Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER IX. - 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.
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The day of utmost importance had dawned; to-day were to be taken the first steps towards the general migration, to-day was it to be determined who would actually set forth into the world, or who would rather stay on this side and try his fortune on the undivided surface of the Old World.
A merry burden resounded in all the streets of the cheerful country town. Groups of people gathered together, the individual members of each craft combined, and, singing in unison, filed in an order determined by lot into the hall.
The authorities, as we will designate Lenardo, Friedrich and the Bailiff, were on the point of following them and taking the places due to their position, when a man of attractive appearance came up to them and asked their permission to be able to take part in the meeting. It would have been impossible to refuse him anything, so orderly, prepossessing and amiable was his demeanor, by the aid of which an imposing carriage, which pointed to the army as well as the court and good society, showed itself to the highest advantage. He went in with the others, and a place of honor was accorded to him. All the rest having sat down, Lenardo remained standing, and began to speak as follows:
“If we consider, my friends, the most populous provinces and kingdoms of the Continent, we find all over, wherever available soil occurs, that it is tilled, planted, kept in order and made beautiful, and in like measure sought after, taken possession of, fortified and defended. Thus, accordingly, do we convince ourselves of the high value of landed possession, and are forced to look upon it as the first, the best thing that can be man’s. When we find then on closer inspection the love of parents and children, the close clanship of fellow-countrymen and fellow-townsmen, as well as the general patriotic sentiment based immediately upon the soil, then does this acquisition and retention of area in large or small amount seem ever more important and worthy of respect. Yes, thus has Nature willed it! A man born upon the sod comes by custom to belong to it. The two grow with one another, and forthwith knit for themselves the most pleasing bonds. Who is there then that would lay hostile hands on the groundwork of all existence, or deny worth and dignity to so fair a gift of heaven.
“And yet one might say: If what man possesses is of great worth, to what he does and achieves a still greater must be ascribed. We may therefore, in a complete review, regard land-ownership as a smaller part of the goods that have been granted to us; but the most and the highest of them consist really in what is movable, and that which is gained in a life of movement.
“For such are we younger men especially bound to look round about us; for even if we had a desire to stay and plod on with our fathers’ inheritance, yet do we find ourselves summoned a thousand times by no means to shut our eyes to a wider prospect outwards and round about. Let us therefore hasten quickly to the sea-shore, and convince ourselves in one look what immeasurable spaces stand open for activity, and let us confess that at the mere thought we find ourselves quite differently aroused.
“Yet we will not lose ourselves in such boundless expanses, but turn our attention to the solid, wide, broad soil of so many countries and kingdoms. There we see large tracts of the country overrun by nomads whose towns are removable, whose living, supporting possession of herds should everywhere be introduced. We see them in the midst of the desert, in a large green meadow-plot, lying, as it were, at anchor in a longed-for haven. Such motion, such wandering, becomes a habit to them, a necessity; at last they look upon the surface of the earth as if it were not hemmed-in by mountains, nor penetrated by rivers. Still have we seen the north-east move towards the south-west; one people driving another before it—domination and ownership completely altered.
“From over-peopled countries will the same thing happen again in the great cycle of the earth. What we have to expect from other nations it would be difficult to say; but it is wonderful how, through our own over-population, we cramp each other from within: and without waiting to be driven out, we drive ourselves out; pronouncing of our own accord the sentence of banishment against one another.
“This then is the time and place for giving play, without vexation or downheartedness in our souls, to a certain restlessness, not suppressing the impatient longing which urges us to change our position and place. Yet let not whatsoever we intend and purpose come to pass from hasty feeling, nor from any other sort of compulsion, but from conviction corresponding to the best advice.
“It has been said and repeated, ‘Where I am well off, there is my fatherland;’ yet this comforting proverb would be better expressed if it ran, ‘Where I am useful, there is my fatherland.’ At home a man can be useless, without its being noticed at once: out in the world uselessness is soon evident. If then I say, ‘Let each one try to be useful to himself and others everywhere,’ this is no doctrine or piece of advice, but the declaration of life itself.
“Now let us look at the globe, and for the present leave the sea unregarded. See that you are not carried away by the swarms of ships, but fix your glance upon the mainland, and marvel how it is overspread by a teeming, intercrossing ant-race. This has the Lord God himself allowed, whilst He prevented the building of the tower of Babel, and scattered the human race over all the world. Let us therefor praise Him, for this blessing has gone out upon all generations.
