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Biography of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on August 28, 1749 in Frankfurt, Germany. He given private lessons in all common subjects, especially languages including Latin, Greek, French, English and Hebrew. Goethe was also given lessons in dancing, riding and fencing, but his passion was drawing and puppet theatre. Soon, Goethe discovered his passion for literature in Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Homer.

While studying law in Leipzig (from 1765-1768), Goethe fell in love with Käthchen Schönkopf when attending poetry lessons from Christian Fürchtegott Gellert. During this time, he began writing profusely and his first collection of poems was published soon after in 1770. Goethe's love for contemporary poets soon vanished as he became more interested in Lessing and Wieland. He then threw away almost all his works, except the comedy Die Mitschuldigen. At the end of August in 1768, he returned to Frankfurt as his studies failed to advance.

In Frankfurt, Goethe became ill. His relationship with his father worsened as he wrote an impudent crime comedy while his mother and sister cared for him in. In April of 1770, his father lost patience, having Goethe leave to finish his studies in Strasbourg.

In Alsace, Goethe met Johann Gottfried Herder who was in town for an eye operation. The two became close friends, helping develop Goethe intellectually. Herder kindled his interest in Shakespeare, Ossian and folk poetry. While visiting Sesenheim, Goethe fell in love with Friederike Brion, but ended the relationship after only a few weeks; Willkommen und Abschied, Sesenheimer Lieder and Heideröslein originate from this time period.

Shortly after his thesis was published, Goethe was offered a career in the French government, however, he rejected as he did not want to commit himself.

At the end of August 1771, Goethe was certified as a licensee in Frankfurt. However, he was too vigorous while wanting to make the jurisdiction more progressively humane causing reprimands. Soon he lost his passion and his career as a lawyer terminated. He then became acquainted with the court of Darmstadt, where his creativity was praised. At this time, Goethe met Johann Georg Schlosser (who later became his brother-in-law) and Johann Heinrich Merck. Once again, Goethe pursued literature. He took a biography of a noble highwayman from the Peasants' War, and converted it into a picture book. The work titled "Götz von Berlichingen", went straight to the heart of his contemporaries.

In May 1772, Goethe once again began the practice of law, this time at Wetzlar. In 1775, he received an invitation from Carl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach to live in Weimar and begin life in politics, soon becoming the Duke's chief adviser.

Goethe began studying the Qur'an in 1771, later to read German translations by J.v. Hammer aloud in of members of the Duke's family and their guests. Goethe felt the translations had shortcomings and was constantly looking for new translations. He bought Persian manuscripts of Rumi, Jami, Hafiz, Saadi, Attar, Tafsir al-Tabari, Dua and an Arabic-Turkish dictionary along with texts on freeing of slaves, buying and selling, interest, usury and Arabian scripts from Sultan Selim. He copied and corrected direct translations of the Qur'an from Arabic to German.

In 1782, Goethe was made a noble. From 1786 to 1788 he journeyed to the Italian peninsula greatly influencing his later aesthetical and philosophical development and the basis for the non-fiction work, Italian Journey. In autumn of 1792, Goethe took part in the battle of Valmy against revolutionary France, assisting Duke Carl August during a failed invasion. In 1794 Friedrich Schiller wrote Goethe seeking his friendship, which lasted until Schiller's death in 1805. The two are burried together in a mausoleum in the ducal cemetery. By 1806 Goethe married Christiane Vulpius. In 1812 Goethe met Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven had admired Goethe since his early years and composed several works based on his works, most notably Egmont.

From 1794 until his death in Weimar of 1832, Goethe devoted himself to literature. He is now seen as one of the greatest minds of history, being a key figure of the Weimar Classicism movement, the discovery of the intermaxillary jaw bone and his focus on evolutionary ideas and his influence on the works of Beethoven, Schubert and Darwin.

Poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


  • Faust: Der Tragoedie erster Teil (Download ePoem: zip)
  • Faust: Der Tragoedie zweiter Teil (Download ePoem: zip)
  • Rümische Elegien (Download ePoem: zip)

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