The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 1/To the Reader

To the Reader

These two translations, "Meister's Apprenticeship" and "Meister's Travels," have long been out of print, but never altogether out of demand; nay, it would seem, the originally somewhat moderate demand has gone on increasing, and continues to increase. They are, therefore, here republished; and the one being in some sort a sequel to the other, though in rather unexpected sort, they are now printed together. The English version of "Meister’s Travels" has been extracted, or extricated, from a compilation of very various quality named "German Romance," and placed by the side of the "Apprenticeship," its forerunner, which, in the translated as in the original state, appeared hitherto as a separate work.

In the "Apprenticeship," the first of these translations, which was executed some fifteen years ago, under questionable auspices, I have made many little changes, but could not, unfortunately, change it into a right translation: it hung, in many places, stiff and laboured, too like some unfortunate buckram cloak round the light, harmonious movement of the original,—and, alas! still hangs so, here and there, and may now hang. In the second translation, "Meister’s Travels," two years later in date, I have changed little or nothing. I might have added much; for the original, since that time, was, as it were, taken to pieces by the author himself in his last years, and constructed anew, and, in the final edition of his works, appears with multifarious intercalations, giving a great expansion, both of size and of scope. Not pedagogy only, and husbandry and art and religion and human conduct in the nineteenth century, but geology, astronomy, cotton-spinning, metallurgy, anatomical lecturing, and much else, are typically shadowed forth in this second form of the "Travels," which, however, continues a fragment like the first, significantly pointing on all hands toward infinitude,—not more complete than the first was, or indeed perhaps less so. It will well reward the trustful student of Goethe to read this new form of the "Travels," and see how in that great mind, beaming in mildest mellow splendour, beaming if also trembling, like a great sun on the verge of the horizon, near now to its long farewell, all these things were illuminated and illustrated: but, for the mere English reader, there are probably in our prior edition of the "Travels" already novelties enough; for us, at all events, it seemed unadvisable to meddle with it further at present.

Goethe's position toward the English public is greatly altered since these translations first made their appearance. Criticisms near the mark, or farther from the mark, or even altogether far and away from any mark,—of these there have been enough. These pass on their road: the man and his works remain what they are and were,—more and more recognisable for what they are. Few English readers can require now to be apprised that these two books, named novels, come not under the Minerva-Press category, nor the Ballantyne-Press category, nor any such category; that the author is one whose secret, by no means worn upon his sleeve, will never, by any ingenuity, be got at in that way.

For a translator, in the present case, it is enough to reflect, that he who imports into his own country any true delineation, a rationally spoken word on any subject, has done well. Ours is a wide world, peaceably admitting many different modes of speech. In our wide world, there is but one altogether fatal personage,—the dunce,—he that speaks irrationally, that sees not, and yet thinks he sees. A genuine seer and speaker, under what conditions soever, shall he welcome to us; has he not seen somewhat of great Nature our common mother’s bringing forth,—seen it, loved it, laid his heart open to it and to the mother of it, so that he can now rationally speak it for us? He is our brother, and a good, not a bad, man: his words are like gold, precious, whether stamped in our mint, or in what mint soever stamped.

London, November, 1839.