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Goethe - Satirical Dramas And Fragments

( Originally Published 1913 )

IF, during the year that followed his return from Wetzlar, Goethe was distracted by his wandering affections, he was no less divided in mind by his intellectual ambitions. The doubt which had possessed him since boyhood as to whether nature meant him for an artist or a poet remained still unsettled for him. In one of the best-known passages of his Autobiography he has related how he sought to resolve his difficulty. As he wandered down the banks of the Lahn, after he had torn himself away from Wetzlar, the beauty of the scenery awoke in him the artist's desire to transfer it worthily to canvas. The whim then occurred to him to let fate decide whether this was the work for which he was appointed. He would throw his knife into the river, and, if he saw it reach the surface, he would take it as a sign that art was his vocation. Unfortunately the oracle proved dubious. Owing to the intervening bushes he did not see the knife enter the river, but only the splash occasioned by its fall. As the result of the uncertainty of the oracle, he adds, he gave himself less assiduously than hitherto to the study of art. If this were indeed the case, it was only for a time, since the contemporary testimony, both of himself and his friends, shows that during the period that immediately followed his leaving Wetzlar, art received more of his attention than. literature. Goethe, wrote Caroline Flachsland to Herder, " still thinks of becoming a painter, and we strongly advise him to pursue that end." " I am now quite a draughtsman," he himself wrote to Herder in December of the same year ; and he tells another correspondent in the autumn of 1773 that " the plastic arts occupy him almost entirely."

Yet, since his return from Strassburg to Frankfort in August, 1771, his literary activity was never wholly intermitted. During the remainder of that year he wrote the first draft of Gotz von Berlichingen, and in 1772, mainly under the inspiration of the Darmstadt circle, he produced the poems to which attention has already been drawn. In that year, also, he shared in an undertaking the main object of which was to proclaim those revolutionary ideas in literature, religion, and life that inspired the movement of the Sturm and Drang. In cooperation with Herder, Merck, and Schlosser, his future brother-in-law, and others, he conducted a journal which, under the title of the Frankfurter Gelehrten Anzeigen, expounded these views to all who chose to read it. Merck, and afterwards Schlosser, acted as editors during the year that it existed, but Goethe was its principal contributor. In the preliminary announcement to the first issue (January 1st, 1772) it is stated that the reviews of books will range over science, philosophy, history, belles-lettres, and the fine arts, and particularly that no English book worthy of notice will escape attention. Of the successive reviews that appeared, only three are certainly known to be by Goethe, though he must have written or assisted in writing several others. With his usual causticity Herder characterised the manner of the two chief contributors. " You," he tells Merck, " are always Socrates-Addison ; and Goethe is for the most part a young, arrogant lord, with horribly scraping cock's heels, and, if I come among you some day, I shall be the Irish Dean with his whip." Goethe himself, reviewing these early efforts in the light of his maturity, is sufficiently modest regarding their intrinsic merit. He had then, he says, neither the knowledge nor the discipline requisite for adequate criticism. On the other hand, he claims to have given evidence in his notices of books of a gift, which no reader of them can fail to perceive the gift of instinctive insight into the essentials of the subject in hand. In the business of reviewing, however, he seems to have taken little pleasure. " The day has begun festively." he wrote to Kestner on Christmas, 1772, " but, unfortunately, I must spoil the beautiful hours with reviewing ; but I do so with good heart, as it is for the last issues"

To the same year, 1772, belong two short productions of Goethe which deserve a passing notice as exhibiting his strange blending of interests at this periods The one is entitled Brief des Pastors zu . an den neuen Pastor zu . . ., and professes to have been translated from the French. The Letter is another illustration of his interest in religion and in the interpretation of the Bible which had begun with his early reading of the Old Testament, and which his intercourse with the Fraulein von Kettenberg and Herder had intermittently kept alive. The theological teaching of the Letter is., in point of fact, a compound of the teaching of these two. Its main object is to emphasise the necessity of toleration in the interest of religion itself, and nowhere was the monition more needed than in Frankfort, where the antipathy between those of the Reformed and the Lutheran communions was such as even to debar intermarriage. Rationalism and dogmatism are equally reprobated, and the sum of all true religion is found to consist in the love of God and of our neighbour. The strain of mystical piety which runs through the whole production doubtless proceeds from imaginative sympathy and not from personal experience, and is to be regarded only as another illustration of Goethe's facility in identifying himself with emotions essentially alien to his own nature. The other piece, entitled Zwo wick tige bisher unerorterte biblisehe Fragen, zum erstenmal gründlich beantwortet, professing to be written by a Swabian pastor, is still more singular. In the first of the two questions he inquires whether it was the Ten Commandments or the prescriptions of ritual that were inscribed on the tables of stone, and concludes that it was the latter and in the second he discusses the nature of the speaking with tongues that followed St. Paul's laying of hands on the newly-baptised Christians, and resolves the question in a purely mystical sense.

