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TRANSLATED BY ALFRED REMY, A.M.
Professor of Modern Languages. Brooklyn Commercial High School.
A journey is an excellent remedy for a perplexed state of mind. This time the goal of my journey was to be Germany. The German geniuses had, indeed, almost all departed from this life, but there was still one living, Goethe, and the idea of speaking with him or even of merely seeing him made me happy in anticipation. I never was, as was the fashion at that time, a blind worshipper of Goethe, any more than I was of any other one poet. True poetry seemed to me to lie where they met on common ground; their individual characteristics lent them, on the one hand, the charm of individuality, while, on the other hand, they shared the general propensity of mankind to err. Goethe, in particular, had, since the death of Schiller, turned his attention from poetry to science. By distributing his talents over too many fields, he deteriorated in each; his latest poetic productions were tepid or cool, and when, for the sake of pose, he turned to the classical, his poetry became affected. The impassiveness which he imparted to that period contributed perhaps more than anything else to the decadence of poetry, inasmuch as it opened the door to the subsequent coarseness of Young Germany, of popular poetry, and of the Middle-high German trash. The public was only too glad to have once again something substantial to feed upon. Nevertheless, Goethe is one of the greatest poets of all time, and the father of our poetry. Klopstock gave the first impulse, Lessing blazed the trail, Goethe followed it. Perhaps Schiller means more to the German nation, for a people needs strong, sweeping impressions; Goethe, however, appears to be the greater poet. He fills an entire page in the development of the human mind, while Schiller stands midway between Racine and Shakespeare. Little as I sympathized with Goethe’s most recent activity, and little as I could expect him to consider the author of The Ancestress and The Golden Fleece worthy of any consideration, in view of the dispassionate quietism which he affected at the time, I nevertheless felt that the mere sight of him would be sufficient to inspire me with new courage. Dormit puer, non mortuus est. (The boy sleeps, he is not dead.)