Full text: Zeitungsausschnitte über Werke von Herman Grimm: Goethe

© Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 340 Grimm N 
aus : New lork Daily Tribune 1880,Dez.24 
GkimjL irausfeted by Sarah Holland Adams. 12iuo, 
j,p. 559. Boston : Lutle, Brown & Co. 
The American reader will seek first, in thisexcel- 
-lcnt translation of Grimm’s lectures fcr an answer 
to the »Question— is Goethe’s influence de- 
. iniug?. This question, asked first in Ger 
many by sceptical people who Thrust their inter- 
_ ..ration poi ots into everything coinuioulv held as 
, setiled and sacred in religion, history, science and 
/literature, naturally finds an echo in this country* It 
/ istiow more than a century since Goethe burst like 
suneteor upon the sluggish world of German thought. 
I 'It is almost a century since .his greatest work was 
published. Nearly half a century has passed 
since that ..larch day when befell asleep at Weimar 
and woke no more. All the contemporaries of his 
fruitful years arc gone. A great change, clearly 
foreseen by him, has come oyer the German people, 
powerfully a fleeting their ways of lire and thought. 
The time has therefore come, it would seem, when 
the great personal influence of the poet naa faded 
away, aud when the permanency of his work 
may bo tested to some extent, at least, by its power 
over the minds of a generation which knew him not 
and has grown up under conditions widely differing 
from those which surrounded him. Wo must ask 
our question .as to Goethe’s place in litera 
ture of his own countrymen, for we must 
acknowledge that the acquaintance of English 
speaking countries with him is by no means 
thorough. Since he went to Weimar m 1775, his 
genius, like a light-house set upon a hill, has domi 
nated aud illumined the whole sea of German 
thought, hut it has shone upon us chiefly 
S through the lamps of our own writers, who have 
borrowed oil from his great store. It wonld bo safe 
to say that nine-tenths of well-read Americans and 
Englishmen know Goethe rather from the hooks and 
magazine articles written about him than from the 
study of his own works, although good translations 
may be had of all of them. Most cultivated people 
read the first part of “ Faust,” but how many read 
the “Iplugenia” or the “Italian Elegies,” or ths 
“Dichtungund Wahrheit”? and how many have 
any sort of familiarity with Goat lie’s prose writings 
beyond “ The Sorrows of Young Weither”? What 
ever theory we may hold as to the future extension 
of Goethe’s influence, we must admit that he is the 
poet of oue nation and one language, and not of the 
whole world like Shakespeare. The action of his 
geUius outside of the Teutonic lauds is reflex,not 
G.-imm believes that Goethe stands with Homer, 
Dante and Shakespeare, as the poet of all times. 
E :ch generation, he says, will believe that it com 
prehends his nature better than any that has goue 
before. Opinions in regard to bis work will vary: 
lie will appear to stand nearer to or further from the 
German people according to the character- of the 
times; but he will never be wholly dethroned, never 
be resolved into himself—never melt as a 
glacier of which wheu the last drop has 
run away nothing remains. “ If however,” Grimm 
goes on to say, “ that should happen, which has 
happened to Homer, that after the lapse of thou 
sands of years, wheu our German lias ceased to be a 
living language, wholly distant generations may 
pot be able to coneeivo that a single man should 
have created so many and such various kinds of 
works—then may the learned men, wiio will cer 
tainly for a time be believed, affirm that Goethe is to 
be interpreted only as a mythical name, under which 
the entire intellectual work of his age was compre 
Grimm places “ Faust ” far above all the other 
productions of Goethe. He says it is Goethe’s most 
beautiful, greatest and most important work ; (hat 
which he began the first, and which in conception 
reached on beyond his death. To no other can the 
expression life-worJi 1)9 applied with such truth. 
“ ’ Faust,’ ” he says, “ is the poem of poems. Put not 
only all Goethe's other poems, but our entire poetic 
literature into the other scale and wait!—which 
sinks ? The persoidof Faust appears to ns to-day as 
a natural, indispensable product of German life.” 
Further on in the same lecture he says: 
Faust is to us Germans the sovereign in the host 
of ail the creations of German literature. Hamlet, 
Achilles, Hector, lasso, the ‘Cid, Frithiof, Siegfried, 
Ftngal—all these forms seem to lose something or 
their life-like freshness wheu Faust appears. The 
light which rests...upon -.thorn.is.pale, like- iaaoa- 
hgkf, while Faust stands in the full blaze of the 
sun. Their language has to our ears something of a 
foreign sound, while Faust speaks so as to be under 
stood in everyone of his faintest accents. The 
breath of these heroes is not the bracing mountain 
air which streams from the lips of Faust. Their 
spirit, however wide its scope, has not the expansive 
wing on which he soars above the world ami its 
phenomena, that he may describe everything with 
his eagle giance. 
The characters in “ Faust,” Grimm tells ns, were 
alt suggested by persona in real life. He is himself 
the hero of tbe poem. To the struggles and prob 
lems of his owu life he sought to give a symbolic 
form. For this reason the poem was carried for 
ward almost to tbe day of his death. Until his last 
hours, Goethe transferred to “Faust” his every 
thought. Faust is the incarnate spirit of Goethe, 
to whom no range is too vast, no experience impossi 
ble. Mephistopheles, usually identified with Goethe’s 
friend Merck, Grimm thinks is Herder, who first 
made him experience the frightful power of the cold, 
‘ disinterested, hut merciless critic. Margaret is ilia 
first love, Frederika, the daughter of the Alsatian 
pastor, whose acquaintance he made during his 
student days at Strasburg. The idyl of the Seson- 
heim parsonage ran on smoothly until Goethe, be 
coming convinced that his love was a matter of the 
imagination only, rudely broke it ofl, bidding the 
poor girl good by without dismounting from bis 
horse,' and telling her to get over it as best sire 
could. The affair was innocent enough, save for 
the wound it loft in the heart of a sensitivo, roman 
tic maiden, but Goethe’s imagination carried it for 
ward, easily found the way from Frederika to 
Gretchen, and developed from the simple pastoral a 
tragedy of sin and suffering. 
Mrs. Adams’s translation was made in Berlin, and 
lias the advantage of the cordial approval of the 
author expressed in a note to her. Grimm says in 
this uote that although he grew up in the study of 
Goethe, and had much intercourse with those who 
knew him personally, he is indebted to Emerson for 
the historical view of the poet, which taught him 
to regard Goethe as the great phenomenon in the 
universal development of mankind. For this reason 
he feels very much indebted to America.

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