From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Notes 2, pages 264-269


Page 21, line 32 (con't) The Austrians and English defeated the French supported by Charles VII. [Return to text]

Page 22, line 1. The Aachen Peace, 1748. [Return to text]

Page 22, line 20. The discovery of his father city quickly incorporates into a perception of the world and its cultural coherence. [Return to text]

Page 22, line 24. Escort Day: the Thursday after Ägidi (September 1st); the markets began operation on the following Monday. [Return to text]

Page 22, line 33. A reference back to Götz and his time. [Return to text]

Page 25, line 22. According to the Sachsenspiegel [a German book of laws from the Middle Ages] the gloves were a symbolic gesture in response to the kaiser's expressed wish to receive pepper and coins for the toll; the white staff was a symbol for jurisdiction; the hat referred specifically to the hat trade in Worms. [Return to text]

Page 27, line 10. Compare this with the poem "The shepherd cleaned himself up for the dance" in Faust. [Return to text]

Page 27, line 29 . The list of festivals, etc., serves to establish the timeframe between the beginning and the end of house construction. [Return to text]

Page 29, line 3. As Düntzer remarks, Goethe purposely failed to mention the German volumes until Book 2; here he deals only with those books which captured the interest of the boy. [Return to text]

Page 30, line 15. The characterization came from an actual book: Hüsgen, Reports on Frankfurt artists and artistic matters, 1780. [Return to text]

Page 31, line 18. The first, deeply soul-felt shock concerns the problem of fairness, because "children are born moralists." For the first time the child discovers a moralistic movement in which thousands participate; see Lütgert, "The shattering of optimism by the earthquake of 1755 in Lisbon," Gütersloh 1901. In his description of natural events Goethe used an article from 1756. [Return to text]

Page 33, line 14. The first contrast between the tendencies of the father and the talents of the child are indicated by a general comment. [Return to text]


Page 33, line 23. The first learned wink directed towards a present tendency (much opposed by Goethe.) [Return to text]

Page 34, line 9. A very early indication of the poet's inclination towards large and general laws and types. [Return to text]

Page 35, line 14. Presumably residents of imperial cities raised this same objection to country life — Göttingen was the cavalier university — Goethe later brings this to life in rhymed verse (Book XV). [Return to text]

Page 35, line 26. Mention of the Italian journey, thought at one time to be the conclusion of Poetry and Truth. [Return to text]

Page 36, line 3. Cellarius' Easy Latin Grammar, 1724; Pasor's Manual of the New Testament, 1636. [Return to text]

Page 36, line 31. A second major thematic problem: that truth is sufficiently characterized in literary critique. At the same time we see the planned function of self critique, which plays a large role in the autobiography. [Return to text]

Page 37, line 12. Acerra philological, "Philological Treasury of Praises": a selection of brief histories of old originally published by the satirist Peter Lauremberg, 1637. [Return to text]

Page 37, line 29. Die Insel Felsenburg written by J.G. Schnabel and published in parts between 1731 and 1743 was the best-received German imitation of the English novel Robinson Crusoe. [Return to text]

Page 38, line 24. An ironic twist on the Romantics over-estimation of folk books since Görres' book on the subject (1807). [Return to text]

Page 40, line 4. The first "shedding of skin" in the physical sense is at the same time used as symbolism by this last remark. — The renowned Swiss physician Tissot introduced the inoculation of the pox in 1754; the vaccination with cow vaccine was introduced in 1796. [Return to text]

Page 40, line 16. One is reminded of the motto to Book 1. [Return to text]

Page 40, line 29. Goethe's siblings were: Cornelia, 1750-1777; Hermann Jakob, 1752-1759; Katharine Elisabetha, 1754-1755; Johanna Maria, 1757-1759; Georg Adolf, 1760-1761. Besides these one girl came stillborn into the world. [Return to text]


Page 42, line 16. See page 25, line 29. [Return to text]

Page 42, line 20. "The grandfather stood somewhere in the middle between Alcinous, the King of Phaeacia, and Laertes, the father of Odysseus who left the city in order to live in the country. Although Laertes ruled the city he preferred the retired seclusion of the country. The gloves perpetuate the same metaphor because Laertes armed himself with a pair of gloves to protect himself from thorns (Odyssey 24, 230.)" (v. Loeper.) [Return to text]

Page 43, line 4. This comment gains even greater emphasis considering the effects of the following war years. [Return to text]

Page 45, line 5. Johanna Maria Textor, married to merchant Melber since 1751. The family still exists. [Return to text]

Page 46, line 7. Anna Maria Textor, married to Pastor Starck since 1756. [Return to text]

Page 46, line 17. Reference to a later literary collaboration with Wieland (Gods, Heroes and Wieland) and Goethe's "Achilles". [Return to text]

Page 47, line 23 onward. The story of how the child makes his sacrifice "half child's game and half with God in his heart" closes Book I. This signifies the first awakening of the self-reflecting and self-isolating meditative quality by which the young mind shows its ability to extend beyond its innate dullness. It also signifies a final turning point with decisions about formal religious ceremonies and answers to the question of the extent to which the formalized religion of the homeland worked upon the child. — Book VI ends with a different type of fire sacrifice. [Return to text]

Book II (pages 49-94)

Page 49, line 28. "While the first book covers the 7 years of peace between Aug. 28, 1749 to 1756, the following 7 years of war take up the next 4 books." (v. Loepere) — The contrasts between stability and impermanence, peace and warm, comfortable existence and chaos are examined as leitmotiffs (as in "Hermann and Dorothea"). [Return to text]


