Books by Johann Goethe
Books about Johann Goethe

Biography: Johann Goethe

Goethe was born in Frankfurt am Main into a well-to-do middle-class family. His father, Johann, withdrew from public life and educated his children himself. Goethe's six-volume autobiography, Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (1811-22; trans. as Memoirs of Goethe, 1824), recalls his upbringing as a chaotic experience, but it may have been the most stimulating possible nourishment for his synthesizing mind.

At 16, Goethe began his studies at the university in Leipzig, then a leading cultural center. Here he wrote his earliest poems and plays. In 1770 at the university in Strasbourg he came under the influence of Johann Gottfried von Herder, who introduced him to the works of Shakespeare. In 1771, Goethe received a licentiate in law at Strasbourg and during the next 4 years practiced law with his father and wrote two works that brought him literary celebrity. In 1775 he was invited to the ducal court of Karl Augustus in Saxe-Weimar, where he held (1775-86) numerous high offices and spent most of the remainder of his life. During his early years there he also wrote beautiful and mysterious lyrics to Charlotte von Stein, a married woman 7 years his senior.

During a 2-year sojourn in Italy (1786-88), Goethe recognized that he was an artist and resolved to devote the rest of his life to writing. The decision did not promise to be a happy one at first; his return to Weimar was followed by years of alienation from court society. Many of his friends were offended by his living with young Christiane Vulpius, who bore him a son in 1789. To legitimize the child, Goethe married Christiane in 1806.

Goethe spent much of his time in nearby Jena and from 1794 to 1805 developed an intense collaboration with Friedrich Schiller, a union that many regard as a high point in German letters. However problematic Goethe's decision to withdraw from public life may have been, it did lead to his most important literary and scientific achievements. Goethe's creative powers persisted through his sixties and seventies, and he died in Weimar at the age of 82.

H. G. Haile



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