/*bootstrap*/ My Maugham Collection Concordance Library: The Three Novels of a Poet (1958)

The Three Novels of a Poet (1958)

Non-Fiction > Points of View >


I think it only fair to tell the reader of the following pages why, at this time of day, when surely everything that could be said about Goethe has long since been said, I should write an essay on his novels. It has given me pleasure to do so, and if there is a better reason for writing anything I have yet to hear of it. From my earliest years I could speak English and French; as a child, French better than English; and when still in my teens I spent a year in Germany and attended lectures at the University. I learnt German. I had read poetry at school, but as a task. Goethe's lyrics are the first poems I read for my pleasure and it may be that is why, when I read them now, I read them with the same rapture as I did more than half a century ago. I read not only with my eyes, but with the recollections of my youth, Heidelberg with its old streets, the ancient castle, the wooded walk to the top of the Königstuhl and the beautiful plain of the Neckar spread out before one, the skating in winter, the canoeing in summer, the interminable conversations about art and literature, free will and determinism; and first love, though, heaven knows, I never knew it for what it was.

It was during this period that I read the novels of Goethe. I did not read them again till a few years ago when, after a long interval, I began to pay visits to Germany. He wrote three. They are The Sorrows of Werther, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, with its sequel, and The Elective Affinities. Of these Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is the most important and the most interesting. I suppose few people in England read it now, unless for scholastic reasons they are obliged to, and I don't know why anyone should–except that it is lively and amusing, both romantic and realistic; except that the characters are curious and unusual, very much alive and presented with vigour; except that there are scenes of great variety, vivid and admirably described, and at least two of high comedy, a rarity in Goethe's works; except that interspersed in it are lyrics as beautiful and touching as any that he ever wrote; except that there is a disquisition on Hamlet which many eminent critics have agreed is a subtle analysis of the Dane's ambiguous character; and above all, except that its theme is of singular interest. If, with all these merits, the novel on the whole is a failure, it is because Goethe, for all his genius, for all his intellectual powers, for all his knowledge of life, lacked the specific gift which would have made him a great novelist as well as a great poet.

If anyone were to ask me what this specific gift is, I should not know how to answer. It is evident that the novelist must be something of an extrovert, since otherwise he will not have the urge to express himself; but he can make do with no more intelligence than is needed for a man to be a good lawyer or a good doctor. He must be able to tell such story as he has to tell effectively so that he may hold his readers' attention. He need not love his fellow-creatures (that would be asking too much) but he must be profoundly interested in them; and he must have the gift of empathy which enables him to step into their shoes, think their thoughts and feel their feelings. Perhaps Goethe, terrific egoist as he was, failed as a novelist because he lacked just that.

In the following pages I do not propose to tell the story of Goethe's life; but since he said himself that pretty well everything he wrote, except the books devoted to his scientific interests, was in one way or another a revelation of himself, I shall be obliged to give some account of various events of his personal history. When just over twenty, he entered the university of Strasbourg to study law, the profession which, much against his own wishes, his father had decided he should follow. Goethe was then a very comely youth, so comely indeed, that those who saw him for the first time were lost in amazement. He was a little above the middle height, slender, and he held himself so well that he looked taller than he really was. He was of a darkish complexion and he had a fine head of hair, with a natural wave in it; his nose was straight, rather large, and his mouth full and well-shaped; but his magnificent brown eyes, with their unusually large pupils, were his most striking feature. He had immense vitality and a charm that was irresistible. Children doted on him, and he would play with them and tell them stories by the hour together.

After Goethe had been at Strasbourg for some months, a fellow-student suggested that they should ride over to Sesenheim, twenty miles away, to spend two or three nights with friends of his, a pastor, Brion by name, and his wife and daughters. Goethe agreed; they set out and were warmly welcomed. One of the daughters was called Friederike. Goethe fell in love with her at first sight and she with him. How could she fail to? She had never seen anyone so handsome, so charming, and so light on his feet. A new-fangled dance, the waltz. had come to Strasbourg only ten years before and, all the rage had ousted the old-fashioned minuet and gavotte. It was an added attraction that Goethe had learned it and was able to teach her. He loved everything about Friederike, her fair hair and blue eyes, her grace, her simplicity, her activity about the house, the peasant dress she so becomingly wore; and when, forty years later, he dictated an account of the romance in his autobiography, they say that his emotion made his voice tremble. For some months the lovers were deliriously happy. Goethe wrote a number of poems to Friederike; many were lost, but those that remain attest the fervour of his passion. How far things went none can tell. It is asserted that the idea of marrying her never entered his head. That may be so. Even then, Goethe had that sense of class distinctions which in later life was markedly characteristic of him. He belonged to a well-to-do and respectable family, and he knew, of course, that his father, a stern and self-important man, on whom he was entirely dependent, would never consent to his marriage with the daughter of a penniless country parson. But he was young and in love. We all know that men under the influence of passion say things and make promises which in calmer moments they forget. They are taken aback to discover that the woman they have said them to has remembered and taken them seriously. It is surely not unlikely that Goethe at one time or another had said something to Friederike that led her to believe that he would marry her.

An incident eventually occurred which brought it home to him that, for all her charm and grace, she was little more than a peasant. The Brions had relations in Strasbourg, whom Goethe rather patronisingly describes as "of good position and reputation, and in their circumstances comfortably off". Friederike and her sister, whom he calls Olivia, went to stay with them for a while. The two girls found it difficult to adapt themselves to a mode of life that was strange to them. They, like the servants, wore their peasant dress, whereas their cousins and the ladies who visited them were dressed in the French fashion. They could not but feel themselves out of place in these unaccustomed surroundings, and the cousins, perhaps none too pleased to produce to their friends these poor relations, did nothing to make things easy for them. Friederike bore the embarrassing situation with a certain placidity, but Olivia was deeply affronted. The visit was a dismal failure. "At last I saw them drive away," Goethe wrote, "and it seemed as though a stone fell from my heart, for my feelings had shared the feelings of Friederike and Olivia; certainly I was not passionately harassed like the latter, but I felt in no way comfortable like the former." It is not a pretty story, but it is understandable. If ever he had contemplated marrying Friederike, this experience proved to him that it was out of the question.

He made up his mind that they must part. Since at the time he was working for an examination, he had a decent excuse to go to Sesenheim less frequently. He took his degree and three weeks later left Strasbourg for home. He could not refrain from riding over to see Friederike once more. The parting was painful. "As I reached my hand from horseback, tears stood in her eyes, and I was heavy at heart." He left her, he says, when their parting almost cost her her life; but it looks as though even then he had not had the courage to tell her that it was for good. When at last he did, it was by letter. Friederike's answer, he tells us, rent his heart. "I now for the first time," he wrote, "felt the loss she suffered, and I saw no possibility of supplying it, or of alleviating the pain." He added, rather sourly, that the reasons of a girl who draws back in such a case always appear valid, but those of a man, never. "I had wounded the most beautiful heart in its depths, and so the period of a gloomy remorse, with the want of an animating love, to which I had grown accustomed, was highly painful, indeed intolerable. But man wishes to live, and so I took a sincere interest in others." The young are able to bear the woes of others with a good deal of fortitude; Goethe was doubly fortunate in that, when his conscience told him that in his treatment of Friederike he had been sadly to blame, he could seek relief in poetry. "I pursued again the traditional poetic confession, so that by this self-tormenting penance I should become worthy of an inward absolution. The two Marys in Götz von Berlichigen and Clavigo [his first two plays] and the two sorry figures which their lovers cut may well have been the result of such penitent reflections." Had Goethe seduced her? We shall never know. One would think that if there had been no more between them than a violent flirtation his pangs of conscience would have been less persistent. It may well be that Goethe bore Friederike's anguish in mind when he wrote the beautiful and moving song of which the first line runs: Meine Ruh ist hin, mein Herz ist schwer; and perhaps, highly susceptible as he was and tremulously sensitive, it was the torture of his remorse that led him to give immortal expression to the tragic story of Gretchen.

But this is only one of the many conjectures that have been made to discover the origins of his greatest work. In no long while he was able to state that his heart was untouched and unoccupied.


The Sorrows of Werther was the outcome of another love affair. Six months or so after leaving Strasbourg and breaking with Friederike, Goethe, in order to complete his training as a lawyer, went to Wetzlar. There at a ball he danced with a girl called Charlotte Buff. She was engaged to be married to a certain Johann Christian Kestner. Goethe fell in love with her there and then. Next day he called on her. Very soon he was seeing her every day. They took walks together, and Kestner, when his occupations left him free, accompanied them. He was a very decent fellow, somewhat matter-of-fact and uncommonly tolerant; but it is plain that, notwithstanding his good nature, Goethe's attention to his betrothed made him at times uneasy. He wrote in his diary, "When I've done with my work and go to see my girl, I find Dr. Goethe there. He's in love with her, and though he's a philosopher and a good friend of mine, he's not pleased when he sees me coming to have a pleasant time with my girl. And although I'm a good friend of his, I don't like it that he should be alone with my girl and entertain her."

A few weeks later he wrote, "Goethe got a good talking-to from Lottchen. She told him that he could not hope for anything more than friendship from her: he went pale and was very depressed. He went for a walk."

Goethe lingered on at Wetzlar through the summer, trying to make up his mind to leave Lotte, but unable to bring himself to do so; and it was not till the beginning of autumn that he at last summoned up the courage to go. He spent his last evening with Lotte and Kestner without disclosing his intention to them, and next morning was gone. He left a despairing letter to Lotte which brought tears to her eyes.

