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ÉletrajzJohann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was a German novelist, dramatist, poet, humanist, scientist, philosopher, and for ten years chief minister of state at Weimar.
Goethe was one of the paramount figures of German literature and European Neo-classicism and Romanticism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The author of Faust and Theory of Colours, he inspired Darwin with his independent discovery of the human premaxilla jaw bones and focus on evolution. Goethe's influence spread across Europe, and for the next century his works were a primary source of inspiration in music, drama, and poetry.
Goethe was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. His father was a man of means and position who personally supervised the early education of his son. The young Goethe studied at the universities of Leipzig and Strasbourg and, in 1772, entered upon the practice of law at Wetzlar. At the invitation of Karl August, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he went in 1775 to live in Weimar where he held a succession of political offices becoming the Duke's chief adviser. From 1786 to 1788 he traveled in Italy. He took part in the Napoleonic wars against France, and in the following began a friendship with Friedrich Schiller, which lasted until the latter's death in 1805. In 1806 he married Christiane Vulpius. By 1820 he was on friendly terms with Kaspar Maria von Sternberg. From about 1794, he devoted himself chiefly to literature, and after a life of extraordinary productivity, died in Weimar in 1832.
The most important of Goethe's works produced before he went to Weimar were his tragedy Götz von Berlichingen (1773), which was the first work to bring him fame, and the novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), which gained him enormous popularity as a writer in the Sturm und Drang movement. During the years at Weimar before he met Schiller he began Wilhelm Meister, wrote the dramas Iphigenie, Egmont, and Torquato Tasso, and his Reineke Fuchs.
To the period of his friendship with Schiller belong the continuation of Wilhelm Meister, the beautiful idyl of Hermann and Dorothea, and the Roman Elegies. In the last period, between Schiller's death, in 1805, and his own, appeared Faust, Elective Affinities, his pseudo-autobiographical Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From my Life: Poetry and Truth), his Italian Journey, much scientific work, and a series of treatises on German art. His writing was immediately influential in literary and artistic circles.
In addition to his literary work, Goethe also contributed significant work to the sciences. In biology, his theory of plant metamorphosis stipulated that all plant formation stems from a modification of the leaf. He is also known for his discovery of the intermaxillary bone in humans.
Goethe considered his Theory of Colours to be his most important contribution to science, and prized it above all his literary work. Goethe saw darkness not as a mere absence of light, but standing in the same relation to light as the north and south poles of a magnet — with colour arising from their interplay. Of this, he was so confident, that he was at one point quoted as saying: "That I am the only person in this century who has the right insight into the difficult science of colours, that is what I am rather proud of, and that is what gives me the feeling that I have outstripped many." In the twentieth century, Goethe's Theory of Colours would influence the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein when he wrote Remarks on Colour.