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A History of the Nineteenth Century, Year by Year

Friedrich Schiller and Carl August of Weimar


Death of Goethe]

On March 22, Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany's foremost man of letters, expired at Weimar. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in 1749, at Frankfort-on-the-Main, the son of a councillor under the old German empire. His best traits were inherited from his mother. As he himself sang in later years:

Vom Vater hab ich die Statur, Des Lebens ernstes Fuhren, Vom Mutterchen die Frohnatur Und Lust zum Fabuliren.[A]

[Footnote A: From my father I have my stature And serious view of life; From dear little mother my glad heart And fondness for telling stories.]

[Sidenote: Goethe's career]

[Sidenote: "Goetz von Berlichingen"]

[Sidenote: "The Sorrows of Werther"]

[Sidenote: Goethe at Weimar]

[Sidenote: "Hermann und Dorothea"]

His father had him educated for the study of law. In his sixteenth year he was sent to the University at Leipzig. Later he went to Strasburg, where he became acquainted with the poet Herder, and had his first love affair with Friederike Brion of Sesenheim, whose charm has been kept alive in Goethe's autobiography, "Dichtung und Wahrheit." In 1772 he returned to Frankfort and practiced law. While thus engaged he wrote his first romantic-historical

play, "Goetz von Berlichingen." In the following year he published his sentimental romance, "The Sorrows of Werther," based in a measure on one of his own unfortunate love affairs at Wetzlar. Both of these early works achieved instant success. "The Sorrows of Werther" inaugurated in German literature what is known as the period of storm and stress. Disenchantment of life, or "Weltschmerz," became a fashionable malady. The romantic suicide of Goethe's sentimental hero Werther was aped by a number of over-susceptible young persons. Wieland drew the attention of the Duke of Weimar to Goethe, and the young poet was invited to Weimar. He remained under the patronage of this enlightened prince until the end of his days. At Weimar, Goethe was the centre of a court comprising some of the foremost spirits of Germany. The little capital became a Mecca for poets, scholars, artists and musicians from all over the world. Goethe's only rival poet in Germany, Schiller, was drawn into the circle and the two became life-long friends. Most of Goethe's lyric poems were written during the first ten years at Weimar. At the outbreak of the French Revolution he accompanied the Duke of Weimar in one of the campaigns against France. The thrilling atmosphere of the Revolution furnished him with a literary background for his epic idyl, "Hermann und Dorothea." Goethe's subsequent journey to Italy, which was a turning-point in the poet's career, was commemorated in his "Letters from Italy"--a classic among German books of travel. Another eminently successful creation was the epic of "Reynard, the Fox," modelled after the famous bestiary poems of early Flemish and French literature.

[Illustration: THE KING OF ROME Painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence]

[Sidenote: Goethe's dramas]

[Sidenote: "Wilhelm Meister"]

[Sidenote: "Dichtung und Wahrheit"]

[Sidenote: "Faust"]

During the same period Goethe wrote four of his greatest dramas, "Iphigenie in Tauris," "Torquato Tasso," "Egmont," and the first part of "Faust." Later he wrote his great prose work, "Die Wahlverwandtschaften," a quasi-physiological romance; "Wilhelm Meister's Lehr und Wander Jahre," a narrative interspersed with some of Goethe's finest lyrics, such as the songs of Mignon and of the old harper, as well as the famous critique of Hamlet. The height of Goethe's superb prose style was reached in "Dichtung und Wahrheit," which stands as one of the most charming autobiographies of all times. Goethe's versatility as a writer and man was shown not only by his free use of all literary forms, but also by his essays on such abstruse subjects as astrology, optics, the theory of color, comparative anatomy and botany. Shortly before his death, the poet finished the greatest of his works, the tragedy "Faust." He died in the eighty-third year of his life, uttering the words "More Light." Goethe was entombed in the ducal vault at Weimar, by the side of his friends, Friedrich Schiller and Carl August of Weimar.

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