking at the works of the renowned Lory. I remarked that these were by no means Töpfer's best, and that he could send something very different.

“I do not know what you would have,” returned Goethe. “And what would it be even if something were better! As soon as an artist has attained a certain height of excellence, it is tolerably indifferent whether one of his works turns out a degree more perfect than another. The connoisseur still sees in all the hand of the master, and the whole extent of his talent and his means.”

(Sup.*) Fri., Feb. 17.

I had sent Goethe a portrait of Dumont, which had been engraved in England, and which appeared to interest him very much.

“I have repeatedly examined the portrait of this remarkable man,” said Goethe, when I visited him this evening. “At first I found something repulsive in it, which, however, I would have attributed to the treatment of the artist, who had cut the lines a little too deep and hard. But the longer I looked at this highly remarkable head, the more did all hardness disappear, and from the dark ground there came forth a beautiful expression of repose, goodness, and mildness blended with acuteness,[1] so characteristic of the clever benevolent man, ever active for the general good, and so refreshing to the mind of the spectator.”

We then spoke further of Dumont; particularly of the memoirs which he wrote with reference to Mirabeau, and in which he reveals the various expedients which Mirabeau had contrived to employ, and also mentions by name many persons of talent whom he had set in motion for his purposes, and with whose powers he had worked.

“I know no more instructive book,” said Goethe, “than these memoirs; by means of which we get an insight into the most secret recesses of that time, and by means of which the wonder Mirabeau becomes natural to us, while, at the same time, the hero loses nothing of his greatness. But now we have the latest critics of the French journals, who think a little differently on this point. These good folks think that the author of these memoirs wants to spoil their Mirabeau, because he unveils the secret of his superhuman activity, and allows other people a share in the great merit which, until now, the name of Mirabeau had monopolized.

“The French look upon Mirabeau as their Hercules—and they are perfectly right. But they forget that even the Colossus consists of individual parts, and that even the Hercules of antiquity is a collective being—a great supporter of his own deeds and the deeds of others.

“But, in fact, we are all collective beings, let us place ourselves as we may. For how little have we, and are we, that we can strictly call our own property? We must all receive and learn both from those who were before us, and from those who are with us. Even the greatest genius would not go far if he tried to owe everything to his own internal self. But many very good men do not comprehend that; and they grope in darkness for half a life, with their dreams of originality. I have known artists who boasted of having followed no master, and of having to thank their own genius for everything. Fools! as if that were possible at all; and as if the world would not force itself upon them at every step, and make something of them in spite of their own stupidity. Yes, I maintain that if such an artist were only to survey the walls of this room, and cast only a passing glance at the sketches of some great masters, with which they are hung, he would necessarily, if he had any genius at all, quit this place another and a higher man. And, indeed, what is there good in us, if it is not the power and the inclination to appropriate to ourselves the resources of the outward world, and to make them subservient to our higher ends. I may speak of myself, and may modestly say what I feel. It is true that, in my long life, I have done and achieved many things of which I might certainly boast. But to speak the honest truth, what had I that was properly my own, besides the ability and the inclination to see and to hear, to distinguish and to choose, and to enliven with some mind what I had seen and heard, and to reproduce with some degree of skill. I by no means owe my works to my own wisdom alone, but to a thousand things and persons around me, who provided me with material. There were fools and sages, minds enlightened and narrow, childhood, youth, and mature age—all told me what they felt, what they thought, how they lived and worked, and what experiences they had gained; and I had nothing further to do than to put out my hand and reap what others had sown for me.

“It is, in fact, utter folly to ask whether a person has anything from himself, or whether he has it from others; whether he operates by himself, or operates by means of others. The main point is to have a great will, and skill and perseverance to carry it out. All else is indifferent. Mirabeau was therefore perfectly right, when he made what use he could of the outer world and its forces. He possessed the gift of distinguishing talent; and talent felt itself attracted by the demon of his powerful nature, so that it willingly yielded itself to him and his guidance. Thus he was surrounded by a mass of distinguished forces, which he inspired with his ardour, and set in activity for his own higher aims. This very peculiarity, that he understood how to act with others and by others,—this was his genius—this was his originality—this was his greatness.”

  • [1] “Mildness blended with refined acuteness,” is intended as a mere approximation to the untranslatable “Geistreich-feine Milde.”—Trans.

(Sup.) Sun., Mar. 11.

This evening for an hour with Goethe, talking of various interesting subjects. I had bought an English Bible, in which I found, to my great regret, that the apocryphal books were not contained. They had been rejected, because they were not considered genuine and of divine origin. I greatly missed the noble Tobias, that model of a pious life, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Jesus Sirach,—all writings of such high mental and moral elevation, that few others equal them. I spoke to Goethe of my regret at the very narrow view by which some of the writings of the Old Testament are looked upon as immediately proceeding from God; while others, equally excellent, are not so. As if there could be anything noble and great which did not proceed from God, and which was not a fruit of his influence.

