*Conversations with Goethe*

By Johann Peter Eckermann, imagine transcripts of podcasts from the 1820s, albeit edited.  This book is described on the back jacket as “In 1823 he [Goethe] became friend and mentor to the young writer Johann Eckermann, who, for the last nine years of Goethe’s life, recorded their wide-ranging conversations on art, literature, science and philosophy.”

I find this book gripping throughout, though many parts are tough going if you are not up on the details of not only Friedrich Schiller, but also say Ludwig Tieck and Christoph Martin Wieland.  If nothing else, it helps you realize how funny virtually all of today’s podcasts will sound (and read) someday.

You can order it here.  Upon my reread, one striking feature of the dialogues is how much Goethe was obsessed with discussing and evaluating talent:

“Byron’s lofty status as an English peer was very damaging to him.  Every talent struggles with the outside world — and it is harder still for someone of high birth and great wealth.  A middling sort of condition is far more congenial to talent — which is why our great artists and poets come from the middle classes.  Byron’s fondness for excess would have been far less dangerous to him if he had been o lower birth and humbler means.  As it was, he had it in his power to fulfill his every whim, and that landed him in endless trouble.  And besides, how could he, coming from the upper class himself, be impressed or inhibited by social rank of any kind?  He said whatever was on his mind, and that brought him into ceaseless conflict with the world.

You will find talent discussions every few pages or more frequently yet.

The new translation is by Allan Blunden and is A+, noting that Goethe usually is impossible to meaningfully translate into English.  This is amazingly the first new English translation in 150 years and it is the best sense we have of Goethe as a human being.

The text also has been an influence on my own Conversations with Tyler.  The book is now quite oddly contemporary once again.


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