FROM-THE- LIBRARY- OF
JAMES TAFT HATFIELD
Reprinted from the "Methodist Review" for September, 1S99
WITH THE COMPLIMENTS OF
JAMES T. HATFIELD,
1899.] Gotthe. _ 767
AET. IX. GOETHE.
EMERSON, describing his visit to Wordsworth, in 1833, says:
" He proceeded to abuse Goethe's Wilhelm Meister heartily.
It was full of all manner of fornication. . . . He had never
gone farther than the first part ; so disgusted was he that he
threw the book across the room." * Wordsworth is by no
means the only judge who has " never gone farther than the
first part," and it is doubtful whether any great writer has
ever been approached with more prejudice. In more recent
years some of the blame may perhaps be laid upon the Ger-
mans themselves, who, especially since the Franco-Prussian
War, have often taken on an air as though Goethe had ex-
hausted poetry, and as though the English-speaking world
must look to Germany for all literary ideals ; whereas, every
great literary and intellectual uplift in Germany, and by no
means least in the case of Goethe himself, goes back directly
to England. The depredators of Goethe are not usually those
who have come to know him at first hand, and they are re-
sponsible for much suffering from that chief of all earthly
trials, the dogmatism of the uninstructed. He never conde-
scended to charlatanism in order to attract the masses, and he
made use of difficult allegory in conveying recondite truths.
We must follow Goethe historically, remembering that his
youth was stormy and unclarified ; we must take into account
the most varied and apparently contradictory manifestations,
and deduce our result from the sum total.f The purpose
must be separated from the subject-matter ; the works were
written boldly and freely, and must be received and interpreted
in the same spirit which attended their birth. Problematical
natures are often delineated, as in the dramas of Shakespeare,
who gives us the best key to the interpretation of our poet.
Nor must we forget his own desire :
Whom do I wish for my reader ? The one most candid, forgetting
Me, himself, and the world ; wholly absorbed in my work. J
Certain it is that the mighty personality of Goethe is one of
Works, v, 24.
tComp. Harnack, Goethein der Epoche seiner VoUendung, p. 201.
t VierJahreszeiten, No. 62.
768 Methodist Review. [September,
the great possessions of our race, and not yet to be dispensed
with. The more important men who have devoted themselves
to German literary studies such as Carlyle, Wilhelm Scherer,
Herman Grimm, and Erich Schmidt have been attracted
irresistibly and more and more exclusively to Goethe as the
central fact, just as every sincere student of art becomes more
and more subject to the influence of the Greeks. While it is
a most costly thing to attempt to maintain decaying relics of
bygone ages, there are heritages the loss of which would sen-
sibly impoverish mankind.
Goethe's genius is, before all, a poetic and artistic one. " It
was for gesthetic ends that I was created," he said in a conver-
sation with Friedrich von Miiller.* From his works alone
may be deduced a firmly grounded system of normal aesthetics.
The pure beauty of his art is perennial, and
Still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
How immense his literary debt to England, even in the so-
called " German " element of Gemutlichlceit, need not be dis-
cussed here. In the period of his creative maturity he is par-
ticularly the prophet of Hellenism in art and letters, f After
the most varied attempts and studies his artistic theories be-
came settled into a firm conviction that Greek art embodies
the noblest simplicity and quiet greatness, and gives perma-
nent and absolute canons of literary excellence, combining
naturalness and high culture, freedom and law. He says :
Clearness of vision, cheerfulness of acceptance, easy grace of expres-
sion, are the qualities which delight us; and now, when we affirm that
we find all these in the genuine Grecian works, achieved in the noblest
material, the best-proportioned form, with certainty and completeness of
execution, we shall always be understood if we refer to them as a basis
and a standard. Let each one be a Grecian in his own way ; but let him
be one. J
A concise putting of his final creed is contained in the
little poetical dedications a feature borrowed by Emerson
* January 20,1824.
t Michaelis, Goethe und die Antike, Strassburger Goethevortruge, 115 ff.
$ Quoted by Professor Jebb in the Atlantic Monthly, Ixxii, 552.
1899.] Goethe. 769
for his essays prefixed to his treatise on Art and Antiquity,
Homer has long been named with p.-aise,
And Phidias in these later days.
