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Title: Goethe—from about 1750

Creators: Walt Whitman, Unknown

Date: Undated

Editorial note: Grier estimates that this was written in late 1856 (Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1827). The clipping includes a quotation first printed in Titan magazine in 1857: "Perthes the Publisher, and Literary Germany." The "Perthes" essay also appeared in The Eclectic Magazine's April 1857 issue.

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item.Clipping includes a quote first printed in Titan magazine in 1857: "Perthes the Publisher, and Literary Germany." The "Perthes" essay also appeared in The Eclectic Magazine's April 1857 issue.

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00178

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, and Matt Cohen


Key


Paste-on | Whitman's Notes on Paste-on | Whitman's Highlighting on Paste-on | Erasure | Overwrite



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Goethe—from about 1750 to 1832
Schiller died 1806—born 1759

Goethe is the result of a well‑order[ed?] and polished, learned state, not physically great, acknolewledging sla culture and etiquette,—of moving mainly among gentlemen and ladies of culture, and taking it for granted that there is nothing better ^more needed ^better ^better than gentlemen and ladies of culture.— The ^cultivated ^educated mind has almost boundless pleasure in Goethe's works—many, ^perhaps all of them. Still questions arise: Why do [illegible] uncultivated uneducated minds also receive pleasure from Goethe?—Is he really an original creator, or only athe noblest of ^imitators and compositors? WCould he have written any thing, without the studies of th[illegible] antiques?—Is a man or woma[illegible] invigorated, made [purer,?] cleaner, grand[illegible]


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THE TRUE CHARACTER OF GOETHE.

—This celebrated man has a large number of enthusiastic admirers in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. The following sketch, by one of his own countrymen, presents his private character in no very favorable light:

"We are far from being idolators of Goethe. We consider the excessive worship of him by Carlyle and Lewis as, in the first, a mental, and in the second, a moral derangement. Goethe, as a man, we not only dislike, but loathe. He had all the faults supposed to be incident to the genial temperment, without that temperment itself. Byron even seems respectable compared to him. Byron was the slave of passion; Goethe sinned on system. Byron was the creature of impulse, Goethe came calm, if not sober, to the perpetration of seduction, and the patronage of suicide. Byron never seduced a female, Goethe many. Byron drank to drown remorse, and to stop despondency on the edge of despair and madness; Goethe to intensify pleasure and to nourish pride. Sin soured Byron; it agreed with Goethe's constitution, and he continued healthy and almost happy with it. Sin was driving Byron latterly towards Christianity; it drove Goethe to a belief in an immoral and lifeless God. Byron shrank, withered, and died, on the poisons he had imbibed; Goethe fattened, flourished, and became an octogenarian on their strength. Byron sinned like an erring man; Goethe like a pagan god whose wickednesses seem all the more intolerable that they are done with a high hand, from a celestial vantage-
ground, without any human-like result of remorse. Both become satirists; but, while the satire of Byron—in its very bitterness as well as fire—proves that the iron has entered into his soul, that of Goethe is cool, sardonic, and seems to mock not only the object of its scorn, but that scorn itself. The one, at the worst, is the smile of a Satan —a being of hot heart, disappointed ambition, and awful regrets; the other we may liken to Ahrimanes himself, the fabled aboriginal evil god, who may sneer at, but can hardly be angry at, the evil he has himself made, and which has always seemed to him good.

With these views of Goethe's character we, of course, warmly admire his genius. He united qualities seemingly the most incompatible; Horatian elegance with almost Shaksperean imagination; unbounded command over the regions of the ethereal, with the coolest intellect, and stores of worldly wisdom worthy of Lord Bacon. "No writer," Emerson said once, "has less nonsense in his works than Goethe." No writer, at all events, has turned his nonsonse to better account, or handled his filth with a more delicate touch. Some of his looser writings remind you of—
"Garden gods, and not so decent either;" but they are formed with all the elegance of Canova's sculpture. The story of the "Elective Affinities" is one of intertangled abomination almost incredible; the characters resemble a knot of foul toads, but few indecorous expressions occur. Many of the scenes are exquisitely beautiful. Sentiment of a pure and lofty kind alternate with essential "smut," and close to the fire-springs of guilty passion lie masses of clear, icy, but true and deep reflection. "The Sorrows of Werter" seems to us a wondrously trashy production, and, were it appearing now, would be classed with inferior French novels. It would now fail in producing a single suicide. Altogether, Goethe's works give us the impression of extreme coldness, and not of the cheerful, bracing cold of snow, but of the deadly cold of the grave, if not rather of that cold which Milton has ventured to represent in the very heart of Pandemonium, where "frozen Alps" nod to "fiery," and where alike fire and frost are everlasting. Intellect and imagination, without heart, principle, or geniality, although with considerable power of simulating sympathy with all three, were, in spite of Lewis, the true constituents of Goethe's genius; and Walsingham, in Sterling's "Onyx Ring," is his perfect likeness.


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I am convinced that Goethe has not, to me, the indefinable something that is Nature itself—his Nature is the Nature of school


———
sweeter, by his poems? or more friendly and less suspicious?

Has he raised any strong / voice for freedom and against tyrants

Has he satisfied his reader of immortality—?

What Goethe was, it was is ^doubtless best that he was.— It is also eligible, without finding any faul[illegible] with him, to inquire what he was not.—He could not have been what he was without also being what he was not. To The little court of Wiemar, and—to [t?] the poetical world, and—to the learned and literary worlds, may all take attitudes Goethe has a deserved greatness.— To the genius of America he is neither dear nor the reverse of dear. He passes with the general crowd upon whom the American glance descends with a certain blending of curiosity and indifference.—Our road is our own


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