The Wisdom of Goethe


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) was a German writer and statesman whose works include an autobiography, novels, poetry and dramas, memoirs, literary criticism, and treatises on anatomy and botany, and color, as well as more than 10,000 letters, and nearly 3,000 drawings.

Following the success of his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) Goethe was ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar in 1782. During his first ten years in Weimar, Goethe was a member of the Duke's privy council. American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson selected Goethe as one of six 'representative men' in his work of the same name (along with Plato, Emanuel Swedenborg, Montaigne, Napoleon, and Shakespeare). His humanity and vast range of abilities can only be glimpsed through these quotes:

'Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.’

'I love those who yearn for the impossible.'

'If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.'

'Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.'

'A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.'

'There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.'

'Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.'

'As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.'

'The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.'

'I have possessed that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be.'

'Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.'

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