Goethe Quotes (5 quotes)
After Goethe had expressed to me his greatest satisfaction regarding the account of the man [whom I’d] rescued [from serving in Napoleon’s army] by apparent “black star” [i.e., amaurosis, blindness] as well as the other, he handed me a carton of coffee beans, which a Greek had sent him as a delicacy. “You can also use these in your investigations,” said Goethe. He was right; for soon thereafter I discovered therein caffeine, which became so famous on account of its high nitrogen content.
As he [Clifford] spoke he appeared not to be working out a question, but simply telling what he saw. Without any diagram or symbolic aid he described the geometrical conditions on which the solution depended, and they seemed to stand out visibly in space. There were no longer consequences to be deduced, but real and evident facts which only required to be seen. … So whole and complete was his vision that for the time the only strange thing was that anybody should fail to see it in the same way. When one endeavored to call it up again, and not till then, it became clear that the magic of genius had been at work, and that the common sight had been raised to that higher perception by the power that makes and transforms ideas, the conquering and masterful quality of the human mind which Goethe called in one word das Dämonische.
Goethe said that he who cannot draw on 3,000 years of learning is living hand to mouth. It could just as well be said that individuals who do tap deeply into this rich cultural legacy are wealthy indeed. Yet the paradox is that much of this wisdom is buried in a sea of lesser books or like lost treasure beneath an ocean of online ignorance and trivia. That doesn’t mean that with a little bit of diligence you can’t tap into it. Yet many people, perhaps most, never take advantage of all this human experience. They aren’t obtaining knowledge beyond what they need to know for work or to get by. As a result, their view of our amazing world is diminished and their lives greatly circumscribed.
It was a felicitous expression of Goethe’s to call a noble cathedral “frozen music,” but it might even better be called “petrified mathematics.”
When, to the flame that the natural heat of youth kindles, the oil of riches is added, little more than the ashes of the phoenix remains; and only a Goethe has had the forbearance not to singe his phoenix wings at the sun of Fortune.