Goethe In Strassburg
( Originally Published 1913 )
APRIL, 1770-AUGUST, 1771
GOETHE was in his twenty-first year when he entered Strassburg in the beginning of April, 1770. From his maturer age and the chastening experience of the preceding eighteen months, therefore, it was to be expected that his management of his life in his new home would be more in accordance with his father's wishes than his wild ways in Leipzig. In sending his son to Strassburg it was the father's intention that he should complete those legal studies of which he had made a jest in Leipzig, and qualify himself for the profession by which he was to make his future living. During his residence of some sixteen months in Strassburg Goethe did actually fulfil his father's wish, and returned to Frankfort as a full-fledged Licenciate of Laws, but as little as at Leipzig did the interests which engrossed him suggest future eminence in his profession.
What again strikes us is the rapidity with which he caught the tone of his new surroundings. In Strassburg he found a society whose ways of living and thinking were equally different from those of Frankfort and of Leipzig. Strassburg had not the bounded intellectual horizon which made him feel himself an alien in his native town, nor, on the other hand, did it offer the opportunities for frivolous distraction which he found in the " little Paris." Strassburg had been a French town for a hundred years, but there was no town in Germany more intensely German in its sympathies and aspirations. The officials and the upper classes in the town spoke French and were French in their tastes and habits, but the great majority of its citizens clung to their national traditions with the tenacity of the conquered. It is Goethe's own testimony that his residence in Strassburg precisely at this period of his life was a decisive circumstance for his future development. At the moment of his arrival, he had not yet completely broken with French models, and he would even appear to have had vague dreams that he would eventually choose the French language as his literary medium.1 Ever responsive to the intellectual and spiritual atmosphere in which he found himself, however, the intensely German sympathies of his Strassburg circle definitely turned him from a career which would have cut off his genius from its profoundest sources.
His decisive rejection of French for German ideals was the governing fact of his sojourn in Strassburg, but he had other experiences there which show that he was the same variable being of the Leipzig days. His first letters from his new home would seem to show that he had brought with him something of the pious sentiments he had acquired from his association with Fraulein von Klettenberg, though his expression of them has a singular savour. About a fortnight after his arrival in Strassburg he writes as follows to one Limprecht, a theological student whose acquaintance he had made in Leipzig : " I am now again Studiosus, and, thank God, have now as much health as need, and spirits in superabundance. As I was, I so am I still ; only that I stand better with our Lord God and with his dear Son Jesus Christ. It follows that I am a somewhat wiser man ; and have learned by experience the meaning of the saying, ' The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' To be sure, we first sing Hosanna to him who cometh yonder ; well and good ! even that is joy and happiness ; the King must first enter before he ascends his throne." A week later he writes again to the same correspondent in a similar strain" : " I am a different man, very different : for that I thank my Saviour ; and I am thankful also that I am not what I pass for."
Two months later (July 28th) he appears to be in the same pious frame of mind. " I still live somewhat at random," he writes to another correspondent, " and I thank God for it ; and often, when I dare, I thank His Son also that I am in circumstances which seem to enjoin this random mode of life. . . . Reflections are very light wares, but prayer is a profitable business ; a single welling-up of the heart to Him whom we call a God till we can name Him. our God, and we are overwhelmed by the multitude of our mercies."
This mood, we cannot help feeling, sits ill on Goethe ; pious as are his expressions, they have not the ring of the genuine believer. Yet it would be unjust to charge him with deliberate hypocrisy. The truth is that at this time, and indeed through out all his sojourn in Strassburg, he was in a state of nervous irritability of which both himself and his friends were aware.2 Other expressions in letters of the same date reveal a variability of moods, the only explanation of which is that he had not fully recovered from the depressed mental condition consequent on his long illness in Frankfort. But his unnatural mood of piety did not long withstand the new influences to which he was now subjected, and it is in a letter to Fraulein von Klettenberg herself, written towards the end of August, that he intimates his growing distaste for the religious set to whom she had introduced him in Strassburg. After telling her that he had been to Holy Communion " to remind him of the sufferings and death of our Lord," he proceeds : " My intercourse with the religious people here is not quite hearty, though at first I did turn very heartily to them ; but it seems as if it were not to be. They are so deadly dull when they begin that my natural vivacity cannot endure it." lie goes on to say that he has made the acquaintance of one who is of a different way of thinking from these people—one " who from the coolness of blood with which he has always regarded the world thinks he has discovered that we are put in this world for the special purpose of being useful in it ; that we are capable of making ourselves so ; that, religion is of some help in this ; and that the most useful man is the best."
