Goethe - Early Years In Frankfort 1749-1765
( Originally Published 1913 )
IN his seventy-fifth year Goethe remarked to his secretary, Eckermann, that he had always been regarded as one of fortune's chiefest favourites, and he admitted the general truth of the impression, though with significant reserves. "In truth," he added, " there has been nothing but toil and trouble, and I can affirm that throughout my seventy-five years I have not had a month's real freedom from care." Goethe's biographers are generally agreed that his good fortune began with his birth, and that the circumstances of his childhood and boyhood were eminently favourable for his future development. Yet Goethe himself apparently did not, in his reserves, make an exception even in favour of these early years ; and, as we shall see, we have other evidence from his own hand that these years were not years of unmingled happiness and of entirely auspicious augury.
In one circumstance, at least, Goethe appears to have considered himself well treated by destiny. From the vivid and sympathetic description he has given of his native city of Frankfort-on-the-Main, we may infer that he considered himself fortunate in the place of his birth. It is concurrent testimony that, at the date of Goethe's birth, no German city could have offered greater advantages for the early discipline of one who was to be Germany's national poet. Its situation was central, standing as it did on the border line between North and South Germany. No German city had a more impressive historic past, the memorials of which were visible in imposing architectural remains, in customs, and institutions. It was in Frankfort that for generations the German Emperors had, received their crowns ; and the spectacle of one of these ceremonies remained a vivid memory in Goethe's mind throughout his long life. For the man Goethe the actual present counted for more than the most venerable past ;2 and, as a boy, he saw in Frankfort not only the reminders of former
In 1792, on the occasion of his being offered the honour of Rathsherr (town-councillor) in Frankfort, he wrote to his mother that " it was an honour, riot only in the eyes of Europe, but of the whole world, to have been a citizen of Frankfort." (Goethe to his mother. December 24th, 1792). So, in 1824, he told Bettina von Arnim that, had he had the choice of his birthplace, he would have chosen Frankfort, As we shall see, Goethe did not always speak so favourably of Frankfort. generations, but the bustling activities of a modern society. The spring and autumn fairs brought traders from all parts of Germany and from the neighbouring countries ; and ships from every part of the globe deposited their miscellaneous cargoes on the banks of the river Main. In the town itself there were sights fitted to stir youthful imagination ; and the surrounding country presented a prospect of richness and variety in striking contrast to the tame environs of Goethe's future home in Weimar. Dr. Arnold used to say that he knew from his pupils' essays whether they had seen London or the sea, because the sight of either of these objects seemed to suggest a new measure of things. Frankfort, with its 30,000 inhabitants, with its past memories and its bustling present, was at least on a sufficient scale to suggest the conception of a great society developing its life under modern conditions. For Goethe, who was to pass most of his days in a town of some 7,000 inhabitants, and to whom no form of human activity was indifferent, it was a fortunate destiny that he did not, like Herder, pass his most receptive years in a petty village remote from the movements of the great world. In these years he was able to accumulate a store of observations and experiences which laid a solid foundation for all his future thinking.
In his later years Goethe preferred life in a small town. " Zwar ist es meiner Natur gemass, an einem kleinen Orte zu leben." (Goethe to Zelter, December 16th, 1804.)
If Goethe was fortunate in the place of his birth, was he equally fortunate in its date (1749)? He has himself given the most explicit of answers to the question. In a remarkable paper, written at the age of forty-six, he has described the conditions under which he and his contemporaries produced their works in the different departments of literature. The paper had been called forth by a violent and coarse attack, which he described as literarischer Sansculottismul, on the writers of the period, and with a testiness unusual with him he took up their defence. Under what conditions, he asks, do classical writers appear? Only, he answers, when they are members of a great nation and when great events are moving that nation at a period in its history when a high state of culture has been reached by the body of its people. Only then can the writer be adequately inspired and find to his hand the materials requisite to the production of works of permanent value. But, at the epoch when he and his contemporaries entered on their career, none of these conditions existed. There was no German nation, there was no standard of taste, no educated public opinion, no recognised models for imitation ; and in these circumstances Goethe finds the explanation of the shortcomings of the generation of writers to which he belonged.
