Reference > Quotations > S.A. Bent, comp. > Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men
S.A. Bent, comp.  Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men.  1887.
        [Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main, Aug. 28, 1749; educated for the law at Leipsic and Strasburg; wrote “The Sorrows of Werther,” 1774; invited to the grand-ducal court of Saxe-Weimar, 1775, and established himself for life at Weimar; visited Italy, 1786; published his greatest works between 1788 and 1806, when the first part of “Faust” appeared, the whole not being finished until 1830; died March 22, 1832.]
I am not to be satisfied with what does for other people!
          When his mother asked him, at the age of seven, why he wished the assistance of the stars, when other people got along without it.
Men are to be regarded as organs of their century, whose movements are mostly automatic (Die Menschen sind als Organe ihres Jahrhunderts anzusehen, die sich meist unbewusst bewegen).
          From an autograph-album.
  Thus Marcus Aurelius derived from the Stoics the remark, “Always regard the world as a living being, endowed with body and soul.”
It is better to do the idlest thing in the world than to sit idle for half an hour.
          A maxim from Sterne’s “Koran,” which Goethe put into German: “Es ist besser das geringste Ding von der Welt zu thun, als eine halbe Stunde für gering halten.” Goethe once remarked to Eckermann, “Be always resolute with the present hour. Every moment is of infinite value, for it is the representative of eternity.” Leibnitz declared that “the loss of an hour is the loss of a part of life” (pars vitæ quoties perditur hora perit). Napoleon made the remark to some boys at school, “My lads, every hour of lost time is a chance of future misfortunes.” Frederick the Great had a maxim which he took from Seneca: “Time is the only treasure of which it is proper to be avaricious” (Le temps est le seul trésor dont l’avarice soit louable; in Latin, Temporis unius honesta avaritia est).
All our knowledge is symbolic.
          This and the following are from Goethe’s “Table-Talk,” Riemer (Mittheilungen über Goethe), II. ix. 1805.
In the world the important thing is not to know men, but to be wiser at each moment than any particular man.
          Ibid., 1808.
What have the Germans gained by their boasted freedom of the press, except the liberty of abusing each other as they like?
          Thus Heine defined free thought as commonly understood to be the free expression of contempt for the thought of others.—Ibid., 1809, note.
Sin writes histories, goodness is silent (Das Uebel macht eine Geschichte, und das Gute keine).
          Saying that the man who writes confessions is apt to confess his sins and conceal his virtues.—Ibid., 1810.
Superstition is favorable to poets.
          Ibid., 1829.
When a man eats the fruits of more favored climes, he is for the moment transported thither, and imagination heightens enjoyment.
          Ibid., 1830.
The ancient languages are the scabbard which holds the mind’s sword (Die alten Sprachen sind Scheiden darin das Messer des Geistes stickt).
          Originally from Luther; dictated by Goethe to Riemer, in 1814. It was upon this thought that he founded the hope that “the study of Latin and Greek literature would ever be the basis of culture;” it was also the foundation of the famous saying (“Kunst und Alterthum,” 1821), “He who is ignorant of foreign languages knows not his own” (Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen); sometimes shortened to, “He who knows but one language knows none.”
Tell me your associates, I will tell you what you are; tell me what you busy yourself about, I will tell you what may be expected of you.
          Originally from Socrates; applied by Goethe to intellectual occupation. In English, “A man is known by the company he keeps.” In French, “Dis-moi qui tu hantes, et je te dirai qui tu es.” The German proverb is similar,—
        “Willst du erkennen den Mann,
So schau seine Gesellschaft an.”
Timon was asked what children should be taught. “What they will never understand,” was the misanthrope’s reply.
          Thus Goethe again in the “Xenien,” “Teach your children of heaven and earth, what they will never understand.” A Pythagorean answered the same question, “To be the citizen of a well-governed state.”—DIOGENES LAËRTIUS, VIII. 16.
He who does not love must learn to flatter, else he is nothing.  14
When interest is lost, memory is lost (Wo der Antheil sich verliert, verliert sich auch das Gedächtniss).
          Thus Napoleon said of some one, “His memory was of the heart” (Sa mémoire tenait du cœur). Massieu, a deaf-mute, when asked to write a definition of gratitude, called it “the memory of the heart” (la reconnoissance est la mémoire du cœur). It was Cicero’s animus memor in French. Vaugelas, a French grammarian, was one of the first members of the Academy, and took a prominent part in the compilation of the Dictionary. Cardinal Richelieu at one time raised his salary, and said to him, “You will not forget in the new Dictionary the word ‘pension.’”—“No, monseigneur,” replied the scholar, “but I shall still less forget the word ‘gratitude’” (reconnoissance).
Mastery is often considered egoism (Die Meisterschaft gilt oft für Egoismus).
          Mentioned by Goethe to Riemer, II. 622, as the motto of a romance he was projecting, to be called “The Egoist.”
Poetic talent is given as well to the peasant as to the knight (dem Bauer so gut gegeben wie dem Ritter).
          A thought he derived from Herder, who called poetic conception the common property of mankind (das Gemeingut der Menschheit). Each must conceive it, however, adds Goethe, according to his situation. “It belongs,” he said of an edition of folk-songs published in 1825, “neither to the people nor to the noble, neither to the king nor to the peasant. It is the offspring of a true man.” He accordingly adopted this motto: “There is but one poetry,—true poetry.”
Stupidity is without anxiety.
