A Journal for Western Man




A Tribute to Goethe

G. Stolyarov II

Issue II- September 2, 2002


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749, to an upper-middle-class family of Frankfurt-am-Main. His family, although prosperous, was deprived of a majority of its eight children (all with the exception of Johann and his sister, Cornelia). He obtained a solid education from the immense library of books and art collection that his father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, a retired lawyer, possessed. These sparked in the young man an appreciation of the finest cultural accomplishments of his day. He began to compose poetry during his early teens, which began during the Seven Years' War and the French takeover of Frankfurt. He introduced himself to the actors that accompanied the occupation forces and became an admirer of the theater. As a result of these early experiences, he would later on become a renowned playwright and theater manager himself.

Goethe began attendance of the University of Leipzig in October of 1765, where he was exposed to some of the finest minds of his day, including the poet C.F. Gellert, whose lectures Goethe attended and praised as "the foundation of German moral culture", the novelist C.M. Wieland, and Goethe's art teacher, A.F. Oeser. Visiting the city of Dresden upon occasion to witness the cultural accomplishments present there, Goethe began to intensely compose his early poetry, which was constantly permeated by Greco-Roman themes and those of contemporary French and German poets. He returned to Frankfurt in 1768 after falling ill, and, during his recovery, possessed ample leisure to expand his horizons further. He entered an exploration into theology and mysticism, which remained with him for his entire life and gave him an immense inner devotion to God, which is evident in his later works and expressions. His own faith permitted him far greater leeway than the formalized, ritualistic doctrines of any official religious institution. Goethe believed that "to have a positive religion is not necessary. To be in harmony with yourself and the universe is what counts, and this is possible without positive and specific formulation in words." Thus, it was his belief that so long as a person commits himself to intelligent thought and noble action, they act in accordance with God, who, for all His greatness and mercy, would grant every human being freedom to live for himself as the primary objective. Goethe encouraged free thought and action as a true means of accord with the divine. He said once that "the web of this world is woven of Necessity and Chance. Woe to him who has accustomed himself from his youth to find something necessary in what is capricious, and who would ascribe something like reason to chance and make a religion of surrendering to it."

During this period, Goethe became intrigued by the sciences, beginning with alchemy and leading on to biology, botany, and physics. Later, following some forty years of study, Goethe would compose theories that serve as the foundation for the works of modern Chaos scientists. He wrote his Theory of Color between 1808 and 1810, in which he attempted to comprehend the qualitative aspects of light and color that could not be explained by number-based Newtonian physics. His Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants (1790) is a systematic exploration into the transformations and forms that such living organisms would undergo. He discovered in his research that all the portions of plants possess striking similarities and are indeed slight alternations of one structure, which he dubbed a "type-leaf." To devise his works, Goethe utilized an immense variety of techniques, from analytical thought, to Kantian synthesis, to experimentation. He sought to devise a unified understanding of the patterns by which all matters, from rocks and clouds, to human societies, function. This is remarkably ahead of his time, for only in the 1950s did scientists begin to address such phenomena of which Goethe had already possessed a profound understanding. This brilliant explorer combined his studies under one name, "morphology" (the study of change), and wished to inspire an understanding of the necessity of combining all the aspects of science, qualitative and quantitative, from various fields and methods, for as complete a knowledge of reality as possible.

Following his recuperation, Goethe journeyed to Strasburg in 1770 to undergo a study of law. Although he never completed his education in that field, what he did obtain enhanced his comprehension of the fields of politics and civil justice. His greater influence during this period was Johann Gottfried Herder who mentored him in the composition of poetry and plays. Goethe mastered the style of Shakespeare and even surpassed the mastery of the playwright in his play, "The Dramatized History of Gottfried von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand." He also acquired an admiration for the intricacies of Gothic architecture, which led him to compose numerous articles for a collaborative work with historian J.M. Möser and Herder, titled "Concerning German Nature and Art."

