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Goethe's Conception of the World

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Goethe's Conception of the World

Goethe's Conception: Chapter VII: The Doctrine of Metamorphosis

Views concerning Nature and the Development of Living Beings.

The Doctrine of Metamorphosis.

We cannot understand Goethe's relation to the natural sciences if we confine ourselves merely to the single discoveries he made. I take as a guiding point of view for the study of this relation the words which Goethe wrote to Knebel from Italy, 18th August, 1787: “After what I have seen of plants and fishes at Naples and in Sicily I should be tempted, if I were ten years younger, to make a journey to India, not in order to discover anything new, but to observe, in my own way, what has already been discovered.” It appears to. me to be a question of the way in which Goethe coordinated the natural phenomena known to him in a view of Nature in harmony with his mode of thinking. Even if all his individual discoveries had already been made, and he had given us nothing but his view of Nature, this would not detract in the least from the importance of his Nature studies. I am of the same opinion as Du Bois-Reymond that “even without Goethe's participation, science would still be as far advanced as it is to-day” ... that “the steps attained by him would have been attained by others sooner or later.” (Goethe und kein Ende S.31.). I cannot, however, apply these words, as Du Bois-Reymond does, to the sum-total of Goethe's work in natural science. I limit them to the individual discoveries made during the course of his work. In all probability we should not be without a single one of them to-day even if Goethe had never occupied himself with botany, anatomy, and so forth. His view of Nature, however, emanated from his personality; none other could have achieved it. The single discoveries as such did not interest him. They arose of themselves during his studies, because in regard to the facts in question, views prevailed which were not reconcilable with his mode of observation. If he could have built up his views with what natural science had to offer he would never have occupied himself with detailed studies. He had to particularize because what was said to him by the investigators of Nature about the particulars did not correspond with his demands. The individual discoveries were made only accidentally, as it were, during the course of these detailed studies. For instance, the question whether man, like other animals, has an intermaxillary bone in the upper jaw-bone did not at first concern him. He was trying to discover the plan by which Nature develops the series of animals and, at its summit, Man. He wanted to find the common archetype which lies at the basis of all animal species and finally, in its highest perfection, at the basis of the human species also. The Nature investigators said: there is a difference between the structure of the animal body and that of the human body. Animals have the intermaxillary bone in the upper jaw, man has not. Goethe's view was that the human physical structure could only be distinguished from the animal by its degree of perfection, not details. For, if the latter were the case, there could not be a common archetype underlying the animal and the human organisations. He could make nothing of the assertion of the scientists, and so he sought for the intermaxillary bone in man — and found it. Something similar to this can be observed in the case of all his individual discoveries. For him they are never the end in itself; they had to be made in order to justify his ideas concerning natural phenomena.

In the realms of organic Nature the important thing in Goethe's views is the conception he formed of the nature of life. It is not a question of emphasising the fact that leaf, calyx, corolla, etc., are plant-organs identical with each other and unfolding out of a common basic form. The essential point is Goethe's conception of the whole plant-nature as a living thing, and how he thought of the individual parts as proceeding from the whole. His idea of the nature of the organism is his central, most individual discovery in the realm of biology. Goethe's basic conviction was that something can be perceived in the plant and animal which is not accessible to mere sense observation. What the bodily eye can observe in the organism appears to Goethe to be merely the result of a living whole of formative laws working through one another, laws which are perceptible only to the ‘spiritual eye.’ He has described what his spiritual eye perceived in the plant and in the animal. Only those who are able to see as he did can recapture his idea of the nature of the organism; those who remain stationary at what the senses and experiments give, cannot understand him. When we read his two poems “The Metamorphosis of Plants,” and “The Metamorphosis of Animals,” it appears at first as if the words simply led us from one part of the organism to another, as if the intention was merely to unite external facts together. If, however, we permeate ourselves with what hovered before Goethe as the idea of the living being we feel ourselves transplanted into the sphere of organic Nature and the conceptions concerning the various organs develop from out of one central conception.

* * * * *

When Goethe began to make independent reflections upon the phenomena of Nature it was the concept of life that claimed his attention above all else. In a letter from the Strasburg period, 14th July, 1770, he writes of a butterfly: “The poor creature trembles in the net, and its fairest colours are rubbed off; even if it is caught uninjured, in the end it perishes there, stiff and lifeless; the corpse is not the whole creature. Something else is required, indeed the essential part, and in this case as in every other, the most essential part: Life.” It was clear to Goethe from the beginning that an organism cannot be considered as a dead product of Nature; that something more exists within it over and above the forces which also live in inorganic Nature. When Du Bois-Reymond says that “the purely mechanical world-construction which to-day constitutes science was no less obnoxious to the princely poet of Weimar than, in earlier days, the ‘Système de la Nature’ to Friederike's friend,” he was undoubtedly right; he was no less right when he said that “Goethe would have turned away with a shudder from this world-construction which, with its primeval generation, borders on the Kant-Laplace theory; from man's emergence out of chaos as the result of the mathematically-determined play of atoms from eternity to eternity; from the icy world-end, from the pictures to which our race adheres with all the insensibility by means of which it has accustomed itself to the horrors of railway travel.” (Goethe und kein Ende. S.35. f.). Naturally Goethe would have turned away in disgust because he sought and found a higher concept of the living than that of a complicated, mathematically-determined mechanism. Only those who are incapable of grasping a higher concept of this kind and identify the living with the mechanical because they can only see the mechanical in the organism, will enthuse over the mechanical world-construction with its play of atoms, and regard without feeling the pictures which Du Bois-Reymond sketches. Those, however, who can assimilate the concept of the organic in Goethe's sense will dispute its justification as little as they dispute the existence of the mechanical. We do not dispute with those who are colour-blind concerning the world of colours. All views which represent the organic mechanically incur the judgment which Goethe puts into the mouth of Mephistopheles:

“Who would describe and study aught alive.
Seeks first the living spirit thence to drive;
Then are the lifeless fragments in his hand,
There only fails, alas! the spirit band.”

* * * * *

The opportunity of concerning himself more intimately with plant life came to Goethe when Duke Karl August presented him with a garden (21st April, 1776). He was also stimulated by excursions in the Thuringian forest, where he could observe the living phenomena of lower organisms. Mosses and lichens claimed his attention. On October 31st he begged Frau von Stein to give him mosses of all kinds, if possible with the roots and moist, so that he could use them for observing the process of propagation. It is important to bear in mind that at the beginning of his botanical studies Goethe occupied himself with lower plant forms. He only studied the higher plants when later he was forming his idea of the archetypal plant. This was certainly not because the lower kingdom was strange to him, but because he believed that the secrets of plant-nature were more clearly manifested in the higher. His aim was to seek the idea of Nature where it revealed itself most distinctly and then to descend from the perfect to the imperfect in order to understand the latter by means of the former. He did not try to explain the complex by means of the simple, but to survey it at one glance as a creative whole, and then to explain the simple and imperfect as a one-sided development of the complex and perfect. If Nature is able, after countless plant forms, to create one more which contains them all, on perceiving this perfect form, the secret of plant formation must arise for the mind in direct perception, and then man will easily be able to apply to the imperfect what he has observed in the perfect. Nature investigators go the opposite way to work, for they regard the perfect merely as a mechanical sum-total of simple processes. They proceed from the simple and derive the perfect from it.

