THE POET OF PANTHEISM
Who is the greatest German? There are two, and only two, who can compete for the honor—Luther and Goethe. In native genius as well as in influence upon the national life we can find points of similarity between them. Both were richly endowed with vigor and emotion; both shaped the faith and the literature of Germany.
But their nature and work were more unlike than like each other. Luther's moral and religious instincts mastered him; he freed his people from the tyranny of ecclesiasticism, and led them back to Scripture and to God. Goethe was a man without conscience; he was the instrument of a merely literary emancipation, while he re-established, so far as he could, the reign of pagan self-dependence and of moral indifference.
Luther's whole being was pervaded with faith in a personal and living God, and his songs were half-battles for truth and righteousness. Goethe believed only in a God who was identical with nature; who consecrated the lower impulses of man as well as the higher; who could be approached without confession or repentance of sin; and his writings effected only an aesthetic, never an ethical, reformation. So long, then, as we judge greatness by moral and spiritual standards, we must regard Luther, and not Goethe, as the greatest of the Germans. And yet, since he is the type of a remarkable literary development, Goethe is worthy of profound study. He has been called the supreme literary artist. I propose to speak of him as the poet of pantheism.
"Wilt thou the poet understand? Dwell thou in the poet's land!" No one can comprehend Goethe without knowing something of Germany and its previous literary history, of Frankfort, where the poet was born, and of Weimar, the scene of his greatest productive activity. Until Goethe appeared, Germany could hardly be said to have had a literature of its own. Frederick the Great, while he made Prussia independent in politics, had enslaved his country to French standards of composition. The traditions of the French Academy, with its dramatic unities and its magniloquent proprieties, had exerted a benumbing influence upon German authors, until freedom and life had almost departed. Pride in their own rich and sonorous language gave place to contempt. Their national history seemed hardly worth the chronicling. The land of the Niebelungcnlicd, the land of the Reformers, seemed to furnish no subjects for poetry or for art. German writers set themselves to copying the classics, or rather to copying French copies of the classics.
But a new breath of life was stirring. A spirit of revolt was in the air. Rousseau and the French Revolution began to have their analogues, if not their effects, in Germany. Shakespeare was read, and brought his readers back to nature. Herder and Lessing and Klopstock showed independent powers of criticism and creation. But it was chiefly Goethe who, like FRANKFORT, AND GOETHES PARENTS
a literary Moses, led his people out from bondage into liberty. It was his masterful originality that first convinced his countrymen that there could be a native growth of German literature, and that they need no longer be in subjection to foreign powers.
Frankfort was a fit city from which the movement might begin. It was not only a free city of the Holy Roman Empire, but it was the city where for centuries the emperors had been crowned. Its annual fair brought together the fabrics of the East and the West, and gave a sort of cosmopolitan atmosphere to the place. The burgher class was wealthy and enterprising, pervious to modern ideas, while at the same time proud of the mediaeval traditions of the town. From this burgher class Goethe sprang. His father was a retired government official, with the title of Counsellor. He was a man of education, and he had traveled in Italy. Methodical in his habits, and with little of business to occupy him, he devoted himself mainly to the training of his wife, and his two children, John and Cornelia.
His wife, a bright, airy, pleasure-loving creature of seventeen, found, when she married the wise Counsellor of thirty-eight, that she had put herself under severe discipline. She had to spend most of the honeymoon in learning the piano, and in writing out Italian exercises. She conceived an unwholesome fear of her husband, and she encouraged her children in all sorts of deceptions in order to escape from the rigid rule and scrutiny of their father. She declared that she had no gift for bringing up a family. She coaxed her offspring to be good, and whipped them if they cried, without inquiry into the causes either of their goodness or of their grief. In short, she was a child with them.
Her one strong point was her endless story-telling. The evenings were beguiled with all manner of extempore dramas and fairy tales. The tales were continuous, like those of Queen Scheherezade When the interest was at its height and the hero or the villain was at the crisis of his fate, the story was suspended for twentyfour hours and young Goethe and his sister were put to bed. His imagination, however, could not rest, and before he went to sleep he had devised an exit from the dramatic difficulty. Next morning he confided his invention to his grandmother. She was in collusion with the mother, and when evening came again Goethe would be delighted to find that the story came out just as he had expected. So the child lived in a world of poetry and romance, wonderfully adapted to stimulate his gifts to precocious development.
The elements derived from father and from mother were each in their way admirable, yet each had its drawbacks and limitations. The father furnished to the son a love of order, a persistent industry, an omorous appetite for knowledge. Yet with this there was a calm and severe self-dependence, and a disregard of the feelings of others when they crossed the plans of the party of the first part. The boy was held to work by the father, as few boys have been. In his eighth year he wrote Latin with ease, and had made considerable progress in Greek and in French. But the mother furnished the bonhomie, the fresh insight into nature, the charm of fancy, the warmth of feeling, the impulse to ATTRACTIVENESS OF YOUNG GOETHE 2S$
expression, which made common things glow with life and clamor to be described.
But with these gifts of imagination and of utterance, there were great deficiencies. There was no reverence and no conscience. The moral idea was almost wholly lacking in Goethe's mother. She hated pain, and she taught the forgetting of sin instead of repentance for it. An emotional religion she had, but no prostration of the sinful soul before the holiness of God. There was an easy-going confidence in the future that at times amounted to flippancy and even sacrilege. On her deathbed she was particularly anxious that the raisins should not be skimped in the cake for the funeral, and she replied to an invitation, that Frau Goethe was sorry to be compelled to decline it, for the reason that just at that time she was engaged in dying.
Goethe himself has described what he supposed to be his inheritance from his parents, in the well-known lines:
My goodly frame and earnest soul
I from my sire inherit;
My happy heart and glib discourse
Were my brave mother's merit
That goodly frame was indeed goodly. Though not great in stature, the poet was in point of physical beauty one of the noblest men that the world has ever seen. Jung Stilling speaks of his broad brow, his flashing eye, and his mastery of every company of which he formed a part. When he was young, he never entered a place of public entertainment or passed through a crowded street without finding that all eyes turned toward him and followed him with a sort of fascination. "Voilcl un homme!" said Napoleon, when Goethe retired from his interview with the emperor at Weimar.
A certain majesty of mien was natural to him, a calm, self-contained air, which is described as Olympian, and which gave the impression of inexhaustible resources combined with just consciousness of power. He said of himself that he had an innate aristocracy which made him feel on a level with princes. When the duke made him Privy Councillor and confidential adviser, it took but a little time for the newly elevated burgher to subdue all murmurs of the ancient nobility, and to convince them that in serene dignity he surpassed them all. This dignity was not vanity, for Goethe was influenced very little by mere desire for admiration. It was rather a lofty pride, a sense of greatness, an insight into human nature, and a consciousness of larger knowledge and ability than other men possessed. And it does not appear that either in childhood, youth, or manhood, this proud and self-conscious spirit ever learned humility, or was taught to depend either upon man or God.
It was perhaps natural that such a man should have but few male friends. Men of independence were obliged to resign their independence or conceive aversion toward a being so superior. But women were ordinarily enthralled. He came, he saw, he conquered, because his whole bearing seemed to say that he knew their hearts, and that he had a breadth and sympathy of nature which they could completely rest upon. And this was partly true. His greatest gift was the gift of a quick sensibility for all common things. The little things of nature and of life stirred depths of feeling in him. It was not love, it was not reverence; it was simINCAPABLE OF TRUE LOVE
ple emotion: But women thought it was love, and they poured out their love upon him. He seemed to them the greatest star they had ever descried in the human firmament, and in some respects he was. But he? Ah, there was no star for him but that same Goethe-star— the star of self.
It is said that he had the perpetual habit of falling in love, and the list of his lady-loves is very long. Sixteen of these have been catalogued and minutely described. Eight of them are scientifically classified as A1, hotly and passionately loved. Five are enumerated as A2, to whom he was very intimately attached. Then follow a great number Bi and B2, to whom he gave a more transient adoration. One might say of them as Sainte Beuve said of Chateaubriand's attachments: " 'T is like the stars in the sky ; the more you look at them, the more you discover." Professor Blackie has gone so far as to say that this talent for falling in love was an essential part of Goethe's genius, that it was inseparable from his insight into character and life, and that it is to be commended rather than to be condemned.
