History of Literature

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix and Harry Clarke

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe "Faust" illustration by Eugene Delacroix


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at age 69, by Joseph Karl Stieler.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Aug. 28, 1749, Frankfurt am Main [Germany]
died March 22, 1832, Weimar, Saxe-Weimar

German poet, novelist, playwright, andnatural philospoher, the greatest figure of the German Romantic period and of German literature as a whole.

One of the giants of world literature, Goethe was perhaps the last European to attempt the mastery and many-sidedness of the great Renaissance personalities: critic, journalist, painter, theatre manager, statesman, educationalist, natural philosopher. The bulk and diversity of his output is in itself phenomenal: his writings on science alone fill about 14 volumes. In the lyric vein he displayeda command of a unique variety of theme and style; in fiction he ranged from fairy tales, which have proved a quarry for psychoanalysts, through the poetic concentration of his shorter novels and Novellen (novellas) to the “open,” symbolic form of Wilhelm Meister; in the theatre, from historical, political, or psychological plays in prose through blank-verse drama to his Faust , one of the masterpieces of modern literature. He achieved in his 82 years a wisdom often termed Olympian, even inhuman; yet almost to the end he retained a willingness to let himself be shaken to his foundations by love or sorrow. He disciplined himself to a routine that might armour him against chaos; yet he never lost the power of producing magical short lyrics in which the mystery of living,loving, and thinking was distilled into sheer transparency.

And at the last there was granted him a gift, uncanny even to himself, of tapping at will the springs of creativity in order to complete the work he had carried with him for 60 years. When, a few months before his death, he sealed his Faust, he bequeathed it with ironic resignation to the critics of posterity to discover its imperfections. Its final couplet, “Das Ewig-Weibliche/Zieht uns hinan” (“Eternal Womanhead/Leads us on high”), epitomizes his own feeling about the central polarity of human existence: woman was to him at once man's energizer and his civilizer, source of creative life and focus of the highest endeavours of both mind and spirit.

There was in Goethe a natural, if not always painless, swing between poles of existence often thought to be mutually exclusive and an innate commitment to change and process.And, in the last letter he was to write, he rounded off what has sometimes been called his greatest work, his life, by setting the seal of his approval on a mode of growth that sees the art of living as the intensification of inborn talents through a judicious surrender to the natural rhythm of opposing tendencies.

Early life and influences

Goethe came of middle-class stock, the Bürgertum that he never ceased to praise as a breeding ground of the finest culture. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, was of north German extraction. A retired lawyer, he was able to lead a life of cultured leisure, travelling in Italy and amassing a well-stocked library and picture gallery in his handsomely furnished house. Goethe's mother, Katharine Elisabeth Textor, was the daughter of a Bürgermeister (mayor) of Frankfurt; she opened up to her son valued connections with the patriciate of the free city. Thus even in his heredity Goethe unites those opposing tendencies that have always prevailed in German lands: the intellectual and moral rigour of the north and the easygoing artistic sensuousness of the south. Of eight children, only Wolfgang, the firstborn, and his sister, Cornelia, survived.

In his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (“Poetry and Truth”), Goethe left an unforgettable picture of a happy childhood. Here are set out with acute psychological insight the emotional complexities of his bond with Cornelia, which found expression in numerous portrayals of the brother–sister relationship in his works; his passionate attachment to a barmaid, Gretchen, which foreshadowed the rejection pattern of many of his loves; the broadening of outlook that came with French occupation during the Seven Years' War; the coronation of Joseph II in the Frankfurt Römer, with its indelible impressions of medieval pageantry;and the fervent religiosity of Pietistic circles, which led him to declaim F.G. Klopstock's Messias (“Messiah”) as a kind of Lenten exercise, to write a prose epic on Joseph and a poem on Christ's descent into hell. The French army had brought itsown troupe of actors, and their performances intensified a passion for the stage, first kindled in him by his grandmother's gift of a puppet theatre, and inspired a lifelong devotion to Racine. A love of things English was fostered by friendship with a young clothier from Leeds (Goethe's paternal grandfather was a fashionable tailor) with whom Cornelia, seeing herself as the heroine of a Richardsonian novel, fell hopelessly in love. Wolfgang's reaction was the inception of a novel in letters, a kind of linguistic exercise in which four brothers correspond in different languages.

In October 1765 Goethe was sent to study law at his father'sold University of Leipzig, though he himself would have preferred to read classics in the newly founded university at Göttingen, where English influence prevailed. In Leipzig, or “little Paris” as he calls it in Faust, by contrast, a world of elegance and fashion made the young provincial feel like a fish out of water. The Frenchifying influence of the critic J.C. Gottsched still dominated the theatre and provided a repertory of the best plays of contemporary Europe. But C.F. Gellert, poet and author of fables and hymns, now in the heyday of his fame, presented the new sensibility of Edward Young, Laurence Sterne, and Samuel Richardson. Goethe praised Gellert's lectures as “the foundation of German moral culture” and learned from them invaluable lessons in epistolary style and in social conduct. Gellert's literary influence was reinforced by the robust elegance and ironic sagacity of the novels, tales, and epics of C.M. Wieland. Wieland's work was brought to Goethe's notice by A.F. Oeser, a friend and teacher of the archaeologist and art historian J.J. Winckelmann, who profoundly influenced European fashions in art. From Oeser, Goethe learned a loveof Greek art and two things that stood him in good stead all his life: to use his eyes and to master the craft of whatever he undertook. A visit to Dresden, “the Florence of the north,” as the poet and critic J.G. Herder called it, opened his eyes to the splendours of Rococo architecture as well as classical statuary. Nor was music neglected in his education; a new 18th-century concert society, under the direction of the musician and composer J.A. Hiller, provided splendid performances, which became world famous as the Gewandhaus concerts.

The literary harvest of Goethe's Leipzig period manifested itself in a songbook written in the prevailing Rococo mode—songs praising love and wine in the manner of the Greek poet Anacreon. Appropriately titled Das Leipziger Liederbuch (The Leipzig Song Book), it was ostensibly inspired by the daughter of the wine merchant at whose tavern he took his midday meal. But neither his 1766–67 poems Das Buch Annette (“The Book Annette”; as he called her in Rococo fashion) nor the Neue Lieder (“New Songs”) of 1769 made any pretense of real passion. Yet it was in connection with these literary trifles that he subsequently made the famous and much abused statement that all his works were “fragments of a great confession.” The same note is struck in two plays written in alexandrine verse (a 12-syllable iambic line borrowed from the French), Die Launedes Verliebten (“The Mood of the Beloved”) and a more sombre farce, Die Mitschuldigen (“The Accomplices”), which foreshadows the psychological preoccupations of later works. From then on, Rococo was one element in Goethe's repertoire, to be drawn on as occasion demanded. It was to reappear in the setting of Torquato Tasso and Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elected Affinities); he was to pay tribute to its charm in Anakreons Grab (“Anacreon's Grave”; 1806) and amalgamate it with Eastern influence in enchanting poems of the West-östlicher Divan (“Divan of East and West”).

Works of the storm and stress period

Goethe's stay in Leipzig was cut short by severe illness, andby the autumn of 1768 he was back home. A long convalescence fostered introspection and religious mysticism. He played with alchemy, astrology, and occult philosophy, all of which left their mark on Faust. On his recovery it was decided that he should pursue legal studies in Strassburg as a first stage on the way to Paris and the Grand Tour (never actually completed). His stay there proved a turning point for his whole life and work. In this German capital of a French province, he experienced a reaction against the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Leipzig and under the impact of the great cathedral proclaimed his conversion to the Gothic German ideal. More decisive still was the influence of J.G. Herder, who spent the winter of 1770–71 there undergoing treatment for his eyes. From him Goethe learned the role played by touch, the haptic sense, in the growth of the mind; a new view of the artist as a creator fashioning forms expressive of feeling; a new theoryof poetry as the original and most vital language of man; the virtues of a new style, that of the Volkslied (folk song) and the poetry of “primitive” peoples as enshrined in the Bible, the epics of Homer, and the poems attributed (falsely) to Ossian, a 3rd-century Celtic poet. It is this new sense of felt immediacy, and of the plasticity of his linguistic medium, that informs the lyrics Goethe wrote to one of his early loves, Friederike Brion, the pastor's daughter of Sesenheim. They mark the beginning of a new epoch in the German lyric. Such poems as “Mailied” (“May Song”) and “Willkommen und Abschied” (“Welcome and Farewell”) are still the most popular, though not the greatest, of his Lieder. The latter, especially in its revised form of 1790, touchingly expresses the guilt he felt that this time he himself had the role of deserter and rejecter, and the whole idyll as recounted in Dichtung und Wahrheit reveals that cross-fertilization of life and literature that he increasingly saw as a potent factor in human development.

If, as Herder maintained, energy was one of the marks of poetry, it was clearly in the passions acted out on the stage that it could find its most vital expression. And where more vital than in the colossal figures of the “Gothic Shakespeare”? In writing the Geschichte Gottfriedens von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand dramatisiert (1771; “TheDramatized History of Gottfried von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand”), Goethe was deliberately vying with Shakespeare. For the real Götz, who died two years before Shakespeare was born, was near enough in time to represent that bustling spacious 16th century, the animal vitality of which contrasted so forcibly with the straitlaced affectations of Goethe's own day. With the publication in 1773 of Götz von Berlichingen , a radically tautened version of that “History,” the Shakespeare cult was launched, and the Sturm und Drang(storm and stress) movement was provided with its first major work of genius. The manifesto of the movement, heralded by Goethe's enthusiastic Rede zum Schakespears Tag (“Conversation from Shakespeare's Day”), had appeared after Goethe's return to Frankfurt in August 1771. “Von deutscher Art und Kunst” (“Concerning German Natureand Art”), as it was called, contained a defense of German nationality by the historian J.M. Möser, two essays by Herder championing Ossian and Shakespeare, and a rhapsody on Gothic architecture by Goethe.

Though ostensibly in practice as a lawyer, the young poet now found himself caught up in a whirl of literary and social duties—helping to edit the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen (“Frankfurt Scholarly Reviews”), for instance—and it was to break loose from this that he left for Wetzlar, seat of the supreme court of the Empire. But again literature won the day over law, and an impassioned yet self-ironic ode in free verse, “Wandrers Sturmlied” (“Wanderer's Storm Song”), is testimony both to a recently inspired admiration for Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece, and to a hesitant certainty that he himself might be destined for greatness. And in Wetzlar he experienced a new passion, this time for a girl safely out of reach from the start, Charlotte Buff. Her betrothed, Johann Christian Kestner, showed great understanding until, as it seemed to him, he found the affair exposed to public gaze in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther; 1774).

But much besides the Wetzlar experience had gone into the making of this novel: Herder's scathing comments on his young pupil's lack of formal- and self-mastery; the recent indictment by G.E. Lessing of the Neoplatonic doctrine of artistic creation in Emilia Galotti; a passing attraction to Maximiliane, the daughter of the German novelist Sophie von La Roche, who probably endowed his heroine with her black eyes. And it was only when Kestner reported the suicide of a Wetzlar acquaintance who had killed himself out of hopeless love that all this was precipitated into a plot. If Werther took the world by storm it was because, in Thomas Carlyle's words, it gave expression to “the nameless unrest and longing discontent which was then agitating every bosom.” But this first novel is no sentimental tearjerker. Nor is disappointed love its real theme. It is rather what the 18th century called Enthusiasm: the fatal effects of a predilectionfor absolutes, whether in love, art, society, or the realm of thought. The mind that conceived its symmetry, wove its intricate linguistic patterns, and handled the subtle differentiation of hero and narrator was moved by a formal as well as a personal passion. Even the title has been trivialized in translation: Sorrows (instead of “Sufferings”) obscures the allusion to the Passion of Christ and individualizes what Goethe himself thought of as a “general confession,” in a tradition going back to St. Augustine.