“Observe with pleasure how all youth hastens to set itself in motion. Since instruction is offered to it neither in the house nor at the doors, it forthwith speeds to countries and cities, whither the renown of knowledge and wisdom entices it. After receiving a swift and moderate education it feels itself presently driven to take a further look round in the world to see whether it can thus or anywhere find out and snatch up any useful experience helpful to its ends. May it accordingly light on good luck! But we are thinking of those accomplished and distinguished men, those noble inquirers into nature, who willingly encounter every difficulty, every danger, in order to open out the world to the world, and through the most trackless wastes make a path and road.
“But mark you, too, up the level highways, cloud upon cloud of dust, indicating the track of commodious high-packed vehicles, in which the noble, the rich, and so many others roll along, whose varying way of thought and object Yorick has so gracefully contrasted for us.
“But the sturdy craftsman on foot may look after them reassured; for on him the fatherland has imposed the duty of making foreign ability his own, and of not returning to the native hearth until he has succeeded in this. But more generally we meet upon our road market-folk and pedlers; a small tradesman even dares not omit to leave his stall from time to time, to visit fairs and markets, to visit the wholesale dealer, and augment his scanty profit by the example and participation of the unlimited. But yet more unrestingly, in the shape of individuals on horseback, swarms in all the main and side streets the crowd of those whose occupation it is to make a claim on our purse, even against our will. Samples of all kinds, price-lists pursue us in town and country houses, and, wherever we may flee for refuge, industriously astonish us, offering opportunities which it would never occur to anyone in his senses to seek out for himself. But what shall I say now of the people which before all others appropriates for itself the blessing of eternal wandering, and by its restless activity contrives to outwit those who stand still and outstrip its fellow-wanderers? We need speak neither well nor ill of it. Nothing good, because our association keeps them aloof; nothing evil, because the traveller—mindful of reciprocal advantage—is bound to deal civilly with everyone he meets.
“But, now, before all things we have to think with sympathy of all artists; for they are throughout interconnected in the movement of the world. Does not the painter wander with easel and palette from face to face? and are not his brethren in art summoned, now here, now there—for there is building and modelling to be done everywhere? But more briskly does the musician step onward; for it is he especially who affords new surprise to a new ear—fresh astonishment for a fresh mind. Then the players, though they despise the cart of Thespis, yet still travel about in smaller companies, and their movable world is erected in every spot nimbly enough. Thus, individually, foregoing serious and profitable engagements, they like to change one place for another where their augmented talent with similarly augmented requirements affords opportunity and pretext. Thereby they generally so train themselves beforehand that they leave no important stage in their country untrodden.
“Next are we presently reminded to glance at the teaching class. This likewise you find in perpetual activity; one professional chair after the other is occupied and left in order to scatter richly—yes, in every direction—the seeds of quick culture. But more industrious, and of wider scope, are those pious souls who disperse themselves through all quarters of the world to bring salvation to the nations. Others, again, go as pilgrims to get salvation for themselves; whole hosts of them march to sanctified miraculous places, there to seek and to gain what their souls could not obtain at home.
“If all these, now, do not set us wondering, inasmuch as their doings and abstainings would for the most part be not conceivable without wandering, yet those who devote their industry to the soil we might at least regard as bound to it. By no means! Utilization can be imagined even without possession, and we see the keen cultivator forsaking a plot which has yielded him as a tenant-farmer profit and pleasure for a number of years; he seeks impatiently for the same, or greater profits, be it near or far. Nay, the owner himself leaves his newly-cleared tillage, as soon as he has made it, by his working, acceptable to a less expert settler. Anew he penetrates into the desert, a second time makes for himself a place in the forests; in compensation for his former toil, a double and a threefold larger space—upon which, perhaps, too, he thinks of not remaining.
“Let us leave him there, at war with bears and other beasts, and come back to the civilized world, where we find things in no sense more at rest. Look at any great well-ordered kingdom, where the most apt must suppose himself to be the most easy to move: at the nod of a prince, at the order of the state council, the useful man is conveyed from one place to the other. To him, too, our exhortation applies—‘Try to be of use everywhere, everywhere are you at home.” But let us look at important statesmen, leaving, though unwillingly, their high positions; so have we reason to pity them, since we must require them neither as emigrators nor as travellers; not as emigrators, because they renounce a desirable position without any prospect of a better situation being opened out for them even in appearance only; not as travellers, because to be useful to other places in any way is seldom conceded to them.