When Goethe looked around for a scientific guide in his botanical studies he could find no other than Linnæus. We first learn of his study of Linnæus from his letters to Frau von Stein in the year 1782. The earnestness with which Goethe pursued his studies in natural science is shown by the interest he took in the writings of Linnæus. He admits that after Shakespeare and Spinoza he was influenced most strongly by Linnæus. But how little could Linnæus satisfy him! Goethe wanted to observe the different plant forms in order to know the common principle that lived in them. He tried to discover what it is that makes all these forms into plants. Linnæus was satisfied with classifying the manifold plant forms in a definite order and describing them. Here Goethe's naive, unbiased observation of Nature, in one special instance, came into contact with the scientific mode of thought that was influenced by a one-sided conception of Platonism. This mode of thought sees in the separate forms manifestations of original, co-existing Platonic Ideas, or creative thoughts. Goethe sees in the individual formation only one special form of an ideal archetypal being which lives in all forms. The aim of the former mode of thought is to distinguish the separate forms with the greatest possible exactitude in order to discern the manifoldness of the ideal forms or of the plan of creation; Goethe's aim is to explain the manifoldness of the particular from out of the original unity. That many things are present in manifold forms is clearly evident to the former mode of thought, because for it the ideal archetypes are already manifold. This is not evident to Goethe, for according to his view the many only belong together when a unity reveals itself in them. Goethe therefore says that what Linnæus “sought to hold forcibly asunder, had to strive for union, in order to satisfy the innermost need of my being.” Linnæus simply accepts the existing forms without asking how they have arisen from a basic form. “We count as many species as there are different forms that have been created in principle.” This is a basic statement. Goethe sought the active element in the plant kingdom that creates the individual through the specific modifications of the basic form.

In Rousseau Goethe found a more naïve relationship to the plant world than was the case with Linnæus. He writes to Karl August, 16th June, 1782: “In Rousseau's Works one finds the most delightful letters on botany in which he gives a very clear and charming exposition of this science to a lady. It is a fine example of the way one ought to give instruction, and is a supplement to Emil. It makes me want to recommend the beautiful kingdom of flowers anew to my friends of the fair sex.” In the “History of my Botanical Studies” Goethe tells us what attracted him to Rousseau's botanical ideas: “His relation to plant lovers and connoisseurs, specially to the Duchess of Portland, may have widened his penetrating sight, and a spirit such as his, which felt called to prescribe law and order to nations, was forced to suppose that in the immeasurable kingdom of plants no such great diversity of forms could appear without a basic law, be it ever so concealed, which brings them back collectively to a Unity.” Goethe was seeking for a fundamental law which leads back the manifold to the unity from which it has originally proceeded.

Two works of Freiherr von Gleichen, called “Russwurm,” came at that time to Goethe's knowledge. Both of them deal with the life of plants in a manner which proved fruitful for him; they are ‘Das Neueste aus dem Reiche der Pflanzen’ (Nürnburg, 1764), and ‘Auserlesene Mikroscopische Entdeckungen bet den Pflanzen’ (Nürnburg, 1777/1781.) These books deal with the processes of fructification in plants; pollen, stamens and pistils are minutely described and the processes of fructification presented in well-executed diagrams. Goethe himself now makes attempts to observe with his own eyes the results described by Gleichen-Russwurm. He writes to Frau von Stein, 12th Jan., 1785: “Now that Spring is approaching my microscope is set up in order to observe and check the experiments of Gleichen-Russwurm.” At the same time Goethe studied the nature of the seed, as may be gathered from an account which he gives to Knebel, 2nd April, 1785: “I have reflected on the seed substance as far as my experiences extend.” These observations of Goethe only appear in the right light when one considers that even at that time he did not stop at them, but tried to acquire a general perception of natural processes which should serve to support and strengthen them. On April 8th of the same year he tells Knebel that he is not merely observing facts, but that he has also made “fine combinations” of these facts.

* * * * *

The share Goethe took in Lavater's great work, “Physiognomic Fragments for the furtherance of Human Knowledge and Human Love,” which appeared in the years 1775 to 1778, had a considerable influence on the development of his ideas concerning the workings of organic Nature. He himself contributed to this work, and his later mode of regarding organic Nature is already foreshadowed in the way he expresses himself in these contributions. Lavater goes no further than treating the form of the human organism as the expression of the soul. He wanted to indicate the character of soul from the forms of the body. Goethe began even then to observe the external form in itself, to study its own laws and formative force. He began at the same time to study the writings of Aristotle on physiognomy and endeavoured, on the basis of the study of the organic form, to confirm the distinction between man and the animals. He finds this in the prominence of the head which is determined by the human structure as a whole, and in the perfect development of the human brain to which all parts point as to an organ by which they are determined. In the animal, on the other hand, the head is merely appended to the spine; the brain and spinal cord comprise no more than is absolutely necessary for the execution of subordinate life-principles and sense-activities pure and simple. Goethe was already then seeking for the distinction between man and the animals, not in any one detail, but in the different degrees of perfection which the same basic form attains in one case or the other. Already there hovers before him the picture of a type which occurs both in the animal and in man, but which is developed in the former in such a way that the entire structure subserves animal functions, whereas in the latter the structure furnishes the scaffolding for the development of the spirit.

Goethe's specific studies in anatomy grew out of such considerations. On Jan. 22nd, 1776, he writes to Lavater: “The Duke has sent me six skulls, and I have made some magnificent observations which are at your service if you have not already found the same things without me.” In Goethe's Diary, under the date, 15th Oct., 1781, we read that he studied Anatomy in Jena with Einsiedel, and in the same year began to enter more deeply into this science under the guidance of Loder. He speaks of this in letters to Frau von Stein, 29th Oct., and to the Duke, 4th Nov., 1781. He also had the intention of “explaining the skeleton” to the young people at the Drawing Academy, “and guiding them to a knowledge of the human body.” “I do it,” he says, “for my own sake as well as for theirs; the method I have chosen will give them this winter a real acquaintance with the basic structures of the body.” The Diary shows that these lectures were, in fact, given. During this time he also had many conversations with Loder concerning the structure of the human body. Again it is his general view of Nature which is the motive force and the real aim of these studies. He treats “the bones as a text to which all life and everything human may be appended.” (Letters to Lavater and Marck, 14th Nov., 1781.)

Goethe's mind was occupied at that time with conceptions relating to the workings of organic Nature and the connection between human and animal development. That the human form is simply the highest stage of the animal, and that man produces the moral world out of himself as a result of this more perfect stage of animal life, is an idea which is already expressed in the ode “The Divine” — written during the year 1782. “Let man be noble, helpful and good; for that alone distinguishes him from all the beings known unto us. According to laws mighty, rigid, eternal, must all we mortals complete the orbit of our existence.” The “eternal, rigid laws” work in man just as they work in the rest of the world of organisms; in him alone they reach a perfection which makes it possible for him to be “noble, helpful and good.”

While such ideas were establishing themselves in Goethe's being more and more firmly Herder was working at his “Ideas for a Philosophy of the History of Mankind.” All the thoughts of this book were discussed by the two men. Goethe was satisfied with Herder's comprehension of Nature; it harmonised with his own conceptions. Frau von Stein writes to Knebel, 1st May, 1784: “Herder's work makes it probable that we were first plants and animals. ... Goethe is now brooding profoundly over these things and whatever has passed through his mind becomes supremely interesting.” Goethe's words to Knebel, 8th Dec., 1783, afford the justification for arriving at his ideas from Herder's. “Herder is writing a Philosophy of History, fundamentally new, as you may well imagine. We read the first chapters together the day before yesterday — and very excellent they are.” Sentences such as the following entirely harmonise with Goethe's mode of thought: “The human race is the great coalescence of lower organic forces.” “And so we assume that man is the central creation among animals, i.e., the developed form wherein the features of all species around him are summed up superbly.” The view of anatomists at that time that the tiny bone which animals have in the upper jaw, the intermaxillary bone which contains the upper incisors, is lacking in man, was of course irreconcilable with such conceptions. Sommering, one of the most noted Anatomists of the time, writes to Merck, 8th Oct., 1782: “I wish you had consulted Blumenbach on the subject of the os intermaxillane which, ceteris paribus, is the only bone which all animals possess from the apes onward, including even the orang-utan, but which is never to be found in man; with the exception of this bone there is nothing in man which cannot be attributed to the animals. I am sending you therefore the head of a hind in order to convince you that this os intermaxillane, as Blumenbach, or os incis as Campa calls it, also exists in animals which have no incisors.” That was the general view of the time. Even the famous Camper, for whom Merck and Goethe had the deepest respect, admitted it. The fact that the intermaxillary bone in man coalesces left and right with the upper jaw bone without any clear demarcation in the normally developed individual, led to this view. If the learned men were correct in this it would be impossible to affirm the existence of a common archetype for the structure of the animal and human organism; a boundary between the two forms would have to be assumed. Man would not be created according to the archetype which lies at the basis of the animal. Goethe had to remove this obstacle to his world-conception. This he succeeded in doing, in conjunction with Loder, in the Spring of 1784. Goethe proceeded according to his general principle that Nature has no secret which “she does not somewhere place openly before the eye of the attentive observer.” He found the demarcation between upper jaw and intermaxillary bone actually existing in some abnormally developed skulls. He joyfully announced his discovery to Herder and Frau von Stein (27th March). To Herder he wrote: “It should heartily please you also, for it is like the keystone to man; it is not lacking; it is there! But how?” “I have thought of it in connection with your ‘Whole’ and it will indeed be a fair link in the chain.” When Goethe sent the treatise he had written on the subject to Knebel in Nov., 1784, he indicated the significance which he attributed to this discovery in his whole world of ideas by the words: “I have refrained from pointing to the logical outcome which Herder already indicates in his ideas, that the distinction between man and the animal is not to be looked for in any single detail.” Goethe could gain confidence in his view of Nature only when the erroneous view about this fatal little bone had been rejected. He gradually found the courage to extend to all kingdoms of Nature, to her whole realm, his ideas concerning the manner in which, playing as it were with one basic form, she produces life in all its diversity. In this sense he writes to Frau von Stein in the year 1786.

