Faust- a tragedy - by Goethe
|Faust - a tragedy - by Goethe|
Translated by Bayard Taylor
The influence of Goethe upon the cultured minds of this century is second only to that of Shakespeare. Whether it will be equally lasting may be doubtful; for ages solve many problems as they proceed, and throw aside geniuses which for a time reigned supreme.
Goethe's life, if not wholly admirable, is full, deep, soaring, passionate, human. Intensely alive, he aspired to the skies, he roamed through space, he studied and lived under most varied conditions, he imagined with extraordinary force and vividness what was vague or unknown to his contemporaries; he sympathised with the pains attending human progress, the temptations lying thick in man's path, the joys which crown existence; he expressed with a force all his own the poet's sense of beauty in creation and in human character; he mirrored the religious doubt of his age in face of the evils and sorrows of life and stated with magnificent directness and insight problems which humanity has not yet solved, perhaps are not destined to solve.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe was the eldest child of Johann Caspar Goethe, a Frankfort lawyer and imperial councillor, and was born at Frankfort, on the 28th of August, 1749. His mother, a charming and intelligent woman, perpetuated her good qualities in her son. He was a precocious boy, and his mother's improvised stories nurtured his imagination.
A wide and liberal early education was followed by irregular study at Leipsic and Strasburg universities. Here he began the long series of natural and spontaneous literary expressions of his experiences. "All my works," he said, "are but fragments of the grand confession of my life." Already, in his fifteenth year, he laid fallen in love with Gretchen, a pretty girl, older than himself, and beneath him
The law student became a licentiate in the summer of 1771 and did a little legal work at Frankfort. In the autumn he wrote his Drama " Goetz von Berlichingen,'' describing the dramatic adventures of a robber-baron of the early sixteenth century.
The criticisms of Herder induced him afterwards to remodel it, and was finally published in 1773 it took the German people by storm. Conceived in the spirit of Shakespeare's historical dramas, it vividly portrayed the German national life at the time of the Peasants' War, and Goetz himself represents a noble type of a freebooter, who had ideas of his own about freedom and humanity which he steadily strove to carry out.
The maiden-lover of the play is essentially Goethe's Frederika and is beautifully described. Goethe had at once placed himself at the head of a new school of young writers who despised dramatic vanities and cared above all for "Storm and Stress" — "Sturm und Drang" as one of them, Klinger, called a play of his.
They did good sei-vice, but their time was soon past. Meanwhile, Goethe was absorbed by a new passion, all the intensity of his affections being for the time concentrated upon Charlotte Buff, the Lotte of his autobiography, another bright girl betrothed to a friend of his.
In this case, Goethe was wise enough to fly when his love threatened to become too serious, but it was enduring enough to occasion him much suffering, and to make him the prototype of " Werther." Universally liked in society, and with the public expectation highly interested in his future, he yet became the prey to the great depression, when he contemplated the perplexities of life and its conditions and became conscious of longings and aspirations which the world as it existed was incapable of satisfying.
Early in 1774, he cast his experiences and heart searchings into the form of his remarkable story of "The Sufferings of Young Werther," a weak yet ambitious, passionate soul. How little Goethe thought his " Werther" worthy of imitation may be seen by his having prefixed the motto: " Be a man and follow him "
Alorbid as the character is, it reflected only too correctly morbid sentimentalism and self-concentrated attention which was sapping many a young man's energies, and its enthusiastic reception showed that it held the mirror clearly up to nature. Probably because it was so effective in counteracting the disease, it has ceased to have its full effect on the present generation.
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