And P Is for Polymath Born 250 Years Ago, Goethe Is One of the Greatest Figures of European Civilization: Poet, Playwright, Scientist, Prime Minister, Author of the First Bestseller and Founder of Modern German Literature. Kevin Jackson Presents an A to Z of His Life and Works
Jackson, Kevin, The Independent (London, England)
A is for Auden WH Auden not only admired the man he called "Mr G", he felt a deep affection for him. It saddened Auden to think that the British, though we are happy enough to agree that Goethe should join Dante and Shakespeare in the triad of Major League European writers ("Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper", Joyce called the old firm in Finnegans Wake), seldom bother to read him. Auden tried hard to pique our interest, and the three sprightly essays he wrote on Goethe provide an ideal short introduction: they can be found in his collection Forewords and Afterwords.
B is for Biology Goethe was as much a scientist as an artist, and carried out research in botany, geology, physics, psychology and meteorology: one historian has even credited him with having provided the groundwork for modern weather forecasting. His most substantial discovery, however, was in the field of biology. In March 1784, Goethe refuted conventional wisdom by showing that the inter- maxillary bone - a part of the jaw - existed in man as well as the other mammals. Despite this anatomical coup, Goethe the scientist is best remembered for his rather more eccentric work in optics, which is why...
C is for Colour Partly an attack on Newton (or what he thought Newton was saying), Goethe's Theory of Colours is a fascinating, if fanciful, work which cost him many years of effort. "I do not repent it at all," he told a friend a few years before his death, "though I have expended half a life upon it. Perhaps I might have written half- a-dozen tragedies more; that is all, and people enough will come after me to do that." D is for `Dichtung und Wahrheit' Or Poetry and Truth, Goethe's detailed autobiographical account of his youth. Why so detailed? "The most important part of an individual's life is that of development... Afterwards begins the conflict with the world, and that is interesting only in its results." That, at least, is what he told the man who has been described as "Goethe's photocopier"... E is for Eckermann As Boswell to Johnson, so Eckermann to Goethe. Nietzsche called Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe (1836) "the best German book there is". F is for `Faust' He began Part One in his early twenties: he put the finishing touches to Part Two some 60 years later, on 22 July 1831, may have fiddled with it a bit shortly before his death in 1832. In short, this vast play was his life's work. David Luke's prize-winning translation for Oxford World's Classics is the one to buy. If you've already enjoyed Luke, try the looser versions by Louis MacNeice, Howard Brenton and Randall Jarrell. G is for German It is not true to say that Goethe invented the German language, but it's not altogether preposterous, either. In the careful words of the scholar TJ Reed: "He was the first to explore fully (which means that he virtually created) the expressive registers of modern German." H is for `Hermann und Dorothea' Not much read now, except by specialists, and noted in reference books mainly as an instance of that rare literary form, the verse novel, but in its own day (1798) a considerable success with the reading public. "Almost the only one of my larger poems that still satisfies me," was Goethe's verdict in old age. I is for Italy On 2 September 1786, aged 37 and suffering from the onset of what we now call a mid-life crisis, Goethe adopted the pseudonym of "Herr Moeller" and made a bolt for Italy. The two years he spent in and around Rome changed him utterly: he gorged his eyes on the art and architecture, he learned to draw and, it appears, he enjoyed his first adult love. Auden, contrasting portraits painted before and after the stay in Rome, asserted that the latter showed "a man who has known sexual satisfaction". The book which immortalised these experiences, the Italian Journey (Italienische Reise), was co- translated by Auden, who hoped that it was the text most likely to wean …
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Publication information: Article title: And P Is for Polymath Born 250 Years Ago, Goethe Is One of the Greatest Figures of European Civilization: Poet, Playwright, Scientist, Prime Minister, Author of the First Bestseller and Founder of Modern German Literature. Kevin Jackson Presents an A to Z of His Life and Works. Contributors: Jackson, Kevin - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 5, 1999. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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