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  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , 28 August 1749

  • – 22 March 1832) was a German writer and statesman. His body of work includes epic

  • and lyric poetry written in a variety of metres and styles; prose and verse dramas; memoirs;

  • an autobiography; literary and aesthetic criticism; treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour;

  • and four novels. In addition, numerous literary and scientific fragments, more than 10,000

  • letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings by him are extant.

  • A literary celebrity by the age of 25, Goethe was ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Carl

  • August in 1782 after first taking up residence there in November 1775 following the success

  • of his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. He was an early participant in the Sturm und

  • Drang literary movement. During his first ten years in Weimar, Goethe served as a member

  • of the Duke's privy council, sat on the war and highway commissions, oversaw the reopening

  • of silver mines in nearby Ilmenau, and implemented a series of administrative reforms at the

  • University of Jena. He also contributed to the planning of Weimar's botanical park and

  • the rebuilding of its Ducal Palace, which in 1998 were together designated a UNESCO

  • World Heritage Site. After returning from a tour of Italy in 1788,

  • his first major scientific work, the Metamorphosis of Plants, was published. In 1791 he was made

  • managing director of the theatre at Weimar, and in 1794 he began a friendship with the

  • dramatist, historian, and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, whose plays he premiered until Schiller's

  • death in 1805. During this period Goethe published his second novel, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship,

  • the verse epic Hermann and Dorothea, and, in 1808, the first part of his most celebrated

  • drama, Faust. His conversations and various common undertakings throughout the 1790s with

  • Schiller, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Johann Gottfried Herder, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm von

  • Humboldt, and August and Friedrich Schlegel have, in later years, been collectively termed

  • Weimar Classicism. Arthur Schopenhauer cited Wilhelm Meister's

  • Apprenticeship as one of the four greatest novels ever written and Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • selected Goethe, along with Plato, Napoleon, and William Shakespeare, as one of six "representative

  • men" in his work of the same name. Goethe's comments and observations form the basis of

  • several biographical works, most notably Johann Peter Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe.

  • There are frequent references to Goethe's various sayings and maxims throughout the

  • course of Friedrich Nietzsche's work and there are numerous allusions to Goethe in the novels

  • of Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann as well as in the psychological writings of Sigmund Freud

  • and Carl Jung. Goethe's poems were set to music throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth

  • centuries by a number of composers, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven,

  • Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Charles Gounod, Richard Wagner, Hugo

  • Wolf, and Gustav Mahler. Biography

  • Early life Goethe's father, Johann Caspar Goethe, lived

  • with his family in a large house in Frankfurt, then an Imperial Free City of the Holy Roman

  • Empire. Though he had studied law in Leipzig and had been appointed Imperial Councillor,

  • he was not involved in the city's official affairs. 38-year-old Johann Caspar married

  • Goethe's mother, Catharina Elizabeth Textor, the daughter of the mayor of Frankfurt Johann

  • Wolfgang Textor and his wife Anna Margaretha Lindheimer, when she was 17 at Frankfurt on

  • 20 August 1748. All their children, except for Goethe and his sister, Cornelia Friederike

  • Christiana, who was born in 1750, died at early ages.

  • His father and private tutors gave Goethe lessons in all the common subjects of their

  • time, especially languages (Latin, Greek, French, Italian, English and Hebrew). Goethe

  • also received lessons in dancing, riding and fencing. Johann Caspar, feeling frustrated

  • in his own ambitions, was determined that his children should have all those advantages

  • that he had not. Goethe had a persistent dislike of the Roman

  • Catholic Church, and characterized its history as a "hotchpotch of fallacy and violence"

  • (Mischmasch von Irrtum und Gewalt). His great passion was drawing. Goethe quickly became

  • interested in literature; Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Homer were among his early favourites.

  • He had a lively devotion to theatre as well and was greatly fascinated by puppet shows

  • that were annually arranged in his home; a familiar theme in Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship.

  • He also took great pleasure in reading from the great works about history and religion.

  • He writes about this period: Goethe became acquainted with Frankfurt actors.

  • Around early literary attempts, he was infatuated with Gretchen, who would later reappear in

  • his Faust and the adventures with whom he would concisely describe in Dichtung und Wahrheit.

  • He adored Charitas Meixner (27 July 1750 – 31 December 1773), a wealthy Worms trader's

  • daughter and friend of his sister, who would later marry the merchant G. F. Schuler.

