Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, born Johann Wolfgang Goethe (28 August 1749–22 March 1832) was a German polymath: he was a painter, novelist, dramatist, poet, humanist, scientist, philosopher, and for ten years chief minister of state at Weimar.
Goethe was one of the paramount figures of German literature and the movement of German classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; this movement coincides with Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, Sensibility ("Empfindsamkeit"), and Romanticism, in all of which he participated to varying degrees. The author of Faust and Theory of Colours, he inspired Darwin with his independent discovery of the human premaxilla jaw bones and focus on evolutionary ideas. Goethe's influence spread across Europe, and for the next century his works were a primary source of inspiration in music, drama, poetry, and even philosophy.

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Goethe Quotes

A clever man commits no minor blunders.

A correct answer is like an affectionate kiss.

A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.

A man's manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.

A noble person attracts noble people, and knows how to hold on to them.

A person hears only what they understand.

A person places themselves on a level with the ones they praise.

A purpose you impart is no longer your own.

A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.

A useless life is an early death.

Age merely shows what children we remain.

Alas! sorrow from happiness is oft evolved.

All intelligent thoughts have already been thought; what is necessary is only to try to think them again.

All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is all my own.

All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of life springs ever green.

All things are only transitory.

An unused life is an early death.

As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.

Be above it! Make the world serve your purpose, but do not serve it.

Be generous with kindly words, especially about those who are absent.

Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever.

Beauty is everywhere a welcome guest.

Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image.

Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing.

Certain defects are necessary for the existence of individuality.

Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.

Character develops itself in the stream of life.

Character is formed in the stormy billows of the world.

Character, in great and little things, means carrying through what you feel able to do.

Common sense is the genius of humanity.

Correction does much, but encouragement does more.

Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.

Death is a commingling of eternity with time; in the death of a good man, eternity is seen looking through time.

Deeply earnest and thoughtful people stand on shaky footing with the public.

Destiny grants us our wishes, but in its own way, in order to give us something beyond our wishes.

Devote each day to the object then in time and every evening will find something done.

Divide and rule, the politician cries; unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.

Do not give in too much to feelings. A overly sensitive heart is an unhappy possession on this shaky earth.

Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.

Every person above the ordinary has a certain mission that they are called to fulfill.

Every spoken word arouses our self-will.

Every step of life shows much caution is required.

Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.

Everyone hears only what he understands.

Everything in the world may be endured except continual prosperity.

Few people have the imagination for reality.

First and last, what is demanded of genius is love of truth.

For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.

For just when ideas fail, a word comes in to save the situation.

Fresh activity is the only means of overcoming adversity.

Girls we love for what they are; young men for what they promise to be.

Happiness is a ball after which we run wherever it rolls, and we push it with our feet when it stops.

Hatred is active, and envy passive dislike; there is but one step from envy to hate.

Hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture.

He is dead in this world who has no belief in another.

He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home.

He only earns his freedom and his life Who takes them every day by storm.

He who does not think much of himself is much more esteemed than he imagines.

He who enjoys doing and enjoys what he has done is happy.

He who has a task to perform must know how to take sides, or he is quite unworthy of it.

He who is plenteously provided for from within, needs but little from without.

I call architecture frozen music.

I can tell you, honest friend, what to believe: believe life; it teaches better that book or orator.

I do not know myself, and God forbid that I should.

I think that I am better than the people who are trying to reform me.

I will listen to anyone's convictions, but pray keep your doubts to yourself.

If a man or woman is born ten years sooner or later, their whole aspect and performance shall be different.

If a man writes a book, let him set down only what he knows. I have guesses enough of my own.

If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.

If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.

If I love you, what does that matter to you!

If I say to the moment: 'Stay now! You are so beautiful'!

If you modestly enjoy your fame you are not unworthy to rank with the holy.

If you must tell me your opinions, tell me what you believe in. I have plenty of doubts of my own.

If you start to think of your physical and moral condition, you usually find that you are sick.

If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.

Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.

In art the best is good enough.

In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm... in the real world all rests on perseverance.

It is better to be deceived by one's friends than to deceive them.

It is in self-limitation that a master first shows himself.

It is not doing the thing we like to do, but liking the thing we have to do, that makes life blessed.

