1829, 13. bis 19. August.

Mit Henry Crabb Robinson

I was there [in Weimar] from the 13th of August till the 19th.

I cannot pretend to set down our conversations in the order in which they occurred. On my return from Jena, I was more aware than before that Goethe was grown old; perhaps because he did not exert himself so much. His expression of feeling was, however, constantly tender and kind. [ Gräf Nr. 1711: He was alive to his reputation in England, and apparently mortified at the poor account I gave of Lord Leveson Gower's translation of ›Faust‹, though I did not choose to tell him that his noble translator, as an apology, said he did it as an exercise while learning the language. On my mentioning that Lord Leveson Grower had not ventured to translate the ›Prologue in Heaven‹ he seemed surprised. »How so? that is quite unobjectionable. The idea is in Job.« He did not perceive that that was the aggravation, not the excuse. ] He was surprised, when I told him, that the ›Sorrows of Werter‹ was a mistranslation – sorrow being KummerLeiden is sufferings.

I spoke with especial admiration of his ›Carnival at Rome‹. »I shall be there next winter, and shall be glad if the thing gives me half the pleasure 108 I had in reading the description.« – »Ay, mein Lieber, but it wont do that! To let you into a secret, nothing can be more wearisome (ennuyant) than that Carnival. I wrote that account really to relieve myself. My lodgings were in the Corso. I stood on the balcony, and jotted down everything I saw. There is not a single item invented.« And then, smiling, he said: »We poets are much more matter-of-fact people than they who are not poets have any idea of, and it was the truth and realty which made such writing so popular.« .... Speaking this evening of the travels in Switzerland, he said that he still possessed all that he has in print called his, ›Actenstücke‹ (documents); that is tavernbills, accounts, advertisements &c. And he repeated his remark, that it is by the laborious collection of facts that even a poetical view of nature is to be corrected and authenticated. [ Gräf Nr. 1718: I mentioned Marlowe's ›Faust‹. He burst out into an exclamation of praise. »How greatly is it all planned!« He had thought of translating it. ] He was fully aware that Shakespeare did not stand alone.

This, and indeed every evening, I believe, Lord Byron was the subject of his praise. He said: »Es sind keine Flickwörter im Gedichte.« (There is no padding in his poetry.) And he compared the brilliancy and clearness of his style to a metal wire drawn trough to a steal plate. In the complete 109 edition of Byrons works, including the ›Life‹ by Moore, there is a statement of the connection between Goethe and Byron. At the time of my interviews with Goethe, Byron's ›Life‹ was actually in preparation. Goethe was by no means indifferent to the account which was to be given to the world of his own relations to the English poet, and was desirous of contributing all in his power to its completeness. For that purpose he put into my hands the lithographic dedication of ›Sardanapalus‹ to himself, and all the original papers which had passed between them. He permitted me to take these to my hotel, and to do with them what I pleased; in other words, I was to copy them, and add such recollections as I was able to supply of Goethe's remarks on Byron. These filled a very closely-written folio letter, which I despatched to England; but Moore afterwards assured me that he had never received it.

One or two of the following remarks will be found as significant as anything Goethe has written of Byron. It was a satisfaction to me to find that Goethe preferred to all the other serious poems of Byron, the ›Heaven and Earth‹, though it seemed almost satire when he exclaimed, »A bishop might have written it!« He added, »Byron should have lived to execute his vocation.« – »And that was?« I asked. »To dramatize the Old Testament. What 110 a subject under his hands would the Tower of Babel have been!« He continued: »You must not take it ill; but Byron was indebted for the profound views he took of the Bible to the ennui he suffered from it at school.« Goethe, it will be remembered, in one of his ironical epigrams, derives his poetry from ennui (Langeweile); he greets her as the Mother of the Muses. It was with reference to the poems of the Old Testament that Goethe praised the views which Byron took of Nature; they were equally profound and poetical. »He had not,« Goethe said, ›like me, devoted a long life to the study of Nature, and yet in all his works I found by two or three passages I could have wished to alter.‹