  • Legal career Goethe studied law in Leipzig from 1765 to

  • 1768. He detested learning age-old judicial rules by heart, preferring instead to attend

  • the poetry lessons of Christianrchtegott Gellert. In Leipzig, Goethe fell in love with

  • Anna Katharina Schönkopf and wrote cheerful verses about her in the Rococo genre. In 1770,

  • he anonymously released Annette, his first collection of poems. His uncritical admiration

  • for many contemporary poets vanished as he became interested in Lessing and Wieland.

  • Already at this time, Goethe wrote a good deal, but he threw away nearly all of these

  • works, except for the comedy Die Mitschuldigen. The restaurant Auerbachs Keller and its legend

  • of Faust's 1525 barrel ride impressed him so much that Auerbachs Keller became the only

  • real place in his closet drama Faust Part One. As his studies did not progress, Goethe

  • was forced to return to Frankfurt at the close of August 1768.

  • In Frankfurt, Goethe became severely ill. During the year and a half that followed,

  • because of several relapses, the relationship with his father worsened. During convalescence,

  • Goethe was nursed by his mother and sister. In April 1770, Goethe left Frankfurt in order

  • to finish his studies in Strasbourg. In Alsace, Goethe blossomed. No other landscape

  • has he described as affectionately as the warm, wide Rhine area. In Strasbourg, Goethe

  • met Johann Gottfried Herder. The two became close friends, and crucially to Goethe's intellectual

  • development, it was Herder who kindled his interest in Shakespeare, Ossian and in the

  • notion of Volkspoesie (folk poetry). On 14 October 1772 he held a gathering in his parental

  • home in honour of the first German "Shakespeare Day". His first acquaintance with Shakespeare's

  • works is described as his personal awakening in literature.

  • On a trip to the village Sessenheim, Goethe fell in love with Friederike Brion, in October

  • 1770, but, after ten months, terminated the relationship in August 1771. Several of his

  • poems, like Willkommen und Abschied, Sesenheimer Lieder and Heideröslein, originate from this

  • time. At the end of August 1771, Goethe acquired

  • the academic degree of the Lizenziat (Licentia docendi) in Frankfurt and established a small

  • legal practice. Although in his academic work he had expressed the ambition to make jurisprudence

  • progressively more humane, his inexperience led him to proceed too vigorously in his first

  • cases, and he was reprimanded and lost further ones. This prematurely terminated his career

  • as a lawyer after only a few months. At this time, Goethe was acquainted with the court

  • of Darmstadt, where his inventiveness was praised. From this milieu came Johann Georg

  • Schlosser (who was later to become his brother-in-law) and Johann Heinrich Merck. Goethe also pursued

  • literary plans again; this time, his father did not have anything against it, and even

  • helped. Goethe obtained a copy of the biography of a noble highwayman from the German Peasants'

  • War. In a couple of weeks the biography was reworked into a colourful drama. Entitled

  • tz von Berlichingen, the work went directly to the heart of Goethe's contemporaries.

  • Goethe could not subsist on being one of the editors of a literary periodical (published

  • by Schlosser and Merck). In May 1772 he once more began the practice of law at Wetzlar.

  • In 1774 he wrote the book which would bring him worldwide fame, The Sorrows of Young Werther.

  • The outer shape of the work's plot is widely taken over from what Goethe experienced during

  • his Wetzlar time with Charlotte Buff (1753–1828) and her fiancé, Johann Christian Kestner

  • (1741–1800), as well as from the suicide of the author's friend Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem

  • (1747–1772); in it, Goethe made a desperate passion of what was in reality a hearty and

  • relaxed friendship. Despite the immense success of Werther, it did not bring Goethe much financial

  • gain because copyright laws at the time were essentially nonexistent. (In later years Goethe

  • would bypass this problem by periodically authorizing "new, revised" editions of his

  • Complete Works.) Early years in Weimar

  • In 1775, Goethe was invited, on the strength of his fame as the author of The Sorrows of

  • Young Werther, to the court of Carl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, who would become

  • Grand Duke in 1815. (The Duke at the time was 18 years of age, to Goethe's 26.) Goethe

  • thus went to live in Weimar, where he remained for the rest of his life and where, over the

  • course of many years, he held a succession of offices, becoming the Duke's chief adviser.

