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than the plague itself. The other picture different meaning. He cannot conceive is that of Brother Martin in “Götz,” the pleasure without energetic action, and the young monk who envies Götz his life so most necessary of all pleasures to him is full of movement and emotion, while he is that of imaginative creation. The dehimself miserable under the restraint of sires, again, for which he claims satisfachis vows. Here, again, the complaint is tion – what are they? Chief among them that no good comes of such abstinence. is the desire to enter into the secret of the The lise of self-denial is conceived as an universe, to recognize "what it is which utter stagnation, unhealthy even from a holds the world together within.". Such moral point of view. It is contrasted with desires as these might be satisfied, such a life not of luxury, but of strenuous en pleasures enjoyed, without any very culpa. ergy, at once wholesome and useful to the ble self-indulgence. And existence would world.
be satisfactory, or, as he calls it, barmoni. So far, then, Goethe's position is iden. ous, if it offered continually and habitually tical with that which Protestants take up food for desire so understood, which is against monasticism, when they maintain almost the same thing as capacity. But that powers were given to be used, desires there are hindrances. The chief of these implanted in order that they might be is the superstition of self-denial. Of course satisfied. He does not, any more than every practical man knows that self-denial they, assert that when some great end is of a certain kind must be constantly pracin view it may not be nobler to mortify tised in life. The small object must be the desire than to indulge it. But he foregone for the sake of the greater, the applies the principle more consistently, immediate pleasure for the sake of the and to a greater number of cases than remote, nay, the personal pleasure for the they had applied it. Not against celibacy sake of the pleasure which is generous or useless self-torture only, but against and sympathetic. But the timid superstiall omission to satisfy desire, against alltion which sets up self-denial, divorced sluggishness or apathy in enjoyment - from all rational ends, as a thing good and understood always that no special end is right in itself, which makes us afraid of to be gained by the self-denial – he pro- enjoyment as such, this is the chief hin. tests. In his poem, called the “General drance, and against this Goethe launches Confession” (“Generalbeichte”) he calls his chief work, “Faust.” There is an. his followers to repent of the sin of hav- other hindrance, less obvious and needing ing often let slip an opportunity of enjoy to be dealt with in another way, which ment, and makes them solemnly resolve Goethe therefore attacks usually in prose not to be guilty of such sins in future. rather than in poetry. Here, at least, the reader may say, self- Man, as Goethe conceives him, is esishness is openly preached; and perhaps sentially active. The happiness he seeks this is the interpretation most commonly is not passive enjoyment, but an put upon the poem. Yet it is certainly pation, a pursuit adapted to his inborn unjust to pervert in this way an intentional capacities. It follows that a principal paradox, and, in fact, in that very poem condition of happiness is a just self-knowl. Goethe introduces the most elevated ut. edge. He will be happy, who knows what terance of his philosophy; for the vow he wants and what he can do. Here again which the penitents are required to take Goethe gives importance to a doctrine is that they will “wean themselves from which in itself is obvious enough by the half-measures and live resolutely in the persistent energy with which be applies Whole, in the Good, and the Beautiful!" it. He has been himself bewildered by Goethe, in short, holds, as many other the multiplicity of his own tastes and philosophers have done, that an elevated aptitudes. He has wanted to do every: morality may be based on the idea of thing in turn, and he has found himself pleasure not less than on the idea of duty. capable to a certain extent of doing every
This principle, not new in itself, led thing. Hence the question - What is my to very new and importaot results when true vocation ? has been to him exception. it was taken up not by a mere reasoner ally difficult. In studying it he has bebut by a man of the most various gifts come aware of the numberless illusions and of the greatest energy. By "pleas. and misconceptions which hide from most ure “ satisfaction of desire " is usually men the true nature of their own aptitudes, meant something obvious, something pas. and therefore the path of their happiness. sive, merely a supply of agreeable sen. He fiods that ihe circumstances of child. sations to each of the five senses. In hood, and especially our system of educa. Goethe's mouth the word takes quite a tion, which “excites wishes, instead of
