Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XII. - Goethe's Works, vol. 5 (W. Meister's Travels; Elective Affinities)
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CHAPTER XII. - 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 hour appointed for Odoard’s address had come, and when all had been assembled, and were waiting quietly, he began to speak as follows:—
“The important work, in which I have invited this assembly of trusty men to take a part, is not quite new to you; for I have already talked with you in a general way about it. It is clear from my explanations that in the old world as well as in the new there are spaces which need better cultivation than has hitherto been bestowed upon them. In the latter, Nature has spread out vast and wide expanses, where she reposes untouched and uncivilized, so that one hardly ventures to attack her or challenge her to a contest. And yet to the resolute it is easy to win the waste places from her, bit by bit, and to make one’s self safe of a part-ownership. In the old world the reverse is the case. Here a part-possession has been established everywhere already; the title thereto, more or less, consecrated from time out of mind; and whilst in the new world the illimitable appears as an insuperable obstacle, here the simply limited opposes hindrance almost more difficult still to be overcome. Nature is to be constrained by the activity of mankind, by force, or by persuasion.
“If individual ownership is regarded as sacred by the whole of society, by the owner himself it is still more so. Custom, youthful impressions, respect for ancestors, liking for one’s neighbor, and a hundred other things, make the owner rigid and disinclined against every alteration. The older such a state of things is, the more complicated and subdivided, so much the more difficult is it to carry out a general plan which, while it took somewhat from individuals, would be of unlooked-for advantage to the whole, and even, by reaction and co-operation, to the individual again.
“For several years I have governed in the name of my sovereign a province that, being divided from his territories, has not been turned to as much account as would be possible. This very exclusion, or seclusion if you will, has hitherto prevented the establishment of any means which would have given the inhabitants opportunity of distributing abroad what they have and of receiving from abroad what they need.
“I governed this country with absolute authority; there was much good to be effected, but still always of a limited sort. Everywhere bars were imposed upon improvement, and what was most desirable seemed to be in another world.
“I had no other obligation but to be economical. What is easier than that! No less easy is it to put down abuses, to avail one’s self of human capabilities, to help, to assist those who aspire. All this could be achieved quite easily with common-sense and authority. All this, in a measure, effected itself. But the direction in which my attention, my anxiety, was especially bestowed, was on the neighbors who, with no similar disposition and with by no means the same conviction, ruled their lands or caused them to be ruled.
“I had almost resigned myself, and kept as well as possible within my own domain, using the traditional state of things as well as might be; but I all at once observed that the age was coming to my assistance. Younger officials were installed in the neighborhood; they cherished similar intentions, though animated, it is true, only with a desire for the general good; and little by little they adopted my schemes for a universal combination, all the more readily because it fell to my lot to make the greater sacrifices, without any of them particularly noticing that the greater advantage also inclined to my side.
“So there are now three of us allied in governing considerable tracts of land; our princes and ministers are convinced of the honesty and utility of our plans; for certainly more is required to view one’s advantage in the whole rather than in detail. In the latter, necessity always indicates to us what to do and what to leave undone, and thus it is quite enough if we apply this standard to existing circumstances; but in the other case we have to create a future; and even if a penetrating mind discover a plan for this, how can it hope to find others concurring in it?
“Nor would the individual succeed in this; time, which emancipates minds, at the same time gives them a wider outlook, and in the wider expanse the greater is more easily recognized, and one of the most powerful obstacles to human enterprises becomes more easily removed. This consists, to wit, in the fact that men may perhaps agree in their objects, but much more rarely in the means whereby they are to be attained. For the truly great raises us above ourselves, and shines before us like a star; but the choice of means calls us back within ourselves, and then the individual becomes just as he was, and feels himself just as isolated as if he had not previously been in accord as to the whole.
“Here then we must repeat—the age must help us; time must take the place of reason, and in a more expanded soul the higher interest must banish the more sordid one.
