German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was born on this day in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.
One of the great masters of world literature, he wrote as the French Revolution raged, becoming one of Europe's most celebrated writers.
"Once you have missed the first buttonhole," he said, "you’ll never manage to button up."
Well-educated, from a wealthy family, the versatile, often quoted genius studied law at Leipzig and Strasbourg and was an expert in politics and scientific research. He studied botany, optics, geology, and meteorology.
Throughout his life, he harnessed greatness with artistic achievements and earned continued respect from his peers. He was the Shakespeare of German literature.
About fame he said, "The deed is everything, the glory is naught."
Goethe's first work of narrative writing, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), wove the tale of a sensitive youth driven to suicide. The novella gained an instant cult following and launched the literary genre, Sturm und Drang (German: “Storm and Stress”).
For 50 years, Goethe worked on the epic poem Faust, the classic tale of Heinrich Faust, a learned scholar, making a pact with Satan to sign over his soul for power, pleasure, and knowledge. Goethe became fascinated by the tale in his early twenties, sympathizing with the hero's quest for life's meaning.
Writing Faust was something he always found his way back to, and the story evolved as Goethe lived, until he finally finished the second volume of the drama just a few months before his death.
Yes, Faust made it to heaven.
"Love and desire," Goethe wrote, "are the spirit's wings to great deeds."
More GOETHE Quotations