* * * * *

The book of Nature becomes more and more legible to Goethe after he has deciphered the one letter. “My long ‘spelling out’ has helped me; now at last it works, and my silent joy is inexpressible.” He writes thus to Frau von Stein, 15th May, 1785. He now regards himself capable of writing a small botanical treatise for Knebel. Their journey together to Karlsbad, in 1785, becomes a formal journey of botanical study. After their return the kingdom of fungi, mosses, lichens and algae were studied with the help of Linnæus. He informs Frau von Stein, 9th November: “I continue to read Linnæus, indeed I must, for I have no other book with me: it is the best way of reading a book conscientiously and I must cultivate the practice, for it is not easy for me to read a book to the end. This book is not compiled for reading but for repeated study, and is of the very greatest service to me because I have thought for myself on most of the points.” During these studies the basic form out of which Nature fashions all the manifold plant forms assumes separate contours in his mind, even if they are not yet quite definite. In a letter to Frau von Stein, 9th July, 1786, we find these words: “It is a perception of the form with which Nature is, as it were, always playing, and in her play producing life in its diversity.”

* * * * *

In April and May, 1786, Goethe made microscopical observations of lower organisms which develop in infusions of different substances — plantain pulp, cactus, truffles, peppercorn, tea, beer, and so on. He carefully noted the processes which he perceived in these organisms and prepared drawings of them. It is apparent also from these notes that Goethe did not try to approach the knowledge of life through such observation of the lower and simpler organisms. It is quite apparent that he thought he could grasp the essential features of life-processes in the higher organisms just as well as in the lower. He is of the opinion that in the infusoria the same kind of law repeats itself as the eye of the mind perceives, for instance, in the dog. Observation through the microscope only yields information of processes which are, in miniature, what the unaided eye sees on a larger scale. It merely affords an enrichment of sense-experiences. The essential nature of life reveals itself to a higher kind of perception, and not to observation that merely traces to their minutest details, processes that are accessible to the senses. Goethe seeks to cognise this essential nature of life through the observation of higher plants and animals. He would undoubtedly have sought this knowledge in the same way, even if in his age the anatomy of plants and animals had advanced as far as it has to-day. If Goethe had been able to observe the cells out of which the bodies of plants and animals are built he would have asserted that these elementary organic forms reveal the same conformity to law as is to be perceived in the most complex. He would have explained the phenomena in these minute entities by means of the same ideas by which he interpreted the life-processes of higher organisms. It is in Italy that Goethe first finds the thought which solves the riddle facing him in organic development and metamorphosis. On September 3rd he leaves Karlsbad for the South. In a few but significant sentences he describes in the History of my Botanical Studies the thoughts stimulated in him by the observation of the plant world up to the moment when, in Sicily, a clear conception comes to him of how it is that “a fortunate mobility and plasticity is bestowed on plant forms, together with a strong generic and specific tenacity, so that they can adapt themselves to the many conditions working upon them over the face of the earth and develop and transform themselves accordingly.” The “variability of plant forms” was revealed to him as he was crossing the Alps, in the Botanic Gardens of Padua, and in other places. “Whereas in the lower regions branches and stalks were stronger and more bounteous in sap, the buds in closer juxtaposition, and the leaves broader, the higher one got on the mountains the stalks and branches became more fragile, the buds were at greater intervals, and the leaves more lancelate. I noticed this in the case of a willow and of a gentian, and convinced myself that it was not a case of different species. So also near the Walchensee I noticed longer and thinner rushes than in the lowlands” (Italian Journey, 8th September). On October 8th, by the seashore in Venice, he finds different plants wherein the relation between the organic and its environment becomes specially clear to him. “These plants are all both robust and virile, succulent and hardy, and it is apparent that the old salt of the sandy soil, and still more the saline air, gives them this characteristic; they are swollen with juices like water-plants; they are fleshy and hardy like mountain-plants; if their edges have the tendency to form prickles, like thistles, they are exceedingly strong and highly pointed. I found such leaves on bushes; they appeared to me to resemble our harmless coltsfoot, but here they were armed with sharp weapons, the leaves like leather, as also the seed capsules and the stalk, everything very thick and succulent.” (Italian Journey). In the Botanical Gardens at Padua the thought of how all plant-forms could be developed out of one, assumes more definite shape in Goethe's mind. In November he writes to Knebel: “The little botany I know has for the first time become a pleasure to me in this land with its brighter, less sporadic vegetation. I have already made fine general observations which will subsequently be acceptable to you also.” On 25th March, 1787, there comes to him “considerable illumination regarding botanical phenomena.” He begs that “Herder may be told that he is very near to finding the archetypal plant.” Only he fears “no one will be willing to recognise the rest of the plant world therein.” On April 17th he goes to the Public Gardens “with a firm, calm determination to continue his poetical dreams.” But all of a sudden the plant-nature catches him up like a ghost. “The many plants which I was formerly only accustomed to see in pots and tubs, indeed only behind glass windows for most of the year, stand here fresh and gay under the open sky, and thus fulfilling their destiny, they become clearer to us. Amongst so many formations, some new, some familiar, the old fancy again occurred to me as to whether I could not discover among the multitude the archetypal plant. There must be such a thing: how otherwise should I recognise this or that form to be a plant if they were not all fashioned after one type?” He tries hard to distinguish the divergent forms, but his thoughts are guided ever and again to an archetype that lies at the basis of them all. Goethe starts a Botanical Diary in which he notes all his experiences and reflections on the subject of the plant world during the journey. (Goethe's Werke. Weimar Edition Bd. 17. S.273). These diary leaves show how untiringly he is occupied in seeking out specimens of plants fitted to lead him to the laws of growth and reproduction. When he thinks he is on the track of any law he first puts it into hypothetical form, in order to confirm it in the course of his further experiences. He makes careful notes of the processes of generation, of fructification, of growth. More and more it dawns upon him that the leaf is the basic organ of plants, and that the forms of all other plant organs are best understood if they are considered as transformed leaves. He writes in his Diary: “Hypothesis: all is leaf, and through this simplicity the greatest diversity becomes possible.” And on May 17th he writes to Herder: “I must further confide to you that I am very near to the secret of plant generation and organisation, and that it is the simplest thing conceivable. Under this sky the finest observations are possible. I have found clearly and indubitably the cardinal point where the germ is concealed: already I see everything else in its entirety, and only a few details have yet to become more definite. The archetypal plant is the most wonderful creation in the world, for which Nature herself should envy me. With this model, and its key, one can invent plants ad infinitum, and consequently, that is to say, plants which could exist, even if they do not exist, and are not as it were artistic or poetic shadows and fancies but have an inner truth and necessity. The same law may be applied to all else that lives. ... Forwards and backwards the plant is ever only leaf, so indissolubly united with the future germ that one cannot think of the one without the other. To grasp such a concept, to sustain it, to discover it in Nature, is a task which places us in a condition that is almost painful, despite its joy.” (Italian Journey).