awakening tastes,” have the effect of cre. I ter” is even more important than the ating a multitude of unreal ambitions, form. It presents the whole subject of deceptive impulses and semblances of morality under a new light, and as in this aptitudes. He finds that most men have respect it is only the fullest of a number been more or less misled by these illu- of utterances to the same effect made by sions, have more or less mistaken their Goethe, it can never be fully appreciated true vocation, and therefore missed their when it is coosidered by itself, but must true happiness. On this subject he has be judged in the closest connection with collected a vast mass of observations, and, his other works and with his life. Every in fact, added a new chapter to practical attempt to treat such a subject as morality morality. This is the subject of “Wil. in an original manner has something helm Meister,” not the most attractive alarming about it. Such attempts ought nor the most perfect, but perhaps the most to be laid only before minds strong enough characteristic, of Goethe's works and, as to consider them calmly, and yet of necesit were, the textbook of the Goethian phil. sity they come to the knowledge of "the osophy. It is said not to be widely popu- weak brethren," who are frightened or ular in Germany. Most English readers unsettled by them. Moreover, such atlay it down bewildered, wondering what tempts are always likely to be one-sided. Goethe's admirers can see in it so extraor. As it is usually an intense perception of dinary, and astonished at the indifference something overlooked in the orthodox to what we have agreed to call morality morality that prompts them, the innovator that is, the part of morality that concerns is apt to be hurried into the opposite ex. the relations of the sexes — which reigns treme, and to overlook in his turn what throughout it. I shall touch on this latter the orthodox morality has taught rightly. point later. Meanwhile, let me remark, Goethe laid himself open to the charge of ihat few books have had a deeper influ. immorality. “ Wilhelm Meister ence upon modern literature than this fa- ceived with horror by the religious world; mous novel. It is the first important it was, if I remember right, publicly burnt instance of a novel which deals principally by Count Stolberg. In England, Wordsand on
a large scale with opinions or worth spoke of it with disgust, and it still views of life. How Wilhelm mistook his remains the book which chiefly justifies vocation, and how this mistake led the profound distrust and aversion with many others; how a secret society, the which Goethe has been and is regarded Society of the Tower, taught a doctrine among those who are Christian either in on the subject of vocations, and of the the dogmatic or in the larger sense. Not method by which men are to be assisted unnaturally, it must be confessed. in discovering their true vocations; how But I do seriously submit that Chris. Wilhelm is assisted and by what stages he tians should learn to be less timid than arrives at clearness - this is the subject they are. In their absorbing anxiety for of a long and elaborate narrative. It is the weaker brethren,” they often seem throughout most seriously instructive; it to run the risk of becoming weak brethis seldom very amusing; and we may add ren” themselves. We ought not to come that the moral of the story is not brought to the consideration of moral questions out with very convincing distinctness. under the influence of panic and nervous But it has been the model upon which fright. It is true that few books seem at the novel of the present day is formed. first sight more directly opposed than Written twenty years before the Waverley “ Wilhelm Meister" to that practical Novels, which are in the opposite ex- Christianity which we love to think of as treme, since they make no serious attempt beyond controversy, that spirit which, as to teach anything and dwell upon every. it breathes from alınost all Christian thing which Goethe disregards, adventure, Churches and sects alike, strikes us as surprise, costume, it began to produce its undoubtedly the essential part of religion. effect among us when the influence of the At first sight the book seems secular, Waverley Novel was exhausted. The idea heathenish in an extraordinary degree. now prevalent, which gives to the novel Let us, then, if we will, warn young people a practical as well as an artistic side, the away from it; but let us ask ourselves at idea which prompts us, when we wish to the same time how a man so gifted, so preach any kind of social or moral reform, serious, and also so good.natured – for to write a novel about it, seems to have there is no appearance of rancor in the made way chiefly through Goethe's au. book, which even contains a picture, tenthority.
derly and pleasingly drawn, of Christian But the substance of “ Wilhelm Meis. I pietism – could come to take a view so
different from that commonly accepted ofian poetry. But when war gave place to questions about which we are all so anx. industry, it seemed that this grand unity ious. Such a course may lead us to see of human life was gone. Business, the mistakes made by modern Christianity, important half of life, became unpoetical, which may have led Goethe also into from the higher point of view uninterest mistakes by reaction; whereas the othering – for how could the imagination dwell course, of simply averting our eyes in on the labors of the office or the factory? horror, can lead to no good.