On the truth of these conclusions Goethe's adventures as a literary artist are the all-sufficient commentary. From first to last he was in search of adequate literary forms and of worthy subjects ; and, as he himself admits, he not unfrequently went astray in the quest. On his own word, therefore, we may take it that under other conditions he might have produced more perfect works than he has actually given us. Yet the world has had its compensations from those hampering conditions under which his creative powers were exercised. In the very attempt to grope his way to the most expressive forms of artistic presentation all the resources of his mind found their fullest play. It is in the variety of his literary product, unparalleled in the case of any other poet, that lies its inexhaustible interest ; between Gotz von Berlichingen and the Second Part of Faust what a range of themes and forms does he present for his readers' appreciation And to the anarchy of taste and judgment that prevailed when. Goethe began his literary career we in great measure owe another product of his manifold activities. He has been denied a place in the very first rank of poets, but by the best judges he is regarded as the greatest master of literary and artistic criticism. But, had he found fixed and acknowledged standards in German national literature and art, there would have been less occasion for his searching scrutiny of the principles which determine all art and literature. As it was, he was led from the first to direct his thoughts to the consideration of these principles ; and the result is a body of reflections, marking every stage of his own development, on life, literature, and art, which, in the opinion of critics like Edmond Scherer and Matthew Arnold, gave him his highest claim to the consideration of posterity.
As human lot goes, Goethe was fortunate in his home and his home relations, though in the case of both there were disadvantages which left their mark or him throughout his later life. He was born in the middle-class, the position which, according to Schiller, is most favourable for viewing mankind as a whole, and, therefore, advantageous for a poet who, like Goethe, was open to universal impressions. Though his maternal grandfather was chief magistrate of Frankfort, and his father was an Imperial Councillor, the family did not belong to the elite of the city ; Goethe, brilliant youth of genius though he was, was not regarded as an eligible match for the daughter of a Frankfort banker. It was the father who was the dominating figure in the home life of the family ; and the relations between father and son emphasise the fact that the early influences under which the son grew up left something to be desired. Their permanent mutual attitude was misunderstanding, resulting from imperfect sympathy. " If "—so wrote Goethe in his sixty-fourth year regarding his father and himself----" if, on his part as well as on the son's, a suggestion of mutual understanding had entered into our relationship, much might have been spared to us both. But that was not to be !" It is with dutiful respect but with no touch of filial affection that Goethe has drawn his father's portrait in Dichtung and Wahrheit. As the father is there depicted, he is the embodiment of Goethe's own definition of a Philistine one naturally incapable of entering into the views of other people.' Yet Goethe might have had a worse parent ; for, according to his lights, the father spared no pains to make his son an ornament of his generation. Strictly conscientious, methodical, with a genuine love of art and letters, he did his best to furnish his son with every accomplishment requisite to distinction in the walk of life for which he destined him—the profession of law, in which he had himself failed through the defects of his temperament. Directly and indirectly, he himself took in hand his son's instruction, but without appreciation or consideration of the affinities of a mind with precociously developed instincts. The natural result of the father's pedantic solicitude was that his son came to see in him the schoolmaster rather than the parent. Knowledge in abundance was conveyed, but of the moulding influence of parental sympathy there was none. What dubious consequences followed from these relations of father and son we shall afterwards see,
Goethe's mother has found a place in German hearts which is partly due to the portrait which her son has drawn of her, but stilt more to the impression conveyed by her own recorded sayings and correspondence. Goethe's tone, when he speaks of his father, is always cool and critical ; of his mother, on the other hand, he speaks with the feelings of a grateful son, conscious of the deep debt he owed to her. His relations to her in his later years have exposed him to severe animadversion, but their mutual relations in these early years present the most attractive chapter in the record of his private life. Married at the age of seventeen to a husband approaching forty, the mother, as she herself said, stood rather as an elder sister than as a parent to her children. And her own character made this relation a natural one
An overflowing vitality, a lively and never-failing interest in all the details of daily life, and a temperament responsive to every call, kept her perennially young, and fitted her to be the companion of her children rather than the sober helpmate of such a husband as Herr Goethe. How, by her faculty of story-telling, she ministered to the side of her son's nature which he had inherited from herself Goethe has related with grateful appreciation. But he owed her a larger debt. It was her spirit pervading the household that brought such happiness into his early home life as fell to his lot. A commonplace mother and a prosaic father would have created an atmosphere which, in the case of a child with Goethe's impressionable nature, would permanently have affected his outlook on life. For the future poet, the mother was the admirable nurse ; she fed his fancy with her own ; she taught him the art of making the most of life—a lesson which he never forgot ; and she gave him her own sane and cheerful view of the uncontrollable element in human destiny. For the future man, however, we may doubt whether she was the best of mothers. Her education