* * * * *

For an explanation of the phenomena of life Goethe takes a path entirely different from those which scientists usually travel. Investigators of Nature may be divided into two classes. There are those who advocate the existence of a life-force working in organic Nature, and this life-force represents a special, higher form of force compared with other Natural causes. Just as the forces of gravity, chemical attraction and repulsion, magnetism, and so on, exist, so there must also exist a life-force which brings about such an interaction in the substances of the organism, that it can maintain itself, grow, nourish and propagate itself. These investigators of Nature say: In the organism work the same forces as in the rest of Nature, but they do not work as in a lifeless machine. They are taken up, as it were, by the life-force and raised to a higher stage of activity. Other investigators oppose this view, believing that no special force works in the organism. They regard the phenomena of life as more highly complicated chemical and physical processes and hope that some time it will be possible to explain an organism just as it is possible to explain a machine, by reducing it to the workings of inorganic forces. The first view is described as the theory of vitalism, the second as mechanistic theory. Goethe's mode of conception differs essentially from both. It appears to him self-evident that in the organism something is active as well as the forces of inorganic Nature. He cannot admit a mechanical explanation of living phenomena. Just as little does he seek a special life-force in order to explain the activities in an organism. He is convinced that for the understanding of living processes there must be a perception of a kind other than that through which the phenomena of inorganic Nature are perceived. Those who decide in favour of the assumption of a life-force realise, it is true, that organic activities are not mechanical, but at the same time they are not able to develop in themselves that other kind of perception by means of which the organic could be understood. The conception of the life-force remains obscure and indefinite. A more recent adherent of the theory of vitalism, Gustav Bunge, thinks that “All the riddles of life are contained in the tiniest cell, and with the existing means at our disposal we have already reached the boundary line.” (Vitalismus und Mechanismus, Leipsig. 1886, S.17). One may answer, entirely in the sense of Goethe's mode of thinking: “That power of perception which only cognises the nature of inorganic phenomena has arrived at the boundary which must be crossed in order to grasp what is living.” This power of perception, however, will never find within its sphere the means adequate to explain the life of even the tiniest cell. Just as the eye is necessary for the perception of colour phenomena, so the understanding of life is dependent on the power of perceiving directly in the sensible a supersensible element. This supersensible element will always escape one who only directs his senses to organic forms. Goethe seeks to animate the sensible perception of the plant forms in a higher sense and to represent to himself the sensible form of a supersensible archetypal plant. (Geschichte meines botanischen Studiums. Kürschner Nat. Lit. Bd. 33. S.80). The Vitalist takes refuge in the empty concept of the “life-force” because he simply does not see anything that his senses cannot perceive in the organism; Goethe sees the sensible permeated by a supersensible element, in the same sense as a coloured surface is permeated by colour.

The followers of the mechanistic theory hold the view that some day it will be possible to produce living substances artificially from inorganic matter. They say that not many years ago it was maintained that substances existed in the organism which could only arise through the activity of the life-force and not artificially. To-day it is already possible to produce some of the substances artificially in the laboratory. Similarly, it may one day be possible to produce a living albumen, which is the basic substance of the simplest organism, out of carbonic acid, ammonia, water and salts. The mechanists think that this will provide the irrefutable proof that life is nothing more than a combination of inorganic processes — the organism just a machine that has arisen in a natural way.

From the standpoint of Goethe's world-conception it may be said that the mechanists speak of substances and forces in a way that has no justification in experience. And people have grown so accustomed to speak in this way that it becomes very difficult to maintain the clear pronouncements of experience in the face of such concepts. Let us, however, consider, without bias, a process of the external world. I/it us take a quantity of water at a definite temperature. How do we know anything about this water? We observe it, notice that it takes up space and is enclosed within definite boundaries. We put a finger or a thermometer into it and find that it has a definite degree of warmth. We press against the surface and find that it is fluid. This is what the senses tell us concerning the condition of the water. Now let us heat the water. It will boil and finally change into steam. Again one can acquire knowledge through sense-perception of the constitution of the substance, of the steam into which the water has changed. Instead of heating the water, it can be subjected to an electric current, under certain conditions. It changes into two substances, hydrogen and oxygen. We can learn about the nature of these two substances also through the senses. Thus in the corporeal world we perceive states, and observe at the same time that these states can, under certain conditions, pass over into others. The senses inform us of these states. When we speak of something else besides states which change we no longer keep to pure facts, but we add concepts to these. When it is said that the oxygen and the hydrogen which have developed out of the water as a result of the electric current were already contained in the water, but so closely united that they could not be perceived individually, a concept has been added to the perception — a concept by means of which the development of the two bodies out of the one is explained. When it is further maintained that oxygen and hydrogen are substances, as is shown by the fact that names have been given to them, again a concept has been added to what has been perceived. For, in reality, in the space occupied by the oxygen, all we can perceive is a sum of states. To these states we add, in thought, the substance to which they are supposed to belong. The substantiality of the oxygen and hydrogen that is conceived of as already existing in water is something that is added in thought to the content of perception. If we combine hydrogen and oxygen into water by a chemical process we can observe that one collection of states passes over into another. When we say: “the two simple substances have united to form a compound,” we have there attempted to give a conceptual exposition of the content of observation. The idea “substance” receives its content, not from perception but from thought. The same thing holds good with “force” as with “substance.” We see a stone fall to the earth. What is the content of perception? A sum-total of sense impressions, states, which appear at successive places. We try to explain this change in the sense-world and say: “the earth attracts the stone; it has a ‘force’ by which it draws the stone to itself.” Again our mind has added a conception to the actuality and given it a content which does not arise out of perception. We do not perceive substances and forces, but states and their transitions into each other. These changes of states are explained by adding concepts to perceptions. Let us conceive of a being who could perceive oxygen and hydrogen but not water. If we combined oxygen and hydrogen into water before the eyes of such a being the states it perceived in the two substances would disappear into nothingness. If we now described the states which we perceive in water, such a being could form no idea of them. This proves that in the perceptual contents of hydrogen and oxygen there is nothing from which the perceptual content water can be derived. When one substance arises out of two or more different ones that means: Two or more perceptual contents have transformed themselves into a content which is connected with them but is absolutely new. What would have been achieved if it were found possible to combine carbonic acid, ammonia, water and salt into a living albumenous substance in the laboratory? We should know that the perceptual content of many substances could combine into one perceptual content. But this latter perceptual content cannot in any sense be derived out of the former. The state of living albumen can only be observed in itself; it cannot be developed out of the states of carbonic acid, ammonia, water and salt. In the organism we have something wholly different from the inorganic constituents out of which it can be formed. The sensible contents of perception change into sensible-supersensible when the living being arises. And those who have not the power to form sensible-supersensible conceptions can as little know anything of the nature of an organism as they could experience water if the sensible perception of it were inaccessible to them.

* * * * *

In his studies of the plant and animal world Goethe tried to conceive of germination, growth, transformations of organs, nutrition and reproduction of the organism, as sensible-supersensible processes. He perceived that this sensible-supersensible process is the same, ideally, in all plants and that it only assumes different forms in its outer manifestation. He was able to establish the same thing concerning the animal world. When man has formed in himself the idea of the sensible-supersensible archetypal plant he will find this again in all single plant-forms. Diversity arises because things, the same ideally, can exist in the perceptual world in different forms. The single organism consists of organs which can be traced back to one basic organ. The basic organ of the plant is the leaf with the nodes from which it develops. This organ assumes different forms in external appearance: cotyledon, foliage, leaf, sepal, petal, etc. “The plant may sprout, blossom, or bear fruit, but it is always the same organs which in manifold conditions and under frequently changed forms fulfil Nature's prescription.”

* * * * *

In order to get a complete picture of the archetypal plant Goethe had to follow, in general, the forms which the basic organ passes through in the progress of the growth of the plant from germination to the ripening of the seed. In the beginning of its development the whole plant-form rests in the seed. In this the archetypal plant has assumed a form, through which it conceals, as it were, its ideal content in outward appearance.