- and all higher interest was confined to We may distinguish between the posi- that part of life in which energy is relaxed. tive and the negative part of this moral Goethe's peculiar realism at once prompts scheme. All that “ Wilhelm Meister" and enables him to introduce a reform contains on the subject of vocations seems here. He denies that business is unintervaluable, and the prominence which he esting, and maintains that the fault is in gives to the subject is immensely impor- our own narrowness and in our slavery to tant. In considering how human life a poetical tradition. It is the distinction should be ordered, Goethe begins with of " Wilhelm Meister" that it is actually the fact that each man has an occupation, a novel about business, not merely a realwhich fills most of his time. It seems to istic novel venturing to approach the edge him, therefore, the principal problem to of that slough of dulness which is supsecure that this occupation should be not posed to be at the centre of all our lives, only worthy, but suited to the capacity of but actually a novel about business as the individual and pursued in a serious such, an attempt to show that the occupaspirit. What can be more simple and ob- tion to which a man gives his life is a vious ? And yet, if we reflect, we shall matter not only for serious thought, but see that moralists have not usually taken that it is a matter also for philosophy and this simple view, and that in the accepted poetry. That such a novel must at first morality this whole class of questions is sight appear tame and dull is obvious; it little considered. Duties to this person undertakes to create the taste by which it and to that, to men, to women, to depen. can be enjoyed, and will be condemned at dents, to the poor, to the State these once by all who are not disposed to give are considered; but the greatest of all it a serious trial. But the question it duties, that of choosing one's occupation raises is the fundamental question of mod. rightly, is overlooked. And yet it is the ern life. Comprehensive and practical at greatest of duties, because on it depend once, Goethe's mind has found out that the usefulness and effectiveness of the root of bitterness which is at the bottoin man's life considered as a whole, and, at of all the uneasy social agitations of the the same time, his own peace of mind, or, nineteenth century. We live in the inas Goethe calls it, his inward harmony. dustrial ages, and he bas asked the ques. Nevertheless, it is so much overlooked tion whether industry inust of necessity that in ordinary views of life all moral be a form of slavery, or whether it can be interest is, as it were, concentrated upon glorified and made into a source of moral the hours of leisure. The occupation is health and happiness. treated as a matter of course, a necessary It is commonly said that “Wilhelm routine about which little can be said. Meister" seems to make art the one True life is regarded as beginning when object of life; but this is not Goethe's work is over. In work men may no doubt intention. He was himself an artist, and, be honest or dishonest, energetic or sloth as the work is in a great degree autobio. ful, persevering or desultory, successful graphical, art naturally comes into the or unsuccessful, but that is all; it is only foreground, and the book becomes espein leisure that they can be interesting, cially interesting to artists, but the real highly moral, amiable, poetical. Such a subject of it is vocations in general. In view of life is, to say the least, unfortunate. the later books, indeed, art drops into the It surrenders to deadness and dulness background, and we have a view of femimore than half of our existence.