Goethe went back to Frankfort, and there, some weeks later, the news reached him that an acquaintance of his, a young man called Jerusalem, had committed suicide at Wetzlar owing to an unhappy love affair. He immediately wrote to Kestner for full details of the event and made a careful copy of the information thus supplied to him. "At this moment," he wrote in his autobiography, "the plan of Werther was found, the whole shot together from all sides and became a solid mass, as water in a vessel which is on the point of freezing is transformed into solid ice by the slightest agitation. To hold fast this strange prize, to keep before me and carry out in all its parts a work of such varied and significant contents was for me so much the more pressing, as I had already fallen into a painful situation, which permitted me less hope than those which had gone before, and foreboded nothing but depression, if not disgust." This refers to the fact that Goethe had again fallen in love. "It is a very pleasant sensation," he wrote, "when a new passion begins to stir within us, before the old one has quite passed away. Thus at sunset we like to see the moon rising on the opposite side, and one takes delight in the double splendour of the two heavenly luminaries." The young woman who occasioned this poetic simile was called Maximiliane de la Roche, and Goethe wrote to her mother: "Your Max I cannot do without as long as I live, and I shall always venture to love her." But a marriage had been arranged for her with a certain Peter Brentano, many years older than herself, a dealer in herrings, oil and cheese, who lived in Frankfort. The ill-suited pair were married and Goethe spent many hours a day in her company. But Peter Brentano was not so easy-going as Johann Kestner, and soon Goethe was forbidden the house.

It was, as his own words show, the news of Jerusalem's tragic death that served as the necessary spark so to kindle Goethe's imagination as to lead to the writing of The Sorrows of Werther. It cannot have been long before he saw that by making use of his unhappy love for Lotte Buff, and combining it with the suicide of Jerusalem, with all that had brought it about, he had to his hand the complete material for a novel. He had himself from time to time coquetted with the idea of suicide. Coquetted is the word George Henry Lewes used in his Life of Goethe (still readable after well over a hundred years) and I should say it was the right one. It is true that in the autobiography, written fifty years later, Goethe stated that his anguish was such that the temptation to do away with himself was deadly serious and no one could know how great an effort he had to make not to succumb to it. I venture to suggest that, as men, even the most eminent, are apt to do when they recall the past, he somewhat exaggerated. The young Goethe had high spirits, animation and a cheerful temper; but, like many another, he paid for it by periods of depression. At one time he went to bed with a dagger by his bedside and played with the notion of plunging it in his heart. But, of course, it was only a fantasy, such as, I suppose, many a young man has had in moments of dejection. His vitality was far too great for him ever really to determine to put an end to the life he enjoyed so much. But it is not unlikely that it occurred to him that the feelings which had now and then possessed him could be put to good use when he came to describe those of the hero of his novel. At last he began to write it. He used the form of letters, which was popular at the time owing to the novels of Richardson and Rousseau's La Nouvelle Héloïse. It is the easiest way for an inexperienced novelist to write a work of fiction. It is out of fashion now; but it has its merits, not the least of which is that it adds a convincing verisimilitude to the facts narrated.

The story of The Sorrows of Werther can be told in a few lines. A young man arrives at an unnamed town (Wetzlar, of course) and there meets an attractive girl at a country dance. He falls in love with her, discovers that she is engaged to be married, loves her to distraction and eventually tears himself away. After some time he returns, drawn back by love for her, to find her happily wedded. His passion undiminished, nay, aggravated, so absorbs him that nothing else in the world has meaning for him; and at last, since his love is hopeless, since life without her is intolerable, he shoots himself. The novel, short as it is (it can be read in a couple of hours) is divided into two books. The first ends with Werther's departure; the second begins with his return and ends with his death.

The first book, the reader will see from my account of Goethe's sojourn at Wetzlar, follows the facts very closely. In it Goethe has given his hero his own charm, his gaiety and good humour, his affectionateness, his ease in social intercourse, and his love of nature. In fact he has drawn a very engaging portrait of himself Goethe wrote an idyll suffused with the poetry of the long summer days and the moonlit nights of that beautiful countryside. You get a pleasant feeling of the uprightness and decency of those simple and amiable people, and of the Gemütlichkeit of the life they led in Germany so long ago. You sympathise with Lotte (Goethe had given his heroine Lotte Buff's christian name), so good, so tender, so pretty and such an excellent housewife; you sympathise with her patient, sedate betrothed, whom Goethe called Albert; and you sympathise with Werther for the hopelessness of his love. The first book is a delight to read. It is clearly autobiographical. Now, the autobiographical novel, whether written in the first person or the third, is vitiated by a falsity which is irremediable. This does not consist in the author making himself more resourceful, more gallant and more attractive than he really is, abler and better.looking: that, if he chooses, is his right; he is writing fiction, not history. It consists in his omitting the one characteristic which determines his personality–his creative instinct. It is true that David Copperfield was an author, and a successful one; but it is not an essential element in the narrative; it is the accidental consequence of his circumstances. For all the effect it has on his life, and the story Dickens had to tell, he might just as well have been a civil servant or a schoolmaster. We know that when Goethe found himself in a distressing situation, when he was unhappy and conscience-stricken, he turned to poetry for solace. He had a strong propensity to fall madly in love with any charming girl he ran across; but his mind seethed with the plays and poems he had in mind, and in his heart of hearts, I suggest, they meant more to him than his violent, but ephemeral, passions. Perhaps even, he slightly resented their interference with what was his main preoccupation–to create. There is in the Werther of the first book no such urge. He is a sociable, agreeable, but rather futile dilettante. When at last he brought himself to leave Wetzlar and Lotte, he would have consorted with his friends, consoled himself by writing poetry and fallen in love with somebody else. That, as the reader has seen, is exactly what Goethe himself did.

The second book is pure fiction. Werther is not the man we have come to know in the first. He is a very different one. When this occurred to me I thought I had made an interesting discovery and was rather pleased with myself. But by chance I came across an account of a visit Crabb Robinson had paid Frau Aja, Goethe's mother, and in course of conversation she remarked that the Werther of the first book was Goethe, whereas the Werther of the second was not. Since then so much has been written about this famous novel that the patent fact must have been noted over and over again. In truth, it stares one in the face. From the beginning Goethe had, of course, intended that Werther should commit suicide, and, to prepare the reader, he introduced early on a scene in which Werther, Lotte, and Albert discuss its justification. Lotte and Albert are horrified at the idea, but Werther argues that when a person finds life unbearable, it is his only refuge. He claims that in certain circumstances it is a necessary and courageous act, which should not be condemned, but applauded. Goethe's instinct must have told him that the character he had created in the first book, to whom he had given his own zest for life, would have been, whatever his anguish, no more likely to commit suicide than he himself; he had now to create one that would be irresistibly impelled to it. That is what Goethe did. It was inevitable that the Werther of the second book should turn out to be a very different man from the Werther of the first.

Some time after leaving Wetzlar, on the persuasion of his friends he accepts the post of secretary to a diplomatic representative at one of the German Courts. The Werther to whom we are now introduced is prickly, intolerant, disdainful and quick to take offence. His chief naturally wants letters to be written in his own way, and when Werther writes them in his way, he returns them and demands, to his secretary's indignation, that they should be re-written. There was at the time, it appears, a craze among the cultured young to make use of inversions. They thought it added elegance to their style. It was not unreasonable that the envoy, an experienced man of affairs, should regard this as out of place in official documents and prefer to have them written in the 'officialese' to which he was accustomed, rather than in what may be described as 'literatese'. Employer and employee were soon at loggerheads.

Presently an incident occurred which had unfortunate consequences. Werther had made friends with a high official of the Court to which his chief was accredited, and one evening dined with him. His host was giving a party to the nobility and gentry of the town and after dinner went to the drawing-room to receive his guests. Werther accompanied him. As a commoner of no position he had not been invited to the party. The guests arrived, Princes, Counts, Barons, with their ladies, and Werther immediately noticed that they were surprised to see him. He became aware that his presence in that exclusive gathering was creating unfavourable comment; but, with a singular lack of tact, he stayed on. After a while, one of the more important ladies went up to the host and protested; his host sent for him and politely enough asked him to leave. To us this must seem outrageous. One has to remember how great the gulf was at the time in Germany between the aristocracy and the middle class. The news spread quickly through the town that Werther had been guilty of a gross impertinence and had been turned out of the house. He was deeply mortified and a week later sent in his resignation.

A certain Prince, who has taken a fancy to the young man, perhaps out of pity for the humiliation he had suffered invites Werther to accompany him to his estates and spend the spring with him. This Werther does, but after a few weeks comes to the conclusion that the Prince and he have nothing in common. "He is a man of understanding," he writes, "but of quite ordinary understanding; his company entertains me no more than the reading of a well-written book." A supercilious youth! Werther decides to leave and drifts back to the town in which Lotte and Albert, now married, live. Albert appears to have been none too pleased to see him; his affairs obliged him to be absent now and then, and, though he does not openly object, he does not like the idea that Werther should be so much with his wife. Goethe has described Lotte's feelings with subtlety. She knows that Albert resents Werther' s presence, and she wishes that he would go and leave them in peace, yet has not the heart to drive him away. She loves and respects her husband, but is more than a little in love with Werther. Christmas approaches. Albert is again absent. Lotte has made Werther promise that he will not attempt to see her while her husband is away, and when, nevertheless, he comes, she reproaches him bitterly for not keeping his promise. It is evening; and so that she should not be alone with him, she sends a message to some friends asking them to look in. They arc engaged and unable to. Werther has brought books with him and Lotte suggests that he should read to her. He has made some translations of Ossian, and these he reads. What he reads moves them both, and she bursts into tears. Her tears shatter him and, weeping, he throws his arms round her and passionately kisses her. She is torn between love and anger. She pushes him away. "That's the last time!" she cries. "You shall never see me again." "And then," the author writes, "with a look of deep love at the wretched man, she hurried into the next room and shut herself in." Next day Werther writes a heart-stricken letter to Lotte in which he tells her that he is going to kill himself. He tells her that now at last he knows that she loves him. "You are mine, Lotte, to all eternity." Werther, learning from his servant that Albert has come home, sends him to ask for the loan of his pistols as he is going on a journey. Albert, we may presume relieved to know this, sends them, and early on the following morning Werther shoots himself. The letter to Lotte is found among his effects.