Page 50, line 15. On August 29, 1756 the Prussians marched into Saxony. [Return to text]

Page 50, line 26. World events intruded upon the child's life, loosening the bonds of family ties and shattering familial authority. [Return to text]

Page 51, line 8. At a holiday meal in the home of Pastor Starck, Counselor Goethe supposedly cursed his father-in-law as a corrupt traitor; in response his father-in-law threw a knife at him, and people had trouble separating the two combatants. (According to the diary of Dr. Senckenberg.) [Return to text]

Page 51, line 27. The first impressions of a great personage opens this "book of a poet's surmises." Similarly Book 10 opens with Herder. [Return to text]

Page 52, line 12. A third problem: the reliability of the public. Roethe has made the problem of gratitude a main motif of "Poetry and Truth"; the public showed itself ungrateful to the great king. For old Goethe this seems too sentimental. Perhaps the comments relate more to the poet's own attitude towards the public than to a renunciation of gratitude. [Return to text]

Page 53, line 31. The puppet show; see comment to page 13, line 15. [Return to text]

Page 54, line 25. "Crossing over into practical dilettantism" (Essay "Concerning Dilettantism".) [Return to text]

Page 55, line 23. First fictional productions taken from the point of view of practical dilettantism (Outrageously boastful situations, page 56, line 3.) One also thinks of G. Keller's "Time of Lies" in Green Heinrich. Here too poetic production plays with reality for the first time. [Return to text]

Page 56, line 19. The Boy's Tale "undeniably shows us the child's dedication; it is narrated in simple language and in a manner easy to understand. It is an honest and playful initiation into a difficult and perilous career" (Göschel). Roethe (pages 16 onward) beautifully explains "The New Paris" as follows: "In the middle of the book there is a delightful and charming children's fairytale with oriental and


antiquarian French costumes. This may be related to a time when Goethe wrote mythological dramas for the garrison's French theater. The form in its self-conscious, positive childishness is the product of ripening artistry. A small door into the colorful garden of poetry opens for this darling of the gods. He springs over the golden bridge yet he still does not win the beautiful girl he expected the poet to provide. His own childish arrogance, which drove him to destroy his own playthings, holds him back and the cold water shower of reality cools him off as the oriental plunder is washed from his body. No harm is done. He remains the darling of the gods. The smashed tin figures reanimate for him. The scolding words from the protector of the garden die on his lips. The gateway reappears and the poet once again crosses the bridge to find worthy husbands for the three Graces, including the eternally moving, ever new and strange daughter of Jove, the lovely jokester Alerte. Cheerful belief in the poet's vocation is linked to resigned acceptance of the loneliness, which is the penalty for human greatness."
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Page 56, line 26. Sarche is French serge, a type of woolen cloth; a particular kind of serge is called Berkan, or barracan in French. Balletten are gold or silver filamented vellum strips used to secure buttonholes. (Düntzer) [Return to text]

Page 58, line 25. The "Slimey Wall" in so-called folk etymology: the wall is so named because somewhere around 1382 a man by the name of Slymme purchased a piece of land there. [Return to text]

Page 60, line 29. "Narcissus" because the self-satisfied, combed and coiffed youth reminds one of the fabled conceit of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in the water. Similarly it plays with the poet's self-perception. [Return to text]

Page 65, line 17. "Alerte" - French for alert, active, clever; here she is the representative of the dream fantasy. [Return to text]

Page 67, line 31. The Queen of the Amazons, Penthesilea, was made known to Goethe by Kleist's drama (1808). [Return to text]


Page 73, line 26. Yet another wink to the public. [Return to text]

Page 74, line 2. The following paragraph on theory from a handwritten letter by Goethe emphasized this point:
"The ethical character of children does not develop in relationship to their parents. The distance between them is too great. Gratitude, inclination, love, and respect keep young and dependent creatures from expressing themselves in accordance with their individual natures. Each act of opposition is a crime. Privation and punishment quickly teach the child to retreat into himself and to disguise his own wants and needs. At least that's the way it was back then. In these newer times where people give children more room to play, where children have equal status with parents, and where the communal thou unites superiors with subordinates, I don't think things are any different. There are still uncouth children, but no sincere ones." A few remarks were added concerning Goethe's childhood troubles in almost celebratory fashion. There were also comments on avoiding corporal mistreatment. The last section was revised. [Return to text]

Page 74, line 24. "Labores juveniles" from Goethe's youth studies has been preserved (see Weimar edition, 38, 200 forward): calligraphy studies, Latin stylistic exercises, New Year wishes, etc. [Return to text]

Page 74, line 25. Zeltner, Goethe's old friend, bet 12 bottles of champagne that Goethe had not been hit with a rod by his teachers. The poet responded (February 15, 1830) that the school master had dealt out "punitive and encouraging slaps" with a thin ruler usually delivered to the "knuckles." "Since there are bottles of champagne at stake, I'll have to come up with some plausible memory, serve it up as truth and present an appropriate piece of writing to provide evidence." [Return to text]

Page 76, line 30. Emphatic indication of instructive intent. Düntzer beautifully demonstrates this point in reference to "Hermann and Dorothea," IV, 165 forward. [Return to text]


Go to pages 270-275


Text provided by the Lockwood Library, State University of New York at Buffalo.
Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks