Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
So what's so special about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Why the fuss about someone who died over 175 years ago?
An interesting video
The fact that he has sometimes been referred to as the last universal man suggests that he is someone special. As well as writing his masterpiece Faust, which he began in his youth and finished in his 83rd year, he showed a lifelong interest in the sciences, writing books on The Metamorphosis of Plants and the Theory of Colours. At 26, he contributed to Lavater's book on Physiognomy. He produced many papers on a diverse range of scientific subjects, including an 'Outline for a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy, Commencing with Osteology', 'On Granite', 'Toward a Theory of Weather', 'An Intermaxillary Bone is Present in the Upper Jaw of Man As Well As in Animals', 'The Spiral Tendency in Vegetation' etc.
He was also made a Privy Councillor of the Dutchy of Weimar at 27, and was responsible for anything from formulating fire-prevention regulations to overseeing the re-opening of a silver mine. Three years later he took on the responsibility for flood protection, drainage and road construction and also became Commissioner for War, supervising hundreds of soldiers employed mainly on guard duties and messaging services. He was faced with the daily realities of life in a relatively small Dutchy of limited resources. At the time the population of the town of Weimar was just 6,000.
Against his natural inclinations Goethe also took on the task of bringing the finances of the Dutchy under control. As Friedenthal has put it in his book on Goethe, 'Goethe urged strict observance of budgeted expenditure, and threatened to resign unless the steward of the Duke's privy purse complied with his demands for economy.........He also carried through a resolute policy of disarmament... and this reduction of the armed forces is the basis of his attempt to put the country's finances on a sound footing'.
Is it any wonder that Goethe, after ten years of this frantic lifestyle in Weimar, decided to leave it all behind for a while and escape to fulfil an earlier desire to visit Italy? His book 'Italian Journey' gives a very amusing account of his time there and on page after page his descriptive writings demonstrate his powers of observation and his love of nature, art and architecture.
To be continued