Besides Werther and Götz, the period 1771–75 saw the appearance of a number of magnificent hymns—lyrical or dramatic, according to whether the influence of Pindar or Shakespeare prevailed—“Cäsar,” “Mahomets Gesang” (“Mahomet's Singing”), “Der Ewige Jude” (“The Eternal Jew”), “Prometheus,” “Sokrates,” “Satyros,” “Der Wandrer” (“The Wanderer”); the inception of Egmont and Faust (this so-called Urfaust, or “original” version of Faust, was discovered by a lucky chance in 1887); the completion of Clavigo , a play of more “regular” form on a theme of the French playwright Beaumarchais, and of Stella (1775), with its conciliatory ending of a mariage à trois, subsequently conventionalized into tragedy. Two operettas, Erwin und Elmire and Claudine von Villa Bella, reflect a return to the elegance of Rococo inspired by Goethe's betrothal to Lili Schönemann, daughter of a rich banker, who moved in fashionable circles that were soon to prove unbearably restrictive to the young Stürmer und Dränger. From the conflicts of this love he took refuge, as so often, in nature; and in a poem written on the lake of Zürich, “Auf dem See” (“On the Lake”), created the first of those many short lyrics in which language of radiant simplicity is made the vehicle of inexhaustible significance. With his departure for Weimar in November 1775, the engagement was allowed to lapse.

The mature years at Weimar

Going to Weimar was the major turning point of Goethe's life. He went on a visit to the reigning duke, Charles Augustus. It remained his home—despite Napoleon's invitation to Paris—until his death there on March 22, 1832. From now on, mastery of life became his chief concern; and Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship ; 1824), the title he eventually gave his next novel (1795–96), suggests the long apprenticeship such mastery involves. He served his own in the innumerable and ever increasing official duties the young duke heaped on his willing shoulders until, as indispensable minister of the little state, he was inspecting mines, superintending irrigation schemes, and even organizing the issue of uniforms to its tiny army.

He served his apprenticeship, too, in his passionate devotionto the wife of a court official, Charlotte von Stein. For the first time he found himself in love with a woman who could also meet him on the intellectual plane. From the 1,500 or so letters he wrote her we can see her become the guiding principle of his life, teaching him the graces of society, dominating the details of his daily existence, engaging his imagination and desire, yet insisting on a relation governed by decorum and conventional virtue. She would be his sister and nothing more, and the sublimation she increasingly enforced on him, though irksome, could inspire the almost psychoanalytical probings of “Warum gabst du uns die tiefen Blicke?” (“Why did you give us the deep glances?”), the tortures of Orestes and their assuagement by Iphigenie, the delicate one-act play, Die Geschwister (“Brother and Sister”; 1776), and such well-loved lyrics as “An den Mond” (“To the Moon”), “Der Becher” (“The Cup”), “Jägers Abendlied” (“Hunter's Evening Song”), “Seefahrt” (“Sea Journey”), and the two exquisite “Wandrers Nachtlieder” (“Wanderer's Night Songs”).

In these and other poems of this period—“Grenzen der Menschheit” (“Limits of Mankind”), “Gesang der Geister über den Wassern” (“Singing of the Spirits over the Water”), “Das Göttliche” (“The Divine”), “Harzreise im Winter” (“Journey in the Harz Mountains in Winter”), “Ilmenau”—nature has ceased to be a mere reflection of man's moods and has become something existing in its own right, a setting for an idea or a force indifferent, even hostile to him. This new “objectivity” is in tune with Goethe's growing scientific preoccupations. Yet such is his versatility that he could, when he chose, revert to the temper of “Der König in Thule” (“The King in Thule”; written in 1774) and compose ballads such as “Erlkönig” (“King of the Elves”) or “Der Fischer” (“The Fisherman”), in which nature bears the projection of unconscious forces; while a number of Singspiele, or musical plays, betoken his readiness and ability to provide light entertainment for the court. Der Triumph der Empfindsamkeit (“The Triumph of Sensibility”) even satirizes the sensibility his own Werther had helped to foster.

But neither the cares of state nor those of a frustrating love affair were conducive to the peace and leisure required to complete works of such magnitude as Egmont, Faust, Tasso, and Iphigenie (a prose version of this last was sufficiently advanced to be put on before the court in 1779 with Goethe himself in the role of Orestes). And in September 1786, in dramatic secrecy and with the haste of one pursued, he set out on his long-postponed Italian journey. This flight was at once a death and a rebirth. And it was in these terms that he wrote of it in his letters. He sought the renewal of himself, both as man and artist, and so deliberately cut himself off from his emotional, literary, and cultural past, scorning the “Gothic follies” he had once acclaimed, rejecting Juliet's tomb in Verona in favour of the Greek steles in the museum, finding delight in Palladio's churches rather than in San Marco or the doge's palace, devoting barely three hours to Florence, and ignoring completely the medieval glories of Assisi for the sake of its temple of Minerva, feverishly bent on arriving in Rome, “capital of the ancient world,” but seeing even that as a prelude to Magna Graecia, to the temples of Paestum, and the revelation of classical grandeurin Sicily, “key to the whole,” a prelude to the world of Homer, which he recaptured in a glorious dramatic fragment, Nausikaa (1787). And just as he sought and found the Urmensch, or archetypal man, in the forms of Greek antiquity, so in these landscapes there came to his mind the extension of this idea to plants as well. In his literary work these pursuits led to the creation of beings who are individual manifestations but of a clearly discernible type; tothemes that are universal and timeless but treated in a highly differentiated way; to the measured cadences of verse that are yet vibrant with personal passion.

This new conception of form is apparent in the revision of the four plays he had taken with him to Italy. Faust, Ein Fragment (“Faust, a Fragment”), published in 1790, is quite clearly, by its excisions as well as its additions, a step in the direction of the stupendous cultural symbol the play would eventually become rather than any attempt to weld into dramatic unity the sharply individualized episodes of the original version, the Urfaust. Egmont, though not actually cast into verse, is raised to the level of poetic drama not by virtue of its frequent iambic rhythms but by a thickening of the verbal texture, so that when music finally takes over it seems the inevitable culmination of a gradual convergence and sudden contraction of themes rather than the “salto mortale (i.e., somersault) into the world of opera” Schiller was to dub it. By such means, the personal and the political aspects of the problem become completely interfused—Egmont and his beloved Klärchen, the most lovable characters Goethe ever created, are embodiments of an inner freedom that is a heightened form of the easygoing independence of the Netherlands people—and what had started as a dramatic portrayal of a daemonic individual is transformed into a tragedy of the very idea of freedom, of its fate in a world ruled not just by calculation or intrigue but by unpredictable conjunctures of persons and events.

In Torquato Tasso such linguistic density is carried to lengths possible only in verse. Goethe spoke of having expended a positively “unlawful care” on it. But this is not inappropriate to a play about a poet, an artist whose mediumis the ordinary vehicle of communication between men. The tragic conflict here arises from misunderstandings about the various modes of language, and the temperamental clashes are presented as concomitants of this rather than as the prime focus of interest (though there is enough psychology to justify the description by the French writer Mme de Staël of Goethe as “le Racine de l'Allemagne”). The slightness of the outward action in Torquato Tasso has been much criticized, but it can be justified in a study of the “poetical character” per se—a creature for whom “any little vexation grows in five minutes into a theme for Sophocles.” By placing him in a society that, far from being indifferent or hostile, cherishes him and values his work, Goethe has thrown into sharpest relief the incurable “discrepancy” between poet and world, and this rift is not healed by Tasso'sdiscovery that even the extremes of anguish can be transmuted into imperishable verse.

But it was perhaps Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787) that benefitted most from his encounter with classical antiquity. And yet Schiller was right in calling it “astonishingly modern and un-Greek.” Like Tasso, it too treats of the problems of communication: of the unforeseeable power of words once they are released into the world; of the double face of language, which conceals as much as it reveals; of truth, whose opposite is not just an outright lie but the withholding of self. But it treats, too, of man's power to free himself from his myths by recognizing them as projections of his own unconscious, of his power to break the chain of events that seems to determine his present (symbolized in the monotonously regular crime sequence of the race of Tantalus) by a reorientation of outlook. The conciliatory ending, which Euripides contrived by the sudden appearanceof the goddess Athena, here comes with the apparent suddenness of new insight: the words of the oracle are susceptible to a different interpretation. In its synthesis of Greek and Christian values, its elevation of the physical to the spiritual through the identification of Iphigenie with the divine sister, Diana, this play represents the highest achievement of 18th-century humanism.

The chief lyrical product of the Italian journey was the Römische Elegien (“Roman Elegies”; written 1788–89). In their plastic beauty and unabashed sensuality, their blending of erotic tenderness with an enhanced sense of our cultural heritage, these pagan, highly civilized poems are unique in any modern language. Had they been written in themetre of Byron's Don Juan, Goethe acknowledged, they might easily have been offensive; but the classical distichs (couplets) lend them that veil of aesthetic distance that reveals even as it shrouds. The true begetter of these elegies was not some passing Roman amour but Christiane Vulpius, daughter of a humble official, whom Goethe had taken into heart and home soon after his return from Italy in April 1788. Christiane bore him several children; but it was not until 1806, when life and property were threatened by the French invasion, that the nonconformist eventually conformed and in grateful recognition of its indissoluble bonds regularized their union in the eyes of society.

His first Italian journey finally brought home to Goethe that,for all his interest and talent, he was not destined to be a painter. Despite diligent practice with his artist friends in Rome, he was never able to master this medium to the point at which it became expressive of his deepest feeling, and with rare exceptions his numerous drawings have no more than the charm of a sensitive amateur. But his abiding preoccupation with the visual arts left an indelible mark on his literary as well as his scientific work and gave added precision to his many critical and aesthetic essays. And it was on this first visit to Italy, too, that he finally reached the decision that he must shed his administrative duties and devote himself henceforth to his true vocation of literature and science.

A return visit to Italy in 1790 brought nothing but disappointment, and a restlessness aggravated by the revolutionary events in the outer world. The Epigramme. Venedig 1790. (“Venetian Epigrams of 1790”) reflect something of this discontent. In 1792 Goethe accompanied his duke on the disastrous campaign into France, was present at the battle of Valmy, and wrote up his experiences in two still very readable war books, Campagne in Frankreich 1792 and Belagerung von Mainz (“Siege of Mainz”). His liberal-conservative attitudes found expression in Reineke Fuchs (“Reynard the Fox”), a recasting of the Low German satire, the Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (“Conversations of German Emigrants”), and three plays. Der Gross-Cophta, Die Aufgeregten (“The Agitated”), and Der Bürgergeneral (“The Citizen General”), which, though artistically unsuccessful, are of interest in being among the few examples of political literature produced by German poets. But it was only as the French Revolution receded that he was able to transmute its overwhelming actuality into timeless poetry. It still forms the background of his Homeric treatment of the refugee problem, Hermann und Dorothea (1797). It fills the whole canvas of Die Natürliche Tochter (“The Natural Daughter”; 1804). Planned as a trilogy but never completed, this was Goethe's final reckoning with the greatest event of his time. Beneath the coolness of its formalperfection there stirs a profound concern with revolutionary phenomena, with the role of death and destruction in the perpetuation of social and cultural, no less than of natural, forms of life.