nine vocations. The “Beautiful Soul" In primitive times, when the main busi- represents the pietistic view of life; then ness of life was war, this was otherwise. Therese appears in contrast, representing Then men gave their hearts to the pursuit the economic or utilitarian view; finally, to which they gave their time. What was Natalie hits the golden mean, being prac. most important was also most interesting, tical like Therese but less utilitarian, and, and the poet when he sang of war sang of ideal like her aunt, the pietist, but less business too. Hence came the inimitable introspective. On the whole, then, the fire and life of Homeric and Shakespear. I lesson of the book is that we should give
unity to our lives by devoting them with world must disclose themselves to a lov. hearty enthusiasm to some pursuit, and ing gaze, not to dry thinking (trocknes that the pursuit is assigned to us by pa. Sinnen), man must converse with nature ture through the capacities she has given “as one spirit with another," "look into
It is thus that Goethe substitutes for her breast as into the bosom of a friend." the idea of pleasure that of the satisfac- How we should not study is conveyed to tion of special inborn aptitudes different us by the picture of Wagner, who is treatin each individual. His system treats ed with so much contempt. He is simply every man as a genius, for it regards the ordinary man of science, perhaps we every man as having his own unique indi. may think the modest, practical investividuality, for which it claims the same gator, of the class to which the advance sort of tender consideration that is con- of science is mainly due. But Goethe ceded to genius. But in laying down has no mercy on him — why? Because such rules Goethe thinks first of himself. bis nature is divided, because his feelings He has spent long years in trying to make do not keep pace with his thoughts, beout bis own vocation. He has had an cause his attention is concentrated upon opportunity of living almost every kind of single points. Such a man is to Goethe life in turn. It was oot till he returned “the dry creeper," " the most pitiable of from Italy that he felt himself to have all the sons of earth.” arrived at clearness. What was Goethe's Thus it is, then, that art and science vocation? Or, since happiness consists taken together, the living, loving, worshipin faithful obedience to a natural vocation, ping contemplation of nature, out of which what was Goethe's happiness? His hap: comes the knowledge of nature, are to piness is a kind of religion, a perpetual Goethe religion. But is not such a relirapt contemplation, a beatific vision. The gion wholly different from religion as comobject of this contemplation is nature, the monly understood, wholly different from laws or order of the universe to which we Christianity? belong. Of such contemplation he recog. It was, indeed, very different from such nizes two kinds, one of which he calls art Christianity as he found professed around and the other science. He was in the him. In his youth Goethe was acquainted habit of thinking that in art and science with several eminently religious persons, taken together he possessed an equivalent Fräulein von Klettenberg, the Frankfurt for what other men call their religion. friend of bis family, Jung Stilling, and Thus, in 1817, on the occasion of the ter. Lavater. He listened to these not only centenary of the Reformation, he writes a with his unfailing good humor, but at poem in which he expresses his devout times with more conviction than “ Dicht. resolution of showing bis Protestantism, ung und Wahrheit” would lead us to supas ever, by art and science.* It was be- pose. In some of his early letters he cause his view of art was so realistic, that himself adopts pietistic language. But he was able thus to regard art as a sort of as his own peculiar ideas developed them. twin sister of science. But the principle selves, they separated him more and more involved in this twofold contemplation of from the religious world of his time. At nature is the very principle of religion the time of his Italian journey, and for itself, and in one sense it is true that no some years afterwards, we find him speak. man was ever more deliberately and coning of Christianity not merely with indifsciously religious than Goethe. No man ference, but with a good deal of bitterness. asserted more emphatically that the en. This hostility took rather a peculiar form. ergy of action ought to be accompanied As the whole disposition of his mind leads by the energy of feeling. It is the con. bim towards religion, as he can no more sistent principle of his life that the whole help being religious than he can help man ought to act together, and he pushes being a poet, he does not reject religion it so far that he seems to forbid all divis. but changes his religion. He becomes, ion of labor in science. This is the posi- or tries to become, a beathen in the posi. tion taken up in “ Faust,'' which perhaps tive sense of the world; for the descrip. is seldom rightly understood. Science, tion of Goethe as the great heathen is not according to “ Faust,” must not be dry a mere epithet thrown at him by his ad. analysis pursued at a desk in a close versaries. He provoked and almost room; it must be direct, wondering con. claimed it in bis sketch of Winckelmann, templation of nature. The secrets of the where, after enthusiastic praise of the an.
cients and of Winckelmann as an inter. • " Will ich in Kunst und Wissenschaft,
preter of the ancient world, be inserted a Wie immer, protestiren.”
