It cannot be denied that Goethe’s earliest Faust conception, the so-called “Urfaust” of 1773 and 1774, lacks the wide sweep of thought that characterizes these fragments of Lessing’s drama. His Faust of the Storm and Stress period is essentially a Romanticist. He is a dreamer, craving for a sight of the divine, longing to fathom the inner working of nature, drunk with the mysteries of the universe. But he is also an unruly individualist, a reckless despiser of accepted morality; and it is hard to see how his relation with Gretchen, which forms by far the largest part of the “Urfaust,” can lead to anything but a tragic catastrophe. Only Goethe’s second Faust〖H. C., xix, 9ff.〗 conception, which sets in with the end of the nineties of the eighteenth century, opens up a clear view of the heights of life.

Goethe was now in the full maturity of his powers, a man widely separated from the impetuous youth of the seventies whose Promethean emotions had burst forth with volcanic passion. He had meanwhile become a statesman and philosopher. He had come to know in the court of Weimar a model of paternal government, conservative yet liberally inclined, and friendly to all higher culture. He had found in his truly spiritual relation to Frau von Stein a safe harbor for his tempestuous feelings. He had been brought face to face, during his sojourn in Italy, with the wonders of classic art. The study of Spinoza and his own scientific investigations had confirmed him in a thoroughly monistic view of the world and strengthened his belief in a universal law which makes evil itself an integral part of the good. The example of Schiller as well as his own practical experience had taught him that the untrammeled living out of personality must go hand in hand with incessant work for the common welfare of mankind. All this is reflected in the completed Part First of 1808; it finds its most comprehensive expression in Part Second, the bequest of the dying poet to posterity.

Restless endeavor, incessant striving from lower spheres of life to higher ones, from the sensuous to the spiritual, from enjoyment to work, from creed to deed, from self to humanity—this is the moving thought of Goethe’s completed “Faust.” The keynote is struck in the “Prologue in Heaven.” Faust, so we hear, the daring idealist, the servant of God, is to be tempted by Mephisto, the despiser of reason, the materialistic scoffer. But we also hear, and we hear it from God’s own lips, that the tempter will not succeed. God allows the devil free play, because he knows that he will frustrate his own ends. Faust will be led astray—“man errs while he strives”; but he will not abandon his higher aspirations; through aberration and sin he will find the true way toward which his inner nature instinctively guides him. He will not eat dust. Even in the compact with Mephisto the same ineradicable optimism asserts itself. Faust’s wager with the devil is nothing but an act of temporary despair, and the very fact that he does not hope anything from it shows that he will win it. He knows that sensual enjoyment will never give him satisfaction; he knows that, as long as he gives himself up to self-gratification, there will never be a moment to which he would say: “Abide, thou art so fair!” From the outset we feel that by living up to the very terms of the compact, Faust will rise superior to it; that by rushing into the whirlpool of earthly experience and passion his being will be heightened and expanded.

And thus everything in the whole drama, all its incidents and all its characters, become episodes in the rounding out of this grand, all-comprehensive personality. Gretchen and Helena, Wagner and Mephisto, Homunculus and Euphorion, the Emperor’s court and the shades of the Greek past, the broodings of mediæval mysticism and the practical tasks of modern industrialism, the enlightened despotism of the eighteenth century and the ideal democracy of the future—all this and a great deal more enters into Faust’s being and is absorbed by him. He strides on from experience to experience, from task to task, expiating guilt by doing, losing himself, and finding himself again. Blinded in old age by Dame Care, he feels a new light kindled within. Dying, he gazes into a far future. And even in the heavenly regions he goes on ever changing into new and higher and finer forms. It is this irrepressible spirit of striving which makes Goethe’s “Faust” the Bible of modern humanity.〖For further critical comments on Goethe, see General Index, H. C., 1.〗

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