Goethe - Student In Leipzig
( Originally Published 1913 )
OCTOBER, 1765-SEPTEMBER, 1768
As we follow the life of Byron, it has been said, we seem to hear the gallop of horses,' and we are conscious of a similar tumult as we follow the career of Goethe from the day he entered Leipzig till the close of the " mad Weimar times," when he was approaching his thirtieth year. Jugend ist Trunkenheit ohne Wein, he says in his West Ostlieher Divan, and, when he wrote the words, he may well have had specially in view the three whirling years he spent in Leipzig, " If one did not play some mad pranks in youth," he said on another occasion, " what would one have to think of in old age ?" Assuredly during these Leipzig years Goethe played a sufficient number of pranks to supply him with materials for edifying retrospection.
Our difficulty in connection with these three years is to seize the essential lineaments in a character so full of contradictions that it eludes us at every turn, and has presented to each of his many biographers a problem which each has sought to solve after his own fashion. Of materials for forming our conclusions there is certainly no lack. In his Autobiography he has related in detail, even to tediousness, the events and experiences of his life in Leipzig. Contemporary testimony, also, we have in abundance. We have the letters of friends who freely wrote their impressions of him, and from his own hand we have poems which record the passing feelings of the hour ; we have two plays which reveal moods and experiences more or less permanent ; and above all we have a considerable number of his own letters addressed to his sister and different friends, all of which, it may be said, appear to give genuine expression to the promptings of the moment. The materials for forming our judgment, therefore, are even superabundant, but in their very multiplicity lies our difficulty. The narrative in the Autobiography doubtless gives a correct general outline of his life in Leipzig and of its main results for his general development, but its cool, detached tone leaves a totally inadequate impression of the froward youth, torn to distraction by conflicting passions and conflicting ideals. With the contemporary testimonies our difficulties are of another kind. The testimonies of his friends regarding his personal traits are often contradictory, and equally so are his own self-revelations. On one and the same day he writes a letter which exhibits him as the helpless victim of his emotions, and another which shows him quite at his ease and master of himself. And he himself has warned us against taking his wild words too seriously. In a letter to his sister (September 27th, 1766), he expressly says : " As for my melancholy, it is not so deep as I have pictured it ; there are occasionally poetical licences in my descriptions which exaggerate the facts. "
Fortunately or unfortunately, the town of Leipzig, which his father had chosen for his first free contact with life, was of all German towns the one where be could see life in its greatest variety. " In accursed Leipzig," he wrote after his three years' experience of its distractions, " one burns out as quickly as a bad torch." Even the external appearance of the town was such as to suggest another world from that of Frankfort. In Frankfort the past overshadowed the present ; while Leipzig, Goethe himself wrote, recording his first impressions of the place, " evoked no memories of bygone times." And if the exterior of the town suggested a new world, its social and intellectual atmosphere intensified the impression. " Leipzig is the place for me," says Frosch in the Auerbach Cellar Scene in Faust; " it is a little Paris, and gives its folks a finish. "1 The prevailing tone of Leipzig society was, in point of fact, deliberately imitated from the pattern set to Europe by the Court of France. In contrast to the old-fashioned formality of Frankfort, the Leipziger aimed at a graceful insouciance in social intercourse and light, cynical banter in the interchange of his ideas on every subject, trifling or serious. In such a society all free, spontaneous expression of emotions or opinions was a mark of rusticity, as Goethe was not long in discovering. The true Leipziger was, of course, a Gallio in religion, and Goethe, who, on leaving his father's house, had resolved to cut all connection with the Church, found no difficulty in carrying out his intention during his residence in the little Paris. But, so far as Goethe was concerned, the most notable circumstance connected with Leipzig was that it had long been the literary centre of Germany. There the most eminent representatives of literature had made their residence, and thence had gone forth the dominant influences which had given the rule to all forms of literary production poetry and criticism alike. At the time when Goethe took up his residence in the town the two most prominent German men of letters, Gellert and Gottsched (the latter dubbed the " Saxon Swan " by Frederick the Great) were its most distinguished ornaments, though the rising generation was beginning to question both the intrinsic merit of their productions and the principles of taste which they had proclaimed. What these principles were and how Goethe stood related to them we shall presently see.