Such, baldly related, is the story of The Sorrows of Werther. The final pages, even today, are moving. The book was published and achieved a success that, perhaps, no other novel has had. It was widely read, widely discussed and widely imitated. It was translated into a dozen languages. The only persons who seem to have received the book somewhat coldly were Kestner and Lotte. That they had served as Goethe's models was immediately recognised. Kestner was justifiably annoyed to find himself portrayed as a dull, rather stupid fellow, unworthy of his charming wife, and to have it suggested that she had been in love with Goethe. Many wondered how much fiction there was in the novel, and how much fact. Kestner wrote to protest. Goethe's reply was high-handed. "Could you but realise," he wrote, "the thousandth part of what Werther is to a thousand hearts, you would not reckon the cost it is to you."

When one reads The Sorrows of Werther today one can hardly fail to ask oneself what there was in it to cause so great a sensation. I suppose the answer is that it exactly suited what we now call the climate of opinion. Romanticism was already in the air. The works of Rousseau were translated and eagerly read. Their influence was enormous. The young Germans of the day were impatient with the hard and cramping routine of the Age of Enlightenment, and the dryness of the orthodox religion offered nothing to hearts that were yearning for infinitude. Rousseau offered the young just what they craved for. They were only too ready to believe with him that emotion was more estimable than reason and the promptings of the heart nobler than the uncertainties of the mind. They cherished sensibility; it was the mark of a beautiful soul. They despised common sense; it showed want of feeling. Their emotions were uncontrollable; men and women on the smallest provocation burst into floods of tears. The letters they wrote, even of those old enough to know better, were extravagantly gushing. Wieland, a poet and a professor, in his forties, began a letter to Lavater by addressing him as Angel of God, and ended with the words, "If I could only spend three weeks with you! But I feel in advance that you would become too dear to me. I should in actual fact become ill with love; and die, when I had to leave you again." The German commentator of this effusion dryly adds that Wieland frequently visited his friends and left them without falling ill for love of them, and dying. If such was the climate of opinion, it is no wonder that The Sorrows of Werther captivated readers. They were touched by the hopelessness of the youth's passionate love; and that Werther, irked by the limitations of life on this earth, should have sought freedom in death aroused in their tender hearts awe and admiration. Werther made Goethe famous, and for many years, whatever else he wrote, he was universally known as the author of this book. Though he lived to old age he never again achieved such an astounding success.


The Sorrows of Werther was published in the autumn of 1774. Towards the end of that year a certain Major von Knebel, acting as bear-leader to the two young Princes of Weimar, knocked at the door of Goethe's house and asked to see him. He came with the message that his two charges desired to make the acquaintance of the distinguished author. The acquaintance was made, and the two boys, the elder of whom was not yet eighteen, were enchanted with him. Shortly after this, Goethe was taken by a friend to a party given by a certain Frau Schönemann, a rich banker's widow. She had an only child, a daughter, fair-haired and blue-eyed, who, when Goethe entered the room, was playing the piano. As was his way, he fell in love with her. Before long she loved him too. Their mutual attachment pleased neither her family nor his. Lili Schönemann's belonged to the upper class of Frankfort society and, as an heiress, was expected to make a good marriage. Goethe's grandfather was a tailor, who married the widow of an inn-keeper, and for the rest of his life followed his predecessor's lucrative profession. His son, Goethe's father, received a legal training and acquired the honorary rank of Imperial Councillor, which gave him a social status, but not such as to admit him into the higher ranks of Frankfort society. He was a harsh, austere man, and he was very much against his son's bringing into the house as his bride a young woman of fashion. Lili was sixteen and as was only natural took delight in the pleasures of her age. She loved dancing, parties and picnics. Goethe was not unaware that the gay life she led was not the life for him, but he was too much in love to care. He wrote poems to her, some of the most beautiful he ever wrote; but they have not quite the youthful abandon of those he wrote to Friederike; you feel in them some hint of uncertainty. He was not quite sure of himself, and not quite sure of Lili. Notwithstanding the opposition of their families, however, they became engaged. But no sooner had this happened than Goethe grew uneasy. He was twenty-six, conscious of his great powers, and his zest for life was intense. He had no wish to settle down.

So, after anxious consideration (we may surmise) and, if he gave a thought to Lili's distress, perhaps not without some qualms of conscience, he came to the conclusion that he must destroy his love for her. A happy chance enabled him, as he thought, to do something to effect this. Two young men of rank, the Counts Stolberg, fervent admirers of the poet, came to Frankfort and made friends with him. They were on their way to Switzerland and asked Goethe to join them. He consented. They started off in the costume which Werther had always worn and in which he had left instructions that he should be buried–blue coat, yellow hose and waistcoat, top boots and round grey hats. Goethe left without telling Lili he was going, without a word of farewell, and both she and her family very naturally resented it. It was, to say the least, unmannerly; but there was on occasion something of brutality in the way Goethe treated others. He was curiously insensitive to the pain he caused. The young men made a tour of Switzerland and admired the scenery; but Goethe did not succeed in forgetting Lili. From some touching lines he wrote we know how hungrily he hankered after her. So far as that went, the trip had been a failure.

He returned to Frankfort. From the accounts we have, it is not clear whether the young things still looked upon themselves as engaged. They continued to meet not infrequently. They were still in love. It was evident that something must be done, and Goethe's father, in order that relations between them should be definitely ended, proposed that he should go on a long journey to Italy. That was something that Goethe had long wished to do, and he willingly fell in with the suggestion. But while he was making his preparations, the young Duke of Weimar, who had just married a Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt, on his way home with his bride passed through Frankfort. In the most cordial way he pressed Goethe to come and spend a few weeks at Weimar. The invitation was tempting and, notwithstanding the opposition of his father, who did not approve of his son consorting with Princes, he accepted. A date was fixed. Whether this time Goethe had the grace to tell Lili that he was going, we do not know. We can only guess what her feelings were from an incident he has related in his autobiography. One night, a day or two before he was due to set out, he wandered about the streets of Frankfort and presently found himself under Lili's window. She was at the piano, and he heard her singing a song he had written for her not quite a year before. "I could not but think she sang it more expressively than ever," he wrote. "After she had finished singing, I saw by the shadow that fell on the blind that she had risen; she walked backwards and forwards; but in vain I tried, through the thick material of the blind, to catch a glimpse of the outline of her sweet self. Only my firm resolution to depart, not to trouble her with my presence, really to renounce her . . . made me decide to leave a proximity that was so dear to me." Eighteen months later Lili very properly married a wealthy banker.

When Goethe arrived at Weimar it was with the intention of staying no more than a month or two: with occasional absences he spent the rest of his life there. The young Duke was delighted with him and soon the pair were inseparable. They drank together, hunted together, and philandered with the peasant girls they came across on the countryside. The staid officials of the Duchy felt that the dissolute poet was leading their master astray and would have been glad to see him go; but the Duke could not bear to part with him and, to keep him, offered him a seat in the Cabinet, to which a salary was attached, and a cottage on the river to live in. He was well advised to persuade Goethe to settle in Weimar, for he was energetic, competent and resourceful. In time more and more duties were thrust upon him, and he performed them uncommonly well. It is the general opinion, I think, that when Goethe yielded to the Duke's wishes he made the tragic mistake of his life. He was a poet, and a great one, and he was set to work that a competent civil servant could have done just as well. That is true. But one must remember the circumstances. He was only twenty-six, he had an immense power of enjoyment and wanted to live life to the full. He was conscious of his modest place in society, and one need not be too hard on him if he was flattered to be made much of by persons of exalted rank. It was natural that he should welcome the chance of entering a world more various than the bourgeois world of Frankfort. His father had cut off his allowance. It was as impossible then as it is now for an author to make his living by writing poetry. Men of letters were forced to become tutors to young princelings or take ill-paid jobs at a university. Schiller, when the most popular dramatist in Germany, was forced to make translations from the French in order to earn money enough to live on.

I don't know that those who have bitterly blamed Goethe for throwing himself away by entering the service of a petty German Prince have suggested any other course he might have taken. As I have said over and over again and can get no one to believe: authors do not like to starve in garrets. In due course Goethe was promoted to one office after another, and by the time he was just over thirty, was virtually Prime Minister of the Duchy. At the Duke's request, the Emperor granted him a patent of nobility, and thenceforward his official name and title was Herr Geheimrath von Goethe. He had not been settled in Weimar for more than a few months when he again fell in love. This time the object of his affections was Charlotte von Stein, wife of the Baron von Stein, Master of the Horse. She was seven years older than Goethe and the mother of seven children, three of whom only, however, were living. She was not beautiful, but she had a slight and graceful figure, and she was intelligent. It was a joy to Goethe to find someone with whom he could talk of any subject that interested him and be sure of an attentive listener. He was, as usual, passionate and impatient, but Frau von Stein wanted a friend rather than a lover, and for four years she resisted his advances. Then Goethe persuaded the Duke to engage an actress, Corona Schröter, to come to Weimar to play in the ducal theatre. He had written a play, Iphigenia, and when it was acted for the entertainment of the Court, Corona Schröter played the name part and Goethe that of Orestes. The audience thought that no such beautiful pair had ever before been seen together on the stage. Frau von Stein, it appears, felt that she was in danger of losing Goethe to the clever and fascinating actress, and to hold him became his mistress. For the next four or five years their relations were completely happy.


From his early youth Goethe had taken an interest in the theatre. His grandmother had given him a puppet theatre; and he had written plays for it, and performed them to an admiring group of children and their elders. When he arrived at Weimar he found amateur theatricals all the rage. He was a welcome addition to the troupe. It consisted of members of the ducal house, such of the courtiers as could be made use of and, now and then, of a professional actress or two. They gave performances not only at Weimar, but also at the seats of neighbouring grandees. The scenery and properties were laden on mules, and the company rode on horseback. They would act their play in the open air, or in the great hall of the palace; and then, after supper, ride home again. It may be that the excitement of these activities, and the fun they were, brought back to Goethe's mind an idea for a novel he is said to have had while still in Frankfort. The first mention we have of it is a note he made in his diary in the year 1779. It was to be called Wilhelm Meister's Theatrical Mission. It was not till two years later, however, that he began to write. The plan he adopted, an old one, as old, I suppose, as the Satyricon of Petronius, was popular. The Spanish picaresque novelists had given it a vogue throughout Europe, and Le Sage in Gil Blas, Henry Fielding in Tom Jones and Smollett in Humphrey Clinker used it with success. Briefly, the scheme is to take the hero from his home, let him wander hither and thither, undergoing a variety of experiences, and finally bring about a happy ending through his marriage with a beautiful and well-dowered young woman. The advantage of this arrangement is that the author can introduce a number of different characters, narrate a series of more or less hazardous adventures, and thus, with so much diversity, gain and hold his reader's attention. Goethe's novel was to be in twelve books. He wrote the first book, paused for a couple of years, after which he wrote the second and third, then a book a year till he had completed the sixth.

