S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
[Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; born at Frankfort-on-the-Main, Aug. 28, 1749; educated for the law at Leipsic and Strasburg; wrote The Sorrows of Werther, 1774; invited to the grand-ducal court of Saxe-Weimar, 1775, and established himself for life at Weimar; visited Italy, 1786; published his greatest works between 1788 and 1806, when the first part of Faust appeared, the whole not being finished until 1830; died March 22, 1832.]
It is better to do the idlest thing in the world than to sit idle for half an hour.
A maxim from Sternes Koran, which Goethe put into German: Es ist besser das geringste Ding von der Welt zu thun, als eine halbe Stunde für gering halten. Goethe once remarked to Eckermann, Be always resolute with the present hour. Every moment is of infinite value, for it is the representative of eternity. Leibnitz declared that the loss of an hour is the loss of a part of life (pars vitæ quoties perditur hora perit). Napoleon made the remark to some boys at school, My lads, every hour of lost time is a chance of future misfortunes. Frederick the Great had a maxim which he took from Seneca: Time is the only treasure of which it is proper to be avaricious (Le temps est le seul trésor dont lavarice soit louable; in Latin, Temporis unius honesta avaritia est).
The ancient languages are the scabbard which holds the minds sword (Die alten Sprachen sind Scheiden darin das Messer des Geistes stickt).
Originally from Luther; dictated by Goethe to Riemer, in 1814. It was upon this thought that he founded the hope that the study of Latin and Greek literature would ever be the basis of culture; it was also the foundation of the famous saying (Kunst und Alterthum, 1821), He who is ignorant of foreign languages knows not his own (Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen); sometimes shortened to, He who knows but one language knows none.
Tell me your associates, I will tell you what you are; tell me what you busy yourself about, I will tell you what may be expected of you.
Originally from Socrates; applied by Goethe to intellectual occupation. In English, A man is known by the company he keeps. In French, Dis-moi qui tu hantes, et je te dirai qui tu es. The German proverb is similar,
Timon was asked what children should be taught. What they will never understand, was the misanthropes reply.
Thus Goethe again in the Xenien, Teach your children of heaven and earth, what they will never understand. A Pythagorean answered the same question, To be the citizen of a well-governed state.DIOGENES LAËRTIUS, VIII. 16.
When interest is lost, memory is lost (Wo der Antheil sich verliert, verliert sich auch das Gedächtniss).
Thus Napoleon said of some one, His memory was of the heart (Sa mémoire tenait du cur). Massieu, a deaf-mute, when asked to write a definition of gratitude, called it the memory of the heart (la reconnoissance est la mémoire du cur). It was Ciceros animus memor in French. Vaugelas, a French grammarian, was one of the first members of the Academy, and took a prominent part in the compilation of the Dictionary. Cardinal Richelieu at one time raised his salary, and said to him, You will not forget in the new Dictionary the word pension.No, monseigneur, replied the scholar, but I shall still less forget the word gratitude (reconnoissance).
Poetic talent is given as well to the peasant as to the knight (dem Bauer so gut gegeben wie dem Ritter).
A thought he derived from Herder, who called poetic conception the common property of mankind (das Gemeingut der Menschheit). Each must conceive it, however, adds Goethe, according to his situation. It belongs, he said of an edition of folk-songs published in 1825, neither to the people nor to the noble, neither to the king nor to the peasant. It is the offspring of a true man. He accordingly adopted this motto: There is but one poetry,true poetry.
I have found a paper of mine among some others, said Goethe to Eckermann, March 23, 1829, in which I call architecture petrified music (eine erstarrte Musik). Really there is something in this: the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music. The philosopher Schelling (17751854) speaks in two places in the Philosophie der Kunst of architecture as frozen music, a more commonly used comparison. Mme. de Staël looked upon a great architectural monument as a continual and unchanging music (une musique continuelle et fixée).Corinne, IV. iii.
We cannot all serve our country in the same way; but each does his best, according as God has endowed him.
In 1830, as a reason for not taking up arms in the War of Liberation, against France: How could I take up arms without hatred, and how could I hate without youth? But he was accused at the time of too great admiration of Napoleon. Clank your chains! he said to his countrymen, who were endeavoring to shatter them, the man is too great for you. You will not break them, but only drive them deeper into your flesh. National hatred, said Goethe to Eckermann, is something peculiar: you will always find it strongest and most violent in the lowest degree of culture (auf den untersten Stufen der Kultur).
Women are silver dishes, into which we put golden apples.
Saying that his idea of women was not abstracted from the phenomena of actual life. He used the same figure of Shakespeare: He gives us golden apples in silver dishes. We get the silver dishes by studying his works: unfortunately we have only potatoes to put into them.
As Napoleon closed his interview with Goethe at Erfurt, Oct. 2, 1808, he said, in presence of the poet, with whom he had conversed on literature, You are a man! (Vous êtes un homme!) and to Berthier and Daru, after Goethe had retired, That is a man! (Voilà un homme!) And Goethe said to Eckermann in 1828, Napoleon was the man! His life was the stride of a demi-god. That was a fellow (Kerl) whom we cannot imitate.