The acquaintance to whom Goethe thus refers was the most important person in the circle with which he was mainly associated during his residence in Strassburg. It was a circle widely different in tastes and ways of thinking from that which he had left at Frankfort. Boarded in one house, the persons who composed it, about ten in number, 'daily met at a common table. Of different ages, and mostly medical students, their talk, as Goethe tells us, mainly turned on their professional studies. The talk of medical students is not favourable to the cultivation of a mystical piety, and it need not surprise us that a few weeks in this atmosphere were sufficient to give Goethe a growing distaste for those religious sentiments which in his ease were only a morbid distortion of his natural instincts. Yet during these Strassburg days there is no trace in him of that anti-Christian attitude of mind which was to be one of his later phases. He decisively dissociated himself from the Herrnhut society, and he ceased to speak in their language, but, as we have seen, he was still disposed to assign to religion a due place in the lives of reasonable men.
In the president of the common table, Dr. Salzmann, the acquaintance to whom he referred, Goethe found one who by his personal character and general views of life appealed to what was deepest in his own nature. Salzmann's belief that " the most useful man is the best," may be said, indeed, to sum up Goethe's own maturest conviction regarding the conduct of life. In his relations to Salzmann, therefore, so far as Goethe's ethical and religious ideals are concerned, we have the clearest light thrown on his Strassburg period. As described by Goethe himself, Salzmann was a man of the world, characterised by a tact, good sense, and personal dignity which gave him an undisputed ascendancy over the miscellaneous company which met at the common table. From another member of the circle/ we have this additional tribute to Salzmann's high character : His place (at table) was the uppermost, and that would have been his natural place, even had he sat behind the door. His modesty does not permit me to pass a panegyric on him. . . . Let my readers imagine a philosophy, based at once on feeling and a thorough grasp of principles, conjoined with the most genuine Christianity, and he will have an idea of a Salzmann." Goethe and he, the same writer odds, were " the most cordial friends (Herzensfreunde)." In Leipzig the cynical roué Behrisch had been Goethe's mentor ; in Strassburg his mentor was Salzmann, and the fact emphasises all the difference between Goethe's Leipzig and Strassburg days. That he chose Salzmann as his chiefest friend and confidant at a period when self-control was still far from his reach, is the proof that des Lebens ernstes Fuhren----the strenuous conduct of life—was in reality, as he himself claimed, an imperative instinct of his nature. Certainly he did not regulate his life in Strassburg in accordance with the maxim of his self-chosen counsellor, yet we may conjecture that but for Salzmann's restraining influence he would have gone further and faster than he actually did. In the extremity of what was to be his most passionate experience in Strassburg, it was to Salzmann that he poured forth all the tumult of his passion, and the very act of laying bare his heart to such a counsellor was a suggestion of the necessity of a certain measure of self-control. In connection with Goethe's relations to Salzmann we have also to note what is true of his relations to everyone at whose feet he chose for the time to sit. When a youth of eighteen he had written to Behrisch, a man of thirty, on terms of perfect equality. He was now a little over twenty, and Salzmann was approaching fifty and a man of the stamp we have seen, yet in Goethe's letters to him there is no trace of the modest diffidence with which a youth usually addresses his seniors. A forward self-confidence, which some found objectionable, was in fact a characteristic of his youth and early manhood which is noticed by more than one observer. He entered a room, we are told, with a bold and confident air ; and we have it from another witness that he was d'une suffisance insupportable.' Be it remarked, however, that there is equal testimony to the overpowering charm of his bearing and conversation—a charm due, as we learn, to a spontaneity of feeling and exuberance of youthful spirits which broke through all conventions and gave the tone to every company in which he found himself.
