Goethe – The great German Poet and the key figure of European Culture


Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
(28 August 1749, Frankfurt am Main, Holy Roman Empire (now Germany) – 22 March 1832 Weimar, Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Germany) (aged 82)
Nationality: Germany
Category: Art Workers
Occupation: Poet, Writer, Philosopher
Unique distinction: Most influential German writer and poet, one of the key figures of European culture. Polymath
Gender: Male

Goethe Quotes:
1. Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever.
2. Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.
3. At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.
4. This is the highest wisdom that I own; freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew.
5. Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.
6. Man is not born to solve the problem of the universe, but to find out what he has to do; and to restrain himself within the limits of his comprehension.
7. Enjoy when you can, and endure when you must.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: German poet, dramatist, philosopher and scientist.
The main contribution to (Best known for): Goethe is widely regarded as a genius and one of the greatest masters of German and World literature.

Contributions to culture:

Goethe was a German poet, writer and scientist, one of the key figures of European culture.  Besides he was one of the most highly gifted and variously accomplished men of the 18th century.
Goethe’s works span the fields of poetry, drama, literature, theology, philosophy and science. He was one of the greatest masters of German literature and the movement of Weimar Classicism which coincides with Enlightenment, Sentimentality, Sturm und Drang and Romanticism.
Literature. His earliest lyric poems, set to music, were published yet in 1769. But he first gained literary fame with the 1773 play Götz von Berlichingen,  a pure product of Sturm und Drang and especially the 1774 novel Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther), which Goethe, on the verge of suicide, wrote after his unrequited love for Charlotte Buff. Werther gave him immediate fame and was widely translated.
Initially, Goethe stressed the role of passion in art, but after visiting Italy (1786-88) he had a greater appreciation of the classical tradition and ideal.
Under the classical impact, some works were written: the final, poetic version of the drama Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787),  the historical drama Egmont (1788), well known for Beethoven’s incidental music; Römische Elegien (1788); the psychological drama Torquato Tasso (1789); the domestic epic Hermann und Dorothea (1797).
The novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister) (1796), became the prototype of the German Bildungsroman, or novel of character development. His novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809,  Elective Affinities) is one of his most significant novels, but perhaps his best-known work in that genre is the Wilhelm Meister series. In 1829 the last instalment of Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s journeyman years), a series of episodes, was published.
His most enduring work and magnum opus, indeed, one of the peaks of world literature, is the two-part dramatic poem Faust. He began work on this masterpiece in 1775 year. The first part was published in 1808, and the second shortly after his death.
His other works include an autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth, 1811-33), and his travel account in Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert (Winckelmann and his century) (1805) and Die italienische Reise (1816).
Music. An accomplished amateur musician, Goethe conducted instrumental and vocal ensembles and directed opera performances in Weimar. Many of his operetta librettos were composed, but none achieved lasting fame. Goethe’s exquisite lyrical poems are often inspired by existing songs.
Science. His approach to science was one of sensuous experience and poetic intuition. He tried not only to explain nature but rather to perceive “the pulse of life”, to grasp the universal laws in the flow of commonplace events.
He was the author of the scientific Theory of Colours (1810), in which he purported to refute the Optics of Newton. In his essays on botany Metamorphosis of Plants (1790), he advanced some influential ideas on plant and animal morphology and homology, which were extended and developed by 19th-century naturalists including Charles Darwin.
Philosophy. Goethe himself expressly and decidedly refrained from practising philosophy in the specialized sense. His Worldview is most clearly presented in his poetic works: Faust,  West-Eastern Divan, ‘Eins und Alles’ (“One and All”), “The Soul of the World” and also in his conversations, reflections and maxims.
For Goethe God and Nature were one. He stated the pantheist formula “One and All”, “Nothing’s inside, nothing’s outside. For the inside is the outside”, and “If God’s own power lay not inside us, how could divinity delight us?”, “Each one sees what he carries in his heart”, and “If you would create something, you must be something”.

Eins und Alles
Im Grenzenlosen sich zu finden,
Wird gern der Einzelne verschwinden,
Da löst sich aller Überdruß;
Statt heißem Wünschen, wildem Wollen,
Statt läst’gem Fordern, strengem Sollen
Sich aufzugeben ist Genuß.

Weltseele, komm’ uns zu durchdringen!
Dann mit dem Weltgeist selbst zu ringen
Wird unsrer Kräfte Hochberuf.
Teilnehmend führen gute Geister,
Gelinde leitend, höchste Meister,
Zu dem, der alles schafft und schuf.

Und umzuschaffen das Geschaffne,
Damit sich’s nicht zum Starren waffne,
Wirkt ewiges lebend’ges Tun.
Und was nicht war, nun will es werden
Zu reinen Sonnen, farbigen Erden,
In keinem Falle darf es ruhn.

Es soll sich regen, schaffend handeln,
Erst sich gestalten, dann verwandeln;
Nur scheinbar steht’s Momente still.
Das Ewige regt sich fort in allen:
Denn alles muß in Nichts zerfallen,
Wenn es im Sein beharren will.

One and All
Into the limitless to sink,
No one, I trow, will ever blink.
For there all sorrow we dismiss.
Instead of cravings, wants untold,
Fatiguing demands and duties cold.
Surrender of one’s self is bliss.

O, World-soul, come to fill our lives.
For he who with thy spirit strives
Attains the height of his vocation.
Then, sympathetic spirits, speed us;
Great masters, gently higher lead us
To the Creator of creation.
In re-creating the created.