Against the two none may contend ;
This truth no mortal should offend.
Be ye welcomed, noble strangers,
By each truly German mind :
Only in the Best and Highest
Can the soul true profit find.
This gospel of Greek art was preached with a call for enthusi-
asm and devotion, but with a demand for severe disciplinary
preparation and slow training, as in the days of art under
Pericles or the Medici. This element preserved Goethe from
the unsound tendencies of the most modern " return to na-
ture." He seeks nature where it is most healthy and beautiful ;
the crying evil of the present naturalistic movement is that it
chooses the vile and the unlovely as an end to its efforts, and art
thereby defeats its own chief purpose. Goethe's feeling for
the wholesomeness, vigor, and moderation of the Greeks pro-
tected him from sickly pessimism and brutal naturalism.
For Goethe's great service to the national literature lay
chiefly in the fact that he did "return to nature. He holds the
mirror up in a way that only Shakespeare has surpassed, and
of all natural phenomena the soul of man claims his chief
interest, as is especially shown in his dramatic characters.
From the Heath-rose and Wertfar, both created for an age
that needed "heart" above all things, to the end of his life
his works come forth from a full, warm feeling ; they are
strong, genuine impressions, put into symmetrical form. He
often emphasizes the preeminence of truth in art : " The inner
content of the object to be elaborated is the beginning and end
of art ; " * "I do all honor to rhyme and rhythm, but the
really deep and effective, the truly formative and inspiring
part of a poet's work, is that which still remains after it has
been translated into prose ; " f " All talent is wasted if it be
spent upon an unworthy object." \ Those who see in our
*Dichtung tind Wahrheit, vii.
t Conversations with Eckermann, 1, 56.
770 Methodist Review. [September,
artist one who sacrificed content and purpose to aesthetic
beauty err grievously. "Art for art's sake" in its narrower
sense had for him no meaning. With all the joyousness and
grace and charm of his art, he wrought his apparently most
casual work with an underlying purpose of "asserting eter-
nal Providence and justifying the ways of God to men."
He well terms his "epigrammatic" poems "the sportive em-
bodiment of profound thought." The artistic clearness, seren-
ity, and repose are so perfect that we can easily forget that the
artist uses all these qualities as the expression of a deep intent.
From the simplest love motive to the profoundest speculations
in philosophy all is breathed into matchless form, symmetrical,
melodious, and pure ; largely on this account is it true of his
works that " the human race takes charge of them that they
shall not perish." The realism which sees clearly the facts of
life is joined to the idealism which transmutes facts into the
higher' truth. Goethe's sonnet "Nature and Art" (1802)
sums up definitively the poet's sesthetic theory :
Nature and art seem ofttimes to be foes,
But, ere we know it, join in making peace ;
My own repugnance, too, has come to cease,*
And each an equal power attractive shows.
Let us but make an end to dull repose :
When art we serve in toil without release,
Through stated hours, absolved from vain caprice,
Nature once more within us freely glows.
All culture, as I hold, must take this course :
Unbridled spirits ever strive in vain
Perfection's radiant summit to attain.
Who seeks great ends must straitly curb his force ;
In narrow bounds the master's skill shall show,
And only law true freedom can bestow.
Even Professor du Bois-Eeymond, in his trenchant attack
upon the influence of Goethe, f calls him " the chief lyric poet
of all time." Goethe emancipated Germany from bondage to
the " correct " of which he said, " Correctness is not worth
sixpence if it has nothing more to offer " by showing the
* We have in Werther (Am 26. Mai) a strong expression of his youthful antipathy
to rules in matters of art.
t Goethe und kein Ende, 1883, p. 13.
1899.] Goethe. 771
poetic value of the common, natural occurrences of life. His
poems are to be referred to definite personal experiences, and
come from the depths of the heart ; they are the necessary out-
let of suppressed emotions; individual experiences are ex-
pressed in so vigorous and effective a way that they become
typical of a whole range of related psychological phenomena.
