Full text: Zeitungsausschnitte über Werke von Herman Grimm: Goethe

© Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 340 Grimm Nr. Z 38 
/f 
aus : The Nation,Nr. 639,1877,Spt.27,S.199 
!.* 
JN volume ii., page 290, of his essay the author utters the following 
' opinion incidentally, almost casually : 
“ The career of this [namely, ' Faust,’] the greatest work of the 
greatest poet of all times and all peoples, nas just begun, and we have 
taken only the first steps towards exhausting its substance.” 
The paragraph taken entire has the appearance of an innocent gene 
rality. But the single phrase, “the greatest poet of all times and all 
peoples,” is one to make the thoughtful reader pause and consider. Is 
the author prepared to stand by his assertion ? We must bear in mind 
who and what he is. Hermann Grimm represents the second generation 
after Goethe’s death. The circle of master-minds, the Grimms, Lach- 
mann, Moritz Haupt, Savigny, the Humboldts, Richter, and the others 
whom we think of instinctively when we seek to revert to the brilliant 
period of the Berlin University, were young men when Goethe was slowly 
declining to the grave. They looked up to him as “the old master.” 
Yet they have long since passed away, and now Hermann Grimm, the son 
of William, and nephew of Jacob Grimm, himself in the prime of life, 
comes forward with this latest tribute to “ the old master,” this greatest 
of all great poets. The unsparing art-critic, author of the standard life 
of Michael Angelo, has outgrown the flush of youth, and the hearers to 
whom he addresses himself are clear-headed, cool-blooded Prussians of 
the purest water. We can scarcely imagine him as wishing us to take his 
words otherwise than literally. Yet we do not cite his opinion with a 
view to defend, much less to controvert it. We cite it merely as a sign of 
the times, an index of that great revulsion of opinion which has taken 
place in Germany, and to which we have called attention more than once 
in these columns. Most of us are so misled by the empty Shakspere- 
cult in Germany as to take it for sober earnest. It is significant enough, 
therefore, to discover a Berlin professor lecturing to a Berlin audience 
and proclaiming Goethe king of Parnassus. This Berlin professor, let us 
not forget, has the entree to the highest circles of thought, and to the 
sanctums where opinion is made, or at least forecast. His essay may be 
fairly regarded, then, as a summing up of the past and an outlook into 
the future of Goethe-criticism. 
Yet it is set in anything but a dithyrambic key. It is rather analytic 
than sympathetic, rather explanatory than laudatory. Its aim is to un 
fold the growth of each of Goethe’s great works, especially to lay bare 
the connecting link between the poem and its author’s character, and to 
give the broad movement, but not the details, of Goethe’s life. Those 
who approach the essay prepared to find in it a biography in the ordinary 
sense will be disappointed. On the other hand—and herein it surpasses 
all previous works of the kind—it gives the political, social, and moral 
atmosphere in which Goethe breathed and moved. We are made acquaint 
ed with the old, mediaeval Frankfort of Goethe’s boyhood, with the Wei 
mar of Karl August and Frau von Stein, and with the Rome of the 
Italienische Reise. Comparisons are odious and also dangerous, yet we 
venture to assert that nowhere else, at least without making the most 
elaborate special studies, can one obtain such an insight into Rome of 
the eighteenth centux-y and its inevitable significance for Goethe. We 
learn what Goethe meant when he wrote in the first outburst of enthusi 
asm: “At last I stand in this capital of the world l” 
To attempt to give even an outline of a work that is by its nature 
* ‘ Goethe. Vorlesungen gehalten an der kgl. Universität zu Berlin. Von Hermann 
Grimm.’ Berlin: Hertz ^ New York: L, W. Schmidt. 1877. 
concise and condensed, would be necessarily fruitless. Those who are at 
all familiar, with Goethe’s life know already what a complexity of ele 
ments it embraced, what a wealth of associations it embodies, what an 
array of names, talents, and achievements it suggests. Grimm has pru 
dently refrained from characterizing every one whom circumstances 
placed in close contact with Goethe. He has discarded the accidental 
and unessential, and concentrated himself upon the “determining ” charac 
ters and events. Hence the carefulness with which he treats of Herder and 
Spinoza, Karl Axxgust and Frau von Stein. On the other hand, he is the 
first, to our knowledge, to assert unqualifiedly the fact that Goethe, after 
his return from Italy, was a “ made ” man—that is, a man whose character 
was incapable of being further moulded by others. Prior to the Italian 
journey, Goethe had had more than one friend to whom he gave himself 
up unreservedly, with all his emotions, his intellect, his joys and doubts 
and aspirations. Friendship was to him in those days a blending of man 
with man, as marriage is a blending of man and wife. But from 1788 to 
his death, Goethe had no friend in this sense—no one whom he took into 
his entire confidence, no one to whom he vouchsafed more than a partial 
glance into his inner being. His world-renowned intercourse with 
Schiller, apparently a striking exception, is in reality none at all, aecord- 
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