From My Life: Poetry and Truth - Notes 5, pages 282-287


There may be some doubt that the boy, like the old man, intentionally fled to the Orient in order to taste the patriarchal air of the East. The very natural joy for the colorful stories and the remarkable characters of the bible collate well with interests in men of the classical age, which would have attracted students of philology. However this report on the history of education has a double meaning. While working on the important symbolism for the boy Joseph he's also preparing a general symbology, as developed in the theology where Abraham is introduced as the typical object of divine instruction because he must be confirmed through multiple challenges (one thinks of the motto in Part 1.) Even the people of Israel reflect the normal forms of education given to the individual: origin at a specific place - paradise lost - battles - familial grounding, etc. Then in the moment where the hero of the story is prepared to enter into the society as a self-sustaining individual he is emphatically drawn back into the great cultural legacy, into the joint ownership of biblical tradition, and into the christian world whereby he must earn in order to possess. — Despite all this one may doubt that the interpolation is graced with an artistic touch. How much neater is the representation of literary circumstances in which the young poet enters (Book VII) fused with the great momentum of autobiography!
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Page 151, line 20. Faust primarily as the human architype. [Return to text]

Page 151, line 28. Four rivers: 1 Moses 2, 11-14 (Pison; Gihon; Phrat, whose name today remains Euphrates; Hidekel = Tigris, according to v. Loeper "The Tiger" because of its meandering course and tiger-like windings, according to Düntzer "the Arrow" because of its fast current.) [Return to text]

Page 152, line 10. A cardinal point in Goethe's life and philosophy of history. [Return to text]

Page 152, line 11. "Elohim", a plural word in the earlier


sagas of the Pentateuch, is used instead of the singular "Jehovah" and it is used by Goethe in a thoroughly historical manner as an indicator of the ancient race of divinities. — Goethe interprets the building of the tower as a time of human sociability; the Tower of Babel at the same time serves a beacon for the wandering people in the same way as one would orient himself towards a church tower in a strange city. 1 Moses 11,4 states: "Take heart! Let us build a city and a tower with its apex reaching unto heaven so we may make a name for ourselves; then perhaps we shall disperse into all other lands." The people thus wanted to use the time before their departure to satisfy their ambition. [Return to text]

Page 153, line 5. "Brother" is a biblical designation for the closest relatives on the man's side of the family; Lot was Abraham's nephew. [Return to text]

Page 155, line 21. According to 1 Moses 12, 4 Abraham was 75 at the time of the move from Haran and 86 at the birth of Ismael. [Return to text]

Page 156, line 3. "The legitimate propagation of the human race" demonstrates Goethe's cherished concept of "constancy" whereby world history corresponds to natural history. [Return to text]

Page 156, line 32. Abraham's sacrifice is emphasized with a specific introduction. Goethe uses the character of the patriarch in order to illustrate the contrast between "natural" and "revealed" religion — a contrast which dominated "18th century deism and particularly the dogmatism advanced by the theological school of St. Michael's in Göttingen" (v Loepere.) According to Goethe natural, universal, and undogmatic religion is most likely to occur wherever relationships give rise to sufficiently delicate modes of thought. In such correlations he considers Montesquieu and Herder his teachers for creating this climate to its fullest. (In more recent times the famous ethnologist Peschel has mapped his own "zone of the religion establishers." However for a "specific", revealed and dogmatic


religion to be estalished there must be "human beings, families, races and people prone to it" and their type is represented by Abraham, the patriarches and the people of Israel. — this consideration is inserted where the young Goethe develops a specific application from the general development and where for him it links to a particularly favorable individual life circumstance. [Return to text]

Page 157, line 30. Construction of the first social class distinctions and division of labor was a favorite theme, which Goethe employed poetically three times: "Prometheus," "Pandora," and the parade in "Faust II" (see "Euphorion 3, 106.) [Return to text]

Page 159, line 10. See 1 Moses 15, 17. [Return to text]

Page 159, line 22. Joshua 10, 37 and after. [Return to text]

Page 159, line 29. Jephta's daughter, Judges Chapter 11. [Return to text]

Page 162, line 4. Almost the same words at the same time (the end of 1811) were used by Fr. H. Jacobi in his article "On Divine Matters and Their Revelation": "Nature hides god because it reveals only destiny, an unbroken chain of causality without beginning or end" (v. Loepere.) In "Don Carlos" (III, 10) Schiller had already stated about god: "Of him, the artist, one will be unaware; he most certainly hides himself in eternal laws." [Return to text]

Page 163, line 10. A bit of levity to steer away from the solemn tone to a lighter commentary on the family history. [Return to text]

Page 164, line 13. The biblical story, composed by Goethe as an inseparable unity of fable and history, mythology and religion, is contrasted just as artistically as the closed unity of the disparate elements leading to his education. [Return to text]

Page 164, line 24. Joseph as the unifying point in the biblical and the Goethe family history. Just as Thorane used the child's head as the model for the picture of the boy Joseph, so too we have here the young Goethe's precocious and ever persistent attempts to surpass his father's art


by mastering the heros of Jewish legend. [Return to text]

Page 165, line 14. Bodmer's biblical epic poems about "Noah" from 1750 on; in any case they favor Joseph, and Goethe would remove any suspicion of having imitated these pieces. — "Daniel in the Lion's Den" by Fr. K. v.Moser 1763. [Return to text]