Schiller and the classical ideal

The human and spiritual isolation in which Goethe found himself on his return from Italy was unexpectedly relieved by the development of a friendship with Schiller. His acceptance of a formal invitation to contribute to a new journal, Die Horen (1795–97; “The Horae”), called forth Schiller's now-famous letter of August 23, 1794, in which, with marvelous insight, he summed up Goethe's whole existence. Here, it seemed to him, was the very embodiment of the naive poet—but consciously naive, moving from feeling to reflection and then transforming reflection back into feeling, concepts of the mind back into percepts of the senses. It was this conscious assent to a mode of thinking different from Schiller's own more abstractive reflection thatmade possible their immensely fruitful partnership, and the four volumes of their daily correspondence offer not only an invaluable commentary on the ideals and achievements of the greatest period of German literature but astonishing insight into the processes of artistic creation. Some of the works Goethe produced during the next few years are embodiments of their classical ideal. Hermann und Dorothea, one of the best loved, is his attempt to “produce a Greece from within.” In it he claimed to have “separated the purely human from the dross.” The characters are types—except forthe hero and heroine, they have no proper names, and even theirs are symbolic—and like those of the Odyssey they vindicate peace and home and the domestic virtues. Yet, as always in Goethe's works, these are shown as never secure for long, as constantly in need of being fostered by man's efforts to be human and humane. In the Helena act of Faust, Part II, in which the meeting and mating of Faust and Helen ofTroy marks the synthesis of paganism and Christianity, of Greece and Germany, he captured the Greek spirit so successfully that competent critics hold that if translated into Attic Greek it might well pass for a lost fragment of the Athenian stage.

A never completed epic, Achilleis, is his last attempt to “be a Greek after his own fashion.” Other works of this period are in tune with Schiller's growing conviction that the only future for literature in a world that increasingly clamoured for the naturalistic and the tendentious lay in a hermetic closing of the poetic world by a frank introduction of symbolic devices. Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung (“Wilhelm Meister'sTheatrical Mission”; a manuscript of this version turned up in1910) is now widened to a vocation for life, a theme dear to the heart of Schiller, who had himself just completed a treatise Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen (1795; “On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters”) and wholly in tune with their joint conviction that art, though not the handmaid of either truth or morality, has nevertheless its own peculiar part to play in making better men and better citizens. Fictional realism is now blended with abstraction; characterization, however psychologically acute, subordinated to an overall poetic significance; and the presence in a novel of contemporary society of such mysteriously compelling figures as the Harper and Mignon seems to justify Goethe's claim that his novel is “thoroughly symbolic.”

It was Schiller, too, who turned his thoughts to the continuation of Faust and discerned the difficulties involved in reconciling this “barbarous composition” with their classical ideal, in blending the evident seriousness of its “idea” with that element of “play” that was the prerequisite of the art of the future. By his insistence on such problems, he inspired the fictional framework of Faust's “Prelude on the Stage” no less than the philosophical framework of the “Prologue in Heaven.” If, in spite of such indications, the world insisted on reading Faust, Part I (1808) as a love story, which stamped its author as a Romantic, it was because at this stage the almost unbearable pathos of the Gretchen tragedy had not yet found its place in the wider tragedy of Western man.

Goethe and Schiller blamed the failure of the journals in which they strove to propagate their ideals of art and literature (Goethe's Propyläen, 1798–1800, was a quasi-successor to Schiller's Horen) on the indifference of anuncultivated public and vented their disappointment in Xenien, approximately 400 mordant distichs in the manner of Martial. A more positive reply to their detractors was a wonderful harvest of ballads. Goethe's own—“Der Schatzgräber” (“The Treasure Digger”), “Die Braut von Korinth” (“The Bride from Corinth”), “Der Zauberlehrling” (“The Sorcerer's Apprentice”)—differ from his earlier ones in that man rather than nature now holds sway. The “white” magic of reflection is consciously, even ironically, introduced. And in the ballad, with its blend of lyric, epic, and dramatic elements, Goethe now discerned the Urei, or archetypal form, of poetry by analogy with the Urpflanze (archetypal plants) he had discovered in the vegetable world.

Goethe's relation to the Romantics

With Schiller's death in 1805, Goethe felt he had lost “the half of his existence,” and he wrote a magnificent tribute to his great friend in Epilog zu Schillers Glocke (“Epilogue to Schiller's Bells”). His intellectual loneliness was eased in some measure by his relations to the new school of Romantics then flourishing in Jena, for they had much in common. Friedrich von Schlegel had begun his career with a book extolling Greek culture and gone on to praise the Orientas the summit of Romantic thought and poetry. His brother Wilhelm's absorption in form and metre was after Goethe's own heart, and he could not be indifferent to their enthusiastic praise of Wilhelm Meister or to Novalis' description of him as “the viceregent of poetry upon earth.” In Bettina Brentano, daughter of his old love, Maximiliane von La Roche, he found an ardent response to both his genius and his humanity, and her Briefwechsel Goethes mit einem Kinde (1835; “Goethe's Correspondence with a Child”) remains one of the most readable books in German literature, whatever doubts may be cast on its reliability. Though Goethe decried the Romantics as “forced talents,” amateurishly oblivious of the virtues of form, though he deplored their catholicizing tendencies, their uncritical addiction to all things medieval, their attempts to blur the literary genres and confuse the boundaries between art and life, he yet remained open to many of their enthusiasms, even letting himself be moved to a renewed interest in Gothic architecture. And in Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809) he drew heavily for his thematic material upon their preoccupation with “the night-side of nature,” with the animal, magnetic affinities that attract human beings to each other, as elements are attracted in the chemical world.

But this novel offers no support at all for a superstitious surrender to forces natural or supernatural, for a subhuman abdication of moral responsibility. Catastrophe follows inexorably upon the arbitrary interpretation of signs and portents; the heroine enters upon a path of renunciation thatbrings her near sainthood; marriage may be presented with ruthless realism as “a synthesis of impossibilities,” but it remains nevertheless “the beginning and end of all civilization.” The Romantics were here taught a lesson of social behaviour—and of artistic form. The narrative is conducted with a serene impartiality, and all the classical values of plasticity, restraint, and symmetry are brought to bear on a subject that is sensational to the point of improbability.

By their translations—Romanticism is translation, Clemens Brentano declared—the Romantics were opening up the literary treasures of the world, and Weltliteratur was to become one of Goethe's most treasured concepts. Its aim was, as he put it, to advance civilization by encouraging mutual understanding and respect—whether through translation or criticism (his own attempts to interpret Serbianpoetry to the Germans is an excellent example of this latter) or through the blending of different literary traditions. Two great ballads, “Der Gott und die Bajadere” (“God and the Dancing Girl”) and “Paria” (“Outcast”), and two exquisite cycles, the late and lesser known Chinesisch-Deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten (“Chinese-German Hours and Seasons”; 1830) and the West-östlicher Divan (1819), are hisown outstanding attempts to marry East with West. This latter is a book of love in all its aspects—tender, playful, sensuous, ironic, wise, and wanton—all of it irradiated by that quality of Geist—of intellect, spirit, wit—which he discerned as “the predominant passion” of Persian poetry. His living muse this time, Marianne, the young wife of his friend von Willemer, was perhaps the most completely satisfying of all his loves, so attuned to him in spirit that she could even take a hand in the creation of some of these poems.

The last decade

But the world vision of the aging poet did not only find expression in a silent communing with the past. In his last years, Goethe found himself a world figure, and little Weimar became a Mecca that drew a constant stream of pilgrims from both the Old World and the New. Reports of his stiffness and reserve in the face of almost daily invasions are far outweighed by the testimony of those to whom he showed warmth, understanding, an insatiable curiosity aboutwhat was going on in the outside world, and an abiding openness to the present and the future. This is nowhere moreapparent than in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821–29; “Wilhelm Meister's Travels”), with its commitment to social and technological progress (what he would most like to see before he died, Goethe once said, was the completion of thePanama and Suez canals), to a type of education better adapted to modern specialization than the old humanistic studies, to a world no longer centred wholly in Europe—a major “complication” of his plot is a resettlement plan for emigrants in the land of the future (“Amerika, du hast es besser!” [“America, you are better off!”]). Wilhelm Meister points the truth that mastery of life is not conferred at the end of the “apprentice years” and henceforth an inalienable possession, but a ceaseless wandering in which the goal turns out to be the way, and the way the goal.

At first sight the subtitle, Die Entsagenden (“The Renunciants”), seems curiously at odds with such purposefulunrest. But renunciation for Goethe implies no passive resignation to the status quo. It is a growing acceptance of the limits imposed by life itself, limits arising from the nature of space and time and from the conflict of interests and potentialities. The apparent formlessness of the novel reflects the duality of its title. It meanders, its narrative interspersed with tales, anecdotes, episodes and maxims, having but the loosest connection with the plot but a formal, if often subterranean, connection with the poetic significance. These interpolations, like the increasingly symbolic characters, display the whole spectrum of human modes of renunciation. The “whole man” is here representednot by any single individual but by a constellation of many, and the informing principle is the spatial one of configuration rather than the temporal one of succession.

Faust, too, is often decried as formless, though the climate ofcriticism is now more propitious to the discovery of its “law.”The array of lyric, epic, dramatic, operatic, and balletic elements, of almost every known metre, from doggerel through terza rima (an Italian form of iambic verse consisting of stanzas of three lines) to six-foot trimeter (a line of verse consisting of three measures), of styles ranging from Greek tragedy through medieval mystery, baroque allegory, Renaissance masque, commedia dell'arte, and the “temerities of the English stage,” to something akin to the modern revue, all suggest a deliberate attempt to make these various forms a vehicle of cultural comment rather than any failure to create a coherent form of his own. And thecontent with which Goethe invests his forms bears this out. He draws on an immense variety of cultural material—theological, mythological, philosophical, political, economic, scientific, aesthetic, musical, literary—for the more realistic Part I no less than for the more symbolic Part II(first published posthumously in 1832): if Faust's wooing of Helena in the “Classic-Romantic Phantasmagoria” (as the first publication of the scene in 1827 called it) is accomplished by teaching her the unfamiliar delights of rhymed verse, his seduction of Gretchen is firmly set in the long tradition of erotic mysticism going back to the Song of Solomon. The Faust myth is here made the medium of a profoundly serious but highly ironic commentary on our cultural heritage, presented not as historical pageant—Faust's “progress” from his 18th- to 16th-century beginnings back through the Middle Ages and classical antiquity to the origins of life, and beyond that to the “Mothers,” timeless source of all forms of being, annuls the historical time sequence—but as a drama of the diverse potentialities that coexist in Western civilization.

This Faust, unlike his creator, is the very type of Western man, with two souls warring within his breast and a restlesslyinquiring spirit. To the 19th century his ceaseless striving seemed a good thing in itself. To a generation shocked into doubts about progress and the value of action, the disastrous consequences of his attempts to experience “the weal and woe of all mankind” (the libido sciendi of Marlowe'sFaustus is here but briefly indulged and as swiftly transcended) loom larger than the quotable “message” of any of the speeches, and his ultimate “salvation” becomes correspondingly suspect. Yet the love that bears his mortal remains to “higher spheres” does not mitigate the ironic defeat of his highest mortal endeavour. If the seal of approval is set on a spirit that has eluded Mephisto's every effort to lull him into sloth, the evil into which it led him is notcondoned. It needs the combined intercession of human wisdom and human suffering, human innocence and human experience, before compassionate verdict is passed on the erring and straying of this soul “in ferment.” Indeed, none of Goethe's conciliatory endings, except that of Iphigenie, really removes the sting of tragedy. Critics have tended to excuse or deplore them by reference to his own konziliante Natur (his “conciliatory nature”). But at least as relevant is his preoccupation with the form of Greek trilogies and tetralogies and his unorthodox interpretation of Aristotle's catharsis as an effect only likely to be produced in the spectator if there is a corresponding element of “reconciliation” in the structure of the play itself. The apotheosis of the hero, whether Faust's, Egmont's, or Ottilie'sin the Wahlverwandtschaften, is always set in a context reminiscent of a theophany and of the ritual origins of tragedy.

