BLTC Press Titles


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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas


The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner


Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett


Goethe

by Calvin Thomas

Excerpt:

PREFACE

Every scholar has his own Dante, his own Shakspere, his own Goethe. This book presents my Goethe as I see him after nearly forty years of university teaching during which he has never been long out of my thoughts. I came to him as an undergraduate by way of Carlyle, and it was largely the spell of Goethe's great name that made me, in the fulness of time, a professional student of German literature. I am conscious of owing _more to him than to any other writer of books. True, the halo that he used to wear in my mind's eye has grown a little dimmer in the lapse of years, but his human features have come out the more clearly. I like him the better for that.

But this is not the work of a hierophant or a panegyrist. I have not been concerned to write Goethe up or down or to quarrel with other men's opinions about him. It has seemed to me best to leave all that in the limbo of large tolerance where he himself left it in the metrical squib which I quote on page 257. Nor have I dreamed of adding anything to the vast tale of available information relating to the externalities of his life. That is now possible only in the domain of the infinitesimal, and there are workers enough in that vineyard.

What I have tried to do is to portray him faithfully in those larger aspects of his mind and art and life-work that make him so uniquely interesting. Not how he walked and dressed and flirted, or ' cleared his throat and spat,' but how he felt and thought and wrought and reacted to the total push of existence—is the theme I have kept in view.

The first part of the volume consists of a short biography which I hope may serve academic and other folk as a readable and trustworthy introduction to the study of Goethe's artistic and intellectual achievement. Here I have tried to pick my way between too little and too much; between the jejuneness of a mere sketch and the cloying plenitude of details that are found in the longer biographies. I have endeavored to write as objectively as possible, taking care to see things just as they really were and never to let personal bias of any kind distort the image. The pronoun I does not occur in this portion of the volume.

In the second part, on the other hand, I relax the reins for my ego, since it was of set purpose my Goethe and no one else's that was to be bodied forth. Of course I think it nearer to the truth than other men's—such is human vanity—but I will not labor the point. Probably some good judges will object to my perspective and my lights and shades, and urge that more of this and less of that would have been better. Be it so. I will only say that my ' studies and appreciations' deal with what seem to me the larger and more memorable aspects of Goethe's life-work.

Such a scheme as that here adopted inevitably entails some repetition. I have tried to keep that evil within tolerable and inconspicuous limits, and also to avoid repeating—it was not always easy—what I have written about Goethe in other books. A few sentences and some metrical translations in Chapter IX have been taken over from an essay entitled ' Goethe and the Conduct of Life,' which was published many years ago and has long been out of print. A portion of Chapter X appeared some time ago in the Open Court under the title of ' Goethe and the Development Hypothesis' and is here reprinted by permission.

Finally, I indulge the hope that most readers will thank me for not troubling them with many foot-notes. Those who wish to know the source of my numerous citations are respectfully referred to the Appendix.

Calvin Thomas.

New York, May, 1917. ,

CHAPTER I
LINEAGE AND BOYHOOD

What is known of Goethe's paternal ancestry begins about the middle of the seventeenth century with a certain Hans Christian Goethe, a blacksmith by trade, who was then living at the village of Artern some thirty miles north of Weimar. A son of his named Friedrich Georg was bred to the tailor's calling and settled in Frankforton-the-Main, where he married the daughter of a tailor and acquired the rights of citizenship. His business prospered and by 1704 he was listed for taxation in the richest class of Frankfort burghers, those having property to the amount of fifteen thousand gulden. A second marriage with a well-to-do widow named Cornelia Schelhorn still further increased the thrifty tailor's estate and made him landlord of the Weidenhof Inn. One of the children of this pair was Johann Caspar Goethe, the poet's father. He was born in 1710.


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