Goethe's relations to another member of the circle, who joined it somewhat later, show him in his most attractive light. This was Johann Heinrich Jung, better known as Jung Stilling, now about thirty years of age. Stilling was another of those originals who crossed Goethe's path at different periods, and to whom he was at all times specially attracted. Stilling had had a remarkable career ; he had been successively charcoal-burner, tailor, schoolmaster, and private tutor, and he had come to Strassburg to qualify himself for the practice of medicine. What attracted Goethe to him was a type of mind and character at every point dissimilar from his own. With a simple mystical piety, which led him to believe that he was a special child of Providence, Stilling cornbined an intelligence and a zeal for knowledge which gave his words and his actions an individual stamp. It is from Stilling that we have the most vivid description of Goethe in these Strassburg days. As he sat with a friend at the common table for the first time, they saw a youth enter who, by his " large bright eyes, magnificent forehead, handsome person, and confident air," arrested their attention. " That must be a fine fellow," remarked Stilling's friend, but both agreed that they might look for trouble with him, as he seemed Goethe was to prove one of Stilling's warmest friends. Stilling himself relates how, when one at the table directed a gibe at him, it was Goethe who rebuked the railer. When Stilling was in despair at the news of the illness of his betrothed, it was to Goethe he flew for comfort, and he found him a friend in need. At a later date Goethe published Stilling's Autobiography without his knowledge, and presented him with the copyright. It was with the lively recollection of these and other acts of friendship that Stilling wrote the words which are the finest tribute ever paid to Goethe : " Goethe's heart, which few knew, was as great as his intellect, which all knew. "
Neither in Frankfort, nor in Leipzig, nor in Strassburg had Goethe as yet met the man in whom he could recognise his intellectual peer. In the beginning of September, 1770, however, there came to Strassburg one who, for the first time, impressed him with a sense of inferiority. This was Johann Gottfried Herder, who, some five years Goethe's senior, had a career behind him widely different from that of the fortunate son of the Imperial Councillor of Frankfort. Born of poor parents, he had had to fight his way at every step to the distinction which he had already attained. He had studied under Kant at Konigsberg, had been successively assistant teacher, assistant pastor, and private tutor. In this last capacity he bad travelled in France, and visited Paris, where he had made the acquaintance, among others, of Diderot and D'Alembert. In Hamburg he had for several weeks been in intercourse with Lessing, whom Goethe in a moment of caprice had neglected to visit in Leipzig. Already, moreover, he bad produced work in literary criticism which by its suggestiveness and originality had attracted much attention, and notably among the youth of Germany. In hard-won experience, in extent of knowledge and range of ideas, therefore, Herder, as Goethe himself speedily saw and acknowledged, was far ahead of him along those very paths where he himself was ambitious of distinction.
The association of Herder and Goethe in these Strassburg days is one of the interesting chapters in European literary history. Goethe himself bears emphatic testimony to Herder's determining influence at once on his mind and character. " The most significant event of that time," he tells us, " and one which was to have the weightiest consequences for me, was my acquaintance with Herder and the closer bond that resulted from it." Bond there was between them, but it was not the bond of genuine friendship. No two men, indeed, could be more essentially antipathetic by nature than Herder and Goethe. Their antagonism was clearly apparent during their intercourse in Strassburg, and in the end, after many years of uneasy relations, their alienation became complete. Be it said that the traits in Herder which estranged Goethe from him were equally recognised and felt by others. Naturally querulous, splenetic, and inconsiderate of others' feelings, the adverse circumstances of his early life had made him something of a Timon among his fellows. His favourite author was Swift, and from this preference and from the peculiarities of his own temper he was known among his acquaintances as the " Dean." But there were sides to his nature which certainly did not exist in the " terrible Dean. Herder was an enthusiast for his own ideas, and these ideas were of a quality and range that marked him as one of the pioneers of his time. Religion as a primary instinct in man and the principal factor in his development was Herder's lifelong and predominant interest. He identified himself with Christianity, but it was a Christianity understood by him in the most liberal sense, a Christianity free from dogma, a spirit rather than a creed. As kindred to religion, poetry in his conception was inseparable from it in the essential being of man—poetry not as expressed in conventional, forms but as the breath of the human spirit, and one of the most precious gifts for the purifying and elevation of humanity. These conceptions he owed, not to Kant, to whom he had listened in Konigsberg but to a less systematic teacher, J. G. Hamann, whose eccentric character and visionary speculations had gained for him the designation of the " Magus of the North." Goethe came to be acquainted with the writings of Hamann, and. had a genuine admiration of him as a seer struggling with visions to which he was unable to give adequate utterance.' It was in his conversations with Herder, however, that he was introduced to those deeper conceptions of man and his possibilities which implied a complete emancipation from the mechanical philosophy which he had hitherto been endeavouring to find, in. a, mystical religion.