Nor can his interest in the cathartic effect of music be ignored. Unlike the German Romantic poet Novalis, for whommusic was “the key to the universe,” Goethe was profoundly aware of its dual nature and as suspicious as Plato of its orgiastic power. As in every art he looked for the taming of the Dionysiac by the Apolline, nowhere more movingly symbolized than by the taming of the lion through the piping of the little child in his Novelle of 1828, a theme he had already discussed with Schiller as far back as 1797. And increasingly he turned to music for assuagement of his own suffering. His Trilogie der Leidenschaft (“Trilogy of Passion”; 1823–27) is at once the lyrical precipitate of an oldman's anguished love for a girl of 18 and a tribute to the cathartic effect of this “heavenly art,” which restores to life even as it soothes. His Zauberflöte, Zweiter Teil is a tribute to his favourite Mozart's Magic Flute: Mozart would, he thought, have been the ideal composer for Faust. And one of the comforts of his later years was an intimate friendship with the composer K.F. Zelter, whose most brilliant pupil, the young Mendelssohn, afforded him hours of musical delight and deepened his musical understanding—though he never succeeded in reconciling him to the daemonic aspects of Beethoven's music.

By common consent, Faust is one of the supreme, if as yet unclassified, achievements of literature. But there were moments when Goethe rated his scientific work higher than all his poetry. His predilection for his Farbenlehre (“Theory of Colour”; 1805–10) has something of the love of a parent for a problem child, and nothing is easier than for the physicist to pick holes in his systematic attempt to prove Newton wrong, or for the psychologist to find the cause of hisstubbornness in his sense of mathematical inadequacy or in his neurotic attachment to the doctrine that light is one and indivisible and never to be explained by any theory of particles. On the other hand, the usefulness of the Psycho-Physiological Section, together with his study Entoptische Farben (“Entoptic Images”), is generally acknowledged, while the Historical Section is something of a pioneer work in the writing of the history of science. His work in botany and biology is less controversial. His Metamorphose der Pflanzen (“Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants”; 1790) is a model of presentation, and the drawings in it are a botanist's delight. His main thesis, that all the parts of the plant are modifications of a type-leaf, has met with a measure of acceptance, though his categorical neglect of the root is regarded as an unscientific exclusion of a possible area of relevance. His hypothesis of atype-plant, by contrast, commands no interest among orthodox botanists today. His discovery in 1784, arrived at independently even if he was not the first to make it, of a recognizable os intermaxillare (the premaxilla of modern anatomists) in the human species was yet another result of his sustained quest for unity and continuity in nature and caused Darwin to hail him as a forerunner.

But what makes for the continuing interest of Goethe's science is not his discoveries: he could not always claim priority for them at the time, nor was he in the least interested in doing so. It is his insight into his methods of arriving at them. Few have been as aware of the mental processes involved in the study of natural phenomena; few have been more alive to the hazards that beset the scientist,at every level, from sheer observation to the construction of a theory; and few have been more conscious of the unwittingtheorizing involved in even the simplest act of perception. And no one has argued more convincingly that the only way of coping with this inescapable involvement of the observer in the phenomena to be observed is to let “knowledge of self” develop with “knowledge of world.”

Such scrupulous awareness of his own mental operations was, of course, of paramount importance in morphology, the science Goethe founded and named. Morphology, as he understood it, was the systematic study of formation and transformation—whether of rocks, clouds, colours, plants, animals, or the cultural phenomena of human society—as these present themselves to sentient experience. He did not propose it as a substitute for the quantitative sciences, which break down forms as we know them and by converting them into mathematical terms ensure a measure of prediction and control. He was not, contrary to common belief, opposed to analysis—one of his favourite maxims was that analysis and synthesis must alternate as naturally as breathing in and breathing out—and his only objection to physics was its increasing tendency to claim monopoly of understanding. What he was aiming at was rather a humanizing supplement, an understanding of nature in all itsqualitative manifestations; and one of his most impassionedpleas is for a concert of all the sciences, a cooperation of all types of method and mind.

This impulse, to find a scientific as well as an aesthetic corrective to the inevitably esoteric tendencies of specialization, is nowhere more apparent than in his two elegies on plant and animal metamorphosis in which he tries to present to imagination and feeling what has been understood by the mind. They eventually took their place in a cycle of philosophical poems entitled Gott und Welt (“God and World”). Though no orthodox believer, Goethe was by no means the pure pagan the 19th-century critics liked to imagine. Spinoza's pantheism certainly struck a sympatheticchord, for the Deist idea of a God who, having created the world, then left it to revolve, was repugnant to him. But he was and remained a grateful heir of the Christian tradition—bibelfest, rooted in the Bible—as his language constantly proclaims. And it was from this centre that he extended sympathetic understanding to all other religions, seeking their common ground without destroying their individual excellences, seeing them as different manifestations of an Ur, or archetypal, religion and thus giving expression, in this field as elsewhere, to the essentially morphological temper of his mind. “Panentheism” has been proposed as a more exact term for his belief in a divinity at once immanent and transcendent, and he rebuked those who tried to confine him to one mode of thought by saying that as poet he was polytheist, as scientist pantheist, and that when, as a moral being, he had need of a personal God, “that too had been taken care of.” This was one of the meanings he attached to the biblical text: “In my father's house are many mansions.”


A day will come, Carlyle predicted in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, when “you will find that this sunny-looking courtly Goethe held veiled in him a Prophetic sorrow deep as Dante's.” And since World War II there have been many attempts to replace the image of the serene optimist by that of the tortured skeptic. The one is as inadequate as the other—as inadequate as T.S. Eliot's conclusion that he was sage rather than poet—though this is perhaps inevitable when a writer is such a master of his own medium that even his prose proves resistant to translation. Even his Werther knew that the realities of existence are rarely to be grasped by Either-Or. And the reality of Goethe himself certainly eludes any such attempt. If he was a skeptic, and he often was, he was a hopeful skeptic. He looked deep into the abyss, but he deliberately emphasized life and light. He livedlife to the full at every level, but never to the detriment of the civilized virtues. He remained closely in touch with the richness of his unconscious mind, but he shed on it the light of reflection without destroying the spontaneity of its processes. He was, as befits a son of the Enlightenment, wholly committed to the adventure of science; but he stood in awe and reverence before the mystery of the universe. Goethe nowhere formulated a system of thought. He was asimpatient of the sterilities of logic chopping as of the inflations of metaphysics, though he acknowledged his indebtedness to many philosophers, including Kant. But here again he was not to be confined. Truth for him lay not in compromise but in the embracing of opposites. And this is expressed in the form of his Maximen (“maxims”), which, together with his Gespräche (“conversations”), contain the sum of his wisdom. As with proverbs, one can always find among them a twin that expresses the complementary opposite. And they have something of the banality of proverbs too. But it is, as André Gide observed, “une banalitésupérieure.” What makes it “superior” is that the thought hasbeen felt and lived and that the formulation betrays this. Andfor all his specialized talents, there was a kind of “superior banality” about Goethe's life. If he himself felt it was “symbolic” and worth presenting as such in a series of autobiographical writings, it was not from arrogance but from a realization that he was an extraordinarily ordinary man in whom ordinary men might see themselves reflected. Not an ascetic, a mystic, a saint, or a recluse, not a Don Juan or a poet's poet but one who to the best of his ability had tried to achieve the highest form of l'homme moyen sensuel—which is perhaps what Napoleon sensed when aftertheir meeting in Erfurt he uttered his famous “Voilà un homme!”

Elizabeth M. Wilkinson


Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1786) by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein.


The Sorrows of Young Werther

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The Sorrows of Young Werther, the novel which first made Goethe internationally famous, tells a story of a young man afflicted by a rather extreme dose of eighteenth-century sensibility: Werther is a case study of over-reliance on emotion, imagination, and close introspection. Our hero is sent to the fictional village of Walheim on family business where he meets and promptly falls in love with Lotte. This attractive young woman, meanwhile, is engaged to another, the rational and rather dull local official Albert. Once established, this triangle places Werther at a complete impasse, and the impossibility of a happy resolution drives him to take his own life. Part of the novel's intrigue has always been its loose relation to actual events: Goethe's relationship with Charlotte Buff, who was engaged to his close friend Kestner, and the love-related suicide of another friend, Karl Jerusalem (who borrowed pistols from an unsuspecting Kestner for the deed). Another element of the novel's success was its effective use of the epistolary form. The narrative unfolds initially through Werther's letters to a single correspondent. When Werther's psychological state deteriorates, a fictive editor steps in, and the last part of the novel is his arrangement of Werther's final scraps and notes. The novel struck a powerful chord in its own time, and its appearance was followed by what can only be called Werther mania: would-be Werthers wore his trademark bluejacket and yellow waistcoat, there was even Werther eau-de-cologne and china depicting scenes from the novel. Legend also has it that there were copy-cat suicides, which alarmed Goethe, since his depiction of Werther was more critical than laudatory. The novel was extensively revised in 1787 for a second version, which has become the basis for most modern editions.



Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Despite Goethe's forbidding stature, this is a delightful novel. Goethe is engagingly worldly and wry, telling a story of intellectual development and education with warmth, in what is often considered the classic example of the bildungsroman.
Initially disillusioned by unrequited love, Wilhelm Meister travels forth on various adventures, and joins a group of itinerant players which affords him apprenticeship in life. Offering a group portrait of the life of theater, much imbued with Shakespeare, the novel celebrates and then undermines the theatrical vocation. The humane realism of the early parts of the novel deepens and modulates into something altogether more unusual once the surfaces of theatricality and social performance are penetrated, and mysterious characters hint at a different kind of literary symbolism and intellectual purpose.Goethe builds a richly ironic account of human self-development across its knowingly flimsy plot structure, somehow combining the ironizing good humor of Fielding's Tom Jones with something more philosophical. Not to be confused with Wilhelm Meister's Travels, this novel is especially recommended reading for deluded thespians and wannabe aesthetes.



Elective Affinities

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The phrase "elective affinities" is both precise and rich with ambiguity. It evokes a condition ripe with emotional and romantic possibilities. When Goethe chose Wahiverwandtschaften as his title, however, it was a technical term used solely in chemistry. That it subsequently came to have the connotations it does— both in German and in English—is in large part due to the power of Goethe's elegantly rigorous novel.
Using both a scientific configuration of desire and the symbolism of nature, Goethe's novel is a complex, yet measured and smoothly impersonal exploration of love. The marriage of Charlotte and Eduard is used to examine the perceptions of morality, fidelity, and self-development inscribed deeply within the concept of love. When this marriage is interrupted and challenged by the advent of the Captain and Ottilie, the state of marriage takes on a pastoral hue, at once idyllic and unreal. Through the reserved courtship between Charlotte and the Captain and the consuming passion forged between Eduard and Ottilie, the novel lingers on the irresistible chaos of desire.
The novel was condemned at first for its immoral thesis that love had a chemical origin. But it is rather a sustained reflection on the complications arising out of human intercourse and demonstrates the ways in which our experience of other people makes our experience of love and desire fluid and unreliable. Just as love cannot be caught and immobilized in marriage, desire cannot rest with one person.




Type of work: Dramatic poem
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Type of plot: Philosophical allegory
Time of plot: Timeless
Locale: The world
First published: 1790-1831


A seminal work in the Romantic Movement, Faust dissects the philosophical problem of human damnation brought about by the desire for knowledge and personal happiness. A basically good man and a man of genius, Faust sells his soul to the Devil in a contract stipulating that only when he finds an experience so great that he wishes it to endure forever can the Devil take his soul. He finally reaches his goal, but the experience is one in which he helps his fellow man. Thus Mephistopheles loses despite his efforts.


