Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1982 by Arnulf Rainer (b. 1929)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1982 by Arnulf Rainer (b. 1929)
Goethe probably retards the development of the German language by the force of his writing. Even though prose style has often traveled away from him in the interim, still, in the end, as at present, it returns to him with strengthened yearning and even adopts obsolete idioms found in Goethe but otherwise without any particular connection with him, in order to rejoice in the completeness of its unlimited dependence.
From Kafka’s Diaries.
Ask whomever you will but you’ll never find out where I’m lodging,
High society’s lords, ladies so groomed and refined.
“Tell me, was Werther authentic? Did all of that happen in real life?”
“Lotte, oh where did she live, Werther’s only true love?”
How many times have I cursed those frivolous pages that broadcast
Out among all mankind passions I felt in my youth!
Were he my brother, why then I’d have murdered poor Werther.
Yet his despondent ghost couldn’t have sought worse revenge.
That’s the way “Marlborough,” the ditty, follows the Englishman’s travels
Down to Livorno from France, thence from Livorno to Rome,
All of the way into Naples and then, should he flee on to Madras,
“Marlborough” will surely be there, “Marlborough” sung in the port.
Happily now I’ve escaped, and my mistress knows Werther and Lotte
Not a whit better than who might be this man in her bed:
That he’s a foreigner, footloose and lusty, is all she could tell you,
Who beyond mountains and snow, dwelt in a house made of wood.
From Herman Melville’s June 1851 letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne (read the whole letter here)—
But I was talking about the “Whale” [“Moby-Dick”]. As the fishermen say, “he’s in his flurry” when I left him some three weeks ago. I’m going to take him by his jaw, however, before long, and finish him up in some fashion or other. What’s the use of elaborating what, in its very essence, is so short-lived as a modern book? Though I wrote the Gospels in this century, I should die in the gutter. — I talk all about myself, and this is selfishness and egotism. Granted. But how help it? I am writing to you; I know little about you, but something about myself so I write about myself, — at least, to you. Don’t trouble yourself, though, about writing; and don’t trouble yourself about visiting; and when you do visit, don’t trouble yourself about talking. I will do all the writing and visiting and talking myself — By the way, in the last “Dollar Magazine” I read “The Unpardonable Sin.” He was a sad fellow, that Ethan Brand. I have no doubt you are by this time responsible for many a shake and tremor of the tribe of “general readers.” It is a frightful poetical creed that the cultivation of the brain eats out the heart. But it’s myprose opinion that in most cases, in those men who have fine brains and work them well, the heart extends down to hams. And though you smoke them with the fire of tribulation, yet, like veritable hams, the head only gives the richer and the better flavor. I stand for the heart. To the dogs with the head! I had rather be a fool with a heart, than Jupiter Olympus with his head. The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike Him, is because they rather distrust His heart, and fancy Him all brain like a watch. (You perceive I employ a capital initial in the pronoun referring to the Deity; don’t you think there is a slight dash of flunkeyism in that usage?) Another thing. I was in New York for four-and-twenty hours the other day, and saw a portrait of N.H. And I have seen and heard many flattering (in a publisher’s point of view) allusions to the “Seven Gables.” And I have seen “Tales,” and “A New Volume” announced, by N.H. So upon the whole, I say to myself, this N.H. is in the ascendant. My dear Sir, they begin to patronize. All Fame is patronage. Let me be infamous: there is no patronage in that. What “reputation” H.M. has is horrible. Think of it ! To go down to posterity is bad enough, any way; but to go down as a “man who lived among the cannibals”! When I speak of posterity, in reference to myself, I only mean the babies who will probably be born in the moment immediately ensuing upon my giving up the ghost. I shall go down to some of them, in all likelihood. Typee will be given to them, perhaps, with their gingerbread. I have come to regard this matter of Fame as the most transparent of all vanities. I read Solomon more and more, and every time see deeper and deeper and unspeakable meanings in him. I did not think of Fame, a year ago, as I do now. My development has been all within a few years past. I am like one of those seeds taken out of the Egyptian Pyramids, which, after being three thousand years a seed and nothing but a seed, being planted in English soil, it developed itself, grew to greenness, and then fell to mould. So I. Until I was twenty-five, I had no development at all. From my twenty-fifth year I date my life. Three weeks have scarcely passed, at any time between then and now, that I have not unfolded within myself. But I feel that I am now come to the inmost leaf of the bulb, and that shortly the flower must fall to the mould. It seems to be now that Solomon was the truest man who ever spoke, and yet that he a little managed the truth with a view to popular conservatism; or else there have been many corruptions and interpolations of the text. — In reading some of Goethe’s sayings, so worshipped by his votaries, I came across this, “Live in the all.” That is to say, your separate identity is but a wretched one, — good; but get out of yourself, spread and expand yourself, and bring to yourself the tinglings of life that are felt in the flowers and the woods, that are felt in the planets Saturn and Venus, and the Fixed Stars. What nonsense! Here is a fellow with a raging toothache. “My dear boy,” Goethe says to him, “you are sorely afflicted with that tooth; but you must live in the all, and then you will be happy!” As with all great genius, there is an immense deal of flummery in Goethe, and in proportion to my own contact with him, a monstrous deal of it in me.
P.S. “Amen!” saith Hawthorne.
N.B. This “all” feeling, though, there is some truth in. You must often have felt it, lying on the grass on a warm summer’s day. Your legs seem to send out shoots into the earth. Your hair feels like leaves upon your head. This is the all feeling. But what plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion.
P.S. You must not fail to admire my discretion in paying the postage on this letter.