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Goethe's Attitude after the Napoleonic Wars
« le: 26 octobre 2014, 18:53:20 pm »
Goethe’s Attitude After the Napoleonic Wars

'Not every man has an obligation to mingle in the affairs of the world. There are some who are
developed to such a degree that they are justified in letting the world go its own way and in
refusing to enter public life with a view to reforming it' (1)

Such a man was the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “He applauded when Napoleon ended the chaos of the Revolution by seizing power and establishing a constitution.” In 1813, with Germany intoxicated by the victory at Leipzig, Goethe alone among his countrymen remained unmoved and continued to admire Napoleon, the man who once said of him, “Voilà un homme.”

“Goethe had no great sympathy for the war of liberation which kindled young hearts from
one end of Germany to the other; and when the national enthusiasm rose to its highest pitch, he
buried himself in those optical and morphological studies, which, with increasing years, occupied
more and more of his time and interest.” (2)
In his last decade, he spoke of Napoleon with his secretary, Eckermann, who left a diary of
their conversations. “I lamented that I had never seen him.
“Certainly,” said Goethe, “that also was worth the trouble. What a compendium of the world!”
“Did he look like something?” asked I.“He was something,” replied Goethe; “and he
looked what he was—that was all." (3)

“During the German War of Liberation he found it hard to hate Napoleon and the French.
He explained to Eckermann:
‘How could I, to whom culture and barbarism are alone of importance, hate a nation which is
among the most cultivated on earth, and to which I owe so great a part of my own possessions? There is a stage where national hatred vanishes altogether, and where one stands to a certain extent above the nations, and feels the weal or woe of a neighboring people as
if it were one’s own.’
His generation in Germany never forgave him" (4)

Goethe was a cosmopolitan who spurned the cult of the Middle Ages fostered by the romantics.
This cult, as Goethe suspected, inspired an abnormal interest in the "inhumanness"of the Germans. "
Goethe gave much serious thought to the German character (das Deutschsein), but none to Germany's growth into a unified Reich."

In a monograph on Goethe's political views Professor Wilhelm Mommsen showed that
Goethe did not in the least care for a German Reich and never thought about a renovation of
the defunct Reich. Nor did the Prussian State, the importance of which loomed so large in the
thoughts of nineteenth century German political writers, hold any attraction for him. Goethe
regarded the diversity and plurality of German states and independent German centers as a
positive good.

He expressed his deepest conviction when he wrote to Johann Jakob Hottinger on March
15, 1799: "At a time when everyone is busy creating new Fatherlands, the Fatherland of the
man who thinks without prejudice and can rise above his time is nowhere and everywhere." He
remained true to this faith amidst the patriotic fervor which gripped many Germans fifteen
years later. He did not participate in the then fashionable rejection of cosmopolitanism
(Weltburgerturn) and in the glorification of the nation-state.

At the turn of the nineteenth century Goethe's attitude had been widely shared all
over Europe, and especially in Germany. Few German intellectuals were then nationalists;
many admired Napoleon and saw in him the "prince of peace." Goethe, however, continued
even after 1812 to revere Napoleon and refused to feel any hostility toward the French. As long
as it was possible, he counseled submission to French domination over Germany. (5)

In October, 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Leipzig, the victorious
Prussians and Austrians entered Weimar. The Austrian Field-Marshal, Count Wenzel Joseph
Colloredo, was billeted in Goethe's house, and his host received him decorated with the French
Legion of Honor. A few days later he explained to Humboldt that he could not remove the
distinction which the French Emperor had bestowed upon him, simply because this
Emperor had lost a battle. Goethe's refusal to write patriotic poetry during the War of Liberation was based not only on his dislike of all war poetry, but especially on his sympathy for Napoleon. He was indifferent to the war, not because he did not believe in the possibility of its success, but because he did not think it worth waging. German cultural life seemed to him to thrive under Napoleon as well as, if not better than, it had under German princes. Until 1813 he did not abandon the hope that Napoleon would bring peace to the world.
It was not out of any dislike for Napoleon or for French control, but out of his deep desire for
peace, that Goethe viewed Napoleon's attempts at renewing the war in 1814 and 1815 with
disfavor.