During the six months that Herder resided in Strassburg he was under treatment for a serious ailment of his eyes, and Goethe was assiduous in his attendance on him, often remaining with him for whole days. Their intercourse was not an unmixed pleasure for either. Herder's mordant humour and spirit of contradiction were a daily trial to Goethe's temper, and he describes his feelings of alternating attraction and repulsion as a wholly new experience in his life. Herder, who had known Diderot and D'Alernbert and Lessing, appears, indeed, to have treated Goethe as an undisciplined boy, spoilt by flattery, with no serious purpose in life, inconsequent and irresponsible. Nor does he seem to have been specially impressed by any promise in the youth who was so completely to eclipse him in the eyes of the world. In his letters from Strassburg he does not even mention Goethe's name ; and, when he subsequently referred to him, it was in terms he might have applied to any clever and confident youth. " Goethe," he wrote, " is at bottom a good fellow, only somewhat superficial and sparrow-like, faults with which I constantly taxed him." If Herder's moods frequently jarred on Goethe, it is evident that the experience was mutual. The physical and mental restlessness, which is suggested by the epithet " sparrow-like," and which was noted by others as characteristic of Goethe at this period, could not fail to irritate one like Herder, naturally grave, sobered by hard experience, and then suffering from a painful and serious ailment. Equally distasteful to Herder were Goethe's explosive outbursts in general conversation and his liking for practical jokes at the expense of his friends. To Herder as to everyone else Goethe aired his opinions with the " frank confidingness " which he notes as a trait of his own character, and which gave Herder frequent opportunities for scathing criticism. Herder gibed at his youthful tastes—at his collection of seals, at his elegantly-bound volumes which stood unread on his shelves, at his enthusiasms for Italian art, for the writings of the Cabbalists, for the poetry of Ovid.'
At bottom, as Herder said, Goethe was a " good fellow," slow to take offence, and as little vindictive as is possible to human nature. This easy temper doubtless stood him in good stead under the fire of Herder's sarcasms, but he himself specifies another reason for his docility which is equally characteristic : he endured all Herder's satirical spleen because he had learned to attach a high value to everything that contributed to his own culture. According to his own account, he owed a double debt to Herder—a determining influence on his character, and an equally determining influence on his intellectual development. Till he met Herder he had been treated as a youthful genius, as a " conquering lord," whose eccentricities were only a proof of his originality. Very different was the measure he received from Herder, who showed no mercy for " whatever of self-complacency, egotism, vanity, pride and presumption was latent or active in him. Herder, he says elsewhere, " exercised such a blighting influence on me that I began to doubt my own powers." Whether or not Goethe learned from Herder the lesson of modesty regarding his own gifts, it is the truth that of all the sons of genius none has been freer than Goethe was in his maturer years from every form of vanity and self-consciousness.
It is on his intellectual debt to Herder, however, that Goethe dwells most emphatically in his account of their personal intercourse. Daily and even hourly, he says, Herder's conversation was a summons to new points of view. Poetry was the subject in which both had a common interest, and from Herder Goethe learned to regard poetry " in another sense " from that in which he had hitherto regarded it. He had hitherto regarded poetry as an accomplishment ; Herder taught him that it was a gift of nature, of the essence of humanity, " the mother-speech of the human race." This expression was Hamann's, who had been inspired to utter it out of his revulsion against French literature and his study of the literature of England. From England, indeed, came those conceptions of the nature and function of poetry which, as expounded and exemplified in the writings of Hamann, Herder, Goethe, and others, were to effect a revolution in German literature. In a literary manifesto, written by an Englishman, but apparently better known in Germany than in England, German historians of their own literature have found the main impulse that gave occasion to this revolution. This manifesto was a pamphlet written by Edward Young, the author of Night Thoughts, entitled Conjectures on Original Composition, in a Letter addressed to the Author of Sir Charles Grandison. The dithyrambic style of the Letter manifestly exercised a powerful influence on the prose of Herder and Goethe—prose charged with perfervid feeling, and hitherto unknown in German literature. Young's main contention is that in literature genius must make rules for itself, and that imitation is suicidal. " Genius," he says, " can set us right in composition, without the rules of the learned ; as conscience sets us right in life, without the laws of the land." He lays it down as a maxim that " the less we copy the renowned ancients, we shall resemble them the more." The two golden rules in composition as in ethics are : know thyself and reverence thyself. Such were the " conjectures on original composition," expounded to him by Herder which led Goethe to regard poetry in " another sense from that in which he had hitherto understood it. And in confirmation of his views Herder directed him to the exemplars where he would find their illustration—to the Bible, to Homer and Pindar, to Shakespeare and Ossian, and, above all, to the primitive poetry of all peoples.