Principal Characters

Faust (foust), a perpetual scholar with an insatiable mind and a questing spirit. The middle-aged Faust, in spite of his enthusiasm for a newly discovered source of power in the sign of the macrocosm, finds his intellectual searches unsatisfactory and longs for a life of experiences in the world of man. On the brink of despair and a projected suicide, he makes a wager with the Devil that if he ever lies on his bed of slothfulness or says of any moment in life, "Stay thou art so fair," at that moment will he cease to be. He cannot be lured by the supernatural, the sensual, the disembodied spiritual, but he does weaken in the presence of pure beauty and capitulates to humanitarian action. He displays himself as a sensual man in his deep love for Gretchen (Margarete), only to be goaded to murder by her brother, who sees not selfless love in their actions, but only sin. Faust aspires to the love of Helen of Troy, but he is finally disconsolate when she appears. As an old man he returns to his early vision of being a man among men. working and preparing for a better world to be lived here on earth. His death is not capitulation, though he thinks at this point man can cry "stay," and he has never taken his ease or been tempted by a life of sloth. His death is his victory and his everlasting life is to be lived resourcefully among the creators.
Mephistopheles (mef-rstof's-lez), the Devil incarnate and Lucifer in disguise of dog and man. Portrayed here as a sophisticate, cynic, and wit, he is most persuasive and resourceful. He works magic, manages miracles, creates spirits and situations for Faust's perusal and delectation. His persistence is the more remarkable for the ability of Faust to withstand and refute, though Mephistopheles often expresses resentment. Somehow more attractive than God and the archangels, he powerfully represents the positive force of evil in its many and attractive guises.
Gretchen, sometimes called Margarete, an innocent, beautiful young maiden. A foil for the Devil, Gretchen remarkably personifies womanly love without blemish or fear. She gives herself to Faust, who swears he cannot molest her, with an earthy abandon and remains for a time unearthly innocent in her raptures, until the forces for morality convince her she has sinned deeply and that she must pay first by destroying her child and then by being sacrificed to the state, suffering death for her transgressions. Brooding over her brother's death, she refuses solace from her lover.
Valentin, a soldier and Gretchen's brother, killed by Faust with the aid of Mephistopheles.
Wagner (vag'nsr), Faust's attendant, an unimaginative pedant. Serving as a foil for Faust, Wagner expresses himself in scholarly platitudes and learns only surface things. He aspires not to know all things but to know a few things well, or at least understandably; the unobtainable he leaves to Faust. He serves as the Devil's advocate, however, in the temptation of Faust by helping Mephistopheles create Homunculus.
Homunculus (ho-mung'kyoo-lss), a disembodied spirit of learning. This symbol of man's learning, mind separated from reality, interprets for Mephistopheles, and accurately, what Faust is thinking. The spirit discloses Faust's near obsession with ideal beauty, and thus Faust was given the temptress, Helen of Troy.
Helen of Troy, who appears as a wraith at first and then with form. Representing the classical concept of eternal or ideal beauty, aesthetic, complete, Helen very nearly succeeds where Gretchen failed. She finally seems to Faust only transitory beauty, no matter how mythological and idealized. After this final experience Faust denounces such hypothetical pursuits and returns to deeds.
Dame Mar the Schwerdtlein, Gretchen's neighbor and friend, an unwitting tool in the girl's seduction.


The Story

While three archangels were singing the praise of God's lofty works, Mephistopheles, the Devil, appeared and said that he found conditions on earth to be bad. The Lord tacitly agreed that man had his weaknesses, but He slyly pointed out that His servant Faust could not be swayed from the path of righteousness. Mephistopheles made a wager with the Lord that Faust could be tempted from his faithful service. The Lord knew that He could rely on the righteous integrity of Faust, but that Mephistopheles could lead Faust downward if he were able to lay hold of Faust's soul. Mephistopheles considered Faust a likely victim, for Faust was trying to obtain the unobtainable.
Faust was not satisfied with all the knowledge he had acquired. He realized man's limits, and he saw his own insignificance in the great macrocosm. In this mood, he went for a walk with his servant, Wagner, among people who were not troubled by thoughts of a philosophical nature. In such a refreshing atmosphere, Faust was able to feel free and to think clearly. Faust told Wagner of his two souls, one which clung to earthly things and another which strove toward supersensual things that could never be attained as long as his soul resided within his fleshly body. Feeling so limited in his daily life and desiring to learn the meaning of existence, Faust was ready to accept anything which would take him to a new kind of life.
Mephistopheles recognized that Faust was ready for his attack. In the form of a dog, Mephistopheles followed Faust to his home when the scholar returned to his contemplation of the meaning of life. After studying the Bible, he concluded that man's power should be used to produce something useful. Witnessing Faust's struggle with his ideas, the dog stepped forth in his true identity. But Faust remained unmoved by the arguments of Mephistopheles.
The next time Mephistopheles came, he found Faust much more receptive to his plot. Faust had decided that, although his struggles were divine, he had produced nothing to show for them. Faust was interested in life on this earth. At Mephistopheles' suggestion that he could peacefully enjoy a sensual existence, Faust declared that if ever he could lay himself in sloth and be at peace with himself, or if ever Mephistopheles could so rule him with flattery that he became self-satisfied, then let that be the end of Faust. But Faust had also renounced all things that made life worthwhile to most men. So he further contracted with Mephistopheles that if ever he found experience so profound that he would wish it to endure, then Faust would cease to be. This would be a wager, not the selling of a soul.
After two trials Mephistopheles had failed to tempt Faust with cheap debauchery. The next offering he presented was love for a woman. First Faust was brought to the Witch's Kitchen, where his youth was restored. Then a pure maiden, Gretchen, was presented to Faust, but when he saw her in her own innocent home, he vowed he could not harm her. Mephistopheles wooed the girl with caskets of jewels which she thought came from Faust, and Faust was so tempted that he returned to Gretchen. She surrendered herself to him as a fulfillment of her pure love.
Gretchen's brother convinced her that her act was a shameful one in the eyes of society. Troubled by Gretchen's grief, Faust finally killed her brother. Gretchen at last felt the full burden of her sin. Mephistopheles showed Faust more scenes of debauchery, but Faust's spirit was elevated by the thought of Gretchen and he was able to overcome the evil influence of the devil. Mephistopheles had hoped that Faust would desire the moment of his fulfillment of love to endure. However, Faust knew that enduring human love could not satisfy his craving. He regretted Gretchen's state of misery, and he returned to her; but she had killed her child and would not let her lover save her from the death to which she had been condemned.
Mephistopheles brought Faust to the emperor, who asked Faust to show him the most beautiful male and female who had ever existed—Paris, and Helen of Troy. Faust produced the images of these mythological characters, and at the sight of Helen, his desire to possess her was so strong that he fainted, and Mephistopheles brought him back in a swoon to his own laboratory. Mephistopheles was unable to comprehend Faust's desire for the ideal beauty that Helen represented.
With the help of Wagner, Mephistopheles created a formless spirit of learning, Homunculus, who could see what was going on in Faust's mind. Homunculus, Mephistopheles, and Faust went to Greece, where Mephistopheles borrowed from the fantastic images of classical mythology one of their grotesque forms. With Mephistopheles' intervention, a living Helen was brought to Faust. It seemed now, with the attainment of this supreme joy of beauty in Helen, that Faust would cry for such a moment to linger forever, but he soon realized that the enjoyment of transitory beauty was no more enduring than his other experiences.
With a new knowledge of himself, Faust returned to his native land. Achievement was now his goal, as he reaffirmed his earlier pledge that his power should be used to produce something useful to man. The mystical and magical powers which Faust had once held were banished so that he could stand before nature alone. He obtained a large strip of swamp land and restored it to productivity.
Many years passed. Now old and blind, Faust realized he had created a vast territory of land occupied by people who would always be active in making something useful for themselves. Having participated in this achievement, Faust beheld himself as a man standing among free and active people as one of them. At the moment when he realized what he had created, he cried out for this moment, so fair to him, to linger on. Faust had emerged from a self-centered egoist into a man who saw his actions as a part of a creative society.
He realized that life could be worth living, but in that moment of perception he lost his wager to Mephistopheles. The devil now claimed Faust's soul, but in reality he too had lost the wager. The Almighty was right. Although Faust had made mistakes in his life, he had always remained aware of goodness and truth.
Seeing his own defeat, Mephistopheles attempted to prevent the ascension of Faust's soul to God. Angels appeared to help Faust, however, and he was carried to a place in Heaven where all was active creation—exactly the kind of afterlife that Faust would have chosen.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe "Faust"  Illustrations by Harry Clarke


Critical Evaluation

Faust, Goethe's masterwork, virtually summarizes his entire career, stretching from the passionate storm and stress of his youth through his classical phase in his middle years and ending with his mature philosophical style. Its composition occupied him from the time of his first works in the 1770s until his death in 1832, and each of its various sections reveals new interests and preoccupations, as well as different stylistic approaches. Yet the work as a whole possesses a unity that testifies to the continuing centrality of the Faust subject in Goethe's mind.
The first scenes composed, those of Faust in his study and the Gretchen scenes, embody the spirit of the twenty-three-year-old Goethe, full of university parodies on the one hand and titanic projects on the other, a desire to fathom the depths of knowledge, to pass beyond all limitations, typical of the brilliant young writers of this period. In fact, Faust was originally one of a planned series of dramas about heroic figures who transgress society's rules—Julius Caesar, Prometheus, and Gotz von Ber-lichingen among them.
Goethe stresses the tragedy of the scholar whose emotional life is not fulfilled and who quests after limitless knowledge, only to find himself frustrated by mortal limitations. The scenes with Gretchen provide for an emotional release, but leave Faust with a sense of guilt for the destruction of purity. The theme of the unwed mother was a popular one among young poets of this period, and represented a revolt against traditional bourgeois values, giving occasion for much social criticism. In the Gretchen scenes, Goethe, who as a student himself had romances with simple small-town girls, evokes great sympathy for Gretchen, who acts always out of sincere emotion and desires only the good. His theme of the corruption of all human questing because of the inherent imperfections of man's knowledge and will receives here its first expression, though with no philosophical elaboration. Neither Faust nor Gretchen wills evil, yet evil comes through Mephistopheles, who in his every utterance is the cynic, opposed to Faust's idealist hopes and exposing the coarse reality that in his view is the sole aspect of man's life on earth. When Faust was first published as a fragment in 1790, these elements, dating back to the 1770s, constituted the work.
Between 1797 and 1806, under Schiller's encouragement, Goethe returned to Faust and created the Prologue in Heaven and the pact with Mephistopheles, both of which are crucial to the philosophical aspect of the work. Mephistopheles is no longer the absolute opponent of God, but is included in the divine framework; he is a necessary force in creation, a gadfly. The Faust action now becomes a wager between God and Mephistopheles, which God necessarily must win. Thus the old blood contract between Faust and Mephistopheles must make Faust deny his very nature by giving up his quest for ever higher satisfactions, by giving him a moment of absolute fulfillment. Damnation, for Goethe, is the cessation of man's striving toward the absolute, and this striving is good, no matter what mistakes man makes in his limited understanding. This is made clear in the Prologue: God recognizes that man will err as long as he strives, but He states that only by seeking after the absolute, however confusedly, can man fulfill his nature. Mephistopheles sees only the confusion, the futility of the results, and the coarseness of man's life. He is blind to the visionary, poetic quality of Faust, the quality which animates his quest. This relationship established in part 1 will continue until the end of the play. In each episode, Faust begins with an idealistic vision of what he seeks, but he never attains it. Seen externally, Mephistopheles is always right—it is only internally that Faust's quest has meaning.
In the original Faust story, Faust meets Helen of Troy, and this episode occupied Goethe in the period of his fascination with the classical world. The third act of part 2 is the union of Faust, the northern, modern, Romantic quester, with Helen, representative of classical harmony and ideal beauty. In this act, Goethe imitates first the style of Greek tragedy, then brings Faust and Helen together in an idyllic realm of fantasy filled with music. This music—Goethe actually wanted an operatic interlude— underlines the purely aesthetic nature of this experience. Helen cannot be the end of Faust's seeking; their relationship can exist only in the mythical Arcadia, where reality, symbolized perhaps by Helen's husband, Menelaus, cannot intrude. The act was subtitled "Classic-Romantic Phantasmagoria," and Goethe followed it immediately with a scene in which Faust sees visions of Helen and Gretchen and is drawn toward the latter in spite of Helen's ideal perfection. Gretchen, however tragic, is real.
The final sections of Faust were composed between 1825 and 1831. In them, Faust's appearances at court are developed and the final scenes of Faust's redemption return to the framework established in the Prologue. Faust's last days are still unsatisfied and his quest is as violent as ever—his merchant ships turn to piracy and a gentle old couple are killed to make room for his palace. But his final vision is that of all humanity, striving onward to turn chaos to order, seeking a dimly imagined goal which is represented in the final scene by an endless stairway. Here, on the path toward the Divine, Faust is to continue to strive, and his life is redeemed by divine love, represented by Gretchen, who in spite of her crimes is also here, a penitent, praying for Faust. On earth all is transitory and insufficient. Only from the point of view of the Divine does all the confused striving attain meaning—meaning which was, in fact, implicit in the stanzas of the three archangels sung at the opening of the work, 12,000 lines earlier.