“The soldier, however, is called to a peculiarly wandering life: even in peace now one post, now another, is assigned to him. To fight for the fatherland near or far he must always keep himself ready to move, and not only for immediate safety, but also for the purposes of people and rulers, he wends his way to all parts of the world, and to settle in this place or that is granted only to a few. Now, whilst courage always stands out as the first quality in the soldier, yet it is always supposed to be combined with fidelity, on which account we see certain nations, renowned for their trustworthiness, called away from their native lands to serve as bodyguards for secular and spiritual princes.
“One more class, exceedingly migratory, and indispensable to the State, we see in those functionaries who, sent from court to court, encompass ministers and princes, and inweave the whole habitable globe with invisible threads. Not one of these, too, is sure of his position and locality for even one moment only. In time of peace the cleverest are sent from one part of the world to another; in war-time, following the victorious host, making ready the roads for it when fugitive, they are always prepared to exchange one place for another, on which account they always carry with them a large supply of farewell cards.
“If we have hitherto contrived to do ourselves honor at every step in claiming the most distinguished bodies of effective men as our comrades and colleagues in destiny, yet still, dear friends, there stands before you, as a conclusion, the highest honor, in finding yourselves affiliated with emperors, kings and princes. First let us remember, with benedictions, that noble imperial wanderer Hadrian, who marched on foot at the head of his host through the civilized world, made subject to him, thereby first completely taking possession of it. With horror let us remember the conquerors, those armed wanderers, against whom no resistance availed, nor wall and bulwark could protect inoffensive nations. Finally, let us accompany with honest pity those hapless exiled princes, who, falling from the summit of greatness, cannot even be received in the humble guild of effective wanderers.
“Since we have now made all this present and clear to one another, no petty despondency, no murkiness bred of passion, will prevail over us. The time is past when people rushed adventurously into the wide world. Thanks to scientific travellers writing with wisdom, copying artistically, we are everywhere sufficiently well-instructed to know tolerably what we have to expect.
“Yet the individual cannot attain to perfect knowledge. But our association is based on this, that each shall be instructed in his degree according to his aims. If anyone has a land in mind towards which his wishes are directed, we try to make known to him in detail what has floated before his imagination as a whole: to give ourselves, one to the other, a survey of the inhabited and habitable globe is the most agreeable, the most profitable of diversions.
“In such a sense, then, we can look upon ourselves as banded in a world-wide association. Simply grand the idea—easy its realization by reason and strength. Unity is all-powerful; no division, therefore, no strife amongst us. So far as we have principles, they are common to all of us. Let man, we say, learn to think of himself as being without any enduring external relation; let him seek for consistency not in his surroundings but in himself: there he will find it; cherish and foster it with love; he will form and educate himself so as to be everywhere at home. He who devotes himself to what is most necessary, goes everywhere most surely to his goal. Others, on the contrary, seeking what is higher, more subtle, have, even in the choice of their road, to be more circumspect.
“Yet, whatever man lays hold of and deals with, the individual is not enough. Society remains the highest need of any honest man. All useful people ought to stand in relation to each other, as the builder has to look after the architects, and they after masons and carpenters. And thus it is known to all, how and in what manner our association has been fixed and founded. We see no one amongst us who could not, according to his aims, use his effective faculty at any moment; who does not feel assured that everywhere, where chance, inclination, even passion might lead him, he would find himself well recommended, received, and aided on his way, nay, even as far as possible indemnified for accidents.
“Two obligations, moreover, we have most strictly taken upon us: to hold in honor every form of the worship of God; for they are all more or less comprised in the Creed: secondly, to allow all forms of government equally to hold good, since they all demand and promote a systematic activity—to employ ourselves in each, wherever and however long it may be, according to its will and pleasure. In conclusion, we hold it a duty to practise good morals, without pedantry and stringency; even as reverence for ourselves demands, which springs from the three reverences which we profess; all of us having the good fortune, some from youth up, to be initiated in this higher universal wisdom. All this have we, in the solemn hour of parting, once more brought to mind, explained, heard, and acknowledged, and will also seal with a trusting Farewell.