“Simply slumbered the force in the seed; a germ of the future
Peacefully locked in itself, 'neath the integument lay,
Leaf and root and bud, still void of colour and shapeless;
Thus does the kernel, while dry, cover that motionless life.
Upward then strives it to swell, in gentle moisture confiding,
And from the night where it dwelt, straightway ascendeth to light.”

(Translation by A. E. Bowring).

Out of the seed the plant develops its primary organs, the cotyledons, after it “has left behind its coverings more or less in the earth” and has established “the root in the soil.” And now, in the further course of growth, impulse follows impulse, nodes upon nodes are piled one above the other, and at each node we have a leaf.

The leaves appear in different forms, the lower still simple, the upper much indented, notched, and composed of many tiny leaves. The archetypal plant at this stage of development spreads out its sensible-supersensible content in space as external sense appearance. Goethe imagines that the leaves owe their progressive development and improvement to the light and the air. “When we find these cotyledons produced in the enclosing seed-walls, filled as it were with a crude sap, almost entirely unorganised, or at any rate only crudely organised and unformed, so do we find the leaves of those plants which grow under water more crudely organised than others that are exposed to the free air; indeed even the same plant species develops smoother and less perfect leaves if it grows in deep, moist places; whereas, on the contrary, in higher regions it produces fibrous and more finely developed leaves, provided with tiny hairs” (Goethe's Werke, Kürschner Nat. Lit. Bd. 33. S25.).

In the second epoch of growth the plant again contracts into a narrower space what was previously spread out.

“Less abundantly yielding the sap, contracting the vessels,
So that the figure 'ere long gentler effects doth disclose.
Soon and in silence is checked the growth of the vigorous branches
And the rib of the stalk fuller becometh in form.
Leafless however and quick the tenderer stem then upspringeth,
And a miraculous sight doth the observer enchant.
Ranged in a circle, in numbers that now are small, and now countless,
Gather the smaller-sized leaves, close by the side of their like,
And as the perfectest type, brilliant-hued coronals form.”

(Translation by A. E. Bowring).

In the calyx the plant form draws itself together, and in the corolla again spreads itself out. The next contraction follows in the pistils and stamens, the organs of generation. In the previous periods of growth the formative force of the plant developed uniformly as the impulse to repeat the basic form. At this stage of contraction the same force distributes itself into two organs. What is separated seeks to re-unite. This happens in the process of fructification. The male pollen existing in the stamens unites with the female substance in the pistils, and the germ of a new plant arises. Goethe calls this fructification, a spiritual anastomosis, and sees in it only another form of the process which occurs in the development from one node to another. “In all bodies which we call living we observe the force to produce its like. When we perceive this force divided, we speak of the two sexes.”

The plant produces its like from node to node, for nodes and leaf are the simple form of the archetypal plant. In this form production means growth. If this reproductive force is divided among two organs we speak of two sexes. In this sense Goethe believes he has brought the concepts of growth and generation nearer to each other. At the stage of fruit-formation the plant attains its final expansion; in the seed it appears again contracted. In these six steps Nature accomplishes a cycle of plant development, and begins the whole process over again. Goethe sees in the seed only another form of the nodule which develops on the leaves. The shoots developing out of the node are complete plants which rest on a mother-plant instead of in the earth. The conception of the basic organ transforming itself stage by stage, as on aspiritual ladderfrom seed to fruit is the idea of the archetypal plant. In order to prove to sense perception, as it were, the transforming power of the basic organ, Nature, under certain conditions, at one stage allows another organ to develop instead of the one that should arise in conformity with the regular course of growth. In the double poppy, for example, petals appear in the lilace where the stamens should arise. The organ destined ideally to become a stamen has become a petal. In the organ that has a definite form in the regular course of plant development there is the possibility to assume another.

As an illustration of his idea of the archetypal plant Goethe considers the bryophyllum calycinum, a plant species which was brought to Calcutta from the Molucca Islands, and thence came to Europe. Out of the notches in the fleshy leaves these plants develop fresh plantlets, which grow to complete plants after their detachment. In this process, sensibly and visibly presented, Goethe sees that ideally a whole plant slumbers in the leaf. (Goethe's Notes on Bryophyllum Calycinum. Weimar Edition, Part 2. Vol. VII.).

One who develops the idea of the archetypal plant in himself, and keeps it so plastic that he can think of it in all possible forms which its content permits, can explain all formations in the plant kingdom by its help. He will understand the development of the individual plant, but he will also find that all sexes, species, and varieties are fashioned according to this archetype. Goethe developed these views in Italy and recorded them in his work entitled Versuch, die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären which appeared in 1790.

* * * * *

In Italy Goethe also makes progress in the development of his ideas concerning the human organism. On January 20th he writes to Knebel: “As regards anatomy, I have only a very indifferent preparation, and it is not without some labour that I have succeeded in acquiring a certain knowledge of the human frame. Constant examination of the stages here leads one to a higher understanding. In our Academy of Medicine and Surgery it is merely a question of knowing the part, and for this a wretched muscle serves just as well. But in Rome the parts mean nothing unless at the same time they present a noble form. In the great hospital San Spirito they have prepared, for the sake of artists, a very beautiful body displaying the muscles, so that one marvels at its beauty. It could really pass for some flayed demi-god, for a Marsyas. Thus one does not study the skeleton as an artificially arranged mask of bones, but rather after the example of the ancients, with the ligaments by which it receives life and movement.”

After his return from Italy Goethe applied himself industriously to the pursuit of anatomical studies. He feels compelled to discover the formative laws of the animal form just as he had succeeded in doing in the case of the plant. He is convinced that the uniformity of the animal organisation is also based on a fundamental organ which can assume different forms in its external manifestation. When the idea of the basic organ is concealed the organ itself has an undeveloped appearance. Here we have the simpler organs of animals: when the idea is master of the substance, forming the substance into a perfect likeness of itself, the higher, nobler organs arise. That which is present ideally in the simpler organs manifests itself externally in the higher. Goethe did not succeed in apprehending in a single idea the law of the whole animal form as he did for the plant form. He found the formative law for one part only of this animal form — for the spinal cord and brain, with the bones enclosing these organs. He sees in the brain a higher development of the spinal cord. He regards each nerve centre of the ganglia as a brain which has remained at a lower stage (Weimar Edition, Part 2, Vol. 8.).

He explains the skull-bones enclosing the brain as transformations of the vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord. It had occurred to him previously that he must regard the posterior cranial bones (occipital, posterior and anterior sphenoid bones) as three transformed vertebrae; he maintains the same thing in regard to the anterior cranial bones, when in the year 1790 he finds in the sands of the Lido a sheep's skull, which is, by great good fortune, cracked in such a way that three vertebrae are made visible to immediate sense perception in a transformed shape in the hard palate — the upper jaw-bone, and the intermaxillary bone.

In Goethe's time the anatomy of animals had not yet advanced so far that he was able to cite a living being which really has vertebrae in place of developed cranial bones, and which thus presents in sensible form that which only exists ideally in developed animals. The investigations of Karl Gegenbauer, published in the year 1872, made it possible to instance such an animal form. Primitive fish, or selachians, have cranial bones and a brain which are obviously terminal members of the vertebral column and spinal cord. According to this discovery a greater number of vertebrae than Goethe supposed, at least nine, appear to have entered into the head formation. This error in the number of vertebrae, and, in addition, the fact that in the embryonic condition the skull of higher animals shows no trace of being composed of vertebral parts but develops out of a single cartilaginous vesicle, has been adduced as evidence against the value of Goethe's idea concerning the transformation of the spinal cord and vertebrae. It is indeed admitted that the skull has originated from vertebrae, but it is denied that the cranial bones, in the form in which they appear in the higher animals, are transformed vertebrae. It is said that a complete amalgamation of vertebrae into a cartilaginous vesicle has taken place, and that in this amalgamation the original vertebral structure has entirely disappeared. The bony forms which are to be perceived in the higher animals have developed out of this cartilaginous capsule. These forms have not developed in accordance with the archetype of the vertebra, but in accordance with the tasks they have to fulfil in the developed head. So that in seeking an explanation of the forms of any cranial bone the question is not, “How has a vertebra been transformed in order to become the bones of the head?” — but “What conditions have led to this or that bony form separating out of the simple cartilaginous capsule?” It is believed that there is a development of new forms, in conformity with new formative laws, after the original vertebral form has passed over into an unorganised capsule. A contradiction between this view and Goethe's can only be found from the standpoint of “fact-fanaticism.” The vertebral structure that is no longer sensibly perceptible in the cartilaginous capsule of the skull does nevertheless exist in it ideally and re-appears as soon as the conditions for this appearance are there. In the cartilaginous skull-capsule the idea of the vertebral basic organ is concealed within matter; in the developed cranial bones it re-appears in outer manifestation.