Into this world Goethe was launched when lie had just turned his sixteenth year—" a little, odd, coddled boy," and, as he elsewhere describes himself, with a tendency to morbid fancies. If he had come to Leipzig with the resolve to fulfil his father's intentions, his course was clearly marked out for him. He would diligently sit at the feet of the professors of law in the university, and at the end of three years he would return to Frankfort with the attainments requisite to make him a future ornament of the legal profession. But, as we have seen, he had other schemes in his head than the course which his father had prescribed for him, and, if we are to accept his own later testimony, in forming these schemes he was but following the deepest instincts of his nature. "Anything," he exclaimed to his secretary Riemer, when he was approaching his sixtieth year, " anything but an enforced profession ! That is contrary to all my instincts. So far as I can, and so long as the humour lasts, I will carry out in a playful fashion what comes in my way. So I unconsciously trifled in my youth so will I consciously continue to do to the end. "1 The step he now Look is a curious illustration of the solemn self-importance which was one of his characteristics as a youth. To the professor of history and law of all people he chose to announce his intention of studying belles lettres instead of jurisprudence. The professor sensibly pointed out to him the folly and impropriety of his conduct in view of his father's wishes ; and his counsels, seconded by the friendly advice of his wife, Frau Bohme, turned the youthful aspirant from his purpose for a time. On his own testimony he now became a model student, and was " as happy as a bird in a wood." He heard lectures on German history from Bohme, though history was distasteful to him at every period of his life ; lectures on literature from the popular Gellert, on style from Professor Clodius, and on physics, logic, and philosophy from other professors.
But alike by temperament and previous training, Goethe was indisposed to profit by professorial prelections, however admirable. He had brought with him to the university a store of miscellaneous information which deprived them of the novelty they might have for the average listener. " Application," he says, moreover, was not my talent, since nothing gave me any pleasure except what came to me of itself." So it was that by the close of his first semester his attendance at lectures became a jest, and the professors the butt of his wit. It was characteristic that he found the prelections on philosophy and logic specially tedious and distasteful. Of God and the world he thought he knew as much as his teacher, and the scholastic analysis of the processes of thought seemed to him only the deadening of the faculties which he had received from nature. Of these dreary hours in the lecture-rooms the biting comments of Faust and Mephistopheles on university studies in general are the lively reminiscence.
But while he was putting in a perfunctory attendance at lectures, his education was proceed-in another school—the school which, as in his after years he so insistently testified, affords the only real discipline for life—the world of real men and women.' And the lessons of this school he took in with a zest that well illustrates what he called his " chameleon " nature. Within a year the " little, odd, coddled boy " who had left his father's house was transformed into a fashionable Leipzig youth who went even beyond his models. His homemade suit, which had passed muster in Frankfort, but which excited ridicule in Leipzig, was exchanged for a costume which went to the other extreme of dandyism. His inner man underwent a corresponding transformation, and, as was so often to be the case with him, it was a woman who was the efficacious instrument of the change. We have just seen how Frau Bohme seconded her husband's attempts to dissuade him from abandoning his legal studies, but her good offices did not end there. A woman of cultivated mind and considerable literary attainments, she evidently saw the promise of the raw Frankfort youth, and, with a feminine tact, to which Goethe bore grateful testimony, she set herself to correct his manners and his tastes. He had brought with him his Frankfort habits of speech, and these under protest he was forced to give up for the modish forms of the smooth-speaking Leipzigers. Before Frau Bohme took him in hand, he assures us, he was not an ill-mannered lad, but she impressed on him the need of cultivating the external graces of social intercourse and even of acquiring a certain skill in the fashionable games of the day—an accomplishment, however, which he never succeeded in attaining. More important for his future development was Frau Böhme's influence on his literary tastes. As was his habit among his friends, he would declaim to her passages from his favourite poets, and she, " an enemy to all that was trivial, feeble, and commonplace," would unsparingly point out their essential inanity. When he ventured to recite his own poetical attempts, her criticism was equally unsparing. The discipline was sharp, but for the " coddled " boy, who had been regarded at home as a youthful prodigy, it was entirely wholesome. Yet, if we may judge from a description of him some ten months after his arrival in Leipzig, the chastening does not appear to have lessened his buoyant self-confidence. The description is from the hand of a comrade of his own in Frankfort, Horn by name, the son of a former chief magistrate of the city. Horn, like Goethe, had come to study in Leipzig, and on his arrival there, 1766, he thus (August, 1766) records his impressions of Goethe to a common friend : " If you only saw him, you would be either furious with rage or burst with laughing. It is beyond me to understand how anyone can change so quickly. Besides being arrogant, he is also a dandy, and his clothes, though fine, are in such ridiculous taste that they attract the attention of the whole university.' But he does not mind that a bit, and it is useless to tell him of his follies. . . . He has acquired a gait which is simply intolerable. Could you only see him !" Such was Horn's first impression of his former comrade, but it is right to say that a few months later he could tell the same correspondent that they had not lost a friend in Goethe, who had still the same good heart and was as much a philosopher and a moralist as ever.
