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Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Reading Books

To Carlyle

It is obvious that the efforts of the best poets and aesthetic writers of all nations have now for some time been directed towards what is universal in humanity. In each special field, whether in history, mythology, or fiction, more or less arbitrarily conceived, one sees the traits which are universal always more clearly revealed and illumining what is merely national and personal.

Though something of the same sort prevails now also in practical life, pervading all that is earthy, crude, wild, cruel, false, selfish, and treacherous, and striving to diffuse everywhere some gentleness, we cannot indeed hope that universal peace is being ushered in thereby, but only that inevitable strife will be gradually more restrained, war will become less cruel, and victory less insolent.

Whatever in the poetry of any nation tends to this and contributes to it, the others should endeavour to appropriate. The peculiarities of each nation must be learned, and allowance made for them, in order by these very means to hold intercourse with it; for the special characteristics of a nation are like its language and its currency: they facilitate intercourse, nay they first make it completely possible.

A genuine, universal tolerance is most surely attained, if we do not quarrel with the peculiar characteristics of individual men and races, but only hold fast the conviction, that what is truly excellent is distinguished by its belonging to all mankind. To such intercourse and mutual recognition, the German people have long contributed.

Whoever understands and studies German finds himself in the market, where all nations offer their wares; he plays the interpreter, while he enriches himself.

And thus every translator is to be regarded as a middleman in this universal spiritual commerce, and as making it his business to promote this exchange: for say what we may of the insufficiency of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest affairs in the general concerns of the world.

The Koran says: `God had given to each people a prophet in its own tongue!' Thus each translator is a prophet to his people. Luther's translation of the Bible has produced the greatest results, though criticism gives it qualified praise, and picks faults in it, even to the present day. What indeed is the whole enormous business of the Bible Society, but to make known the Gospel to all people in their own tongue?

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