22 Goethe Quotes as Relevant Today as Two Centuries Ago
“I love those who yearn for the impossible.” — Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 -1832) was a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist and statesman, considered one of the great literary figures of his age.
At age 24 he wrote an emotionally charged novel called The Sorrows of Young Werther about a youth in love with a woman engaged to another man. It ends with a broken heart and the hero’s suicide. The writing was so infused with pathos that it resulted in copycat suicides in which anguished readers killed themselves wearing the same style of clothing as Werther.
In Leipzig not only was the book banned, but so also the style of clothing Werther wore at the last.
What prompted me to assemble this blog post was an effort to locate a Goethe quote that I’d once read and wished to accurately reference in another blog post. In my quest, at which I failed, I discovered a rich trove of golden nuggets. Their relevance two centuries later impressed me.
The quote I was seeking went something like this. Though restrained by conscience, I know my heart is capable of committing the most despicable crimes as any wicked person, therefore I am more merciful to others as a result.
He said it in a much more pithy manner, but the kernel of the idea was that all of us have a capacity for good and evil, thus we should not think ourselves superior to the ones who fail.
What follows are a batch of quotes that I selected from hundreds more that I found at several websites. Each would be worthy of a blogpost of its own. I hope you’ll read them all. Even better, if able, take your time and savor.
Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.
— Letter to A. F. Oeser
There is strong shadow where there is much light.
— Gotz von Berlichingen
One lives but once in the world.
—Clavigo, Act I
When young, one is confident to be able to build palaces for mankind, but when the time comes one has one’s hands full just to be able to remove their trash.
— Letter to Johann Kaspar Lavatar
One must be something in order to do something.
— Conversations with Eckermann
Life teaches us to be less harsh with ourselves and with others.
A world without love would be no world.
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
You really only know when you know little. Doubt grows with knowledge.
You ask which form of government is the best? Whichever teaches us to govern ourselves.
Everything that liberates our mind without at the same time imparting self-control is pernicious.
You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm… in the real world all rests on perseverance.
By seeking and blundering we learn.
Common-sense is the genius of humanity.
Everything looks easy that is practiced to perfection.
Everything that happens to us leaves some trace behind it, and everything insensibly contributes to make us what we are.
In love all is risk.
One rarely sees how deeply one is in debt till one comes to settle one’s accounts.
Only he deserves freedom who has day by day to fight for it.