Lot 578
£15,000 - 20,000
US$ 25,000 - 34,000
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("v. Goethe"), in German, to his publisher Georg Joachim Göschen, giving his final instructions for the first publication of Faust, as Faust: Ein Fragment in Volume VII of his Collected Works, and for the book's etched frontispiece showing Faust in his study, by Lips after Rembrandt: with the letter Goethe returns the rest of the manuscript of the Singspiel Jery und Bätely, which is to be printed [following Faust] in front of the Singspiel Scherz, Lisz und Rache; he then gives Göschen instructions regarding payment to his agent Bertuch, and tells him that Lips will supply the engraved title and vignette, asking for copies of both and grumbling that the vignettes in the sixth volume, at least those that he saw, were printed in a wretched and dirty fashion and asking Göschen to impress upon the engraver that this should not happen with the seventh ("...H. Lips wird Titelkupfer und Vignette beylegen. Lassen Sie mir von beyden einige Abdrücke machen. Leider sind die Vignetten des sechsten Bandes wenigstens in den Exemplaren die ich erhalten habe, sehr übel und schmutzig gedruckt. Schärfen Sie doch dem Kupferdrucker ein daß es beym siebentem Bande nicht wieder geschehe..."); he concludes by telling Göschen that he is going away, so he should not send him anything or write to him: rather, he should send him the copies of the seventh volume in the same manner as he did the sixth, when they are ready, one page, folio, on paper watermarked with a piper within a foliate border, recipient's office docket on verso, with very light overall browning, a few spot-marks and slight weakness at folds, but overall in fine and attractive condition, Weimar, 3 March 1790


  • A milestone in the history of western civilization: Goethe launches Faust upon the world: "Faust has been seen as the paradigmatic text of modernity ever since its conception. By 1836 Karl Gutzkow was claiming that Goethe was 'set by the gods as a boundary-stone to mark where the past ends and modernity begins', while for Matthew Arnold he was the great manifestation of the modern spirit. Innumerable critics have identified Goethe's most famous work as the beginning of this or that tradition. Whether or not one fully agrees with these characterizations, Faust is undeniably one of those rare works that capture some major turning point in our history...Faust comprehends far-reaching changes in philosophy, science, political and economic organization, industrialization and technology that might best be summarized as Europe's confrontation with the impact of secularization. Europe entered the eighteenth century with institutions and structures still defined in terms of a cosmos ordered by a divine principle; but increasingly the universe was felt to operate on its own and sometimes seemed entirely the product of natural processes. The resulting sense of crisis as the old institutions no longer corresponded to the naturalized world is reflected in political upheavals - the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars...In literature and the arts the upheaval is generally defined as Romanticism, in philosophy as the Kantian Revolution, in economics and technology as the Industrial Revolution. To understand Faust as modern one must thus read it against these various revolutions" (Jane K. Brown, 'Faust' in The Cambridge Companion to Goethe, edited by Lesley Sharpe, 2002, p.84). Nicholas Boyle has written of Faust: A Fragment in particular, in comparison with its precursor the Urfaust: "Unmoved by the remote and abstract symbols of universal order in the sign of the Macrocosm...Faust was to turn instead to the field of human activity - but of all human activity. Faust was to become the story, not of a man seeking to live free from moral, natural, and theological constraints, but of a man seeking to encompass within himself all the possibilities and achievements of the human race, to incorporate humanity with its 'maxima', its 'crowns' as he here calls them, into a single individual soul" (Goethe: The Poet and the Age, 1991, p.525).

    The present letter was written immediately prior to the first publication of Goethe's Faust in any form; indeed in it Goethe tells Göschen not to write in reply, but rather to send him the book. Faust: A Fragment was to be Göschen's reply to this letter. The writing of Faust spans almost all Goethe's creative life, existing as it does in four versions: the original Urfaust of 1775-1776 (which lay hidden until its rediscovery and publication in 1887), Faust: A Fragment, published in 1790 (of which our letter treats), Faust: Part One, published in 1808, and Faust: Part Two, completed just before Goethe's death and published in 1832.

    G.J. Göschen of Leipzig had entered partnership with Goethe's agent, the Weimar businessman F.J. Bertuch, to bring out an edition of his collected works in eight small volumes; each one containing, as well as pieces already published, something new. Goethe's flat fee was to be a hefty 2,000 dollars, 500 being paid with the appearance of each volume. As soon as Goethe had settled this plan with Göschen in 1786, he disappeared off on his two years' trip to Italy: "he was turning to the German public now...with the greater part of his entire literary output and potential, in book form. It was of course a paradox, but a paradox which had always run through his relations with the public, that in the moment in which he brought himself to face the German nation once again he should flee the very soil of Germany and all contact with its inhabitants" (Boyle, p.397). Similarly, after despatching the present letter to Göschen, Goethe betook himself to Venice, on what was to be his last Italian journey. The etched title-plate which he here discusses is the well-known picture of Faust in his study, adapted by Lips from Rembrandt's etching.

    This letter is published in Goethes Briefe, vol. 30 (Weimar, 1905), no.2806a, p.47. See also colour illustration at page 63.
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