Monument to Goethe

Monument to Goethe.

  We find in the Schnellpost a letter copied from a German journal, which gives an interesting account of the festival on the occason of erecting the statue of Goethe by Schwanthaler in his native place, Frankfort on the Maine, 22d October, last.

  Few persons of celebrity from a distance were present, not even the great contemporaries of the poet, Tieck and Schlegel. His friend the Chancellor Von Muller came, and answered on the part of Wiemar to the many compliments that were naturally directed to that region.

  “On the evening of the 21st,” I saw, “says the writer, “a young man pass, dressed in mourning, who is, I am told, the grandson of Goethe. He is in mourning for a lovely sister, who, some few days since, went to sleep in Vienna;—that same Vienna where, a winter or two since, the Viennese crowded to see her dance with a Herr Von Schiller.”

  At the theatre, a drama by Goethe was performed, with appropriate decorations. Emblems and inscriptions designated the house where he was born, on every occasion to strangers the most interesting object in Frankfort. The public houses attracted visitors by mottoes taken from his works. There was, however, in the preparations an obvious lack both of enthusiasm, and that address and grace which the Poet himself possessed in illustrating such occasions. He never was fortunate in so rich an occasion, as the suggestions afforded by his works and life are endless in beauty and variety. It is a pity he left no heir of his genius to make use of them. For busy as his life was, he was always ready to lavish the treasures of that genius on such an hour, knowingly how many suggestions may thus be, unawares to themselves, sown in the minds of spectators. It was, also, insufferable to him that what was done at all should be imperfectly done. Had he been a sculptor he would have been as patient as the Greeks in finishing bas-reliefs on the pedestals of statues.

  At noon, the cover was taken from the statue. “There he stood, grand and commanding, looking upon his unknown countrymen, with his tranquil eye, with his high earnest brow, with the proud mouth. Then up flew hats and handkerchiefs; then many an eye was wet; many cheeks glowed, and, only after a deep full pause, was raised the shout of homage.”   *    *    *

  “Whoever had the luck to see his face in life finds an exact transcript in this work of Schwanthaler, but the figure is idealized. Goethe had legs too short, in proportion, from the knee downward, to the rest of his figure; the head was uncommonly perfect. Schwanthaler has brought the whole figure into colossal, but harmonious proportions, and given him, so far as the drapery lets it be seen, a handsome leg. As to the head he needed only to copy nature to produce a magnificent result, and has done so.

  As to the attitude I find, perhaps from remembering his habits, the idea of his personal presence much better conveyed in the well known work of Rauch: where he stands free, in a long surtout of modern form, a kerchief loosely tied around his neck, his arms crossed behind him. To say nothing of its being the exact presentation of him as he was in life, there is a most powerful expression of his character, self-relying, self-centred and contained, a self-consciousness, not untinged with hauteur and defiance, yet full of dignity. Here, no artist has come near Rauch on this subject, Marchesi took him sitting and this suits the Olympic repose of his person better than standing, even upright,. But Schwanthaler has given support to the figure; bringing forward one knee, and bending one hip, he breaks the grand effect of the whole. Neither do I see any reason for placing a laurel crown in his hand. Shall the Poet carry his laurels in his hand?” Neither the robe, nor the place which has been selected for placing the statue please the critic. The former is the night-gown or bathing mantle which has been assigned to so many modern statues, faute de mieux; the place does not allow a fair opportunity to see the figure.

  “Gentlemen artists;” he continues, “you should take a lesson from our dear ancients. They dedicated to their rulers and generals standing or equestrian statues, but to their orators, poets, and thinkers only busts, in groves or halls. Let him who doubts their good judgment, in this, compare the effect produced by the busts of Goethe and Schiller in the library at Weimar with that of the full-length statues of these Dioscuri in Frankfort and Stuttgart; I think he will agree that the ancients were wise people.”

  *    *    *    *    *     “Yes, Goethe is Germany’s greatest, and not only so, but her most German Poet. Schiller’s poetry, admirable as it is, might have been produced in any European state this side the Niemen, for he is just the cosmopolitan or, as the French style it, “humanitarian” poet; the nobly tempered speaker of the new time and its ideas of life and civil duties. But Goethe is not only European, but German heart’s blood; none but a German could have written Götz and Werther, Hermann and Dorothea, his songs and his Faust.”         *

“Monument to Goethe.” New York Daily Tribune, 16 December 1844, p. 1.