  • In 1776, Goethe formed a close relationship to Charlotte von Stein, an older, married

  • woman. The intimate bond with Frau von Stein lasted for ten years, after which Goethe abruptly

  • left for Italy without giving his companion any notice. She was emotionally distraught

  • at the time, but they were eventually reconciled. Goethe, aside from official duties, was also

  • a friend and confidant to the Duke, and participated fully in the activities of the court. For

  • Goethe, his first ten years at Weimar could well be described as a garnering of a degree

  • and range of experience which perhaps could be achieved in no other way. Goethe was ennobled

  • in 1782 (this being indicated by the "von" in his name).

  • Italy Goethe's journey to the Italian peninsula

  • from 1786 to 1788 was of great significance in his aesthetic and philosophical development.

  • His father had made a similar journey during his own youth, and his example was a major

  • motivating factor for Goethe to make the trip. More importantly, however, the work of Johann

  • Joachim Winckelmann had provoked a general renewed interest in the classical art of ancient

  • Greece and Rome. Thus Goethe's journey had something of the nature of a pilgrimage to

  • it. During the course of his trip Goethe met and befriended the artists Angelica Kauffman

  • and Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, as well as encountering such notable characters

  • as Lady Hamilton and Alessandro Cagliostro (see Affair of the Diamond Necklace).

  • He also journeyed to Sicily during this time, and wrote intriguingly that "To have seen

  • Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the

  • clue to everything." While in Southern Italy and Sicily, Goethe encountered, for the first

  • time genuine Greek (as opposed to Roman) architecture, and was quite startled by its relative simplicity.

  • Winckelmann had not recognized the distinctness of the two styles.

  • Goethe's diaries of this period form the basis of the non-fiction Italian Journey. Italian

  • Journey only covers the first year of Goethe's visit. The remaining year is largely undocumented,

  • aside from the fact that he spent much of it in Venice. This "gap in the record" has

  • been the source of much speculation over the years.

  • In the decades which immediately followed its publication in 1816 Italian Journey inspired

  • countless German youths to follow Goethe's example. This is pictured, somewhat satirically,

  • in George Eliot's Middlemarch. Weimar

  • In late 1792, Goethe took part in the battle of Valmy against revolutionary France, assisting

  • Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar during the failed invasion of France. Again during the

  • Siege of Mainz he assisted Carl August as a military observer. His written account of

  • these events can be found within his Complete Works.

  • In 1794 Friedrich Schiller wrote to Goethe offering friendship; they had previously had

  • only a mutually wary relationship ever since first becoming acquainted in 1788. This collaborative

  • friendship lasted until Schiller's death in 1805.

  • In 1806, Goethe was living in Weimar with his mistress Christiane Vulpius, the sister

  • of Christian A Vulpius, and their son Julius August Walter von Goethe. On 13 October, Napoleon's

  • army invaded the town. The French "spoon guards," the least-disciplined soldiers, occupied Goethe's

  • house. The next day, Goethe legitimized their 18-year

  • relationship by marrying Christiane in a quiet marriage service at the court chapel. They

  • already had several children together by this time, including their son, Julius August Walter

  • von Goethe (25 December 1789 – 28 October 1830), whose wife, Ottilie von Pogwisch (31

  • October 1796 – 26 October 1872), cared for the elder Goethe until his death in 1832.

  • The younger couple had three children: Walther, Freiherr von Goethe (9 April 1818 – 15 April

  • 1885), Wolfgang, Freiherr von Goethe (18 September 1820 – 20 January 1883) and Alma von Goethe

  • (29 October 1827 – 29 September 1844). Christiane von Goethe died in 1816.

  • Later life After 1793, Goethe devoted his endeavours

  • primarily to literature. By 1820, Goethe was on amiable terms with Kaspar Maria von Sternberg.

  • In 1823, having recovered from a near fatal heart illness, Goethe fell in love with Ulrike

  • von Levetzow whom he wanted to marry, but because of the opposition of her mother he

  • never proposed. Their last meeting in Carlsbad on 5 September 1823 inspired him to the famous

  • Marienbad Elegy which he considered one of his finest works. During that time he also

  • developed a deep emotional bond with the Polish pianist Maria Agata Szymanowska.

  • In 1832, Goethe died in Weimar of apparent heart failure. His last words, according to

  • his doctor Carl Vogel, were, "Mehr Licht!" ("More light!'), but this is disputed as Vogel

  • was not in the room at the moment Goethe died. He is buried in the Ducal Vault at Weimar's

  • Historical Cemetery. Eckermann closes his famous work, Conversations

  • with Goethe, with this passage: The first production of Richard Wagner's opera

  • Lohengrin took place in Weimar in 1850. The conductor was Franz Liszt, who chose the date

  • 28 August in honour of Goethe, who was born on 28 August 1749.

