Full text: Zeitungsausschnitte über Werke von Herman Grimm: Goethe

© Hessisches Staatsarchiv Marburg, Best. 340 Grimm Nr. Z 38 
Psychological Biography of the 
Great German Writer. 
His Position as the Lcadei' 
of ISiiropesm Tlaowgilat. 
I« 1845, when Goethe had been 13 years in 
flis grave, there was no biography of the great 
German in existence, nothing more than his 
piece of autobiographical 'writing entitled 
“Poetry ana Truth from My Life.” The late 
George Ilcury Lewes was his first biographer. 
His “Life and Works of Goethe,” began in 
1845, was completed 10 years later, and was 
and is the chief English source of oar knowl 
edge of the intellectual prince of Weimar. It 
is badly put together, a sort of hodge-podge, 
accurate in facts, but eccentric in ihcir inter 
pretation, singularly wanting in that clear 
intelligence and insight which were first mani 
fest in Carlyle’s early German studies, and has 
been manifest also in Emerson’s and Arnold’s 
essays on Goethe. But within the last 20 years 
it seems as if the literature concerning Goethe 
grew apace, not only the correct publication 
of his works, hut their critical interpretation, 
the accumulation of facts about them, the 
study of German literature through them, tlic 
gradual looking at his chief writings as wo 
look at the “Iliad” of ilomer, the "Divine 
Comedy” of Dante, or the plays of Shake 
speare. It is now generally conceded that, out 
of all this mass of interpretative writing, the 
best work is Herman Grimm’s “Life and Times 
of Goethe,” which has air ady taken the rank 
in German biography long ago taken by 
Deau Stanley’s “Life and Correspondence 
of Dr. Arnold” in English literature, 
and which, in the translation made 
by Sarah Holland Adams, a sister of Mrs. 
James T. Fields, now residing in Germany, 
and at this moment published by Little, 
Brown & Co. in a handsome octavo volume, 
accompanied by an excellent engraving oE 
Goethe in his 79th year, is likely to be widely 
popular as the best critical biography, of the 
chief figure in German literature since Lu 
ther’s time, that lias yet been or will be 
written. No epitome of a work like this, in 
Which the author seeks to interpret without 
reserve the entire personality of Goethe as a 
man, is possible. It is the first tune that a 
German has done for his great countryman 
what Carlyle did for him 
It is the first successful attempt to treat 
Goethe’s life as a whole, and show its psy 
chological uo less than its intellectual conii- 
auity. Prof. Grimm is, of course, an apologist, 
but his apology is based upon a correct under 
standing of his hero. A translation of this 
work has been urgently needed. The lectures 
have been published in Germany for two or 
three years; it was with reference to their com 
mendation by Prof, Edward Dowden at Dub 
lin last winter, especially -his explanation oi' 
Goethe’s love experiences, that a social storm 
was created among tno literary people 
of tliat provincial city; and it is bv 
no means certain that the entire 
American public will receive the 
work without a moral protest, not 
at anything indelicate in the text, but at Prof. 
Grimm’s reasons for excusing Goethe’s con 
duct toward the women who charmed His 
imaginations. The author’s reasons concern 
the ability of one person to exhaust the sym 
pathy and intelligence of anolher, which is 
the basis of all friendship, and Goethe’s 
»Uiances with the ether sox are explained 
upon this ground. Goellio was an exceptional 
man. As Jung Stilling s.ud of him, his heart, 
which few knew, was as great as his intellect, 
which all knew. It is hazarding nothing to 
say that whoever reads this biography care 
fully through will receive not only a liberal 
edneation, but such an insight into the great 
forces which go to the making of literature 
that ho will fool as if he had entered into a 
new world. It will bo well, if no-sible, to 
read, at the same time. Mr. Lewes 7 work, but 
Extracts From the “Life and 
Times of Goethe.” 
Prof. Grimm understands his hero vastly bet 
ter. ilo has the lino spiritual insight and 
temper which in Mr. Lewes is almost wholly 
wanting, and his style abounds in intellectim! 
sympathy and feeling. He has done for 
Goethe’s memory, now that he is dead, what 
Schiller did for the larger development of 
Goethe s genius when they both dwelt in 
Weimar, and the lesser loved the greater with 
out being absorbed hv him. The best service 
we can do the book and our readers, however 
is to let the author speak for himself on vital 
points, but, before this is done, 
for saying that “uo author, with whose writings 
1 have lately become acquainted, had had such 
influence upon me as Emerson. The manner 
of writing of tiiis man, whom I hold to bo the 
greatest of all living authors, has revealed to 
me a new way of expressing thought. Al 
though 1 grew up in the study of Goethe, and 
had had much intercourse with those who 
have known him personally, 1 am indebted to 
Emerson for the historical view ot Goellio, 
which taught me to regard him as the great 
phenomenon in the universal development of 
mankind. In this sense I have sought to 
represent him in these lectures.” 