was meagre—a defect which her conscientious husband did his best to amend ; and all her characteristics were fitted rather to evoke affection than to inspire respect. Though her son always speaks of her with tender regard, his tone is that of an elder brother to a sister rather than of a son to a parent. She was herself conscious of her incompetence to discharge all the responsibilities of a mother which the character of the father made specially onerous. " We were young together," she said of herself and her son, and she confessed frankly that " she could educate no child." Thus between an unsympathetic father and a mother incapable of influencing the deeper springs of character, Goethe passed through childhood and boyhood without the discipline of temper and will which only the home can give. And the lack of this discipline is traceable in all his actions till he had reached middle life. Wayward and impulsive by nature, he yielded to every motive, whether prompted by the intellect or the heart, with an abandonment which struck his friends as the leading trait of his character. " Goethe," wrote one of them, " only follows his last notion, without troubling himself as to consequences," and of himself, when he was past his thirtieth year, he said that he was " as much a child as ever."
There was another member of the family whom Goethe speaks with even warmer feeling than of his mother. This was his sister Cornelia, a year younger than himself, and destined to an unhappy marriage arid an early death. Of the many portraits lie has drawn in his Autobiography, none is touched with a tenderer hand and with subtler sympathy than that of Cornelia. Goethe does not imply that she permanently influenced his future development ; for such influence she possessed neither the force of mind nor of character.' But to her even more than to the mother he came to owe such home happiness as he enjoyed in the hours of freedom from the father's pedagogic discipline. She was his companion alike in his daily school tasks and his self-sought pleasures-- the confidant and sharer of all his boyish troubles. To no Gocthe's letters addressed to Cornelia from Leipzig, when he was in his eighteenth year, are in the tone at once of an allecticuate brother and of a master. Their subsequent relations to each other will appear in the sequel.
It was an advantage on which Goethe lays special stress that, outside his somewhat cramping home circle, he had a more or less intimate acquaintance with a number of persons, who by their different characters and accomplishments made lasting impressions on his youthful mind. The impressions must have been deep, since, writing in advanced age, he describes their personal appearance and their different idiosyncrasies with a minuteness which is at the same time a remarkable testimony to his precocious powers of observation. What is interesting in these intimacies as throwing light on Goethe's early characteristics is, that all these persons were of mature age, and all of them more or less eccentric in their habits and ways of thinking. " Even in God I discover defects," was the remark of one of them to his youthful listener—to whom he had been communicating his viers on the world in general. In the company of these elders, with such or kindred opinions, Goethe was early familiarised with the variability of human judgments on fundamental questions. And he laid the experience to heart, for on no point in the conduct of life does he insist with greater emphasis than the folly of expecting others to think as ourselves.
The method of Goethe's education was not such as to compensate for the lack of moral discipline which has already been noted. With the exception of a brief interval, he received instruction at home, either directly from his father or from tutors under his superintendence. Thus he missed both the steady drill of school life and the influence of companions of his own age which might have made him more of a boy and less of a premature man. It is Goethe's own expressed opinion that the object of education should be to foster tastes rather than to communicate knowledge. In this object, at least, his own education was perfectly successful for the tastes which he acquired under his father's roof remained with him to the end. What strikes us in his course of study is its desultoriness and its comprehensiveness. At one time and another be gained an acquaintance with English, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He read widely in history, secular and sacred, and in the later stage of his early studies he took up law at the express desire of his father. It was the aim of his father's scheme of education that accomplishments should form an essential part of it. So his son was taught music, drawing, dancing, riding, and fencing. But there was another side to Goethe's early training which, in his case, deserves to be specially emphasised. A striking characteristic of Goethe's writings is the knowledge they display of the whole range of the manual arts, and this knowledge he owed to the circumstances of his home. His father, a virtuoso with the means of gratifying his tastes, freely employed artists of all kinds to execute designs of his own conception ; and, as part of his son's education, entrusted him with the superintendence of his commissions. Thus, in accordance with modern ideas, were combined in Goethe's training the practical and the theoretical—a combination which is the distinguishing characteristic of his productive activity. Generally considered, we see that the course of his studies was such as in any circumstances he would himself have probably followed. Under no conditions would Goethe have been content to restrict himself to a narrow field of study and to give the necessary application for its complete mastery. As it was, the multiplicity of his studies supplied the foundation for the manifold productivity of his maturer years. In no branch of knowledge was he ever a complete master ; he devoted a large part of his life to the study of Greek and Roman antiquity, yet he never acquired a scholar's knowledge either of Greek or Roman literature.' If on these subjects he has contributed many valuable reflections, it was due to the insight of genius which apprehends what passes the range of ordinary vision.
