Friedrich Nietzsche, Miscellaneous Maxims and opinions (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche).

Miscellaneous Maxims and Opinions, the first supplement to Human, All Too Human, first published in 1879.  A second supplement, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten) followed in 1880.


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Previous Section   227. GOETHE'S ERRORS   Next Section

Goethe's Errors.  Goethe is a signal exception among great artists in that he did not live within the limited confines of his real capacity, as if that must be the essential, the distinctive, the unconditional, and the last thing in him and for all the world.  Twice he intended to possess something higher than he really possessed — and went astray in the second half of his life, where he seems quite convinced that he is one of the great scientific discoverers and illuminators.  So too in the first half of his life he demanded of himself something higher than the poetic art seemed to him — and here already he made a mistake.  That nature wished to make him a plastic artist, — this was his inwardly glowing and scorching secret, which finally drove him to Italy, that he might give vent to his mania in this direction and make to it every possible sacrifice.  At last, shrewd as he was, and honestly averse to any mental perversion in himself, he discovered that a tricksy elf of desire had attracted him to the belief in this calling, and that he must free himself of the greatest passion of his heart and bid it farewell.  The painful conviction, tearing and gnawing at his vitals, that it was necessary to bid farewell, finds full expression in the character of Tasso.  Over Tasso, that Werther intensified, hovers the premonition of something worse than death, as when one says: "Now it is over, after this farewell: how shall I go on living without going mad”?  These two fundamental errors of his life gave Goethe, in face of a purely literary attitude towards poetry (the only attitude then known to the world), such an unembarrassed and apparently almost arbitrary position.  Not to speak of the period when Schiller (poor Schiller, who had no time himself and left no time to others) drove away his shy dread of poetry, his fear of all literary life and craftsmanship, Goethe appears like a Greek who now and then visits his beloved, doubting whether she be not a Goddess to whom he can give no proper name.  In all his poetry one notices the inspiring neighbourhood of plastic art and Nature.  The features of these figures that floated before him — and perhaps he always thought he was on the track of the metamorphoses of one Goddess — became, without his will or knowledge, the features of all the children of his art.  Without the extravagances of error he would not have been Goethe— that is, the only German artist in writing who has not yet become out of date— just because he desired as little to be a writer as a German by vocation.  

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