Portrait of Goethe by Eugene Delacroix




Mephistopheles dans les airs illustration by Eugene Delacroix


A high vaulted narrow Gothic chamber. FAUST, restless, seated at his desk.

I HAVE, alas! Philosophy,
Medicine, Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology,
With ardent labour, studied through.
And here I stand, with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.
Magister, doctor styled, indeed,
Already these ten years I lead,
Up, down, across, and to and fro,
My pupils by the nose,—and learn,
That we in truth can nothing know!
That in my heart like fire doth burn.
’Tis true I’ve more cunning than all your dull tribe,
Magister and doctor, priest, parson, and scribe;
Scruple or doubt comes not to enthrall me,
Neither can devil nor hell now appal me—
Hence also my heart must all pleasure forego!
I may not pretend, aught rightly to know,
I may not pretend, through teaching, to find
A means to improve or convert mankind.
Then I have neither goods nor treasure,
No worldly honour, rank, or pleasure;
No dog in such fashion would longer live!
Therefore myself to magic I give,
In hope, through spirit-voice and might,
Secrets now veiled to bring to light,
That I no more, with aching brow,
Need speak of what I nothing know;
That I the force may recognise
That binds creation’s inmost energies;
Her vital powers, her embryo seeds survey,
And fling the trade in empty words away.
O full-orb’d moon, did but thy rays
Their last upon mine anguish gaze!
Beside this desk, at dead of night,
Oft have I watched to hail thy light:
Then, pensive friend! o’er book and scroll,
With soothing power, thy radiance stole!
In thy dear light, ah, might I climb,
Freely, some mountain height sublime,
Round mountain caves with spirits ride,
In thy mild haze o’er meadows glide,
And, purged from knowledge-fumes, renew
My spirit, in thy healing dew!
Woe’s me! still prison’d in the gloom
Of this abhorr’d and musty room!
Where heaven’s dear light itself doth pass,
But dimly through the painted glass!
Hemmed in by volumes thick with dust,
Worm-eaten, hid ’neath rust and mould,
And to the high vault’s topmost bound,
A smoke-stained paper compassed round;
With boxes round thee piled, and glass,
And many a useless instrument,
With old ancestral lumber blent—
This is thy world! a world! alas!
And dost thou ask why heaves thy heart,
With tighten’d pressure in thy breast?
Why the dull ache will not depart,
By which thy life-pulse is oppress’d?
Instead of nature’s living sphere,
Created for mankind of old,
Brute skeletons surround thee here,
And dead men’s bones in smoke and mould.
Up! Forth into the distant land!
Is not this book of mystery
By Nostradamus’ proper hand,
An all-sufficient guide? Thou’lt see
The courses of the stars unroll’d;
When nature doth her thoughts unfold
To thee, thy soul shall rise, and seek
Communion high with her to hold,
As spirit doth with spirit speak!
Vain by dull poring to divine
The meaning of each hallow’d sign.
Spirits! I feel you hov’ring near;
Make answer, if my voice ye hear!  (He opens the book and perceives the sign of the Macrocosmos.)


Faust dans son cabinet  illustration by Eugene Delacroix

Ah! at this spectacle through every sense,
What sudden ecstasy of joy is flowing!
I feel new rapture, hallow’d and intense,
Through every nerve and vein with ardour glowing.
Was it a god who character’d this scroll,
The tumult in my spirit healing,
O’er my sad heart with rapture stealing,
And by a mystic impulse, to my soul,
The powers of nature all around revealing.
Am I a God? What light intense!
In these pure symbols do I see,
Nature exert her vital energy.
Now of the wise man’s words I learn the sense;
        “Unlock’d the spirit-world doth lie,
        Thy sense is shut, thy heart is dead!
        Up scholar, lave, with courage high,
        Thine earthly breast in the morning-red!”  (He contemplates the sign.)
How all things live and work, and ever blending,
Weave one vast whole from Being’s ample range!
How powers celestial, rising and descending,
Their golden buckets ceaseless interchange!
Their flight on rapture-breathing pinions winging,
From heaven to earth their genial influence bringing,
Through the wild sphere their chimes melodious ringing!
A wondrous show! but ah! a show alone!
Where shall I grasp thee, infinite nature, where?
Ye breasts, ye fountains of all life, whereon
Hang heaven and earth, from which the withered heart
For solace yearns, ye still impart
Your sweet and fostering tides—where are ye—where?
Ye gush, and must I languish in despair?  (He turns over the leaves of the book impatiently, and perceives the sigh of the Earth-spirit.)
How all unlike the influence of this sign!
Earth-spirit, thou to me art nigher,
E’en now my strength is rising higher,
E’en now I glow as with new wine;
Courage I feel, abroad the world to dare,
The woe of earth, the bliss of earth to bear,
With storms to wrestle, brave the lightning’s glare,
And mid the crashing shipwreck not despair.
Clouds gather over me—
The moon conceals her light—
The lamp is quench’d—
Vapours are rising—Quiv’ring round my head
Flash the red beams—Down from the vaulted roof
A shuddering horror floats,
And seizes me!
I feel it, spirit, prayer-compell’d, ’tis thou
Art hovering near!
Unveil thyself!
Ha! How my heart is riven now!
Each sense, with eager palpitation,
Is strain’d to catch some new sensation!
I feel my heart surrender’d unto thee!
Thou must! Thou must! Though life should be the fee!  (He seizes the book, and pronounces mysteriously the sign of the spirit. A ruddy flame flashes up; the spirit appears in the flame.)


Faust et Wagner  illustration by Eugene Delacroix



Who calls me?
FAUST  (turning aside)

              Dreadful shape!

                With might,
Thou hast compelled me to appear,
Long hast been sucking at my sphere,
And now—

        Woe’s me! I cannot bear thy sight!

To see me thou dost breathe thine invocation,
My voice to hear, to gaze upon my brow;
Me doth thy strong entreaty bow—
Lo! I am here!—What cowering agitation
Grasps thee, the demigod! Where’s now the soul’s deep cry?
Where is the breast, which in its depths a world conceiv’d
And bore and cherished? which, with ecstacy,
To rank itself with us, the spirits, heaved?
Where art thou, Faust? whose voice I heard resound,
Who towards me press’d with energy profound?
Art thou he? Thou,—who by my breath art blighted,
Who, in his spirit’s depths affrighted,
Trembles, a crush’d and writhing worm!

Shall I yield, thing of flame, to thee?
Faust, and thine equal, I am he!

In the currents of life, in action’s storm,
        I float and I wave
        With billowy motion!
        Birth and the grave
        A limitless ocean,
        A constant weaving
        With change still rife,
        A restless heaving,
        A glowing life—
Thus time’s whirring loom unceasing I ply,
And weave the life-garment of deity.

Thou, restless spirit, dost from end to end
O’ersweep the world; how near I feel to thee!

Thou’rt like the spirit, thou dost comprehend,
Not me!  (Vanishes.)

Not thee?
Whom then?
I, Gods own image!
And not rank with thee!  (A knock.)
Oh death! I know it—’tis my famulus—
My fairest fortune now escapes!
That all these visionary shapes
A soulless groveller should banish thus! (WAGNER in his dressing gown and night-cap, a lamp in his hand. FAUST turns round reluctantly.)

Pardon! I heard you here declaim;
A Grecian tragedy you doubtless read?
Improvement in this art is now my aim,
For now-a-days it much avails. Indeed
An actor, oft I’ve heard it said, as teacher,
May give instruction to a preacher.

Ay, if your priest should be an actor too,
As not improbably may come to pass.

When in his study pent the whole year through,
Man views the world, as through an optic glass,
On a chance holiday, and scarcely then,
How by persuasion can he govern men?

If feeling prompt not, if it doth not flow
Fresh from the spirit’s depths, with strong control
Swaying to rapture every listener’s soul,
Idle your toil; the chase you may forego!
Brood o’er your task! Together glue,
Cook from another’s feast your own ragout,
Still prosecute your paltry game,
And fan your ash-heaps into flame!
Thus children’s wonder you’ll excite,
And apes’, if such your appetite;
But that which issues from the heart alone,
Will bend the hearts of others to your own.

The speaker in delivery will find
Success alone; I still am far behind.

A worthy object still pursue!
Be not a hollow tinkling fool!
Sound understanding, judgment true,
Find utterance without art or rule;
And when in earnest you are moved to speak,
Then is it needful cunning words to seek?
Your fine harangues, so polish’d in their kind,
Wherein the shreds of human thought ye twist,
Are unrefreshing as the empty wind,
Whistling through wither’d leaves and autumn mist!

Oh God! How long is art,
Our life how short! With earnest zeal
Still as I ply the critic’s task, I feel
A strange oppression both of head and heart.
The very means how hardly are they won,
By which we to the fountains rise!
And haply, ere one half the course is run,
Check’d in his progress, the poor devil dies.

Parchment, is that the sacred fount whence roll
Waters, he thirsteth not who once hath quaffed?
Oh, if it gush not from thine inmost soul,
Thou has not won the life-restoring draught.

Your pardon! ’tis delightful to transport
Oneself into the spirit of the past,
To see in times before us how a wise man thought,
And what a glorious height we have achieved at last.

Ay truly! even to the loftiest star!
To us, my friend, the ages that are pass’d
A book with seven seals, close-fasten’d, are;
And what the spirit of the times men call,
Is merely their own spirit after all,
Wherein, distorted oft, the times are glass’d.
Then truly, ’tis a sight to grieve the soul!
At the first glance we fly it in dismay;
A very lumber-room, a rubbish-hole;
At best a sort of mock-heroic play,
With saws pragmatical, and maxims sage,
To suit the puppets and their mimic stage.

But then the world and man, his heart and brain!
Touching these things all men would something know.

Ay! what ’mong men as knowledge doth obtain!
Who on the child its true name dares bestow?
The few who somewhat of these things have known,
Who their full hearts unguardedly reveal’d,
Nor thoughts, nor feelings, from the mob conceal’d,
Have died on crosses, or in flames been thrown.—
Excuse me, friend, far now the night is spent,
For this time we must say adieu.

