Johann Wolfgang Goethe Biography
Johann Wolfgang Goethe was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 28, 1749. He is recognized primarily as a poet, novelist, playwright, and essayist, but his field of knowledge included much more. He was a geologist, zoologist, biologist, chemist, and he also cultivated occultism, alchemy and worked as a draftsman.
His family was of humble origin, but thanks to the merits of his father, a jurist in charge of the imperial adviser, they reached the upper class, for which Goethe had access to a quality education. In his childhood he learned Latin, Italian, French, and Greek, as well as drawing, music, horsemanship, and fencing; he played the piano, the cello, and he was very gifted for drawing.
Between 1765 and 1768, he studied law in Leipzig, at the behest of his father. He suffered a serious lung disease that forced him to return to his home in Frankfurt and after a time of convalescence, he left for Strasbourg to finish his studies. He graduated as a lawyer in this city in 1771.
In the last years of his career, he fell in love with the daughter of the pastor of Sesenheim, Friederïke Brion, who inspired the verses of Songs of Sesenheim. Also, in Strasbourg, he met the philosopher, historian, and scholar of literature Johann Gottfried von Herder, who brought him closer to popular poetry and Shakespeare.
Thanks to the influence of his father, Goethe obtained a lawyer position in Wetzlar. However, Goethe did not enjoy the profession.
During this time (the 1770s) the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Push) was developed, an episode of German literature whose basis was in passion and had the transgression of the norm as a rule. Naturally, Goethe joined the ranks of the movement and wrote the epistolary novel Werther (1774).
In 1775, he was invited by the Crown Prince Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar Eisenach (Charles Augustus) to join the court as a minister and live in Weimar, where he remained for the rest of his life. There, he took care of very diverse matters: inaugurating channels and ordering the construction of irrigated areas, mines, and dikes, among others.
Between 1786 and 1788, he made a trip to Italy that had a great impact on his life. The trip gave him the opportunity to visit important cities, such as Venice, Sicily, and Rome. To know Italy led him to a neoclassical or classical doctrine according to which: the order that manifested itself through plants and animals gave legitimacy to being. During his classicist period, he wrote Iphigenia in Tauride (1787) and the Roman Elegies (1786-1788). These works and some of those that followed were written in hexameters to honor the Greeks.
After his return to Weimar, he gave up many of his ministerial duties. He only continued with the direction of the great theater of the court. His dedication to court theater came to the point of allowing himself to perform on stage some of his works and Schiller’s creations.
His friendship and collaboration with Schiller (poet, playwright, philosopher and German historian) began in 1794.
Little by little Weimar became the intellectual and artistic center of all Germany, because, with the help of Goethe, the University of Jena received extraordinary personalities. For instance:
Friedrich Schiller, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Alexander von Humboldt.
He married Christiane Vulpius, a girl of modest origin, in 1807. With her, he had Augustus, his only son, who died much earlier than Goethe.
In 1808, he met Napoleon Bonaparte, whom he deeply admired in spite of his disagreement with the chaos caused by the Revolution and of being convinced that evolution was better than the revolution and that in times of great agitation it was preferable to cultivate science and the art.
Goethe died in 1832 having as his last request “Let the windows open for spring!”
It encompassed the lyric, the novel, the drama, the essay, the scientific and moral studies, in more than two hundred volumes for what is considered, together with Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, one of the great geniuses of humanity. It is estimated that his novel The Sufferings of the Young Werther (1774) began Romanticism.
His most recognized work is Faust, whose first part dates from 1806 and the second from 1831. Wolfgang Goethe devoted much of his life to writing and rewriting this work. He started his writing when he was twenty-five years old and finished it shortly before his death.
Other of his celebrated works are: Werther (1774), Songs of Sesenheim (1774), Egmont (1775), The years of learning by Wilhelm Meister (1796), Torquato Tasso (1798), The elective affinities (1809), Poetry and truth (1811-1830), Divan of East and West (1819), Theory of colors (1810), Metamorphosis of plants (1790), and the works that were previously mentioned.