Lest fossilize the animated.
Aye, active power, is manifest;
The non-existing actualizing.
In younger worlds and suns is rising,
But never, nowhere, can be rest.
In active deeds life proves unfolding;

It must be moulded and keep moulding;
Sometimes but seeming rest ’twill gain.
The eternal stirreth in us all;
And into nought, we all must fall,
If e’er in life we shall remain.

Major works:
Faust; The Sorrows of Young Werther; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; Xenien,  West-Eastern Divan, Elective Affinities, his autobiography: Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811-33).

Career and personal life:

Origin: His father Johann Caspar Goethe, a lawyer and Frankfort magistrate with the title Counselor, Goethe’s mother, Catharina Elisabeth Textor, a descendant of Lucas Cranach the Elder and Henry III, Landgrave of Hesse-Marburg.
Education: He received private lessons from his father’s tutors in all the common subjects of that time, especially languages (Latin, Greek, French and English). He also received lessons in dancing, riding and fencing.
He studied law at the University of Leipzig from 1765 to 1768. In the year 1770, he went to Strasburg where studied anatomy, chemistry and architecture.
Influenced by: Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Homer, Shakespeare, Rousseau.

Career highlights: 

In the year 1771, the young poet, now 22 years of age, took his degree as a Doctor of Laws and went for a short while as a lawyer to Wetzlar am Lahn, the seat of the imperial chamber of the German empire.
In 1775, Goethe was invited to visit Charles Augustus, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, at whose court he was to spend the rest of his life.
In  1779, at the age of 30, he became  Privy Councilor (“Geheimrat”) of the Duchy of Weimar, holding the highest dignity that a German subject could then attain. For ten years Goethe was chief minister of state at Weimar, while at the same time working on plays, poems, essays, novels and scientific studies. In 1782 Emperor Joseph II conferred a knighthood on him.
In 1792 Goethe accompanied Duke Charles Augustus as an official historian in the allied campaign against revolutionary France. He appreciated the principles of the French Revolution but resented the methods employed.
It was in 1808 that Goethe’s encounters with Napoleon took place at Erfurt and Weimar.
In the year 1815, he was made minister of state.
Later Goethe refused to share in the patriotic fervour that swept Germany, distanced from his former friends, immersed himself in scientific and philosophical problems and filled with a calm optimism,  became an Olympian divinity to whose shrine at Weimar all Europe made the pilgrimage.
Universal Person: Goethe was one of the greatest masters of world literature and his genius embraced most fields of human endeavour. The variety and extent of his accomplishments and activities were monumental.
Goethe knew French, English, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and translated works by Diderot, Voltaire, Cellini, Byron, and others. Goethe was also the originator of the concept of Weltliteratur (“world literature”).

Personal life:

Goethe was born in 1749 at Frankfurt am Main, where his youthful years were spent.
Goethe was the first and only son of Johann Caspar Goethe, a Frankfort magistrate with the title Counselor,  and lived with his family in a large house in Frankfurt.
Goethe’s mother, Catharina Elisabeth Textor, a descendant of Lucas Cranach the Elder and Henry III, Landgrave of Hesse-Marburg, married 38-year-old Johann Caspar when she was 17. All their children, except for Goethe and his sister, Cornelia Friederike Christiana, who was born in 1750, died at an early age.
Goethe describes his happy and sheltered childhood in his autobiography. His father and private tutors gave Goethe lessons in all the common subjects of that time, especially languages (Latin, Greek, French and English).
Goethe also received lessons in dancing, riding and fencing. His great passion was drawing. Goethe quickly became interested in literature; Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Homer were among his early favourites.
In the year 1765, he went to the university at Leipzig where studied law from 1765 to 1768.
As a student, he pointed, by external profession, towards the law; but his real studies were in the wide domain of literature, philosophy, and above all, life and living character.
In the year 1770, he went to Strasburg, to finish his juridical studies, but here he mainly studied anatomy, chemistry and architecture.

Goethe’s relationship with women

Many women passed through Goethe’s life and influenced his creative work.  Charlotte von Stein, the woman of refined taste and culture,  the wife of a Weimar official and the mother of seven children was a close friend to him and the most strongly influenced on his life and work.
In Leipzig, Goethe fell in love with Anna Käthchen Schönkopf and wrote cheerful verses about her in the Rococo genre. On a trip to the village Sesenheim, Goethe fell in love with Friederike Brion, whom later he immortalized as Gretchen in Faust.
In 1772 he fell desperately in love with Charlotte Buff, who was betrothed to another. In 1775 Goethe fell in love with Lili Schönemann, to whom he became engaged. A collection of Goethe’s finest lyric poetry was inspired by his young friend Marianne von Willemer.
In 1822 still, another passion for a 17-year-old beautiful girl, Ulrike von Levetzow, inspired Goethe’s Marienbad Elegy included later in the legendary Trilogy of Passion. Ulrika did not come out never married, before the age of 95 years.
His wife was Christiane Vulpius (1765-1816), a highly attractive though not a highly gifted woman, who had borne him a son in August in 1789, but whom he did not formally marry until 1806.
Goethe believed that Christiane saved his life from French soldiers, who occupying Weimar, broke into Goethe’s house. A few days later he had their long-standing liaison legitimized in marriage.

He was a friend and patron
of numerous artists. The friendship between Friedrich von Schiller and his death (1805) made a deep impression on Goethe. He is buried, alongside Schiller, in the ducal crypt at Weimar.
Goethe died in March 1832, at the age of 84 years, shortly after completing the second part of Faust.
Remains: Buried, Historischer Friedhof, Weimar, Germany.
Zest: The opinions of Goethe are recorded in conversations recorded by his secretary J. P. Eckermann and in extensive correspondence with the composer Zelter and with Schiller, Byron, Carlyle, Manzoni, and others.