A striking fact in Goethe's account of his early years is the emphasis he lays on the religious side of his education. Judging from the length at which he treats the subject, indeed, we are bound to assume that in his own estimation religion was the most important element in his early training, and in the case of one who came eventually to be known as the " great Pagan " the fact is remarkable. Had he sat down to write the narrative of these years at an earlier period of his life—after his return, say, from his Italian journey—we may conceive that in his then anti-Christian spirit he would have put these early religious experiences in a somewhat different light, and would hardly have assigned to them the same importance. But when he actually addressed himself to tell the story of his development, he had passed out of his anti-Christian phase, and was fully convinced of the importance of religion in human culture. Regarding this portion of his Autobiography, as regarding others, we may have our doubts as to how far his record is coloured by his opinions when he wrote it. Yet, after every reserve, there can be no question that religion engaged both his intellect and his emotions as a boy ; and the fact is conclusive that religious instincts were not left out of his nature.'
There was nothing in the influence of his that was specially fitted to awaken religious feeling or to occasion abnormal spiritual experiences. In religion as in everything else the father was a formalist, and such religious views as he held were those of the Aufklarung, for which all forms of spiritual emotion were the folly of unreason. Religion was a permanent and sustaining influence in the life of Goethe's mother, but her religion consisted simply in a cheerful auquiescence in the decrees of Providence. Of the soul's trials and sorrows, as they are recorded in the annals of the religious life, her nature was incapable, and she was always perfectly at ease in Zion. By hi, mother, therefore, the son could not be deeply moved to concern regarding his spiritual welfare, nor to make religion the all-engrossing subject of his thoughts and affections. There was one friend of the family, indeed, the Fraulein von Klettenberg (the Schone Seele of Wilhelm Meister), in whom Goethe saw the exemplar of the religious life in its more ecstatic manifestations, but her special influence on him belongs to a later date. In accordance with the family rule he regularly attended church, but the homilies to which he listened were not of a nature to quicken his religious feelings, while the doctrinal instruction he received at home he has himself described as " nothing but a dry kind of morality." Against one article of the creed taught him—the doctrine of original and inherited sin—all his instincts rebelled ; and the antipathy was so compact with all his later thinking that we may readily believe that it manifested itself thus early. If we may accept his own account of his youthful religious experiences, he was already on the way to that Ur-religion, which was his maturest profession of faith, and which he held to be the faith of select minds in all stages of human history. Now, as at all periods of his life, it was the beneficent powers in nature that most deeply impressed him, and he records how in crude childish fashion he secretly reared an altar to these powers, though an unlucky accident in the oblation prevented him from repeating his act of worship.
