“Our common Saint”
“The last man in the world to know everything”
-Einstein, on Goethe
Who looms largest in Einsteins enormous library, are the collected works of Johann von Goethe in a thirty-six volume edition and another of twelve volumes, plus two volumes on his Optics, one on the exchange of letters between Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller, and a separate volume of Faust.
“Hegel and Beethoven were born in the same year.
One set Goethe to music, the other to philosophy'”
Ludwig Von Beethoven
“How patient the great man was with me!…How happy he made me then!
I would have gone to death, yes, ten times to death for Goethe.”
“Then, when I was in the height of my enthusiasm, I thought out my Egmont music. Goethe – he lives and wants us all to live with him. It is for that reason that he can be composed.”
As far as Hegel was concerned — and this is more than hinted at in Hegel’s letter to Goethe is quoted from in my lecture — Goethe was a phenomenon larger than life itself: his achievements and personal development, as a man as well as an artist, were indeed reminiscent of the World Spirit’s own quest for wholeness via self-consciousness.
“The First Induction Motor”, its inspiration has an unexpected genesis. One day, while walking through a park in Budapest, the young Tesla was reciting a poetic passage by heart (one of his many talents). From Goethe’s Faust:
“The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!”
And as the sun set that day, with its glow retreating, Tesla drew the design for the induction motor in the sand.
Goethe was received by Napoleon, and awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor; at the moment of their meeting, Napoleon, emperor of Europe, facing Goethe, uttered ‘Behold, man!’.
Goethe – not a German event but a European one: a magnificent attempt to overcome the eighteenth century by a return to nature, by an ascent to the naturalness of the Renaissance — a kind of self-overcoming on the part of that century. He bore its strongest instincts within himself: the sensibility, the idolatry of nature, the anti-historic, the idealistic, the unreal and revolutionary… He sought help from history, natural science, antiquity, and also Spinoza, but, above all from practical activity; he surrounded himself with limited horizons; he did not retire from life but put himself into the midst of it; he was not fainthearted but took as much as possible upon himself, over himself, into himself. What he wanted was totality; he fought the mutual extraneousness of reason, senses, feeling, and will preached with the most abhorrent scholasticism by Kant, the antipode of Goethe); he disciplined himself to wholeness, he created himself.
Arthur Schopenhauer cited Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship as one of the four greatest novels ever written. Already in 1809, long before he had a personal acquaintance with the poet, he adorned his room with a portrait of Goethe. Schopenhauer sometimes makes Goethe’s utterances, which he is excessively fond of quoting, the starting-point of his argumentation.’ Or he caps his own argument with a passage from Goethe, appealing to him as a last authority, after having spent all his acrimonious scorn upon the frailty and depravation of man. As when he deplores the habitual obscurity of true greatness, the blame for which he lays at the door of human jealousy, and invokes Goethe’s confirmation :
Evolution: Darwin’s Short-sight
The importance of Goethe’s cognitive method in laying a scientific basis for evolutionary theory was noted as early as the 1880s and 1890s by Rudolf Steiner. It is a complete mistake to see Goethe’s greatness in organic science merely in his being a precursor of Darwin. His approach is much broader and embraces two aspects. The first is the type, that is, the principle that manifests itself in the organism, the “animalness” in the animal, the life that develops out of itself, having the power and capacity through its own inherent potential to give rise to manifold outward forms (species, genera). The second is the reciprocal action between the organisms and inorganic nature, and among the organism themselves (adaptation and the struggle for existence). Only the second aspect of organic science was elaborated by Darwin. Thus it cannot be said that Darwin’s introduction theory is an elaboration of Goethe’s basic ideas; rather it is merely an elaboration of one aspect of them. It considers only the factors which cause the world of living things to develop in a certain way, but not the “something” upon which these factors take their determining action. The investigation of these external factors alone cannot possibly lead to a complete theory of organisms. This must be pursued essentially according to Goethe’s intentions, that is, it must be complemented and deepened by the other aspect of his theory.