chapter entitled “ Heidnisches,” which
begins thus : “ This picture of the antique vision of faith.” Again, when in the spirit, absorbed in this world and its good Wanderjahre ” he grapples constructhings, leads us directly to the reflection tively, but somewhat too late, with the that such excellences are only compatible problems of the nineteenth century, we with a beathenish way of thinking. The find him assuming a reformed Christian. self-confidence, the attention to the pres. |ity * as the religion of the future. ent, the pure worship of the gods as ances. May we then regard Goethe as one who tors, the admiration of them, as it were, in reality only opposed the corruptions of only as works of art, the submission to an Christianity even when he seemed to opirresistible fate, the future hope also con. pose Christianity itself? Certainly other fined to this world, since it rests on the worldliness does not now appear, at least preciousness of posthumous fame; all this in England, as a necessary part of Chris. belongs so necessarily together, makes tianity. Surely that contrast between the such an indivisible whole, creates a condi- healthy spirit of antiquity and the morbid. tion of human life intended by nature her- ness of Christianity, which was like a fixed self, that we become conscious, alike at idea in the mind of Goethe's generation, the height of enjoyment, and in the depth need not trouble us now.
Those sweep of sacrifice and even of ruin, of an inde. ing generalizations belonged to the infancy structible health.” Clearly when he wrote of the historical sciences. Mediævalism this (about 1804) Goethe wished and in. does not now seem identical with Chris. tended to pass for a heathen. And, in- tianity. The sombre aspect of our religion deed, the antique attracts him scarcely at is clearing away. Christian self-denial all from the historical side - he is no now appears not as the aimless, fruitless republican, no lover of liberty — but al. mortification of desire which Goethe de. most exclusively because it offers a reli- tested, but as the heroic strenuousness gion which is to him the religion of health which he practised. The world which and joy.
Christians renounce now appears to be, Is it, then, true that Christianity is a not the universe nor the present lise, but system of morbid and melancholy intro- only conventionalism and tyrannous fashspectiveness, sacrificing all the freshness ion. With such a religion, Goethe's philand glory of the present life to an awful osophy is sufficiently in harmony. Acfu re? He makes this assumption, and cording to these definitions the spirit even had almost a right to make it, since the of “ Wilhelm Meister" is not secular. Christianity of his time had almost ex. Even his avowal of heathenism comes to clusively this character. He was, how wear a different aspect when we find him ever, himself half aware that there was all writing thus of the religion of the Old the difference in the world between the Testament: “Among all heathen reli. Christianity of his time and original Chris. gions, for to this class belongs that of tianity or Christianity as it might be. Israel as much as any, this one has great And even at the time of his greatest points of superiority,” etc. (he mentions bitterness he drops expressions which particularly its "excellent collection of show that he does not altogether relin sacred books”). So that, after all, Goethe quish his interest in Christianity, but may only have been a heathen as the keeps open for himself the alternative of prophet Isaiah was a heathen! appearing as a reformer rather than an as- Thus hindrance after bindrance to our sailant of it. In the third period and the regarding Goethe as a great prophet of old
age his tone is a good deal more con- the higher life and of the true religion ciliating than in the passage above quoted. disappears. There remains one which is In the autobiography he appears, on the not so easily removed. What surprises whole, as a Christian, and even makes the English reader in" Wilhelm Meister" faint attempts here and there to write in a is not merely the prominence given to style that Christians may find edifying. art, or the serious devotion to things pres. He tells us expressly that he had little ent and to the present life, but also the sympathy with the Encyclopædists, and, extraordinary levity with which it treats in a passage of the “West-östlicher the relations of men and women. The Divan,” be declares with real warmth that book might, in fact, be called thoroughly he has taken into his heart the glorious immoral, is the use of that word which is image of our sacred books, and, as the common among us were justifiable. More Lord's image was impressed on St. Ve correctly speaking, it is immoral throughronica's cloth, he refreshes himself in the stillness of the breast in spite of all nega. * “ An diese Religion halten wir fest, aber auf eine tion and hindrance with the inspiring eigene Weise."