It is the strange fate of man, that even in the greatest of evils the fear of the worst continues to haunt him.

It seems to never occur to fools that merit and good fortune are closely united.

Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.

Know thyself? If I knew myself I would run away.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.

Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.

Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.

Life is the childhood of our immortality.

Live dangerously and you live right.

Love and desire are the spirit's wings to great deeds.

Love can do much, but duty more.

Love does not dominate; it cultivates.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.

Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.

Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.

Mastery passes often for egotism.

Men show their character in nothing more clearly than what they think laughable.

My poor head is in such a whirl, my mind is all in bits.

Mysteries are not necessarily miracles.

Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and attaches her curse on all inaction.

No one has ever learned fully to know themselves.

No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others.

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.

Nothing is more fearful than imagination without taste.

Nothing is more terrible than to see ignorance in action.

Nothing is to be rated higher than the value of the day.

Nothing is worth more than this day.

Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at.

Objects in pictures should so be arranged as by their very position to tell their own story.

On all the peaks lies peace.

One always has time enough, if one will apply it well.

One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.

One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.

Passions are vices or virtues to their highest powers.

Personality is everything in art and poetry.

Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.

Precaution is better than cure.

Science arose from poetry... when times change the two can meet again on a higher level as friends.

Self-knowledge comes from knowing other men.

Sowing is not as difficult as reaping.

Strike the dog dead, it's but a critic!

Superstition is the poetry of life.

Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.

Talents are best nurtured in solitude. Character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.

Talk well of the absent whenever you have the opportunity.

The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.

The best government is that which teaches us to govern ourselves.

The biggest problem with every art is by the use of appearance to create a loftier reality.

The Christian religion, though scattered and abroad will in the end gather itself together at the foot of the cross.

The coward only threatens when he is safe.

The credit of advancing science has always been due to individuals and never to the age.

The decline of literature indicates the decline of a nation.

The deed is everything, the glory is naught.

The deed is everything, the glory naught.

The formation of one's character ought to be everyone's chief aim.

The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.

The human mind will not be confined to any limits.

The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything.

The little man is still a man.

The man who occupies the first place seldom plays the principal part.

The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.

The mediator of the inexpressible is the work of art.

The most happy man is he who knows how to bring into relation the end and beginning of his life.

The people who are absent are the ideal; those who are present seem to be quite commonplace.

The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.

The right man is the one who seizes the moment.

The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.

The unnatural, that too is natural.

The world remains ever the same.

There is a courtesy of the heart; it is allied to love. From its springs the purest courtesy in the outward behavior.

There is nothing in the world more shameful than establishing one's self on lies and fables.

There is nothing in which people more betray their character than in what they laugh at.

There is nothing more frightful than imagination without taste.

They travel with a constant companion, autumn.

Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.

Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.

This is the highest wisdom that I own; freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew.

Those who hope for no other life are dead even for this.

Three may keep counsel, if two are away.

To appreciate the noble is a gain which can never be torn from us.

To create something you must be something.

To hard necessity ones will and fancy must conform.

To rule is easy, to govern difficult.

To the person with a firm purpose all men and things are servants.

To witness two lovers is a spectacle for the gods.

Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.

Unlike grown ups, children have little need to deceive themselves.

Upon the creatures we have made, we are, ourselves, at last, dependent.

We always have time enough, if we will but use it aright.

We are never deceived; we deceive ourselves.

We are never further from what we wish than when we believe that we have what we wished for.

We can always redeem the man who aspires and strives.

We can't form our children on our own concepts; we must take them and love them as God gives them to us.

We cannot fashion our children after our desires, we must have them and love them as God has given them to us.

We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe.

We don't get to know people when they come to us; we must go to them to find out what they are like.

We know accurately only when we know little, with knowledge doubt increases.

We will burn that bridge when we come to it.

What by a straight path cannot be reached by crooked ways is never won.

What I possess I would gladly retain. Change amuses the mind, yet scarcely profits.

What is important in life is life, and not the result of life.

What is my life if I am no longer useful to others.

What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.

What life half gives a man, posterity gives entirely.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

Whatever you cannot understand, you cannot possess.

When ideas fail, words come in very handy.