He finds in the phases of nature and in the simple figures of
daily life the adequate poetic interpretation of the moods of
the soul. His poems, " woven from sunbeams and odors of
morning," have a musical fullness and melody, a grace and
breeziness, an elfin lightness and airiness, an irresistible dra-
matic power, or at times the sweet pathos of mournful elegiac
cadence. They refresh, soothe, charm, alleviate, stimulate, and
dissolve. This many-sidedness belongs, as well, to the dra-
matic and prose works, reflecting, as they do, the different
periods of the poet's life, but each genuine and true to itself,
and each at the summit of its own class, whether romantic,
classic, or oriental, contemporary or mediaeval. It is a tableau
of human experience, subject-matter for the study of man-
kind. His prose style is clear and luminous, serene in its har-
mony, strong and uninterrupted in its flow.
Goethe was an interpreter of human life in the fullest sense.
We confess to a certain charity toward those champions of
Christian morals who discard Goethe altogether, because he did
not at all times practically embody the principles of Christian
ethics. Such a standpoint is heroic, in being willing to sacri-
fice any advantage rather than give up the one thing needful;
but the alternative seems unnecessary, and is based, perhaps,
on too narrow an interpretation of 1 Cor. ii, 2. St. Paul
himself made much use of worldly learning, and had a wide
knowledge of human experience which particularly fitted him to
be " all things to all men ; " he confessed himself " debtor both
to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians," and commended " what-
soever things are true." There is danger of obscurantism
in dispensing with the study of human history as a whole, a
danger into which Luther sometimes fell, as when he de-
nounced Aristotle as a "damned, insolent, treacherous heathen."
The sanest truth is contained in the words of Professor
772 Methodist Review. [September,
Such an oceanic writer as Schiller or Goethe may contain within his
vastness some things that belong to the rankness and garbage of the
earth ; but so antiseptic is his large and free vitality, played upon by
the sun and breeze, so wholesome is his invigorating saltness, that we
may dash fearlessly across the breakers, and quit his sands and shallows
for a gleeful adventure in the deep.*
Psychological knowledge is a chief aim of Goethe-studies ;
he was both universal and impressionable. Applicable are his
own youthful words in regard to Shakespeare : f
That which is termed evil is often another phase of good, is as
necessary to its existence, and belongs as much to the whole scheme
of things, as that the tropics should blaze and Lapland should freeze in
order that there may be a temperate zone. He conducts us through
the whole world, but we tender, inexperienced souls scream out at
every strange grasshopper that jumps across our path, " O, good sir, the
monster will swallow us ! "
He grasped life as a whole, not in things or parts, and found
everywhere in this complex drama sources of enlightenment,
entertainment, and elevation. From the manifold world which
he presents to us we may get that which we are fitted to ap-
propriate ; he does not give us a ready-made product. His
own life was most typical of what humanity may accomplish.
He founded no school, but liberated his age by giving it inward
freedom through truth. Says Carlyle :
And knowest thou no Prophet, even in the vesture, environment, and
dialect of this age ? None to whom the Godlike had revealed itself,
through all meanest and highest forms of the Common ; and by him been
again prophetically revealed : in whose inspired melody, even in these
rag-gathering and rag-burning days, Man's Life again begins, were it but
afar off, to be divine ? Knowest thou none such ? I know him, and
name him Goethe4
It must not be forgotten that Goethe was opposed to a false
liberalism : " All that sets free the soul, without at the same
time giving us self-mastery, is destructive." In his scheme
of life he demanded full scope for faith and will.
Goethe is a great observer and recorder of the facts of life,
rather than the dogmatic exponent of a rigid systematic
* Transcripts and Studies, p. 252.
t Zum Shakespeares Tag, 1771.
t Sartor Resartus, book iii, ch. vil.
Quoted by Harnack, p. 202.