Page 166, line 1. A rush of poetic production, however still in a quite dilettante form: derived from a vague similarity between poet and model without individual life content, without mastery of material and in imitation of previously read examples. [Return to text]

Page 166, line 5. Law candidate Clauer, see p.126, 8. "He had rented rooms in the Goethe house before its remodelling in 1755, however after his eviction he became mentally confused" (v. Loepere). One observes the pedagogical tendency in these words: "made feeble by overexertion and arrogance." [Return to text]

Page 166, line 25. A new aspect in the life history of the poetic personality: the gift for inventiveness and imitation made favorable by external circumstances. [Return to text]

Page 167, line 9. According to v.Loepere the term "Various Poems" was just coming into fashion at that time. "The publication of 'Various Poem' volumes such as those of Gellert, Lavater, Rost, et.al. did not appear until somewhat later." The anachronism serves to indicate the young dilettante's reference to famous examples. [Return to text]

Page 167, line 21. "Christ's Descent into Hell" written in 1765 is the oldest self-standing poetic creation by the poet known to us. It was published in 1766 in the periodical Die Sichtbaren ("The Manifests".) Von Loepere provides evidence that Goethe must have been confused in recalling his model for this poem. "Judgment Day" by Elias Schlegel had not yet appeared nor had anything from his brother, Johann Adolf, father of A.W. and Fr. Schlegel. Their works appear in "Various Poems" of 1787 but their content and form make good examples here. [Return to text]


Page 168, line 8. "So-called free time": dilettante poets such as Canitz took pains to admit that their poetic productions occurred during their free time. — Perhaps Goethe had seen various volumes of poetry from this era and allowed himself to be influenced by titles such a Canitz' "Free Time for Various Poetry" (1700). [Return to text]

Page 168, line 12. Joh. Phil. Fresenius, died 1761. According to v. Loepere the "conversion" referred to that of the Saxon General v.Dyhrn, mortally wounded at Bergen. Fresenius is the archetype for the Court preacher in "Confessions of a Beautiful Soul." His "Confession and Communion Book" was published in its 8th edition in 1833. [Return to text]

Page 168, line 21. Joh. Jak. Plitt, in Frankfurt since 1762, was actually a professor in Rinteln. [Return to text]

Page 169, line 10. Counselor Schneider, see p.91, 32 onward. [Return to text]

Page 170, line 12. Bower, a Scottish Jesuit converted to Protestantism, published an "Unbiased History of the Roman Popes" in 1748 (German translation 1751-80.) See Schiller on Goethe, March 10, 1802. [Return to text]

Page 170, line 20. Crossover to acquire practical abilities and proficiencies. [Return to text]

Page 170, line 27. Hoppe: Examen institutioum imperium, first published 1684. — Struve: Jurisprudentia Romano-Germanica forensis, first published 1670. [Return to text]

Page 172, line 17. Battieren = strike; legieren = block, meaning he hit his sword so hard against his opponent's that the sword was forced from his hand; see 108, 4. [Return to text]

Page 173, line 27. A comprehensive pedagogical maxim which became the basis for Goethe's later scientific experiments. [Return to text]

Page 174, line 4. The last of the French left Frankfurt on February 27, 1763. [Return to text]

Page 174, line 9. Achilles Augustus Lersner: "The Well-Known Chronicle of the Free Imperial, Electoral and Trade City of Frankfurt on Main" I 1706, II 1734. [Return to text]

Page 174, line 16. A number of exciting moments and personalities now pass through the again peaceful background: memories of the home of the past age, art,


and trade, the representatives of self-education. Everything serves as touchstones for the ripening individuality of the boy, who has surpassed the traditional methods of instruction. In the end all these experiments attract him to further study, to investigation of local art and trade, to diplomacy and mechanics but only as tests. Nature triumphs in its unstoppable certainty and seems to extend the laurel wreath to the young poet as a wish for good luck. [Return to text]

Page 174, line 25. "In 1616 Vinzenz Fettmilch and six other citizens were sentenced to death as leaders of the rebellion. The heads of four were impaled on the bridge tower as dreadful reminders. The heads later fell into the Main until there was only one left during Goethe's time. In 1801 the head disappeared when the tower crumbled." "After the Revolution of 1614 all guilds and autonomous corporations were disbanded except for the houses of Limpurg and Frauenstein and the Graduate College. The guilds continued as nonpolitical trade unions in unconditional adherence to provincial policy and with limited rights under the Third Provincial Banking Authority." (v. Loeper) [Return to text]

Page 175, line 32. Gottfried's "Chronika" with illustrations also contained a picture of the torture of a christian child by the Jews in Trient in 1475. The "Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trient" gave rise to the great Scorn and Infamy painting under the bridge tower (See 176, 1). [Return to text]

Page 176, line 14. "Characteristically, Goethe uses the scarcely cultivated and seldom traversed water rich Fischerfeld as a Jewish rendezvous point since the city council had strictly prohibited the Jews from walking through the city on Sundays and festival days. According to the Edict of January 23, 1756 at any time all Jews and Jewesses were to confine their strolls to the alley off the Rossmarkt (horse market)" (v. Loeper). [Return to text]

Page 176, line 34. "Edition" = the issue at hand, see Grimm's Dictionary. [Return to text]


Go to pages 288-296


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