Who is the most sensible person? The one who finds what is to their own advantage in all that happens to them.

Who is the wisest man? He who neither knows or wishes for anything else than what happens.

Whoever wishes to keep a secret must hide the fact that he possesses one.

Wisdom is found only in truth.

Wood burns because it has the proper stuff in it; and a man becomes famous because he has the proper stuff in him.

Quotes originally compiled by

Goethe Biography


Johann Wolfgang Goethe is born on August 28th in Frankfurt am Main. His parents are the Imperial Councillor Johann Kaspar Goethe and the mayor's daughter Katharina Elisabeth Textor. On August 29th Goethe is baptisized as Protestant.

Birth of his sister Cornelia.

At first he attends a public school, but he is being taught by private teachers in the family's home in the "Großer Hirschgraben" Street.

During the War of Seven Years French troops occupy Frankfurt. In the Goethes' house the French city governor Royal Lieutenant Marquis Thornac erects his head quarters. In this time (until 1763) young Goethe frequently visits the theater.

According to his father's wishes Goethe takes up law studies at the University of Leipzig though He himself would have preferred the "Fine Arts" (Poetry and Rhetoric).

He falls in love with Anna Katharina (Käthchen) Schönkopf, the daughter of a Leipzig hostel owner. The joyful collection of poems "Annette" is written. One of his poems is printed in the Frankfurt periodical "Die Sichtbaren" (The Visibles) without Goethe's ap-proval.

His relation to Käthchen Schönkopf breaks up. Psychic und physical breakdown of Goethes, serious lung disease. "Leipziger Liederbuch": (Leipzig Songbook) ten poems to melodies composed by Bernhard Theodor Breitkopf.

During his long and severe infection he is being nursed by Susanne Katharina von Klettenberg, a relative of his mother's, who introduces him to protestant piety and encourages his lecture of pansophic-alchimistic works in the neoplatonic tradition (Paracelsus, Basilius Valentinus, Georg v. Welling,....).

He continues his law studies in Strasbourg. Attends lectures in history, political sciences, anatomy, surgery and chemistry.

Gets to know the five-year-older poet, philosoph und theologian Johann Gottfried Herder, Avantgardist of the STURM & DRANG era and meets with him on a daily basis from September 1770 to April 1771.

In October relation to the Sessenheim priest's daughter Friederike Brion, manifest of his love is the so called Sesenheimer Lyrik of 1770/71. "Neue Lieder in Melodien gesetzt von B.T.Breitkopf", first printed anthology of Goethe's poems..

On behalf of Herder Goethe collects Folk songs of the Alsace.

After being promoted to "licentitatus juris" he returns to Frankfurt, where he prepares for the profession of lawyer during the next years.

Goethe writes editorials for the "Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen" on the subjects of law, rhetorics und poetics.

He becomes a member of the Darmstadt Circle of Sensibles ("Gemeinschaft der Heiligen", à la Dead poets' society) his Pseudonym is "Der Wanderer".

Relation to the Novellist Sophie von La Roche and her daughter Maximiliane.

During his apprenticeship at the Reichskammergericht (Imperial Court of Justice) in Wetzlar, he gets to know Charlotte Buff.

The great hymns "Wanderers Sturmlied" and "Der Wanderer" are written.

"Götz von Berlichingen", first versions of the play in five acts (prose) on the knight Götz von Berlichingen, whose powerful character stands in contrast to the weakness and hypocrisy of the present. Published by Goethe himself, it premiered April 14 1774 in Berlin.

Goethe is a frequent visitor to the home of Maximiliane von La Roche who now is married but whom Goethe still feels very passionately for. Her husband and Goethe fight and argue.

The two hymns "Prometheus" and "Ganymed" are written.

He hikes along the Lahn River and the Rhine together with the Swiss author J.K. Lavater and the teacher J.B. Basedow.

The satire "Götter, Helden und Wieland" about the rationalist writer Christoph Martin Wieland is published as well as "Clavigo", a tragedy in five acts (Prosa) about mar-riage and faithfulness: the young writer Clavigo believes that the "duties of common men" do not apply to him, his adultery causes the death of his lover Marie and he is shot by her brother. Premiers August 23 in Hamburg.