I venture to say that Goethe was incapable of any true love, and that all these passions were mere means of self-gratification and self-glorification. There was unquestionably an easy flow of sentiment which simulated love. But if love is self-devotion and selfjmpartation, Goethe knew nothing of this sacred and divine emotion. Up to a certain point his nature was stirred, but when he found that the object of his regard desired an exclusive and eternal affection, he drew back. It has been well said that the conception of living for another probably never occurred to him. The bright and cheerful mother to whom he owed so much was visited in Frankfort, because Goethe was her son, by every distinguished stranger who passed through the town; but the son visited her very rarely, and, during the last eleven years of her old age, he visited her not at all. His vacations were spent in other places than Frankfort, though Frankfort was not a hundred miles from Weimar. Nor are his few letters to her distinguished by any special love or gratitude.
His affair of the heart with Friederike Brion, the pastor's daughter at Sesenheim, near Strasburg, was one in which it is difficult to acquit Goethe from the charge of treachery. The sweet young girl gave herself to him; the parents regarded the pair as virtually betrothed; but he left her, without explanations, to wait and pine in vain. It is said that he suffered for years from self-reproach, but no sign of this appears in his account of the matter. What was a small thing to him was a great thing to her. She refused excellent offers of marriage, saying that to have loved a Goethe was enough for one life. She fell into a consumption and died, still loving her early but inconstant admirer.
It would have been far better for Goethe's soul, and far better for his genius, if he had married Friederike. It would have saved him from a long series of illicit connections which did much to benumb his moral sense, cut the wings of his imagination and limit his outlook to merely earthly and temporal things. It would have prevented the composition of those Roman Elegies, which sing the praises of unhallowed love; it would have made impossible the eighteen hundred love letters to Frau von Stein; and still more impossible the sevenINCAPABLE OF TRUE LOVE 289
teen years of concubinage with Christiane Vulpius, whom he afterward took to be his wife. But the radical defect in Goethe's character was that which constitutes the essence of sin everywhere, namely, the overweening love of self. He looked upon others as mere instruments, to be used for purposes of self-advancement, and to be thrown aside so soon as he had exhausted their power to be of use to him.
This is the secret of all his so-called love affairs. Under the portrait of the Frau von Stein, when he first saw it, he wrote: "What a glorious poem it would be to see how the world mirrors itself in this soul!" He regarded women as furnishing mere studies of human nature. He played upon their affections, as upon harp strings, until he had possessed himself of every melody of which they were capable. He felt more or less, indeed, but then he was always master of his feeling; he never by any accident permitted it to master him.
Bettine von Arnim said to Lord Houghton that Goethe treated women as, in his childhood, he treated flowers and birds: pulling off the leaves to see how the petals were joined to the calyx, or plucking birds to observe how the feathers were inserted into the wings. He subjected each woman who loved him to a process of spiritual vivisection, in order that he might obtain literary material. In the case of Kestner and his wife, he repaid the unmeasured ador tion which the innocent pair bestowed upon him, by misrepresenting his relations to them in his "Sorrows of Werther," by staining the reputation of Kestner's wife, and finally by berating Kestner himself for the indignation he felt at the attack upon her honor.
Treachery in the case of Friederike, and ingratitude in the case of Lotta, were matched by Goethe's indifference to the cause of his country at the crisis of her fate. Napoleon had invaded Germany, and every patriotic German was eager to drive out the invader. The emperor, with his usual desire to lead men of thought captive in his train, invited the poet of Weimar to an audience. Goethe accepted the advances of his country's enemy, and flattered the conqueror. The poet's defenders are accustomed to argue that his greatness made him cosmopolitan; it was not the invader whom he flattered, but the man of might; breadth of intellect, we are told, renders patriotism impossible. This is true only if greatness absolves a man from all moral relations. And this was the view of Goethe. Evil and good were alike to be studied and admired. To know the world and to reproduce it in literature, this was his mission. And, to do this efficiently, he must be thoroughly master of himself, and must reach the utmost pitch of self-culture and self-development.
There was an element of personal character here, and there was an element of philosophic theory. I believe that the character shaped the philosophy first of all, and that then the philosophy in turn reacted upon the character. Let me, therefore, call attention primarily to the moral attitude of Goethe in his early life. A wonderfully gifted child, an object of the father's pride and the mother's indulgence, he early contracted a selfconfidence that was phenomenal. Nothing seems ever to have disturbed it.
The only possible exception was in his boyhood, when his schoolfellows and himself wrote competitive verses. MORAL ATTITUDE IN EARLY LIFE 291
He noticed that they thought just as well of their productions as he thought of his, and for a moment the question occurred to him whether his own estimate of his work might not be a self-deception, as he felt assured theirs was. But these doubts of himself soon vanished, and they appear never to have returned. He was the most imperturbable believer in himself that ever attained literary fame. By virtue of his powers, he regarded himself as pledged to make the most of himself. The object was, not to serve God or man, but simply to gather in to himself whatever of knowledge or of power the world could give, and then to express himself in literature.
This was not merely a spontaneous and constitutional tendency—it was the deliberate decision and purpose of his life. In a youthful letter to Lavater he writes: "The desire to raise the pyramid of my existence, the base of which is already laid, as high as possible into the air, absorbs every other desire, and scarcely ever leaves me." And he held on in this course to the end. In Faust, published only in his later life, one of the most admired verses has been thus translated by Carlyle:
Like as a star,
That maketh not haste,
That taketh not rest,
Be each one fulfilling
His God-given hest
But Boyeson points out that in the original there is no mention of God or of a " God-given hest." The proper translation is: "Be each revolving about his own weight "—that is, about the center of his own personality. Goethe's life was a self-centered life, and that, not from instinct but by choice.
It cannot be said that this choice was the choice of short-sightedness or of invincible ignorance. At least once in his life he came in contact with a person whose character and aims were formed upon a totally different model. This was Fraulein von Klettenberg, a lady much older than Goethe, and suffering from an incurable disorder. Her patience and resignation attracted the young man's attention, and she had opportunity to tell him the story of a profound and unmistakable Christian experience. An illness of his own at this time made him more nearly conscious of weakness than he appears ever to have been before or after. The Moravian type of religion which his pious friend, like an older sister, sought to commend to him, made a deep impression, though a temporary one.
It is characteristic of Goethe that this whole story of a life in God, a life of communion with Christ and of constant charity to man, is reproduced in "Wilhelm Meister." But it is found there in strange companionship. It is side by side with Wilhelm's experiences behind the scenes of the theatre and with strolling play-actors, that we find these " Confessions of a Beautiful Soul," as illustrations of certain facts of the uerse that must be studied by a truly educated man. As we read the account of this spiritual and holy life, it seems as if no one but a Christian could ever have written it. But like the sermon of Dinah, in George Eliot's " Adam Bede," this episode in "Wilhelm Meister" passes by. It has shown the author's wonderful ability to enter into phases of human life other than his own. It is the
purely artistic delineation of a character with which he had no inner sympathy. It is a work of the imagination and not of the heart—a mere chef-d'oeuvre of dramatic representation. This touching story of a life devoted to God is followed by other experiences, frivolous or commonplace. The greatest altitude reached is that of labor for labor's sake. No unselfish heart-throbs of Goethe are recorded. On the whole, " Wilhelm Meister" is only what Niebuhr called it, "A menagerie of tame creatures."
Yet the rejection of the true ideal and the clinging to the false cost Goethe a struggle; it seems indeed to have been the turning-point of his moral life. The only letter we possess from Goethe to Fraulein von Klettenberg was written just before his twenty-first birthday, and was apparently an answer to her earnest entreaties that he would devote his life to God. It seems to be his half-earnest, half-ironical effort to excuse himself from duty. He says:
I have been to-day to the Holy Communion, to keep in mind the passion and death of our Lord ; and you can guess why I am amusing myself this afternoon, and at last intending in earnest to write a letter so long delayed. . . My connection with the religious people here is not exactly firm : at the beginning I had turned myself very persistently toward them, but it seems as if it could not be. They are so mortally prosy, when they begin, that my liveliness could not endure it . . People of moderate intellect think religion is everything, because they know nothing else. . . Another acquaintance, exactly the opposite, has been of no little use to me.
