Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 – 1832

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 – 1832 was a German writer. George Eliot called him “Germany’s greatest man of letters… and the last true polymath to walk the earth.”

Goethe was an ardent advocate of homeopathy, and he credited arnica with saving his life by bringing down a persistent high fever.

Goethe was a patient of Christoph Wilhelm von Hufeland and they were both students of Justus Ferdinand Christian Loder.

Goethe compared Samuel Hahnemann to Paracelsus.

This was the medicine; the patients died,
And no one thought of asking who recovered.
So ‘mongst these hills and vales our hell-broths wrought

More havoc, brought more victims to the grave
By many man the pestilence had brought.
To thousands I myself the poison gave:
They pined and perished; I live on to hear
Their reckless murderer’s praises far and near.

Goethe Faust

Goethe was a contemporary of homeopathy’s founder, Samuel Hahnemann, MD (1755—1843), and they both were Freemasons. When Goethe was given an amulet containing a very small gold ornament (September 2, 1820), he wrote:

“The jewelers of Frankfort must have heard of the Leipsig Dr. Samuel Hahnemann‘s theory… now, certainly a world-famous physician… and taken the best of it from their own purposes… now I believe more than ever in this wonderful doctor’s theory as I have experienced… and continue to experience so clearly the efficacy of a very small administration.” And in another letter he strongly proclaimed himself a “Hahnemannian disciple” (Richard Haehl, 1922, I, 113).

Goethe not only espoused the virtues of homeopathy in his letters to friends and colleagues, but even in his most famous play, Faust, in which his lead character, Mephistopheles, asserts the homeopathic credo, making specific reference to the homeopathic principle of similars: “To like things like, whatever one may ail; there’s certain help.”

Goethe was also a close friend with Karl Wesselhoeft, the owner of a large German publishing company of literary works, and Goethe was a frequent visitor in the Wesselhoeft home. Wesselhoeft’s son, William Wesselhoeft, became Goethe’s protégé. As a result of Goethe’s influence and due to later correspondence with German doctors who had become homeopaths, the younger Wesselhoeft became a serious student and then practitioner and teacher of homeopathy in America.

Goethe was a friend and patient of Christoph Wilhelm von Hufeland, the Court Physician at Weimar, who published one of Samuel Hahnemann‘s papers ‘Experiment on a new principle of discovering the curative powers of the drug substances‘, the first published work where homeopathy was mentioned in print and the principle of similars is outlined.

Christoph Wilhelm von Hufeland‘s book on personal hygiene ‘Hufeland’s Art of Prolonging Life‘ was very influential and translated into many languages.

Goethe was taught and healed by Susanna Katarina von Klettenberg a friend of his mother, and Johann Friedrich Metz, who was fully immersed in homeopathic principles and guided Goethe towards Paracelsus and George von Welling.

A few years later, in July 1768, he awoke one night in a desperate state; his lungs were haemorrhaging. He suffered an enormous loss of blood and nearly died. A long period of recuperation followed and for the next two years he was cared for at his Frankfurt home by Susanna Katarina von Klettenberg, a friend and distant relative of his mother.

Susanna Katarina von Klettenberg was a mystic with deep spiritual perception and was a member of the Herrenhuter, the Moravian Church. This was a religious movement having its roots in the 15th Century Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren or Brothers) Hussite movement of Bohemia and Moravia.

This woman had realised that this near death experience was a turning point in the young Goethe’s life. As well as caring for his physical needs, she guided him into an awareness of spiritual realms of which he had been previously unaware. She brought him into contact with many written works on mystical subjects, especially books on alchemy by such men as Paracelsus, Basilius Valentinus and Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont.

Susanna Katarina von Klettenberg had a friend, also a member of the Herrenhuter, a physician and alchemist called Dr. Johann Friedrich Metz, under whose care and unique medicinal remedies Goethe slowly recovered.

In his later life and in his writing and diaries, Goethe writes in Faust: ‘Similia Similibus applies to all disorders‘, identifying the central theme of homeopathy and elaborating his sympathy and understanding of homeopathy, as illustrated in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and his Tower Society which ‘adopts the homeopathic approach to its own psychological methods by using the irrational beliefs of its patients to cure them‘, portraying the ‘mistaken ideas as illness’, and using sickness to combat sickness.

