TC TO GOETHE; 31 August 1830; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18300831-TC-G-01; CL 5:151-160.
TC TO GOETHE
Craigenputtoch, Dumfries, 31st August, 1830—
Dear and Honoured Sir,
A Letter, which, as you expected, was welcomed by us ‘on a bright June day’;1 and some six weeks afterwards, a Packet containing Books and other Valuables, the whole of which arrived in perfect order,—are two new kindnesses on your part, which still remain to be acknowledged. This grateful duty I have delayed till now, as I wished, before writing, to have something definite to say about the bibliopolic fate of that History of German Literature, in which you are pleased to take an interest, and over the Publication of which an evil star had for some time, tho' as yet with uncertain aspects, appeared to rule. That projected Series of Literary Histories2 has fallen to the ground, no proper hands for most departments of it having showed themselves: in consequence, the Booksellers have grown languid; the editor,3 a well-meaning, but ineffectual person (late Editor of the Foreign Review, which has now again merged itself in the Foreign Quarterly) has not only mourned by those streams of Babel, but actually hung his harp on the willows,4 that is to say, abandoned Literature altogether, and is now struggling to be elected Member of Parliament for some ‘rotten borough’ in Kent; whereby the whole Literary-History concern lies in a state of fatal stagnation. After some correspondence and exertion, I have succeeded in extricating my own poor Manuscript from such ungainly neighbourhood, with intent to reposit it quietly in my Drawer, where according to all appearance it may now lie for an indefinite period.
Neither, now that the trouble of it is over, do I much regret this arrangement: the Work itself may profit by a keeping till the ninth year;5 and for my own part, as my Name was to have stood on the Title-page, I cannot but rejoice, so far as that goes, that my first professed appearance in Literature may now take place under some less questionable character than that of a Compiler; being ambitious, one day, of far higher honours.6 It is true, as you say somewhere, and it ought ever to be borne in mind, that ‘an Artist in doing Anything does All’:7 nevertheless how few are Artists in this sense; and till one knows that he cannot be a Mason, why should he publickly hire himself as Hodman!8
For the rest, I am about finishing the Book; at least, putting it into such a shape that it can be published at any future period. Within the space of a Volume and half, I had got down, in a continuous narrative, to the Reformation: a hasty section would carry me to Lessing's day; after which I had determined, on maturer calculation of my means and aim, to treat the rest in a fragmentary and rhapsodic method; singling out from the mass which is too vast and confused for me to shape into History, the main summits and figures, and dwelling largely on these as individual objects; whereby, to an attentive reader, some imperfect yet not untrue image of the so chaotic whole might at length present itself. Separate Essays on various personages of that period, from the very highest down to a far lower grade, I have already written; to which from time to time I purpose to add others: so that the Work is left in a growing state; and when concluded, and knit up, by some general considerations, retrospective and prospective, will one day set before my Countrymen a full view of all that I have thought or guessed on this to me so important subject. The present undertaking once fairly put to a side, as it now nearly is, I must forthwith betake me to something more congenial and original: except writing from the heart and if possible to the heart, Life has no other business for me, no other pleasure. When I look at the wonderful Chaos within me, full of natural Supernaturalism, and all manner of Antideluvian [sic] fragments; and how the Universe is daily growing more mysterious as well as more august, and the influences from without more heterogeneous and perplexing, I see not well what is to come of it all; and only conjecture from the violence of the fermentation that something strange may come.9 As you feel a fatherly concern in my spiritual progress, which you know well, for all true disciples of yours, to be the one thing needful, I lay these details before you with the less reluctance.
But now turning to more immediately practical matters, let me thank you heartily for that new cargo of friendly memorials and useful implements which the Weimar Carriers and the Hamburg Shippers have transported hither. With your spacious, lordly Town-Mansion we have made ourselves familiar; and look wistfully thro' the windows, as if we could see our Friend and Teacher sitting there. However, the little Garden-house with its domestic contraction, and flowery privacy, is the scene we like best to figure you in, as you yourself liked best to occupy it10 As for the Books, I have found Wachler,11 so kindly granted me by Dr Eckermann, a sound, substantial help, in whose spirit I warmly agree, in whose vigorous summaries much knowledge is to be gathered. The Farbenlehre [Theory of Colors]12 I have already looked into with satisfaction and curiosity; and mean, this winter, to master it, so far as possible, according to the plan you recommend. Should I attain to any right understanding of the doctrine, it will be a pleasing office to publish such insight here, where vague contradictory reports are all that circulate at present. But chiefly I must thank you for that noble Briefwechsel,13 which does, ‘like a Magic Chariot,’14 convey me into beloved scenes, and seasons of the glorious Past, where Friends ever dear to me, tho' distant, tho' dead, speak audibly. So pure and generous a relation as yours with Schiller, founded on such honest principles, tending towards such lofty objects, and in its progress so pleasant, smooth and helpful, is altogether unexampled in what we moderns call Literature; it is a Friendship worthy of Classical days, when men's hearts had not yet become incapable of that feeling, and Art was, what it ever should be, an inspired function, and the Artist a Priest and Prophet. The world is deeply your debtor, first for having acted such a part with your Friend, and now for having given us this imperishable memorial of it, which will grow in value as years and generations are added to it. You will forgive me also if I fancy that herein I have got a new light upon your own character; and seen there, in warm, beneficent activity, much that I only surmised before. To Schiller, whose high and true, yet solitary, pain-stricken, self-consuming spirit is almost tragically apparent in these Letters, such a union must have been invaluable; to you also it must have been a rare blessing, for ‘infinite is the strength man lends to man.’15 I am to finish the last Volume to-night, and will take leave of it with a mournful feeling, as of a fine Poem, not written but acted, which had been cut short by death. My Wife, who participates in these sentiments, bids me ask of you, for her, a little scrap of Schiller's handwriting, if you can spare such, to be treasured here along with your own, among the most precious things.
