[Illustration: GOETHE AND HIS SECRETARY J. J. Schmeller ]
MAXIMS AND REFLECTIONS OF GOETHE
TRANSLATED BY BAILEY SAUNDERS
There is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before; we must only try to think it again.
How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty, and you will know at once what you are worth. But what is your duty? The claims of the day.
The longer I live, the more it grieves me to see man, who occupies his supreme place for the very purpose of imposing his will upon nature, and freeing himself and his from an outrageous necessity—to see him taken up with some false notion, and doing just the opposite of what he wants to do; and then, because the whole bent of his mind is spoilt, bungling miserably over everything.
In the works of mankind, as in those of nature, it is really the motive which is chiefly worth attention.
In Botany there is a species of plants called Incompletae; and just in the same way it can be said there are men who are incomplete and imperfect. They are those whose desires and struggles are out of proportion to their actions and achievements.
It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is, or for less than one is worth.
From time to time I meet with a youth in whom I can wish for no alteration or improvement, only I am sorry to see how often his nature makes him quite ready to swim with the stream of the time; and it is on this that I would always insist, that man in his fragile boat has the rudder placed in his hand, just that he may not be at the mercy of the waves, but follow the direction of his own insight.
If I am to listen to another man’s opinion, it must be expressed positively. Of things problematical I have enough in myself.
Piety is not an end, but a means: a means of attaining the highest culture by the purest tranquility of soul. Hence it may be observed that those who set up piety as an end and object are mostly hypocrites.
Reading ought to mean understanding; writing ought to mean knowing something; believing ought to mean comprehending; when you desire a thing, you will have to take it; when you demand it, you will not get it; and when you are experienced, you ought to be useful to others.
The stream is friendly to the miller whom it serves; it likes to pour over the mill wheels; what is the good of it stealing through the valley in apathy?
Theory is in itself of no use, except in so far as it makes us believe in the connection of phenomena.