restricted access Introduction to Goethe. A review of Goethe and Faust: An Interpretation, by F. Melian Stawell and G. Lowes Dickinson; and Goethe’s Faust, trans. Anna Swanwick
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574 ] Introduction to Goethe1 A review of Goethe and Faust: An Interpretation, by F. Melian Stawell and G. Lowes Dickinson London: G. Bell & Sons, 1928. Pp. vii + 291. Goethe’s Faust, translated by Anna Swanwick Bohn’s Popular Library London: G. Bell & Sons, 1928. Pp. lxx + 437. The Nation and Athenaeum, 44 (12 Jan 1929) 527 It is a pity that the first of these books should have to be offered for sale at fifteen shillings. I know quite well the size of the public and the costs of production ; under present conditions no publisher would launch such a book at a lower price. But the authors express the desire to “extend, in this country, the circle, still too narrow, of those who are interested in Goethe and his work”;and thepersonsamongwhomitisworthwhiletoextendthatinterest will be mostly young and impecunious [1]. We can only hope for a run on the lending libraries, or a wave of American enthusiasm, so that the publishers may be able to produce the book later at a lower price. For the authors know their subject with scholarship and zeal; they have not made their book in a hurry; and it introduces a study which really needs introduction. The book is an introduction to Goethe through Faust, and an introduction to Faust by an ingenious mixture of commentary and translation. The translations are so good that I at first regretted that Miss Stawell and Mr. Dickinson had not made two volumes, one the commentary and the other the complete translation of Faust which they say they have written.2 But a glance at Miss Swanwick’s translation, excellent for its period (1850-78) convinced me that their method was the best for their purpose.3 Only earnest devotion to self-improvement could carry one through some of the dreary wastes in the second part of Faust; only the beauty of the verse makes it possible. There are large quantities of the Second Part which not the best of translations could make palatable. I hope that the Stawell-Dickinson translationwilleventuallyappear;butwhenitdoes,itsreadersshouldreread the present volume first. [ 575 Introduction to Goethe As the authors of this book are perfectly aware, Goethe, the object of passionate adoration to mid-Victorians, is at present in eclipse. It is highly desirable that he should again be admired and studied. But it is not merely a question of reviving a reputation; it is, at least in England and America, a matter almost of establishing a new one, so completely must critical opinion be revised. There have been good biographies, but for pure literary criticism, I suspect that we must wait for another generation to find the knowledge and understanding. That is not altogether our fault; the decline of interest in Goethe was an inevitable moment of history; and is connected with the reasons for which he is a writer of permanent greatness. Goethe is, as Mr. Santayana made clear in an essay which is the nearest approach to a new critical opinion that I know, a philosophical poet.4 His philosophy, unfortunately, is that which the nineteenth century took up with, and it has therefore become too familiar to us in popular or degraded forms. Love, Nature, God, Man, Science, Progress: the post-Goethe versions of these terms are still current. But they are gradually being replaced; and as they are replaced, we shall be able to see Goethe more clearly and with more admiration. It might be excessive to say that we cannot understand the nineteenth century without knowing Goethe; but it may be true to say that we cannot understand that century until we are able to understand Goethe. And perhaps the best way to understand many of the ideas of the nineteenth century is to go back behind them, to the man who expressed them best, and in whom they were fresh and new and enthusiastic. It is a useful exercise, for instance, to try to catch the original spirit of a passage like the following , which the present book quotes: Nature! We are surrounded by her, engulfed in her. . . . She creates fresh forms for ever; what is now, has never been before; what was, never comes back again – everything is new and yet still the old. . . . Each of her works has a being of its own, each manifestation is a unique conception , and yet they all make one. . . . Every moment she begins an unending race, and every moment she is at the goal. . . . She has neither speech nor language; but she creates...


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