1899.] Goethe. 773
philosophy. He drew wealth from all systems, but was sub-
ject to none. While there are apparent contradictions there
is a consistent tendency. " I never imagine," he says, " that
I have compassed the truth, but one thing I know, I am headed
toward the truth." * Says Professor Miinsterberg : " God
and man, nature and the mind, law and freedom, science and
art, religion and history, social questions and ethics, were
within the range of his earnest study." Although his inter-
est was directed more toward life and action than toward spec-
ulation, he gathered a rich store of golden fruits of knowledge
of human nature, society, and thought, and a body of practical
synthetic philosophy which he honors his reader by imparting
with utter sincerity. Many a youth who is paralyzed by com-
ing gradually or suddenly to perceive that he possesses only
an empirical grasp upon the problem of life might have been
saved this most bitter experience had Goethe been his school-
master. Especially in our country, where sophistry so often
passes for demonstration ; where tumid rhetoric is substituted
for reasoning ; where romantic sentimentality, emotional ap-
peals, and crude generalizations often serve for facts ; where
the radical delusion so often prevails that any man can be any-
thing he elects to be or gets others to elect him to be there
is wholesome instruction to be gained from this superbly en-
dowed student of life ; and it is significant for us that his
final theoretical result so closely approaches the one to which
we are also tending, namely, that the aesthetic ideal is to be
postponed to the practical, that the welfare of society is not
to be reached through abstract speculation but by labor and
accomplishment. Goethe admitted that there were certain in-
soluble problems, but held that there must be a practical de-
cision in regard to laws of conduct, and the sum of his ethics
is, Do faithfully and enthusiastically your own duty to society
each day. The perception of truth is not enough ; it must be
embodied, acted out, applied The highest work of art is the
individual life. Truth can be reached only by the most con-
scientious endeavor in practice, and the restless striving and
yearning of the individual must be brought to a steady, pur-
poseful activity for the good of all men, and not for oneself.
An Schultz, Oct. 25, 1820.
774 Methodist Iteview. [September,
The law of unselfish love to one's fellow-men is the corner-
stone of Goethe's philosophy of life. This self-surrender and
self-limitation is the release from the feverish quest after all
knowledge and all enjoyment ; it is the practical philosophy
which Goethe preached most insistently.*
How noble is Goethe's counsel to young poets f (contrasted,
for instance, with Heine's melodious wails of the spoiled child
over certain forms of happiness that he has missed) :
When, on entering into active, vigorous, and, at times, disagreeable
life, where we must all feel that we are in fact but dependent parts of a
great whole, we clamor for all the earlier dreams, wishes, hopes, and
good things of our youthful fairy tales, then the Muse takes her leave
and seeks the companionship of the one who cheerfully practices resig-
nation and who easily recovers his serenity ; who knows how to get some
good gain from every season of the year; who concedes its advantages
to the skating rink, as well as to the garden of roses ; who quiets his
own sorrows and looks resolutely about him to find an opportunity of
alleviating another's pain or promoting another's joy.
Utterly misleading is Professor Dowden's charge that
Goethe "neither taught nor practiced the surrender of one's
inmost personality to something higher than the Ego," for
this is precisely what the lesson of existence did teach him,
and which he proclaims as the first rule for the conduct of
life. He enjoins resignation, submission, and surrender, not
as leading to quietism or the extirpation of one's powers, but
that one may give himself to new and better activities ; not
prohibition and omission for their own sake, but as clearing
the way for continuous, positive action. This ideal of devoted
labor and service "he taughte, and first he folwed it
As a young man he writes to his mother from Weimar, [
" I have all that a man can wish, a life in which I daily exer-
cise my powers, and daily make some growth." And in his
diary of about the same time he says, T " The pressure of
practical duties is most excellent for the soul ; when it lays
* Windelband, Strassburger Goethevortrdge, p. 103.
+ In Kunst und Altertum.
$ The Case against Goethe, Cosmopolis, ii, 641.
Comp. Marieribad Elegy.
fl August 9, 1779.
T January 13, 1779.
1899.] Goethe. 775
them aside it refreshes itself more freely, and really enjoys
life." Step by step throughout his long life he strove up-
ward in action, enthusiasm, and accomplished duty. He wel-
comed all that could help his growth, even harsh and bitter
criticism. He was a model, self-sacrificing servant of the
commonwealth. In his latest estimate Herman Grimm says
of him, " He always considered his civic duties as the highest
and most binding, and unreservedly put all other subjects of
thought and action into a secondary place." * " Who bade
Goethe superintend buildings, control the military chest, regu-
late public roads ? " asks Professor Dowden, sneeringly. There
is probably no other explanation than in the high demands of
Goethe's own noble nature, comparable in this to Milton's,
whose unselfishness called forth Wordsworth's tribute :
And yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
His theory of the welfare of the State demanded the faithful
performance of the special duty of each man, from the sov-
ereign to the day laborer, f He had, to be sure, a mistrust of
the ability of the masses to conduct personally the functions
of government in a scientific way ; and there are not wanting
later observers who, like Amiel, \ suspect that "the modern
zeal for equality is a disguised hatred which tries to pass itself
off as love." He demanded, however, the association of all
men for the common good, and in Wilhelm Meisters Wander-
jahre he forecast theoretically, and with profound political
sagacity, a new socialistic era in which every individual shall
be educated for the service of the State.