That seems a very odd way to write a novel. Most authors, when engaged on a work of fiction, are so absorbed in it that they can think of nothing else, and when they give up for the day, exhausted, look upon the rest of it with impatience as so much time lost till next day they can set to work again. Goethe was apparently able, after an interval of a year, to take up the thread of his narrative as though he had left off the writing of it but a few hours before. It runs smoothly, chapter follows chapter in natural sequence, so that you can only suppose that he had in his mind from the beginning the story he had to tell and by a remarkable feat of memory was able exactly to recall it. Most of the theatres in Germany at the time were supported by the Princes; and the managers had to produce operas, farces and melodramas in order to satisfy an audience that wished only to be entertained. When Goethe began to write his novel it was with a definite idea, then very much in the air, that the theatre should serve as a means of education for the mass of the public and so have an important and valuable influence on German culture. So far as we can guess Goethe's plan, Wilhelm Meister, his hero, was, after sundry vicissitudes, to become manager of a playhouse and, both as actor and author, create a great national theatre and write plays which would place his country's drama on a level with that of France and England.

But for some time Goethe had been growing more and more restless. The Court ceremonies, the visits with the Duke to other Princes, had lost the glamour with which at first his imagination had invested them. Society at Weimar, which in the early years had seemed so brilliant and so full of intellectual stimulus, now appeared narrow and provincial. His official duties were burdensome. Goethe had fallen in love with Charlotte when she was thirty-three; she was now in her forties–forty-three, to be exact. It was no longer a romantic affair with a great lady; it was a habit, recognised and generally accepted, which bore a drab air of domesticity. There was something of the governess in Frau von Stein; she had polished Goethe's manners and guided him in his relations with a world new to him. She had made the poet into a courtier and a gentleman. The poems he wrote to her are tender and affectionate, but they suggest respect, esteem and admiration, rather than the turmoil of passion. The moment came when he felt that at all costs he must get away. At three o'clock one morning, with a servant, a knapsack and a portmanteau, under an assumed name–Johann Philipp Möller, merchant, of Leipzig–he started off for Italy. He left Charlotte without a word of farewell. He stayed away for nearly two years.

It has been suggested that Charlotte never became his mistress. Whether she did or not is today of small importance. That she did is proved to my mind by the fact that he kept it from her that he was going away for an indefinite period. Had she been no more than an intimate friend to whom for years he had read his poems, to whom he had written innumerable letters, whom he consulted when he was in a quandary, whose advice he valued, he would surely have discussed his plan with her. She might have been sorry to see him go, but she would have understood that for his spiritual welfare and for the work he had in mind, it was necessary that he should do so. If, however, Charlotte was his mistress, she could hardly be expected to take it in good part that her lover should leave her for his soul's good for at least some months. Goethe may well have dreaded the scene she might make him and so decided that it would be simpler to let her face the fait accompli. As I have mentioned before, he was always somewhat indifferent to the feelings of others. Moreover, if their relations had been merely platonic, there seems no reason why, on his return, she should have received him with marked coldness. She would not listen to his enthusiastic accounts of his experiences in Italy. She reproached him bitterly because he had left her for so long, and it was in vain that he told her that it was only on her account that he had come back. He received the impression that so far as she was concerned he might as well have stayed away for good. This was not the sort of treatment he was accustomed to, and he wrote to Charlotte, "I freely admit that I cannot endure the manner in which you have treated me up to now. When I was talkative you sealed my lips; when I was uncommunicative, you accused me of indifference; when I was active on behalf of my friends, of coldness and neglect. You watched my every look, you criticised my gestures, my manner, and constantly rendered me mal à mon aise. How could confidence and frankness thrive when you deliberately repulsed me?"

It was no use. Charlotte was not to be appeased and from then on they met only on formal occasions.

Before leaving Weimar, Goethe had started on the seventh book of his novel and, though it was often in his mind, both in Italy and after his return to Weimar, he did not go on with it. I hazard the suggestion that he did not know how to do so. He had written but just over half his novel and even then the end was in sight. Wilhelm was part manager of a theatre and Goethe can hardly have failed to see that as such, until he reached the conventional end of a picaresque novel with a happy marriage, he had nothing much more to tell than he had already told. It may be that he would have left the work unfinished if he had not conceived an entirely new idea that might give his novel a depth and importance which his original plan had not allowed. Much had happened during the eight years that had passed since Goethe's flight to Italy. The French Revolution took place. Louis XVI and his lovely Queen met their deaths on the scaffold. The armies of the young Republic scattered the Austrian forces which had taken up arms against them and overran the Rhineland. It looks as though Goethe had some inkling that the man of the future would be very different from the man of the past. He would have to cope with a changed world. When, then, in 1794, he once more set to work on his novel it was with a different aim in view. It was to show the development of his hero's personality under the various influences to which he was subjected till at length, in full possession of such powers as nature had bestowed upon him, he could devote them to the service of his fellow-creatures. Goethe's theme was not, as it had been, the art of the theatre, but the art of life. I am not sure that there is such a thing as that, but the words seem to mean something, and it may be they do. In other arts, in painting for instance, the medium sets its own limitations; but in life the medium is limited only by death, and that puts an end to its practice. In other arts proficiency can be obtained, but in life little more can be done than to make the best of a bad job. Art is an effect of design: life is so largely controlled by chance that its conduct can be but a perpetual improvisation.

Goethe spent some time cutting, revising and transposing passages in his old manuscript, and finally published the completed novel under a new title. This was Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.


The story is very complicated, and I can only give the reader its bare bones. Before I attempt to do this, I must warn him that the readers of the eighteenth century looked for lively action in a novel. They wanted to be surprised by unexpected incidents and, so long as they were, cared little if they were highly improbable. A coincidence had to be outrageous for them to cavil. Probability was introduced into fiction by the realistic novelists of the nineteenth century, and the idea they arrived at was that what happened should be not only likely, but inevitable. The reader of today, though he may not know it, is a determinist; the reader of the eighteenth century believed in the indiscriminations of chance.

Wilhelm Meister is the son of a merchant who is in partnership with a certain Werner, and the intention is that Wilhelm and Werner's son should follow their fathers' calling. When the novel begins, Wilhelm is having an affair with a pretty actress, Marianne by name, who has come to Frankfort with a travelling company. He hates the idea of entering his father's business. He is stage-struck and very much in love. He wishes to marry Marianne and go on the stage. But Wilhelm has little money, and she has a rich lover on whose generosity she is dependent. When Wilhelm discovers this he is deeply hurt, terribly unhappy, and has a breakdown in health. On his recovery, disgusted with the theatre, he decides to have nothing more to do with it. For three years he works industriously in the firm's office. Then his father and his father's partner send him on a journey to collect money that is owed them. He stays for a few days in a considerable town and comes across an actor and actress, Laertcs and Philina, who are stranded there because their company, for want of money, has broken up. A troupe of acrobats arrive and give a performance. Among them is Mignon. It is to her that Goethe gave the most famous of his lyrics, Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen blühen. Wilhelm, seeing her beaten by the manager of the troupe, rescues her and, after giving the brute a thrashing, buys her from him for thirty dollars. The acrobats move on, and shortly afterwards a couple of actors, man and wife, appear whom Wilhelm has known in the past. They have come to join the company to which Philina and Laertes belonged and are dismayed to learn that it has been disbanded. The association with these actors revives Wilhelm's passion for the stage and, so that they may form a company of their own, he is persuaded to provide the money to buy for them the properties and wardrobes left behind for sale by the former owners. Since this money was what he had collected on his firm's behalf, it seems somewhat unscrupulous on his part to make such use of it.

Other actors drift along and are engaged. A mysterious Harper appears, an old man with a long white beard, whose emaciated body is enveloped in a brown robe. Wilhelm is pleased with his playing and the songs he sings, and insists on his joining the company. Then an equerry comes riding to arrange accommodation at the inn at which Wilhelm and the actors are staying for a Count and his Countess who will be arriving next day. They are on their way to their castle, where they are to entertain a Prince, a famous general, who is advancing with his troops to take up his headquarters in the neighbourhood. The noble pair arrive and presently suggest engaging the strolling players so that they may offer theatrical entertainment to their distinguished guest. When Wilhelm is presented to the Countess he is struck by her beauty, grace and distinction. Arrangements are made, and Wilhelm decides to accompany the players to the castle, partly because he has a mind to see the delightful Countess once more and partly because he welcomes the chance of getting into touch with the nobility. He believed, as did Goethe, that it was only in its ranks that one could acquire manners, culture and breeding. Today, aristocracy, impoverished and bereft of power, is at pains to make no pretensions and when one or other of its members is foolish enough to put on airs of grandeur, he is an object of ridicule. I venture to remind the reader that in Goethe's day throughout Europe, and especially in Germany, there was an immense gulf between the gentry and the commonalty. They belonged to different species. The noble not only demanded a servile respect from his inferiors, but received it. In theory at least, he had polish and refinement, and in comparison the commoner was uncouth.

