Goethe’s House.

An invitation to dinner at Madame de H––’s afforded me an opportunity of making the acquaintance of two of the Grand-duke’s principal ministers, or, as they are there called, Presidents of Colleges of Public Affairs, one of whom had had the singular good fortune of allying himself to the family of two of the most illustrious literary men in Germany, by marrying the daughter of Wieland, and, after her death, the daughter of Herder, his present lady. The dinner went off as all such ceremonies do in Germany among the grandees: it was a great deal too long: having begun at two, and ended at six o’clock; during which time, upwards of fifty dishes passed in successive review before us. In the evening, after the opera, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Madame S ––, the popular novel writer, who is meditating another of those light productions, which have gained her the reputation, all over Germany, of being the most desperate bas bleu of her time. She is cheerful, agreeable, and spirituelle, in her conversa 654tion. [ Biedermann-Herwig Nr. 6107: On my return home, I found a kind note from Madame Goethe, intimating that her father-in-law would see me at half-past ten the following morning. There are forms which one must go through to see the great Patriarch. He likes not being taken by surprise; and whenever he has been so intruded upon, he has not appeared to advantage; has seemed confused, not much pleased, and niggard of his answers. He is, on the contrary, most amiable, all affability and playfulness, as when in his younger days, if visited by appointment. At his advanced age, which has now reached its eighty-first year, exposed to be stared at as a lion, and made frequently to pay the forfeit of his celebrity, by submitting to the impertinent intrusions of the idle and the curious, it is no matter of surprise that Goethe should appear to have some bizarrerie in his manners.

At half-past ten precisely, Goethe made his appearance in one of his classically decorated withdrawing rooms, into which I had been but the moment before introduced. He advanced towards me with the countenance of one who seems not to go through the ceremony of a first greeting à contre cœur; and I felt thankful to him for that first impression on my mind. His person was erect, and denoted not the advance of age. His open and well-arched eyebrows, which give effect to the undimmed lustre of the most brilliant eye I have ever beheld, and his fresh look and mild expression of countenance, at once captivated my whole attention; but when he extended his friendly hand to welcome me to his dwelling, I stood absorbed in the contemplation of the first literary character of the age. The sound of his voice, which bespeaks peculiar affability, and the first questions he addressed to me respecting my journey, however, recalled me from my reverie, and I entered at once into the spirit which presided at the interview, alike free from frivolity and haughty reserve. I found him in his conversation ready, rather than fluent; following, rather than leading; unaffected, yet gentlemanly; earnest, yet entertaining; 655and manifesting no desire to display how much he deserved the high reputation which not only Germany, but Europe in general, had simultaneously acknowledged to be his due. He conversed in French, and occasionally in English, particularly when desirous to make me understand the force of his observations on some recent translations of one or two of his works into that language. Faustus was one of these. The translation, by the present noble Secretary for Ireland, of that singular dramatic composition, which for beauty of style, and ingenuity of contrivance, leaves the old play of the same name by Marlowe far behind, seemed not to have given satisfaction to the veteran author. He observed to me, that most assuredly it was not a translation, but an imitation, of what he had written. “Whole sentences of the original,” added he, “have been omitted, and chasms left in the translation, where the most affecting passages should have been inserted to complete the picture. There were probably difficulties in the original which the noble translator might not be able to overcome; few foreigners, indeed, can boast of such mastery of our prodigal idiom, as to be able to convey its meaning with equal richness of expression, and strength of conception, in their own native language; but, in the case of the translation to which I allude, that excuse for imperfection does not exist in many of the parts which Lord Francis Gower has thought proper to omit. No doubt, the choice of expressions in the English translation, the versification, and talent displayed in what is original composition of his lordship’s own well-gifted mind, may be deserving of his countrymen’s applause; but it is as the author of Faustus travesti, and not as the translator of Goethe’s Faustus, that the popular applause has been obtained.”

The patriarch poet seemed far more satisfied with the translation of another of his beautiful dramas, the Tasso, by Mr. Charles Des Vœux. He said, “I understand Eng 656lish à ma manière, quite sufficiently to discover in that gentleman’s recent translation, that he has rendered all my ideas faithfully. Je me lisois moi-même dans la traduction. It is for the English to determine, if, in adhering faithfully to the ideas of the German original, Mr. Des Vœux a conservé les règles et n’a pas trahi le génie de sa langue. Je n’en suis pas juge: peut-être le trouvera-t-on un peu trop Allemande.

