Johann von Goethe to Charlotte von Stein

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
is regarded by many as a German literary genius. Brought up in Frankfurt-aam-Main, he studied law in Leipzig and Strassburg. In 1774 he wrote the popular Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther), which caused a sensation. From 1775 on he lived in Weimar, where he met and fell in love with Charlotte von Stein, inspiration for the heroine of his play Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787) and Natalie in his Wilhelm Meister novels. He spent two years (1786-88) in Italy, then returned to Weimar. In 1808 he produced the first part of his most famous work, Faust (1808; part II, 1832). He also wrote works on botany and biology, an autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit, and a collection of verses, West-Östlicher Divan (1819), among many other writings. In addition, his official duties at the Weimar court included director of the war department, adviser to the duke, and director mines and all scientific and artistic institutions, including the theatre.

Charlotte von Stein
(née von Schardt)
was the eldest daughter of Weimar’s master of court ceremonies. In 1758 she became lady-in-waiting to the duchess, Anna Amalia, and in 1764 married Friedrich, Freiherr von Stein, equerry to Duke Karl August. In 1775–the mother of seven children–she met Goethe. The following year she began an intimate friendship with him that lasted some 13 years. An accomplished singer and artist, she was also well read, and in 1776 wrote a humorous piece, Rimo, on Goethe and the women of the court. Their friendship ended after Goethe’s two year visit to Italy without her. Four years later, in 1792, she wrote a prose tragedy, Dido (published 1867), which contains many references to her break with him.


June 17, 1784

My letters will have shown you how lovely I am. I don’t dine at Court, I see few people, and take my walks alone, and at every beautiful spot I wish you were there. I can’t help loving you more than is good for me; I shall feel all the happier when I see you again.
I am always conscious of my nearness to you, your presence never leaves me. In you I have a measure for every woman, for everyone; in your love a measure for all that is to be. Not in the sense that the rest of the world seems obscure tome, on the contrary, your love makes it clear; I see quite clearly what men are like and what they plan, wish, do and enjoy; I don’t grudge them what they have, and comparing is a secret joy to me, possessing as I do such an imperishable treasure.
You in your household must feel as I often do in my affairs; we often don’t notice objects simply because we don’t choose to look at them, but things acquire an interest as soon as we see clearly the way they are related to each other. For we always like to join in, and the good man takes pleasure in arranging, putting in order and furthering the right and its peaceful rule.
The elephant’s skull is coming with me to Weimar.
My rock studies are going very well.
Fritz is happy and good. Without noticing it, he is taken into the world, and so without knowing it, he will become familiar with it. It is still all a game to him; yesterday I got him to read some petitions and give me summaries of them; he laughed like anything and wouldn’t believe that people could be in such straits as these petitions made out.

Adieu, you whom I love a thousand times.

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