A GENIUS AT ‘SCHOOL’
The children’s interest in the theatre continued; many half-historical, half-mythological pieces were played then, and it came into ‘the Boy’s’ head that he himself could write such a piece. He did so, made a clean copy, and laid it before his friend Derones, who read it with great attention, and, in answer to a modest question, conceived that it was not impossible that the piece should be played; but, first of all, he would go over it carefully with the author. “Although my friend was otherwise easy-going, the opportunity, long wished for, of playing the master seemed now to have come. He read the piece attentively, and while he sat down with me to correct a few trifles, he so altered the piece in the course of this performance that scarcely one stone was left upon another. He crossed out, added, took away a character, substituted another; in fact, he carried on the wildest career in the world, so that my hair stood on end. He even grudged to have to allow me any authorship whatever; for he had so often told me of the three unities of Aristotle, of the regularity of the French drama, of probability, of the harmony of the verse, and the rest, that I must acknowledge him as builder and founder of my play. He abused the English and despised the Germans; in fact, he brought the whole dramatic litany before me, as indeed during my life I have heard it constantly repeated.”
The poor boy took back his work in pieces and tried in vain to put it together again. Once more he had a fair copy made of the piece as it stood originally and showed it to his father; this time he got something
in the shape of a reward; for his father no longer grumbled when he came home from the theatre.
His friend’s opposition made the boy think. He determined not again to have his work shipwrecked on theories which he did not understand, so he read Corneille’s work on the Unities. He read, too, in great perplexity, the criticisms and counter-criticisms on The Cid, and found that even Corneille and Racine were obliged to defend themselves from the attacks of the critics. He laboured honestly to understand what they would be at, and this famous law of the three unities became as distasteful to him as he had already found grammatical rules. Again he was a law unto himself; nor did he, for many years, reconsider his decision.
In course of time Count Thorane was transferred to another post, and the Chancellor Moritz took his place in the Goethe household. All was fish that came to the young Goethe’s net. The Chancellor had a brother, the Councillor of the Legation, whose love for mathematics amounted to a hobby, and who helped the boy in this study, which he considered was of use to him in the drawing lessons which now occupied an hour daily. Of his drawing master he says, “This good man was indeed only half an artist: we had to make lines and place them together, and out of these, eyes, noses, lips and ears, and at length whole faces and heads were to grow; but there was no thought of either natural or artistic form. We were tormented for a time with this quid pro quo of the human figure, and were thought at last to have been carried so far that we received the so-called ‘Passions’ of Le Brun to copy; but these pictures did not appeal to us. We went on to landscapes, to
all those things which are practiced in the usual system of teaching without aim and without method. At last we attained to close imitation, and dropped into exactness of line without troubling ourselves about the worth or artistic value of the original.”
Then as now, art was supposed to be assisted by mechanical devices. Then, as not, children were taught to draw, not from objects, but from drawings of those objects; that is, they were and are taught to imitate lines rather than to receive and record impressions of things. The father, who held that nothing was so stimulating to young pupils as for their elders to learn with them, also labored at this unprofitable copying; and with an English pencil on fine Dutch paper he not only copied the lines of the composition but the strokes of the engraver. “Everybody must learn to draw,” the emperor Maximilian is reported to have said; a maxim which the elder Goethe had seized upon with the avidity of one feeling in the dark for guidance in the puzzling and difficult business of education.
Charlotte Bronté tells us how Lucy Snowe exercised herself in this same laborious way, and conceived that she was learning to draw; and probably Lucy’s experience is a reminiscence of “Currer Bell’s” own efforts. We are not told that Charlotte Bronté ever learned to draw, but we know that all his life Goethe had a great hankering after this art; and as an old man we still find him copying a detail of some picture, line by line, shade by shade. It would appear as if we are always handicapped by the faults of our education, not merely in a general way, but subject by subject method by method, we are only able to go on with that which has had a living beginning in our youth.
It was always the intention for the children to learn music; but not until the boy took the matter in hand himself did the right man appear to teach them. He chanced to hear a companion taught by a master who had little jokes for every finger, facetious names for every line and note, and for the moment this took with even so able a boy as the young Goethe. However, the jokes came to an end so soon as the teacher was employed; and the music lessons were deadly dry an dull, until that enterprising educationalist, the father, set up a young man who had been his secretary, and who spoke French well, and could teach it, as a schoolmaster; for the town was not satisfied with the public teaching, and there appeared to be an opening for private enterprise. This young man set to work to learn music so zealously that in a few weeks he had accomplished wonders; and not only so, he became acquainted with a maker of first-rate instruments, which he introduced to his house. This man’s enthusiasm gave that impetus to the family in the direction of music for which they had been waiting.