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Home | 2017 | September

Goethe's Gotthard obsession

Posted by Richard on UTC 2017-09-20 10:16.

Let us close the book on our Gotthard fetish – at last! at last! you cry – with a brief consideration of the relationship of the Gotthard Pass with its most illustrious visitor, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832).

Brief? Some readers will be struggling to remember the last time anything was brief on this blog.

Our harmless fetish pales in comparison with Goethe's obsession. He journeyed to the Gotthard Pass three times, in 1775, 1779 and 1797. He was 26 years old at his first visit and 48 – a ripe age for the times – at his last. His relationship with the Gotthard goes beyond the usual bucket-list moments we expect from the passage of famous tourists.

Goethe was certainly illustrious: what some later writers would refer to as the Goethe Cult in German-speaking countries began early in the 19th century and is still rumbling on two centuries later.

Left: Goethe in 1778. Right: Goethe with a silhouette, 1775-76

The two images we have of Goethe from his Gotthard years.
Left: Goethe in 1778, the year before his second journey to Switzerland and the Gotthard. The picture is a coloured copy by Prof. Eberhard Ege (1868-1932) of an original by Georg Oswald May (1738-1816). The colours used – the blue coat and the yellow waistcoat – are those of the 'Werner Uniform', about which we shall have more to say in the next chapters.
Right: Goethe with a silhouette, painted by Georg Melchior Kraus (1737-1806) in c. 1775, around the time of the first journey to Switzerland and the Gotthard. Portraying him pondering a silhouette is quite in keeping with his worship at this time of Caspar Lavater and his physiognomic theories.
Images: Goethezeitportal.

We on this blog are Goethe-Realists, not Goethe-Cultists. As a writer he was without question a literary genius of the first rank; as a person he was an untrustworthy, slightly seedy egomaniac – Schiller called him an 'egoist to an unusual degree'; as a 'scientist' in whatever field in which he dabbled – geology, biology, optics – he was a dilettante who rushed to judgement and whose assertions in every case proved very quickly to have been wrongheaded, sometimes almost as soon as he came up with them. He has much in common with his two most famous characters, Faust and Mephistopheles.

But his obsession with the Gotthard has its interesting and even illuminating moments. So, off we go!


Revision note

I am sorry I had to withdraw and rework the two chapters concerning Goethe's 1775 and 1779 journeys to the Gotthard. This was done in order to bring consistency into the accounts of Goethe's various visits to Dr Johannes Hotze in Richterswil. Goethe's own accounts of these visits are incorrect and subsequent scholarly works have added new errors or left existing errors unresolved. The interrelationships of changes required were too complex to be dealt with in a single update.


All sources are in German, unless otherwise noted. All translations ©FoS.