Like other children, he was quick to see the inconsistency of the creed he was taught with the actual facts of experience. One event in his childhood, the earthquake of Lisbon, especially struck him as a confounding commentary on the accepted belief in the goodness of God ; and the impression was deepened when in the following summer a violent thunder-storm played havoc with some of the most treasured books in his father's library. In all his soul's troubles, however, Goethe, according to his own account, found refuge in a world where questionings of the ways of Providence had never found an entrance. In the Old Testament, and specially in the Book of Genesis, with its picture of patriarchal life, he found a world which by engaging his feelings and imagination worked with tranquilising effect (stille Wirkung) on his spirit, distracted by his miscellaneous studies and his varied interests. Of all the elements that entered into his early culture, indeed, Goethe gives the first place to the Bible. " To it, almost alone," he expressly says, " did I owe my moral education." To the Bible as an incomparable presentment of the national life and development of a people, and the most precious of possessions for human culture, Goethe bore undeviating testimony at every period of his life. It need hardly be said that his attitude towards the Bible was divided by an impassable gulf from the attitude of traditional Christianity. For Goethe it was a purely human production, the fortunate birth of a time and a race which in the nature of things can never be paralleled. What the Churches have found in it was not for him its inherent virtue. Even in his youth it was in its picturesque presentation of a primitive life that he found what satisfied the needs of his nature. The spiritual aspirations of the Psalms, the moral indignation of the prophets, found no response in him either in youth or mar hood. His ideal of life was never that of the saints, but it was an ideal, as his record of his early religious experience shows, which had its roots in the nature which had been allotted him.
To certain events in his early life Goethe assigned a decisive influence on his future development. To the gift of a set of puppets by his grandmother he attributes his first awakened interest in the drama ; and the extraordinary detail with which Wilhelm Meister describes his youthful absorption in the play of his puppets proves that in his Autobiography Goethe does not lay undue stress on the significance of the gift. To another event which occurred when he was entering his seventh year, he ascribes the origin of an attitude of mind which in his own opinion he did not overcome till his later years. In 1756 broke out the Seven Years' War, in the course of which there was a cleavage in German public opinion that disturbed the peace of families and set the nearest relatives at bitter feud. Such was the case in the Goethe circle—the father passionately sympathising with Frederick : the maternal grandfather, Textor, the chief magistrate of Frankfort, as passionately taking the side of Maria Theresa. In this case the son's sympathies were those of his father, and hi boyish fashion he made a hero of the king of Prussia, though, as he himself is careful to tell us, Prussia and its interests were nothing to him. It was to the pain he felt when his hero was defamed by the supporters of Austria that he traced that contempt of public opinion which he notes as a characteristic of the greater part of his manhood, yet we may doubt if any external event was needed to develop in him this special turn of mind. As his whole manner of thinking proves, it was neither in his character nor his genius to make a popular appeal like a Burns or a Schiller.' In his old age Goethe said of himself that he was conscious of au innate feeling of aristocracy which made him regard himself as the peer of princes ; arid we need no further explanation of his contempt of public opinion. Yet if the worship of heroes has the moulding influence which Carlyle ascribed to it, in Goethe's youthful admiration if Frederick this influence could not be wanting. To the end Frederick appeared to him one of those "demonic" personalities, who from time to time cross the world's stage, and whose action is as incalculable as the phenomena of the natural! world. " When such an one passes to his rest, how gladly would we be silent," were his memorable words when the news of Frederick's death reached him during his Italian travels, and the remark proves how deeply and permanently Frederick's career had impressed. him.
More easily realised is the direct influence on Goethe's youthful development of another event of his boyhood. As a result of the Seven Years' War, 7,000 French troops took possession of Frankfort in the beginning of 1759, and occupied it for more than three years. In the ways of a foreign soldiery at free quarters the Frankforters saw a strange contrast to their own decorous habits of life, but the French occupation was brought more directly home to the Goethe household. To the disgust and indignation of the father, to whom as a worshipper of Frederick the French were objects of detestation, their chief officer, Count Thoranc, quartered in his ow-n house. Goethe has told in detail the history of this invasion of the quiet household—the never-failing courtesy and considerateness of Thoranc, the abiding ill-humour of the father, the reconciling offices of the mother, exercised in vain to effect a mutual understanding between her husband and h2 s unwelcome guest. As for Goethe himself, devoted to Frederick though he was, the presence of the French introduced him to a new world into which he entered with boyish delight. With the insatiable curiosity which was his characteristic throughout life, he threw himself into the pleasures and avocations of the novel societyd Thoranc was a connoisseur in art, and gave frequent commissions to the artists of the town ; and Goethe, already interested in art through his father's collections, found his opportunity in these tastes of Thoranc, who was struck by the boy's precocity and even took hints from his suggestions.