Goethe demonstrates that he was well acquainted with the ‘logical outgrowth of the tendencies of eighteenth century medicine‘ which homeopathy exemplifies. In Journeyman Years, Goethe declares his support for vaccination to prevent smallpox, an idea taken directly from homeopathy.

Goethe’s works span the fields of poetry, drama, literature, theology, humanism, and science. Goethe’s magnum opus, lauded as one of the peaks of world literature, is the two-part drama Faust.

Goethe’s other well-known literary works include his numerous poems, the Bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature and the movement of Weimar Classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; this movement coincides with Enlightenment, Sentimentality (Empfindsamkeit), Sturm und Drang, and Romanticism.

The author of the scientific text Theory of Colours, he influenced Charles Darwin with his focus on plant morphology. He also long served as the Privy Councilor (“Geheimrat“) of the duchy of Weimar.

Goethe is the originator of the concept of Weltliteratur (“world literature“), having taken great interest in the literatures of England, France, Italy, classical Greece, Persia, Arabic literature, amongst others. His influence on German philosophy is virtually immeasurable, having major impact especially on the generation of Hegel and Schelling, although Goethe himself expressly and decidedly refrained from practicing philosophy in the rarefied sense.

Goethe’s influence spread across Europe, and for the next century his works were a major source of inspiration in music, drama, poetry and philosophy. Goethe is considered by many to be the most important writer in the German language and one of the most important thinkers in Western culture as well.

Early in his career, however, he wondered whether painting might not be his true vocation; late in his life, he expressed the expectation that he would ultimately be remembered above all for his work in optics.

Goethe’s father, Johann Caspar Goethe… lived with his family in a large house in Frankfurt am Main, then an Imperial Free City of the Holy Roman Empire. Goethe’s mother, Catharina Elisabeth Textor… married 38-year-old Johann Caspar when she was only 17… All their children, except for Goethe and his sister, Cornelia Friederike Christiana, who was born in 1750, died at an early age.

Johann Caspar and private tutors gave Goethe lessons in all the common subjects of that time, especially languages (Latin, Greek, French and English). Goethe also received lessons in dancing, riding and fencing. Johann Caspar was the type of father who, feeling frustrated in his own ambitions by what he saw as a deficiency of educational advantages, was determined that his children would have all those advantages which he had not had.

Goethe had a persistent dislike of the church, characterizing its history as a “hotchpotch of mistakes and violence” (Mischmasch von Irrtum und Gewalt). His great passion was drawing. Goethe quickly became interested in literature; Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock and Homer were among his early favourites.

He had a lively devotion to theatre as well and was greatly fascinated by puppet shows that were annually arranged in his home; a familiar theme in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.

Goethe studied law in Leipzig from 1765 to 1768. Learning age-old judicial rules by heart was something he strongly detested. He preferred to attend the poetry lessons of Christian Fürchtegott Gellert.

In Leipzig, Goethe fell in love with Käthchen Schönkopf and wrote cheerful verses about her in the Rococo genre. In 1770, he anonymously released Annette, his first collection of poems. His uncritical admiration for many contemporary poets vanished as he became interested in Lessing and Wieland.

Already at this time, Goethe wrote a good deal, but he threw away nearly all of these works, except for the comedy Die Mitschuldigen. The restaurant Auerbachs Keller and its legend of Fausts 1525 barrel ride impressed him so much that Auerbachs Keller became the only real place in his closet drama Faust Part One.

Because his studies did not progress, Goethe was forced to return to Frankfurt at the close of August 1768. In Frankfurt, Goethe became severely ill. During the next year and a half which followed, because of several relapses, the relationship with his father worsened. During convalescence, Goethe was nursed by his mother and sister. Bored in bed, he wrote an impudent crime comedy.

In April 1770, his father lost his patience; Goethe left Frankfurt in order to finish his studies in Strasbourg. In Alsace, Goethe blossomed. No other landscape has he described as affectionately as the warm, wide Rhine area. In Strasbourg, Goethe met Johann Gottfried Herder, who happened to be in town on the occasion of an eye operation. The two became close friends, and crucially to Goethe’s intellectual development, it was Johann Gottfried Herder who kindled his interest in Shakespeare, Ossian and in the notion of Volkspoesie (folk poetry).

