JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
xxxxxThe German Wolfgang von Goethe was an intellectual giant. As the founder of German literature, he produced a vast number of poems, ballads, novels and dramas. His two early works, the drama Goetz of Berlichingen of 1773, and his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther of 1774, marked the beginning of the Sturm und Drang romantic movement which gave vent to freedom of expression -
xxxxxThe German poet, novelist, dramatist and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is rightly regarded as the founder of German literature, and the leader of the romantic movement known as Sturm und Drang. A man of great literary talent and wide interests, he came to prominence in 1774 with his The Sorrows of the Young Werther, and followed this success with a series of classical dramas which included Iphigenia in Tauris, Egmont and Torquato Tasso. He began his Wilhelm Meister novels in 1795, and produced a vast quantity of lyrical poems and ballads throughout his long career. As we shall see later, the first part of his most famous masterpiece, the poetic tragedy Faust, was produced in 1808.
xxxxxAn intellectual giant, Goethe’s output was phenomenal, and filled some 143 volumes. But his genius was not confined to literature. Apart from his poetry, dramas and novels, and his work as a critic and translator, he showed an abiding interest in art, and his scientific studies alone -
xxxxxHe was born at Frankfurt-
xxxxxGoetz of Berlichingen, written in 1771, was a play about a medieval knight of that name who championed the causes of justice and freedom. Written in the mould of a Shakespearean drama wherein emotion played a dominant role, it rebelled against the rigid, formal dictates of French classicism which governed and stifled so much of German drama and literature at that time. At a stroke, in fact, it freed German drama from classical restraints by putting characters moved by passion above the concerns of plot and construction. It was this play, reinforced by the pamphlet entitled Of German Style and Art, produced by Goethe, Herder, Schiller and others in 1773, which marked the start of the Sturm und Drang movement. Meaning “storm and stress”, this literary movement was a vital step towards German romanticism. It called for a return to nature and the expression of the senses -
xxxxxGoetz of Berlichingen was followed in 1774 by the highly successful The Sorrows of Young Werther, the first novel of the Sturm und Drang movement. It was autobiographical in part, being centred around Goethe’s unrequited love for Charlotte Buff, the fiancée of one of his friends. As one would expect, it was a highly romantic and tragic tale which put feelings way above any regard for laid-
xxxxxIt was doubtless on the strength of this successful work that in 1775 Charles Augustus, heir to the duchy of Saxe-
xxxxxIn 1786, having tired somewhat of life at Weimar and being anxious, as he put it, to renew himself both as a man and an artist, he went on a visit to Italy. This stay, mostly centred on Rome, proved a turning point in his career. In contact with the art and literature of the ancient world, he came to appreciate and adopt the very qualities of harmony, balance and perfection of form which he had earlier brushed aside. The emotional content which was the essence of the Sturm und Drang movement now gave way to the strict rules of classical literature and drama. He even went so far as to revise dramas he had started earlier, this time observing in every detail the dictates that he had once happily ignored. The painting Goethe in the Campagna (in Italy) is by his friend the German portrait artist Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751-
xxxxxAs a result of this dramatic change in direction, when he returned to Weimar in 1788 he decided to give up his administrative duties and to devote the rest of his life to literature and science. Over the next two years, revamping works he had started earlier, he produced three of his best-
xxxxxHis return to literature coincided with the beginning of his close and long friendship with his fellow dramatist Friedrich von Schiller (illustrated) in 1794. In that year he began to contribute to his Die Horen, a magazine designed to raise standards of taste in literature and art, and they later collaborated in the production of a number of fine ballads. Schiller gave Goethe the encouragement he needed. To this period belongs his Roman Elegies, his epic in verse, Hermann and Dorothea, and, above all his Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship of 1796. This novel further enhanced Goethe’s European reputation. Couched in some of his finest lyrics, it was a rambling romance about the life of a young German artist who, lacking determination and strength of purpose in his early years, eventually develops a strong character and a powerful sense of duty. This prototype of the bildungsroman, a novel which traces the personal development of its hero, became a model for future fiction in German literature. It proved extremely popular across Europe and led to the publication of sequels in the 1820s.
xxxxxBut perhaps Schiller’s greatest contribution to world literature was in persuading Goethe to resume work on his famous tragedy Faust, the ideas for which had been forming in his mind over four decades or more. As we shall see, the first part of this masterpiece of modern literature was completed in 1808 (G3c).
xxxxxIncidentally, in 1792 Goethe accompanied his Duke on his disastrous campaign into France and, in the September, was present at the Battle of Valmy, the unexpected victory of the new French revolutionary army over a combined Austro-
xxxxx…… During his visit to Italy he went to Naples and made a number of visits to the home of the British ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, meeting his mistress the beautiful Emma Hart -
xxxxx…… The age of Sturm und Drang -
Goethe: by the German portrat painter Franz Gerhard von Kugelgen (1772-
Sturm und Drang and
Johann Gottfried Herder
xxxxxThe German poet, philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-
xxxxxAs we have seen, the German poet, philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-
xxxxxHe was born in Mohrungen, eastern Prussia (now Morag in Poland) and attended Konigsberg University. There he studied theology, philosophy and literature and was taught at times by the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant. In 1764 he began teaching at the cathedral school at Riga in Latvia, but he resigned five years later and travelled about Europe, beginning with a sea voyage from Riga to Nantes. During his travels he visited Strasbourg and it was here in 1770 that he met the young Goethe and inspired him with his observations on Homer, Shakespeare and German folksongs.
xxxxxHe became court preacher at Buckeburg in 1771, and it was then, as
theoretician of the Sturm und Drang movement, that he collaborated with Goethe,
Schiller and others in the production of a group of essays entitled Of German Style and
Art, published in 1773. These works, rejecting rationalism and its traditional, restrictive dictates,
extolled the virtues of the romantic spirit, as to be found in the study of epic tales, folk songs, Gothic architecture, and the poetry of Shakespeare. And in his contribution, Herder also developed further his idea of Volksgeist, put forward earlier in his Fragments on Recent German Literature of 1767. This thesis laid emphasis on the importance of developing and retaining the national characteristics to be found in a particular country’s language and literature. He called for an end to foreign influences, arguing that each nation had its own, unique contribution to make, and that this had to be encouraged and nurtured. This romantic nationalism -
xxxxxIn 1776, due to the good offices of Goethe, he was appointed superintendent of the Luthern clergy in the city of Weimar, then Germany’s leading cultural centre. It was here that he published his collection of folksongs (Voices of the People and their Songs, 1779) and his masterpiece in four volumes, Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man, a work that traced man’s cultural development and anticipated the thought of the German philosopher Georg Hegel. In his Outlines he attempted to show that nature and human history conform to the same, unified system of laws, but that man, "the first liberated member of creation", often abused his freedom and acted against these laws of nature. Given time, however, he held out the hope that man would learn to conform, and harmony would thus be achieved. Among his other works were his Essay on the Origin of Language, of 1772; Plastik, an outline of his metaphysics, produced in 1776; a work on Hebrew poetry, published in 1783, and his Letters for the Advancement of Humanity, completed in 1793.
xxxxxIn his life-