A theatre set up by the French was another source of pleasure and stimulus. The sight of the pieces that were acted prompted him to compose pieces of his own and led him to the study of the French classical drama. In the coulisses, to which he was admitted by special favour, he observed the ways of actors—an experience which supplied the materials for the portraiture of the actor's life in Wilhelm Meister. A remark which he makes in connection with the French theatre is a significant commentary on his respective relations to his father and mother, and indicates the atmosphere of evasion which permanently pervaded the household. It was against the will of his father, but with the connivance of his mother, that he paid his visits to the theatre and cultivated the society of the actors, and it was only by the consideration that his son's knowledge of French was thus improved that the practical father was reconciled to the delinquency. The direct results of his intercourse with the French soldiery on Goethe's development were at once abiding and of high importance. It extended his knowledge of men and the world, and, more specifically, it gave him that interest in French culture and that insight into the French mind which he possessed in a degree beyond any of his contemporaries.
But the most notable experience of these early years under his father's roof still remains to be mentioned. When he was in his fourteenth year, Goethe fell in love—the first of the many similar experiences which were to form the successive crises of his future life. There can be little doubt that in his narrative of this his first love there is to the full as much " poetry " as "truth " ; but there also can be as little doubt that all the circum stances attending it made his first love a turning-point in his life. It is a peculiarity of all Goethe's love adventures that between him and the successive objects of his affections there was always some bar which made a regular union impossible or undesirable. So it was in the case of the girl whom he calls Gretchen, and of whom we know nothing except what he chose to tell us. He made her acquaintance through his association with a set of youths of questionable character whom we are surprised to find as the chosen companions of the son of an Imperial Councillor. Of all Goethe's loves this was the one that was accompanied by the least pleasant complications and the most painful of disillusions. Through his intercourse with Gretchen's intimates he was led to recommend one of them for a municipal post in Frankfort—a post which he did not hold long before he was found guilty of embezzlement and defalcation. The discovery was disastrous to Goethe's relations with Gretchen, and the disaster involved an experience of conflicting :motions which produced a crisis in his inner life. He had been rudely awakened to mistrust of mankind, and it was an awakening which, as he has himself emphasised, influenced all his thinking and feeling for many years to come. He had lived in a dream of phantasy and passion, and he learned to the shock of his whole nature that the object of his dreams had never at any moment regarded him otherwise than as an interesting boy whose talents and connections made him a desirable acquaintance. In the strained and morbid condition of his body and mind, which was the result of his disillusion, we see an experience which was often to be repeated in his maturer years, and which points to elements in his nature which were ever ready to pass beyond his control. As in the case of all his subsequent experiences of the same nature, he finally regained self-mastery, but a revolution had been accomplished in him as the result of the struggle. His boyhood was at an end, and it is with the consciousness of awakened manhood that he now looks out upon life. More than once in his future career a similar transformation was to be repeated—a great passion followed by a new direction of his activities, involving a saving breach with the past.
Goethe's father had determined from the beginning that his only son should follow the profession of law, in which, as we have seen, he had himself failed owing to his peculiarities of mind and temper. In this determination there was no consideration of the predilections of his son, and in this fact lay the permanent cause of their estrangement. The father's choice of a university for his son was another illustration of their divergent sympathies and interests. Left to his own choice, the son would have preferred the university of Gottingen as his place of study, but his father ruled that Leipzig, his own university, was the proper school for the future civilian. In connection with his departure for Leipzig Goethe makes two confessions which are a striking commentary on the conditions of his home life in Frankfort. He left Frankfort, he tells us, with joy as intense as that of a prisoner who has broken through his gaol window, and finds himself a free man. And this repugnance to his native city, as a place where he could not expand freely, remained an abiding feeling with him. The burgher life of Frankfort, he wrote to his mother during his first years at Weimar, was intolerable to him, and to have made his permanent home there would have been fatal to the fulfilment of every ideal that gave life its value. His other confession is a still more significant illustration of the vital lack of sympathy between father and son. He left Frankfort, he says, with the deliberate intention of following his own predilections and of disregarding the express wish of his father that he should apply himself specifically to the study of law. Only his sister Cornelia was made the confidant of his secret intention, and apparently no attempt was made to effect even a compromise between the aims of the father and those of the son. Plain and direct dealing was a marked characteristic of Goethe at every period of his life that he should thus have deceived his father in a matter that lay nearest his heart is therefore the final proof that father and son were separated by a gulf which could not be bridged. As it was, in the course of life which Goethe was to follow in Leipzig we may detect a certain defiant heedlessness which points to an uneasy consciousness of duty ignored.