On a trip to the village Sesenheim, Goethe fell in love with Friederike Brion, but, after a couple of weeks, terminated the relationship. Several of his poems, like Willkommen und Abschied, Sesenheimer Lieder and Heideröslein, originate from this time.

Despite being based on his own ideas, his legal thesis was published uncensored. Shortly after, he was offered a career in the French government. Goethe rejected it; he did not want to commit himself, but to instead remain an “original genius”.

At the end of August 1771, Goethe was certified as a licensee in Frankfurt. He wanted to make the jurisdiction progressively more humane. In his first cases, he proceeded too vigorously, was reprimanded and lost the position. This prematurely terminated his career as a lawyer after only a few months.

At this time, Goethe was acquainted with the court of Darmstadt, where his inventiveness was praised. From this milieu came Johann Georg Schlosser (who was later to become his brother-in-law) and Johann Heinrich Merck.

Goethe also pursued literary plans again; this time, his father did not have anything against it, and even helped. Goethe obtained a copy of the biography of a noble highwayman from the Peasants’ War. In a couple of weeks the biography was reworked into a colourful drama. Entitled Götz von Berlichingen, the work went directly to the heart of Goethe’s contemporaries.

Goethe could not subsist on being one of the editors of a literary periodical (published by Schlosser and Merck). In May 1772 he once more began the practice of law at Wetzlar.

In 1774 Goethe wrote the book which would bring him world-wide fame, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Despite the immense success of The Sorrows of Young Werther, it did not bring Goethe much financial gain — copyright law at the time being essentially nonexistent. (In later years Goethe would bypass this problem by periodically authorizing “new, revised” editions of his Complete Works.

In 1775 Goethe was invited, on the strength of his fame as the author of The Sorrows of Young Werther, to the court of Carl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. (The Duke at the time was 18 years of age, to Goethe’s 26.) Goethe thus went to live in Weimar where he remained throughout the rest of his life, and where, over the course of many years, he held a succession of offices; becoming the Duke’s chief adviser.

Goethe, aside from official duties, was also a friend and confidant to the Duke, and participated fully in the activities of the court. For Goethe, his first ten years at Weimar could well be described as a garnering of a degree and range of experience which perhaps could be achieved in no other way. Goethe was ennobled in 1782 (this being indicated by the “von” in his name).

Of interest:

Charles Darwin in his Letter 3391 Darwin, C. R. to Hooker, J. D., 16 Jan [1862] records:

The letter with curious address forwarded by Mrs Hooker was from a German Homœopathic Doctor—an ardent admirer of the Origin—had himself published nearly the same sort of book, but goes much deeper—explains the origin of plants & animals on the principles of Homœopathy or by the Law of Spirality— Book fell dead in Germany— Therefore would I translate it & publish it in England &c &c

(The German homeopathic doctor has not been identified. He was seemingly an adherent of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s law of spiral growth of plants. Goethe claimed in his paper, `[there is in plants a general spiral tendency, through which, in connection with a vertical tendency, every construction, every form of plant following the law of metamorphoses is achieved]’ (Goethes Werke pt 2, 7: 49).)

Dana Ullman believes he has been able to identify the German homeopath:

After consultation with various historians, especially Dr. Robert Jutte (chief historian of the Robert Bosch Institute), we have determined that the German homeopath is probably Augustus Wilhelm Koch (1805-1886). For details, see pages 112-114 of Dana Ullman’s book The Homeopathic Revolution.

One thought on “Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 – 1832”

  1. Sue,
    Brilliant (again)!
    In my book, “The Homeopathic Revolution,” the longest biography that I provide is of Charles Darwin. I mention the above quote from Darwin about the German homeopath. After consultation with various historians, especially Dr. Robert Jutte (chief historian of the Robert Bosch Institute), we have determined that the German homeopath is probably Augustus Wilhelm Koch (1805-1886). For details, see pages 112-114 of my book.

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