In his Autobiography Goethe states as the reason for his casting off the home-made suit he had brought with him from Frankfort, that a person entering the Leipzig theatre in similar costume excited the ridicule of the audience.
In his second letter Horn gives a singular reason for the preposterous airs which Goethe had lately put on. Goethe, wrote Horn, had fallen in love with a girl " beneath him in rank," and his antics were assumed to disguise the fact from his friends who might report it to his father. Goethe's relations to this girl were to be his liveliest experience in Leipzig, and an experience frequently to be repeated at different periods of his life. Like his other adventures of the same nature, it was to supply him with a fund of emotions and reflections which at a future day were to serve him as literary capital. The tale of his passion, if passion it was, is, therefore, an essential part of his biography, both as a man and a literary artist.
The girl in question was Kathchen (or, as Goethe calls her in his Autobiography, Annchen) Schonnkopf, the daughter of a wineseller and lodging-house keeper in Leipzig, whose wife, we are informed, belonged to a " patrician " family in Frankfort. As described by Horn, she was " well-grown though not tall, with a round, pleasant face, though not particularly pretty, and with an open, gentle, and engaging air " ; and in a letter to his sister Goethe gives the further information that she had a " good heart, not bewildered with too much reading," and that her spelling was dubious. And it may be noted in passing that Goethe apparently had a preference for women who were not sophisticated with letters, as was notably shown in the case of the woman whom he eventually made his wife.
It was on April 26th, 1766, that he first made the declaration of his passion, so that, when Horn wrote, we are to suppose that its course was in full tide.' But now, as always, Goethe had room for two objects in his affections. On October 1st, 1766, he wrote letters to two friends, in the second of which he expressed his passion for Katchen, and in the first an equally ardent emotion for another maiden who had crossed his path in Frankfort. Goethe's confidant throughout his relations with Kathchen was one of those peculiar persons whom we meet with in following his career. He was one Behrisch, now residing in Leipzig in the capacity of tutor to a young German count. In his Autobiography Goethe has given a large place to Behrisch, who, as there depicted, comes before us as an accomplished man of the world, something of a roue, and a humorist in the old English sense of the word. He never appeared without his periwig, invariably wore a suit of grey, and was never seen in public without his sword, hat under arm. Of a caustic wit, of considerable literary attainments, and approaching his thirtieth year, he had evidently an influence on Goethe which was not wholly for good. He took a genuine interest in Goethe's literary efforts, gave him good advice on points of style, and dissuaded him from hasty publication. On the other hand, it was under his influence that Goethe began to assume the tone and airs of a Don. Juan, which are an unpleasant characteristic of his recently published correspondence with Behrisch. It is in this correspondence that we have the record of Goethe's dallyings with Kathchen, and, take it as we may, the record is as vivid a presentment as we could wish of a nature as complex in its emotions as it was steadfast in its central bent.
The letters to Behrisch begin in October, 1766, and present Goethe in the light of a happy lover. There is an assiduous rival, but his addresses are coldly received.' In an ecstasy of delight, after a four hours' tete-a-tete with Kathchen, he treats Behrisch to some lines of English verse which may be produced here as exhibiting the state of his feelings and the extent of his acquaintance with the English language :—
What pleasure, God ! of like a flame to born, A virteous fire, that ne'er to vice kan turn. What volupty ! when trembling in my arms, The bosom of my maid my bosom warrneth ! Perpetual kisses of her lips o'erflow,
In holy embrace mighty virtue show.