“Let this be enough; and should it be too much for the moment, I will afterwards recall it to the mind of every participator. Exact measurements have been taken; roads indicated, the positions determined in which inns, and ultimately perhaps villages, will be met with. For all sorts of structures opportunity, nay, necessity exists. First-rate architects and skilled workmen are making everything ready: drawings and plans are prepared. The intention is to settle large and small questions, and thus with strict control to lay out to the astonishment of the mother-country the sums of money lying ready: for we live in the best hope that a united activity will be developed from now onwards on all sides.
“But the point to which I have to draw the attention of all participators, since it may perhaps have an influence upon their decision, is the arrangement, the form in which we associate all the co-operators, and purpose to create for them a worthy position amongst themselves and in relation to the rest of the civic world.
“As soon as we enter the indicated territory the various handicrafts will forthwith be declared to be arts, and definitely divided and set apart, by the denomination strict arts, from those that are free. Here, at present, we can only speak of such occupations as make building their object; all the men here present, young and old, rank themselves in this class.
“Let us here recount in order, how they raise the edifice on high, and step by step make it habitable. First of all name the stone-masons who work into completeness the foundation and corner-stone, which with the help of the masons they settle in the proper place and with the most exact measurement. Then follow the masons, who on the rigidly tested foundation make good assurance of the present and the future. Sooner or later the carpenter brings his contributions, made ready beforehand, and so the intended building gradually mounts on high. We summon the roofer as soon as possible: inside we require the joiner, the glazier, the locksmith, and if I name the whitewasher last it is because he can interpose, with his task, at the most varying season, and give the whole, inside and outside throughout, a pleasing appearance. Many coadjutors I do not mention, following only the principal plan.
“The grades of apprentice, craftsman, and master, must be most strictly observed: also in these there could be many graduations, but tests could not be too carefully imposed. Whosoever comes forward knows that he is devoting himself to strict art, and that he can look for no remissible claims from her. A single link breaking in a long chain spoils the whole: in great undertakings, as in great dangers, triviality must be banished.
“It is in this very aspect that the strict art must serve as a pattern to the free, and try to put her to shame. If we look at these socalled free arts, which yet in point of fact are only to be so taken and named in a higher sense, we find that it is utterly indifferent whether they are pursued well or ill. The worst statue stands on its feet, like the best, a painted figure steps forward briskly enough on its falsely drawn feet, its misshapen arms hold powerfully enough: the figures do not stand in the proper plane, but the ground does not on that account fall in. With music it is still more striking: the shrieking fiddle of a village tavern sets the sturdy limbs astir most potently; and we have listened to the most inept church music by which the faithful man has been edified. But would you wish to reckon poetry also among the free arts, you would verily see that this one hardly knows where it ought to find a limit. And yet every art has its inner laws, the disregard of which, however, inflicts no harm upon humanity; on the other hand, the strict arts can allow themselves no license. The free artist one can praise, and can find pleasure in his merits, even if his work on closer inspection will not hold its own.
“But if we regard the two, the free as well as the strict arts, in their most perfect conditions, the latter must beware of pedantry and prejudice, the former of carelessness and bungling. He who has to guide them will call attention to this. Misapplications and deficiencies will thereby be avoided.
“I do not repeat (for our whole life will be a repetition of what has been said)—I make only the following remark: He who takes to a strict art must devote himself to it for his whole life. Hitherto they have been called handiwork, quite appropriately and correctly: the experts ought to work with the hand, and the hand, if it is to do it, must be animated by a life of its own; it must be a nature for itself, having its own thoughts, its own will, and this cannot be the case in several different ways.”
After the speaker had concluded with some additional good words, those present, one and all, arose; and the operatives, instead of withdrawing, formed an orderly circle in front of the table of the recognized leaders. Odoard handed round to all a printed sheet, from which, with modest liveliness, they sang a cheering song to a well-known melody:—