BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle


Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle


Goethe

by Abraham Hayward

Excerpt:

"In the house my attention was principally drawn to a series of Roman views, engraved by some skilful predecessors of Piranesi, with which my father had adorned an anteroom. Here 1 saw daily the Piazza del Popolo, the Coliseum, the interior as well as the exterior of St Peter's, and many other places. These drawings impressed me deeply; and my in other respects laconic father was occasionally pleased to aid me by a description of the subjects."

This laconic father was a man of considerable acquirements, and, having no fixed occupation, was fond of communicating what he knew. To keep his hand in, he gave lessons in composition and Italian to his wife; and so soon as his children were old enough to be taught, he took the principal part of their education on himself, and only employed masters for certain lessons, which are not specified. Indeed, Goethe's account of his education is general and vague; but its efficiency is proved by some of bis exercises in his seventh, eighth, and ninth years, fortunately preserved in the Frankfort Library. These are in German, Latin, Greek, and French; and we also know from himself that he learnt Italian incidentally or on the sly. "My father taught my sister Italian in the same room where I had to learn Cellarius by heart. As I was soon ready with my task, and was obliged to keep my place, I listened over my book and mastered Italian, which struck me as a pleasing variety of Latin, very quickly." The learned discoverer of these exercises thinks that the manner of teaching may be seen in them. They are not, he says, mere copies or translations. "Ko; the father either dictated what had directly struck himself in actual life—a town incident, or an anecdote of old Fritz, which excited the enthusiastic adherent of the great king—or he allowed the son to choose his subject; and we consequently find crowded together childish remarks, poetical effusions, familiar dialogues, and moral reflections, which clearly indicate the direction the adult would take."

The course of domestic education was interrupted in his seventh year by the alteration and partial rebuilding of the house, during which the children were lodged with friends and sent to school. "This change was disagreeable in many respects; for when the children, who had all along been kept at home in a secluded, pure, refined, although strict manner, were thrown among a rude mass of young creatures, they had unexpectedly to suffer everything from the vulgar, bad, and even base, since they lacked all means of self-protection." The house was soon ready to receive them, and their former mode of life was resumed; or, according to some of the biographers, there is no knowing whether Germany would not have had a different Goethe if he had been prepared for the university in the elementary school and the gymnasium. Gervinus plausibly enough contends that his want of sympathy with the masses, from whom he fastidiously held aloof, was owing to his having been too much coddled in his boyhood. But it may well be doubted whether he would have acquired any accession of patriotic feeling or public spirit from the compelled association with such schoolfellows as he describes, although his sensibility and delicacy may have been wounded or impaired by it. There is no reason to suppose that Shelley's genius was materially modified by Eton or Byron's by Harrow.

By quickness of apprehension and tenacious memory, Goethe soon got beyond the instruction he received, without being grounded in anything. He contracted a dislike to grammar, regarding it as only an arbitrary law: the rules struck him as ridiculous, on account of the numerous exceptions, which it was equally necessary to learn. His dislike to the common run of playfellows did not prevent him from joining a party of boys who met every Sunday to produce and compare verses of their own composition :—

"And here occurred something strange, which long troubled me. I could not help regarding my own poems, be they what they might, as the best. But I soon observed that my competitors, who produced very poor things, were in the same case, and thought no less of themselves; nay, what struck me as still more curious, a good, though forwork-incapable, lad, who got the tutor to make his rhymes, not only held these to be the best, but was fully convinced he had himself made them, as he in perfect honesty declared to me."

The resulting uncertainty as to the soundness of his self-estimate was not dispelled till the specimens were submitted to teachers and elders, and his pronounced to be the best. He says there was no children's library: but among the books that fell in his way and interested him were 'Telemachus,' which, imperfectly as it was rendered into German, had "a sweet and beneficent influence" on his mind; 'Eobinson Crusoe;' and Anson's 'Voyage Bound the World,' which, in his eyes, "combined the dignity of truth with the rich fancy of fiction." The 'Volksbiicher,' or story-books, especially the fairy tales, had an extraordinary fascination for him; and he had just effected the purchase of 'Fortunatus with the Purse and the Wishing-Cap,' when "restlessness and fever gave warning of the smallpox," from which he suffered severely, although it left no permanent mark. He adds that he escaped neither measles nor chicken-pox, nor any other of the tormenting demons of childhood; and these casualties had the disagreeable consequence of entailing double lessons, on which the father insisted by. way of making up for lost time.

Just when the family were quietly settled in their improved residence, the calm was broken, and the boy, for the first time in his life, drawn to grave reflection, by an event which thrilled the civilised world with awe. The earthquake of Lisbon, November 1, 1755, when most of the public buildings and streets, with 50,000 inhabitants, were swallowed up, was far from spending its force on that devoted city. Its devastating effects were felt in Spain, Madeira, Africa, and the Archipelago; and the ruin wrought was so exaggerated by rumour, that "never, perhaps," remarks Goethe, "had the Demon of Terror diffused his shudder so quickly and so powerfully over the earth."


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