Of the characters to whom we have so far been introduced, Philina is the most engaging. She is a delightful creature–completely amoral, but generous, warm-hearted and sweet. She is a light o'love, prepared to give herself to any man who has taken her fancy or makes it worth her while. She is a trollop, and Goethe disapproves of her, but she is so winning, he cannot help liking her. He treats her throughout with tenderness and indulgence. I think he realised that, notwithstanding her loose morals, there was no vice in her. She loses her heart to Wilhelm the first time she sees him, but he, high-minded young man that he is, ignores her advances. She has enslaved a lad called Frederick, who runs errands for her and waits on her. They quarrel and she sends him packing, but after some days, unable to live without the charmer, he returns. By this time Wilhelm, after all not insensible to Philina's attractiveness, is about to succumb to her blandishments when he is told that she has made a conquest of the Count's equerry and they are to have supper together. Wilhelm, jealous and angry because he has been forestalled by another, decides thereupon to treat Philina with contempt. It is not without satisfaction, however, that he learns that Frederick, when ordered by Philina to wait on her and the equerry at supper, on bringing in the stew, instead of setting it on the table, has thrown it at their heads.

The actors arrive at the castle in pouring rain to find that they are to be quartered in a derelict building with not a stick of furniture in it. Only Philina, through the equerry's good offices, is given a room in the castle. She ingratiates herself with the Countess, who soon cannot do without her, and it is through Philina that Wilhelm is brought into contact with the high-born lady. His good looks, his talent, his charm, captivate her. He reads to her and recites his poems. As susceptible as Goethe himself, Wilhelm begins to be in love with her, and he is inclined to believe that she is not indifferent to him. When Philina, with her sharp eyes, perceives this, though after her fashion herself in love with him, she does whatever she can to bring the two together. Truly, a remarkable young woman! The Prince arrives with his staff, and various festivities are prepared for his amusement. These occurrences are described with liveliness and humour. There is a charming description of the Countess's levee, which Hofmannsthal has used with admirable effect in the first act of Der Rosenkavalier. Wilhelm makes the acquaintance of a certain Major Jarno, in the Prince's suite, who is both a man of the world and an intellectual. He gives Wilhelm a volume of Shakespeare's plays to read: it is a revelation. Then, seemingly on a sudden, war breaks out, and the party at the castle is dispersed. The actors are rewarded and dismissed. On the night before they are to go, Philina brings Wilhelm to say good-bye to the Countess and discreetly leaves them. The Countess gives him a ring in which there is a lock of her hair and, before either quite knows what is happening, they are clasped in one another's arms. She tears herself away and cries, "Fly from me if you love me." He flies.

The strolling players, hoping to find employment in the prosperous city of Hamburg, set out, but are attacked on the way by a band of armed men, overpowered and robbed of their belongings. Wilhelm makes a gallant fight, but is shot down. When he regains consciousness he finds himself lying in Philina's lap. Just then an elderly gentleman and a young woman, accompanied by a number of horsemen, ride up and, seeing the wounded man, stop. The young woman especially seems concerned and covers him with the elderly gentleman's greatcoat. Badly hurt as he is, Wilhelm is struck by her beauty and touched by her tenderness. He falls in love with her there and then, and thenceforward the Fair Amazon, as he poetically calls her, is constantly in his thoughts. He is taken to the inn of a neighbouring village and finds that the rest of the company have found refuge there. Philina has saved her luggage, with all the pretty things the Countess has given her, by having what is colloquially called a romp with the leader of the bandits. This, rather naturally, excites the indignation of the others, who have been left with nothing but what they stand up in. They blame Wilhelm because he had persuaded them to take a shorter, more dangerous route instead of a longer, safer one; and abandon him. He is left with the Harper, Mignon and Philina. Philina nurses him devotedly and he is soon well on the road to recovery. One morning, on waking, he finds her asleep at the foot of his bed. She wakes and he, pretending to be still asleep, closes his eyes. A day or two later, without a word, she decamps.

The attitude of an unattached young man who rejects the advances of a beautiful and charming woman of easy virtue is not one that, deplorable though it may be, is regarded by most people with unmixed admiration. Goethe said that Wilhelm was a beloved and dramatic portrait of himself, but he also said that he was a poor fish. Contemporary opinion and the opinion of posterity have agreed with him. Carlyle, who translated the Apprenticeship, called him a milksop. The term is unduly harsh. Wilhelm was kindly and charitable, and his heart was moved by others' distress. He took charge of the ill-used Mignon and the helpless, half-demented Harper. He did what he could to relieve the sufferings of the unfortunate and, it must be admitted, tiresome Aurelia, whom we shall meet later. Young and inexperienced as he was, he allowed himself to be duped by the worthless creatures to whom he gave money when they were in difficulties: that is a trait which is not unsympathetic. He was brave and, when the players were attacked, fought bravely till he was laid low. Many a hero of fiction has won the hearts of readers with virtues less striking. It little became Carlyle to be outraged by his continence.

Goethe, long before, had drawn a portrait of himself in the first book of The Sorrows of Werther, and again in his two plays, Götz von Berlichingen and Clavigo. All three have the same lack of character as we find in Wilhelm. They are weaklings and slaves of their emotions. One can only conclude that these were traits that Goethe found deeply rooted in himself. He ascribed to Wilhelm his own motives, thoughts, feelings and idiosyncrasies. Goethe was fond of reciting his own poetry, and so is Wilhelm; Goethe had a weakness for delivering long disquisitions on any subject that happened at the time to interest him, and so has Wilhelm. Goethe gave him his own temperament and his own ideals, his desire to cultivate himself, his own passion for art, his own poetic gift and his own susceptibility to the charm of women. He gave him also his own vacillation, his own want of perseverance and his own tendency to be influenced by all and sundry. One must admit that one has to be very tolerant not sometimes to be impatient with Wilhelm. And, as too often happens when the author is the hero of his novel, the hero is acted upon, rather than acts, with the result that he remains shadowy in comparison with the other persons, objectively seen, of the story.


When Wilhelm is restored to health, still determined to be an actor, he proceeds with the Harper and Mignon to Hamburg, where a friend of his, Serlo by name, is manager of the theatre. While there, he receives a letter from Werner, son of his father's partner, to tell him that his father (Wilhelm's) has died.

He then suggests that on the money Wilhelm has thus inherited, and with money of his own, they should buy an estate, which Wilhelm can manage. Wilhelm rejects the proposal and in answer writes a letter to Werner which one reads with something like dismay. I will quote, in Carlyle's translation, the salient points: "The cultivation of my individual self, here as I am, has from my youth upwards been constantly, though dimly, my wish and my purpose ... I know not how it is in foreign countries; but in Germany, a universal, and if I may say so, personal cultivation is beyond the reach of anyone except a nobleman. A bourgeois may acquire merit; by excessive efforts he may even educate his mind; but his personal qualities are lost, or worse than lost, let him struggle as he will. Since the nobleman, frequenting the society of the most polished, is compelled to give himself a polished manner; since this manner, neither door nor gate being shut against him, grows at last an unconstrained one; since, in court or camp, his figure, his person, are a part of his possession, and it may be the most necessary part, he has reason enough to put some value on them, and to show that he puts some. A certain stately grace in common things, a sort of gay elegance in earnest and important ones, becomes him well; for it shows him to be everywhere in equilibrium. He is a public person, and the more cultivated his movements, the more sonorous his voice, the more staid and measured his whole being is, the more perfect is he. If to high and low, to friends and relations, he continues still the same, then nothing can be said against him, none may wish him otherwise. His coldness must be reckoned clearness of head, his dissimulation prudence. If he can rule himself externally at every moment of his life, no man has aught more to demand of him; and whatever else there may be in him or about him, capacities, talents, wealth, all seem gifts of supererogation."

I leave out three paragraphs. The letter goes on then as follows: "Now this harmonious cultivation of my nature, which has been denied me by birth, is exactly what I most long for. Since leaving you, I have gained much by voluntary practice;* I have laid aside much of my wonted embarrassment, and can bear myself in very tolerable style. My speech and voice I have likewise been attending to; and I may say, without much vanity, that in society I do not cause displeasure. But I will not conceal from you that my inclination to become a public person, and to please and influence in a larger circle, is daily growing more insuperable. With this, there is combined my love for poetry and all that is related to it; and the necessity I feel to cultivate my mental faculties and tastes, that so, in this enjoyment henceforth indispensable, I may esteem as good the good alone, as beautiful the beautiful alone. You see well, that for me all this is nowhere to be met with except upon the stage; that in this element alone can I effect and cultivate myself according to my wishes. On the boards, a polished man appears in his splendour with personal accomplishments, just as he does in the upper classes of society; body and spirit must advance with equal steps in all his studies; and there I shall have it in my power at once to be and seem, as well as anywhere."

This appears to mean that by devoting himself to the stage the bourgeois, playing the parts of great and noble persons, may acquire the culture and breeding which is the natural heritage of the nobly born. But it might mean more than that; it might mean that since we live in a world that is merely an appearance of a reality for ever unknown to us, there is not much to choose between acting our parts on the stage of a theatre and acting them on the stage of what we absurdly call real life.

On the money Wilhelm now has at his disposal, he enters into partnership with Serlo to produce plays. Serlo agrees, somewhat against his will, to engage the strolling players whose fortunes Wilhelm has shared and who have now turned up. Philina is with them. It is then that she makes a remark to Wilhelm which has found a place in at least one dictionary of quotations: "If I love you, what business is that of yours?" To this, so far as we are told, Wilhelm has no come-back. Philina then becomes Serlo's mistress. The first play to be produced under the joint management is Hamlet, and Wilhelm is to take the part of the Prince. Goethe's humour was sarcastic rather than playful, and in his youth he had had a predilection for practical jokes: the production of Hamlet gave him the opportunity to write a scene of high comedy, though I am not too sure that he meant it to be that. The dress rehearsal takes place, and Wilhelm retires to his room. He starts to undress when to his astonishment he notices a pair of slippers, obviously Philina's, by the side of his bed. Then he perceives that the curtains round the four-poster have been disturbed and jumps to the conclusion that Philina is hidden behind them.

"Come out, Philina," he cries angrily. "What do you mean by this? Where is your sense, your modesty? Are we to be the talk of the house tomorrow?"

Nothing happens.

"I'm not joking," he goes on, "these pranks are little to my taste."