As we shall see, Goethe laid these counsels even too faithfully to heart ; the first composition in which he attempted to realise them drew upon him Herder's characteristic censure. And it is in this connection that we have to note the reserves which Goethe makes in the acknowledgment of his debt to Herder. " Had Herder been more methodical in his mental habit," he says, " he would have afforded the most valuable guidance for the permanent direction of my culture ; but he was more disposed to probe and to stimulate than to give guidance and leading." So it was, as Goethe adds elsewhere, that the result of Herder's influence on him was a mental confusion and tumult, plainly visible in another of his early writings, where " quite simple thoughts and observations are veiled in a dust-cloud of unusual words and phrases."
The homage which Goethe pays to Herder in the retrospect of his Strassburg days is equally emphasised in his contemporary letters. " Herder, Herder," he writes in one place, " remain to me what you are. If I am destined to be your planet I will be it ; be it willingly, faithfully. " Yet we May doubt whether Herder's influence was, in truth, so determining a factor in his life as Goethe himself represents it. Herder, he tells us, first taught him a wise self-distrust, but we have seen that one of the lessons he professes to have learned from Oeser was " to be modest without self-depreciation, and to be proud without presumption." Before he saw Herder, also, he had already divined the greatness of Shakespeare and the futility of Voltaire's criticisms of him. Herder's ideas regarding the human spirit and its possibilities were in the air, and, had the two men never met, the probability is that Goethe's development would not have been different from what it actually was. Herder's general views were already incipient in him ; and what Herder did was to deepen and intensify them. Nevertheless the collision for the first time with a mind that revealed to him his own immaturity was for Goethe, as for every youth, a formative influence of the highest import and an epoch in his, mental history. Yet in his association with Herder one fact has to be noted : Goethe was not subjugated by him. He frankly recognised Herder's superiority to himself in knowledge and experience, but he retained his mental independence In his letters to Herder, as in those to Salzmann, he writes in terms of equality. In such words as the following, for example, we have not the attitude of the unquestioning disciple to his master. "Pray let us try to see each other oftener. You feel how you would embrace one who could be to you what you are to me. Don't let us be frightened like weaklings because we must often disagree : should our passions collide, can we not endure the collision ?" Might we not infer from this passage that not Herder but Goethe was the dominating spirit in their intercourse ?
Goethe found another source of inspiration in Strassburg besides Herder, and one which, as he describes it both in his Autobiography and in a contemporary effusion, moved him even more powerfully. His first act on his arrival in Strassburg, he tells us, was to visit its cathedral whose towers had caught his eye long before he reached the town. He had been taught by his old master Oeser, who only represented the general opinion of the time in Germany, that Gothic architecture was the product of a barbarous age and could be regarded only with amazed disgust by every person of educated taste. But Goethe's mystical studies and religious experiences in Frankfort had not left him what he was in his Leipzig days, and had given him an insight into movements of the human spirit which did not come within the cognizance of Oeser. It was with predisposed sympathy, therefore, that he looked for the first time on a specimen of Gothic architecture in its most august form. His first impression was of " a wholly peculiar kind " ; and, without seeking to analyse the impression, " he surrendered himself to its silent working." Thenceforward, during his stay in Strassburg, the cathedral exercised a fascination upon him that evoked a new world of thought and feeling. It was his delight to ascend its tower at sunset and gaze on the rich landscape of Alsace, whose beauty made him bless the fate that had placed him for a time amid such surroundings. He studied its structure with such minute care that he correctly divined the additions to the great tower which the original architect had contemplated, but which he had been unable to carry out.
