Full text: Zeitungsausschnitte über Werke von Herman Grimm: Goethe

© Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 340 Grimm Nr. Z 38 
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in toxica- .i 
awakening to the beauty of nature may al 
most be said to have been sudden.” There 
are two facts which l’rof. Grimm calls funda 
mental in Goethe’s life: “The first was that, 
so far as wo know, he never experi 
enced anything which wholly took him out of 
himself, and that, even when he appears most 
passionately excited, he still retains the 
power 10 criticise himself. With him, therefore, 
events, and liis subsequent reflections upon 
them, mnst be carefully distinguished. * * * 
The secoud was that Goethe does not mention 
any living man, or any contemporary book, 
that fully meets the wants of bis nature; no 
man who could excite in him the feeling, 
'Such I would like to have been!’ and no book 
over which he might have thought: ‘This is 
what 1 would have written, but it is better 
than I could have written it.’ 
only as a learner, and after his first intoxica 
tion was over returned to a conscitnisp es - •>? 
his owli"|ii>"9ifioh. And so ho soon recovered 
from his infatuation about Lavater and Jacobi, 
and no one came after them by whom he al 
lowed himself to bo deluded as he had been 
by tliese three men. As so on as he had gained 
some measure of experience in life, lie always 
knew beforehand that in time all these bril 
liant meteors would cense to dazzle him, and 
that he should once more be sustained by his 
own independent judgment. In contem 
plating all the influences which tended to de 
velop Goethe, we find that there are only four 
men who had a lasting effect upon him, who, 
as it were, lived in hi soul never to 
be displaced—Ilomer, Shakespeare, Raphael 
and Spinoza. These men were to him repre 
sentatives of the four mighty elements from 
whose workings our European culture, or the 
mental conditions iu which we live and labor, 
arose and is still rising.” 
The following passage in regard to the re 
ligious education of one who lias been de 
scribed as our “chief modern pagan,” lias 
deep interest: “Goethe had grown up in a 
religious family and in full knowledge cvf 
what tlie Christian faith rests upon. He 
who today can repeat the Cord’s prayer, 
the Ten Commandments, the creed and 
some hymns without hesitation, and who 
knows something about the books of the Old 
and New Testaments and the history of the 
church, believes himself well instructed 
religious matters. But in the last century, H i 
was quite different. The comprehension of 
the Christianity of the former century, as an 
historical fact, becomes again of importance 
now that our whole spiritual development 
seems colored by its religious tendency, 
Whatever our own personal belief may be, we 
must at any rate make ourselves familiar with 
the whole course-of 
Everybody in the last century was well versed 
in the Bible, and thoroughly schooled in the 
differences of the creeds anil sects even to the 
subtleties, which are nowadays familiar to 
the professional theologian alone. As at 
present every one is aquainted with what con 
cerns the army, and every family knows all 
the necessary facts about its organization, its 
duties, promotions, etc., as well as where the 
different regiments are stationed, and who the 
commanders are in the prominent places, be 
cause every family is in some way or other 
connected with the army—so at that time men 
were at home in all matters apper 
taining to the church, and knew the 
names and relative importance of the 
leading ministers, in science, poetry and 
theology alone was free discussion or agitation 
allowed, as has oeen already said. Who 
would really catcli the flavor of this state of 
things should read the romance of the (during 
his life) renowned Berlin bookseller Nicolai“, 
—'Sebaldus Nothanker.’ The four volumes 
contain nothing but a series of rows between 
the hero—who is a philosophic, liberal, open- 
hearted country preacher—and Fate, in the 
shape of some bigoted old theological wrost- 
lers. Without an acquaintance with these 
circumstances it is impossible to have an 
Idea of the fights into which Lessing was con 
stantly drawn, or to comprehend the power of 
Herder, who as a free-thinking theologian 
had made himself master of all the subjects 
that were in fermentation aoout him. Goctiio 
had been, even as a child, initiated m these 
matters, through his connection with the 
Moravian Fräulein von Klettenberg. And 
again in Strasburg he made use of an intro 
duction he had taken with him to 
Goetlie was therefore perfectly familiar with 
the Bible. The active part lie took in the 
religious discussions of the day, as 
shown by a number of his essays on 
the leading topics and his intimate friend 
ship with the prophet Lavater, was natural. 
Goethe’s earliest poem is a bombastic song on 
the ‘Descent of Christ Into Hell,’ which is in 
the ranting style of the preachers of the hist 
century; but ’ nevertheless we observe that, 
while he was perfectly at home on religious 
subjects, they bevor completely absorbed him, 
nor (timed him aside from ideas which came 
from other sources. Herder and Lavater were 
to him tlietwo.great streams whose unsteady 
current bore onward the ecclesiastical life of 
the time.” 
Goethe’s manly appearance is one of the cur 
rent traditions of Germany. l’rof. Grimm 
thus describes him: “Goethe was a strong, 
broad-shouldered man, to whom heat and cold 
made little difference, who could ride the day 
long in the saddle and spend all night in the 
woods or at a “kneip,” without its having any 
particular effect upon him. At sleigh 
ing parties, balls, the phase, or at 
fires, lie was one oi those who! mild out long- 
'est. lie took the foremost place whenever he 
thought it was his right, ln 'tn.-^Lcd proces 
sions he was seen on horseback in inagtuSfjcnt 
old German costume, and after lie was niorfl 
than (iO years.old ho appeared as a Knight 
Templar lit a fancy ball, and astonished every 
body by his commanding beauty. 
at Valmy, where the balls of the renowned 
cannonade fell thick about him, watched the 
symptoms Of t he ‘white feather’ steal over him, 
and afterward described all minutely, ducli 
a physique was necessary in order to master 
the iron will of the duke, and to hold iiis 
place close beside him. Goethe had the inex 
haustible vitality necessary for his office.” 
