Gespräche mit Goethe

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Gespräche mit Goethe (translation: Conversations with Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann) (vols: i. and ii. 1836; vol. iii. 1848) is a book by Johann Peter Eckermann recording his conversations with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe during the last nine years of the latter's life, while Eckermann served as Goethe's personal secretary. It was first released in 1836 and substantially augmented in 1848.

Margaret Fuller translated (and abridged) the first volume into English in 1838 to great acclaim. Subsequent translators, however, have taken great liberty with Eckermann's work, greatly reducing the autobiographical material and substantially altering his prose, rather than offering faithful renderings in English.[citation needed] Some editions go so far as to publish the book as Conversations with Eckermann, with Goethe listed as the author. This practice mistakenly implies Eckermann played a role of editor rather than author; on the contrary, the book is very frank about its point of view. Eckermann includes much autobiographical material and clearly states that his "conversations" are not word-for-word transcriptions, but reconstructions based on memory.

Eckermann published the book at a time when Goethe's popularity was diminishing in Germany, and the book initially sold poorly there. It rapidly became very popular among international readers and subsequently played an important role in reviving interest in and appreciation of Goethe's work both in Germany and around the world.

Nietzsche called it "the best German book there is [dem besten deutschen Buche, das es gibt]." It is frequently compared to Boswell's Life of Johnson.

Here are a few samples of the writing.

November 24, 1824. In a conversation this evening concerning Roman and Greek history, Goethe said, "Roman history is certainly no longer suited to our time. We have become too humane for the triumphs of Cæsar to be anything but repellent to us. So also does Greek history offer little to allure us. The resistance to a foreign enemy is indeed glorious, but the constant civil wars of states against each other are intolerable. Besides, the history of our own time is overwhelmingly important. The battles of Leipzig and Waterloo eclipse Marathon, and such heroes as Blücher and Wellington are rivals of those of antiquity." .... Sunday, March 11, 1832 "We do not at all know," continued Goethe, "all that we owe to Luther and the Reformation generally. We are emancipated from the fetters of spiritual narrowness. In consequence of our increasing culture, we have become capable of reverting to the fountain-head, and of comprehending Christianity in its purity. We have again the courage to stand with firm feet upon God's earth, and to realise our divinely endowed human nature. Let spiritual culture ever go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on ever gaining in breadth and depth, and let the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity as it shines and gleams in the Gospel! "But the more effectually we Protestants advance in our noble development, so much the more rapidly will the Catholics follow. As soon as they feel themselves caught in the current of enlightenment, they must go on to the point where all is but one."

  • From World's Greatest Books Vol IX


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