Byron and Goethe: Analysis of a Passion

Byron and Goethe: Analysis of a Passion

Byron and Goethe: Analysis of a Passion

Byron and Goethe: Analysis of a Passion

Excerpt

A CURIOUS feature of the situation which had now developed between Goethe and Byron was their obvious reluctance to address each other directly. Even the sight of the inscription to Sardanapalus in Byron's own hand had failed to produce a personal letter of thanks from Goethe; and it seems doubtful whether Byron on his side would have put pen to paper even if he had had something more to go on than 'Goethe by the next Post'. Partly, as can be seen in his letters to Kinnaird, the language-bar appeared very formidable to him; and the threat to Murray: 'I must not only write to Goethe' sounds as if this were an almost impossible feat. But, since translators from the one language into the other were readily available as he very well knew, the root cause probably lay deeper: in Goethe's advanced old age. It was one thing to admire and exalt or even to taunt and to tease the venerable 'patriarch of European letters' from a distance; but anything like intimacy was quite out of the question, and hardly crossed his mind. As for Goethe, he may well have been hindered by the diffidence which deep emotions inspire. There was nothing to show that these were reciprocated; and the only acknowledgement of the messages he had sent through Benecke and Kinnaird was a rather cooler dedication than the one he had accepted with such tell-tale warmth. So that one way and another, both remained shy of entering into a correspondence; and they might never have done so at all, had it not been for young Charles Sterling.

That fortunate youth, son of the British Consul at Genoa where Byron was residing from September 1822 until the following July, had evidently endeared himself to the poet, who had goodnaturedly promoted his desire to become acquainted with Goethe during his forthcoming visit to Germany. When he reached Weimar in the early summer of 1823, Sterling was therefore the bearer of a note of introduction in Byron's own hand. It was the merest scrawl, but manna from heaven to the household on the Frauenplan; and Ottilie von Goethe, who unlike her father-inlaw had remained faithful to the poet throughout, managed to appropriate it. With the result that it is now lost, or at least lost . . .

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