The year 1773 marks an epoch in Goethe's career, and an epoch also in the literary history of Germany. In that year he made his first appeal as a writer to the great German public which was to follow his successive productions with varying degrees of admiration during the next half-century. Dissatisfied with the first draft of Gotz von Berlichingen as lacking in dramatic unity, in the beginning (February—March) of 1773 he recast the whole play, which in its new form was published in June.' As has already been said, the second form of Gotz is generally recognised as inferior to the first, but, such as it was, it made the sensation. we have seen. With as much truth as Byron, Goethe might have said that " he woke one morning and found himself famous." In 1772 he could be spoken of by an intelligent person in Leipzig as " one named Gette," and even in the circles he frequented he had hitherto been known simply as a youth of extraordinary promise from whom great things were to be expected. Henceforth his name was on the tongue of all who were interested in German literature, and whatever he was likely to produce in the future was certain to command universal interest.

According to Merck, Goethe's head was turned for a time by the success of Gotz. During the months that followed its publication, at all events, he was possessed with a wanton humour which spared neither friends nor foes, nor the society of which he had apparently caught the contagion as completely as any of its members. At a later date, Goethe speaks of his " considerate levity " and his " warm coolness " ; and in a succession of pieces which he threw off at this time we have an interesting commentary on this characterisation of himself. In these pieces we have au old vein reopened. We have seen how in Leipzig he had burlesqued the professor of literature, Clodius, but in the years that followed his departure from Leipzig—the depressing period in Frankfort and the period of rapid development in Strassburg—there was neither the occasion nor the prompting to personal or general satire. Now, however, in the tumult of his own feelings and in the follies of the society around him he found themes for satirical comment which afforded scope for a side of his genius rarely manifested in his later years. The short satirical dramas produced at this time on the mere impulse of the moment have in themselves only a local and temporary interest, but they derive importance from the fact that they proceed from the same mental attitude which was to find its definitive expression in the character of Mephistopheles—essentially the creation of this period of Goethe's development. In these trivial exercises he was practising the craft which is so consummately displayed in the original fragments of Faust.

The first of these sallies Das Jahrmarktsfest zu Plundersweilern, Ein Scheinbartspiel—was written in March, 1773, and was sent as a birthday gift to Merck--an appropriate recipient. Written in doggerel verse, which Goethe took over from the shoemaker poet Hans Sachs, the piece brings before us the motley crowd of persons who frequented the fairs of the time, each vociferating the cheapness and excellence of his own wares. The humour of the spectacle, however, is that the dramatis personae were individuals recognisable by contemporaries in traits which now escape us.

Goethe himself appears in the guise of a doctor, Herder as a captain of the gipsies, and his bride, Caroline Flachsland, as a milkmaid. The satire is directed equally against the idiosyncrasies of individuals and against the follies of the time, the sentimentalism which Goethe himself had not escaped, but of which he saw the inanity, the petty jealousies of authors which had also come within his personal experience. A mock tragedy on the subject of Esther, which forms part of the burlesque, is a malicious parody of the French models which he had begun by imitating, but which were now the sport of the youths who led the Sturm und Drang.