Goethe worked in the intellectual life of 
Germany as some great physical phenomenon 
works in the realm of nature. Next after 
Luther lie created the German language and 
literature. A\ hen he began to write, 
Prof. Grimm, “tlie German language was as 
limited in its general iniluonoc as the German 
national interest in our politics. The nation 
existed, had a silent consciousness of its 
worth, and a presentiment of its future course; 
but tliat was all. Among the criticisms which 
Goethe wrote in the beginning of his literary 
career, he speaks of the meaning of 
patriotism, and asks how one could demand of 
us such a feeling as inspired the Homans, 
who fell themselves to bo citizens of 
a world embracing empire. Any influence 
beyond our own borders seemed tons impos 
sible. The English, Fronch and Italian critics 
noticed German literary productions only so 
far as our authors (by way of addition to for 
eign literature) allowed their works to appear 
as a part of the same. Frederic the Great, if. 
perchance, lie bad the honor tb he named at 
all, was counted in Paris among French au 
thors, and regarded himself as such. At 
tempts had often been made before Goethe so 
far to perfect the German language that ex 
pression might be found in it for the finer 
shades of thought; but beyond a personal 
circle these efforts were unsuccessful, lvlop- 
stock, Lessing and Wmekelmann, while they 
railed themselves of the 
and of French and Italian, sought to create 
their own German; but all without radical 
effect. Herder had been more successful in 
giving higher qualities to German prose than 
any other writer, save Goethe. Herder 
assisted Goethe more than any one in pro 
ducing a true living German language, which 
later authors have becu taught by him to 
write. This Goethe did by collecting together 
and turning to advantage the work of all those 
who had preceded him. Goethe would ascribe 
this service to Wieland, but he lias himself in 
reality oast all other attempts into the shade. 
It was Goethe’s verses which made Schiller’s 
flow; and he lent to Schlegel the fullness 
whereby he convened Shakespeare almost 
into a Gorman poet. Goethe’s prose has be 
come, by degrees, in all departments of intel 
lectual life, 1 he standard form of expression. 
Through Schelling it lias penetrated into 
philosophy; through Savignv into iurispru- 
dence; through Alexander von Humboldt 
into natural science; and through Wilhelm 
you Humboldt into philology. We are even 
indebted to Goethe for our present style of 
letter writing.” 
Very sharp and just is the contrast between 
his work and Voltaire’s: “No poet or thinker 
lince the time of Luther has worked in so 
many' different directions at once, and 
permeated with his influence four successive 
generations, as Goethe has done. How wholly 
unlike was Voltaire's work in France. So far 
as quantity is concerned, Voltaire embraced 
far more; ‘ certainly ho worked more inten 
sively than Goethe' Also, during iiis life, ins 
writings penetrated more instantaneously, 
deeply and widely among the people. But he 
Was not so unresistingly believed in; ho did 
not stand upon llio same moral height with 
Again. Goethe never tried to create a party 
for a momentary aim; he always granted Ill’s 
rivals full scope; his immortal weapons were 
too precious ’ to be used against mortals. 
Goethe worked quietly and imperceptibly, 
like Nature herself. Wo see him everywhere 
recognized, without envy, as a man raised 
above men. ‘An Olympian enthroned over 
Hie world,’ Jean Faul calls him; to whom no 
one could give anything, who was enough to 
himself. Goellio stands lifted above love and 
aversion. The few who have acknowledged 
themselves his enemies appear from the out 
set to have much trouble m maintaining their 
stand-point, while today they seem utterly in 
comprehensible. And, even as regards these, 
It was good fortune for any one to have been 
in relation with Goellio; and it was impossible 
to Ignore him.” To understand the author of 
“Faust.” and measure bis work, early 
and late, another extract is demanded: 
“Goethe had a twofold life measured out to 
“him, whose latter half, indeed, proved most 
important to the full completion of that which 
be had begun in the earlier part. He was al 
lowed to enter into the enjoyment of a secure 
and undisturbed inheritance of the conquests 
of his youth, as if he were his own heir and 
successor to the throne. To how few lias 
been granted this privilege! The latter Half of 
the lives of Lessing and Herder were blighted. 
