Craigenputtock Blog


Letters from Goethe

Thomas Carlyle's thinking was heavily influenced by German idealism, in particular the work of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. After to learning to read German, he established himself as an expert on German literature in a series of essays for Fraser's Magazine, and by translating German works, notably Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. He also wrote a Life of Schiller (1825).

Carlyle was twenty-nine when in June 1824, he first wrote to Goethe from Craigenputtock, sending him his Translation of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. At this time, Goethe was seventy-five years old and to see Carlyle's letters, works, translations and the extent to which Carlyle was exposing German literature in England gave Goethe great pleasure. The stimulus and encouragement of Goethe's sympathy and regard, expressed as they were in simple, cordial and delightful modes, were invaluable to Carlyle.

Both men expressed great admiration for each other, Carlyle describes Goethe: "feelings are various as the hues of Earth and Sky, but his intellect is the Sun which illuminates and overrules them all. He does not yield himself to his emotions, but uses them rather as things for his judgment to scrutinise and apply to purpose. I think Goethe the only living model of a great writer. . . . It is one of my finest day-dreams to see him ere I die."

In their correspondence, Goethe and Carlyle discuss and make many references to their homes. Goethe expressed a particularly strong desire to see Craigenputtock (see Goethe's Favourite House), which he describes in passages such as:

Here, in a mountainous district, through which the River Nith flows to the neighbouring sea, not far from the Town of Dumfries, is a place called Craigenputtock where Carlyle has established his country home.

Goethe even uses Craigenputtock to describe his feeling of isolation and seclusion in Weimar, Germany in the early 19th century:

As this brings sufficient interest and entertainment to both of us, we are sometimes on account of it so secluded from the rest of the world, that we have been like to form our own kind of Craigenputtock in the midst of Weimar.

The full correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle can be read here: Correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle. Edited by Charles Eliot Norton

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