“I am thoroughly of your opinion,” returned Goethe. “Still, there are two points of view from which biblical subjects may be contemplated. There is the point of view of a sort of primitive religion, of pure nature and reason, which is of divine origin. This will always be the same, and will last and prevail as long as divinely endowed beings exist. It is, however, only for the elect, and is far too high and noble to become universal. Then there is the point of view of the Church, which is of a more human nature. This is defective and subject to change; but it will last, in a state of perpetual change, as long as there are weak human beings. The light of unclouded divine revelation is far too pure and brilliant to be suitable and supportable to poor weak man. But the Church steps in as a useful mediator, to soften and to moderate, by which all are helped, and many are benefited. Through the belief that the Christian Church, as the successor of Christ, can remove the burden of human sin, it is a very great power. To maintain themselves in this power and in this importance, and thus to secure the ecclesiastical edifice, is the chief aim of the Christian priesthood.

“This priesthood, therefore, does not so much ask whether this or that book in the Bible greatly enlightens the mind, and contains doctrines of high morality and noble human nature. It rather looks upon the books of Moses, with reference to the fall of man and the origin of a necessity for a Redeemer; it searches the prophets for repeated allusion to Him, the Expected One, and regards, in the Gospels, His actual earthly appearance, and His death upon the cross, as the atonement for our human sins. You see, therefore, that for such purposes, and weighed in such a balance, neither the noble Tobias, nor the Wisdom of Solomon, nor the sayings of Sirach, can have much weight. Still, with reference to things in the Bible, the question whether they are genuine or spurious is odd enough. What is genuine but that which is truly excellent, which stands in harmony with the purest nature and reason, and which even now ministers to our highest development! What is spurious but the absurd and the hollow, which brings no fruit—at least, no good fruit! If the authenticity of a biblical book is to be decided by the question,—whether something true throughout has been handed down to us, we might on some points doubt the authenticity of the Gospels, since those of Mark and Luke were not written from immediate presence and experience, but, according to oral tradition, long afterwards; and the last, by the disciple John, was not written till he was of a very advanced age. Nevertheless, I look upon all the four Gospels as thoroughly genuine; for there is in them the reflection of a greatness which emanated from the person of Jesus, and which was of as divine a kind as ever was seen upon earth. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to pay Him devout reverence, I say—certainly! I bow before Him as the divine manifestation of the highest principle of morality. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to revere the Sun, I again say—certainly! For he is likewise a manifestation of the highest Being, and indeed the most powerful which we children of earth are allowed to behold. I adore in him the light and the productive power of God; by which we all live, move, and have our being—we, and all the plants and animals with us. But if I am asked—whether I am inclined to bow before a thumb-bone of the apostle Peter or Paul, I say—‘Spare me, and stand off with your absurdities!’

“‘Quench not the spirit,’ says the apostle. There are many absurdities in the propositions of the Church; nevertheless, rule it will, and so it must have a narrow-minded multitude, which bows its head and likes to be ruled. The high and richly-endowed clergy dread nothing more than the enlightenment of the lower orders. They withheld the Bible from them as long as it was possible. Besides, what can a poor member of the Christian Church think of the princely magnificence of a richly-endowed bishop, when he sees in the Gospels the poverty and indigence of Christ, who, with his disciples, travelled humbly on foot, whilst the princely bishop rattles along in his carriage drawn by six horses!”

“We scarcely know,” continued Goethe, “what we owe to Luther, and the Reformation in general. We are freed from the fetters of spiritual narrow-mindedness; we have, in consequence of our increasing culture, become capable of turning back to the fountain head, and of comprehending Christianity in its purity. We have, again, the courage to stand with firm feet upon God's earth, and to feel ourselves in our divinely-endowed human nature. Let mental culture go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on gaining in depth and breadth, and the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity as it glistens and shines forth in the gospel!

“But the better we Protestants advance in our noble development, so much the more rapidly will the Catholics follow us. As soon as they feel themselves caught up by the ever-extending enlightenment of the time, they must go on, do what they will, till at last the point is reached where all is but one.

“The mischievous sectarianism of the Protestants will also cease, and with it the hatred and hostile feeling between father and son, sister and brother; for as soon as the pure doctrine and love of Christ are comprehended in their true nature, and have become a vital principle, we shall feel ourselves as human beings, great and free, and not attach especial importance to a degree more or less in the outward forms of religion. Besides, we shall all gradually advance from a Christianity of words and faith, to a Christianity of feeling and action.”

The conversation turned upon the great men who had lived before Christ, among the Chinese, the Indians, the Persians, and the Greeks; and it was remarked, that the divine power had been as operative in them as in some of the great Jews of the Old Testament. We then came to the question how far God influenced the great natures of the present world in which we live?

“To hear people speak,” said Goethe, “one would almost believe that they were of opinion that God had withdrawn into silence since those old times, and that man was now placed quite upon his own feet, and had to see how he could get on without God, and his daily invisible breath. In religious and moral matters, a divine influence is indeed still allowed, but in matters of science and art it is believed that they are merely earthly, and nothing but the product of human powers.

