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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Life & Character 51-75


Every great idea is a tyrant when, it first appears ; hence the advantages which it produces change all too quickly into disadvantages. It is possible, then, to defend and praise any institution that exists, if its beginnings are brought to remembrance, and it is shown that everything which was true of it at the beginning is true of it still.


Lessing, who chafed under the sense of various limitations, makes one of his characters say : No one must do anything. A clever pious man said : If a man wills something, he must do it. A third, who was, it is true, an educated man, added : Will follows upon insight. The whole circle of knowledge, will, and necessity was thus believed to have been completed. But, as a rule, a man's knowledge, of whatever kind it may be, determines what he shall do and what he shall leave undone, and so it is that there is no more terrible sight than ignorance in action.


There are two powers that make for peace: what is right, and what is fitting.


Justice insists on obligation, law on decorum. Justice weighs and decides, law superintends and orders. Justice refers to the individual, law to society.


The history of knowledge is a great fugue in which the voices of the nations one after the other emerge.


If a man is to achieve all that is asked of him, he must take himself for more than he is, and as long as he does not carry it to an absurd length, we willingly put up with it.

57 Work makes companionship.


People whip curds to see if they cannot make cream of them.


It is much easier to put yourself in the position of a mind taken up with the most absolute error, than of one which mirrors to itself half-truths.

Wisdom lies only in truth.


When I err, every one can see it; but not when I lie.


Is not the world full enough of riddles already, without our making riddles too out of the simplest phenomena?


' The finest hair throws a shadow.' Erasmus.


What I have tried to do in my life through false tendencies, I have at last learned to understand.


Generosity wins favour for every one, especially when it is accompanied by modesty.


Before the storm breaks, the dust rises violently for the last time — the dust that is soon to be laid forever.


Men do not come to know one another easily, even with the best will and the best purpose. And then ill-will comes in and distorts everything.


We should know one another better if one man were not so anxious to put himself on an equality with another.


Eminent men are therefore in a worse plight than others ; for, as we cannot compare ourselves with them, we are on the watch for them.


In the world the point is, not to know men, but at any given moment to be cleverer than the man who stands before you. You can prove this at every fair and from every charlatan.


Not everywhere where there is water, are there frogs ; but where you have frogs, there you will find water. .


Error is quite right as long as we are young, but we must not carry it on with us into our old age.

Whims and eccentricities that grow stale are all useless, rank nonsense.


In the formation of species Nature gets, as it were, into a cul-de-sac; she cannot make her way through, and is disinclined to turn back. Hence the stubbornness of national character.


Every one has something in his nature which, if he were to express it openly, would of necessity give offence.


If a man thinks about his physical or moral condition, he generally finds that he is ill.

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