. . Herr , with the cool-bloodedness with which he has always
regarded the world, thinks he has found out that we are set in this world especially to be useful to it, that we are able to make ourselves capable of this, whereto religion affords some aid, and that the most useful man is the best
Goethe did reach this conviction, and he has made his Faust find happiness and heaven only when he uses his powers for the benefit of others. But the development of self must come first, and this self-development is to be carried on in man's own strength. Prometheus is the picture of Goethe's ideal of life. He is an artistic creator, who works for the interests of men, but he looks to heaven for nothing, and relies wholly upon his own power. From the summer of 1772, Goethe no longer went to church and seldom prayed.
It is instructive to observe that this putting away from him of the distinctly religious ideal, and the substitution for it of the gospel of self-culture, preceded by only a single month Goethe's acquaintance with Friederike at Sesenheim. It was because he feared she would hinder his mental growth that he left her to fade and die. He had no sense of duty to a personal God, to hold him true to any human friend. I am convinced that the refusal to yield his will to God's claims upon him explains not only his treachery in this love affair, but the tone of moral indifference that afterward distinguished his life. Theoretically there was before him the service of humanity. But practically, self-development and self-gratification, chosen first as means, became in themselves the end. Conscience, not listened to, became benumbed. Pleasure assumed an importance and asserted a claim to which it had no right.
"Extreme strictness," he said, "tends to make a man melancholy." The self-denial and self-sacrifice which Christianity accounts to be virtues, Goethe came to regard as vices. This is evident from the "Geturalbeiclite" or " Form of Confession," in which he makes his followers ACCEPTS THE GOSPEL OF SELF-CULTURE 2Q5
repent of the sin of having let slip an opportunity of enjoyment, and solemnly resolve never to be guilty of such sin in future. They vow to "wean themselves from half-measures, and live resolutely in the whole, in the good, and in the beautiful." If this were simply, as Professor Seeley claims, a resolve to abstain from useless self-denial, it would be only the common Protestant revolt from monasticism, and there would be in it nothing reprehensible. But it was more than that. It was a determination to open all the avenues of the nature to enjoyment, without regard to the restraints of social tradition or positive law.
He would develop all sides of his nature, gain all sorts of experience, taste all the pleasures that life could give. It was a pagan culture which he set himself to attain. He was "the great heathen" of modern times, and he was not ashamed to be known as such. He hid his face from the pain and suffering of the world, as the old Greeks did. The Cross of Christ, with its vicarious love and sorrow, was repulsive to him, for it was a contrast and rebuke to his self-indulgent, self-seeking, selfexalting spirit. Goethe had in his heart turned away from the true God—the personal God, the God of holiness, the God who imposes moral law, the God who offers pardon through Christ—and he had put in his place a God of his own wishes and imagination, a natureGod, a God without personality or moral character, a God to whom evil and good are both alike, because both alike proceed from him, a God who is best served, not by self-restraint and self-sacrifice, but by the unhindered development of all our inborn instincts and powers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once lectured to the Woman's Fortnightly Club, of Chicago. Its president said to him: "I regret that you were not here last week, Mr. Emerson. We were discussing Goethe's 'Elective Affinities,' and we should have been happy to learn your views of the work." Emerson bowed, but maintained a gracious silence. His interlocutor was not content, but persisted: "What would you have said to us about it?" "Madam," he replied, "I have never felt that I had attained to the purity of mind that qualified me to read that book." The " Elective Affinities," a work not of Goethe's youth but of his mature life, was only the frank expression of his loose conceptions of the marriage relation. A thin veil of sentiment partly hides and partly idealizes illicit passion. The sentiment is mawkish, and the evil intent is plain. There was in the man a settled love of the impure. He was "the great heathen," in spite of all the light of the Christian dispensation that shone around him.
Goethe's history shows that he loved darkness rather than light, because his deeds were evil. It was his heteropraxy that led to his heterodoxy. To one who had made an essentially immoral decision, it was a great satisfaction to find what seemed to be a rational justification of his position. And this he did find in the philosophy of Spinoza. I do not mean that Goethei was a metaphysician or a lover of metaphysics. With his inborn love for clearness and for facts he even derided the philosophic schools of his day. He explains his own greatness by his avoidance of such speculation:
Mein Kind, ich habe's klug gemacht;
Ich habe nie iibcr' s Denken gedacht
EFFECT UPON HIS PHILOSOPHY
"My wisdom has been, never to think about think
If he had thought more about thinking, he might possibly have scrutinized more sharply the system which he accepted, might have perceived its incongruity with the facts of human life, might have seen its utter inability to explain such things as sin and guilt, remorse and retribution. But Goethe did not accept the views of Spinoza upon rational grounds; he accepted them rather because they fitted in with a previous moral decision of his own. He has himself well said, "As are the inclinations, so are the opinions." And Fichte, whom he ridiculed, uttered the same truth in the aphorism, "Men do not will according to their reason, but reason according to their will."
He read Spinoza in 1774, when he was twenty-five years of age. "I well remember," he writes, "what peace and serenity came over me when I first glanced over the surviving works of that remarkable man. This sensation was still quite distinct to me, though I could not have recalled any particular point. But I hastened forthwith to the works to which I was so much indebted, and the same sense of peace took possession of me. I gave myself up to reading them, and thought when I scrutinized myself that the world had never looked so clear."
Far be it from me to deny that in the works of Spinoza there is this charm for the mere intellect. His system is a system of Monism. There is but one Substance, one aspect of which is extension, and the other aspect is thought. All the events of the uerse follow from the nature of this one Substance, as the nature of the diameter follows from the nature of the circle. There is no freedom, no purpose, no morality. It is a sort of Monism, but it is not an Ethical Monism. "The great systematic work of Spinoza," says Hodge, "is entitled ' Ethica' ; but for real ethics we might as well consult the 'Elements' of Euclid." And though this one Substance is called God, it might far better be called the Uerse.
Hegel was right when he declared the superiority of his system to Spinozism to lie in his substitution of 'Subject1 for 'Substance.' "The true Absolute," says Seth, "must contain, instead of abolishing, relations; the true Monism must include, instead of excluding, Pluralism." And this true Absolute, I may add, is a Personal Intelligence and Will, not bound to the Uerse by necessity, but freely originating the Uerse, and expressing in his relations to free moral beings not only his wisdom and power, but also his holiness and love.
Such a God as this Spinoza knew nothing of, and Goethe knew the true God quite as little as Spinoza. Hutton tells us that Goethe combined the pantheistic view of God with the personal view of man. But I think it is clear that whatever personality is left to man becomes distinctly unmoral. If there is no freedom in God, there can be none in man, and a personality without freedom is entirely illusory. Man is only a part of the all-embracing Spirit of the Uerse, a Uerse eternally changing indeed, but changing according to unchangeable laws. No attributes can be ascribed to God—in fact, we can have no definite thought of him. No special revelation can come from him. He is deaf
AND UPON HIS THEOLOGY
to our entreaties. He speaks only in us. It is impossible to make God an object of love, for love goes out only toward persons. Or, if we say that love to God becomes love for Nature, this means no more than that we love the highest expression of God, namely ourselves. All tends to the exaltation of self and the weakening of the sense of obligation. God is within, not without. There, in the desires and aspirations of the individual soul, is to be found the only standard of morality.
As Goethe had no definite thought of God, so he had no definite expectation of immortality—at least it was no present aid to him. "Such incomprehensible subjects lie too far off," he said, "and only disturb our thoughts if made the theme of daily meditation. An able man who has something to do here, and must toil and strive day by day to accomplish it, leaves the future world till it comes, and contents himself with being active and useful in this." And Faust's words only express the poet's own view:
The sphere of earth is known enough to me,
The view above is barred immutably.
A fool who there his blinking eyes directeth
And o' er the clouds of earth a place expecteth,
Firm let him stand and look around him well 1
This world means something to the capable;
Why needs he through eternity to wend?
Here he acquires what he can comprehend.
Which simply means: Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost. There is no eye to pity, and no arm to save.
