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THE NATIONAL REVIEW.

APRIL 1856.

ART. I.-CHARACTERISTICS OF GOETHE.

The Life and Works of Goethe: with Sketches of his Age and Contemporaries, from published and unpublished sources. By G. H. Lewes. 2 vols. Nutt, 1855.

Freundschaftliche Briefe von Goethe und seiner Frau an Nicolaus Meyer, aus den Jahren 1800-1831. Leipzig, Hartung, 1856. [Friendly Letters from Goethe and his Wife to Nicolas Meyer, between the years 1800 and 1831. Leipzic, 1856.]

GOETHE tells us in his Autobiography, that while his mind was wandering about in search of a religious system, and thus passing over the intermediate areas between the various regions of theological belief, he met with a certain phenomenon which seemed to him to belong to none of them, and which he used to call therefore dæmonic influence. 66 It was not divine, for it seemed unintellectual; nor human, for it was no result of understanding; nor diabolic, for it was of beneficent tendency; nor angelic, for you could often notice in it a certain mischievousness. It resembled chance, inasmuch as it demonstrated nothing; but was like providence, inasmuch as it showed symptoms of continuity. Every thing which fetters human agency seemed to yield before it; it seemed to dispose arbitrarily of the necessary elements of our existence." It is not always, says this great observer of life, "the first and best, either in moral nature or in abilities," who possess this magnetic influence, and it is but rarely "that they recommend themselves by goodness of heart; but a gigantic force goes out of them, and they exercise an incredible power over all creatures, nay, even over the elements themselves; and who can say how far this influence may reach? All moral forces united are powerless against them. The masses are fas

No. IV. APRIL 1856.

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cinated by them. They are only to be conquered by the universe itself," when they enter into conflict with it. Of course Goethe was thinking mainly of Napoleon, and men like him, as he afterwards told Eckermann, when he wrote this passage. Such men put forth, he says, a power, "if not exactly opposite to, yet at least crossing, that of the general moral order of the world; so that the one might be regarded as the woof, the other as the warp.' He adds, that his life-long friend and patron, the Duke of Weimar, had this magnetic influence to such a degree that nobody could resist him, and no work of art ever failed in the poet's hands which the duke had suggested or approved. "He would have been enviable indeed if he could have possessed himself of my ideas and higher strivings; for when the dæmon forsook him, and only the human was left, he knew not how to set to work, and was much troubled at it. In Byron this element was probably very active, giving him such powers of fascination, especially with women. Eckermann, with his usual delightfully childlike simplicity, anxiously asks, "Has not Mephistopheles traits of this nature?" "No," replies Goethe, "Mephistopheles is too negative a being. The dæmonic manifests itself in positive active power among artists. It is found often in musicians, more rarely among painters. In Paganini it shows itself to a high degree, and it is by means of it that he produces such great effects." Of himself he says, "it does not lie in my nature, but I am subject to its influence;" by which Goethe probably meant modestly to disclaim having any personal fascination of this kind over other men, but to indicate, what we know from other conversations he really held to be true, that apparently arbitrary and quite inexplicable impulses had often exercised the most decisive and frequently fortunate influence on his own career. But it is quite clear that Goethe did possess in no common degree this faculty for, in a certain sense, fascinating men by his presence, as well as by his writings. If Byron had more of it as a man, Goethe succeeded in imparting far more of it to his works, and neither his life nor works can be properly judged without reference to its influence. It is something quite distinct from mere beauty, power, or general merit, either of personal character or of literary creation. It is a power which goes out from the individual man, and which can imprint itself only on such writings as carry with them the stamp of individual character; and not always even on those, if, as for example in the case of Byron's earlier works, the play of character is a good deal merged in some exaggerated mood of sentiment. It is not intensity: numbers of writers have surpassed Goethe in the intensity both of literary and personal characteristics. Schiller was a man of far keener and intenser, though narrower nature, and yet he could

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not help going into utter captivity to that calm and somewhat limply-constituted mind. It is not even in itself independence or strength of will; for though Goethe had this in a remarkable degree, many others, as probably Schiller, had possessed it in as high a degree, who had been quite destitute of his fascinating talent. If it be expressible in one phrase at all (which it is not), it might be called presence of mind in combination with a deep knowledge of men;-we mean that absolute and complete adequacy to every emergency which gave Napoleon his sang froid at the very turning-point of his great battles, which has descended in some measure on his nephew, and which in the literary world has secured for Johnson his Boswell, and for Goethe his Eckermann. Johnson, indeed, was immeasurably Goethe's inferior in the range of his experience, and, what is of more importance, in his knowledge of man; but he was perhaps his superior in mere presence of mind, and hence was greater in conversation, but less in fascination. The Duke of Wellington had nearly as much presence of mind as Napoleon himself; but he had immeasurably less of the other element of fascination-instinctive knowledge of men, and how to use them.

