Goethe and Twentieth Century France

5 May

One can find everything in Goethe, and gather for oneself this or that aspect of his genius.  Barrès thus made the most of this statement: “When families maintain themselves a long time, one can notice that nature ends by producing an individual who embodies all the qualities of his ancestors, and who shows united and complete all those dispositions until then only isolated and in germ. It is the same with peoples.”

From this he deduces that Goethe advised exclusive attachment to one’s native soil and saw in it all the affirmation of a jealous patriotism. “Doubtless Goethe was a citizen of humanity but before this he was a solidly installed German,” we read in Déracinés (Uprooted). A curious rooting indeed–in the man who had proclaimed by the mouth of one of his favorite protagonists, Lenardo: “My country is where I am useful,” and had carried this principle to the point of recommending the displacement and intercrossing of destinies freely wandering across the surface of the earth, even to transplantation to distant and primitive America. “Go west!” said Goethe to the young man eager to try his strength and to serve at the same time and not, “Stick in your native mud.” What he did not like, any more than Barrès, was the great anonymous city, the metropolis athirst for the blood of its children, which devours men and throws out the ignoble refuse. But there are throughout the world and even Europe virgin lands open to culture, torrents to subdue, stagnant waters to freshen, savage nature to conquer.


Goethe and the Modern Age; The International Convocation at Aspen, Colorado 1949;  Edited by Arnold Bergstraesser (Henry Regnery Company, Chicago ©1950)




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