What hath Goethe wrought?

You all know how I read The Sorrows of Young Werther and found myself enchanted by the young man, with his endless philosophising, expounding upon Nature, Romantically (as we now call it) throwing himself with full emotional force into life, love, and death.

I was so taken with it that I tried (in vain, of course) to remember what I’d learned about this period when studying the Romantic poets oh so long ago. What music did they listen to? What books did they read? What was going on in politics? in art? in science?

Then in Costco today I came across this wonderful book. The subtitle, How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science, grabbed me. I was confused as I thought the Romantics were rebelling against the science of the Enlightenment. The author, Richard Holmes, has written many books on the Romantic poets, so I’m really looking forward to his explanation of this! The writing is elegant and captivating, which is important because Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life is the only nonfiction book I’ve finished in an embarrassingly long time. Oh I begin them with high hopes, but I’ve got half a dozen nonfiction titles sitting around my house that I’ve started and abandoned. (Temporarily! Temporarily!)

Who could resist a quote like this: “I shall attack Chemistry, like a Shark.” –Shelley


“To the natural philosopher there is no natural object unimportant or trifling…a soap bubble…an apple…a pebble…He walks in the midst of wonders.”–John Herschel

And this from Don Juan, by Byron, which so reminded me of Werther.

He thought about himself, and the whole Earth,

Of Man the wonderful, and of the Stars,

And how the deuce they ever could have birth;

And then he thought of Earthquakes, and of Wars,

How many miles the Moon might have in girth,

Of Air-balloons, and of the many bars

To perfect Knowledge of the boundless Skies;

And then he thought of Donna Julia’s eyes.

However, I won’t be able to start on it right away because tomorrow is the live streaming broadcast of Verdi’s opera Don Carlo from the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. I need to listen to the opera again tonight with the vocal score (and English libretto) in front of me, because if the broadcast is like their broadcast of Beethoven’s Fidelio last summer, there will be no subtitles. I adore subtitles in opera, because I still remember the bad old days of trying to read two dense paragraphs of synopsis after rushing in late to the opera and trying to keep it in my head while watching something that was unintelligible–but gorgeous music!

As it happens, Don Carlo is based on a play by the German writer Schiller and Wikipedia has led me down several fruitful paths. Both Goethe and Schiller are referenced in The Age of Wonder.

Well, I must be off to make chicken and vegetable soup and freeze some salmon and pork chops that I bought today.

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1 Response to What hath Goethe wrought?

  1. “I shall attack Chemistry, like a Shark.” …that is catchy.

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