It is a proof of the blinding influence of sin, that Goethe maintained this plan of life to be unselfish. Because he surrendered himself to self, to toil and learn, to enjoy and to describe, he conceived himself as subject to the invisible Spirit of the Uerse, and as working for humanity. But the real nature of that invisible Spirit he persistently ignored; the moral law which expresses his nature he put beneath his feet; the revelation of his will in Christ and in Scripture he contemned. He describes his religion as one of self-confidence, attention to the present, admiration of gods only as works of art, submission to irresistible fate, future hope confined to this world, the preciousness of posthumous fame. This he considered to be the religion of health and joy, religion not of the word, but of the deed—the acting out of man's nature.
It was, alas, only a maimed and stunted nature which Goethe had in mind—a nature in which both the ethical and spiritual elements were wholly lacking. And yet there were grains of truth even in this pantheistic view which gave it a hold both upon the poet himself and upon his readers. The immanence of God was a great truth, exaggerated and perverted though it was by being held in isolation and unqualified by the complementary truth of the divine transcendence. Even the Christian can see the sublimity of the words:
Was ■war' cin Gott dcr nur von aussen stiesse,
Im Kreis' das All am Finger laufen liesse t
/hm zicmt die Welt im Innem zu bewegen,
Sich in Natur, Natur in sich, zu hegen.
So dass, was in Ihm lebt und webt und is/,
Nie seine Kraft, nie seincn Geist, vermissf.1
'"Spriiche in Reimen: Gott, Gemiitb, und Welt."
GOETHE A NON-ETHICAL EVOLUTIONIST 3OI
What God would outwardly alone control,
And on his finger whirl, the mighty Whole?
He loves the inner world to move; to view
Nature in him, himself in Nature too;
So that what in him works, and is, and lives,
The measure of his strength, his spirit, gives.1
As Goethe was a monist, so he was an evolutionist. He believed that man is an outgrowth of the animal creation, even as animals have come from plants. There is a blood relationship, he thought, between all organic beings. The oneness of things deeply impressed him. In his conception of the leaf as the typical form of the plant, and of all other organs as modifications of the leaf, he made one of those sage guesses into the meaning of nature, which are possible only to a genius. Nor were his utterances mere guesses. They were insights into truth, based upon large knowledge of facts. It was the intermaxillary bone, that taught him the kinship of man to the lower forms of life. But it was just in proportion as he turned his thoughts away from the higher ranges of human life and experience, that he seemed to utter truth.
To the facts of the ethical world he became increasingly insensitive. He lost even the moral predilections of his early days, and became a cold and calculating egoist. His aim was to throw off every yoke and to be arbiter of his own destiny. His old age was that of a self-absorbed and fastidious Lothario, who sought continually, but sought in vain, to renew the raptures of his passionate youth. Since all men are victims of circumstance, and great men are great only because a certain
1 "Proverbs in Rhyme: God, Soul, and World."
demonic influence spurs them on, he never repented of sin—indeed, sin for him was simply the mistake of ignorance, the stumbling of the child who thereby learns to walk.
Nichts taugt Ungeduld,
Noch weniger Reue;
Jene vemtehrt die Schuld
Diese schqfft neue.
"Impatience avails nothing, and still less contrition; the former only increases our guilt, while the latter makes us guilty anew."
Here was a soul that felt itself great enough to treat sin and guilt and pain and death as non-existent, or at least as matters with which it had no concern. Lessing said that the character of the Germans was to have no character. If this is true, it is certain that Goethe was the typical German. But I do not hold it to be true. Tennyson was right in his "Palace of Art" in making Goethe the type, not of German character, but of that irresponsible and godless spirit which cultivates art wholly for art's sake:
I take possession of men's minds and deeds;
I live in all things great and small;
I sit apart, holding no forms of creeds,
But contemplating all.
Let us examine the effect of this pantheistic philosophy upon Goethe's personal life, and then upon his literary productions. He went to Weimar at the invitation of the duke. He was already a famous man. He was made an important officer of the court, and he became the duke's most intimate friend. The duke EFFECT OF PANTHEISM ON PERSONAL LIFE 303
himself was noted for his loose talk and for his still looser morals. Society in his capital is described as only "imperfectly monogamous." Schiller, in disgust, declared of the women of the court, "There is not one of them who has not had a liaison." Goethe not only did not set himself to better the morals of Weimar, but he fell in with the tide. He was the boon-companion of his sovereign in dances and drinking bouts, and, though his elder by seven years, was his aider and abettor in the maddest of pranks. "All reserve was laid aside between them from the first," says his biographer. "They spent days and nights in each other's society; they hunted, drank, and gambled together. On one occasion they were seen cracking sledge-whips in the market-place of Jena for a wager. At night they finished up with carousals, in which wine was drunk from human skulls."
Goethe was fresh from an engagement of marriage with a banker's daughter of Frankfort—an engagement which the lady had herself broken off on account of Goethe's vacillation and inconstancy. It was not long before he formed his celebrated connection with Frau von Stein, the wife of the Master of the Horse, six years Goethe's elder, and the mother of seven children. This connection lasted for twelve years. Goethe wrote a letter to her nearly every day. She visited with him and traveled with him. No term of endearment which the German language possesses, from "darling" to "dearest angel," is spared in these multitudinous epistles. The Frau von Stein was not handsome, but she was a woman of birth and dignity, combined with a vivacity, tact, and subtle charm of manner, such as Goethe up to this time had been a stranger to. For the first time he met a woman who was his equal. He declares that her influence upon his literary work was next to that of Shakespeare. There are those who regard the poet's relations to his friend as purely Platonic. We have only his letters to her, not her letters to him. When he took Christiane Vulpius to his house without marrying her, the Frau von Stein rebelled, either at the' rivalry or the wrong, recalled the letters she had sent, and so the close friendship between them came to an end. But it had illustrated Goethe's new version of the commandment: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor and thy neighbor's wife."
But before this break-up of intimacy, there came the visit of Goethe to Italy. He regarded the year there spent as the turning-point of his life. He had become wearied of official duties at Weimar, which absorbed his strength, and he longed for freedom to devote himself exclusively to literature. Strange to say, he regarded the traditions and proprieties of Weimar as fettering his development, and he sought in Italy to live a life modeled after pagan art and pagan morals. His ethical sense was so blunted that he could not understand Frau von Stein's objections to the illicit connections which he formed in Venice and in Rome, and which in his letters he frankly avowed to her. In Italy he determined to live in the senses as well as in the intellect, and when he returned to Weimar his connection with Christiane began. What shall we say of a man who, after he has done a young girl the greatest wrong, can yet write to his best woman friend: "What kind of a relation is it? Who is defrauded by it? Who lays claim to the AN EGOTISTIC AND LONELY OLD AGE 305
sentiments which I give to the poor creature, and who to the hours I spend with her?"
It does not seem to have occurred to him that he owed something to the poor creature he was injuring. As a matter of fact, the humiliating position in which she was put, as his housekeeper but not his wife, led her to intemperance. Slighted by the very friends whom Goethe most honored and loved—he himself permitting the slight—she became so addicted to drink as to make him miserable, even though he made her the slight reparation of marrying her after seventeen years of concubinage. Goethe's two sons inherited the passion for drink from the mother, and the eldest, his idol, died in Rome as the result of a drunken debauch. The family became extinct in the very next generation, and so the sins of the father were visited upon his children.
How shall I picture Goethe's old age? One by one death took from him the friends of earlier days. Schiller, with whom he had come to have the most sincere and honorable literary friendship, and who had called him, as he said, out of the charnel-house of science back into the fair garden of life, died in 1805. "Goethe himself was ill at the time, and those who were about him refrained from telling him the news. Meyer, the artist, his intimate friend, who was with him, left the house lest his grief might escape him. Goethe divined something of the fact, and said, at last, 'I see Schiller must be very ill.'" Says Lord Lytton, in his " Life of Schiller": "That night they overheard Goethe—fhe serene man, who seemed almost above human affection, who disdained to reveal to others whatever grief he felt when his son died—they overheard Goethe weep! In the morning he said to a friend, ' Is it not true that Schiller was very ill yesterday?' The friend—it was a woman—sobbed. 'He is dead,' said Goethe faintly. 'You have said it,' was the answer. 'He is dead!' repeated Goethe, and covered his face with his hands."