Goethe has himself indicated how the impressions he received from the cathedral influenced his first literary productions which bore the stamp of his individuality. It formed a fitting background, he says, for such poetical creations as Gotz von Berlichingen and Faust. To the cathedral and its suggestions, even more than to Herder, perhaps, we should trace the inspiration that produced these works—the former of which met with Herder's questioning approval. To the full force of that inspiration Goethe gave direct expression in a composition which is the most characteristic product of his Strassburg period—a short essay, entitled Of German Architecture. Probably sketched in Strassburg, it was not published till his return to Frankfort. Its rhapsodical style, as well as the conceptions of art and nature which it embodies, directly recall Young's Conjectures on Original Composition. Like Young he proclaims that genius is a law to itself, that all imitation and subservience to rule is disastrous to imaginative production. " Principles," he declares, "are even more injurious to genius than examples." The burden of the Essay is the glorification of the genius of the architect of Strassburg cathedral, and of Gothic architecture in general, which, Goethe maintained, should be correctly designated " German " architecture, as having had its origin on German soil. With this youthful sally of Goethe, time was to deal with its unkindest irony. Later research has proved that Gothic architecture is of French and not of German origin, and Goethe himself did not remain faithful to his youthful enthusiasm. On his way home from Strassburg, he relates, the sight of some specimens of ancient art in Mannheim " shook his faith in northern architecture," and the impression he thus received was to become a permanent conviction. It was in the art of classical antiquity that he was to find the expression of his maturest ideal ; when in later years his attention was temporarily turned to Gothic architecture, it was with little of his youthful enthusiasm that he admitted its claim to our regard.
" I cannot go on long without a passion," Goethe wrote in his twenty-third year, and we have no difficulty in believing him. In Strassburg he lived through a passion which was to be the occasion of his giving the first clear proof to the world that he was to be among its original poets. On the 14th of October, 1770, more than five months after his arrival in Strassburg, he wrote these words to a correspondent : " I have never so vividly experienced what it is to be content with one's heart disengaged as now here in Strassburg. "1 In the same letter in which these words occur he casually mentions that he has just spent a few days in the country with some pleasant people. These pleasant people were a pastor Brion and his family living at Sesenheim, an Alsace village some twenty miles from Strassburg. These few days spent with the Brion family were to be the beginning of a history which, as Goethe relates it in his Autobiography, has the character of an idyll, but, when stripped of the poetic haze which he has thrown around it, is not far from tragedy. He himself is our sole authority for its incidents, and he chose so to tell them that the exact truth of the whole history can never be known.
The day following the writing of the letter just quoted, Goethe wrote another letter which proves that his heart was no longer " disengaged." This letter is, in fact, a declaration of love to the youngest daughter of the Sesenheim pastor, Friederike—name of pleasantest suggestions in the long list of Goethe's loves. The letter, it may be said, does not strike us as a happy introduction to the relations that were to follow ; it would not have been written had Friederike been the daughter of a house of the same social standing as his own. All through his relations to the Sesenheim family, indeed, there is an unpleasant suggestion that it is the son of the Imperial Councillor who is indulging a passion which he is fully aware must one day end in a more or less bitter parting. " Dear new Friend," he begins, " Such I do not hesitate to call you, for, if in other circumstances I have not much insight into the language of the eyes, at the first glance I saw in yours the hope of this friendship ; and for our hearts I would swear. How should you, tender and good as I know you to be, not be a little partial to me in return ?"1 in this strain the letter continues, and with a skill of approach that reminds us of his boast to his former confidant Behrisch.
Goethe's relations with Friederike lasted till the end of June, 1771-a period of some ten months. Of this period the first half would seem to have been passed by both in idyllic oblivion of consequences ; during the second there came painful awakening to realities on the part of one of the lovers. As they lived in his memory, those first months that Goethe spent in intercourse with the Sesenheim circle were a long dream of happiness ; and nowhere in his Autobiography is he so obviously moved by his recollection of the past. The picture he has drawn of that time is, indeed, an idyll in every sense. We have the setting of a primitive home in a country Arcadian in its bountifulness and beauty ; in the centre of this home is the father, whose simple piety is in perfect keeping with his office and his surroundings ; and the home is brightened by the presence of two daughters, the one of whom, Friederike, appears as a vision of rustic grace and modest maidenhood. In the midst of this circle moves the richly-gifted youth, laying under a spell father, daughters, and all who come within the magnetism of his presence. In no other situation, indeed, are the attractive sides of Goethe's character so strikingly manifest as in his intercourse with the Sesenheim family and the friendly group attached to them. It is without a touch of egotism that he brings himself before us in all the buoyant spirits, the quickness of sympathy, the diversity of interests, the splendour of his gifts, which made Wieland speak of him as " a veritable ruler of spirits." He humours the good father by drawing a plan for a new parsonage and painting his coach, he charms the daughters by his various accomplishments, and the neighbours who came about the parsonage are carried away by his frolicsome humour. " When Goethe came among us girls when we were at work in the barn," related one who had seen him, " his jests and droll stories almost made work impossible."
