ohann Wolfgang von Goethe(/ˈɡɜːrtə/;German:[ˈjoːhan ˈvɔlfɡaŋ fɔn ˈɡøːtə] ; 28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German writer and statesman. His works include four novels; epicand lyric poetry; proseand versedramas; memoirs; an autobiography; literaryand aesthetic criticism; and treatises on botany, anatomy, and color. In addition, there are numerous literary and scientific fragments, more than 10,000 letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings by him extant.
A literary celebrity by the age of 25, Goethe was ennobledby the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl Augustin 1782 after taking up residence there in November 1775 following the success of his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther(1774). He was an early participant in the Sturm und Drangliterary movement. During his first ten years in Weimar, Goethe was a member of the Duke's privy council, sat on the war and highway commissions, oversaw the reopening of silver mines in nearby Ilmenau, and implemented a series of administrative reforms at the University of Jena. He also contributed to the planning of Weimar's botanical park and the rebuilding of its Ducal Palace, which in 1998 were together designated a UNESCO World Heritage Siteunder the name Classical Weimar.
Goethe's first major scientific work, the Metamorphosis of Plants, was published after he returned from a 1788 tour of Italy. In 1791, he was made managing director of the theatre at Weimar, and in 1794 he began a friendship with the dramatist, historian, and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, whose plays he premiered until Schiller's death in 1805. During this period, Goethe published his second novel, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship; the verse epic Hermann and Dorothea, and, in 1808, the first part of his most celebrated drama, Faust. His conversations and various common undertakings throughout the 1790s with Schiller, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Johann Gottfried Herder, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and Augustand Friedrich Schlegelhave come to be collectively termed Weimar Classicism.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauernamed Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeshipone of the four greatest novels ever written (along with Tristram Shandy, La Nouvelle Héloïse, and Don Quixote), while the American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emersonselected Goethe as one of six "representative men" in his work of the same name(along with Plato, Emanuel Swedenborg, Montaigne, Napoleon, and Shakespeare). Goethe's comments and observations form the basis of several biographical works, most notably Johann Peter Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe.
Goethe had a great effect on the nineteenth century. In many respects, he was the originator of many ideas which later became widespread. He produced volumes of poetry, essays, criticism, a theory of coloursand early work on evolutionand linguistics. He was fascinated by mineralogy, and the mineral goethite(iron oxide) is named after him.His non-fiction writings, most of which are philosophic and aphoristicin nature, spurred the development of many thinkers, including Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Cassirer, Carl Jung, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.Along with Schiller, he was one of the leading figures of Weimar Classicism. Schopenhauercited Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeshipas one of the four greatest novels ever written, along with Tristram Shandy, La Nouvelle Héloïseand Don Quixote.
Goethe embodied many of the contending strands in art over the next century: his work could be lushly emotional, and rigorously formal, brief and epigrammatic, and epic. He would argue that Classicismwas the means of controlling art, and that Romanticismwas a sickness, even as he penned poetry rich in memorable images, and rewrote the formal rules of German poetry. His poetry was set to music by almost every major Austrian and German composer from Mozartto Mahler, and his influence would spread to French drama and opera as well. Beethovendeclared that a "Faust" Symphony would be the greatest thing for art. Lisztand Mahlerboth created symphonies in whole or in large part inspired by this seminalwork, which would give the 19th century one of its most paradigmatic figures: Doctor Faustus.
The Faust tragedy/drama, often called DasDrama der Deutschen(thedrama of the Germans), written in two parts published decades apart, would stand as his most characteristic and famous artistic creation. Followers of the twentieth century esotericistRudolf Steinerbuilt a theatre named the Goetheanumafter him—where festival performances of Faustare still performed.
Goethe was also a cultural force, who argued that the organic nature of the land moulded the people and their customs—an argument that has recurred ever since. He argued that laws could not be created by pure rationalism, since geography and history shaped habits and patterns. This stood in sharp contrast to the prevailing Enlightenmentview that reason was sufficient to create well-ordered societies and good laws.
It was to a considerable degree due to Goethe's reputation that the city of Weimarwas chosen in 1919 as the venue for the national assembly, convened to draft a new constitutionfor what would become known as Germany's Weimar Republic.
The Federal Republic of Germany's cultural institution, the Goethe-Institutis named after him, and promotes the study of German abroad and fosters knowledge about Germany by providing information on its culture, society and politics.
The literary estate of Goethe in the Goethe and Schiller Archives was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Registerin 2001 in recognition of its historical significance.
Goethe's influence was dramatic because he understood that there was a transition in European sensibilities, an increasing focus on sense, the indescribable, and the emotional. This is not to say that he was emotionalistic or excessive; on the contrary, he lauded personal restraint and felt that excess was a disease: "There is nothing worse than imagination without taste". He argued in his scientific works that a "formative impulse", which he said is operative in every organism, causes an organism to form itself according to its own distinct laws, and therefore rational laws or fiats could not be imposed at all from a higher, transcendentsphere; this placed him in direct opposition to those who attempted to form "enlightened" monarchiesbased on "rational" laws by, for example, Joseph IIof Austria or the subsequent Emperor of the French, Napoleon I. He said in Scientific Studies:
We conceive of the individual animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of life; thus we are justified in considering every animal physiologically perfect. Viewed from within, no part of the animal is a useless or arbitrary product of the formative impulse (as so often thought). Externally, some parts may seem useless because the inner coherence of the animal nature has given them this form without regard to outer circumstance. Thus...[not] the question, What are they for? but rather, Where do they come from?
That change later became the basis for 19th-century thought: organic rather than geometrical, evolving rather than created, and based on sensibility and intuition rather than on imposed order, culminating in, as Goethe said, a "living quality", wherein the subject and object are dissolved together in a poise of inquiry. Consequently, Goethe embraced neither teleologicalnor deterministicviews of growth within every organism. Instead, his view was that the world as a whole grows through continual, external, and internal strife. Moreover, Goethe did not embrace the mechanisticviews that contemporaneous science subsumed during his time, and therewith he denied rationality's superiority as the sole interpreter of reality.
His views make him, along with Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Ludwig van Beethoven, a figure in two worlds: on the one hand, devoted to the sense of taste, order, and finely crafted detail, which is the hallmark of the artistic sense of the Age of Reasonand the neo-classicalperiod of architecture; on the other, seeking a personal, intuitive, and personalized form of expression and society, firmly supporting the idea of self-regulating and organic systems.
Thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emersonwould take up many similar ideas in the 1800s. Goethe's ideas on evolutionwould frame the question that Darwinand Wallacewould approach within the scientific paradigm. The Serbian inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Teslawas heavily influenced by Goethe's Faust, his favorite poem, and had actually memorized the entire text. It was while reciting a certain verse that he was struck with the epiphany that would lead to the idea of the rotating magnetic fieldand ultimately, alternating current.