The Duchess Amalia died in 1807, his mother in 1808, his wife in 1816. When his wife was taken from him—the woman who with all her faults had pardoned the long contumely he had heaped upon her, had tenderly nursed him through successive illnesses, and who had clung to him to the end in spite of his repeated unfaithfulness—the outburst of his grief was terrible. He knelt, we are told, by her deathbed, and seizing her hands said, "Thou wilt not forsake me; thou must not forsake me!" The demigod after all was human, and was not sufficient to himself.
Whether as the result of these losses or of his own more mature reflection, there seems to have been in his last days a little quickening of his moral sense and of his desire for a life after death. He was inclined to believe in immortality, "because nature wastes no power." When Wieland died, Goethe consoled himself by thinking that a man so industrious would never cease to act, somewhere and in some way. In 1819, in reply to a letter from Augusta von Stolberg, urging him to turn his mind to God, he wrote:
Let us go on, not caring too anxiously for the future. In our Father's kingdom there are many provinces, and since he has given us here so fair a dwelling, he will doubtless take good care of us both in our future state of existence. There perhaps we shall understand each other better, and therefore shall love each other more.
EFFECT OF PANTHEISM UPON LITERARY WORK 307
To Zelter he wrote:
Let us continue our work till one of us, before or after the other, returns to ether at the summons of the World-Spirit. Then may the Eternal not refuse us new activities analogous to those wherein we have here been tested! If he shall also add memory and a continued sense of the Right and the Good, in his fatherly kindness, we shall then surely all the sooner take hold of the wheels which drive the cosmic machinery—
or, as I suppose he means, enter upon the work of eternity. It is the principle of continuity to which he appeals, together with the idea that man is made for labor, for accomplishment. Here is teleology. To Goethe work and happiness were inseparable.
But he did not desire to work in solitude, either here or hereafter. Seven years after the death of his wife, and when Goethe was seventy-four years of age, he conceived a passion for a young Bohemian lady, and wished to marry her. She wisely thought the difference in their years to be too great, and he was saved from so hazardous a venture. Thackeray visited him in 1830, when Goethe was eighty-one, and found him still keen in intellect, and, though his hearing was defective, his eyesight was unimpaired. But at last the end came. In 1832, the old man of eighty-three was taken with a slight fever; his mind began to wander; his speech became incoherent; he called for more light; at last he settled himself in the corner of his armchair and fell into a gentle sleep. No one knew at what precise moment sleep became death.
So a pantheistic philosophy produced a life of everincreasing isolation and hopelessness. The benumbing of his moral sense and the taking of law into his own hands followed more and more upon his renunciation of a personal God. But I have still to examine the effects of this pantheistic philosophy upon Goethe's literary work. I must express my conviction that in this regard also the result was a narrowing of his range of vision, an impoverishment of his emotions, and a barring of the highest poetic achievement
It is the judgment of all the competent critics, that the most vigorous delineation of noble character, and the most stirring dramatic work of Goethe's life, was the play that he first published, "Goetz von Berlichingen." In the figure of Goetz, the asserter of individual rights and the redresser of wrong, we have a heart-stirring picture of the glory and romance of feudal times. The drama pulsates with life from beginning to end. In it we have not only progressive action, but we have vivid contrast. Over against the generous daring of the hero, we have the vacillation and perfidy of Weislingen, and the Satanic arts of his temptress Adelaide. The pangs of remorse are here, and the deepest elements of tragedy. The love of liberty is appealed to so effectively that we wonder what would have happened if Goethe had used his powers to rouse his countrymen against the French invader, and then wonder again how the youthful patriotic impulse of the author could ever have been so lost. In Goetz, our poet most nearly forgets himself, throws his whole soul into his characters, shows us great principles and passions contending together in personal form on the field of action. He has recreated the Middle Ages, with their barbaric splendor and their wild independence. The first published work of Walter Scott was a translation of this LOST HIS POWER TO DEPICT REALITY 300.
drama of Goethe, and many have thought that "Goetz von Berlichingen" first suggested to Sir Walter the possibilities of a literature of feudalism, and so the writing of the Waverley Novels.
"Goetz" is Shakespearean in its variety, movement, and life; indeed it was Consciously the introduction into Germany of Shakespeare's method and spirit, and the result was a breaking away from French literary fetters, and the creation of a new German literature. But "Goetz" was written before Goethe had come under the spell of Spinoza, and had still some belief in freedom, accountability, and guilt. From this time on, his sense of individuality grew weaker. The person became of less account than the idea; action seemed less valuable than thought. In all Goethe's works we never have another whole-souled lover of his kind like Goetz; we never have another self-condemning and self-torturing villain like Weislingen. The moral element gradually evaporates; persons give place to abstractions; and abstractions finally become, as in the second part of "Faust," mere unintelligible symbols.
When Goethe broke away from God and from the moral law, he broke away from real life, and lost his power to depict reality. Not only did his patriotic sympathies give place to scorn for the aspirations of his country, but the highest sources of poetic inspiration were dried up. A long step away from truth was the publication of the "Sorrows of Werther." They are the sorrows of a young man who falls in love with the wife of another, and who kills himself because he cannot possess her. It is a long piece of sickly sentimentality, so feverish and so maudlin as utterly to disgust the healthy-minded reader. What can be more ridiculous than the following:
We went to the window. It still thundered in the distance; a soft rain was pouring down over the country and filled the air around us with delicious odors. Charlotte leaned forward upon her arm ; her eyes wandered over the scene; she raised them to heaven, and then turned them upon me; they were moistened with tears; she placed her hand upon mine, and said, "Klopstock!" At once I remembered the magnificent ode which was in her thoughts; I felt oppressed with the weight of my sensations, and sank under them. It was more than I could bear. I bent over her hand and kissed it in a stream of delicious tears. As I raised myself, I looked steadfastly in her face. Divine Klopstock! why didst thou not see thy apotheosis in those eyes? And thy name, so often profaned, why should I ever desire to hear it repeated?
And yet the ravings of this young idiot were read in all classes of society, and were translated into many foreign languages. "Perhaps there never was a fiction," says Lewes, "which so startled and enraptured the world. Men of all kinds and classes were moved by it. It was the companion of Napoleon in Egypt; it penetrated into China. To convey in a sentence its wonderful popularity, we may state that in Germany it became a people's book, printed on miserable paper, hawked about the streets like an ancient ballad, while, in the Chinese Empire, Charlotte and Werther were modeled in porcelain."
It was symptomatic of the time—a time of long-repressed and therefore overwrought individual feeling. Goethe, with all his disposition to renounce foreign models, had been reading Rousseau, and the vain and impious Frenchman had encouraged the impulse of FROM FREEDOM TO CLASSIC COLDNESS 3 I I
Goethe himself to open the floodgates of emotion, without regard to the restraints of reason or social order. And as "Goetz von Berlichingen " had prepared the way for Walter Scott and the literature of feudalism, so the "Sorrows of Werther" prepared the way for Lord Byron and the literature of romance. Byron regarded Goethe as the awakener of his genius, and "Childe Harold" is an English adaptation of Werther, as Manfred is an English adaptation of "Faust."
But thus far Goethe's work was of the Gothic type. With the higher social life of the court at Weimar, and especially with his journey ';o Italy, begins the second great period of his literary activity, when the Gothic gave place to the classical. Having infused life into German literature, he felt the need of giving it law and order, and all the more since his acknowledged position as the greatest German poet now gave him the right and the confidence, as be expressed it, to "command poetry." Poetry should be no less spontaneous, but its spontaneity should be in glad and natural subjection to the rules of right reason. These he found in classic lands and especially in Italy. To the south, with its sunny skies and its treasures of ancient art, he looked as to the poet's paradise. This is the meaning of his lovely song, "Kennst du das Land wo die Citronen bliihen f"
Knowst thou the land where the fair citron blows,
Where the bright orange midst the foliage glows,
Where soft winds greet us from the azure skies,
Where silent myrtles, stately laurels rise,
Knowst thou it well ?' Tis there, 'tis there,
That I, with thee, beloved one, would now repair!
It is not Christian Italy, with its sanctuaries and martyrs that he longed for, but pagan Italy rather, with its monuments of imperial greatness and its masterpieces of painting and sculpture. The cloudy skies of the North oppressed him; he sought light and freedom. It is too evident that moral and not simply artistic freedom was the goal he had in view. He scarcely ever visited the churches, and the history of the church he took little interest in. Dante he had no taste for; he thought the "Inferno" abominable, the "Purgatorio" dubious, and the " Paradiso " tiresome. It was the calm superiority of Greek art to conscience and to morals that constituted to him its attraction.