* * * * *

Goethe hopes that the formative laws of the other parts of the animal organism will be revealed to him in the same way as was the case with those of brain, spinal cord, and their enveloping organs. With regard to the Lido discovery he informs Herder, through Frau von Kalb, April 30th, that he “has come much closer to the animal form and its many transformations and indeed through a most curious accident.” He believes himself to be so near his goal that he wants to complete, in the very year of his discovery, a work on animal development which may be placed side by side with the “Metamorphosis of Plants” (Correspondence with Knebel, pp 98.).

During his travels in Silesia, July, 1790, Goethe pursues studies in Comparative Anatomy and begins to write an Essay On the Form of Animals (Weimar Edition, Part 2, Vol. 8, p. 261.). He did not succeed in advancing from this happy starting point to the formative laws of the whole animal form. He made many an attempt to find the Type of the animal form, but nothing analogous to the idea of the archetypal plant resulted. He compares the animals with each other, and with man, and seeks to obtain a general picture of the animal structure, according to which, as a model, Nature fashions the individual forms. This general picture of the animal type is not a living conception that is filled with a content in accordance with the basic laws of animal formation, and thus recreates, as it were, the archetypal animal of Nature. It is only a general concept that has been abstracted from the special appearances. It confirms the existence of the common element in the manifold animal forms, but it does not contain the law of animal nature.

“All the members develop according to Laws Eternal.
And the rarest of forms secretly preserves the Archetype.”
                                           (The Metamorphosis of Animals.)

Goethe could not evolve a uniform conception of how the archetype, through the transformation according to law of a basic member, develops as the many-membered archetypal form of the animal organism. The Essays on The Form of Animals and the Sketch of Comparative Anatomy proceeding from Osteology, which were written in Jena in 1795, as well as the later and more detailed work, Lectures on the first three Chapters of an Outline of a General Introduction to Comparative Anatomy, only contain indications as to how the animals are to be compared suitably in order to obtain a general scheme according to which the creative power “produces and develops organic beings,” in accordance with which these descriptions are worked out and to which the most diverse forms are to be traced back, since such a norm may be abstracted from the forms of different animals. In the case of plants, however, Goethe has shown how through successive modifications an archetype develops, according to law, to the perfect organic form.

* * * * *

Even if Goethe could not follow the creative power of Nature in its formative and transforming impulse through the different members of the animal organism, yet he did succeed in finding single laws to which Nature adheres in the building of animal forms, laws which do indeed conform to the general norm but vary in their manifestation. He imagines that Nature has no power to change the general picture at will. If in some creature one member is developed to a high degree of perfection, this can only happen at the expense of another. The archetypal organism contains all the members that can appear in any one animal. In the single animal form one member may be developed, another only indicated; one may develop completely, another may be imperceptible to the senses. In the latter case Goethe is convinced that the elements pertaining to the general type that are not visible in an animal exist, nevertheless, in the idea. “If we behold in a creature some special excellence we have merely to question and find where something is lacking. The searching spirit will find somewhere the existence of a defect and at the same time the key to the whole of creation. Thus we can find no beast who carries a horn on its head and has perfect teeth in the upper bone of the jaw; the Eternal Mother, therefore, could never have created a lion with horns even by the exercise of all her power. For she has not enough substance to implant the full series of teeth and at the same time bring forth horns and antlers.” (Metamorphosis of the Animals.)

All members are developed in the archetypal organism and maintained in equilibrium; the diversity arises because the formative force expends itself on one member and, as a result, another remains in an absolutely undeveloped state or is merely indicated in external manifestation. This law of the animal organism is called to-day the law of the correlation or compensation of organs.

* * * * *

Goethe's conception is that the whole plant world is contained in the archetypal plant and the whole animal world in the archetypal animal, as idea. Out of this thought arises the question: How is it that in one case these definite plant or animal forms arise, and in another, others? Under what conditions does a fish develop out of the archetypal animal? under what conditions a bird? In the scientific explanation of the structure of organisms Goethe finds a mode of presentation that is distasteful to him. The adherents of this mode of conception ask in regard to each organ: What purpose does it serve in the living being in whom it occurs? — Such a question is based on the general thought that a divine Creator, or Nature, has predetermined a definite purpose in life for each being and has then bestowed upon it a structure which enables it to fulfil this purpose. In Goethe's view this is just as absurd as the question: To what end does an elastic sphere move when it is pushed by another? An explanation of the motion can only be given by discovering the law by which the sphere is set in motion through a blow or other cause. One does not ask: “What purpose is served by the motion of the sphere?” but, “Whence is the motion derived?” In Goethe's opinion one should not ask: “Why has the bull horns?” but rather: “How can he have horns?” Through what law does the archetypal animal appear in the bull as a horn-carrying form? Goethe sought for the idea of the archetypal plant and animal in order to find in them the reasons for the diversity of organic forms. The archetypal plant is the creative element in the plant world. If one wants to explain a single plant species then one must show how this creative element works in this special case. The thought that an organic being owes its form, not to the forces formatively acting in it, but to the fact that the form is imposed upon it from without for certain ends, was repulsive to Goethe. He writes: “In a pitiful, apostolically monkish declamation of the Zurich prophet I recently found this stupid sentence: ‘Everything that has life, lives through something outside of itself’ — or words to that effect. Only a proselytiser of the heathen could write such a thing, and on revising it, his genius does not pluck him by the sleeve” (Italian Journey, 5th Oct., 1781). Goethe thinks of the organic being as a “little” world, a microcosm which has arisen through itself, and fashions itself according to its own laws. “The conception that a living being is produced from outside for certain extraneous ends, and that its form is determined by a purposive primeval force, has already delayed us many centuries in the philosophical consideration of Nature, and still holds us back, although individual men have vigorously attacked this mode of thought, and have shown the obstacles which it creates. It is, if one may so express it, a paltry way of thinking, which like all paltry things is trivial just because it is convenient and sufficient for human nature in general” (Weimar Edition, Part 2, Vol. 7, p.217). It is, of course, convenient to say that a Creator, when forming an organic species, has based it on a certain purposive thought, and has therefore given it a definite form. Goethe's aim, however, is not to explain Nature by the intentions of some supernatural being, but out of her inherent formative laws. An individual organic form arises because the archetypal plant or animal assumes a definite form in a special case. This form must be of such a kind that it is able to live in the conditions surrounding it. “The existence of a creature which we call fish is only possible under the condition of an element that we call water.” (Weimar Edition, Part 2, Vol. 7. p. 221). When Goethe is seeking to comprehend the formative laws which produce a definite organic form he goes back to his archetypal organism. This archetypal organism has the power to realise itself in the most manifold external forms. In order to explain a fish Goethe would investigate what formative forces the archetypal animal employs in order to produce this particular fish form from among all the forms which exist in it ideally. If the archetypal animal were to realise itself in certain conditions in a form in which it could not live it would not survive. An organic form can only maintain itself within certain conditions of life if it is adapted to them.

“Thus by the animal's form is its manner of living determined,
Likewise the manner of life worketh back
on every creature, And so the organised form firmly makes its appearance,
Yet with the power to change, through outer conditions of Nature.”
                                           (The Metamorphosis of Animals.)

