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This article is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

Goethe Observed and Observing Idris Parry


The 150th anniversary of Goethe's death fell on 22 March 1982. In an essay on art he says that the man who tries to be general will end up by achieving nothing at all. These translations of utterances by Goethe are offered as particular indications of character. Goethe was only 22, a student at Strasbourg, when a schoolboy from his home town of Frankfurt wrote to him for advice. This is part of Goethe's reply, dated 24 August 1772:


To see the world properly you shouldn't think of it as either worse or better than it is. Love and hatred are closely connected, and both distort our vision The thing to do is to look at everything as attentively as possible, to inscribe all things in our memory, never to let a day go by without acquiring something. Then apply oneself to those branches of knowledge which give the mind a definite direction, compare things, determine values -that's what we have to do now. At the same time we mustn't want to be something but strive to become everything; and especially we mustn't stand still and rest more often than weariness of mind and body demands.


Karl Friedrich Zelter was a professor of music and one of Goethe's closest friends in the last 25 years of his life. Zelter died in the same year as Goethe, 1832. This is part of a letter Goethe wrote on 3 December 1812 ...


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