We look forward with impatience for that translated Life of Schiller, with its wondrous accompaniments; expecially that Introduction, in which you condescend to fear that some things you have said may be considered indiscreet! To me it can never be other than honourable to be in any such way associated with you, in sight of any man, or of all men.16 The last Section of your Works we also long to see: and I am here requested to remind you, if possible without importunity, of that promised Interpretation of the Mährchen, which is still earnestly wanted by the female intellect.17 Neither am I to forget that new-made Chaos,18 in which your Ottilie gracefully occupies herself: we smiled to see ourselves in print there;19 and by a new opportunity, new contributions will not be wanting.
Some weeks ago I had a strange Letter with certain strange Books from a Society in Paris, which calls itself La Societé Saint-Simonienne, and professes among other wonderful things, now that Saint-Simon is dead, to be instituting a new Religion in the world. Their address to me grounded itself on an Essay entitled Signs of the Times which I had written for the Edinburgh Review, about a year ago, and which seemed to point me out as their man. If you have chanced to notice that Saint-Simonian affair, which long turned on Political Economy, and but lately became artistic and religious, I could like much to hear your thoughts on it.20— For the present I can enter on nothing farther, though much remained to be said. I hope, it will be my turn to write again, ere long; and that often thro' winter we shall hear good tidings of you and send friendly greetings: best wishes we shall daily send. With loving regards, such as can belong to no other, I remain always, Your grateful Friend,
Your valued letter, my dearest Sir, of the 23d of May, took only fourteen days in coming, and this incites me to answer immediately, since I can hope that mine may still greet you on a lovely June day. It is certainly highly gratifying that the distance between well disposed persons of a like turn of mind is being steadily diminished, owing to the arrangements of our civilised world, in return for which we may excuse much that is amiss in it.
First of all I will declare that with respect to your proposed plan of treating the History of German Literature there is no alteration to be suggested, and that I only find a few gaps here and there, to which I mean to call your attention. You should, however, be thoroughly convinced that the first edition of such a book is to be considered only as a first sketch, which will be enriched and made more correct in every successive edition. You have your whole life to work at it, and may certainly rejoice in a positive advantage from this to yourself and to others.
In furtherance of this object of yours, I will immediately set about the despatching of a parcel intended for you, which the favourable time of the year will bring you soon enough. It contains:
1. Lectures on the History of German National Literature, by Dr. Ludwig Wachler, 2 parts, 1818.
This work I presented in 1824 as a most useful one, to good Dr. Eckermann; he, having now gone on a journey to the south with my son, left it behind with me, as a gift for you, with his kindest regards and good wishes. I send it with the greater satisfaction, because I am sure that in following this clew you cannot go wrong. You have indeed already formed your own convictions in regard to most particulars, but should you wish to inquire about any special matter, I will try to answer you faithfully.
2. A most important little tract, bearing the title Ueber Werden und Wirken der Literatur (Concerning the Growth and Influence of Literature), especially of the German Literature of our day, by Dr. Ludwig Wachler, Breslau, 1829. There is occasion for a variety of reflections on the way in which the same man, after an interval of ten years, again briefly expresses himself upon matters to the consideration of which he has devoted his whole life. By means of the above-mentioned two volumes you will be fully enabled to appreciate and to profit by the drift and substance of his later work.
3. Four Volumes of my Correspondence with Schiller, which complete the book. These I simply hand over to you, that you may make them your own, according to your usual clear and sympathetic way, and may draw still nearer to the friends who are here conversing together. By and by I will send you many of the friendly and exceedingly thoughtful notices which these volumes have had the good fortune to call forth in Germany; you will moreover get out of them a great many hints, useful for your purpose.
