Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER X. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe’s Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities) 
Goethe’s Works, illustrated by the best German artists, 5 vols. (Philadelphia: G. Barrie, 1885). Vol. 5: W. Meister’s Travels; Elective Affinities.
Part of: Goethe’s Works, 5 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Thereupon Wilhelm was invited by assistants and overseers to a mountain-festival which was on the point of being celebrated. They ascended the mountain with some difficulty, and Wilhelm fancied he noticed that towards evening the guide walked more slowly, as if the darkness would not oppose still further hindrance to their progress. But as soon as deep night surrounded them the riddle was solved for him: he saw, from numerous ravines and valleys, small flames glimmering unsteadily, stretching out into lines, and rolling towards them across the mountain heights. Much friendlier than when a volcano opens out, and its belching din threatens whole districts with destruction, did this spectacle appear; and yet, by-and-bye, it glowed much stronger, broader, and more concentrated, sparkling like a stream of stars, gentle and kindly it is true, but yet spreading itself boldly over the whole scene.
After enjoying some time the astonishment of the guest (for they could actually see each other well, their faces and forms seemed illuminated by the light in the distance, as well as their path), his companion began to speak:
“You see here a wonderful sight indeed: those lights, which glow and work, day and night, throughout the whole year, aiding the acquisition of hidden and scarcely attainable subterranean treasures, it is they that at the present moment are welling and gushing forth from their caverns and cheer the outer darkness. Hardly ever has a finer sight been seen, where the most useful industry, dispersed beneath the ground, withdrawn from sight, discloses itself to us in full completeness, bringing a vast secret combination to view.”
Amid such conversation and reflections, they had reached the spot where the rivulets of fire merged themselves into the sea of flame surrounding a brightly lighted insular space. The wanderer now stood in the blinding circle, where glancing lights by the thousand formed a weird contrast to the black background of the rows of miners. Forthwith the liveliest music was heard, with appropriate singing. Hollow masses of rock came away by the aid of machinery, and soon discovered a brilliant interior to the eye of the delighted spectator. Mimetic representations, and aught else that can add a charm to such a moment for the crowd, combined to excite and at the same time to satisfy a cheerful attention.
But with what astonishment was our friend filled, when he saw himself presented to the chief people, and amongst them, in solemn attire of state, beheld friend Jarno.
“Not without reason,” exclaimed the latter, “have I exchanged my earlier name for the more significant Montan. You find me here, consecrated to mountain and cavern, and happier in this limited situation below and upon the earth than can be imagined.”
“Then,” replied the wanderer, “you will thus, as a thorough expert, now be more liberal with explanation and instruction than you showed yourself towards me on those rocky mountain crags yonder.”
“Not at all,” rejoined Montan; “mountains are dumb teachers, and make silent scholars.”
After this festal celebration they supped at numerous tables. All the guests who, invited or uninvited, were present, belonged to the craft; consequently, even at the table at which Montan and his friend sat down, a conversation suited to the place at once commenced. The talk was all of mountains, lodes, and strata, of the veins and metals of the district in detail. But presently the conversation was merged into general subjects, and then the question turned on nothing less than the creation and origin of the world. But hereupon the discussion was no longer amicable, but rather involved itself speedily in a lively dispute.
Several of them would derive the formation of our earth from a watery covering sinking and diminishing itself little by little. They adduced in their support the remains of organic dwellers in the sea, on the highest mountains, as well as on the low hills. Others, on the contrary, averred more positively that it was first glowing and molten, that fire also prevailed throughout, which after it had had sufficient effect upon the outer surface, was finally withdrawn into the very depths, and was henceforward in constant activity through volcanoes raging violently in the sea as well as on the earth, and thus by successive eruptions, and lava likewise streaming over time after time, formed the highest mountains. They also especially reminded those who thought otherwise, that, in fact, without fire nothing could become hot, and that an active fire always presupposed a hearth. However reconcilable with experience this might seem, many were not contented with it. They affirmed that mighty forms which had already become fully perfected within the bosom of the earth, were driven by the agency of irresistible elastic forces through the earth’s crust and out into the heights, and in this tumult many portions of them were at the same time scattered and splintered far over the contiguous and distant tracts; they appealed to many facts which were not to be explained without some such assumption. A fourth, though perhaps not a numerous party, laughed at these futile attempts, and affirmed that indeed many circumstances of the surface of this earth would never be capable of explanation if we did not allow that larger and smaller mountain ranges had fallen down from the atmosphere, and tracts of land had been covered far and wide by them. They called to witness larger and smaller masses of rock which are found lying scattered about in many countries, and even in our days are collected as having been hurled down from above.
