Title: The Autobiography of Goethe
Truth and Poetry: From My Own Life
Author: Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
Translator: John Oxenford
A. J. W. Morrison
Release Date: July 26, 2016 [EBook #52654]
Produced by Laura N.R. and Marc D’Hooghe at http://www.freeliterature.org (Images generously made available by the Internet Archive.)
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.
I made the proofreading this book for Free Literature and it is published by Project Gutenberg, probably in 2 volumes as the original version.
The original files are provided by Vol 1: InternetArchive
Thus, the Frankforters passed a series of prosperous years during my childhood; but scarcely, on the 28th of August, 1756, had I completed my seventh year, than that world-renowned war broke out, which was also to exert great influence upon the next seven years of my life.
It now seems necessary to state more circumstantially, and to make intelligible how, under these circumstances, I made my way with more or less ease through the French language, which, however, I had never learned. Here, too, my natural gift was of service to me, enabling me easily to catch the sound of a language, its movement, accent, tone, and all other outward peculiarities. I knew many words from the Latin; Italian suggested still more; and by listening to servants and soldiers, sentries and visitors, I soon picked up so much that, if I could not join in conversation, I could at any rate manage single questions and answers. All this, however, was little compared to the profit I derived from the theatre.
Thus, after an unquiet Passion-week, the Good-Friday of 1759 arrived. A profound stillness announced the approaching storm. We children were forbidden to quit the house: my father had no quiet, and went out.
At this time the Lives of the Painters, by D’Argenville, was translated into German; I obtained it quite fresh, and studied it assiduously enough. This seemed to please Oeser, and he procured us an opportunity of seeing many a portfolio out of the great Leipzig collections, and thus introduced us to the history of the art. But even these exercises produced in me an effect different from that which he probably had in mind. The manifold subjects which I saw treated by artists awakened the poetic talent in me, and as one easily makes an engraving for a poem, so did I now make poems to the engravings
and drawings, by contriving to present to myself the personages introduced in them, in their previous and subsequent condition, and sometimes to compose a little song which might have suited them; and thus accustomed myself to consider the arts in connexion with each other.
Yet this dissipation and dismemberment of my studies was not enough, they were to be once more seriously disturbed; for a remarkable political event set everything in motion, and procured us a tolerable succession of holidays. Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of France, was to pass through Strasburg on her road to Paris.
Ecclesiastical history was almost better known to me than the history of the world, and that conflict in which the church–the publicly recognised worship of God–finds itself, and always will find itself, in two different directions, had always highly interested me.
From his youth upwards, Voltaire’s wishes and endeavours had been directed to an active and social life, to politics, to gain on a large scale, to a connexion with the heads of the earth, and a profitable use of this connexion, that he himself might be one of the heads of the earth also. No one has easily made himself so dependent, for the sake of being independent. He even succeeded in subjugating minds; the nation became his own. In vain did his opponents unfold their moderate talents, and their monstrous hate; nothing succeeded in injuring him. The court he could never reconcile to himself, but by way of compensation, foreign kings were his tributaries; Katharine and Frederic the Great, Gustavus of Sweden, Christian of Denmark, Peniotowsky of Poland, Henry of Prussia, Charles of Brunswick, acknowledged themselves his vassals; even popes thought they must coax him by some acts of indulgence.
Diderot was sufficiently akin to us, as, indeed, in everything, for which the French blame him, he is a true German. But even his point of view was too high, his circle of vision was too extended for us to range ourselves with him, and place ourselves at his side. Nevertheless, his children of nature, whom he continued to bring forward and dignify with great rhetorical art, pleased us very much; his brave poachers and smugglers enchanted us; and this rabble afterwards throve but too well upon the German Parnassus. It was he also, who, like Rousseau, diffused a disgust of social life–a quiet introduction to those monstrous changes of the world, in which everything permanent appeared to sink.
The resolution to preserve my internal nature according to its peculiarities, and to let external nature influence me according to its qualities, impelled me to the strange element in which Werther is designed and written. I sought to free myself internally from all that was foreign to me, to regard
the external with love, and to allow all beings, from man downwards, as low as they were comprehensible, to act upon me, each after its own kind. Thus arose a wonderful affinity with the single objects of nature, and a hearty concord, a harmony with the whole, so that every change, whether of place and region, or of the times of the day and year, or whatever else could happen, affected me in the deepest manner. The glance of the painter associated itself to that of the poet, the beautiful rural landscape, animated by the pleasant river, increased my love of solitude, and favoured my silent observations as they extended on all sides.