The organic forces surviving in a given life-element are conditioned by the nature of the element. If an organic form were to leave one life-element for another it must transform itself accordingly. This can happen in definite cases because the archetypal organism which lies at its base has the power of realising itself in countless forms. The transformation of one form into another is, however, according to Goethe's view, not to be conceived of in such a way that the external conditions immediately remould the form in accordance with their own nature, but that they become the cause through which the inner being transforms itself. Changed life-conditions provoke the organic form to transform itself in a certain way according to inner laws. The external influences work indirectly, not directly, on the living being. Countless forms of life are contained in the archetypal plant and animal ideally: those on which external influences work as stimuli come to actual existence.

* * * * *

The conception that a plant or animal species can in the course of ages, as a result of certain conditions, be transformed into another, has its full justification in Goethe's view of Nature. Goethe's view is that the force which produces a new being through the process of procreation is simply a transformation of that force which brings about the progressive metamorphosis of organs in the course of growth. Reproduction is a “growing-beyond” the individual.

As the basic organ during growth undergoes a sequence of changes which are ideally the same, similarly, a transformation of the external form can also occur in reproduction, while the ideal archetype remains the same. If an original organic form existed, then its descendants in the course of great epochs of time could pass over through gradual transformations into the manifold forms peopling the earth at present. The thought of an actual blood-relationship uniting all organic forms flows out of Goethe's basic conceptions. He might have expressed it in its completed form immediately after he had formed his idea of the archetypal animal and plant. But he expresses himself with reserve, even indefinitely, when he alludes to this thought.

In the Essay, Versuch einer allgemeinen Vergleich-ungslehre, which was probably written shortly after the Metamorphosis of Plants, we read: “And how worthy it is of Nature that she must always employ the same means in order to produce and nourish a creature. Thus one will progress along just these paths, and just as one at first only regarded the inorganic, undetermined elements as vehicles of organised beings, so will one now progress in observation, and again regard the organised world as a union of many elements. The whole kingdom of plants, for example, will again appear to us like a great ocean, which is just as necessary to the limited existence of the insects, as the waters and rivers are to the limited existence of fishes, and we shall see that a vast number of living creatures are born and nourished in this ocean of plants; we shall, finally, again regard the whole animal world as a great element where one race maintains itself out of and through the other if not arising from it.” There is less reserve in the following sentence from Lectures on the first three Chapters of an Outline of Comparative Anatomy (1796): “We should also have come to the point where we could fearlessly maintain that all the more perfect organic beings, among which we reckon fishes, amphibia, birds, mammals, and at the summit of the last, Man, are formed according to one archetype, which only in its constituent parts inclines hither and thither and daily develops and transforms itself through procreation.” Goethe's caution regarding the thought of transformation is comprehensible. The epoch in which he elaborated his ideas was not unfamiliar with this thought. It had, however, been developed in the most confused sense. “That epoch,” writes Goethe, “was darker than one can conceive of now.” It was stated, for example, that man, if he liked, could go about comfortably on all fours, and that bears, if they remained upright for a period of time, could become human beings. The audacious Diderot ventured to make certain proposals as to how goat-footed fauns could be produced and then put into livery, to sit in pomp and distinction on the coaches of the mighty and the rich! Goethe would have nothing to do with such undue ideas. His aim was to obtain an idea of the basic laws of the living. It became clear to him here that the forms of the living are not rigid and unchangeable, but are subject to continual transformation. He had, however, no opportunity of making observations which would have enabled him to see how this transformation was accomplished in the single phenomenon. It was the investigations of Darwin and the reflections of Haeckel that first threw light on the actual relationship between the single organic forms. From the standpoint of Goethe's world-conception one can only give assent to the assertions of Darwinism in so far as they concern the actual emergence of one organic species from another. Goethe's ideas, however, penetrate more deeply into the nature of the organic world than modern Darwinism. Modern Darwinism believes that it can do without the inner impelling forces in the organism which Goethe conceives of in the sensible-supersensible image. Indeed it would even deny that Goethe was justified in arguing, from his postulates, an actual transformation of organs and organisms. Jul. Sachs rejects Goethe's thoughts by saying that he transfers “the abstraction evolved by the intellect to the object itself when he ascribes to this object a metamorphosis which, fundamentally speaking, is only accomplished in our concept.” According to this view Goethe has presumably gone no further than to reduce leaves, sepals, petals, etc., to one general concept, designating them by the name ‘leaf.’ “Of course the matter would be quite different if we could assume that the stamens were ordinary leaves in the ancestors of the plant-forms lying before us, etc.” (Sachs, History of Botany. 1875, p. 169).

This view springs from that “fact-fanaticism” which cannot see that the ideas belong just as objectively to the phenomena as the elements that are perceptible to the senses. Goethe's view is that the transformation of one organ into another can only be spoken of if both contain something in common over and above their external appearance. This is the sensible-supersensible form. The stamens of a plant-form before us can only be described as the transformed leaf of the predecessors if the same sensible-supersensible form lives in both. If that is not the case, if the stamen has developed in the particular plant-form simply in the same place in which a leaf developed in its predecessors, then no transformation has occurred, but one organ has merely appeared in the place of another. The Zoologist Oscar Schmidt asks: “What is it that is supposed to be transformed according to Goethe's views? Certainly not the archetype!” (War Goethe Darwinianer? Graz. 1871, p. 22.). Certainly the archetype is not transformed, for this is the same in all forms. But it is just because this remains the same that the external forms can be different, and yet represent, a uniform Whole. If one could not recognise the same ideal archetype in two forms developing out of each other, no relation could be assumed to exist between them. Only the conception of the ideal archetypal form can impart real meaning to the assertion that the organic forms arise by a process of transformation out of each other. Those who cannot rise to this conception remain chained within the mere facts. The laws of organic development lie in this conception. Just as Kepler's three fundamental laws make the processes in the solar system comprehensible, so can the forms of organic Nature be understood through Goethe's ideal archetypes.

Kant, who denies to the human spirit the power of understanding, in the ideal sense, a Whole by which a multiplicity is determined in its appearance, calls it “a risky adventure of reason” to seek to explain the various forms of the organic world by an archetypal organism. For him man is only in a position to gather the manifold, individual phenomena into one general concept by which the intellect forms for itself a picture of the unity. This picture, however, exists only in the human mind and has nothing to do with the creative power by which the unity really causes the multiplicity to proceed out of itself. The “risky adventure of reason” consists in assuming that the Earth first allows the more simple organisms to proceed out of her womb and that these then produce from themselves forms with more deliberate purpose; that from these again, still higher forms develop, up to the most perfect living being. Kant holds that even if such a supposition is made, it can only be based on a purposive creative force, which has given evolution such an impulse that all its various members develop in accordance with some goal. Man perceives a multitude of different organisms; and since he cannot penetrate them in order to see how they themselves assume a form adapted to the life-element in which they develop, he must conceive that they are so adapted from without that they can live within these conditions. Goethe, however, claims the faculty of being able to recognise how Nature creates the particular from the whole, the outer from the inner. He is willing to undertake courageously what Kant calls the “adventure of reason” (cp. the Essay: Anschauende Urteilskraft Kürschner. Bd. 34.). If we had no other proof that Goethe regarded as justifiable the thought of a blood-relationship among all organic forms within the limits here specified, we should have to conclude it from this judgment of Kant's “adventure of reason.”

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A sketch, Entwurf einer Morphologie, which still exists, suggests that Goethe intended to present, in their sequence, the special forms which his archetypal plant and archetypal animal assume in the main forms of living beings. He wanted first to describe the nature of the organic as it appeared to him through his contemplation of animals and plants. Then he wanted to show how the organic archetypal being, “proceeding from a centre,” develops on the one side to the manifold plant world, on the other to the multiplicity of animal forms, and how particular forms of worms, of insects, of higher animals and the form of man can be derived from the general archetype. He intended even to shed light on physiognomy and phrenology. He made it his task to present the external form in its connection with the inner spiritual faculties. He was impelled to follow the organic formative impulse, which in the lower organisms is portrayed in a simple external appearance, in its striving to fulfil itself stage by stage in ever more perfect forms until it produces in man a form which makes him able to be the creator of spiritual production.