Still to watch on I had been well content,
Thus to converse so learnedly with you.
But as to-morrow will be Easter-day,
Some further questions grant, I pray;
With diligence to study still I fondly cling;
Already I know much, but would know everything.  (Exit.)


Faust, Mephistopheles et le barbet  illustration by Eugene Delacroix

FAUST  (alone)

How him alone all hope abandons never,
To empty trash who clings, with zeal untired,
With greed for treasure gropes, and, joy-inspir’d,
Exults if earth-worms second his endeavour.
And dare a voice of merely human birth,
E’en here, where shapes immortal throng’d intrude?
Yet ah! thou poorest of the sons of earth,
For once, I e’en to thee feel gratitude.
Despair the power of sense did well-nigh blast,
And thou didst save me ere I sank dismay’d,
So giant-like the vision seem’d, so vast,
I felt myself shrink dwarf’d as I survey’d!
I, God’s own image, from this toil of clay
Already freed, with eager joy who hail’d
The mirror of eternal truth unveil’d,
Mid light effulgent and celestial day:—
I, more than cherub, whose unfetter’d soul
With penetrative glance aspir’d to flow
Through nature’s veins, and, still creating, know
The life of gods,—how am I punish’d now!
One thunder-word hath hurl’d me from the goal!
    Spirit! I dare not lift me to thy sphere.
    What though my power compell’d thee to appear,
    My art was powerless to detain thee here.
    In that great moment, rapture-fraught,
    I felt myself so small, so great;
    Fiercely didst thrust me from the realm of thought
    Back on humanity’s uncertain fate!
    Who’ll teach me now? What ought I to forego?
    Ought I that impulse to obey?
    Alas! our every deed, as well as every woe,
    Impedes the tenor of life’s onward way!
E’en to the noblest by the soul conceiv’d,
Some feelings cling of baser quality;
And when the goods of this world are achiev’d,
Each nobler aim is termed a cheat, a lie.
Our aspirations, our soul’s genuine life,
Grow torpid in the din of earthly strife.
Though youthful phantasy, while hope inspires,
Stretch o’er the infinite her wing sublime,
A narrow compass limits her desires,
When wreck’d our fortunes in the gulf of time.
In the deep heart of man care builds her nest,
O’er secret woes she broodeth there,
Sleepless she rocks herself and scareth joy and rest;
Still is she wont some new disguise to wear,
She may as house and court, as wife and child appear,
As dagger, poison, fire and flood;
Imagined evils chill thy blood,
    And what thou ne’er shall lose, o’er that dost shed the tear.
    I am not like the gods! Feel it I must;
    I’m like the earth-worm, writhing in the dust,
    Which, as on dust it feeds, its native fare,
    Crushed ’neath the passer’s tread, lies buried there.
Is it not dust, wherewith this lofty wall,
With hundred shelves, confines me round;
Rubbish, in thousand shapes, may I not call
What in this moth-world doth my being bound?
Here, what doth fail me, shall I find?
Read in a thousand tomes that, everywhere,
Self-torture is the lot of human-kind,
With but one mortal happy, here and there?
Thou hollow skull, that grin, what should it say,
But that thy brain, like mine, of old perplexed,
Still yearning for the truth, hath sought the light of day.
And in the twilight wandered, sorely vexed?
Ye instruments, forsooth, ye mock at me,—
With wheel, and cog, and ring, and cylinder;
To nature’s portals ye should be the key;
Cunning your wards, and yet the bolts ye fail to stir.
Inscrutable in broadest light,
To be unveil’d by force she doth refuse,
What she reveals not to thy mental sight,
Thou wilt not wrest me from her with levers and with screws.
Old useless furnitures, yet stand ye here,
Because my sire ye served, now dead and gone.
Old scroll, the smoke of years dost wear,
So long as o’er this desk the sorry lamp hath shone.
Better my little means hath squandered quite away,
Than burden’d by that little here to sweat and groan!
Wouldst thou possess thy heritage, essay,
By use to render it thine own!
What we employ not, but impedes our way,
That which the hour creates, that can it use alone!
But wherefore to yon spot is riveted my gaze?
Is yonder flasket there a magnet to my sight?
Whence this mild radiance that around me plays,
As when, ’mid forest gloom, reigneth the moon’s soft light?
Hail precious phial! Thee, with reverent awe,
Down from thine old receptacle I draw!
Science in thee I hail and human art.
Essence of deadliest powers, refin’d and sure,
Of soothing anodynes abstraction pure,
Now in thy master’s need thy grace impart!
I gaze on thee, my pain is lull’d to rest;
I grasp thee, calm’d the tumult in my breast;
The flood-tide of my spirit ebbs away;
Onward I’m summon’d o’er a boundless main,
Calm at my feet expands the glassy plain,
To shores unknown allures a brighter day.
Lo, where a car of fire, on airy pinion,
Comes floating towards me! I’m prepar’d to fly
By a new track through ether’s wide dominion,
To distant spheres of pure activity.
This life intense, this godlike ecstasy—
Worm that thou art such rapture canst thou earn?
Only resolve with courage stern and high,
Thy visage from the radiant sun to turn!
Dare with determin’d will to burst the portals
Past which in terror others fain would steal!
Now is the time, through deeds, to show that mortals
The calm sublimity of gods can feel;
To shudder not at yonder dark abyss,
Where phantasy creates her own self-torturing brood,
Right onward to the yawning gulf to press,
Around whose narrow jaws rolleth hell’s fiery flood;
With glad resolve to take the fatal leap,
Though danger threaten thee, to sink in endless sleep!
Pure crystal goblet! forth I draw thee now,
From out thine antiquated case, where thou
Forgotten hast reposed for many a year!
Oft at my father’s revels thou didst shine,
To glad the earnest guests was thine,
As each to other passed the generous cheer.
The gorgeous brede of figures, quaintly wrought,
Which he who quaff’d must first in rhyme expound,
Then drain the goblet at one draught profound,
Hath nights of boyhood to fond memory brought.
I to my neighbour shall not reach thee now,
Nor on thy rich device shall I my cunning show.
Here is a juice, makes drunk without delay;
Its dark brown flood thy crystal round doth fill;
Let this last draught, the product of my skill,
My own free choice, be quaff’d with resolute will,
A solemn festive greeting, to the coming day!  (He places the goblet to his mouth.)  (The ringing of bells, and choral voices.)


Mephistopheles apparaissant a Faust  illustration by Eugene Delacroix

Chorus of ANGELS

    Christ is arisen!
    Mortal, all hail to thee,
    Thou whom mortality,
    Earth’s sad reality,
    Held as in prison.

What hum melodious, what clear silvery chime
Thus draws the goblet from my lips away?
Ye deep-ton’d bells, do ye with voice sublime,
Announce the solemn dawn of Easter-day?
Sweet choir! are ye the hymn of comfort singing,
Which one around the darkness of the grave,
From seraph-voices, in glad triumph ringing,
Of a new covenant assurance gave?
Chorus of WOMEN

    We, his true-hearted,
    With spices and myrrh,
    Embalmed the departed,
    And swathed him with care;
    Here we conveyed Him,
    Our Master, so dear;
    Alas! Where we laid Him,
    The Christ is not here,
Chorus of ANGELS

    Christ is arisen!
    Blessed the loving one,
    Who from earth’s trial throes,
    Healing and strengthening woes,
    Soars as from prison.

Wherefore, ye tones celestial, sweet and strong,
Come ye a dweller in the dust to seek?
Ring out your chimes believing crowds among,
The message well I hear, my faith alone is weak;
From faith her darling, miracle, hath sprung.
Aloft to yonder spheres I dare not soar,
Whence sound the tidings of great joy;
And yet, with this sweet strain familiar when a boy,
Back it recalleth me to life once more.
Then would celestial love, with holy kiss,
Come o’er me in the Sabbath’s stilly hour,
While, fraught with solemn meaning and mysterious power,
Chim’d the deep-sounding bell, and prayer was bliss;
A yearning impulse, undefin’d yet dear,
Drove me to wander on through wood and field;
With heaving breast and many a burning tear,
I felt with holy joy a world reveal’d.
Gay sports and festive hours proclaim’d with joyous pealing,
This Easter hymn in days of old;
And fond remembrance now doth me, with childlike feeling,
Back from the last, the solemn step, withhold.
O still sound on, thou sweet celestial strain!
The tear-drop flows,-Earth, I am thine again!

    He whom we mourned as dead,
    Living and glorious,
    From the dark grave hath fled,
    O’er death victorious;
    Almost creative bliss
    Waits on his growing powers;
    Ah! Him on earth we miss;
    Sorrow and grief are ours.
    Yearning he left his own,
    Mid sore annoy;
    Ah! we must needs bemoan.
    Master, thy joy!
Chorus of ANGELS

    Christ is arisen,
    Redeem’d from decay.
    The bonds which imprison
    Your souls, rend away!
    Praising the Lord with zeal,
    By deeds that love reveal,
    Like brethren true and leal
    Sharing the daily meal,
    To all that sorrow feel
    Whisp’ring of heaven’s weal,
    Still is the master near,
    Still is he here!
Promenaders of all sorts pass out.

Why choose ye that direction, pray?

To the hunting-lodge we’re on our way.

We towards the mill are strolling on.

A walk to Wasserhof were best.

The road is not a pleasant one.

What will you do?

                I’ll join the rest.

Let’s up to Burghof, there you’ll find good cheer,
The prettiest maidens and the best of beer,
And brawls of a prime sort.

                You scapegrace! How;
Your skin still itching for a row?
Thither I will not go, I loathe the place.

No, no! I to the town my steps retrace.

Near yonder poplars he is sure to be.

And if he is, what matters it to me!
With you he’ll walk, he’ll dance with none but you,
And with your pleasures what have I to do?

To-day he will not be alone, he said
His friend would be with him, the curly-head.

Why how those buxom girls step on!
Come, brother, we will follow them anon.
Strong beer, a damsel smartly dress’d,
Stinging tobacco,—these I love the best.

Look at those handsome fellows there!
’Tis really shameful, I declare,
The very best society they shun,
After those servant girls forsooth, to run.
SECOND STUDENT  (to the first)

Not quite so fast! for in our rear,
Two girls, well-dress’d, are drawing near;
Not far from us the one doth dwell,
And sooth to say, I like her well.
They walk demurely, yet you’ll see,




That they will let us join them presently.

Not I! restraints of all kinds I detest.
Quick! let us catch the wild-game ere it flies,
The hand on Saturday the mop that plies,
Will on the Sunday fondle you the best.

No, this new Burgomaster, I like him not, God knows,
Now, he’s in office, daily more arrogant he grows;
And for the town, what doth he do for it?
Are not things worse from day to day?
To more restraints we must submit;
And taxes more than ever pay.
BEGGAR  (sings)

    Kind gentleman and ladies fair,
    So rosy-cheek’d and trimly dress’d,
    Be pleas’d to listen to my prayer,
    Relieve and pity the distress’d.
    Let me not vainly sing my lay!
    His heart’s most glad whose hand is free.
    Now when all men keep holiday,
    Should be a harvest-day to me.

On holidays and Sundays naught know I more inviting
Than chatting about war and war’s alarms,
When folk in Turkey, up in arms,
Far off, are ’gainst each other fighting.
We at the window stand, our glasses drain,
And watch adown the stream the painted vessels gliding
Then joyful we at eve come home again,
And peaceful times we bless, peace long-abiding.

Ay, neighbour! So let matters stand for me!
There they may scatter one another’s brains,
And wild confusion round them see—
So here at home in quiet all remains!
Heyday! How smart! The fresh young blood!
Who would not fall in love with you?
Not quite so proud! ’Tis well and good!
And what you wish, that I could help you to.