4. Two volumes of my Farbenlehre with a set of plates. These again will not be unprofitable to you. The Work is indeed too much flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone not to create in you a friendly interest. Say something to me about it. The general view will certainly fall in with your way of thinking; should you wish an explanation on any particular point, I will try and give it to you.
5. Further you will find in the little box the last sheets of the translation of your Life of Schiller. The publication has been delayed, and I wished to make the little work especially pretty, for the sake of the publisher as well as for its own. I have certainly pleased the public; I only hope you will excuse it.
The frontispiece represents your house from a near point of view, the vignette on the title-page, the same from a distance,—I hope, so engraved from the drawings which you sent, that they cannot fail to please in England also. Outside, on the front cover, is a view of Schiller's house in Weimar; and on the cover at the back, a little Garden-house [at Jena] which he himself built in order that he might withdraw from his family and all the world. When he was there, no one was allowed to enter. Besides there was scarcely room for a writing-table in it. It was so very slightly built that it threatened afterwards to fall to ruin, and was pulled down; but this was after he had given up the garden and moved to Weimar.
There might still be much to say about a preface I have written for it, but it will be better to leave it to your own feelings, and when you have read it, you will judge whether I have overdone the matter, or have succeeded in doing only what is suitable for the purpose. In any case it was necessary to excite interest and to arouse attention. We shall await what further may ensue; what is to be done further, I foresee tolerably well.
To your dear wife my most friendly greetings. By means of the silhouette, she has come much nearer to us; such the power of the noble original's veritable shadow! May she now send us such another portrait of her husband! I am glad that famous Mährchen, there also, does not fail in its effect. It is a piece of legerdemain which would hardly succeed a second time. A normal imagination irresistibly demands that reason should extract from it something logical and consistent, which reason never succeeds in doing. However, I possess two interpretations, which I will seek out, and if possible send in the little box.
Since I have now, in order not to exceed “the single sheet,” reached the outside page, I shall still make use of this space to communicate to you the following further information. Immediately upon the departure of the first little box, which will be very soon, I shall at once get ready another, in which you will receive the translation of your Life of Schiller and the seventh Section of my Works, which contains, 1. Tag-und Jahreshefte (the completion of my former Confessions) in two volumes; 2. Reviews and some older Pieces, one volume; 3. Cellini, two volumes. What more may still be thought of shall be noted, and sent in the little box itself. In the hope that this letter may greet you in peaceful days and in good health, I conclude, with the assurance of my most faithful and unalterable sympathy,
J. W. v. Goethe.
A peerless lock of black hair impels me to add still a little sheet, and with true regret to remark that the desired return is, alas, impossible. Short and discoloured and devoid of all charm, old age must be content if any flowers at all will still blossom in the inner man when the outward bloom has vanished. I am already seeking for some substitute, but have not yet been lucky enough to find one. My warmest greetings to your esteemed wife.
I hope the little box has arrived safe!
1. Goethe's Farbenlehre, two vols. 8vo, and a volume of plates, in 4to; in the latter are:
2. Two Copper-plate Engravings: (a) of Goethe's Garden-house in the Ilm Valley and (b) of his House in town. As to the first, it may be remarked that it has three windows, like the house at Craigenputtock; and that it served me for several years as dwelling-place both in summer and in winter. I was loath to leave it and to encounter (the) many cares and troubles of a residence in town.
3. Dr. Wachler's Lectures on the History of German National Literature. Two vols., 8vo, 1818–19.
4. Concerning the Growth and Influence of Literature, with especial reference to the German Literature of our time, by Dr. Wachler. Breslau 1829.
5. Schiller-Goethe Correspondence. Vols. 3–6 (the whole being thus completed).
6. The Chaos, a weekly paper, for private circulation. Social pleasantries of an intellectual Weimar Society, as is obvious from the contents of most of the numbers. Strictly speaking, its circulation is confined to contributors; but as it appears that certain of the collaborators date from Edinburgh, it is only fair that at least one copy should find its way to Scotland. Our friends in the county of Dumfries are asked to continue to contribute. Unfortunately a complete set cannot be sent. The association was at first very small and only a few copies were printed, merely to save transcribing. Gradually the interest in it increased, and the issue became larger, but by degrees the early numbers were exhausted. May these Sibylline products, sprung from the most recent Chalk Deposits of the Continent, afford some pleasant hours to our friends, who are across the sea on their Primary Granite. I am to add kindest greetings from Ottilie. She is in reality the sole Editor of this Periodical, and, with the aid of a few faithful intelligent friends, takes the whole direction of the, at times, ticklish concern.
7. The conclusion of the translation of your Life of Schiller. With the next packet I hope to send the little work complete; I have already referred to the matter in my Letter of the 7th of June.
8. There is also enclosed a praiseworthy Funeral oration on our recently deceased, and most esteemed and beloved Grand Duchess.
No more lest I delay the Packet. Hoping for speedy news of its arrival,
Most faithfully, and in greatest haste, /