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This report is taken from PN Review 51, Volume 13 Number 1, September - October 1986.

Comment C.H. Sisson
'Like all these things talked about in the world nowadays,' said Goethe, who had just sat down to a meal, 'it's nothing but a nasty mess, and perhaps none of you knows, where it comes from. I will explain it to you.' Of course nobody did know or at any rate, as is usual at these many meal-times and other social occasions recorded by Eckermann, no one put up his hand. So Goethe explained - on this particular occasion, on 20 June 1827, the doctrine of Grace and Good Works. Another time it would be a point of geology, or the ways trees grow. Eckermann must have been a hand-book for the Victorian father who wanted to be sure that he left no stone unturned in the education of his children, as they marched out with him on a country walk, or sat at table without being so distracted by food that they could not take in some higher matter with it. 'The first thing is to learn to master oneself - incidentally the first of many excerpts taken from Eckermann by Matthew Arnold, who, however, laid them beside comparable dicta from Epictetus and Confucius. But there are more personal touches in the Gespräche. 'You on your heath ...' as Goethe said with kindly contempt to Eckermann, to account for some enjoyable narrowness in the latter's view of the world. 'Dear child' - on another occasion, 11 October 1828, as he took that man of inexhaustible patience to one side to ...


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