Briefe Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Goethe's Werke. Weimarer Ausgabe, IV. Abteilung, Hermann Böhlau, Weimar, 1889. Online.
Dichtung — and Walter Hettche. Aus meinem Leben. Dichtung und Wahrheit, 'From my Life. Invention and Truth' (c. 1811–1833). Durchges. und bibliogr. erg. Ausg. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2012. Online.
Reise-1779 —. 'Briefe aus der Schweiz, 2. Abteilung' in Goethe's Werke. Berliner Ausgabe, Bd. 15, Briefe aus der Schweiz, Zweite Abteilung, Berlin/Weimar:Aufbau Verlag, S. 7-63. Online.
Tagebuch-1 —. 'Tagebücher, 1775, 1. Reise in die Schweiz' in Goethe's Werke. Weimarer Ausgabe, III. Abteilung, Bd. 1, S. 1-8. Hermann Böhlau, Weimar, 1889. Online.
Tagebuch-2 —. 'Tagebücher, 1779, 2. Reise in die Schweiz' in Goethe's Werke. Weimarer Ausgabe, III. Abteilung, Bd. 1, S. 76. Hermann Böhlau, Weimar, 1889. Online.
Tagebuch-3 —. 'Tagebücher, 1797, 3. Reise in die Schweiz' in Goethe's Werke. Weimarer Ausgabe, III. Abteilung, Bd. 2, S. 51. Hermann Böhlau, Weimar, 1889. Online.
Werther —. Die Leiden des jungen Werther, Stuttgart: Reclam, 2013. Online.
CarlAugust-1 Carl August.Briefe des Herzogs Carl August von Sachsen-Weimar an seine Mutter die Herzogin Anna Amalia, 1774-1807, ed. Alfred Bergmann, Jena, 1938.
CarlAugust-2 —. Briefe des Herzogs Carl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach an Knebel und Herder, ed. Heinrich Düntzer, Leipzig, 1883.
Merck Merck, Johann Heinrich, Ulrike Leuschner et al. Briefwechsel : Johann Heinrich Merck, 1741-1791 5 vols. Göttingen, Wallstein Verlag, 2007.
Andreas-1 Andreas, Willy. 'Goethe und Carl August am Oberrhein (1779)' in Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins, Jan 1, 1949, Vol.97, p.190.
Andreas-2 —. 'Ausklang der Schweizerreise: Goethe und Carl August an den südwestdeutschen Höfen' in Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins, Jan 1, 1952, Vol.100, p.321.
Andreas-3 —. 'Carl August von Weimar über seine Schweizer Reise mit Goethe (1779)'Schweizer Beiträge zur Allgemeinen Geschichte, Jan 1, 1948, Vol.6, p.91.
Andreas-4 —. 'Carl August im Lichte neuerer Forschung' in Jahrbuch der Goethe-Gesellschaft, 1957, Vol. 19, p. 96-109.
Andreas-5 —. 'Die Kosten der Schweizerreise Goethes und Carl Augusts von Weimar (1779)' in Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte, 1951, Vol. 1, Heft 1, p. 77-85.
Engelhardt Engelhardt, Wolf von. Goethe im Gespräch mit der Erde, 2003, Böhlaus/Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, p. 376
Immer Immer, Nikolas. 'Mit Werther auf den Gotthard. Goethes Briefe aus der Schweiz' in Ruf, Oliver. Goethe und die Schweiz, 2013, Hannover: Wehrhahn, p. 151-172.
Morris Morris, Max.Der junge Goethe, 1911, Leipzig, Insel Verlag, 6 vols.
Pfenninger Pfenninger, Hans Felix. 'Die Freundschaft zwischen Goethe und Lavater' in Schweizer Monatshefte : Zeitschrift für Politik, Wirtschaft, Kultur, Vol. 45 (1965-1966), Heft 9. p. 850-860.
Schnyder-1 Schnyder-Seidel, Barbara. 'Goethes Wanderungen zum Gotthard' in Historisches Neujahrsblatt, Historischer Verein Uri, Vol. 66-67 (1975-1976), p. 32-99.
Schnyder-2 —. Goethe in der Schweiz: anders zu lesen. Von der Wahrheit in der Dichtung letztem Teil, 1989, Bern/Stuttgart: Francke.
Schnyder-3 —. Goethes letzer Schweizer Reise, 1980, Frankfurt am Main: Insel Verlag.
Stettbacher Stettbacher, Hans. 'Dr. Johannes Hotze. Das Leben eines Arztes aus der Goethezeit. Nach Briefen, insbesondere an Lavater', in Zürcher Taschenbuch 63 (1943), p. 112-195.
Wyder Wyder, Margrit. 'Gotthard, Gletscher und Gelehrte: schweizer Anregungen zu Goethes naturwissenschaftlichen Studien' in Ruf, Oliver. Goethe und die Schweiz, 2013, Hannover: Wehrhahn, p. 23-110.
Zimmermann Zimmermann, Johann Georg. Versuch...über allerley Gegenstände, 1779, 2nd. ed., Göttingen.