          (Or, as elsewhere given, “Fools are never uneasy.”) To Eckermann, 1824.
  The following are from Goethe’s “Conversations with Eckermann:”—
  Roman history is not for our age. We are become too humane to enjoy the triumphs of Cæsar.
  We learn only from those whom we love.
  It is better for us moderns to say with Napoleon, “Politics are destiny.”
  People always fancy that we must become old to become wise; but in truth, as years advance, it is hard to keep ourselves as wise as we were.
  Error belongs to libraries, truth to the human mind.
  Courtiers would die of ennui, if they could not fill up their time with ceremonies.
  A name is no despicable matter. Napoleon, for the sake of a great name, broke in pieces almost half a world. [To Eckermann, who wondered that men could toil so for a little fame.]
Architecture is petrified music.
          “I have found a paper of mine among some others,” said Goethe to Eckermann, March 23, 1829, “in which I call architecture ‘petrified music’ (eine erstarrte Musik). Really there is something in this: the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.” The philosopher Schelling (1775–1854) speaks in two places in the “Philosophie der Kunst” of architecture as “frozen music,” a more commonly used comparison. Mme. de Staël looked upon a great architectural monument as “a continual and unchanging music” (une musique continuelle et fixée).—Corinne, IV. iii.
Every thing that is great promotes cultivation as soon as we are aware of it.
          Saying that the audacity and grandeur of Byron must certainly tend towards cultivation.
May Germany be one in love! And may it always be one against the foreign foe!
          Saying, in 1828, that good highroads and future railroads would do their part towards the unification of Germany.
We cannot all serve our country in the same way; but each does his best, according as God has endowed him.
          In 1830, as a reason for not taking up arms in the War of Liberation, against France: “How could I take up arms without hatred, and how could I hate without youth?” But he was accused at the time of too great admiration of Napoleon. “Clank your chains!” he said to his countrymen, who were endeavoring to shatter them, “the man is too great for you. You will not break them, but only drive them deeper into your flesh.” “National hatred,” said Goethe to Eckermann, “is something peculiar: you will always find it strongest and most violent in the lowest degree of culture” (auf den untersten Stufen der Kultur).
Death is, to a certain extent, an impossibility which suddenly becomes a reality (eine Unmöglichkeit die plützlich zur Wirklichkeit wird).  23
No productiveness of the highest kind, no remarkable discovery, no great thought which bears fruit and has results, is in the power of any one; but such things are elevated above all earthly control.  24
They [the Germans] come and ask what idea I meant to embody in Faust. As if I knew, myself, and could inform them!  25
Women are silver dishes, into which we put golden apples.
          Saying that his idea of women was not abstracted from the phenomena of actual life. He used the same figure of Shakespeare: “He gives us golden apples in silver dishes. We get the silver dishes by studying his works: unfortunately we have only potatoes to put into them.”
Only in Rome have I felt what it really is to be a man. As soon as we enter Rome, a transformation takes place in us; and we feel ourselves great, like the objects which surround us.
          To that elevation he said he had never since arisen.
Every extraordinary man has a certain mission (eine gewisse Sendung) which he is called upon to accomplish.
          The parliamentary parties of England are great opposing forces, which paralyze one another, and where the superior insight of individuals can hardly break through.
  All endeavors to introduce any foreign innovation, the necessity for which is not rooted in the core of the nation itself, are therefore foolish.
  There is nothing good for a people but that which the people themselves generate.
  He who wishes to exert a useful influence must be careful to insult nothing.
  It is a great mistake to expect to find men in agreement with us.
  The soul is like the sun, which disappears from our mortal eye, but which in reality never disappears, but ceaselessly gives light in his progress.
  We must be young to do great things.
  Light is above us, and color around us; but if we have not light and color in our eyes, we shall not perceive them outside us.
  The beautiful is a phenomenon which is never apparent of itself, but is reflected in a thousand different works of the Creator.
  Shakespeare is a great psychologist, and whatever can be known of the heart of man may be found in his plays.
  All poetry should be the poetry of circumstance; that is, it should be inspired by the Real.
  Intellect may enslave us, if we are predisposed to like it; but intellect cannot warm us, or inspire us with passion.
  It is not given to the world to be moderate.
  That which is wholesome nourishment for the people of one age may be poison for the people of another.
  Amateurs and women, for the most part, have but the feeblest ideas of poetry.
  My works are not written for the mass, but for men who, desiring and seeking that which I desired and sought, walk in the same road that I have pursued.
  I will listen to any one’s convictions; but, pray, keep your doubts to yourself.
  Great passions are incurable diseases: the very remedies make them worse.
  Our adversaries think they refute us when they reiterate their own opinions, without paying attention to ours.
  The world cannot do without great men, but great men are very troublesome to the world.
  All sects seem to me to be right in what they assert, and wrong in what they deny.
Man alone is interesting to man.
          Following Pope’s dictum, “Essay on Man,” II. 1.
More light (Mehr Licht).
          His last words.
        “The prayer of Ajax was for light.”
LONGFELLOW: The Goblet of Life.    
  As Napoleon closed his interview with Goethe at Erfurt, Oct. 2, 1808, he said, in presence of the poet, with whom he had conversed on literature, “You are a man!” (Vous êtes un homme!) and to Berthier and Daru, after Goethe had retired, “That is a man!” (Voilà un homme!) And Goethe said to Eckermann in 1828, “Napoleon was the man! His life was the stride of a demi-god. That was a fellow (Kerl) whom we cannot imitate.”

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