The Jahrmarktsfest is a genial explosion of madcap humour. Not so another succession of scenes produced about the same time. The subject of them is that Leuchsenring whose acquaintance, we have seen, Goethe had made under the roof of Sophie von la Roche. Since then, apparently, Leuchsenring's proceedings had provoked a repugnance in Goethe which displays itself in a strain of bitterness hardly to be found in any other of his works. It was Leuchsenring's habit to ingratiate himself with households where his pseudo-sentiment made him acceptable, and by questionable methods to make mischief between their members, and especially between the two sexes.' Goethe had seen the results of these intrigues in circles with which he was acquainted, and it was to punish the sinner that he wrote Ein Fastnachtspiel, auch wohl zu tragieren nach Ostern, vom Pater Brey don falschen Propheten. Pater Brey, the false prophet, is Leuchsenring, and his sugared speech and shifty ways are the main object of the satire, but other persons are introduced into the piece and exhibited in lights which are a singular commentary on the taste of the time. The victim on whom Pater Brey plies his arts is Caroline Flachsland, who appears under the name of Leonora, and the injured lover is Herder (Captain V elandrino). The Captain, who has been informed of Paler Brey's philanderings with his betrothed, appears on the scene, is assured of her faithfulness, and in concert with another character in the piece (Merck) plays a coarse trick on the Pater which makes him the laughing-stock of the neighbourhood.

Herder had good reason to resent the licence with which his private affairs had been obtruded on the public in Pater Brey , but in the same year Goethe made him the main subject of another production which raises equally our astonishment at the manners of the time and at the wanton audacity of its author. In Pater Brey the prevailing sentimentalism, as veiling dubious motives, had been the theme of ridicule ; in Satyros, oder der vergotterte Waldteufel, it was the extravagancies of the followers of Rousseau in their idealisation of the natural man. According to Kestner, as we have seen, Goethe himself greatly admired Rousseau, but was not one of his blind worshippers, and Satyros is a sufficiently cogent proof of the fact. What is astounding is the means he chose to give point to his ridicule. Herder is Satyros, the Waldteufel, who is represented as being humanely received by a hermit (Merck) while suffering from a wounded leg. Satyros requites his host with coarse abuse of himself and his religion, flings his crucifix into the neighbouring stream, and steals a valuable piece of linen cloth. Next by an enchanting melody he cajoles two maidens, Arsinoe and Psyche (Caroline Flachsland), into the belief that he is a superhuman being, and Psyche is so overcome that she submits to his embraces. The people of the neighbourhood flock to him, see in him a new god, and on his persuasion take to eating chestnuts, as the natural food of man- the priest of the community, Hermes, joining in their worship. The hermit appears on the scene, and on his abusing Satyros for the theft of his crucifix, the people decide to offer him as a sacrifice to their insulted divinity. By a stratagem of the wife of Hermes, the hermit is rescued and the bestiality of Satyros exposed. In no way disconcerted, Satyros leaves the throng with flouts at asinine attachment to their conventional morality as opposed to the free life inculcated by nature. Goethe's later comment on this remarkable production is that it was " a document of the godlike insolence of our youth," and certainly no document could bring more vividly before us the world in which Goethe's genius came to fruition.'

Still another piece of the " godlike insolence of youth," though less offensive in its implications, is the farce, Gotter, Heiden, and Wieland, written in the autumn of the same year, 1773. At an earlier period Wieland had been one of the gods of Goethe's idolatry, but Wieland was now the most distinguished champion of those French models against which Goethe and the youths associated with him had declared irreconcilable war. Moreover, in a journal recently started by Wieland, there had appeared an unfriendly review of Gotz von Berlichingen. By the publication of a play, Alceste, in which he foolishly challenged comparison with Euripides' drama of the same name, Wieland gave the enemy his opportunity. On a Sunday afternoon, with a bottle of Burgundy beside him, as he tells us, Goethe tossed off his skit at one sitting. As a piece of improvisation, it certainly contains excellent fooling. We are introduced to the lower world, where the four characters in Euripides' play, Admetus, Alcestis, Hercules, and Mercury, as well as its author, are represented as in a state of high indignation at the liberties which Wieland has taken with them in his Alcestes. Summoned before them, Wieland appears in his nightcap, and has to run the gauntlet of their several reproaches—the purport of them all being that he has foolishly misunderstood the Greek world which he had undertaken to portray. Against Goethe's wish the satire was published in the following year, and rapidly ran through four editions, but Wieland had a genteel revenge. 'With that Lebensweisheit which Goethe long afterwards marked as his characteristic, he published in his review a notice of the burlesque, in which it is recommended as " a masterpiece of persiflage and of sophistical wit." " Wieland has turned the tables on me," was Goethe's own admission ; " MI bin eben prostituiert."