[ Gräf Nr. 1719: I had the courage to confess my inability to relish the serious poems of Byron, and to intimate my dissatisfaction with the comparison generally made between Manfred and Faust . I remarked: »Faust had nothing left but to sell his soul to the devil when he had exhausted all the resources of science in vain; but Manfred's was a poor reason – his passion for Astarte.« He smiled, and said, »That is true.« But then he fell back on the indomitable spirit of Manfred. Even at the last he was not conquered. Power in all its forms Goethe had respect for. This he had in common with Carlyle. And the impudence of Byron's satire he felt and enjoyed. I pointed out ›The Deformed 111 Transformed‹ as being really an imitation of ›Faust‹, and was pleased to find that Goethe especially praised this piece. ] I read to him the ›Vision of Judgment‹, explaining the obscurer allusions. He enjoyed it as a child might, but his criticisons scarcely went beyond the exclamations – »Too bad!« »Heavenly!« »Unsurpassable!« He praised, however, especially the speeches of Wilkes and Junius, and the concealment of the countenance of the latter. »Byron has surpassed himself.« Goethe praised Stanza IX for its clear description. He repeated Stanza X, and emphatically the last two lines, recollecting that he was himself eighty years of age. Stanza XXIV he declared to be sublime:

But bringing up the rear of this bright host,

A spirit of a different aspect waved

His wings, like thunder-clouds above some coast

Whose barren beach with frequent wrecks is paved;

His brow was like the deep when tempest-tossed;

Fierce and unfathomable thoughts engraved

Eternal wrath on his immortal face,

And where he gazed a gloom pervaded space.

Goethe concurred in my suggested praise of Stanzas Xlll, XIV, XV. Indeed Goethe was in this like Coleridge, that he was by no means addicted to contradiction. This encourages those who might not otherwise venture on obtruding a sentiment. [ Gräf Nr. 1721: He did not reject the preference I expressed for 112 Byron's satirical poems, nor my suggestion that to ›Don Juan‹ a motto might have been taken from Mephistopheles' speech aside to the student who asked his opinion of medicine:

Ich bin des trockenen Zeugs doch satt,

Ich will den ächten Teufel spielen. ]

Byron's verses on George IV, he said, where the sublime of hatred. I took an opportunity to mention Milton, and found Goethe unacquainted with ›Samson Agonistes‹. I read to him the first part, to the end of the scene with Delilah. He fully conceived the spirit of it, though he did not praise Milton with the warmth with which he eulogized Byron, of whom he said that the like would never come again; he was inimitable. Ariosto was not so daring as Byron in the ›Vision of Judgement‹.

Goethe said Samson's confession of his guilt was in a better spirit than anything in Byron. »There is fine logic in all the speeches.« On my reading Delilah's vindication of herself, he exclaimed: »That is capital; he has put her in the right.« To one of Samson's speeches he cried out, »Oh, the parson!« He thanked me for making him acquainted with this poem, and said, »It gives me a higher opinion of Milton than I had before. lt lets me more into the nature of his mind than any other of his works.«

I read to him Coleridges »Fire, Famine, and 113 Slaughter;« his praise was faint. I inquired whether he knew the name of Lamb. »Oh, yes! – Did he not write a pretty sonnet on his own name?« ....

I informed Goethe of my possession of Wieland's bust by Schadow. He said: »It is like a lost child found. The Duchess Amelia sent for Schadow to do it, and when done, gave it to Wieland. He died when the French were here, and we were all away.[?] Wieland's goods were sold by auction, and we heard that the bust was bought by an Englishman. Vestigia nulla retrorsum!« I related to him how I had bought it at the recommandation of Flaxman, who deemed it ›a perfect work.‹ Goethe then said: »You must be sensible that it ought to be here. A time will come when you can no longer enjoy it. Take care that it comes here hereafter. This I promised. And I have in my will given it to the Grand Duke, in trust, for the public library at Weimar. Goethe expressed to me his pleasure that I had retained so lively a recollection of Weimar at its ›schöne Zeit‹, when Schiller, Herder and Wieland all lived. I remember no other mention of Herder, nor did I expect it. Goethe spoke of Wieland as a man of genius, and of Schiller with great regard. He said that Schiller's rendering of the witch-scenes in ›Macbeth‹ was ›detestable‹. But it was his way; you must let every man have his own character.«

This was a tolerance characteristic of Goethe.


I have already mentioned Goethe's fondness for keeping portrait memorials, and can only consider it as an extreme instance of this that I was desired to go to one Schmeller to have my portrait taken – a head in crayons, frightfully ugly, and very like. The artist told me that he had within a few years done for Goethe more than threehundred. It is the kind of Andenken he preferred. They are all done in the same style – full face .....

In this way I spent five evenings with Goethe. When he took leave of me, it was very kindly, and he requested me to write every three or four months, when I came to an interresting place ..... I saw much of his daughter-in-law; he is said to have called her »Ein verrückter Engel« (a crazy angel), and the epithet is felicitous.