GOETHE said Weimar had a wonderful destiny, like Bethlehem in Judea, it was small but great. The people love to call it the German Athens, and are so proud of its past they quite overlook the mortifying fact that the days of Goethe and Schiller are over and gone and at present only a memory in which they themselves had no part.
Weimar is the capitol of the grand duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, now belonging to the German Empire, although still governed by its own Duke. Hamilton Mabie calls the town the “custodian of literature,” and the late Empress Augusta, wife of the old Kaiser William I., thought it so much more honor to be from Weimar,
than to be queen of military Prussia, that to Bismarck’s disgust she used to sign her nameAugusta, nee Saxe-Weimar.
Karl August was their famous Duke who not only attracted brilliant men to Weimar, but who also had the magnetism to hold them there. To him culture was more desirable than wealth or ducal power, and the encouragement he gave Goethe alone has made him immortal. Like Hubbard, he believed “helping a genius is next to being one,” and he gave over rooms in his own palace to tie four poets, Goethe, Schiller, Herder and Wieland, which they used as studies, coming and going at will. Today one Nees in Schiller’s room “Wallenstein,” “Marie Stuart” and “Don Carlos” illustrated on the walls, while in Goethe’s are “Faust,” “Hermann and Dorothea,” etc. To have their rooms afterward depict scenes from their works was the idea of a later Duchess of Weimar, Maria Paulowna, who being used to the splendors of Russia, made many improvements after her arrival, and brought such great vases of malachite and lapis lazuli to adorn the palace as this modest little Court had never dreamt existed.
The small Gothic dining-room of this palace with the walls of carved wood and the Moses conservatory are unique, the latter being filled with a fountain and palms which “half conceal and half reveal” the baby Moses in marble, floating presumably among the rushes, while the marble daughter of Pharoah watches him from her pedestal opposite. The original paintings of the heads of the Apostles by Leonardo da Vinci, which he designed for the “Last Supper” in Milan, are the most treasured pictures in the palace, although the old portraits and tapestries make a rich endowment. Th’e furnishing is quite a contrast to the cold grandeur of other royal residences, for here everything has a meaning, and in the selection of each object it is apparent brains were used as well as money.
The town teems with Goethe relics. In fact a week’s stay here makes one so familiar with every year of his long life that visitors soon catch the popular feeling and convince themselves that they too knew him person-ally. This philosopher-poet never struggled in an attic with want and adversity; he was blessed from the first with health, wealth, intel lect and position, as well as the beauty of Apollo, and fame soon followed. The house Goethe Museum and had them during his forty years in Italy he collected statues and pictures, copies of great works, and on his return scattered them about his home where they still remain. A piano on which Mendelssohn played for him also stands in its old place, and near by is exhibited the gold laurel crown, jeweled with emeralds, sent by the women of Goethe’s birthplace, the city of Frankfort.
He died in 1832 in the simple little room off his study, where he worked apart from the rest of the house which was more lavishly furnished, suitable to his position, although nowhere in Weimar, even among the highest, was there any rich magnificenceall that remains indicates unpretentious simplicity. A faithful picture of his death hangs in an upper room, so that one sees him in the same arm-chair that is left beside his bed, and as his eyes grow dimmer and dimmer he begs with his last breath for “More light.” He, himself, however, made all the brightness of Weimar and it has been dark indeed since he left.
The ridiculous young dandy and the grave old scholar are two very different Goethes. As a youth he loved easily and for-got easily, being more in love with loving than with the actual loved one, and his poetic passion cooled as soon as he put it in writing and worked it all out on paper. His works he admitted were his own biography, and it is very apparent from them what a conspicuous role women played in his life. He was many sided and had learned many trades, while he took up the study of law, medicine, art, music, mineralogy, natural history and the sciences, each in turn, and acquired information that served him well for his Writings. There was no occasion for haste in his life; he lived an experience before writing it, and took sixty years to finish Faust.
The Duke Karl August’s friendship for him lasted for thirty years, a fine tribute to the qualities of both men. One completed the other. The Duke enabled Goethe to write at will, and he in return brought all his ability to help the Duke in judiciously governing his little duchy. The two were inseparable and even in death the Prince and the Poet are together, for Karl August paid his two friends the highest honor and commanded that both Goethe and Shiller should be buried with him in the vault intended only for the ducal family. The caskets are always covered now with the wreaths laid there from time to time by admiring friends, for all the world today is their audience, and a great gold laurel crown from Prague is kept on Goethe’s and a similar one of silver on Schiller’s.
The park, left just as nature planned it, accompanies the pretty little river in its rambles through the town, and there Goethe wandered for hours, for he declared his best thoughts came to him while walking. Much time was given to reflection with a, determination, to penetrate to the truth of every-thing in life. He could not be bribed or deceived or awed, every incident of his career was stored away with its lesson for future writing, and “every human being he met sat to him as a model.”
The park is filled with memories of this ideal Court. In the Roman House and tiny Templar House the two friends tarried a night when the spirit moved them to escape all Court ceremony, and not far from their tiny cottage called the Bark House is Goethe’s Gardenhaus, the most perfect retreat a poet could have. Remote from all confusion, aloof from the busy world’s toil and traffic, surrounded by dignified old trees and his beloved garden bordered by a modest little river, there came to him in the midst of such peace and beauty, the noble thoughts that made him Germany’s greatest poet.
