- "As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live."
The Sorrows of Young Werther
- "The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it."
A lawyer who turned from the dark side to the light of great literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in August 1749 AD in Frankfurt-am-Main. Goethe was also, in the fullest sense of the term, bourgeois; unlike most of his contemporary artists, he had no need of wealthy patrons nor gainful employment.
Goethe was the son of a well-off tailor-turned-innkeeper who, after studying law in Leipzig and Strasbourg, lived on the inheritance from his father’s estate, allowing him to tour Italy, France and the Low Countries. In April 1770, Johann began studies for his doctorate, but his dissertation questioning the legal status of the Ten Commandments was too scandalous to be accepted. Although he never matriculated, von Goethe did meet young Johann Herder, already a famous literary intellectual, who introduced him to the works of Shakespeare.
Von Goethe had (briefly, but it was boring) a legal practice yet found the urge to write too appealing. In the autumn of 1771, he finished the first draft of his first play; in 1774 he completed his first novel. Neither were published immediately, but friends and others read the works in manuscript. Soon enough, Johann Wolfgang found himself firmly established as part of the German literary movement known as S'turm und Drang', marked by political liberalism and a commitment to Herder’s ideal of a national German culture.
Following a couple of illicit affairs and a rudely-ended engagement, Johann set off in 1776 to tour Italy. But he never arrived; he received an invitation from the new duke of Weimar, Charles Augustus. For the rest of his life – save for the span 1786-1788 when he finally visited Italy (in style) – he would remain at Weimar writing. His prodigious output before his death in 1832 would eventually be published in 142 volumes.