“Let any one only try, with human will and human power, to produce something which may be compared with the creations that bear the names of Mozart, Raphael, or Shakspeare. I know very well that these three noble beings are not the only ones, and that in every province of art innumerable excellent geniuses have operated, who have produced things as perfectly good as those just mentioned. But if they were as great as those, they rose above ordinary human nature, and in the same proportion were as divinely endowed as they.

“And after all what does it all come to? God did not retire to rest after the will-known six days of creation, but, on the contrary, is constantly active as on the first. It would have been for Him a poor occupation to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if He had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the lower ones.”

Goethe was silent. But I cherished his great and good words in my heart.

Early in March.[1]

Goethe mentioned at table that he had received a visit from Baron Carl Von Spiegel, and that he had been pleased with him beyond measure.

“He is a very fine young man,” said Goethe; “in his mien and manners he has something by which the nobleman is seen at once. He could as little dissemble his descent as any one could deny a higher intellect; for birth and intellect both give to him who once possesses them a stamp which no incognito can conceal. Like beauty, these are powers which one cannot approach without feeling that they are of a higher nature.”

  • [1] In the original book this conversation follows immediately the one of December 21, 1831, and with the remainder of the book is prefaced thus:—“The following I noted down shortly afterwards (that is, after they took place) from memory.”—Trans.

Some days later.

We talked of the tragic idea of Destiny among the Greeks.

“It no longer suits our way of thinking,” said Goethe; “it is obsolete, and is also in contradiction with our religious views. If a modern poet introduces such antique ideas into a drama, it always has an air of affectation. It is a costume which is long since out of fashion, and which, like the Roman toga, no longer suits us.

“It is better for us moderns to say with Napoleon, ‘Politics are Destiny.’ But let us beware of saying, with our latest literati, that politics are poetry, or a suitable subject for the poet. The English poet Thomson wrote a very good poem on the Seasons, but a very bad one on Liberty, and that not from want of poetry in the poet, but from want of poetry in the subject.”

“If a poet would work politically, he must give himself up to a party; and so soon as he does that, he is lost as a poet; he must bid farewell to his free spirit, his unbiassed view, and draw over his ears the cap of bigotry and blind hatred.

“The poet, as a man and citizen, will love his native land; but the native land of his poetic powers and poetic action is the good, noble, and beautiful, which is confined to no particular province or country, and which he seizes upon and forms wherever he finds it. Therein is he like the eagle, who hovers with free gaze over whole countries, and to whom it is of no consequence whether the hare on which he pounces is running in Prussia or in Saxony.

“And, then, what is meant by love of one's country? what is meant by patriotic deeds? If the poet has employed a life in battling with pernicious prejudices, in setting aside narrow views, in enlightening the minds, purifying the tastes, ennobling the feelings and thoughts of his countrymen, what better could he have done? how could he have acted more patriotically?

“To make such ungrateful and unsuitable demands upon a poet is just as if one required the captain of a regiment to show himself a patriot, by taking part in political innovations, and thus neglect his proper calling. The captain's country is his regiment, and he will show himself an excellent patriot by troubling himself about political matters only so far as they concern him, and bestowing all his mind and all his care on the battalions under him, trying so to train and discipline them, that they may do their duty if ever their native land should be in peril.

“I hate all bungling like sin, but most of all bungling in state-affairs, which produces nothing but mischief to thousands and millions.

“You know that, on the whole, I care little what is written about me; but yet it comes to my ears, and I know well enough that, hard as I have toiled all my life, all my labours are as nothing in the eyes of certain people, just because I have disdained to mingle in political parties. To please such people I must have become a member of a Jacobin club, and preached bloodshed and murder. However, not a word more upon this wretched subject, lest I become unwise in railing against folly.”

In the same manner he blamed the political course, so much praised by others, of Uhland.

“Mind,” said he, “the politician will devour the poet. To be a member of the States, and to live amid daily jostlings and excitements, is not for the delicate nature of a poet. His song will cease, and that is in some sort to be lamented. Swabia has plenty of men, sufficiently well educated, well meaning, able, and eloquent, to be members of the States, but only one poet of Uhland's class.”


The last stranger whom Goethe entertained as his guest was the eldest son of Frau von Arnim; the last words he wrote were some verses in the album of this young friend.


The morning after Goethe's death, a deep desire seized me to look once again upon his earthly garment. His faithful servant, Frederic, opened for me the chamber in which he was laid out. Stretched upon his back, he reposed as if asleep; profound peace and security reigned in the features of his sublimely noble countenance. The mighty brow seemed yet to harbour thoughts. I wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off. The body lay naked only wrapped in a white sheet; large pieces of ice had been placed near it, to keep it fresh as long as possible. Frederic drew aside the sheet, and I was astonished at the divine magnificence of the limbs. The breast was powerful, broad, and arched; the arms and thighs were full, and softly muscular; the feet were elegant, and of the most perfect shape; nowhere, on the whole body, was there a trace either of fat or of leanness and decay. A perfect man lay in great beauty before me; and the rapture which the sight caused made me forget for a moment that the immortal spirit had left such an abode. I laid my hand on his heart—there was a deep silence—and I turned away to give free vent to my suppressed tears.