Not a sound! Not a movement! He flings open the curtains and finds the bed-empty. He is none too pleased to find that the naughty girl has been making a fool of him. Next evening the first performance of the play takes place and Wilhelm has a great success. It is followed by a party, after which he again goes to his room. He strips and, putting out the light, gets into bed. He hears a slight rustling and sits up. Two soft arms clasp him and passionate kisses arc showered on his mouth, a woman's breast presses against his, and he has not the courage to push it away. In the morning, on awakening, he finds his bed empty. Oddly enough, he is not quite sure who his bedfellow was; the reader, more astute, knows perfectly well that it was Philina. She must have found the experience less thrilling than she had expected, since very shortly afterwards she once more disappears. We never see her again, but towards the end of the book hear what has become of her.

A few pages back, I mentioned Aurelia. She was an actress, Serlo's sister, and played the part of Ophelia to Wilhelm's Hamlet. She had been seduced by a neighbouring nobleman, Lothario by name, who had deserted her and her child Felix. She is broken-hearted and stricken with a mortal illness. On her deathbed she writes a letter, which she makes Wilhelm promise to take to her betrayer. He, ever ready with his sympathy, is prepared to upbraid Lothario for his cruel conduct and bring home to him his responsibility for the poor girl's death. He sets out, leaving Mignon and the Harper behind, for Lothario's castle. The Harper has become quite crazy, and is put in charge of a friendly pastor. Relations between Wilhelm and Serlo have now become strained. Wilhelm has insisted that they should stage, not the plays the public wished to see, but those he felt for their souls' good they should see. Audiences fell off, and Serlo would have been relieved to be rid of his exacting partner.

On his way to the castle, Wilhelm rehearses the biting diatribe whereby, when he comes face to face with Lothario, he proposes to bring his infamy home to him. He arrives and after some difficulty is admitted to Lothario's presence. He hands him Aurelia's letter. Lothario takes it into an adjoining room and is seen reading it. He comes back and tells Wilhelm somewhat nonchalantly that he is too busy to discuss the matter with him just then. He hands him over to an Abbe with instructions that he should be given a room for the night.

From now on, the novel becomes more and more confused and less and less plausible. Goethe begins one of his chapters with the words: "In a play events follow one another with inevitableness and chance has no place in it, but in a novel chance may rightly play a part." There is some truth in that. But only some. In each case it depends on the sort of play and the sort of novel the author has in mind. In this part of Wilhelm's Meister's Apprenticeship Goethe has made unscrupulous use of it. The oddest things occur and the most unlikely coincidences. The novel, which on the whole had been realistic, now becomes wildly romantic. Of course Goethe had a difficult job to cope with. He wished to show that Wilhelm had got all possible cultivation, his aim from the beginning, out of his connection with the theatre, and thenceforward must enter a higher form of life. He chose an unfortunate means to effect this. There was at the time he wrote a great vogue in Germany for freemasonry, and both Goethe and the Duke, and many of the courtiers, were initiated. The men Wilhelm meets at the castle, Lothario, the Abbe and Jarno, whom he already knows, all of noble rank, have formed a secret society, whose ideal is the brotherhood of man. Wilhelm thus enters upon a new apprenticeship, an apprenticeship not as before to art, but to life; and life, he is to learn, has meaning only if it is devoted to practical activities useful to mankind. One cannot but admit that all this business of the secret society, with its mysterious tower, its ceremonies and mummeries, is somewhat childish; and the persons concerned carry no conviction: they talk endlessly; and their discourse, however edifying, is too often tedious. It appears that the brethren have long had their eye on Wilhelm, and have made themselves acquainted with his successive activities; but why these young noblemen should have selected to be one of their number the son of a Frankfort merchant of the middle class is never explained.

On the day after Wilhelm's arrival, Lothario fights a duel. He has broken off an affair with a married woman, and her husband, to avenge the affront thus put upon her, challenges him. Lothario is wounded, and so Wilhelm is prevented from broaching the subject which has brought him to the castle. He stays on. But when at length he can assail Lothario for his base betrayal of Aurelia, Lothario brushes him off with an unanswerable retort: "When she loved, she ceased to be lovable. That is the greatest misfortune that can befall a woman." Wilhelm is silenced, but then reproaches him for neglecting the child, Felix, she had borne him. To this Lothario replies that if Aurelia had a child, he is certainly not its father.

Wilhelm comes to realise that he has greatly misjudged his host. Lothario has spent part of his life in America, but, having arrived at the conclusion that he can exercise his gifts at home as well as abroad, he returns to Germany. "Here or nowhere is America," he cries in a phrase that has become famous. He is now occupied with the management of his estates. He has conceived the notion, wildly revolutionary at the time, that the labourer should receive his fair share of the wealth his work had created. He is admired, beloved and respected by all. He is affable with his equals, gracious with his inferiors, hospitable, cultured, intelligent, humane, and a natural leader of men. I think Goethe meant to draw the portrait of a great man and a perfect gentleman: in point of fact he has drawn a portrait of any rich man of high birth who has a reasonable sense of his responsibilities. I don't know that it is particularly to his credit that he should be a promiscuous womaniser.

Wilhelm is persuaded to go on an errand to place Lydia, a girl of humble origins who has been living at the castle as Lothario's mistress and whom he wants to be rid of, in charge of a certain Theresa. Theresa is a practical young woman, a good manager and a good housekeeper, economical and business-like. She is also comely, and Wilhelm, though still hankering after the Fair Amazon, is attracted. He spends several days with her, and she tells him at length the story of her life. All I need mention is that she had been about to marry Lothario when he discovered that a few years before he had been her mother's lover, whereupon in horror he breaks off the engagement. Why he should have done this is not clear, since such things happen in the very best society and have never been regarded as a bar to marriage. Wilhelm returns to the castle, and it is suggested that he should ride back to Hamburg to fetch Mignon and the little Felix. He goes and finally breaks with Serlo. He now discovers that Felix is not, as he had been led to believe, Aurelia's son, but his own. When he left Marianne she was pregnant and died in childbirth.

Back at the castle all sorts of unexpected things happen. Wilhelm, his education in the art of life being presumably complete, is accepted as a member of the brotherhood. Lothario inherits a fortune and prepares to buy an immense property in the neighbourhood, which will provide a handsome estate for each of the members. But a Frankfort merchant also wishes to buy the property, and Lothario, in order that they may come to an arrangement satisfactory to both sides, invites him to visit him. He arrives and, strangely enough, turns out to be Wilhelm's old friend, Werner. Wilhelm, deeply affected by his discovery that Felix is his son and acutely sensible of the responsibility thus thrust upon him, decides that the little boy must have a mother; so he writes to Theresa to ask her to be his wife. He does not love her, but respects and admires her, and is confident that she will love his son as though he were her own. While he is awaiting her answer, he goes on a visit to Lothario's sister, Natalie, who has been looking after the ailing Mignon. To his surprise (but not to ours) he finds that she is the Fair Amazon of his dreams. He has only to see her again to know that he deeply loves her. She hands him a letter which Theresa has asked her to give him. It is to tell him that she accepts his offer of marriage. The situation in which he thus finds himself might justly be described as a pretty kettle of fish. Fortunately, however, Lothario finds out that Theresa is not the daughter of his old mistress, but the illegitimate daughter of her husband, so that there is no obstacle to their union. This frees Wilhelm from his engagement, and he need no longer, as he was nobly prepared to do, suppress his passionate love for Natalie.

A new character arrives at the castle. This is an Italian Marquis who is making a tour of Germany. The Harper by now has recovered his wits, cut off his beard and wears the clothes suitable to a gentleman on his travels. The Marquis recognises him as his long-lost brother. Meanwhile, Mignon, who has been for some time in failing health, dies and is embalmed. When the Marquis is shown her body, he discovers by certain marks on her arm that she is his niece and the Harper's daughter, the result of an incestuous union of his brother, then a monk, with his sister. The Harper, learning by accident the unhappy facts, cuts his throat. The high-spirited scapegrace, Frederick, turns up and it appears that he is Lothario's younger brother. He has been living with Philina, but has not brought her with him, since, being pregnant, she is not fit to be seen. To complete the family, the Count and Countess, whom we have met before, arrive at the castle, and the Countess is another sister of Lothario's. Finally it is revealed that Natalie, the Fair Amazon, returns Wilhelm's love and they agree to marry. To tidy things up Jarno announces his approaching marriage to Lydia, Lothario's discarded mistress! While writing his novel, Goethe sent each book as it was finished to Schiller for his criticisms. Oddly enough the only improbability in the events narrated that Schiller objected to was that three persons of noble birth should marry three commoners!

Goethe must have thought that he had thus brought his novel to a satisfactory conclusion, for he makes Frederick, at the very end, say to Wilhelm, "You are like Saul, the son of Kish, who went out to seek his father's asses and found a kingdom." The commentators have found in this a profound significance. It puzzles me. I don't know what Wilhelm has found other than an aristocratic marriage and a fine estate. But what puzzles me still more is the assumption, which he blindly accepts, that the practical life, in Wilhelm's case that of the gentleman farmer, for he is apparently prepared to spend the rest of his life in the cultivation of his estate, is without question superior to that of the artist, the actor, the poet or the scholar. I should have thought it obvious that the best life is that which enables each to make good use of such qualities and aptitudes as nature has bestowed upon him.

To my mind it is a pity that Goethe was unable to finish his novel on the lines on which he had begun it. Not that it would have been a great book, but it would have been a good one and have stood comparison, not unfavourably, with the best of the picaresque tales. But if on the whole the novel which Goethe eventually sent to the press is a failure, it is of more consequence than many a novel which within its limits is completely successful. It is the prototype of a variety of fiction, the Bildungsroman, which a long line of German novelists have used with more or less felicity. The most notable example of it is, of course, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. I know no satisfactory translation of the term, Bildungsroman; the common rendering, the novel of education, seems to me singularly uninviting. It is the novel that is concerned with a young man's apprenticeship to life. It is a mistake to think, as some appear to do, that it is a peculiarly German product: after all, David Copperfield and Pendennis are instances of the same sort of thing, and so is L'Education Sentimentale. It gives the author an opportunity to air his views on the various problems that confront man in the confusion and haphazards of life, and if, forgetting that philosophy had better be left to philosophers, who can deal with it better, he wishes to philosophise, he can do that too. It is a curious fact, which I do not know how to account for, and it may be that it is inevitable to the genre, that the protagonists of these novels, from Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship to The Magic Mountain, are creatures of no great force of character, and so we are more apt to be irritated by them than to sympathise.