A word as to his ethics of the sexes, a matter in which we
must not be misunderstood as tolerating for a single instant
loose laws of conduct. Absolute purity is the fundamental
safeguard of humanity's highest interests, and laxity here is
the most fatal of all destructive social errors. But let us not
lose all sense of proportion or justice in dealing with the indi-
vidual Goethe. Luther, in criticising the style of certain
fathers of the Church, says, " The good fathers lived better
Das XIX Jahrhundert in Bildnissen, ii, 317.
f Harnack, p. 201.
I Journal, December 4, 1863.
776 Methodist Review. [September,
than they wrote/' * But it is, alas ! even more true that many
of the world's most cherished benefactors have written better
than they lived. "We do not ban all the works of Shakespeare
or Burns or Solomon, or altogether repudiate the high civic
services of some of the most efficient statesmen, because of
their personal ethical defects ; nor do we utterly execrate the
memory of Milton because his theories of divorce were loose
and destructive. Loquacious critics forget that the adored
Schiller, who found in happy marriage with a noble woman
a full solution of his moral difficulties, exhibited a vehement
advocacy of beastliness in his earlier poems which finds no
parallel in Goethe. The latter's Leipzig and Roman periods,
especially, countenanced a destructive social order, and this
fact cannot be too strongly condemned and deplored ; on the
other hand, no man has done more to glorify the highest bond
of social order, a great pure passionate love a love which
leads to self-sacrifice and disciplinary development, a love un-
speakably sacred to every man who
Remembers how his father's eyes
Once on his mother used to brood.
For this reason Goethe's teachings in regard to the relations
of the sexes are, in the main, wholesome and commendable.
Humanity, in its lower stages, has required much emphasis of
checks and safeguards. The fire, which warms and cheers
and enlivens, contains the possibilities of the most fearful dis-
aster. No house was ever swept from its foundations by a
feeble rill, but shall this be preferred to the powerful stream,
able to bear along the freights of a nation ? v There is a dis-
trust of the stronger human emotions, not entirely unknown
in America, which impoverishes life and countenances much
misery; which everlastingly preaches repression, instead of
going on to perfection ; which advocates the false and morbid
thought that all sensuous love is sinful ; and which makes one
believe that there may be even a need, in some places, of
reviving the doctrine of the rehabilitation de la chair, not
in the devilish and degrading sense of " Young Germany,"
of Walt Whitman and Le Gallienne, but in the spirit of
Martin Luther or of Goethe in Hermann und Dorothea^ to
* Tischreden, iv, 373.
1899.] Goethe. 777
which work we refer critics for a German picture of normal
Professor Windelband declares that no one can estimate
Goethe who fails to recognize how essential an element of his
character was his religious feeling.* It was this feeling
which brought him into opposition to the absolute individual-
ism of the Storm and Stress period. There had been a potent
atmosphere of religious influence in Goethe's intimate sur-
roundings from youth up. His strong friendship for such
persons as Jung-Stilling, Fraulein von Klettenberg, and Lava-
ter illustrates these tendencies. His religion settled into a
conviction that man is shut in and determined by a higher,
purer, unfathpmable, eternal power, and that he must gladly
and reverently surrender himself to its will. Prayer should
chiefly be for lofty thoughts and a pure heart, and its result
should be submission and gratitude. His belief in God was
more directed toward the manifestations of his power in good-
ness, reason, and love than toward formal abstract theories as
to his existence and personal nature. He believed in a deep
religious reverence as the foundation of all character and use-
fulness. A dominating consciousness of union with God is
taught by him to be indispensable for peace and successful
activity. He believed in immortality as the logical continu-
ance of the exercise of powers that had been developed by
strenuous fidelity through life. " Those who have no hope of
a future life," he said to Eckermann, " are already dead for
this one." f His reverence for the Bible made him distinctly
averse to the higher criticism. He called himself a Christian,