Goethe and the English-Speaking World: Essays from the Cambridge Symposium for His 250th Anniversary

By Stark, Susanne | The Modern Language Review, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Goethe and the English-Speaking World: Essays from the Cambridge Symposium for His 250th Anniversary


Stark, Susanne, The Modern Language Review


Goethe and the English-Speaking World: Essays from the Cambridge Symposium for his 250th Anniversary. Ed. by NICHOLAS BOYLE and JOHN GUTHRIE. (Studies in German Literature, Linguistics and Culture) Rochester, NY: Camden House. 2002. vi+285 pp. 50 [pounds sterling]; $70. ISBN 1-57113-231-7 (hbk).

Goethe's relations with the English-speaking world are described as complex and problematic in Nicholas Boyle's lucid introduction to a multifaceted collection of conference papers. While the fifteen essays included in the volume examine Goethe's connections with Britain, Ireland, and the United States, Boyle's survey concentrates on an examination of the reciprocity and ambivalences in Goethe's relationship with England. Though never visited by him, England provided Goethe with ideas about a different social structure, with new notions of wealth, imperial and industrial expansion. At the same time, his literary identity was shaped by a more modest, provincial German background and a philosophy of subjectivity which did not feature to the same extent in the British tradition. As varied as Goethe's attitude towards England was the English reaction to his work. After being associated with impiety and political Jacobinism, he was turned into a sage by the Victorians, and started to become a victim of German and British national interests and political tensions in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The motif of the English 'knowledge of the world' (p. 124) which can enrich the narrower horizons ofWeimar is reiterated in Karl S. Guthke's informative portrayal of English, Irish, and American visitors, including William Makepeace Thackeray, George Bancroft, Joseph Cogswell, Henry Crabb Robinson, and William Swifte. While the discussion of introspective self-cultivation as a 'specifically German aberration' (p. 136)might have been slightly modified by some mention of Laurence Sterne, Guthke's comprehensive presentation of English-speaking visitors as Goethe's 'preferred "others"' (p. 137) is extremely convincing. Another link between Weimar and London, Johann Christian Huttner, who supplied not only Goethe but also Duke Carl August with regular information about Britain, is treated in Catherine Proescholdt's well-researched contribution. Goethe's attitude towards the United States is explored in Nicholas Saul's essay, which gives an astute examination of the connections between the representation of America in the Wanderjahre and Goethe's positive evaluation of James Fenimore Cooper's novels.

Intellectual cross-currents between Goethe's work and British writers, especially in the scientific, philosophical, and religious domain, are another theme permeating English-speaking influences on Goethe. With trenchant skilfulness H. B. Nisbet explains how Goethe justified his rejection of Newtonian physics both on epistemological and on moral grounds. R. H. Stephenson's complex and stringent considerations show how the Scottish Enlightenment, in particular Thomas Reid's introduction of an aesthetic element into his common-sense philosophy, was absorbed by Goethe and Schiller in their own formulation of aesthetic experience and thus helped to shape Weimar Classicism. …

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