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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘On Germany’
By Madame de Staël (1766–1817)
 
Goethe

GOETHE might represent the whole body of German literature: not but that there are in it other writers superior to him in some respects, but in himself alone he unites all that distinguishes the German genius; and no one is as remarkable as he for the kind of imagination which the Italians, the English, and the French do not at all possess….  1
  When one succeeds in making Goethe talk he is admirable: his eloquence is rich with thought; his gayety is full of grace and of wisdom; his imagination is excited by external objects as was that of ancient artists; and none the less his reason has only too completely the full development of our own times. Nothing disturbs the strength of his brain; and the irregularities of his very nature—his ill-humor, his embarrassment, his constraint—pass like clouds beneath the summit of the mountain to which his genius has attained….  2
  Goethe has no longer that contagious ardor which was the inspiration of ‘Werther’; but the warmth of his thought still suffices to vivify his writings. One feels that he is no longer touched by life,—that he paints it from a distance: he attaches more value now to the pictures he presents to us than to the emotions he himself experiences; time has made of him only a spectator. When he still played an active part in scenes of passion,—when his own heart suffered,—his writings produced a more vivid impression.  3
  As one always believes in the ideal of one’s own abilities, Goethe maintains at present that the author should be calm even when he composes a passionate work, and that the artist must preserve his composure if he would act most strongly on the imagination of his readers. Perhaps he would not have held this opinion in his early youth; perhaps then he was possessed by his genius instead of being the master of it; perhaps he felt then that since what is sublime and what is divine exist but momentarily in the heart of man, the poet is inferior to the inspiration that animates him, and that he cannot criticize it without destroying it.  4
  In first seeing him, one is astonished in finding something of coldness and of stiffness in the author of ‘Werther’; but when he has graciously become at ease, the play of his imagination completely does away with the previous constraint. The intelligence of this man is universal, and impartial because it is universal: for there is no indifference in his impartiality. He is a double existence, a double power, a double light, which illuminates both sides of a subject simultaneously. When thinking, nothing bars his way,—neither his times, nor his forms of life, nor his personal relations: his eagle’s-glance falls straight on the objects he observes. Had he had a political career, had his soul been developed by action, his character would be more decided, more firm, more patriotic; but his mind would not so freely float through the air over different points of view: passions or interests would have traced for him a definite path.  5
  Goethe takes pleasure, in his writings and in conversation also, in breaking threads he has himself spun, in deriding emotions he has excited, in casting down statues of which he has pointed out the beauties…. Were he not estimable, fear would be inspired by this lofty superiority, which degrades and then exalts, is now tender and now ironical, which alternately affirms and doubts, and all with equal success.  6
 
 
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