In letters written to his sister Cornelia about the same date, however, we see another side of his life in Leipzig. He has been excluded from the society in which he was formerly received, and he assigns as reasons that he is following the counsels of his father in refusing to engage in play, and that he cannot avoid showing a sense of his superiority in taste which gives offence. But, as we learn that Behrisch was also excluded from the same society, and that he was dismissed from the charge of his pupils on the ground of his loose life, we may infer that Goethe does not state all the reasons for his own social ostracism.
So things stood with him in October, 1766, and it is not till the following May that we hear of him again through his correspondence. In a letter to Cornelia written in that month he excuses himself for his long neglect of her. He has been busy, he has been ill, and the spring has come late. In this letter he writes of Kathchen as follows : " Among my acquaintances who are alive (he has just mentioned the death of Frau Böhme) the little Schönkopf does not deserve to be forgotten. She is a very good girl, with an uprightness of heart joined to agreeable naiveté, though her education has been more severe than good. She looks after my linen and other things when it is necessary, for she knows all about these matters, and is pleased to give me the benefit of her knowledge ; and I like her well for that. Am I not a bit of a scamp, seeing I am in love with all these girls? Who could resist them when they are good ; for as for beauty, that does not touch me ; and, indeed, all my acquaintances are more good than beautiful."
This is not the tone of an ardent lover speaking of his mistress, and it is evident that Cornelia was not the confidant of his real relations to Kathchen, which, indeed, would have been as distasteful to her as to their father. In another letter, addressed to her in the following August, he is not more frank. There he tells her that Annette is now his muse, and that, as Herodotus names the books of his History after the nine muses, so he has given the name of Annette to a collection of twelve poetical pieces, magnificently copied in manuscript. But, he significantly adds, Annette had no more to do with his poetry than the Muses had to do with the History of Herodotus. To what extent this statement expressed the truth we shall presently see.
In October, 1767, Goethe resumed his correspondence with Behrisch, and it is in this part of it that we have the fullest revelation of his state of mind during the last year of his residence in Leipzig. With the exception of occasional digressions these letters are solely concerned with his relations to Kathchen, and their outpourings afterwards received their faithful echo in the incoherences of Werther. Here is the beginning of a letter to Behrisch (October 13th), in which he described his feelings as evoked by the appearance of two rivals for the favours of Kathchen.
" Another night like this, Behrisch, and, in spite of all my sins, I shan't have to go to hell. You may have slept peacefully, but a jealous lover, who has drunk as much champagne as is necessary to put his blood in a pleasant heat and to inflame his imagination to the highest point ! At first I could not sleep, I tossed about in my bed, sprang up, raved ; then I grew weary and fell asleep." And he proceeds to relate a wild dream in which Kathchen was the distracting image ; and he concludes : " There you have Annette. She is a cursed lass !"1 Yet on the same day or the day following he could thus describe his mode of life in a letter to his sister : " It is very philosophical," he writes ; " I have given up concerts, comedies, riding and driving, and have abandoned all societies of young folks who might lead me into more company. This will be of great advantage to my purse. "2 Very different is the picture of his mode of life in his subsequent letters to Behrisch at the same period. If we are to take him literally, it was the life of a veritable Don Juan who had learned all the lessons of his instructor. " Do you recognise me in this tone, Behrisch ?" he writes ; " it is the tone of a conquering young lord. . . . It is comic. Aber ohne zu schworen ich unterstehe mich schon ein Madgen zu verf—wie Teufel soil ich's nennen. Enough, Monsieur, all this is but what you might have expected from the aptest and most diligent of your scholars. " That all this was not mere bravado is distinctly suggested even in Dichtung und Wahrheit, where the wild doings of Leipzig are so decorously draped.
Goethe knew from the first that he could never make Kelichen his wife, and that sooner or later his lovemaking must come to an end. The end came in the spring of 1768 after two years' philandering which had not been all happiness. In a letter to Behrisch he thus relates the denouement : " Oh, Behrisch," he writes, " I have begun to live ! Could I but tell you the whole story ! 1 cannot ; it would cost me too much. Enough—we have separated, we are happy. . . . Behrisch, we are living in the pleasantest, friendliest intercourse. . . . We began with love and we end with friendship. " Goethe makes one of his characters say that estranged lovers, if they only manage things well, may still remain friends, and the remark was prompted by more than one experience of his own.