These successive jeux d'esprit were merely the crackling fireworks of exuberant youth, and were regarded as such by their author himself. At the very time he was writing them, he was planning and sketching works, the scope of which reveals the true bent of his genius, and of the ideals that were preoccupying him. " My ideals," he wrote to Kestner (September 15th, 1778), grow daily in beauty and grandeur " ; and when he penned these words he was engaged on a production which, though it remained a mere fragment, has justly been regarded as one of the most striking manifestations of his powers. The subject, the myth of Prometheus, be tells us, attracted him as one in which he could embody his own deepest experience and the conclusions regarding the individual life of man to which that experience had led him. In the crises of his past life, he tells us, he had found that no aid had been forthcoming either from man or any supernal power. " We must tread the wine-press alone." Only in one source had he discovered a stay and stimulus, which brought him the sense of individual self-subsistence —in the exercise of such creative talent as nature had bestowed upon him. Of this consciousness, no external power could deprive him, and it is this consciousness that is the governing idea of the fragment, and not the Titanism of the Prometheus of AEschylus. It was, moreover, an idea which permanently accompanied Goethe throughout life, and to which he frequently gave expression in his later correspondence.

As, apart from its intrinsic power, Prometheus has an incidental interest in the history of philosophic thought, it may be worth while to sketch briefly the development it attained. When Prometheus is introduced to us, he is a rebel against Zeus and the other gods. He had rendered them allegiance so long as he believed that " they saw the past and the future in the present and were animated by self-originated and disinterested wisdom," but, on the discovery of his error, he had renounced their authority, and, as an independent agent, he had fashioned images of human beings, to which, however, he was powerless to give the breath of life. In the first Scene of the first Act, Mercury appears as the messenger of the gods and reasons with Prometheus on the folly of his contending with their omnipotence. Prometheus denies their omnipotence either over nature or over himself. " Can they separate me from myself ?" he asks, and Mercury admits that the gods are subject to a power stronger than their own—the power of Fate. " Go, then," is the reply, " I do not serve vassals." After a brief soliloquy, in which Prometheus expresses the passionate wish that he might impart feeling to his lifeless images, Epimetheus appears as a second representative of the gods. Their offer, he tells Prometheus, is reasonable ; let him but recognise their supremacy, and he will be free of the heights of Olympus, from which he would rule the earth. " Yes," is the reply, " to be their burggrave, and defend their Heaven ! My offer is more reasonable ; their wish is to be a partner with me, and my thought is to have nothing to participate with them ; they cannot rob me of what I have, and what they have, let them guard. Here is mine, and here is thine, and so are we apart." " But what is thine ?" inquires Epimetheus ; and the reply is, " The circle which my activity fulfils—Der Kreis, den meine Wirklichkeit erffullt." And here follows one of the passages in the dialogue which, as expressing the pantheistic conception of the universe, gave occasion to the quarrel of the philosophers, to be presently noted. " Thou standest alone," is the comment of Epimetheus on the claim to independent self-subsistence asserted by Prometheus ; " thou standest alone ; thy self-will fails to appreciate the bliss of the gods—thou, thine, the world and heaven, all feel themselves one intimate whole." Repelled like Mercury, Epimetheus departs, and Minerva, in whom Prometheus acknowledges his sole inspirer and instructress, appears. Minerva, who declares that she honours her father Zeus and loves Prometheus, repeats the offer of Zeus to animate the clay images if Prometheus will acknowledge his sovereignty ; but when Prometheus passionately refuses to accept the offer, she bursts forth : " And they shall live ! to fate and not to the gods it pertains to bestow life and to take it. Come, I conduct thee to the source of all life, which Jupiter may not close against us. They shall live, and through thee !"