We have it on Goethe's own word that with his departure for Leipzig begins that self-directed development which he was to pursue with the undeviating purpose and the wonderful result which make him the unique figure be is in the history of the human spirit. What, we may inquire, as he is now at the commencement of this career unparalleled, so far as our knowledge goes, in the case of any other of the world's greatest spirits—what were the specific characteristics, visible in him from the first, which gave the pledge and promise of this astonishing career ? In his case, we can say with certainty, was fully verified the adage, that the boy is father of the man. Alike in internal and external traits we note in him as a boy characteristics which were equally marked in the mature man. In his demeanour, he himself tells us, there was a certain stiff dignity which excited the ridicule of his companions. It was in his nature even as a boy, he also tells us, to assume airs of command : one of his own acquaintance and of his own years said of him, " We were all his lacqueys." Here we have in anticipation the aged Goethe whose Jove-like presence put Heine out of countenance ; the god " cold, monosyllabic," of Jean Paul. But behind the stiff demeanour, in youth as in age, there was the mercurial temperament, the etwas unendlich Riuhrendes, which made him a problem at all periods of his life even to those who knew him most intimately. He has himself noted his youthful reputation for eccentricity, " his lively, impetuous, and excitable temper " ; and this was the side of him that most impressed his associates till he was past middle age. In boyhood, also, as even in his latest years, he was subject to bursts of violence in which he lost all self-control. When attacked by three of his schoolmates, he fell upon them with the fury of a wild beast, and mastered all three. On the loss of Gretchen he " wept and raved," and, as the result of his morbid sensibility, his constitution, always abnormally influenced by his emotions, was seriously impaired. Here we have the Weiblichkeit, the feminine strain in his nature, which was noted by Schiller, and which explains the shrinking from all forms of pain which he inherited from his mother.
More than once these emotional elements in his nature were to bring him near to moral shipwreck, and it was doubtless the consciousness of such a possibility in his own case that explains his haunting interest in the character and career of Byron. But underneath his " chameleon " temperament (the expression is his own) there was a solid foundation, the lack of which was the ruin of Byron. Goethe has himself told us what this saving element in him was. It was a strenuousness and seriousness implanted in him by nature (von der Natur in mich gelegter Ernst), which, he says, " exerted its influence [on him] at an early age, and showed itself more distinctly in after years." This side of his complex nature did not escape the notice even of his youthful contemporaries. " Goethe," wrote one of them from Leipzig, " is as great a philosopher as ever." Here again we see in the boy the father of the man. Increasingly, as the years went on, his innate tendency to reflection asserted itself, till at length in his latest period it so completely dominated him that the sage proved too rn unh for the artist.
If the character of the boy foreshadowed that of the man, so did the tendencies of his genius the lines they were afterwards to follow. " Turn a man whither he will," he remarks in his Autobiography, " he will always return to the path marked out for him by nature," and his own development signally illustrates the truth of the remark. From his earliest youth, he tells us, he had "a passion for investigating natural things " ; and towards middle life his interest in physical science became so absorbing as for many years to stifle his creative faculty. But in the retrospect of his life as a whole he had no doubt as to the supreme bent of his genius. The " laurel crown of the poet" was the goal of his youthful ambition, and the last bequest he made to posterity was the Second Part of Faust. Among the miscellaneous intellectual interests of his boyhood poetry evidently held the chief place, and, partly out of his own inspiration and partly at the suggestion of others, he diligently tried his hand at different forms of poetical composition. Yet, if we may judge from his most notable boyish piece Poetische Gedanken fiber die Hollenfahrt Jesu Christi—there have been more " timely-happy spirits " than Goethe. Not, indeed, as we shall see, till his twentieth year, the age when, according to Kant, the lyric poet is in fullest possession of his genius, does his verse attain the distinctiveness of original creative power.1
All Goethe's boyish productions that have been preserved will be found in Der /tinge Goethe, Neue Ausgabe in seeks Benden besorgt von Max Morro, Leipzig, 1909.