When he was past his seventieth year, Goethe made a remark to his friend, Chancellor von Muller, which is applicable to every period of his life : " In the hundred things which interest me," he said, " there is always one which, as chief planet, holds the central place, and meanwhile the remaining Quodlibet of my life circles round it in many-changing phases, till each and all succeed in reaching the centre." Even in these distracted Leipzig years the mental process thus described is clearly visible. Neither Goethe's loves nor his other dissipations ever permanently dulled the intellectual side of his nature. While he was writing morbid letters to Behrisch, he was directing the studies of his sister with all the seriousness of a youthful pedagogue. Though he neglected the lectures of his professors, he was assimilating knowledge on every subject that appealed to his natural instincts. In truth, all the manifold activities of his later years were foreshadowed during his sojourn in Leipzig, as, indeed, they had already been foreshadowed during his boyhood in Frankfort.
As in Frankfort, he took in knowledge equally from men, books, and things. In the house of a Leipzig citizen, a physician and botanist, he met a society of medical men, and he records how his attention was directed to an entirely new field through listening to their conversation. Now, apparently for the first time, he heard the names of Haller, Buffon, and Linnaeus, the last of whom he, in later years, named with Spinoza and Shakespeare as one of the chief moulding forces of his life. Through the influence and example of other men he intermittently practised etching, drawing, and engraving—all arts in which he retained a lifelong interest. But among all the persons in Leipzig who influenced him Goethe gave the first place to Friedrich Oeser, director of the academy of drawing in the city. Oeser was about fifty years of age, jovial in disposition, and an experienced man of the world. Though as an artist he is now held in little regard, his reputation was great in his own day,1 and he had a reflected glory in being the friend of Winckelmann, who was reputed to have profited by his teaching in art. Under the inspiration of Oeser Goethe's interest in the plastic arts in general, which had received its first impulse at home, became a permanent preoccupation for the remainder of his life. He took regular lessons in drawing from Oeser, made acquaintance with all the collections, public and private, to be found in Leipzig, and even made a secret visit to the galleries in Dresden, where, he tells us, he gave his exclusive attention to the works of the great Dutch masters. As was always his habit, Goethe generously acknowledged his obligations to Oeser. " Who among all my teachers, except yourself," he afterwards wrote on his return to Frankfort, ever thought me worthy of encouragement ? They either heaped all blame or all praise upon me, and nothing can be so destructive of talent. . . You know what I was when I came to you, and what when I left you : the difference is your work .. . you have taught me to be modest without self-depreciation, and to be proud without presumption." And elsewhere he declares that the great lesson be had learned from Oeser was that the ideal of beauty is to be found in " simplicity and repose." But the main interest of Goethe's intercourse with Oeser in connection with his general development is that it strengthened an illusion from which he did not succeed in freeing himself till near his fortieth year—the illusion that nature had given him equally the gifts of the painter and the poet. Many hours of the best years of his life were to be spent in laboriously practising an art in which he was doomed to mediocrity ; and it must remain a riddle that one, who like Goethe was so curiously studious of his own self-development, should so long and so blindly have misunderstood his own gifts.
It may partly explain his addiction to art that the poetical productions which he had brought from Frankfort, and which had been applauded by the circle of his friends there, did not meet with the approval of the critics in Leipzig. We have seen how sharply Frau Bohme commented on their shortcomings, but he was specially disheartened by the severe criticism passed on one of his poems by Clodius, the professor of literature. " I am cured of the folly of thinking myself a poet," he wrote to his sister about a year after his arrival in Leipzig. Some six months later he writes to her in a more hopeful spirit : Since I am wholly without pride, I may trust my inner conviction, which tells me that I possess some of the qualities required in a poet, and that by diligence I may even become one. " In his Autobiography and elsewhere Goethe has spoken at length of the disadvantages under which youthful geniuses laboured at the period when he began his literary career. As Germany then existed, there was no national feeling to inspire great themes, no standard of taste, and no worthy models for imitation. There was, indeed, no lack of literature on all subjects ; Kant speaks sarcastically of " the deluge of books with which our part of the world is inundated every year." But the fatal defects of the poetry then produced was triviality and the " wateriness " of its style. Yet it was during the years that Goethe spent in Leipzig that there appeared a succession of works which mark a new departure in German literature. In 1766 Herder, who was subsequently to exercise such a profound influence over Goethe, published his Fragments on Modern German Literature; in the same year appeared Lessing's
Notably in his paper, entitled Literarischer Sansculattismus. See above, p. 4. Regarding Lessing he made this remark to Eckermann (February 7th, 1827) : " Bedauert doch den ausserordentlichen Menschen, dass er in einer so erbarmlichen Zeit leben musste, die ihrn keine bessern Stoffe gab, als in seinen Stiicken verarbeitet sind!"