Of the second Act only two Scenes were written. In the first, Mercury, proclaiming in Olympus that Minerva has given life to the clay images of Prometheus, calls on Zeus to destroy the new creatures with his thunder. Zeus calmly replies that they will only increase the number of his servants, and Mercury, changing his tone, prays that he may be sent to " the poor earthborn folk," to announce the goodness and wisdom of the father of all. " Not yet," is the reply. " In the newborn rapture of youth they dream that they are like unto the gods. Not till they need thee will they listen to thy words. Leave them to their own life !" In the second Scene, we see Prometheus in a valley at the base of Olympus, surrounded by the new race of animated beings engaged in business or pleasure. There follow three brief Scenes which are meant to depict the dawnings of human consciousness and the conditions under which life is to be lived. To one he shows how a hut to shelter him may be constructed with the branches he has lopped with the aid of an implement of stone. In a dispute between two men, one of whom wounds the other and steals his goat, Prometheus pronounces the judgment that the hand of the offender will be against every man, and every man's hand against him. In the third and last Scene we have the most remarkable passage in the poem. Pandora, Prometheus' favourite creation, in dismay and bewilderment, describes the strange experience she has witnessed in the case of a friend, another maiden, and Prometheus tells her that what she had seen was death. What death meant Prometheus explains in the following passage, charged with the sensuous mysticism which was one of the elements of Goethe's own experiences when he wrote it :—

Wenn aus dem innerst tiefsten Grunde Du ganz erschtittert alles fdhlst,

Was Freud' and Sehmerzen jemals dir ergossen,

Im Sturm dein Herz erschwillt, In Tranen sich erleichtern will Und seine Glut vermehrt,

Und alles klingt an dir and bebt and zittert,

Und all die Sinne dir vergehn, Und du dir zu vergehen scheinst Und sinkst,

Und alles urn dich her versinkt in Nacht,

Und du, in inner eigenstem GefUhl, Umfassest eine Welt ;

Dann stirbt der Mensch.

When from thy inmost being's depths Shattered to nought thou feelest all

Of joy and woe that e'er to thee hath flowed,

In storm thy heart 'lath swelled, In tears cloth find itself relief,

And doth its flow increase;

When all within thee thrills, and quakes, and quivers,

And all thy senses from thee part,

And from thyself thou seem'st to part, And sink'st,

And all around thee sinketh deep in night,

And thou within thy inner very self Encompassest a world ;

Then dies the man.

To these two Acts Goethe subsequently added, as the opening of a third Act, a soliloquy of Prometheus, written in the following year. In this soliloquy Prometheus appears as the sheer Titan, the burden of his defiance being that Zeus merits no worship from men to whose miseries he is deaf, and that such worship as he receives proceeds only from human folly and ignorance.1 By its protest against the conception of the mechanical god who " pushes the universe from without," aid by the Spinozistic pantheism which it implicitly proclaims, the ode dismayed the more timid spirits of the time. To the horror of Fritz Jacobi, Lessing, to whom he read it in manuscript in 1780, declared that its conception of the ev Kai, rav was his own ; and when, in 1785, Jacobi published the poem without Goethe's knowledge, a controversy arose in which Lessing was charged with atheism and pantheism, and which, as Goethe records, cost the life of one of the combatants, Moses Mendelssohn. Be it said that in his old age Goethe himself came to regard the sentiments of the soliloquy as sansculottisch, and in the time of reaction of the Holy Alliance forbade the publication of the fragment as likely to be received as an evangel by the revolutionary youth of Germany.

Viktor Hehn pointed out that the drama and the ode are inspired by different motives, and that ci was in forgetfulness that Goethe associated them.—Uber Goethe's Geilichte, p. Bielschowsky (Goethe, Seitz Leben und Seine Werke, I. sio) suggests that the ode may have been intended as the opening of Act ii.

While writing a defence of his friend Lessing against the charge of atheism, Mendelssohn's mental agitation was such that it was believed to have occasioned his death.

Turgenieff relates that on translating passages from Satyves and Prometheus to Flaubert, Edmond de Goncourt, and Daudet, all three were profoundly impressed by the range and power displayed in them.

