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What Goethe says of false and true tendencies of mind, and the mistaking a tendency for a talent, deserves attention ; it is a mistake we often fall into, both with regard to ourselves and others.
He says, smiling, “ People think that a man must needs grow old, in order to be wise; the truth ie, that as years increase upon us, we have enough to do to be as good and as wise, as we have been. In certain things a man is as likely to be in the right at twenty as at sixty.”
On this point there is much more, to which I subscribe heartily.
On the subject of religion I find this beautiful comparison, but am not sure whether it be Ekermann's or Goethe's. * A connoisseur standing before the picture of a great master will regard it as a whole. He knows how to combine instantly the scattered parts into the general effect; the universal, as well as the individual, is to him animated. He has no preference for certain portions; he doen not ask why this or that face is beautiful or other wise; why this part is light, that dark; only he requires that all shall be in the right place, and according to the just rules of art; but place an ignorant person before such a picture, and you will see that the great design of the whole will either be overlooked by him, or confuse him utterly. Some small portion will attract him, another will offend him, and in the end he will dwell upon some trifling object which is familiar to him, and praise this helmet, or that feather, as being well exe. cuted."
“We men, before the great picture of the destinies of the universe, play the part of such dunces, such novices in art. Here we are attracted by a bright spot, a graceful configuration; there we are repelled by a deep shadow, a painful object; the immense WHOLE bewilders and perplexes us; we seek in vain to penetrate the leading idea of that great Being, who designed the whole upon a plan which our limited human intellect cannot comprehend.”
When Goethe was more than eighty, he purchased, for the first time, an easy chair. His indifference, and even contempt for the most ordinary comforts and luxuries of this kind, were amusing. The furniture of his study and bedroom (still preserved as he left them) is of the most homely description. A common deal table, a wooden desk, and a high stool, the very sight of which gave me a pain in my back, were the only conveniences. He used to say, that never being aecustomed from his youth to luxuries and fine furniture, they took his attention from his work. But his drawing-room was elegant I remember two very large frames, in which he was accustomed to dispose a variety of original drawings by the old masters, perhaps eight or ten in each. When they had hung some time, he changed them for another set. These were his luxuries; the set of drawings which he last selected, remain hanging in the room.
The anecdote related by Ekermann of the Ro. man cobbler, who used an antique head of one of the Cæsars as a block to hammer his leather on, reminds me that the head of the Ilioneus was put to a similar use by a cobbler at Prague.
The most extraordinary thing in this book is what Goethe calls “ Das Dämonische.” I have (I believe) a kind of glimmering of what he means; whatever exercises a power, a fascination over the mind, whatever in intellect or nature is inexplicable, whatever seems to have a spiritual existence apart from all understood or received laws, acknowledged as irresistible, yet mocking all reason to explain it—a kind of intellectual electricity or magnetism-in short, whatever is unaccountable-he classes under the general head of “ Das Dämonische;" a very convenient way, and truly a very poetical way, of getting rid of what one does not comprehend. It is, he says, as if " the curtain was drawn away from the background of existence.” In things, he instances as examples of this Dämonische, music in itself and in its effect on the mind; poetry of the highest order; and in characters he instances Shakspeare, Napoleon, Byron, the late Grand Duke, (his friend, Karl August,) and others. But it is dangerous almost to go on playing thus with his and one's own deepest, wildest thoughts and I cannot follow them.
- There are passages scattered up and down the book, which clearly prove that Goethe never considered himself as one called upon to take a part
in the revolutions and political struggles of his time; but because he stood calmly on the “ shore of peace with unwet eye,” and let the giddy torrent whirl past him, shall we infer that he took no heed of its course ? Can we think that this great and gifted being, whose ample ken embraced a universe, had neither sympathies in the grandest interests, nor hopes in the brightest destinies, of humanity? It were a profanation to think thus:
" Although his heart (so near allied to earth)
He looks thereon not strange, but as foredone." * (Even while these lines were printing, Thomas Carlyle has observed, with equal truth and elo quence, « That to ask of such a mind as Goethe's, that he should mix himself up with the political turmoils of the day, was as if we should call down the moon from the firmament of heaven, and convert her into a street torch.")
Great and worthy of all gratitude and fame were those men who have devoted their best faculties, poured out their best blood, for the cause of free. dom, for the land they called their own, the principles they espoused; but greater far, and more worthy of gratitude, and of purer and more endur
ing fame, the very few, who lived not for an age, a country, but for all ages—for all mankind; who did not live to preach up this or that theory, to sustain this or that sect or party, to insist on this or that truth, but who lived to work out the intellectual and spiritual good, and promote the progress of the whole human race-to kindle within the individual mind the light which is true freedom, or leads to it. Such was the example left by Jesus Christ—such a man was Shakspeare--such a man was Goethe.
March 29. To those who see only with their eyes, the distant is always indistinct and little, becoming less and less as it recedes, till utterly lost; but to the imagination, which thus reverses the perspective of the senses, the far off is great and imposing, the magnitude increasing with the distance.
I amused myself this morning with that most charning book “The Doctor;"—it is not the second nor the third time of reading. How delicious it is wherever it opens !-how brimful of erudition and wit, and how rich in thought, and sentiment, and humor! but containing assumptions, and opin.