Faust - Part I HTML version
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, the greatest of German men of letters,
was born at Frank fort-on-the-Main, August 28, 1749. His father was a man of
means and position, and he personally supervised the early education of his son.
The young Goethe studied at the universities of Leipsic and Strasburg, and in
1772 entered upon the practise of law at Wetzlar. At the invitation of Karl August,
Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he went in 1775 to live in Weimar, where he held a
succession of political offices, becoming the Duke's chief adviser. From 1786 to
1788 he traveled in Italy, and from 179' to 1817 directed the ducal theater at
Weimar. He took part in the wars against France, 1792-3, and in the following
year began his friendship with Schiller, which lasted till the latter's death in 1805.
In 1806 he married Christiane Vulpius. From about 1794 he devoted himself
chiefly to literature, and after a life of extraordinary productiveness died at
Weimar, March 22, 1832. The most important of Goethe's works produced before
he went to Weimar were his tragedy "Gotz von Berlichingen" (1773), which first
brought him fame, and "The Sorrows of Young Werther," a novel which obtained
enormous popularity during the so-called "Sturm und Drang" period. During the
years at Weimar before he knew Schiller he began "Wilhelm Meister," wrote the
dramas, "Iphigenie," "Egmont," and "Torquato Tasso," and his "Reinecke Fuchs."
To the period of his friendship with Schiller belong the continuation of "Wilhelm
Meister," the beautiful idyl of "Hermann and Dorothea," and the "Roman Elegies."
In the last period, between Schiller's death in 1805 and his own, appeared
"Faust," "Elective Affinities," his autobiographical "Dichtung und Wahrheit"
("Poetry and Truth"), his "Italian Journey," much scientific work, and a series of
treatises on German Art.
Though the foregoing enumeration contains but a selection front the titles of
Goethe's best known writings, it suffices to show the extraordinary fertility and
versatility of his genius. Rarely has a man of letters had so full and varied a life,
or been capable of so many-sided a development. His political and scientific
activities, though dwarfed in the eyes of our generation by his artistic production,
yet showed the adaptability of his talent in the most diverse directions, and
helped to give him that balance of temper and breadth of vision in which he has
been surpassed by no genius of the ancient or modern world.