Laokoon, which, in Goethe's own words, transported himself and his contemporaries " out of the region of pitifully contracted views into the domain of emancipated thought " ; and in 1767 Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm, Germany's " first national drama." Greatly as Goethe was impressed by both of these works of Lessing, however, he was not mature enough to profit by them; and, in point of fact, all the work, poems and plays, which he produced during his Leipzig period, is solely inspired by the French models which had so long dominated German literature.
Considering his other manifold preoccupations, the amount of Goethe's literary output during his three years in Leipzig is sufficient evidence that his poetic instincts remained the dominant impulses of his nature. He sprinkled his letters to his friends with poems in German, French, and English, and he composed twenty lyrics which were subsequently published in the autumn of 1769 under the title of Neue Lieder; and two plays, entitled Die Laune des Verliebten and Die Mitschuldigen. The biographic interest of all these productions is the light which they throw on the transformation which Goethe had undergone during his residence in Leipzig. In the poems he had written in Frankfort religion had been the predominant theme ; in hi; Leipzig effusions it was love, and love in a sufficiently Anacreontic sense. Regarding the poetic merit of the Neue Lieder German critics are for the most part at one. With hardly an exception the love lyrics are mere imitations of French models ; their style is as artificial as their feeling ; and they give little promise of the work that was to come from the same hand a few years later. As the expression of one of his lover's moods, one of them, reckoned the best in the collection, may here be given. It is entitled Die schone Nacht.
But it is in the two plays produced during this period that Goethe most fully reveals both his literary ideals and the essential traits of his own character. The first of the two, Die Laune des Verliebten (" The Lover's Caprices "), is based on his own relations to Kathchen Schonkopf, and is cast in the form of a pastoral drama, written in Alexandrines after the fashion of the time.' The theme is a satire on his own wayward conduct towards Kathchen, as he has depicted it in his Autobiography. The plot is of the simplest kind. Two pairs of lovers, Egle and Lamon, and Amine and Eridon, the first pair happy in their loves, the second unhappy, make up the characters of the piece. The leading part is taken by Egle, who is distressed at the misery of her friend Amine, occasioned by the jealous humours of her lover Eridon. Complications there are none, and the sole interest of the play consists in the vivacity of the dialogues and in the arch mischief with which Egle eventually shames Eridon out of his foolish jealousy of his maiden, who is only too fondly devoted to him. What strikes us in the whole performance is that Goethe, if he was so madly in love with Kathchen as his letters to Behrisch represent him, should have been capable of writing it. From its playful humour and entirely objective treatment it might have been written by a good-natured onlooker amused at the spectacle of two young people trifling with feelings which neither could take seriously.
Equally objective is Goethe's handling of the very different theme of the other play, Die Mitschuldigen (" The Accomplices "), and in this case the objectivity is still more remarkable in a youth who had not yet attained his twentieth year. This second piece belongs to the class of low comedy, and is as simple in construction as its companion. The scene is Laid in an inn, and the characters are four in number : the Host, whose leading trait is insatiable curiosity ; Lis daughter Sophia, represented as of easy virtue ; Soller, her husband, a graceless scamp ; and Alcestes, a former lover of Sophia, and for the time a guest in the inn. In the central scene of the play there come in succession to Alcestes' room in the course of one night Soller, who steals Alcestes' gold ; the Host, to possess himself of a letter with the contents of which he has a burning curiosity to become acquainted ; and Sophia by appointment with
The exact time and place of its composition is uncertain, but Goethe's own testimony seems to indicate that it was mainly written in Leipzig, in 1769. It was first published in i787, with some modifications, which affect only the form.