"Die Leiden des jungen Werthers", ("The sorrows of young Werther") a novel written in monologue letters becomes a worldwide success, Goethe becomes famous and admired at once. The STURM & DRANG era has reached its apotheosis.

Goethe is visited by many personalities from Europe's nobility, among them the princes Karl August und Konstantin von Sachsen-Weimar.

Engaged with the Frankfurt banker's daughter Lili Schönemann, engagement dissolved after half a year. Journey to Switzerland.

Follows an invitation of the new Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar (s.above) to visit Weimar.

"Erwin und Elmire. Ein Schauspiel mit Gesang", a musical play is created.

Becomes close friend to Charlotte von Stein, wife of one of the Duke's ministers.

Moves home to Weimar into the "Gartenhaus am Stern", a gift from the Duke.

He is granted the Weimar citizenship and is appointed "Geheimer Legationsrat" with a seat and a vote in the state's highest office. Thus Goethe's living is secured, he receives regular payments. He has his friend Herder come to the Weimar court as well.

"Claudine von Villa Bella. Ein Schauspiel mit Gesang" ,a musical play is written.

"Stella. Ein Schauspiel für Liebende", play in five acts concerning a "threesome" relationship, evokes a scandal and is outlawed in Hamburg.

"Die Geschwister", a play in one act about alleged love between brother and sister is also written.

Death of his sister Cornelia.

Trip into the Harz mountains.

Journey to Potsdam and Berlin accompanied by Duke Karl August.

Goethe is appointed Head of the Commission for War and Road Construction. Second trip to Switzerland in company of the duke.

"Iphigenie", first version (prose) of the play published in 1787 as "Ipigenie auf Tauris" taking up a theme of Greek mythology: Iphigenie, the daughter of King Agamemnon is in exile on Tauris as a temple priestess, she is saved by her brother Orest and brought back home.

Mineralogical studies and lectures about human anatomy at the "Freien Zeichen-Schule" (Liberal School of Drawing) in Weimar.

Goethe is conferred a title of nobility ("von Goethe"!) by Emperor Joseph II.

Death of his father.

Moves to a house at the "Frauenplan" in Weimar, which remains his home until his demise.

Is promoted to senior officer in the Internal Revenue Service.

The ballad "Erlkönig" is written.

Joins the "Illuminatenorden" (Secret Society à la Freemasons).

Second trip into the Harz.

Goethe discovers a inter-jaw bone of the human skull.

Third Harz-journey.

Scientific studies.

First stay at the Karlsbad spa (Bohemia).

First journey to Italy: From Karlsbad to Rome. In Rome he is in contact with a circle of German artists. Literary theory dates this journey as the beginning of the KLASSIK era of German literature, being evoked by the impression of Roman and Greek sculpture, architecture and literature.

Carnival in Rome. Pursues geological and botanical studies in Naples and Sicily. Ascends Mount Vesuv, returns to Rome.

"Iphigenie auf Tauris", verse version of the 1779 play, first drama of the German Klassik.

Returns to Weimar. Breaks up with Charlotte von Stein. Lives together with Christiane Vulpius.

First contact to Friedrich Schiller, whom he helps to get at tenure as a professor for history at Jena University.

"Egmont", tragedy in five acts about Count Egmont who fights for Dutch indepen-dence and is executed by the Spanish in 1568.

Second italian journey to Venice where his "Venetianischen Epigramme" are written.

"Torquato Tasso", play in five acts. The Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544-95) serves as an example to illustrate the conflicts between creative men and society. Reality drives Tasso to despair but he finds consolation in his works.

"Faust. Ein Fragment", fragment of a drama (Urfaust was already conceived in 1774).

Takes part in a campaign against the French Revolutionary troops together with the duke.

Accompanies the duke following his wish to the siege of Mainz, where a jacobinian republic had been installed with the aid of French revolutionaries.

"Der Bürgergeneral", comedy in one act. Critique of the French Revolution.

Begin of the friendship with Friedrich Schiller after a discussion on the observation and description of nation and how to hold apart idea and experience.

Second journey to Karlsbad.

"Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre", novel depicting the ideal of the Klassik: Forming the individual as a member of society. Published in four volumes.