Goethe is almost unrivalled in the literary world in the degree in which he combines these qualities. Shakespeare may have had them equally, but his dramas are too impersonal to tell us clearly what kind of individual influence he put forth. We should conjecture that his sympathy with men was too vivid to have enabled him to keep, as was the case with Goethe, a part of himself as a permanent reserve-force outside the actual field of action, and ready to turn the flank of any new emergency. Shakespeare can scarcely, we think, have been so uniformly able to detach himself, if he would, from the sympathies and passion of the moment as Goethe certainly was; for Goethe, like the little three-eyed girl (Drei-äuglein) in the German tale, had always an extra organ besides the eyes he slept and wept with, to take note of his own sleep and his own tears, and an extra will, subject to the command of the third eye, ready to rescue the ordinary will from the intricacies of human emotion. Shakespeare's knowledge of life was, we should think, less drawn from constant vigilance and presence of mind in the passing moment (to which we imagine him to have abandoned himself far more completely than Goethe), and more from the power of memory and imagination to reproduce those sympathies again. However this may be, Shakespeare has himself sketched, less perhaps this cool presence of mind itself than the effect which it produces on other men, in his picture of Octavius Cæsar in Antony and Cleopatra. Cæsar's cool self-possessed eye for every emergency, and for the right use of human instruments, and its paralysing effect on Antony's

more attaching and passionate power of character, is a striking example of what Goethe would have called the 'dæmonic' element in human affairs-the element that fascinates men by at once standing out clear and quite independent of their support, and yet indicating the power to read them off and detect for them their own needs and uses. There is always in this kind of magnetic power something repulsive first; but if the repulsion be overcome, the attraction becomes stronger than ever; there is a resistance while the secondary mind is striving to keep its independence, and conscious of the spell,—an intense devotion after he has once relinquished it, and consented to be a disciple or a servant. So the soothsayer tells Antony,

Thy demon, that's thy spirit which keeps thee, is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,

Where Cæsar's is not; but near him, thy angel
Becomes a fear, as being overpowered; therefore
Make space enough between you."

And Goethe, who had, as he says, himself experienced the force of this blind fascination in the Duke of Weimar's influence over him, as well as wielded it in no slight degree, tells Eckermann (himself a captive), "The higher a man stands, the more he is liable to this dæmonic influence; and he must take constant care that his guiding will be not diverted by it from the straight way. . . . This is just the difficult point-for our better nature stoutly to sustain itself, and cede to the dæmonic no more than is reasonable."

In Goethe himself this fascinating power existed as strongly as it is well possible to conceive in a man whose whole intellectual nature was of the sympathetic and contemplative, rather than of the practical cast,-who had no occasion to 'use' men except as literary material,-and who, while he stood out independent of them, and could at will shake off from his feet the dust of long association, yet felt with them as one who understood their nature and had entered into their experience. Goethe's sympathetic and genial insight into man would have been a pure embarrassment to a practical cold-tempered tool-seeker like Napoleon, who never deciphered men through sympathy, but always by an instinctive tact for detecting masterly and workmanlike results. And vice versâ, the imperturbable self-possession and Napoleonic sang froid of judgment, that underlay in Goethe all storms of superficial emotion, was no little embarrassment to him in many of his literary moods. It prevented him, we think, from ever becoming a great dramatist. He could not ever lose himself in his creations: yet it was emphatically this which gave that peculiar and undefinable fascination to those minutelyaccurate observations on life with which all his later prose works

and his conversations are so thickly stocked. You can clearly see that men of strong nature did not submit to Goethe's magnetic influence without a struggle. Schiller, at first intensely repelled from him, was only gradually subdued, though thoroughly and strangely magnetised into idolatry by personal converse, Herder's keen and caustic nature vibrated to the end between the intense repulsion he felt for Goethe's completely unmoral genius, the poet's impartial sympathy for good and evil alike, and the irresistible attractions which his personal influence exerted. Only those could thoroughly cling to Goethe from the first who were not conscious of having any strong intellectual independence to maintain. Women, who love nothing so much as a completely independent self-sustained nature, especially if joined with thorough insight into themselves, were purely fascinated at once. Wieland, who had no intellectual ground to fight for, surrendered without terms. But no man of eminent ability and a different school of thought seemed to approach him without some sense that, if exposed constantly to his immediate influence, he had to choose between fascination and repulsion. Hence his very few intimate male friends: scarcely any man at all able to enter into his mind and share his deeper interests, was likely to be found who could go so completely into captivity to his modes of thought; and, tolerant as he was, the centrifugal force of his mind threw off, to a certain respectful distance, all that the attractive force was not able to appropriate as part of itself. There has been a very similar effect produced by his writings on those even who did not know the man. Novalis fluttered round them, repeatedly expressing his aversion, like a moth round a candle. They invariably repel, at first, English readers with English views of life and duty. As you read more and more, and the characteristic atmosphere of the man is breathed into your life, you find the magnetic force coming strongly over you; you are as a man mesmerised;—you feel his calm independence of so much on which you helplessly lean, combined with his thorough insight into that desire of yours to lean, drawing you irresistibly towards the invisible intellectual centre at which such independent strength and such genial breadth of thought was possible. And yet you feel that you would be in many and various ways lowered in your own eyes if you could think completely as he thought and act as he acted. It becomes a difficult problem, in the presence of so much genius, and beneath so fascinating an eye, "for our better nature stoutly to sustain itself and yield to the dæmonic no more than is reasonable."

* The most pleasant and characteristic sketch of Wieland in English literature is contained in a few pages contributed to the second volume of Mrs. Austin's Characteristics of Goethe, p. 227.

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