The beginning of disillusion came on the occasion of a visit made by the two sisters to Strassburg. In a world that was alien to her Friederike lost something of the charm which was derived from her perfect fitness to her native surroundings, and it was brought home to Goethe that there must be a rude awakening from the dream of the last few months. In May, 1771, he paid a visit to Sesenheim which lasted several weeks, and the picture we have of his state of mind during his visit shows that he felt that the time of reckoning had come. His mind was already clear that he and Friederike must separate, but he was fully conscious that he was playing a sorry part. Exaggerated language was such an inveterate habit with him at this period of his life that it is difficult to know with what exactness his words express his real feelings. That he was unhappy, however, we cannot doubt, make what reserves we may for rhetorical excesses of style. Here are a few passages from letters addressed to his friend Salzmann during his stay at Sesenheim " It rains without and within, and the hateful evening winds rustle among the vine leaves before my window, and my animula vagula is like yonder weather-cock on the church tower." " For the honour of God I am not leaving this place just at present. . . I am now certainly in tolerably good health ; my cough, as the result of treatment and exercise, is pretty nearly gone, and I hope it will soon go altogether. Things about me, however, are not very bright ; the little one [Friederike] continues sadly ill, and that makes everything look out of joint—not to speak of conscia miens, unfortunately not recti, which I carry about with me." " It is now about time that I should return [to Strassburg] ; I will and will, but what avails willing in the presence of the faces I see around me? The state of my heart is strange, and my health is as variable as usual in the world, which it is long since I have seen so beautiful. The most delightful country, people who love me, a round of pleasures ! Are not the dreams of thy childhood all fulfilled ?— I often ask myself when my eye feeds on this circumambient bliss. Are not these the fairy gardens after which thy heart yearned ? They are ! They are ! I feel it, dear friend ; and feel that we are not a whit the happier when our desires are realised. The make-weight ! the make-weight ! with which Fate balances every bliss that we enjoy. Dear friend, there needs much courage not to lose courage in this world of ours."
The day of parting came at the end of June ; on August 6th he passed the tests necessary for the Licentiate of Laws, and at the end of that month he left Strassburg for home. He left Friederike, he tells us, at a moment when their parting almost cost her her life; did he do her a greater wrong than his own narrative would imply? 'We cannot tell ; but one thing is certain, from the first he never intended marriage. That he had pangs of self-reproach for the part he had played, his words above quoted may be taken as sufficient evidence, hut alike from temperament and deliberate consideration of the facts of life he was incapable of the contrition that troubles human nature to its depths. Yet in our judgment of him it is well to remember the ideas then current in Germany regarding the relations between love and marriage. In his seventy-fourth year Goethe himself said : " Love is something ideal, marriage is something real ; and never with impunity do we exchange the ideal for the real." The severest of moralists, Kant, was of the same opinion. " The word conjugium itself," he says, " implies that two married people are yoked together, and to be thus yoked cannot be called bliss." And to the same purport 'Wilhelm von Humboldt, one of the finest spirits of his time, declared that marriage was no bond of souls." It was in a world where such opinions were entertained by men of the highest character and intelligence that Goethe made his irresponsible addresses to the successive objects of his passion.
The distractions of Strassburg, no more than the distractions of Leipzig, diverted Goethe from what were his ruling instincts from the beginning– to know life and to be master of himself. As in Leipzig, his professional studies in Strassburg held little place in his thoughts ; his law degree, he tells us, he regarded as a matter of " secondary importance." The subject he chose as his thesis—the obligation of magistrates to impose a State religion binding on all their subjects—was of a nature that had no living interest for him at any period of his life, and he wrote the thesis " only to satisfy his father." If his law studies were neglected, however, it was almost with feverish passion that he coursed through other fields of knowledge. In the Ephemeridcs—a diary he kept in Strassburg and in which he noted his random thoughts and the books that happened to be engaging him—we can see the range of his reading and the scope of his interests. Occultism, metaphysics, science in many departments, literature ancient and modern, all in turn absorbed his attention and suggest a mental state impatient of the limits of the human faculties—the state of mind which he was afterwards so marvellously to reproduce in his Faust. Inspired by the conversation of the medical students who met at the common table, as well as by his own natural bent, he attended the university lectures on chemistry and anatomy, and thus laid a solid foundation for his subsequent original investigations in these sciences. Extensive travels in the surrounding country were among the chief pleasures of his sojourn in Strassburg, and these travels, as was the case with him always, were voyages of discovery. Architecture, machinery, works of engineering, Roman antiquities, the native ballads of the district—on all he turned an equally curious eye, and with such vivid impressions that they remained in his memory after the lapse of half a lifetime.