Beauty was the one expression of the Infinite in which he believed, and beauty he would worship even at the sacrifice of goodness and of truth. Yet he persuaded himself that this worship was normal and worthy. There was in it a grain of sense. Religion has too often ignored the beautiful. Truth has often failed of acceptance because the substance has been so belied by the form. Goethe wished to unite the two. And this is the meaning of the mystical marriage, in the second part of his great drama, between Faust and Helen of Greece. It is the marriage of substance and form, of truth and beauty, of Northern life and fire with Southern order and law.
The works of this period are in point of artistic finish and completeness the noblest of Goethe's life. The ordering of material, the exclusion of the irrelevant, the dignity of the thought, the melody of. the phrase, show the hand of a master. "Tasso " and " Iphigenia" are sculpturally perfect. One might almost FROM FREEDOM TO CLASSIC COLDNESS 313
think them written and acted in ancient Greece, so full are they of the spirit of classic poetry and art. While the play of feeling in them shows us that the motive and idea are modern, the form is statuesque and the effect is that of cold regularity. We long for greater warmth, even at the expense of beauty. With the pagan indifference to moral ideas, there is also a deadening of the emotions and a consequent weakening of interest. The operation of conscience is the very essence of tragedy. No other fear thrills the reader or spectator as does the fear of retribution. Pity and remorse and repentance touch deeper chords in the heart than do any representations of love or joy. But these deeper chords Goethe found it increasingly hard to reach.
The proud serenity of the man disdained itself to feel, and it could not make others feel, the real emotions that make human life solemn and momentous. More and more, as the mood of Goethe became that of the pagan gods, a mood of cheerful optimism and of moral indifference, his works became icily regular and faultily faultless, but the life had gone out of them. The wonderful song of the Fates in "Iphigenia," the translation of which I quote from the Reverend N. L. Frothingham, expresses his whole conception of deity and his whole philosophy of life:
Within my ear there rings that ancient song,—
Forgotten was it and forgotten gladly,—
Song of the Parca;, which they shuddering sang
When from his golden seat fell Tantalus.
They suffered in his wrongs; their bosom boiled
Within them, and their song was terrible.
To me and to my sister in our youth
The nurse would sing it, and 1 marked it well.
1 The gods be your terror
Ve children of men;
They hold the dominion
In hands everlasting.
All free to exert it
As listeth their will.
1 Let him fear them doubly
Whom e' er they've exalted 1
On crags and on cloud-piles
The seats are made ready
Around the gold tables.
Then tumble the feasters
Reviled and dishonored
To gulfs of deep midnight;
And look ever vainly
In fetters of darkness
For judgment that's just
■But they remain seated
At feasts never failing
Around the gold tables.
They stride at a footstep
From mountain to mountain;
Through jaws of abysses
Steams toward them the breathing
Of suffocate Titans,
Like offerings of incense
A light-rising vapor.
'They turn, the proud masters,
From whole generations
The eye of their blessing;
Nor will in the children
The once well-beloved
Still eloquent features
Of ancestor see."
THE FIRST PART OF FAUST
So sang the dark sisters.
The old exile heareth
That terrible music
In caverns of darkness,
Remembereth his children
And shaketh his head.
There had been a Shakespearean period in Goethe's work, a period of fresh original genius; this had been followed by the classical period, in which form was the great aim of the poet; there was still to come the Romantic period, in which he sought to combine the merits of the other two. "Faust " was the great work of this period, as indeed it was the crowning work of his life, and the greatest production of the century in the German language. But it is so, not because it is the work of the author's age, but because it preserves to us the best impulses of the author's youth. As the poet himself has said, the conception of it came to him as early as the year 1774, when he was twenty-five years old. Considerable portions of the first part were printed in 1790, but the first part was complete only in 1808, and the second part belongs to the poet's last days in 1831, after he had meditated upon it for more than fifty years.
The story of "Faust " had the great advantage of being already a popular one, with elements of the deepest interest derived from still lingering beliefs in magic, evil spirits, and the possibility of a fatal confederacy of man with the Prince of Darkness. Here was a framework in which Goethe's abstract ideas might fix themselves—ideas which in his mind were ever tending to an impotent generality. The theme was nothing less than that of Dante and of Milton: man's fall and man's recovery. Much as Goethe disliked Dante, our poet described the purpose of his great drama somewhat as Dante would have described the purpose of the " Divine Comedy"; he declared it to be the progress of the human soul through the world to hell, and then again through the world to heaven.
As in the case of Dante, so in the case of Goethe, the personal experiences of the poet are interwoven with the story. Indeed, both Faust and Mephistopheles are only impersonations of the two contending principles in the breast of Goethe himself. In 1781 he wrote to Lavater: "I am conscious of the fact you so well describe, that God and Satan, heaven and hell, are striving for the mastery within me." And Faust only echoes Goethe's own experience when he says:
Two souls are ever striving in my breast
Each from the other longing to be free.
But neither to us nor to the world at large does the interest of the work depend upon its representation of purely personal struggle and achievement. We are moved by it because it presents to us a most vivid picture of uersal human experience, sets before us the moral struggle of the ages, reflects our own life with its temptation and danger, promises to throw light upon the great problem of sin and redemption.
"Faust" is great—one of the greatest poems of the world—because the first part embodies sublime truths of human freedom, sin, guilt, retribution, from which Goethe in his earlier life had not yet falsely emancipated himself. The cynical and lascivious Satan, who can assume the garb and air of a gentleman when he TRUTHS OF FREEDOM, SIN, AND GUILT 317
entices to transgression, but who throws off disguise when once he has bound his victim fast, is a true creation of Goethe's genius. The restlessness of a selfish spirit, the impossibility of satisfying its longings with the things of sense, the ever-increasing complications of shame and misery in which the sinner involves himself, the ruin which all unconsciously he spreads around him, have never been portrayed more powerfully than in the first part of "Faust."
Margaret is the picture of a guileless child led astray by the arts of the tempter; her love is made the means of her destruction; her sin brings death to her mother, her brother, her child. In the great cathedral, where she goes to pray, the consciousness of guilt chokes back her prayer, and she falls fainting as she hears the solemn reverberations of the "Dies Ira." In prison, when Faust comes to rescue her, she is found wild with insanity and rejecting all entreaties to escape, while Faust himself, torn with remorse and anguish, is forced by his chuckling demon to leave her to her fate. There is no more pitiful story anywhere than this, and Goethe has told it with a vividness and terseness that are worthy of all praise. Here he has drawn his characters from real life, and has been true to the facts of human nature. The first part of "Faust" must be ranked with " Goetz," as a survival of insight, the priceless relic of an early manhood as yet uncorrupted by false philosophy. While in form it shows the influence of Goethe's classical studies, it has preserved the freshness and spontaneity of his Shakespearean youth ; and it will doubtless hold its place as one of the world's master-works in the realm of poetry.
It is comparatively easy to tell the story of sin and degradation. Not only the descent to Avernus, but the description of it, can be compassed by a genius unilluminated by Divine revelation. But the return from hell is difficult, and is equally difficult to describe. It is plain that unity and completeness required an account of Faust's restoration, just as Milton's "Paradise Lost" required for its complement the "Paradise Regained." It is no wonder that the pantheistic poet found the second part of "Faust" a long and arduous task. He was to show, what no mortal wisdom apart from special revelation can ever show, how a human soul exposed to the penalties of violated law, and in addition inwardly defiled, can be restored to favor with God and made like God in character.
To this mystery he had thrown away the key when he gave up his belief in a personal God. From the impersonal God of pantheism there could be no reaching down in sympathy, no atonement for sin, no declaration of pardon, no inward transformation of the affections, no help in the way of virtue. Man must accomplish his own renewal. As he has bound himself to his lower nature, so he must liberate himself from it. And this he can do, first, by self-culture, and secondly, by labor for the good of others. Self-culture is typified by Faust's marriage with Helen of Greece, the symbol of Beauty, and labor for the good of others is typified by Faust's reclaiming of the barren seashore and providing for the happiness of its coming inhabitants. When, in his old age, though blind, he realizes that others will be benefited by his work, he finds a moment of true happiness and dies with these words upon his lips:
THE SECOND PART OF FAUST
Freedom like life must be deserved by toil;
Here men shall live, and on this fertile soil,
Begirt with dangers, shall from youth to age
Their constant warfare with the ocean wage.