At last, two or three quiet guests essayed to call in the assistance of a period of severe cold, and from the highest mountain ridges would look in spirit upon glaciers sloping down far into the land, sliding-planes so to speak, provided for heavy masses of primitive rock, which were thus pushed farther and farther down upon the slippery path. These, on the advent of the period of thaw, must needs sink down, to remain lying forever on foreign soil. Thus, also, the transport of enormous blocks of stone hither from the north by means of floating drift-ice would become possible.* These good folks, however, could not make any impression with their somewhat calm views. It was held to be far more in accordance with nature to allow the creation of a world to proceed with gigantic bursting and upheaving, with tumultuous roaring and fiery jaculation; and when, moreover, the heat of wine had contributed its potent effect, the sumptuous feast had almost been broken up in murderous doings.
Utterly confused and befogged was our friend’s mind, who, in quiet thought, still cherished from of old the Spirit that had moved upon the face of the waters, and the deep flood which had stood fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, and to whom, amid this strange talk, the world, well-ordered, developed, and animated as it was, seemed to fall, before his imagination, into a chaotic heap.
The next morning he did not omit to question the grave Montan on this subject, exclaiming, “I could not understand you yesterday, for amongst all the extraordinary things and speeches, I was hoping to hear at last your opinion, and your decision; instead of which, you were sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other, and always tried to confirm the opinion of him who happened to be speaking. But now tell me seriously what you think of it all, what you know about it.”
To this Montan replied, “I know as much as they, and would rather not think at all about it.”
“But here,” replied Wilhelm, “are so many contradictory opinions; and it is said, forsooth, that truth lies in the middle.”
“Not at all,” rejoined Montan; “the problem lies in the middle, insoluble perhaps, perhaps also accessible if it is taken in hand.”
So after somewhat more had been said to like effect by one and the other, Montan continued confidentially: “You blame me for supporting each one in his opinion, insomuch that a further argument can always be found for everything; I thereby increased the confusion, it is true, but, in point of fact, I cannot, with this breed, take the matter more seriously. I have thoroughly convinced myself that what each holds dearest—and these, in fact, are our convictions—he must, in deepest seriousness, keep to himself. Each one knows what he does know only for himself; and that he must keep secret; when he utters it, contradiction is excited forthwith, and when he ventures into conflict, he loses the equilibrium in himself, and what is best in him, if not annihilated, is at any rate disturbed.”
Prompted by some counter-arguments of Wilhelm’s, Montan further declared, “If one once knows on what everything depends, one ceases to be argumentative.”
“But what does everything depend on then?” replied Wilhelm impatiently.
“That is soon said,” answered the other. “Thinking and Doing, Doing and Thinking, from all time admitted, from all time practised, but not discerned by everyone. Like expiration and inhalation, the two must forever be pulsating backwards and forwards in life; like question and answer, the one cannot exist without the other. Whoever makes for himself a law—which the genius of human understanding secretly whispers into the ear of every new-born child—to test Doing by Thinking, Thinking by Doing, he cannot go astray; and if he does go astray, he will soon find himself on the right way again.”
Montan now proceeded to conduct his friend methodically round the mining district; they were greeted everywhere with a gruff “Good-luck!” which they cheerfully returned.
“I often feel inclined,” said Montan, “to call out to them, ‘Good sense!’ for sense is more than luck; yet the people always have sense enough, if their superiors have any. Since I am here, if not to command, at any rate to advise, I have taken some trouble to learn the peculiarities of the mountain. They are striving most vigorously after the metals that it contains. I have been trying to make clear to myself where these occur, and I have succeeded. It is not done by luck alone, but by sense, which calls in the aid of luck in order to regulate it. How these mountains have come to be here I know not, and what is more I do not care to know; but I daily endeavor to win away from them their property. The lead and silver that they bear in their bosom is greedily sought after; how they have it, I keep to myself, and provide an opportunity of finding what is wished for. At my advice an experimental attempt is made, it succeeds, and is lucky for me. What I know, I know to myself; in what I succeed, I succeed for the benefit of others, and no one imagines that in the same way he might have succeeded just as well. I am under the suspicion of possessing a magic wand; but they do not remark that they contradict me whenever I bring forward anything in the way of reasoning, and that they thereby cut off from themselves the way to the tree of knowledge where these divining rods may be plucked.”
Reassured by this conversation, persuaded that he, too, having hitherto prospered in his Doing and Thinking, had in general adapted himself, in a widely different department, to his friend’s requirements, he now proceeded to give account of the employment of his time, since he had obtained the favor of distributing and using the prescribed term of travel, not by days and hours, but in accordance with the true aim of a complete culture.
In this there was now, as it happened, no need of many words, for a circumstance of some moment gave our friend an opportunity of turning his acquired talent skilfully and favorably to account, and of proving himself truly useful to human society.
But of what sort this was, we must not at the moment disclose, though the reader shall soon, before the end of this book, be sufficiently informed of it.*
[* ] This passage is interesting as apparently giving Goethe’s own views as to erratic rocks, at a time when the now familiar and well-established theory of glacier-movement had not been arrived at.—Ed.
[* ] The circumstance after all is not told. It was meant, Düntzer says, to be an accident to one of the miners.—Ed.