Goethe entered the occupation of a lawyer while devoting a vast portion of his time to editing the "Frankfurt Scholarly Reviews." In 1775, he received an invitation to the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, where the poet obtained a luxurious estate and an esteemed  standing in the eyes of the German upper class. Goethe continued pouring out plays, such as “The Erl-King” (1782), “Iphigenie auf Taurus (1787), and “Egmont” (1788). During a two-year undertaking of travels throughout Italy, Goethe’s inspiration was uplifted to such an extent that the already illustrious specimen of Western culture swore an oath to devote the remainder of his life to writing. The only subsequent interval that would disrupt his promise was his involvement as a soldier in the Allied Austro-Prussian war against Republican France in 1792. But even there he would scribble detailed notes, which, thirty years later, would be shaped into the Campaign in France, 1792, an autobiographical account of his experiences. Beginning in 1794, Goethe entered into a friendship with the renowned poet and playwright, Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller, author of such masterpieces as "Wilhelm Tell", "Mary Stuart", and "The Ode to Joy".  Schiller assisted Goethe in the composition of the first portion of Faust and numerous other works of poetry.  Goethe composed a set of philosophical poems titled "God and World", which further extrapolated upon his conception of the Supreme Being and morality. In the 1780s and stretching until the end of his life, he also worked on his greatest masterpiece, the tale of Faust. This is an extrapolation of the well-known legend of Dr. Faustus, an impressive scholar who strikes a bargain with the Devil (Mephistopheles) in which he surrenders his soul in exchange for a temporary mastery over Satan and the acquisition of whatever pleasures he desired. Faust experiences a variety of temptations, all excessive and in the end repugnant to him with the exception of one, the pursuit of knowledge. Faust, demonstrating a formidable strength of mind, resists Mephistopheles' attempts to lure him into sloth and indolence and continues on his quest for understanding, using his newly-found powers in a benevolent manner. In contrast to Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus", in which Faust undergoes a bloody demise after the deadline for his contract had expired, Goethe grants absolution to his protagonist, the merciful God admitting Faust's soul into heaven due to the latter's ardent desire for understanding, the supreme virtue. This demonstrates the progressive Enlightenment outlook of the ingenious Goethe, whose phrase, "The first and last thing required of genius is the love of truth," explains his perception of Faust as a positive character who triumphs over the Devil due to his heavenly aspirations. Goethe was a fervent believer in the magnificence of Man and the benefits of progress. During his latter years, he stated that he would like to see more than anything the completion of the Panama and Suez canals during his lifetime (another amazingly accurate prognosis of an age some fifty years into the future), as well as the development of industry and specialization. The thinker remained confident that there would be little dehumanization resulting from industrial growth and suggested adaptations to it that, as history proves, assisted them in preserving individuality and creativity while possessing complex and time-consuming occupations. Goethe's love for the human species and his desire to see it flourish is best summarized in a segment of poetry from

"Go hence and seek yourself another slave!
What! Shall the poet take that highest right,
The Right of Man, the Right which Nature gave,
And wantonly for your sake trifle it away?
How doth he over every heart hold sway?
How doth he every element enslave?
Is it not harmony that from his breast doth start,
Then winds the world in turn back in his heart?
When Nature forces lengths of thread unending
In careless whirling on the spindle round,
When all Life's inharmonic throngs unblending
In sullen, harsh confusion sound,
Who parts the changeless series of creation,
That each, enlivened, moves in rhythmic time?
Who summons each to join the general ordination,
In consecrated, noble harmonies to chime?
Who bids the storm with raging passion lower?
The sunset with a solemn meaning glow?
Who scatters Springtime's every lovely flower
Along the pathway where his love may go?
Who twines the verdant leaves, unmeaning, slighted,
Into a wreath of honor, meed of every field?
Who makes Olympus sure, the gods united?
The power of Man the Poet has revealed!"

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Goethe, during his final years, achieved "a wisdom often termed Olympian, even inhuman", and to the end possessed a warm, compassionate, and prying disposition toward the streams of visitors to his estate in Weimar. When the great Napoleon Bonaparte met and conversed with Goethe in 1807 at Erfurt, he exclaimed, "Voila, un homme!" (There is a man!) Goethe, in his love for humankind, referred to himself as "an extraordinarily ordinary man in whom ordinary men might see themselves reflected." Some of his final and most profound works range from Wilhelm Meister's Travels (1821-1829),  which reveals the great man's visions of a progressive future, to his autobiography, Poetry and Truth, to a collection of words of wisdom in "Maxims" and "Conversations".  Some of the most profound of Goethe's lessons to posterity deserve mention here. "To be pleased with one's limits is a wretched state," the genius instructs us to constantly expand our capacities, for "that which moves not forward, goes backward." He advises each person to follow their own path to comprehension, for "everything great and intelligent is in the minority" and "daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game." To be a follower of Goethe is to achieve the capacity to work wonders, as he himself had, and to become a true man of the Enlightenment.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent filosofical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Click here to return to TRA's Issue II Index.

Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.