"Römische Elegien", Circle of poems imitating in terms of form and content the antique elegies. Their central theme is love - Amor = Roma.

Several meetings with Friedrich von Schlegel who defines the aesthetic of the Klassik.

Third trip to Switzerland. Heads the ducal libraries of Jena and Weimar.

"Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1798" anthology published by Schiller including many ballads written in a "competition of poets" between Goethe and Schiller, i.e. "Der Zauberlehrling" (The Sorcerer's apprentice).

The first volume of "Propyläen. Eine periodische Schrift" a literary periodical edited by Goethe is published by Cotta, Leipzig. In combination with Schiller's literary magazine "Die Horen" it becomes the most important means for prolifer-ating the ideals of the so called WEIMARER KLASSIK.

Schiller moves to Weimar.

HOCHKLASSIK, the apotheosis of the Klassik era commences.

Goethe and Schiller meet every forthnight at Goethe's.

Schiller dies.

"Winckelmann und sein Jahrhundert. In Briefen und Aufsätzen herausgege-ben von Goethe" a collection of articles of the archeologist and art historianl Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who had defined the aesthetic ideal of the German Klassik.

Marries Christiane Vulpius.

During several visits at a Jena librarian's Goethe's fatherly affection towards the librarian's eighteen year old foster daughter Minna Herzlieb changes to passionate love. She probably is the real-life version of Ottilie in the novel "Die Wahlver-wandtschaften" (1809)

Death of his mother.

During a congress of monarchs in Erfurt Goethe meets with Napoleon Bonaparte, a fan of his, who asks Goethe to move to Paris.

"Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil". The fate of Faust, an enquiring genius, is de-picted as part of a superhuman deal between god and Mephistopheles, the em-bodiment of evil, the negative principle. Goethe's masterpiece.

"Die Wahlverwandschaften", novel, transferring the features of chemical elements to the relationship of two couples.

"Aus meinem Leben. Dichtung und Wahrheit", autobiography, published in four parts (1811, 1812, 1814, 1831 and posthumous 1833).

Meets Ludwig van Beethoven several times, begins correspondence with the writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (endures until 1828).

First journey to the rivers Rhine, Main and Neckar: the Boisserée-Collection of medieval art at Heidelberg leaves a deep impression.

Second trip to Rhine, Main and Neckar: together with the Prussian reformer Karl von und zum Stein Goethe visits the unfinished Dom of Cologne and the Wallraf-Collection of art. Meets the Grimms, the artist family Brentano and the Frankfurt patrician and art lover Städel.

Goethe is appointed minister.

"Shakespeare und kein Ende", essay on the reception of the Bard's works in Germany.

His wife Christiane dies.

"Italiänische Reise", autobiographical work on his Italian journey 1786-88, published in two volumes as a sequel to his autobiography bearing the title "Aus meinem Leben. Zweiter Abteilung Erster und Zweiter Teil".

Studies Indian literature.

Travels to Marienbad (Bohemia): there he meets Amalie von Levetzow and her three daughters, among them the 18 year old Ulrike, who, Goethe (who now is 72 years old!!!) proposes a marriage; after first having it thought to be a joke, she then refuses.

"Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre oder Die Entsagenden", novel, an "odysee of learning": Wilhelm becomes a surgeon and finds his place as individual in society.

Franz Schubert sends Goethe a musical version of Goethe's poems "An Schwager Kronos", "An Mignon" and "Ganymed", Goethe leaves it unanswered.

He is awarded a honorary Ph.D by the Jena University Law School.

Duke Karl August dies.

"Briefwechsel zwischen Schiller und Goethe in den Jahren 1794 bis 1805", the correspondence between Goethe and Schiller is published by Goethe, dedicated to King Ludwig I. of Bavaria. Central subject is the conception of a comprehensive artistic theory.

First complete performance of "Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil" at the Braunschweig National Theater.

Goethe's son August dies in Rome.

Goethe suffers from a lung disease and is severely weakened.

He brings "Faust (Zweiter Teil)" to an end, seals the manuscript and orders it to be published after his death.

He authorizes his secretary Eckermann to publish his estate.

Goethe dies March 22 in Weimar and is buried in the ducal tomb.

Chronological biography originally compiled by

(For more information see Wikipedia)


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