Goethe had long intended to write a sequel to Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, and Schiller unfortunately welcomed the idea. But it was not till years later that he set himself to the task. He gave it the title of Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre. When it was published, according to Eckermann, Goethe's secretary, no one knew what to make of it. It is a muddled, incoherent work, and horribly tedious. It is only fair to add that the reader will find in it a great number of sagacious remarks on such subjects as religion, education and social organisation, but they can more conveniently be read in the various collections that have been made of Goethe's wit and wisdom.

We have now reached the year 1808. On his return from Italy he had been relieved of his official functions, but remained the Duke's adviser. Besides the cottage by the river, the Duke had given him a large, handsome house in the town; and here he received his admirers and hospitably entertained his friends. He was no longer the slim, comely youth, with exuberant vitality and the overwhelming charm that fascinated everyone who came in contact with him. He was in his sixtieth year. He was corpulent; he had a double chin, and his fine features were somewhat blurred. There had always been a certain stiffness in his demeanour, as though he were instinctively protecting himself from anyone who might take a liberty with him, and this with age was greatly accentuated. He had become a formidable figure. Schiller, with whom Goethe after some hesitation became intimate, wrote of him in a letter to a friend, "To be often with Goethe would make me unhappy; even towards his nearest friends he has no moment of effusion; one cannot, as it were, seize hold of him. I believe, in fact, that he is an egoist to an extraordinary degree. He possesses the talent of captivating people and binding them to him by little attentions as well as by great ones, but he always keeps himself free; he makes his existence known by kindly actions, but only as a God, without giving anything of himself." Crabb Robinson, who was taken to see him, and who rightly regarded him as a genius, beheld a man of terrific dignity, with penetrating and unsupportable eyes and tightly closed lips. "My companion," he wrote, "talked about his youth of adversity and strange adventures. Goethe smiled, with, as I thought, the benignity of condescension. When we were dismissed, and I was in the open air, I felt as if a weight were removed from my breast, and exclaimed 'Gott sei Dank'." Heine, no respecter of persons, when he was to pay Goethe a visit, prepared beforehand the profound and sublime things he proposed to say to him, but, on finding himself in his presence, was so overcome with awe that he could think of nothing to talk about but the savouriness of the plums that grew on the trees by the wayside on the road from Jena to Weimar.

All this gives one a somewhat chilling impression of the great man, and it is true that when he found himself in uncongenial company, he was cold and reserved; but when with people he liked, he could be easy, talkative and gay. For some time, owing to his increasing impatience with the provincial life of Weimar, Goethe had taken to spending long periods at the neighbouring university town of Jena. There he had come to know a cultured bookseller, Fromman by name, with whose family and friends he found it pleasant to discuss art and literature. Fromman and his wife had adopted when she was ten a little girl called Minna Herzlieb who became a great favourite with the poet. She grew up. At eighteen she was uncommonly attractive. Goethe fell in love with her and as usual his passion gave rise to poems. He wrote a short series of admirable sonnets. The Frommans, however, could not but regard Goethe's infatuation with dismay; for not only was he forty years older than Minna; he was married. Soon after his return from Italy, Goethe, while strolling in the park at Weimar, was approached by a girl who handed him a petition which entreated him to use his influence to get a post at Jena for her brother. Christiane Vulpius was the daughter of a minor employee of the state; he was dead, and she worked in a neighbouring factory. She was uneducated, but she had pretty hair, laughing eyes and a graceful figure. Goethe was fascinated by her and soon became her lover. After some months, since she was about to have a child, he took her to live with him, and in due course she was delivered of a son. He was called August after the Duke, who was his godfather, and was baptised by Herder, the ecclesiastical superintendent of the Duchy. In course of time Christiane bore three other children, one of which died in infancy and the other two in childbirth. Goethe married her in 1806. His secretary and his son, August von Goethe, seventeen years old by then, were the witnesses.

In view of Goethe's attachment, the Frommans had found it prudent to send Minna Herzlieb away for a while, and Goethe, at the cost of a severe inward struggle, decided that there was but one issue to the impossible situation: he went back to Weimar and Christiane. He had, as we have seen, been accustomed in moments of dejection to turn to poetry for relief; on this occasion he turned to prose, and wrote the novel called The Elective Affinities. He stated that there was not a line in it that he had not himself felt, and no work in which he had put so much of himself. When it was published, though the critics praised, the reading public, to Goethe's mortification, were cold. That is not surprising; its faults are glaring. Like many another author, he had a sharp eye for defects in the works of his fellow writers, but was obstinately blind to those in his own; and in his high and mighty way he stated that no one had the right to express a judgment on his novel who had not read it three times.

The idea on which the story is founded has been put very well by the late Professor Robertson in his The Life and Work of Goethe, and I cannot do better than quote his account of it. Early in the book, one of the characters explains that "substances have a natural affinity with themselves; drops of water unite to make a stream; but they also have affinities to other substances. They may mingle without difficulty, as wine mingles with water, or with the assistance of an alkali, as oil and water. This affinity may be so strong between different bodies that when they combine, the result is the creation of an entirely new body, as when sulphuric acid is poured upon chalk and produces two new products, carbonic acid and gypsum. There may even be a third degree of affinity, a double or cross one. Two pairs of elements, A and B, and C and D, may be closely united to each other, but when all four are brought together, A may prefer to dissociate itself from B and unite itself to D, while B and C are similarly affected. Thus early, Goethe makes his purpose with the novel plain; he will translate A, B, C and D into human terms."

It is well known that the great novelists of the nineteenth century founded the characters of their novels on persons they had themselves known. Some, indeed, Turgenev for instance, admitted that they could not create a character at all unless they had a living model to work on. They elaborated their models to suit their own purposes and in the end the characters they created often enough had very little in them of the models that had suggested them. But the models were there, indispensable and except for this or that trait of theirs, perhaps no more than a sullen smile, a crafty look or a boisterous laugh, the characters created would not have been just what they were. And it may be that it was just this trait that enabled them on occasion to fashion a character more lifelike than any creature of real life. I do not suppose that any novelist but Goethe ever conceived the fantastic notion of using as his models chemical substances.

The story of The Elective Affinities is simple. Edward, a rich Baron, is living in a castle on his estate with Charlotte, his wife. They had loved one another in early youth, but on pressure from their respective families both had made a marriage of convenience; their partners died and they married. We are not told how long ago this had happened, but at the beginning of the story they are in the prime of life. They are occupied with the improvement of the estate and the beautifying of the park. One day, Edward makes the suggestion to his wife that an old friend of his, who can be useful to them in this, and to whom he is under an obligation, should be invited to stay with them. The friend is not given a name, but is known only as the Captain. One would have expected Charlotte to say, "What a good idea! By all means ask him if you want to." In point of fact she replies, "That is to be well thought about and considered from more than one side." After a lot of argument, however, Charlotte agrees that the Captain should be invited, but at the same time proposes that her niece, Ottilie, should be invited too. Both arrive. Ottilie is eighteen, demure and beautiful; the Captain is a fine figure of a man. Edward and Ottilie are drawn together by mutual affinity and Charlotte and the Captain likewise. Then a very odd thing occurs: Edward has kept diaries of his youth in the army and conceives the idea of revising them and making them into a book. Ottilie is set to copy them. Edward reads her manuscript, and to his astonishment finds that, though the early part is written in Ottilie's schoolgirl hand, the later part is in what looks like his own handwriting. "You love me," he cries and clasps her in his arms. By this time Charlotte and the Captain have realised that they are deeply in love with one another, and the Captain decides that the only thing he can do is take himself off–which he does. Charlotte, well aware of her husband's passion for Ottilie, suggests that she should be sent back to school. This Edward will not hear of and proposes that he should go away, promising not to attempt to see Ottilie, nor write to her, so long as she is allowed to remain at the castle. He settles down in a house on another of his properties. By a common friend, he sends a message to Charlotte, asking her to consent to a divorce, which, it appears, was then in Protestant Germany easy to arrange, so that he can marry Ottilie and she can marry the Captain.

The messenger returns, bringing Edward the news that Charlotte is pregnant. Though so much in love with Ottilie, on a whim, almost by accident, he had spent a night with his wife. One would expect Edward to be thrilled by the announcement. After all, he possessed great estates, one would have thought the possibility of an heir would delight him; he had loved Charlotte: the natural, the humane, the decent thing for him to do surely was to go back to the castle and behave as any man in these circumstances would. Not at all! For no apparent reason he decides that the only course open to him is to rejoin the army, engaged at the time in war, and get himself killed. The child is born, and to the surprise of all has the eyes of Ottilie and the features of the Captain. They might well be surprised. Goethe's idea presumably was that in the act of sexual congress Edward was obsessed by his passion for Ottilie and Charlotte by hers for the Captain, so that the infant conceived would be thus strangely conditioned. It is, of course, utter nonsense.

The war is won, and Edward returns to the house he had lived in before. He is joined by the Captain, whom presently he sends to Charlotte to get her to consent to a divorce. While he is waiting for her reply, he rides over to his estate and by chance comes across Ottilie, who was wandering by the lake with Charlotte's child. He tells her on what errand the Captain has gone and she promises to marry him if Charlotte will agree to the divorce. They part, and she steps into a boat to row on the lake. In her agitation she loses an oar and, while she reaches for it, the child falls into the water and is drowned. The four of them, Edward and Ottilie, Charlotte and the Captain, are once more gathered together at the castle. Charlotte, now that her child and Edward's is dead, consents to divorce him. It looks as if thus everything can be settled to the satisfaction of all parties. But Ottilie cannot get over the child's death, for which she holds herself responsible. She regards it as a judgment on her sinful love for Edward and refuses to marry him. She begins to act very strangely. She will not speak, she will not eat; finally she dies. Edward cannot survive her loss and he too dies. With Charlotte's consent he is buried beside Ottilie.