Come, Agatha! I care not to be seen
Walking in public with these witches. True,
My future lover, last St. Andrew’s E’en,
In flesh and blood she brought before my view.

And mine she show’d me also in the glass,
A soldier’s figure, with companions bold;
I look around, I seek him as I pass,
In vain, his form I nowhere can behold.

    Fortress with turrets
    And walls high in air,
    Damsel disdainful,
    Haughty and fair,
    There be my prey!
    Bold is the venture,
    Costly the pay!
    Hark how the trumpet
    Thither doth call us,
    Where either pleasure
    Or death may befall us.
    Hail to the tumult!
    Life’s in the field!
    Damsel and fortress
    To us must yield.
    Bold is the venture,
    Costly the pay!
    Gaily the soldier
    Marches away.

Mephistopheles recevant l'ecolier  illustration by Eugene Delacroix



Loosed from their fetters are streams and rills
Through the gracious spring-tide’s all-quickening glow;
Hope’s budding joy in the vale doth blow;
Old Winter back to the savage hills
Withdraweth his force, decrepid now.
Thence only impotent icy grains
Scatters he as he wings his flight,
Striping with sleet the verdant plains;
But the sun endureth no trace of white;
Everywhere growth and movement are rife,
All things investing with hues of life:
Though flowers are lacking, varied of dye,
Their colours the motley throng supply.
Turn thee around, and from this height,
Back to the town direct thy sight.
Forth from the hollow, gloomy gate,
Stream forth the masses, in bright array.
Gladly seek they the sun to-day;
The Lord’s Resurrection they celebrate:
For they themselves have risen, with joy,
From tenement sordid, from cheerless room,
From bonds of toil, from care and annoy,
From gable and roof’s o’er-hanging gloom,
From crowded alley and narrow street,
And from the churches’ awe-breathing night,
All now have come forth into the light.
Look, only look, on nimble feet,
Through garden and field how spread the throng,
How o’er the river’s ample sheet,
Many a gay wherry glides along;
And see, deep sinking in the tide,
Pushes the last boat now away.
E’en from yon far hill’s path-worn side,
Flash the bright hues of garments gay.
Hark! Sounds of village mirth arise;
This is the people’s paradise.
Both great and small send up a cheer;
Here am I man, I feel it here.

Sir Doctor, in a walk with you
There’s honour and instruction too;
Yet here alone I care not to resort,
Because I coarseness hate of every sort.
This fiddling, shouting, skittling, I detest;
I hate the tumult of the vulgar throng;
They roar as by the evil one possess’d,
And call it pleasure, call it song.
PEASANTS(under the linden-tree)


Mephistopheles dans la taverne des etudiants
 illustration by Eugene Delacroix



Dance and song
  The shepherd for the dance was dress’d,
  With ribbon, wreath, and coloured vest,
  A gallant show displaying.
  And round about the linden-tree,
  They footed it right merrily.
      Juchhe! Juchhe!
      Juchheisa! Heisa! He!
  So fiddle-bow was braying
  Our swain amidst the circle press’d,
  He push’d a maiden trimly dress’d,
  And jogg’d her with his elbow;
  The buxom damsel turn’d her head,
  “Now that’s a stupid trick!” she said
      Juchhe! Juchhe!
      Juchheisa! Heisa! He!
  Don’t be so rude, good fellow!
  Swift in the circle they advanced,
  They danced to right, to left they danced,
  And all the skirts were swinging.
  And they grew red, and they grew warm,
  Panting, they rested arm in arm,
      Juchhe! Juchhe!
      Juchheisa! Heisa! He!
  To hip their elbow bringing.
  Don’t make so free! How many a maid
  Has been betroth’d and then betray’d;
  And has repented after!
  Yet still he flatter’d her aside,
  And from the linden, far and wide,
      Juchhe! Juchhe!
      Juchheisa! Heisa! He!
  Rang fiddle-bow and laughter.

Doctor, ’tis really kind of you,
To condescend to come this way,
A highly learned man like you,
To join our mirthful throng to-day.
Our fairest cup I offer you,
which we with sparkling drink have crown’d,
And pledging you, I pray aloud,
That every drop within its round,
While it your present thirst allays,
May swell the number of your days.

I take the cup you kindly reach,
Thanks and prosperity to each!  (The crowd gather round in a circle.)

Ay, truly! ’tis well done, that you
Our festive meeting thus attend;
You, who in evil days of yore,
So often show’d yourself our friend!
Full many a one stands living here,
Who from the fever’s deadly blast,
Your father rescu’d, when his skill
The fatal sickness stay’d at last.
A young man then, each house you sought,
Where reign’d the mortal pestilence.
Corpse after corpse was carried forth,
But still unscath’d you issued thence.
Sore then your trials and severe;
The Helper yonder aids the helper here.

Heaven bless the trusty friend, and long
To help the poor his life prolong!


Faust cherchant a seduire Marguerite
 illustration by Eugene Delacroix



To Him above in homage bend,
Who prompts the helper and Who help doth send.  (He proceeds with WAGNER.)

What feelings, great man, must thy breast inspire,
At homage paid thee by this crowd! Thrice blest
Who from the gifts by him possessed
Such benefit can draw! The sire
Thee to his boy with reverence shows;
They press around, inquire, advance,
Hush’d is the fiddle, check’d the dance.
Where thou dost pass they stand in rows,
And each aloft his bonnet throws,
But little fails and they to thee,
As though the Host came by, would bend the knee.

A few steps further, up to yonder stone!
Here rest we from our walk. In times long past,
Absorb’d in thought, here oft I sat alone,
And disciplin’d myself with prayer and fast.
Then rich in hope, with faith sincere,
With sighs, and hands in anguish press’d,
The end of that sore plague, with many a tear,
From heaven’s dread Lord, I sought to wrest.
The crowd’s applause assumes a scornful tone.
Oh, could’st thou in my inner being read,
How little either sire or son,
Of such renown deserves the meed!
My sire, of good repute, and sombre mood,
O’er nature’s powers and every mystic zone,
With honest zeal, but methods of his own,
With toil fantastic loved to brood;
His time in dark alchemic cell,
With brother adepts he would spend,
And there antagonists compel,
Through numberless receipts to blend.
A ruddy lion there, a suitor bold,
In tepid bath was with the lily wed.
Thence both, while open flames around them roll’d,
Were tortur’d to another bridal bed.
Was then the youthful queen descried
With varied colours in the flask;—
This was our medicine; the patients died,
“Who were restored?” none cared to ask.
With our infernal mixture thus, ere long,
These hills and peaceful vales among,
We rag’d more fiercely than the pest;
Myself the deadly poison did to thousands give;
They pined away, I yet must live,
To hear the reckless murderers blest.

Why let this thought your soul o’ercast?
Can man do more than with nice skill,
With firm and conscientious will,
Practise the art transmitted from the past?
If thou thy sire dost honour in thy youth,
His lore thou gladly wilt receive;
In manhood, dost thou spread the bounds of truth,
Then may thy son a higher goal achieve.

How blest, in whom the fond desire
From error’s sea to rise, hope still renews!
What a man knows not, that he doth require,
And what he knoweth, that he cannot use.
But let not moody thoughts their shadow throw
O’er the calm beauty of this hour serene!
In the rich sunset see how brightly glow
Yon cottage homes, girt round with verdant green!
Slow sinks the orb, the day in now no more;
Yonder he hastens to diffuse new life.
Oh for a pinion from the earth to soar,
And after, ever after him to strive!
Then should I see the world below,
Bathed in the deathless evening-beams,
The vales reposing, every height a-glow,
The silver brooklets meeting golden streams.
The savage mountain, with its cavern’d side,
Bars not my godlike progress. Lo, the ocean,
Its warm bays heaving with a tranquil motion,
To my rapt vision opes its ample tide!
But now at length the god appears to sink;
A new-born impulse wings my flight,
Onward I press, his quenchless light to drink,
The day before me, and behind the night,
The pathless waves beneath, and over me the skies.
Fair dream, it vanish’d with the parting day!
Alas! that when on spirit-wing we rise,
No wing material lifts our mortal clay.
But ’tis our inborn impulse, deep and strong,
Upwards and onwards still to urge our flight,
When far above us pours its thrilling song
The sky-lark, lost in azure light,
When on extended wing amain
O’er pine-crown’d height the eagle soars,
And over moor and lake, the crane
Still striveth towards its native shores.

To strange conceits oft I myself must own,
But impulse such as this I ne’er have known:
Nor woods, nor fields, can long our thoughts engage,
Their wings I envy not the feather’d kind;
Far otherwise the pleasures of the mind,
Bear us from book to book, from page to page!
Then winter nights grow cheerful; keen delight
Warms every limb; and ah! when we unroll
Some old and precious parchment, at the sight
All heaven itself descends upon the soul.

Thy heart by one sole impulse is possess’d;
Unconscious of the other still remain!
Two souls, alas! are lodg’d within my breast,
Which struggle there for undivided reign:
One to the world, with obstinate desire,
And closely-cleaving organs, still adheres;
Above the mist, the other doth aspire,
With sacred vehemence, to purer spheres.
Oh, are there spirits in the air,
Who float ’twixt heaven and earth dominion wielding,
Stoop hither from your golden atmosphere,
Lead me to scenes, new life and fuller yielding!
A magic mantle did I but possess,
Abroad to waft me as on viewless wings,
I’d prize it far beyond the costliest dress,
Nor would I change it for the robe of kings.

Call not the spirits who on mischief wait!
Their troop familiar, streaming through the air,
From every quarter threaten man’s estate,
And danger in a thousand forms prepare!
They drive impetuous from the frozen north,
With fangs sharp-piercing, and keen arrowy tongues;
From the ungenial east they issue forth,
And prey, with parching breath, upon thy lungs;
If, waft’d on the desert’s flaming wing,
They from the south heap fire upon the brain,
Refreshment from the west at first they bring,
Anon to drown thyself and field and plain.
In wait for mischief, they are prompt to hear;
With guileful purpose our behests obey;
Like ministers of grace they oft appear,
And lisp like angels, to betray.
But let us hence! Grey eve doth all things blend,
The air grows chill, the mists descend!
’Tis in the evening first our home we prize—
Why stand you thus, and gaze with wondering eyes?
What in the gloom thus moves you?

                Yon black hound
See’st thou, through corn and stubble scampering round?

I’ve mark’d him long, naught strange in him I see!

Note him! What takest thou the brute to be?

But for a poodle, whom his instinct serves
His master’s track to find once more.

Dost mark how round us, with wide spiral curves,
He wheels, each circle closer than before?
And, if I err not, he appears to me
A line of fire upon his track to leave.

Naught but a poodle black of hue I see;
’Tis some illusion doth your sight deceive.

Methinks a magic coil our feet around,
He for a future snare doth lightly spread.

Around us as in doubt I see him shyly bound,
Since he two strangers seeth in his master’s stead.


Mephistopheles se presente chez Marthe
 illustration by Eugene Delacroix


The circle narrows, he’s already near!

A dog dost see, no spectre have we here;
He growls, doubts, lays him on his belly, too,
And wags his tail—as dogs are wont to do.

Come hither, Sirrah! join our company!

A very poodle, he appears to be!
Thou standest still, for thee he’ll wait;
Thou speak’st to him, he fawns upon thee straight;
Aught thou mayst lose, again he’ll bring,
And for thy stick will into water spring.

Thou’rt right indeed; no traces now I see
Whatever of a spirit’s agency.
’Tis training—nothing more.

                A dog well taught
E’en by the wisest of us may be sought.
Ay, to your favour he’s entitled too,
Apt scholar of the students, ’tis his due!  (They enter the gate of the town.)




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