Alcestes. As father and daughter have caught sight of each other on their respective errands, each suspects the other of being the thief, and in a sorry scene the father, on the condition of being permitted to read the letter, which turns out to be a trivial note, informs Alcestes that Sophia is the delinquent. Finally, Soller, under the threat of a prick from Alcestes' sword, confesses to the theft, and the piece ends with a mutual agreement to condone each other's delinquencies.The play is not without humour, and the different characters are vivaciously presented, but the blindest admirers of the master may well regret, as they mostly have regretted, that such a work should have come from his hands. The most charitable construction we can put on the graceless production is that Goethe, out of his abnormal impressionability, for the time being deliberately assumed the tone of cynical indifference with which he had become familiar in his intercourse with his friend Behrisch.
In direct connection with the shorter poems which Goethe wrote in Leipzig, there is a passage in his Autobiography which has perhaps been more frequently quoted than any other, and which, according as we interpret it, must materially influence our judgment at once on his character and his genius. The passage is as follows " And thus began that tendency of which, all my life through, I was never able to break myself ; the tendency to transmute into a picture or a poem whatever gave me either pleasure or pain, or otherwise preoccupied me, and thus to arrive at a judgment regarding it, with the object at once of rectifying my ideas of things external to me and of calming my own feelings. This gift was in truth perhaps necessary to no one more than to me, whose temperament was continually tossing him from one extreme to another. All my productions proceeding from this tendency that have become known to the world are only fragments of a great confession which it is the bold attempt of this book to complete."
From the context of this passage it is to be inferred that the habit which Goethe describes applied only to the occasional short poems which he threw off at the different periods of his life. But are we to infer that the account here given of Goethe's occasional poems applies to the passionate lyrics which a few years later he was to pour forth in such abundance ? To a very different purport is another passage in the Autobiography, which is at the same time a striking commentary on Words-worth's remark that Goethe's poetry was " not inevitable enough." I had come." he there says, " to look upon my indwelling poetic talent altogether as a force of nature ; the more so as I had always been compelled to regard outward nature as its proper object. The exercise of this poetic faculty might indeed be excited and determined by circumstances ; but its most joyful and richest action was spontaneous even involuntary.
In my nightly vigils the same thing happened ; so that I often wished, like one of my predecessors, to have a leathern jerkin made, and to get accustimed to writing in the dark, so as to be able to fix on paper all such unpremeditated effusions. It had so often happened to me that, after composing some snatch of: poetry in my head, I could not recall it, that would now hurry to my desk and, without once breaking off, write off the poem from beginning to end, not even taking time to straighten the paper, if it lay crosswise, so that the verses often slanted across the page. In such a mood I preferred to get hold of a lead pencil, because I could write most readily with it whereas the scratching and spluttering of a pen would sometimes wake me from a poetic dream, confuse me, and so stifle some trifling production in its birth."
Poetry produced as here described may certainly be regarded as part of the poet's" confession," but in the circumstances of its origin it is a world apart from the poetry composed in the fashion described in the passage preceding. The poet here does not coolly say to himself : Go to, I will make a poem to relieve my feelings" ; he sings, to quote Goethe's own expression, " as the bird sings," out of the sheer fulness of his heart, which insists on immediate expression.' True it is that Goethe, like all other poets, frequently wrote under no immediate pressure of inspiration, but to affirm this of the highest efforts of his genius is at once to contradict his own testimony and to misinterpret the conditions under which genius produces its results.
In a letter to W. von Rumohr (Sepnmber .;Mth, 3807), Goethe cails " unaufhaltsame Natur, untiberwiraScile Neigung, drangende Leidenschaft " the " Haupterfordernisse der warren Poesie." In two of his Zahme Xenien Goethe has expressed his opinion on the necessity of inspiration in poetic production :—
Ja das ist das rechte Gleis, Dass man nicht weiss,
Was man denkt.
Wenn man denkt
Altes ist als wie geschenkt.
All unser redlichstes Bemiihn
Gkckt nur im unbewussten Momente.
Wie rnOchte denn die Rose bliihn,
Wenn sic der Sonne Herrlichkeit erkcnnte I.