In 1814 Humboldt expressed his surprise that neither Goethe's nor Schiller's sons were eager to volunteer for the War of Liberation, as did many other young Germans of good family.
Goethe was most anxious for his son not to join the forces fighting the French. In this respect he
acted not only as a father, but on principle. He was bitterly opposed to the formation of
patriotic volunteer corps composed of students."Our young people," he wrote to Friedrich von
Trebra on January 5, 1814, "find it most convenient to join the forces and thus become as
much of a nuisance to other honest people as these people have been to us. It is a very enticing occupation, especially as it allows one to gain the reputation of being an accomplished
patriot." Even at the height of nationalist excitement,when the defeat of Napoleon was imminent and the patriotic youth hopefully discussed theproblem of building a new German Reich,
Goethe remained aloof.
To a publicist, Franz Bernhard von Bucholtz, who had asked for his
approval of a patriotic pamphlet, Goethe answered on February 14, 1814: "If I am to be
perfectly sincere I must say that I believe that the greatest service I can render my country is
to continue to point out fairly and calmly the changes in our moral, aesthetic and philosophic
culture which I Witnessed. ... As regards unification and pacification of the German
Reich, we should leave this to the men in power and to those possessed of political wisdom."
His veneration for Napoleon did not diminish with the latter's defeat.

After the defeat of the French Goethe never equated German victory in arms with
moral or cultural superiority. He did not indulge in the widespread German intellectual
arrogance that contrasted French superficiality and immorality with German depth and
spirituality. During the following seventeen years, Goethe emphasized again and again how
much he owed to the French in the development of his mind and readily acknowledged their
moral and intellectual leadership. In his mature years he always felt close to the West and could
not think of Germany as anything but an integral part of it.... Goethe coolly hinted that he
expected the threat to Germany's cultural life to come not from the West but from the East.
When, in the following year, an official invitation induced him to write a festival play to
be performed on the stage of the Berlin Court Theatre in honor of the victorious monarchs his
work, Des Epimenides Erwachen, was free of all patriotic jubilation. Its last stanza, suppressed
at the time, was characteristic of Goethe. It cursed the Germans who set out to imitate
Napoleon's conquering spirit
“A curse on the misguided man Who, void of ruth or shame, Does just as did the Corsican
Under a German name.”
In 1817 the tercentenary of the Reformation was celebrated in a nationalistic spirit by
patriotic German students and intellectuals. For some of the orators the spirit of Luther's
religious reformation and of the "War of Liberation" was one and the same. Goethe
interpreted the Reformation in an equally ahistorical though diametrically opposed spirit.
He insisted on viewing the celebration only as a festival of the purest humanity. He remained
faithful to his ideal to the end. When Napoleon died on May 5, 1821, the news shook Goethe as profoundly as it did many other Europeans.
He was the first German to translate Manzoni's famous ode on the death of Napoleon. Manzoni,
like Goethe, was a man of peace who detested war. His immortalization of Napoleon, in spite of the Emperor's conquests, expressed Goethe's feelings.
Goethe read his own translation of the poem to the Court at Weimar on August 8, 1822.
"What a reading!" wrote one of those present."Goethe seemed transfigured ... his eyes were
burning with an inner fire."
In 1829, in his Studien zur Weltliteratur, Goethe called the French the most stimulating
nation on earth. "I would love to say more," he continued with his typical reticence, knowing
himself very much alone among his German contemporaries, "but one would have to discuss
it at great length to make oneself understood." In his conversations with Eckermann Goethe repeatedly emphasized his love and respect for France, his praise for Paris and his indebtedness to the French Enlightenment.

"Conceive of a city like Paris," he told the younger man on May 3, 1827, "this metropolis of
the world, where . . . men like Moliere, Voltaire, Diderot and the like have kept up a current of
intellectual life which cannot be found anywhere else on the whole earth." Two years before his
death, in discussing the growing German animosity toward France, he asked, "How can I
... hate a nation which is among the most cultivated of the earth and to which I owe so
much of my own cultivation?"