In Goethe the instinct for self-mastery was as remarkable as his instinct for knowledge. As the result of his illness in Frankfort, his organs of sense were in a state of morbid susceptibility which " put him out of harmony with himself, with objects around him, and even with the elements." It throws a curious light on the nature of the man that amid all the preoccupations of his mind and heart in Strassburg he could deliberately turn his thoughts to the cure of his jarred nerves. Loud sounds disturbed him, and to deaden the sensitiveness of his ears he attended the evening tatoo to cure himself of a tendency to giddiness he practised climbing the cathedral ; partly to rid himself of a repugnance to repulsive sights lie attended clinical lectures ; and by a similar course of discipline he so completely delivered himself from " night fears " that he afterwards found it difficult to realise them even in imagination.
In his old age Goethe said of himself " I have that in me which, if I allowed it to go unchecked, would ruin both myself and those about me." Was it, as Goethe would have us believe, by sheer purposive will that he kept this dangerous element in him under check and saved himself at critical moments from disaster? When we regard his life as a whole, the actual facts hardly justify such a conclusion. Nature had given him two safeguards which, without any effort of will on his own part, assured him deliverance where the risk of wreckage was greatest—a consuming desire to know which grew with every year of his life, and a versatility of temperament which necessitated ever-renewed sensations equally of the mind and heart. Of the working of these two elements in him we have already had illustration ; they will receive further illustration as we proceed.
It would be within the truth to say that the period of Goethe's sojourn in Strassburg was the most memorable epoch of his life. During the eighteen months he spent there he received an intellectual stimulus from which we may date his dedication to the unique career before him, in which self-culture, the passion for knowledge, and the impulse to produce were all commensurate ends. Moreover, as has already been said, it was in Strassburg that his genius found its first adequate expression. And, what is worth noting in the case of one who was to range over so many fields, it was in lyric poetry that his genius first expressed itself. The problem with Goethe is to discover which among his various gifts was nature's special dowry to him. What, at least, is true is that at different periods of his life he produced numbers of lyrics which the world has recognised as among the most perfect things of their kind. And among these perfect things are the few songs and other pieces inspired by Friederike Brion. Doubtless his genius would have flowered had he never seen Friederike, but it was among the many kind offices that fortune did him that he found the theme for his muse in one whose simple charm, while it excited his passion, at the same time chastened and purified it, and compelled a truthful simplicity of expression in keeping with her own nature. It was to Friederike that Goethe owed the pure inspiration which gives his verses to her a quality rare in lyric poetry, but to the writing of them there went all the forces that were then working in him. In these verses we have the conclusive proof that he now both understood and felt poetry " in another sense " from that in which he bad hitherto understood and felt it. Through them we feel the breath of another air than that which he had breathed when he strained his invention to make poetic compliments to Kathchen Schonkopf. In the intensity and directness of passion which they express we may trace all the new poetic influences which he had come under in Strassburg—Shakespeare, Ossian, the popular ballad, the inspiration of Herder. What is remarkable in these early lyrics, however, is that though they vibrate with the emotion of the poet, the emotion is under strict restraint and never passes into the watery effusiveness which is the inherent sin of so much German lyrical poetry. That " brevity and precision " which was the ideal he now put before him he had attained at one bound, and in none of his later work did he exemplify it in greater perfection. As his countrymen have frequently pointed out, these firstfruits of Goethe's genius mark a new departure in lyrical poetry. In them we have the direct simplicity of the best lyrics of the past, but combined with this simplicity a depth of introspection and a fusion of nature with human feeling which is a new content in the imaginative presentation of human experience. In connection with Goethe's Leipzig period we gave a specimen of the best work he was then capable of producing when we place beside it such a poem as the following, we are reminded of the saying of Emerson that " the soul's advances are not made by gradation but rather by ascension of state."