Here is a passage which “discloses the inner 
existence of Goethe. Prof. Grimm says: 
Goethe's ‘Faust’ speaks of the beiden seelen 
which dwelt within his breast. This twofold 
spiritual existence Goethe had been able best 
to ob-erve in himself. There was in his nature 
a mixture of blindness with the keen- 
A est perspicacity, which, apart from each 
^ other, worked out their various results side 
by side within him. He says of himself that 
he first wrote, rushing unconsciously on* and 
only knew what lie had done when he taw it 
on paper. Added to this was the necessity of 
expressing himself in parables, lie was once 
phrenologically examined by l)r. Gall, who 
introduced phrenology, and, by his personal 
experiments, spread it far and wide iu Ger 
many; and Gall declared that Goethe's most 
[ conspicuous trait was to express himself in 
tropes. lie could not conve t his thoughts 
into exact words, and availed himself of poetic 
imagery to suggest what he wished to say. 
To 8täte it emphatically, Goethe gave up try 
ing to understand himself. In his old age, 
speaking of himself to Chancellor Muller, lie 
said: ‘What one actually is lie must find out 
from others.’ Goethe shows himself on one 
side a poet; a somnambulist who is not 
conscious while he writes what flows from Iiis 
pen ; a dreamer who does not understand him 
self, and is m his own eyes 
is vacillating, confused and passionate; will 
enjoy the goods of tins world, will surrender 
himself to’the vague instincts of his nature, 
and remove from his path all obstacles which 
thronten to hinder it. But on tne other side, 
in opposition to this, stands his unmerciful 
objectivity and clearness of apprehension. 
A demon whispers to him instantly Avherc the 
weak side is in men and things. lie practices 
tlie subtlest criticism, anatomizes men—others 
as well as himself—and will not allow the 
least embellishment of his results. So wo see 
him as naturalist, statesman, historian. He 
is decided, keen, cold. Now lie will not be 
tempted by the pleasures of this world, but in 
sists that renunciation Is commanded. This 
is his great word. With an unrelenting 
severity, toward himself first of 
all, he seeks to fulfil his duty. 
The result of all this is that wc see Goctiio 
always cither one or the other; nevor both 
together, never the two orbits running into 
one another. Either lie writes poetry, or lie 
views almost indifferently what he has writ 
ten, not quite knowing what to do with it; 
either like a deluded child he gives himself 
wholly and confidingly to men, or he advances 
to meet them sternly like a man hardened by 
experience. These alterations in him never 
ended. Lie always meets men with fresh 
curiosity, and loves them while new, but re 
pulses them unmercifully 
for the consciousness of the folly outgrown 
irritates him, and, in general, when he begins 
to criticise nothing satisfies him. Goethe's 
double nature found in Spinoza’s philosophy 
its only adequate interpretation.” 
Goethe had a predilection for Napoleon, 
who, “on coining to Erfurt, sent for Goethe, 
and held the famous conversation with lum, at 
the close of which the exclamation burst from 
his lips, 'Voila nil liomme!’ wbicli bears this 
translation: ‘At last a man who stands face to 
face witli me in Germany!’ Napoleon had 
fathomed Goethe; but Goethe also knew how 
to value Napoleon. In the midst of a confu 
sion which appeared inextricable, Goethe had 
seen this youthful general rise like some 
ancient hero, who, one against a host, con 
quered whole .nations with the stroke of a 
Nothing in the whole biography is more 
beautiful than the dosing passage: "If we 
desire a true picture of thie Weimar life as it 
day by day glided by, through Ins last JO 
years, wc shall specially enjoy reading ‘Eckcr- 
inanu's Reminiscences,’ together with those of 
Chancellor von Müller. We realize, as if we 
had been eye-witnesses, how Goethe strove 
above all things to the very last to keep him 
self in contact witli the young. He often said 
that this was the only means of 
His vitality was inexhaustible. Even in his 
70th year a young and beautiful maiden 
kindled m him a passion which it cost him a 
monstrous effort to subdue; and from this 
struggle arose some of his most ardent poems. 
Goethe, while enjoying all the privileges of 
r.ge, seemed merely hiding the powers of his 
youth ana not to have lost them. Finally all 
1 * is friends were dead—the duke, Frau von 
St em, even his son, had gone before him. But 
it did not crush him; to live was to him pure 
enjoyment. Until his very last days spring 
and sunshine always brought a fresh rapture to 
his soul, and tempted him to explore in 
all directions the fields and woods so dear to 
him; while the recollections of old friends 
springing up in his path refreshed him instead 
of making him sad. He looked forward to 
each new day with serene expectation and 
genuine human curiosity as to what it might 
bring forth. On the 22d of March, 1832, he 
died. He might have lived on, like the patri 
archs of tlie Old Testament, 1'or decades. 
Therefore his loss came at last like something 
so unexpected, and was so deeply felt. It 
seemed impossible that a man m the midst of 
the enjovinent of iiis best powers could bo 
torn away.” 
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