Such, in brief, is the story. Its improbabilities, both of events and conduct, are inordinate. It is marred by digressions. Goethe, early in life, had taken to dictating–a practice that has proved disastrous to more than one distinguished novelist–and when he had once begun to discourse on a matter that interested him, though it had nothing to do with his subject, he could not stop. He was much interested in what is now known as landscape gardening and in The Elective Affinities he describes the alterations Charlotte and the Captain make in Edward's park at intolerable length. But the worst of his digressions, to which he devotes page after page, is that which occupies the interval between Edward's going to the wars and his return. Charlotte has by her first marriage a daughter called Luciane. She has left school, and instead of coming to live with her mother, for a reason that is not given goes to live with a great-aunt. She becomes engaged to a young man, and the couple, with a host of relations and friends, come to visit Charlotte. It is mid-winter and the gay party skate and sleigh. They play a variety of instruments. They sing and dance and recite poetry. They get up tableaux vivants, and Goethe has described each one of them in tedious detail. From one point of view all this is not uninteresting, for it gives the reader a vivid enough picture of how in the last quarter of the eighteenth century the German aristocracy entertained themselves during their long visits, lasting several weeks, to the castles of their fellow nobles; but it has nothing to do with the story Goethe has to tell, and thus is merely tiresome. The characters who play their parts in it are not in themselves interesting and so we do not care what happens to them. They have no more personality than the letters of the alphabet. They are puppets the string of which the author manipulates to demonstrate an abstract theory. They lack the breath of life. Professor Robertson put the matter very neatly, "They owe such existence as they have not to intuition and imagination, but to ratiocination." A fatal error! But surely the great flaw of The Elective Affinities consists in the initial conception. That Edward and Ottilie should be attracted to one another, Charlotte and the Captain, though possible enough, is so neatly symmetrical that you cannot take it quite seriously. It is a subject for comedy rather than for drama. Marivaux might well have written a graceful play on the situation of these four persons and Shaw a witty and sardonic one. The tragic outcome arouses neither pity nor fear.


In this essay I have been led to say more about Goethe's life than I meant to. I cannot tell what impression the reader has gained of the sort of man he was, but I am sure it is an incomplete and, so, erroneous one. In one of Grimm's fairy tales there is a story of a youth who entered the Castle of the Golden Sun, where sat an enchanted Princess awaiting a deliverer. But when he saw her he had a shock. Her face was full of wrinkles, her eyes were sunk deep in her head and her hair was carroty. "Are you the King's daughter of whose beauty all the world talks?'' he asked. "Alas," she replied, "this is not my true form; the eyes of mortal men can only see me in this hateful guise. But that you may know how beautiful is the reality, look in this mirror which cannot err. That will show you my face as it really is." She gave him the mirror, and he beheld in it the portrait of the most beautiful maiden the earth could contain. So it is with Goethe. As a man he was selfish and self-centred, stiff and unbending, impatient of criticism, with too servile a respect for rank, and somewhat indifferent to the pain he caused others. The witty and malicious Heine said that he was far from appreciative of such of his fellow writers as had talent, and reserved his commendation for the second-rate, so that praise from Goethe came to be regarded as a certificate of mediocrity. He was his true self only when he wrote poetry. The mirror of his lovely lyrics, of his great odes, shows you the man that he was in reality. Somewhere, Goethe has said that the great man is just like everyone else, except that he has greater virtues and greater defects. If he was thinking of himself, it was not without justification. But his defects, such as they were, with age were mitigated. We know a good deal about his last years through Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe. It is one of those agreeable books that you can take up on any page and find something well worth reading. It is true that Eckermann often gives you his own contributions to the conversation at undue length. So did Hazlitt, when he recorded his talks with Northcote, but Goethe's secretary was not the brilliant writer that Hazlitt was. He was the son, one of five children, of a poor peasant, and by tenacity and hard work had managed to get a sound education. He issued a volume of poems and a critical essay, in which he paid tribute to Goethe. He sent these to the poet, who was pleased with them and expressed a wish to see the author. A meeting was effected. Goethe at once saw that he could make use of his young admirer; and so, since he was about to leave for Marienbad to take the waters, arranged that they should meet again at Jena when he was through with his cure.

Goethe was now seventy-four. He was more affable than he had been in middle age, more gracious and more cordial. If we may judge from his portraits, he had lost much of the obesity which had struck people when he was in his fifties. He was still a fine figure of a man. His hair, white and curling, was abundant; his eyes were piercing and his lips, as ever, grim and tightly closed. But he had retained his old charm and his power of impressing all who came in contact with him. Christiane Vulpius had been dead for some years. She had made him a good wife. In later years she had been a little given to drink, but she looked after his house and made him comfortable. He felt her loss deeply. At Marienbad Goethe found a girl of seventeen, Ulrike von Leventzov, whose acquaintance he had made two years before. She was winning and graceful. He had found her attractive then, he found her more attractive now; and, indefatigable amorist as he was, he fell violently in love with her. Ulrike was flattered by the attentions of this great and famous man and certainly found him fascinating. He proposed marriage to her, and it looks as though she did not refuse him, since he wrote to his family (to their dismay) to announce that the marriage would shortly take place. But Ulrike's mother refused to consent to a match which, if she had any sense, must have seemed to her preposterously ill-assorted. Goethe was offended, unhappy and deeply mortified. He left Marienbad. In the carriage on the way home he wrote a poem, Elegie, in which he described the emotion to which his love for Ulrike had given rise and his passionate regret for what he had lost. It is a fine poem, but it lacks the spontaneity of one or other of those early lyrics, which is like a cry of the heart, as unpremeditated as the singing of a bird, and seems to be a poem only by a lucky accident. The emotion of Elegie is doubtless genuine, but it is recollected in a tranquillity sufficient to have enabled Goethe to achieve an elaborate technique. There is the same sort of difference between the early lyrics and Elegie as there is between the wild flowers that bloom in spring on the foothills of the Alps, gentian, daphne and aconite, and the cinerarias and cyclamen that grow under glass in our Northern climes. I find the two lines that introduce the poem deeply moving.
"Und wenn der Mensch in seiner qual verstummt, Gab mir ein Gott, zu sagen was ich leide."
By the time he reached Jena, Goethe had sufficiently regained his composure to clinch the plan he had in mind to attach Eckermann to himself by inducing him to take up his residence at Weimar. Goethe drew an alluring picture of the advantage it would be to the young man to live in a cultured and intellectual society, by mixing with which he could develop his personality and so allow his poetic gifts to mature. Eckermann, dazzled and flattered, swallowed the bait, line, hook and sinker; and a fortnight later followed Goethe to Weimar. Goethe set him to work and for nine years kept him busy. Several times Eckermann tried to break away, but Goethe would not let him go. With the callousness which was characteristic of him, he thus prevented the poor fellow from cultivating such literary gifts as he had. It appears that they were small, so it was no matter; anyhow, Eckermann has achieved, though not in the way he wished, a modest immortality.

Eckermann used often to dine with Goethe, sometimes alone, sometimes in company, for as ever the old man entertained lavishly. August had married and Ottilie, his wife, acted as hostess at these parties. She was a sprightly young woman and Goethe liked her. He was devoted to his two grandsons. Eckermann noted all the interesting things Goethe said on the drives they took together, during the many hours they spent seated opposite one another in the work-room, and the remarks made when distinguished persons came to dinner. On one occasion he states that the conversation was gay and sparkling. One could wish that he had thought it worth while to record. He didn't. He was a serious young man and it was to Goethe's words of wisdom that he was chiefly attentive. Since Goethe had always had a fondness for moralising, this gave him ample material for his note-book. Meanwhile Goethe's friends had been dying. When Schiller died, he said that with him went half his existence. Friederike Brion died. When I was in Strasbourg I drove to Sesenheim to see what was left of the house in which the parson had lived with his happy family and the church in which he had preached. The immediate surroundings can have changed but little. The green fields in which Goethe and Friederike had walked were still there. Then I went to the cemetery to see if I could find her grave. I couldn't, but on my way out I came across twelve graves of airmen shot down during the war. On eleven of the neat, white grave stones the names and ages of the men were given. They were in their early twenties. But on the twelfth, I suppose because the remains had been so mangled that no identification was possible, they had inscribed the words, "A British Airman," and a little below, "Known to God." Heartrending.

Lotte Buff and Lili Schönemann died. Frau von Stein died. The Duke died. August von Goethe died. When they broke the news of this to his father, he is reputed to have said, "I did not think I had begotten an immortal." The stoical remark was characteristic. But no one can flout human nature with impunity: he felt the loss of his son more than he would have it appear, and a day or two afterwards he had a stroke. He recovered sufficiently to resume work, and it was not till two years later that he was stricken with the illness which was to end in his death. He took to his bed. On the morning of the twenty-second of March, 1832, feeling a little better, he got up and seated himself in an armchair. His mind began to wander, and his thoughts seemed to run on his memories of Schiller. The day wore on and the room grew dark. He said to his servant, "Open the shutters so that more light may come in." They were his last words. But posterity has been dissatisfied with that, and has decided that his last words, more characteristic in view of his long life of unceasing endeavour, were "More Light".

Once upon a time, when they were all young and wild and gay, the Duke had built a hunting lodge on the summit of a mountain peak, and on the wall Goethe had written a verse in pencil.
"Ueber allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch,
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde;
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du Auch
During the last year of his life, he visited the spot again, and read the lines he had written hard on half a century before. He wept. What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one's faculties, mental and physical, but the burden of one's memories.

* Here Carlyle was not quite accurate. The word he has translated by voluntary practice is Leibesübungen, bodily exercises–which the flippant call physical jerks.
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