Oh, could I see my followers! Might I stand
Among free people on my once free land!
To such a moment of intense delight
I'd fearless say: "O stay, thou art so bright!"
Anticipating all that future bliss,
I have it now. That moment's here !' Tis this!
And this is Faust's redemption. Mephistopheles is outwitted. The bargain had been that whenever Faust should say to the passing moment, "Stay! thou art so fair!" his soul should thenceforth belong to the Evil One. Satan therefore claims his prey. But angelic hosts appear to claim the soul of Faust for their own— only the body is left to the devil. And these heavenly messengers, as they bear his immortal part away, give the reason for this defeat of the adversary and this rescue of his victim:
The noble spirit now is free
And saved from evil scheming;
Whoe'er aspires unweariedly
Is not beyond redeeming.
And if he feels the grace of love
That from on high is given,
The blessed hosts that wait above
Shall welcome him to heaven.
"In these lines," said Goethe to Fckermann, "the key to Faust's rescue may be found—in Faust himself an ever purer and higher form of activity to the end, and the Eternal Love coming down to his aid from above. This is entirely in harmony with our religious ideas, according to which we are saved not alone through our own strength, but through the freely bestowed grace of God." Goethe had a habit of putting his thoughts into Christian language, while the substance of them was wholly pantheistic and pagan. And though the second part of "Faust" has often been quoted as indicating its author's final approximation to evangelical beliefs, a careful examination of his writings shows that his meaning is by no means the Christian meaning even in his closing words:
All things transitory
But as symbols are sent:
Here grows to event;
Here it is done:
The Woman-soul leadeth us
Upward and on.
The "Woman-soul "—das Ewig-ivcibliche—is the pantheistic substitute for the personal Love of God in Jesus Christ. But it has no Christian significance. The God to whom Goethe would lead us is only the Brocken-shadow of humanity itself, projected upon the clouds by the imaginatu - "Christ," he says, "conceived of an only God, to t*hom he attributed all the qualities which he felt in nimself as perfections. God became simply the essence of his own beautiful soul, full of goodness and love lil ? himself, and entirely adapted to have good men con" :ngly give themselves up to him and cherish this idea as the sweetest bond with heaven." This ideal of humanity is not only the only
God, but it is the only Christ, for Goethe says also: "Your Christ has awakened my wonder and admiration. . . . In him you can now see yourself as in a mirror, and in fact can thus worship yourself."
This ideal of humanity is not confined to Christ, it is more or less embodied in all men. He says:
We are not the disciples of one master; we have many teachers. We regard ourselves as all sons of God, and worship him as existing in ourselves and in all his children. . . My views are not anti-Christian or un-Christian, they are simply nonChristian. . . You think nothing is so beautiful as the gospel. But among all the books, ancient and modern, written by men to whom God has given wisdom, I find thousands of pages as beautiful, as useful, as indispensable for the instruction of mankind. . . Were I a preacher, you would find me as zealous in defending my notion of an aristocracy as you are now in asserting your idea of Christ's monarchy.
Every man may have God revealed in him just as Christ had. "What greater gain can man find in life than this, that the one principle which is both God and Nature should reveal itself to him?"
Was kann der Mensch im Leben mehr gewinnen
Als dass ihm Gott-Natur sich offenbare?
Yet he cannot conceive of any higher or more perfect revelation of his impersonal God—which is simply ideal humanity—than that .vhich is found in Christ. "The third religion and the last," he says in "Wilhelm Meister's Wanderjahre," "is,. Christianity." Men have been led up by Christ to , • ideal that could not have been believed possible without his aid.
To leave beneath his feet all the shows and honors of this world,
and to keep ever in view heaven, his birthplace and home, might seem possible in a wise and good man ; but to endure the utmost sorrow, nay more, to find means of a divine manifestation in his endurance of humiliation, poverty, contempt, torture, and death; to lift up the vilest out of their sins and miseries; to make them capable of loving holiness, yea, capable of attaining holiness— these are facts of which only faint indications had appeared before the time of his coming to dwell with men. And such a coming cannot be temporary, cannot pass away as a fact merely historical. Since human nature has been elevated to a point so high, and has been made capable of rising to such a height, it remains forever as a point from which humanity cannot recede. . . The truth that has thus been made manifest has been incorporated and can never disappear. . . Humanity cannot take a retrograde step, and the truth that has once found a divine embodiment can never again be dissolved. . . The Christian religion has strength in itself. From age to age that strength has been exerted to lift up fallen and suffering humanity. With such facts on its side it cannot require the aid of philosophy, but must hold an independent and sublime position—one far above all philosophy.
The central idea of Christianity is that of the suffering Saviour. Carlyle says that he learned from Goethe to seek, not happiness, but the Cross of Christ. And Goethe himself said: "The Christian religion, often enough dismembered and scattered here and there, must at last be found collected and restored to union by the Cross." And he counsels us, in founding our future society, to make Christianity a principal element in its religion.
Here is a would-be heathen compelled, in spite of himself, to take account of Christianity, yet utterly misconceiving its meaning and value. The fundamental difficulty is in his erroneous conception of God. His God is not the God of holiness, personal and free, GOD INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM NATURE 323
reflected in the human conscience and demanding obedience to moral law, but rather a uersal force indistinguishable from nature. Neither God nor man has freedom, and man is but the link in an endless chain of necessity, a victim of circumstance. The moral impulse is only one of many impulses, all of which equally proceed from this Nature-God. The reproaches of conscience and the threats of retribution are alike illusions to which the wise man becomes superior. To follow one's bent, to develop all one's powers, to do the greatest amount of work, to secure the greatest amount of enjoyment—in short, to make the most of one's self and of one's opportunities—this is man's calling on earth.
There is no such thing as sin or guilt, for there is no freedom to abuse, and no moral law to be violated. There need be no repentance therefore. All that is needed is self-development, choice of the highest, labor for others. Faust is admitted into heaven without so much as a pang of repentance or a word of confession, though his life has been stained by lust and treachery and murder. As there is no God against whom he has sinned, so he needs no atonement for his sin. The culture and development which he needs are quite within his own power. He can whiten his own black heart. The leopard can put away his spots, and the Ethiopian can change his skin. In place of the Spirit of God we find at most a nature-power, which is nothing more than the man himself. Superstitious faith in a certain demonic energy takes the place of dependence upon God, and the fact that man is possessed by this demonic energy excuses and even glorifies every passion however vicious. Redemption is to be attained, not by the cultivation of character, but by the cultivation of impulse. The second part of "Faust" preaches the pantheistic gospel of salvation by mere natural development. Evil in time becomes good, and man saves himself.
So much for the substance of Goethe's greatest work. Is the second part of "Faust" as inferior to the first part in form? Here all the critics and commentators are well-nigh agreed. The second part is one of the puzzles of literature. While the general drift of it is comprehensible and there are isolated passages of great power and beauty, we must declare that with increasing age the poet's hold upon reality grew weaker and weaker. It is a world of mere fancy into which he bears us. Not only is all verisimilitude left behind, but all intelligibleness also. A host of symbolic creatures move and talk, but it is a long process of wearisome mystification, the inanity of which only the poet's lack of humor could have prevented him from recognizing. It is not only unintelligible and unreal, but it is also cold. The warmth of life, which pulsated so strongly in Goetz and in the first part of "Faust," has gone out of it. The atmosphere of necessity encircles it. The sun that shines is that of winter.
The drama is purely intellectual. It is like the aged Goethe himself, on whose lily-white hand no vein showed the way to the heart. A pretended wisdom amuses itself by writing for us hieroglyphics, which, when we succeed in translating them, seem intended for the very purpose of concealing the poverty of the thought. As the old man, in his study at Weimar, disposed the lights in such a way as to make the most THE POET OF A MATERIALISTIC AGE 3^5
effective impression upon his visitors, so in the second part of "Faust" Goethe seems to play the oracle simply for the purpose of imposing on the credulous. He was accustomed to be worshiped, and he had the art to make that worship posthumous by a work of apocalyptic obscurity. In form as well as in substance, we must hold the second part of "Faust" to be the most striking of judgments upon the philosophy which it seeks to express. The tree is known by its fruits, and we have in Goethe the proof that pantheism not only depraves the poet's life, but withers the poet's art.