From this particular case Goethe rose to a general consideration of the nature of chauvinism which, as the nineteenth century advanced, had begun to darken the intellectual and moral skies of Europe: "You will always find it rampant where culture is at the lowest level.
But there is a stage of civilization in which it is not possible to hate one's neighbors, where one
stands, so to speak, above nations, and feels the weal or woe of a neighboring people as if it were
one's own. This is the stage of civilization that I long for."

Goethe's scorn was quickly aroused by all efforts at cultural self-sufficiency. In the nineteenth century, the Germans and following in their wake many others in Europe and Asia began to praise and overvalue their own spiritual roots and to glorify their particular autochthonous culture, their Eigenart, grown in the native soil. Writing to Johann Heinrich Mayer, Goethe spoke of the "foolishness of patriotic Germans," who thought they could exist in a cultural vacuum and at the same time appropriate the virtues of all other peoples.
"There is no patriotic art and no patriotic scholarship," we read in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, "both belong, like everything else of great value, to the whole of mankind. Art and scholarship can be promoted only by the free and general intercourse of all contemporaries building on what has come down to them from the past." (6)

Meeting with Napoleon recounted by Goethe

The second [of October, 1808]. Marshal Lannes and minister Maret have spoken about me, I think,
favourably. I have known the former since 1806. I have been summoned to the Emperor for
eleven o'clock in the morning. A fat chamberlain, Monsieur Pole, tells me to wait. The crowds
disappear. I am introduced to Savary and Talleyrand.I am summoned into the emperor's study.
At the same time, Daru has his presence announced. He is immediately brought in.
This makes me hesitate. I am summoned a second time. I enter. The emperor is seated at a large circular table. He is eating breakfast. On his right, at some distance from the table, is Talleyrand; on his left, Daru, with whom he discusses taxes. The emperor signals to me to approach. I remain standing in front of him at a suitable distance. After looking at me for a moment,
he said: “You are a man.” I bowed my head. He said to me: “How old are you?” “Sixty.” “You are well preserved. You have written some tragedies.” I replied the bare essentials. Daru began to speak. In an attempt to flatter the Germans, to whom he was obliged to do so much harm, he had learned a little about our literature. He was furthermore versed in Latin literature and had even translated Horace. When he spoke of me, his words were more or less those which my Berlin friends would have used. I recognised their way of seeing things and their feelings. He added that I had translated some French works and, for example, Voltaire's Mahomet. The emperor said: “That is not a good work,” and then went on in detail about how it was very unfitting for the conqueror of the world to paint such an unfavourable portrait of himself.

He then brought the conversation to Werther, which he must have studied in detail. After several perfectly apposite observations, he mentioned a specific part and said: “Why did you do that? It is not natural. And he spoke at length on this and with great perspicacity.” I listened, my face calm, and I replied, with a satisfied smile, that I was unaware whether anyone had ever made the same criticism, but that I found it perfectly justified, and that I agreed that you could find fault with this passage's lack of verity. “But”, I added, “a poet can be excused for taking refuge in an artifice which is hard to spot, when he wants to produce specific effects which cannot be created simply and naturally.” The emperor seemed to agree with me; he returned to drama and made some very sensible remarks, remarks which could only have come from someone who had observed the tragic stage with a great deal of attention such as a criminal judge might do—someone who felt very deeply how far French theatre had strayed from the natural and
true. He went on to talk about destiny plays, criticising them. They belonged to the dark ages.
“Why these days do they keep giving us destiny he said. “There's no destiny, only politics.”








____________________________________________
1 Wilhelm, The I Ching, Hexagram 18, page 78.
2 Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Ed., Vol. 12, p. 186
3 Conversations with Eckermann, p. 103
4 Durant, The Age of Napoleon, p. 623
5 Hans Kohn, The Mind of Germany, p. 36
6 Hans Kohn  The Mind of Germany, pp. 37-40.
« Modifié: 26 octobre 2014, 18:54:59 pm par zu Pferd »
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Re : Goethe's Attitude after the Napoleonic Wars
« Réponse #1 le: 27 octobre 2014, 10:14:18 am »
Hi zu Pferd,

Thank you for this very interesting topic about Geothe's philosophical and political points of view.

Théo