To the same period as Prometheus belongs another fragment, inspired by an equally grandiose conception, which, like so many others with Goethe, was never to be realised. The theme of the projected drama was to be the career of Mahomet, and in his Autobiography Goethe has indicated the leading ideas it was to embody. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, which had received brilliant expression in Voltaire's play on the same subject, Mahomet was to be represented not as an impostor but as a prophet sincerely convinced of the truth of his message, and inflamed with a disinterested desire to give his countrymen a purer religion—a view of Mahomet, it may be said in passing, which Goethe's disciple, Carlyle, was among the first to proclaim in this country.1 The successive actions of the prophet were to illustrate the influence which character and genius combined have exercised on the destiny of men ; but they were also to illustrate how the idealist in his contact with actualities is forced, in spite of himself, to compromise the purity of his original message, and, in consequence, to deteriorate in his own personal character. Of the projected drama we have only two scenes, and a lyric in glorification of Mahomet which was to be sung by

It is one of the ironies of Goethe's litk-rary career that, in his later years, in the period of his reaction against the formlessness that had invaded German literature, he, with the approval of Schiller, translated Voltaire's Mahornet, and staged it in Weimar.

It is this conception, as he himself tells us, that Renan applied to the life and teaching of Jesus.

Two of the characters. In contrast to Prometheus, not pantheism but monotheism, and not rebellion but submission, were to be the animating creed and motive of the protagonist. In the first of the two Scenes he addresses in succession the great heavenly lights, but in their mutability he finds no stay or solace for mind and heart, and he turns to the creator of them all. " Uplift thee, loving heart, to the creating One ! Be thou my Lord, my God ! Thou, all-loving One, Thou who didst create earth, heaven, and me." In the second Scene we have a dialogue between Mahornet and his foster-mother, Fatima, in which he communicates the religious experiences which it was to be his mission to proclaim to his people ; and the manner in which Fatima receives them indicates the difficulties he would have to encounter in his role as prophet. " He is changed ; his nature is transformed ; his understanding has suffered. Better it is that I should restore him to his kinsfolk, than that I should draw the responsibility of evil consequences upon myself." But, as in the case of Prometheus, it is in the lyric that was to form part of the drama that we have the most arresting expression of the poet's genius—another proof of the fact that at this period it was in the lyric that Goethe found the most adequate utterance for what was deepest in his nature. In a rush of unrhymed, irregular measures it describes the course of a river (the Rhine was in the poet's mind) from its source on the mountain summit, its impetuous progress among the obstacles that bar its passage, its gradually broadening current as it sweeps through the plains, undelayed by shady valley or by the flowers that adorn its banks ; and finally losing itself in the ocean with all its tributary streams.

As sung by Ali and Fatima on the death of Mahomet, the ode was an allegory of his life from its beginning to its triumphant close when he passed from the present with the consciousness that he had won to his faith the nation from which he had sprung. But it also undoubtedly expressed the aspiration of the poet himself. The ambition to impress himself on the world, and the consciousness of powers to give effect to his ambition, were indeed the ruling impulses behind all his distracted activities. But he was thwarted in his ambition alike by external circumstances and by his own temperament, and there came occasions when he was disposed to accept failure as his wisest choice. In two poems of this period he gives expression to this mood, and the necessity for overcoming it. In the one, Adler and Taube, a young eagle is wounded by a fowler, but after three days recovers, though with disabled wings. Two doves alight near the spot, and one of them addresses soothing words to the crippled king of the birds. " Thou art in sorrow," he coos ; " be of good courage, friend ! hast thou not here all that peaceful bliss requires? . . . 0 friend, true happiness is content, and everywhere content has enough." " 0 wise one," spoke the eagle, and, moved to deep earnest, sinks more deeply into himself ; " 0 wisdom ! thou speakest like a dove." In the other poem, Kunstlers Erdewallen (" The Artist's Earthly Pilgrimage "), composed in the form of a dialogue, we have equally a draft from Goethe's own experience. To provide for his family needs, the artist is forced to prostitute his genius by painting pictures for the vulgar connoisseur, and he desponds at the prospect of a life spent under such conditions, but the muse whispers consolation : " Thou hast time enough to take delight in thyself, and in every creation which thy brush lovingly depicts." It was a consolation which at this time and at other periods of his life Goethe had to take home to himself.

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