Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
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Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
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GOETHE, JOHANN WOLFGANG VON (ge'te) a famous German poet, dramatist, and prose writer, the regenerator of German literature; born in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany, Aug. 28, 1749. His father was a counsellor of state, and young Goethe was reared amid all the elements conducive to a taste for, and cultivation of, literature and the arts
, In 1764 he proceeded to the University of Leipsic, and four years afterward to that of Strassburg, in order to qualify himself for the legal profession. In 1771, after taking his doctor's degree, he went to reside at Wetzlar. Here, in 1773, he produced his romantic drama of “Goetz of Berlichingen,” which excited great enthusiasm in the German literary world. About this time he conceived a passion for a lady who was already betrothed, and who shortly after became the wife of another; which incident, together with the suicide of a student of his acquaintance — also a sufferer from misplaced affection — he fused together to form the plot of a novel, which, in 1774, he brought out under the title of “The Sufferings of Young Werther.” This book, in its sublimity of maudlin sentimentalism, became at once the rage. In 1775 Goethe was invited by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar to take up his residence at his court. At Weimar he became the central figure of a circle of eminent men that included Wieland, Schiller, and Herder. Goethe was also appointed a privy councillor of legation and superintendent of the theater, where he brought out with thorough effect the splendid chefs-d'œuvre of Schiller, in addition to his own dramatic works — “Goetz of Berlichingen,” “Iphigenia in Tauris,” “Faust,” “Tasso,” “Clavigo,” “Stella,” and “Egmont.” In 1786 he visited Italy, where he remained for two years, and in 1792, accompanied the army of the King of Prussia and the Duke of Brunswick in its French campaign, of which he became the historiographer. On his return, Goethe was appointed minister of state. In 1795 appeared the first part of his “William Meister,” and in 1797 “Hermann and Dorothea,” the finest of his minor productions. In 1805 the first portion of his great masterpiece, “Faust,” appeared and raised him to the highest rank of literary fame. In 1807, the Czar Alexander of Russia conferred on Goethe the order of St. Alexander Newski — an example followed by Napoleon with the grand cross of the Legion of Honor. In 1809 appeared his “Elective Affinities,” a work in which he advanced certain views on the marital relation which disgusted the moralists. The year 1818 beheld the second part of his “William Meister,” the “Wandering Years,” and in 1831, the second part of “Faust.” Goethe died in Weimar, March 22, 1832.
JOHANN W. GOETHE