This wooded spot was dedicated to Frau von Stein, and the curtains she embroidered for the windows of the miniature mansion are ever loyal to their purpose though ready now to fall in tatters. Her needlework was not the only thing about her that Goethe admired, for she cast a charm over him that he never fully threw off, but her house in town is at present occupied by the Greek Church and nothing is left to tell of her varied life there.
Schiller’s house is open to sightseers, although there is not a great deal of interest there besides his letters, portraits and the uncomfortable bed where he died. He reserved for his own use the small bare upper roomshigh thinking of poets is noticeably benefited by a proximity to the roof. Be-fore he and Goethe became such devoted friends and previous to the days of Karl August’s encouragement, his struggle with poverty had proved too arduous for his strength, and when the long-desired recognition at last knocked at his door the dying poet was too weak to rise and open. Now he rests from his toil, but his work lives on,’ and today his poems are so admired one fails to understand why in his early life the public did not appreciate them. The city has erected a large bronze statue to Schiller and Goethe standing together with clasped hands, and an entire building is given over to the preservation of their manuscripts.
Liszt was given a house, rent free, and the same old maid-servant who waited upon him, now keeps vigil over his rooms, and the description of his daily life there loses nothing by her telling, for her devotion to her old master is such that she never tires repeating over every day how emperors and kings honored him. The collection of jeweled snuff-boxes is large, all useless presents, she regretfully remarked, as he never used snuff, and the walking-sticks are of all kinds of woods, plain and richly ornamented, while wreaths, rings and letters from famous people are too numerous to mention. He always rose at half-past four, and after composing a while, she said he started for church, his religious tendency following him all through life. On his return she placed his coffee on the table, shown in the illustration, and after a little nap on the couch he went over to his desk by the window again and resumed his compositions. He took untold pride in his pupils, delighted to be photographed with them, and on Sundays his small upper rooms would not hold all the admirers who gathered there. When traveling he invariably carried with him a deaf piano-board, still there, on which he could practice to keep his fingers limber and yet not call down upon his lead the wrath of his fellow-beings.
Pictures of his gifted daughter, Frau Wagner, are numerous and also the interesting face of the woman he loved best, who not free to marry him, moved to Italy, staying there away from temptation until she died, and in reflecting now on Liszt’s life an undercurrent of disappointment is always distinguishable and an abundance of “hopes that retreat and regrets that remain.”
Prophets without honor in their own country found in Weimar all the admiration they coveted, and the Library is filled with various souvenirs of noted people, for every possession of genius is considered sacred, no matter how trivial it may be. In the Museum is the great statue of Goethe and Physche, and the mural paintings by Preller of the Odyssey are highly prized, while Lenbach’s admiration of the Rembrandts here influenced him to confine his efforts to portraits and thus he became Germany’s greatest portrait painter. Weimar has now a fine art school and every encouragement is given to painters and sculptors. Another school worthy of mention is one that trains girls for service as cooks, nurses, housemaids, laundresses, etc. It is under the patronage of the Grand Duchess; any servant drilled there is in great demand and it has proved a more practical help to domestic peace, than hanging up mottoes of “God bless our Home.”
The present young Duke is trying to follow in the foot-steps of his illustrious ancestors and is deeply absorbed in a plan for national German opera, but even now the Weimar opera compares favorably with that of other cities. This Duke is blessed with vast wealth; from his grandmother he inherited a right to the throne of Holland, and should Queen Wilhelmina die without leaving a child, Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar would be the next king of Holland.
The town also boasts of having been the home of Lucas “Crucifixion” hangs over the altar in
Cranach, whose .famous the Stadtkirche. Her-der was the universally beloved pastor-poet of this church and on every hand one sees his favorite motto: “Love, light and life.” Mme. de Stael, Thackery and dozens of other writers found inspiration here, and Napoleon, the universal tourist, reached Weimar after his victory of Jena over William IV. of Prussia. Then Karl August’s wife, the Duchess Luise, was obliged to receive the Conqueror on the stair-way of the castle, and he announced afterward she was one woman his two hundred cannons could not awe or frighten, and he promptly sent her a Sevres tea-service with miniatures of the French Court beauties that is absolutely one of the most exquisite examples of porcelain painting in existence.
Karl August’s mother, the Duchess Amalia, was the one who first awakened Weimar to an appreciation of art and letters. In her palace called the Dower House was a table around which her so-called circle used to gather for literary feasts, and such rhymes and songs and little comedies went round, as made time fly by unnoticed. Her tiny summer home out at Tiefurt looks like a playhouse; there the artist Angelica Kauffman, Goethe and Karl August, and others of this same circle were entertained in rooms so small one can scarcely believe they were meant for real people, but though limited in space their fascination is boundless. There are over three thousand old prints and engravings, in fact not an inch of wall is left vacant and in looking over the variety of subjects the Duchess and her son collected, one has a slight idea how far reaching was their information. The grounds make it a veritable little Eden; here they took tea on the upper piazza or gave a play in the open which was often attended with such success the Court quickly packed and gave it for a little lark in a near-by village.
The Belvidere palace at the end of the park also had an open-air theater where many a merry comedy drove dull care away. There was, to be sure, no great wealth or splendor, and though more ceremonious Courts ridiculed the unpretentious appointments, the fact was beyond question that Weimar had what money could not buy and Goethe summed up its charm when he said: “Where have I not been? Yet I am always glad to return to Weimar.”