Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IV. - 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 IV. - 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.
The next morning Friedrich came betimes into Wilhelm’s room, with a pamphlet in his hand, and handing it to him he said, “Yesterday evening, what with all your virtues—which you were circumstantial enough in recounting—I had no opportunity of speaking of myself and my good qualities, of which I have good enough cause to boast, and which stamp me as a worthy member of this neat caravan. Look here at this book, and you will recognize a masterpiece.”
Wilhelm ran over the sheets with hasty glances, and saw written, in an agreeably legible though hurried style, the yesterday’s narrative of his anatomical studies, almost word for word as he had given it, so that he could not conceal his astonishment.
“You know,” replied Friedrich, “the fundamental law of our association: each must be perfect in some one department or other, if he wish to claim membership. Well, I cudgelled my brains as to how I could manage this, and could not hit upon anything, though I knew well enough that no one surpassed me in memory, nor in a swift, easy and legible handwriting. You will recollect these agreeable accomplishments from the days of our theatrical career, when we shot away our powder upon sparrows, without reflecting that a shot prudently utilized would perhaps procure a hare for the kitchen. How often have I prompted without a book, how often have I, after a few hours, written out my part from memory! It was a matter of course to you at that time: you thought it must needs be so: so did I, and it never occurred to me how much it might avail me. The abbé made the discovery first: he found that it brought grist to his mill: he tried exercising me, and I was glad to do what was so easy for me, and gave pleasure to an earnest man. And now I, when there is need, am a whole office in myself; besides we thus carry with us a two-legged calculating machine, and no prince, however numerous his officials, is better provided than our superiors.”
A lively discussion about occupations of this sort led their minds to other members of the society.
“Would you have thought,” said Friedrich, “that the most useless creature in the world, as it seemed, my Philina, would become the most useful member of the long chain? Give her a bit of cloth; set men, set women before her: without taking a measurement she cuts out for the whole lot, and contrives to use up all the patches and gores in such a way, that a great saving is the result—and all without any paper-pattern. A happy inspired glance informs her of everything; she looks at the man, and cuts; he may go where he likes; she cuts away, and makes him a coat that seems to be moulded upon his body. Yet this would not be possible if she had not got a seamstress to aid her, Montan’s Lydia, who has at last become quiet, and remains quiet, but sews too like no one else, stitch after stitch just like pearls, like embroidery. That is what people may come to! In point of fact a great deal that is useless hangs about us from habit, liking, carelessness, or wilfulness—a bundled-up cloak of rags. What nature has intended us for, the best of what she has stored within us, we consequently can neither discover nor make use of.”
General reflections on the advantages of the social club which had so fortunately found itself assembled together, gave an opening for the fairest expectations.
When Lenardo, presently, joined them, he was requested by Wilhelm to speak of himself too: of the life he had hitherto led, and kindly to give them information on the way in which he had helped on himself and others.
“You no doubt remember, my good friend,” replied Lenardo, “in what an extraordinarily excited condition you found me at the first moment of our new acquaintanceship. I was sunk, absorbed in the most wonderful desire, in an irresistible longing: the question then could only be of the ensuing hour, of the deep suffering that was awaiting me, which I showed myself so active in making keener. I could not make known to you the earlier circumstances of my youth, as I now must do in order to take you along the way which has brought me hither.
“Amongst the earliest of my capacities which were gradually developed by surrounding circumstances, a certain impulse towards technical knowledge became prominent, which was every day fed by the impatience that one feels in the country, when in large buildings, but particularly in small alterations, plans and whims, one is obliged to forego one sort of work for another, and chooses rather to fall-to at once in a clumsy bungling manner than be delayed for the sake of skilful work. By good luck, there was roving up and down in our neighborhood a ‘jack-of-all-trades,’ who, as he found that I suited his purpose, preferred to help me rather than any of the neighbors: he set me up a turning-lathe, which at every visit he managed to use more for his own benefit than for my instruction. In the same way, too, I procured carpenter’s tools, and my liking for such things was increased and enlivened by the conviction, at that time loudly expressed, that no one should venture out into life unless, in case of need, he was qualified to earn his living by a trade. My zeal was approved of by my instructors in accordance with their own principles. I can scarcely recollect that I ever played, for all my leisure hours were employed in doing or making something. Yes, I may boast that even when still a boy I advanced a clever smith, through my representations, to be lock-maker, file-cutter, and watchmaker.
“To accomplish all this, tools, indeed, must first be procured, and we suffered to no small degree from the disease of those practitioners who transpose the means to the end, and rather spend time in preparations and plans than apply themselves right seriously to carrying them out. Where, however, we showed ourselves practically industrious was in forwarding the laying-out of parks, with which no landowner could now dispense. Numerous summer-houses of moss and bark, rustic bridges and benches, testified to the activity with which we indefatigably occupied ourselves in exemplifying a primitive architecture in all its rudeness, in the midst of the civilized world.
“This impulse led me, with increasing years, to take more serious interest in all that is so useful, and in its present condition so indispensable to the world, and gave a peculiar interest to my tour of several years’ length.
“But since man is commonly wont to wander on along the road which has brought him so far, I was less favorably disposed towards machinery than to direct handwork, in which we practise strength and feeling in combination; on this account I was glad to confine myself especially to those narrow circles in which, according to circumstances, this or that work had its natural sphere. A condition of this sort gives to every association a special individuality, and to every family, or to a small community consisting of several families, the most definite character: one lives in the purest feeling of a living whole.
“At the same time I had accustomed myself to note down everything, to set it forth in figures, and thus, not without a view to future use, to employ my time profitably and pleasantly.
“This natural taste, this talent, improved by cultivation, I used to the best advantage in the important task which the society had imposed upon me—of investigating the condition of the mountain-people, and enlisting in our ranks such as were available and adapted for travel. Would you like to employ this beautiful evening, in which manifold matters of business press upon me, in the perusal of a part of my diary? I will not affirm that it is exactly agreeable reading; to me it has always seemed amusing, and to a certain degree instructive. Still, we always reflect ourselves in everything that we produce.”