Schiller began gradually to die just us he was 
beginning really to live; just as tic had begun 
to unfold bis canacities, and freely to make 
the most of his creative power. We 
Whose career was interrupted before their 40th 
rear, although they seemed to possess a vigor 
which should not have been exhausted in 
double that number of years. It is curious to 
reflect with what doubtful aspects Goethe 
himself entered on the second portion of his 
life. He scorned to be intellectually ex 
hausted. We gather from many observations 
made at the close of the last century and the 
beginning of this, that his friends in Wiemar 
and ids admirers all over Germany had re- 
signed themselves to the idea that 
J he had passed his prime. * ■* * 
But Goethe soars again! ‘Faust’ 
appears. With this poem, in the new cen 
tury, Goethe thrills all Germany as if for the 
first time. No one had expected anything so 
great. Once more lie carries the young a way 
with him, while' their elders return to their 
allegiance. Not until this time had he taken 
complete possession of Germany. There had 
always been rneu among us who had not felt 
drawn to lain. Baron von Stein until now 
had never read any of Goethe's works, and 
now first makes his acquaintance. Goethe’s 
influence manifests itself in quite a different 
way from what it had done earlier. On all 
sides he gains the ascendency. It now seems 
as if lie only needed to stretch out his hand to 
make ins power felt.” 
Goethe owed everything to his mother. “To 
his mother,” says our author, “he ascribes his 
buoyant nature arid his love of story-tolling. 
And, indeed, this was just what distinguished 
tiie ‘Frau Hath.’ The mother had in her the 
material to make a historic personago. 
Goethe's father can be set aside; we do not 
need him to understand Goethe. But his 
mother is inseparable from him; she forms a 
part of his being. 
she divined him. All that Goethe gloriously 
fulfilled corresponded but to a part of the 
still greater expectations which this woman 
cherished. * * * Her constitution was like 
iron. She did what she had to do at once in a 
fresh, ready way, and swallowed the devil 
without stopping to look at him. * * * She 
was large and stately, and wore imposing 
head-dresses; and she had always a circle of 
young girls about her, who followed tier with 
enthusiastic love. In the theatre she sat in 
her owh box, and applauded as if site had a 
special commission from Goethe. From there 
stic presented her little grandchildren to the 
public. Siic lias been described most beauti 
fully and truly, quite in tiie spirit of ‘Dich 
tung und Wahrheit,’ by Bettina. There are 
many letters from her—natural, graphic, true 
grandmother’s letters, with no dead word in 
them." Next to his mother, in his early develop 
ment, came Herder. When "Herder and 
Goot ho first met in Strasburg, it soon became 
Goethe’s highest wish merely to revolve 
around Herder as Ins planot.” This was after 
ward changed, and it is now Herder’s chief 
title to fame that lie prepared the way for 
Goethe, and was one of his earliest teachers. 
Goethe, like all men of genius, speaks through 
the characters in his earlier drnmaiic arid 
fictitious works. Herder was ids severest 
critic when Getz was produced, and at ins 
instance the drama was entirely rewritten. It 
was after it had been rewritten that Herder 
granted to Goellio equality, if not supe 
riority, to litmself. “When lie undertook 
Gdtz,' lus sister, trie Flachsland, Merck, 
Herder and a few others formed his 
whole public; when the work came out this 
circlo was extended in manv directions. Tiie 
personal feeling which Goethe hoped to 
assuage by this task had long been outgrown, 
out of which a new poem arose in his soul, 
whoso success was destined far to exceed tliat 
ot ‘Gütz.’ ” The next work which engaged 
his attention was the “Sorrows ot Werther,” 
an idyl which grew out of his personal ex 
perience, and illustrates his power over the 
women who wore from time to time attracted 
to him. J’rof. Grimm treads on very delicate 
ground when lie ventures to excuse Goethe’s 
amours on tiie ground that a poet is entitled to 
freedom which cannot begiven to the ordinary 
man, but his plea for his hero is at least 
entitled to a hearing, and he has evidently 
given an unvarnished story of the facts. “In 
■Werther’ is first revealed his homage to 
nature in all her different aspects, 
which was truly among Goethe’s in. 
tuitions, but which had never found 
expression until he began to write 'Werther. ’ 
There has never lived a greater literary land 
scape painter than Goethe. * * * His

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