Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > German
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XII: German
 
Satanic Advice to a Student
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
 
From “Faust,” Part I

MEPHISTOPHELES, in Faust’s Gown, and STUDENT.

Stu.  But recently I’ve quitted home;
  Full of devotion am I come,
  A man to see and hear, whose name—
  With reverence—is known to fame.
Meph.  Your courtesy much flatters me!        5
  A man like other men you see;
  Pray, have you yet applied elsewhere?
Stu.  I would entreat your friendly care!
  I’ve youthful blood and courage high;
  Of gold I bring a fair supply;        10
  To let me go, my mother was not fain;
  But here I longed true knowledge to attain.
Meph.  You’ve hit upon the very place.
Stu.  And yet my steps I would retrace.
  These walls, this melancholy room,        15
  O’erpower me with a sense of gloom.
  The space is narrow; nothing green,
  No friendly tree is to be seen;
  And in these halls, with benches lined,
  Sight, hearing, fail; fails, too, my mind.        20
Meph.  It all depends on habit. Thus, at first,
  The infant takes not kindly to the breast,
  But before long, its eager thirst
  Is fain to slake with hearty zest.
  Thus at the breasts of wisdom day by day        25
  With keener relish you’ll your thirst allay.
Stu.  Upon her neck I fain would hang with joy;
  To reach her, say, what means must I employ?
Meph.  Explain, ere further time we lose,
  What special faculty you choose.        30
Stu.  Profoundly learnèd I would grow;
  What heaven contains would comprehend;
  O’er earth’s wide realm my gaze extend;
  Nature and science I desire to know.
Meph.  You are upon the proper track, I find;        35
  Take heed, let nothing dissipate your mind.
Stu.  My heart and soul are in the chase!
  Though, to be sure, I fain would seize
  On pleasant summer holidays
  A little liberty and careless ease.        40
Meph.  Use well your time, so rapidly it flies.
  Method will teach you time to win;
  Hence, my young friend, I would advise,
  With logic’s study to begin.
  Then will your mind be so well braced,        45
  In Spanish boots so tightly laced,
  That on ’twill circumspectly creep,
  Thought’s beaten track securely keep;
  Nor will it, ignis-fatuus like,
  Into the path of error strike.        50
  Then many a day they’ll teach you how
  The mind’s spontaneous acts, till now
  As eating and as drinking free,
  Require a process: one, two, three!
  In truth, the subtle web of thought        55
  Is like the weaver’s fabric wrought:
  One treadle moves a thousand lines,
  Swift dart the shuttles to and fro,
  Unseen the threads together flow,
  A thousand knots one stroke combines.        60
  Then forward steps your sage to show,
  And prove to you, it must be so;
  The first being so, and so the second,
  The third and fourth deduc’d we see;
  And if there were no first and second,        65
  Nor third nor fourth would ever be.
  This, scholars of all countries prize,
  Yet ’mong themselves no weavers rise.
  He who would know and treat of aught alive,
  Seeks first the living spirit thence to drive;        70
  Then are the lifeless fragments in his hand,
  There only fails, alas! the spirit-band.
  This process, chemists name, in learned thesis,
  Mocking themselves, Naturæ encheiresis.
Stu.  Your words I cannot fully comprehend.        75
Meph.  In a short time you will improve, my friend,
  When of scholastic forms you learn the use,
  And how by method all things to reduce.
Stu.  So doth all this my brain confound,
  As if a mill-wheel there were turning round.        80
Meph.  And next, before aught else you learn,
  You must with zeal to metaphysics turn.
  There see that you profoundly comprehend
  What doth the limit of man’s brain transcend;
  For that which is or is not in the head,        85
  A sounding phrase will serve you in good stead.
  But, before all, strive this half year
  From one fix’d order ne’er to swerve.
  Five lectures daily you must hear;
  The hour always punctually observe!        90
  Yourself with studious zeal prepare,
  And closely in your manual look;
  Hereby may you be quite aware
  That all the lect’rer utters standeth in the book.
  Still, write away without cessation,        95
  As at the Holy Ghost’s dictation!
Stu.  This, sir, a second time you need not say.
  Your counsel I appreciate quite;
  What we possess in black and white,
  We can in peace and comfort bear away.        100
Meph.  A faculty I pray you name.
Stu.  For jurisprudence some distaste I own.
Meph.  To me this branch of science is well known,
  And hence I cannot your repugnance blame.
  Customs and laws in every place,        105
  Like a disease, an heirloom dread,
  Still trail their curse from race to race,
  And furtively abroad they spread.
  To nonsense, reason’s self, they turn;
  Beneficence becomes a pest;        110
  Wo unto thee, that thou’rt a grandson born!
  As for the law born with us, unexpressed,
  That law, alas, none careth to discern!
Stu.  You deepen my dislike. The youth
  Whom you instruct, is blest, in sooth.        115
  To try theology I feel inclined.
Meph.  I would not lead you willingly astray,
  But as regards this science, you will find,
  So hard it is to shun the erring way,
  And so much hidden poison lies therein,        120
  Which scarce you can discern from medicine.
  Here, too, it is the best to listen but to one,
  And by the master’s words to swear alone.
  To sum up all: To words hold fast!
  Then the safe gate securely pass’d,        125
  You’ll reach the fane of certainty at last.
Stu.  But then, some meaning must the words convey.
Meph.  Right! But o’eranxious thought you’ll find of no avail,
  For there, precisely where ideas fail,
  A word comes opportunely into play.        130
  Most admirable weapons words are found;
  On words a system we securely ground;
  In words we can conveniently believe,
  Nor of a single jot can we a word bereave.
Stu.  Your pardon for my importunity,        135
  Yet once more must I trouble you:
  On medicine, I’ll thank you to supply
  A pregnant utterance or two.
  Three years! How brief the appointed tide!
  The field, Heaven knows, is all too wide!        140
  If but a friendly hint be thrown,
  ’Tis easier then to feel one’s way.
Meph.  (aside).  I’m weary of the dry pedantic tone,
  And must again the genuine devil play.—
  Of medicine the spirit’s caught with ease;        145
  The great and little world you study through,
  That things may then their course pursue,
  As Heaven please.
  In vain abroad you range through science’ ample space;
  Each man learns only that which learn he can;        150
  Who knows the moment to embrace,
  He is your proper man.
  In person you are tolerably made,
  Nor in assurance will you be deficient;
  Self-confidence acquire; be not afraid;        155
  Others will then esteem you a proficient.
  Learn chiefly with the other sex to deal!
  Their thousand “Ahs” and “Ohs,”
  These the sage doctor knows,
  And only from one point need heal.        160
  Assume a decent tone of courteous ease;
  You have them, then, to humor as you please.
  First a diploma must belief infuse
  That you in your profession take the lead;
  You then at once those easy freedoms use        165
  For which another many a year must plead.
  Learn how to feel with nice address
  The dainty wrist, and how to press,
  With ardent, furtive glance, the slender waist,
  To feel how tightly it is laced.        170
Stu.  There is some sense in that! One sees the how and why.
Meph.  Gray is, young friend, all theory,
  And green of life the golden tree.
Stu.  I swear it seemeth like a dream to me.
  May I some future time repeat my visit,        175
  To hear on what your wisdom grounds your views?
Meph.  Command my humble service when you choose.
 
 
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