* Mr. Des Vœux has since admitted, in a letter to me, the justice of Goethe’s remarks as to the version of Tasso being “un peu trop Allemande;” but he also naturally accounts for it, by the fact that he began and completed his task in Germany, and at that time he had devoted himself exclusively to the reading of German poetry. I am glad, however, to learn that a second edition is soon to appear, free from many Germanisms, which cannot fail to give the English reader as much satisfaction, as Goethe himself seems to have experienced in the perusal of the first edition.

The earliest and best translation from Goethe is William Taylor’s Iphigenia. This gentleman lives at Norwich, and being a provincial, his translation is not known as it deserves. The most famed translator of Goethe is Sir Walter Scott, who translated anonymously Gotz von Berlichingen. One of the best jeux d’esprit published in the Anti-Jacobin is the Rovers, generally ascribed to Mr. Canning. –This is a burlesque drama uniting the plots of Kotzebue’s Stranger and Goethe’s Stella. In Goethe’s play, the hero has two wives, and they agree to share him between them. In Kotzebue’s, the hero takes back a runaway wife. The union of these plots affords matter for pleasantry. Of Goethe’s prose-works, “The Sorrows of Werter” is the most celebrated, though a very early production; but the “Letters from Switzerland,” a continuation of that famous novel, remain untranslated. “Wilhelm Meister” and the continuation have been translated by Carlyle. A third novel, “Elective Affinities,” ought to be translated as well as Goethe’s own life.


The conversation turning, by a natural transition, to the different methods of teaching modern languages, Goethe observed, that he could strongly recommend to my attention a mode of instructing effectually, as well as promptly, young people in any of the living languages, which was successfully adopted in the seminary for young Englishmen at Weimar, and by which the pupils were taught to think in, as well as to learn to read or write a foreign language. In that establishment, in which instruction in the German language is the principal object, the Director, Mr. A––, takes any English work which is most familiar to the students, and dictates to them whole passages from it in German, which, when completed, the students are to read aloud to the Director in English; by which method, he familiarizes them with the relative value and meaning of words in the two idioms, and gives them great facility of translation; and this the more so, as he will sometimes, when they are more advanced, dictate in German, from a well-known English book, whole passages, which he expects the students to write down immediately in English. As we were on the subject of education, an allusion was made, in the course of our conversation on the higher branches of instruction, to the different systems of moral philosophy which had at various times prevailed in Germany. I expressed a desire to know how Goethe, then in the vigour of life, and with an exalted mind, had comported himself towards the proselytes of Kant’s philosophy, during the prevalence of that system? Dr. Froriep, who is ever ready to supply that sort of information which is deduced from extensive reading, and who was present at the interview, observed, that when the system of transcendental metaphysics of the Königsberg philosopher had been nigh raising in Germany the same kind of popular effervescence which had marked the days of Luther, Goethe alone retained his wonted sang-froid, and smiled at the warmth and indignation expressed against the new system by his 658colleagues, Wieland and Herder. With that wisdom, which is so characteristic of his turn of mind, and a foresight worthy of his genius, he expressed an opinion, that the philosophy of Kant should be allowed to have its day, as all things have, and that all would be right again. He lives now to see the propriety of that opinion, and the fulfilment of his prediction.

* I must not omit to mention that in this country Mr. Wirgman, feeling a thorough conviction of the excellence and solidity of the Kantesian Philosophy, has been unremitting in his exertions to implant in England the knowledge of a system, of the truth and value of which he is himself fully convinced. To this end have the labours of this gentleman been incessant for the last thirty years. He is the author of a series of articles in the Encyclopœdia Londinensis, and is, I believe, at present engaged in translating that celebrated work of Kant’s, “The Critic of Pure Reason.”

Throughout this interview, which lasted upwards of an hour, Goethe manifested great eagerness after general information, particularly respecting England and her numerous institutions; and also on the subject of St. Petersburgh, which he looked upon as a city that was fast rising to the rank of the first capital on the Continent, according to the opinion of many intelligent travellers, whom he had seen and conversed with on the subject. In taking leave of him, at length, Goethe put into my hands a small red morocco case, which he hoped I would accept as a souvenir of our meeting; after which I withdrew, with sentiments of increased admiration for this celebrated man. The case contained two bronze medals, the one executed by Brandt of Berlin, the other by Bovy, and both represent the bust of the poet in bold relief, particularly the latter, which is decidedly of superior execution. ]