GHDI logo

Classicism: Excerpts from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Conversations with Johann Peter Eckermann (1824-1828)

The poet, author, and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was the leading representative of German literary classicism and traditionally shares with Friedrich Schiller the title of German national poet. The following excerpts are taken from Conversations with Eckermann, in which Goethe describes, near the end of his life, his approach to literature, distinguishing it from that of the Romantics. His young associate Johann Peter Eckermann, himself a writer, recorded these exchanges and published them after Goethe's death.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 3

Thursday, February 26, 1824

[ . . . ]

We then opened the portfolios, and proceeded to the examination of the drawings and engravings. Goethe, in such matters, takes great pains on my account, and I see that it is his intention to give me a higher degree of penetration in the observation of works of art. He shows me only what is perfect in its kind, and endeavors to make me apprehend the intention and merit of the artist, that I may learn to pursue the thoughts of the best, and feel like the best. "This," said he, "is the way to cultivate what we call taste. Taste is only to be education by contemplation, not of the tolerably good, but of the truly excellent. I, therefore, show you only the best works; and when you are grounded in these, you will have a standard for the rest, which you will know how to value, without overrating them. And I show you the best in each class, that you may perceive that no class is to be despised, but that each gives delight when a man of genius attains its highest point. For instance, this piece, by a French artist, is galant, to a degree which you see nowhere else, and is therefore a model in its way."

[ . . . ]

Wednesday, April 14, 1824

[ . . . ]

"There are likewise among the German women, genial beings who write a really excellent style, and, indeed, in that respect surpass many of our celebrated male writers.

"The English almost always write well; being born orators and practical men, with a tendency to the real.

"The French, in their style, remain true to their general character. They are of a social nature, and therefore never forget the public whom they address; they strive to be clear, that they many convince their reader – agreeable, that they may please him.

"Altogether, the style of a writer is a faithful representative of his mind; therefore, if any man wish to write a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul."

[ . . . ]

first page < previous   |   next > last page