Thus I have tried to show the effect of a wrong moral decision upon Goethe's philosophy, and the effect of that philosophy in turn upon his morality and upon his .poetry. It has been a painful task, and I have undertaken it only because the Goethe-cult which has been rife both in Germany and in America has in it such promise and potency of evil. Carlyle and George Eliot are the English representatives of this Goethean school. The Concord School of Philosophy has devoted a whole summer to his glorification. It must be that much of truth and of beauty is to be found in his writings, or this systematic panegyric would hardly be possible.
What then is the great merit of Goethe, and how can we account for his hold upon the thought of our time? I answer that Goethe is in many ways even yet the best exponent of the thought of our time, with its lawless independence, its new knowledge of nature, its confidence in material things, its love of merely sensuous beauty, its aversion to pain and self-denial, its belief that the evils of the world can be cured by physical means without the forgiveness of sins or the regenerating grace of God.
It was Goethe's merit or demerit that he put all this doctrine into attractive form. With a wonderfully clear and serene mind, he learned from French masters to write for the first time a German that was no longer crabbed, but simple and musical as Apollo's lute. His prose has a sweetness and at the same time an intensity that of itself goes far to persuade the reader of the importance and truth of what he reads, and his poetry has in it that sustained dignity and precision, that masterful vigor and repose, which we call "the large style." This was unknown to the German tongue before Goethe's time. Thus he used French means to conquer French traditions and to create a new German literature.
He was one of the very greatest literary artists that the world has seen; only Virgil and Milton in this matter of form can be called his superiors. He had a deep and sympathetic feeling for the life of nature which might have surpassed that of Wordsworth, if he had only been able with Wordsworth to break from necessitarian and pantheistic fetters and to see in rock and mountain, in the leaves of the trees and the clouds of the sky, the presence and utterance of a personal God. As Saul's companions on the way to Damascus heard the voice from heaven but saw no man, so Goethe heard the voice in nature but did not recognize the person; he perceived the moving panorama to be instinct with life, but he could not discern in it all the living God. So his imagination has been called a passive imagination; it was not in the truest sense active or IN HIS LYRfCS HE FORGETS HIMSELF 327
creative; it simply gave back what the senses had given to it; there was no true interpretation by the spirit. But as a mere reproduction of nature his verse is almost unequaled. Hutton has well said that his lyrics seem to escape as unconsciously from the essence of earth and air, as the scent from a violet or the music from a bird.
It is in his lyrics indeed that Goethe most nearly for-, gets himself. Goetz and Faust are his great characters, and in these early works he has put the fervor and freshness of his genius. But because of his necessitarian views he was able to understand physical nature more fully than he could understand human nature. The kinship between man and the outward world, our brotherhood with the uerse, this he saw and expressed in song. Here abstractions are absent; the poet throws himself into the feeling of the moment; there is a flash of insight and a flood of sympathy that carry him away, and when he puts them into verse, they carry us away likewise. What, for example, can be more beautiful than this little night-song:
Hush'd on the hill
Is the breeze;
Scarce by the zephyr
Softly are pressed;
The woodbird's asleep on the bough;
Wait then, and thou
Soon wilt find rest!
■ I am inclined to believe that Goethe's songs are more genuine and lasting proofs of poetic genius than any of his dramas or any of his works in prose. He has said that a work of art can be comprehended by the head only with the assistance of the heart, and nothing can be more pertinent or true. But I would add that a work of art can be produced by the head only with the assistance of the heart. It is because Goethe's heart was put into his lyrics that they are immortal. Yet even these degenerated as he grew older, and for the plain reason that his heart grew selfish and cold. His Olympian serenity was also Olympian isolation. His calm avoidance of all that would disturb, his ignoring of human sin, his effort to lift himself above all sorrow, constituted a limitation of his genius, narrowed its range, dried up its springs of emotion. As he cut himself loose from moral restraint and suffered passion to have its way with him, a chill came over his soul; poetic inspiration gave place to poetic artifice; his later lyrics, like the second part of "Faust," are didactic and abstract; the poet, in trying to save his life, has lost it.
Herder, the critic, the preacher, and the Christian, who watched with sadness and growing repulsion the downward progress of Goethe's mind and art, said well, "Would that Goethe could take up some other Latin book besides Spinoza!" We see the evil that can be wrought by a false philosophy. Much of the modern notion, so popular in fiction, that love is a passion which knows no law, which reason and will cannot control, and which justifies any means taken for its gratification, is directly or indirectly the result of the teaching of Goethe. He has done much to spread about immoral desire a glamour of refinement, and to abate the blame of transgression by charging it to nature. He has made
moral and aesthetic culture a substitute for religion, and has substituted self-development for the service of God.
I do not deny that in doing this he has incidentally called attention to human impulses and needs which the current Christianity of his time too much neglected. The Puritan turned from the moss-rosebud saying, "I have learned to call nothing on earth lovely." But nature is beautiful notwithstanding. Art has its claims, and we are bound to have a proper regard for self. While Goethe moves in the sphere of the merely aesthetic and worldly, he has surprising insight and wisdom ; whole books of proverbs and maxims for the conduct of life have been drawn from his writings. He has been called the wisest man that ever lived without a conscience, without humility, and without faith. But his wisdom is simply the wisdom of this world that is foolishness with God, and that is foolishness likewise to any man who looks beneath the surface and who sees its results in Goethe's character and in Goethe's literary work. He himself said that his writings were one continued confession. We must also say that his writings are one continuous judgment and condemnation of his philosophy and his life.
Goethe desired, above all other honors, that he might be called by the name of Befreier, or Liberator. In one sense he merits the title; he has freed his country from its bondage to French literary models, and has opened the way for a native German literature. Believer in necessity, as he was, and resigning himself to whatever force was uppermost, he could not be a patriot. And yet, like Dante, by uniting his country in a literary bond, he indirectly and unintentionally prepared his country for political unity. Hermann Grimm tells us in fact that a politically united Germany was made possible only by Goethe and Schiller. While we grant, however, that Goethe may be called directly the literary liberator, and indirectly the political liberator, of Germany, I must record my conviction that in other and more important respects he was the enslaver of his country. I believe that the materialistic tendency which has been felt throughout the century in Germany, and which has almost superseded the older idealistic and spiritualistic teaching of the uersities, is in large part due to the influence of Goethe.
Multitudes of youth have been captivated by his sensuous and fatalistic spirit. How vast a power the greatest writer of a nation can exert, was never more strikingly illustrated than in the case of Goethe. Sad to say, he has not used that power, as Shakespeare did, to depict the actual facts of human nature—he has used it rather to set before us a humanity devoid of conscience and freedom, and the helpless prey to whatever demonic impulse may arise within. He has not used that power, as Milton did, to impress upon men's minds the central truths of the Christian scheme, man's willful abuse of freedom, his fall into sin and guilt and misery, his recovery by the reaching down of infinite divine grace—he has used it rather to weaken human faith in divine revelation and in the one and only means of man's restoration.
To bring a whole nation, and to some extent a whole world, into the toils and under the bonds of a pantheistic philosophy that knows no personal God, no freedom of will, no real responsibility for sin, no way of pardon
and renewal, no certain hope of immortal life, is to be the agent of a moral and spiritual enslavement worse by far than any enslavement that is merely physical or political, because it is enslavement of the soul to falsehood and wickedness, and sure in due time to bring physical and political enslavement in its train. Over the door of the house where Goethe was born was carved a lyre and a star. He loved to think it a prognostication of his greatness as a poet. But the star was
A star that with the choral starry dance
Joined not, but stood, and standing saw
The hollow orb of moving Circumstance
Rolled round by one fixed law.
And Tennyson is not too severe when he intimates that this abuse of intellectual power and this self-exaltation above truth and duty are signs not of human, but of diabolic greatness. It is Goethe whom he calls
A glorious Devil, large in heart and brain,
That did love Beauty only, or, if Good,
Good only for its beauty.