  • Literary work The most important of Goethe's works produced

  • before he went to Weimar weretz von Berlichingen (1773), a tragedy that was the first work

  • to bring him recognition, and the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (called Die Leiden

  • des jungen Werthers in German) (1774), which gained him enormous fame as a writer in the

  • Sturm und Drang period which marked the early phase of Romanticismindeed the book is

  • often considered to be the "spark" which ignited the movement, and can arguably be called the

  • world's first "best-seller". (For the entirety of his life this was the work with which the

  • vast majority of Goethe's contemporaries associated him). During the years at Weimar before he

  • met Schiller he began Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, wrote the dramas Iphigenie auf Tauris (Iphigenia

  • in Tauris), Egmont, Torquato Tasso, and the fable Reineke Fuchs.

  • To the period of his friendship with Schiller belong the conception of Wilhelm Meister's

  • Journeyman Years (the continuation of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship), the idyll of Hermann

  • and Dorothea, the Roman Elegies and the verse drama The Natural Daughter. In the last period,

  • between Schiller's death, in 1805, and his own, appeared Faust Part One, Elective Affinities,

  • the West-Eastern Divan (a collection of poems in the Persian style, influenced by the work

  • of Hafez), his autobiographical Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From My Life:

  • Poetry and Truth) which covers his early life and ends with his departure for Weimar, his

  • Italian Journey, and a series of treatises on art. His writings were immediately influential

  • in literary and artistic circles. Goethe was fascinated by Kalidasa's Abhijñānaśākuntalam,

  • which was one of the first works of Sanskrit literature that became known in Europe, after

  • being translated from English to German. Faust Part Two was only finished in the year

  • of his death, and was published posthumously. Also published after his death was the so-called

  • Urfaust, the first sketches, made probably in 1773–74.

  • The short epistolary novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, or The Sorrows of Young Werther,

  • published in 1774, recounts an unhappy romantic infatuation that ends in suicide. Goethe admitted

  • that he "shot his hero to save himself": a reference to Goethe's own near-suicidal obsession

  • with a young woman during this period, an obsession he quelled through the writing process.

  • The novel remains in print in dozens of languages and its influence is undeniable; its central

  • hero, an obsessive figure driven to despair and destruction by his unrequited love for

  • the young Lotte, has become a pervasive literary archetype. The fact that Werther ends with

  • the protagonist's suicide and funeral—a funeral which "no clergyman attended"—made

  • the book deeply controversial upon its (anonymous) publication, for on the face of it, it appeared

  • to condone and glorify suicide. Suicide was considered sinful by Christian doctrine: suicides

  • were denied Christian burial with the bodies often mistreated and dishonoured in various

  • ways; in corollary, the deceased's property and possessions were often confiscated by

  • the Church. Epistolary novels were common during this time, letter-writing being a primary

  • mode of communication. What set Goethe's book apart from other such novels was its expression

  • of unbridled longing for a joy beyond possibility, its sense of defiant rebellion against authority,

  • and of principal importance, its total subjectivity: qualities that trailblazed the Romantic movement.

  • The next work, his epic closet drama Faust, was to be completed in stages, and only published

  • in its entirety after his death. The first part was published in 1808 and created a sensation.

  • The first operatic version, by Spohr, appeared in 1814, and was subsequently the inspiration

  • for operas and oratorios by Schumann, Berlioz, Gounod, Boito, Busoni, and Schnittke as well

  • as symphonic works by Liszt, Wagner, and Mahler. Faust became the ur-myth of many figures in

  • the 19th century. Later, a facet of its plot, i.e., of selling one's soul to the devil for

  • power over the physical world, took on increasing literary importance and became a view of the

  • victory of technology and of industrialism, along with its dubious human expenses. In

  • 1919, the Goetheanum staged the world premiere of a complete production of Faust. On occasion,

  • the play is still staged in Germany and other parts around the world.

  • Goethe's poetic work served as a model for an entire movement in German poetry termed

  • Innerlichkeit ("introversion") and represented by, for example, Heine. Goethe's words inspired

  • a number of compositions by, among others, Mozart, Beethoven (who idolised Goethe), Schubert,

  • Berlioz and Wolf. Perhaps the single most influential piece is "Mignon's Song" which