This plan of Goethe's was never completed, any more than was another, the commencement of which is to be found in the fragment, Vorarbeiten zu einer Physiologie der Pflanzen (cp. Weimar Edition, Part 2, Vol. 6, pp. 286 ff.). Goethe tried to show how the various branches of material knowledge, — Natural History, Physics, Anatomy, Chemistry, Zöonomy and Physiology — must work together, in order to be applied in a higher mode of perception to explain the forms and processes of living beings. He wanted to bring forward a new science, a general morphology of organisms, new indeed “not in reference to its subject-matter, for this is known, but in its outlook and method, which must give an individual form to the doctrine as well as establish a place for it among other sciences.” What Anatomy, Natural History, Physics, Chemistry, Zöonomy, Physiology have to offer as the various laws of Nature, would be taken up by the living idea of the organic and placed on a higher level, just as the living being itself takes up the different processes of Nature in the cycle of its development and places them on a higher level of activity.

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Goethe reached the ideas which guided him through the labyrinth of living forms along paths of his own. The prevailing conceptions in regard to important regions of Nature's activity contradicted his own general world-conception. Therefore with regard to these regions he had to form for himself conceptions in accordance with his own being. He was convinced, however, that there was “nothing new under the sun,” and that one “could certainly find one's own perceptions already indicated in traditions.” For this reason he sent his work on the Metamorphosis of the Plants to learned friends, and begged them to tell him whether anything had already been written or handed down concerning the theme in question. He was glad to be told, by Friedrich August Wolf, of an “admirable precursor,” one Caspar Friedrich Wolf. Goethe became acquainted with his Theoria Generationis which had appeared in 1759. But this very work shows that it is possible to hold a correct view of the facts and yet that a man cannot come to the full idea of organic development unless he is capable of arriving at the sensible-supersensible form of life through a power of perception higher than that of the senses. Wolf was an excellent observer. He sought to discover the beginnings of life by means of microscopical investigations. He recognised transformed leaves in the calyx, corolla, pistils, stamens and seed. But he ascribed the process of transformation to a gradual decrease of the life-force, which diminishes in proportion to the length of time the plant exists, until it finally disappears. Calyx, corolla, etc., are, therefore, for him an imperfect development of the leaf. Wolf came forward as the opponent of Haller, who advanced the theory of Pre-formation or “Encasement.” According to this theory, all the members of a fully-grown organism are already represented on a small scale in the germ, and, indeed, in the same shape and mutual arrangement as in the developed living being. The development of an organism is thus simply an unfolding of what already exists. Wolf would only accept validity in what he saw with his eyes. And since the encased condition of a living being could not be discovered even by the most careful observations, he regarded development as an actually new formation. According to his view, the shape of an organic being is not yet present in the germ. Goethe is of the same opinion in reference to the external manifestation. He, too, rejects the “Encasement Theory” of Haller. For Goethe the organism is indeed pre-figured in the germ, not according to its external appearance but according to the idea. He regards the external appearance as a new formation, but reproaches Wolf with the fact that where he sees nothing with the eyes of the body, he also sees nothing with the eyes of the spirit. Wolf had no conception of the fact that something may still exist in the idea even if it does not pass into external manifestation. “Therefore he is always concerned with penetrating to the beginnings of the development of life by means of microscopical investigations and so following the organic embryos from their earliest appearance up to their development. However admirable this method may be, yet the excellent man did not think that there is a distinction between ‘seeing’ and ‘seeing,’ that the eyes of the spirit have to work in constant, living union with the eyes of the body because otherwise one may fall into the danger of seeing and yet overlooking. ... In the plant-transformation he saw the same organ continually contracting, continually diminishing, but he did not see that this contraction alternated with an expansion. He saw that it diminished in volume, but did not observe that at the same time it became more perfect, and he therefore absurdly attributed the path towards perfection to a process of impoverishment.” (Kürschner Nat. Lit. Bd. 33.).

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Until the very end of his life Goethe was in touch with innumerable scientific investigators, both in personal and written intercourse. He followed the progress of the science of living beings with the keenest interest; he saw with joy how modes of thought resembling his own gained entrance into this department of knowledge, and how his doctrine of metamorphosis was also recognised and made fruitful by individual investigators. In the year 1817 he began to gather his works together and to publish them in a periodical which he founded under the title, Zur Morphologie. In spite of all this, however, he made no further progress, through personal observation or reflection, in the growth of his ideas concerning organic development. On two other occasions only did he feel compelled to occupy himself more deeply with such ideas. In both cases he was attracted by scientific phenomena in which he found the confirmation of his own thoughts. The one case was the Course of Lectures held by K. F. Martius on “The Vertical and Spiral Tendency of Vegetation” at the Conference of Natural Scientists in the years 1828 and 1829, of which the periodical “Isis” published extracts; the other was a scientific dispute in the French Academy which broke out in the year 1830 between Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier.

Martius conceived of the growth of plants as being dominated by two tendencies by a striving in the vertical direction which governs the root and stem, and by another which causes the leaves, the organs of the blossoms and so on, to incorporate themselves into the vertical organs of the form of a spiral line. Goethe took these thoughts and brought them into connection with his idea of metamorphosis. He wrote a long essay (Kürschner Bd. 33), into which he collected all his experiences of the plant-world which appeared to him to point to the existence of these two tendencies. He believed that he had to merge these tendencies into his idea of metamorphosis. “This much we must assume: there prevails in vegetation a general spiral tendency, whereby, in union with the vertical striving of the whole structure, each formation in the plant is brought about in accordance with the laws of metamorphosis.” Goethe regarded the existence of spiral vessels in the various plant organs as a proof that the spiral tendency dominates the life of plants throughout. “Nothing is more in accordance with Nature than the fact that what she intends in the Whole she activates through the minutest detail.” “Let us in summer look at a stake planted in the soil up which a bindweed (convolvulus) climbs from below, winding its way to the heights and — clinging closely — maintains its living growth. Let us think now of the bindweed and stake as both equally living and ascending upwards from one root, producing each other alternately and so progressing unchecked. Those who can transform this picture into an inner perception will find the idea considerably easier. The twining plant seeks outside itself that which it should itself produce, but cannot.” Goethe uses the same comparison in a letter to Count Sternberg, 15th March, 1832, and adds these words: “Of course the comparison does not entirely fit, for in the beginning the creeper must wind itself round the stem in barely perceptible circles. The nearer it approaches the summit, however, the quicker must the spiral line turn in order finally (in the blossom) to collect itself in a circle on the disc. This process resembles the dances of one's youth, where half reluctantly one was often pressed in the close embrace of affectionate children. Pardon these anthropomorphisms!” Ferdinand Cohn remarks in reference to this passage: “If only Goethe had known Darwin! How pleased he would have been with this man, who through his strictly inductive methods knew how to find clear and convincing proofs for his ideas.” Darwin thinks that in nearly all plant organs he can show that in the period of their growth they have the tendency to spiral movements which he calls circummutation.

In September, 1830, Goethe refers in an essay to the dispute between the two investigators, Cuvier and Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire; in March, 1832, he continues this essay. In February and March, 1830, Cuvier, the “fact-fanatic” came forward in the French Academy in opposition to the work of Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire, who, in Goethe's opinion, had attained to a “lofty mode of thought in conformity with the idea.” Cuvier was a master of the distinctions existing between the various organic forms. Saint-Hilaire tried to discover the analogies in these forms and to prove that the organisation of animals is “subject to a general plant only modified here and there, whence the differences can be derived.” He tried to acquire knowledge of the relationship between the laws and was convinced that the particular could develop stage by stage from the whole. Goethe regards Saint-Hilaire as a man of like mind with himself and he expresses this to Eckermann, 2nd August, 1830, in the words: “Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire is now our ally, and with him all important followers and adherents in France. This occurrence is of inconceivable value to me and I justly rejoice at this final victory of a matter to which I have devoted my life and which is my own special concern.” Saint-Hilaire practises a mode of thought which is also that of Goethe, for he seeks to lay hold in experience of the idea of unity simultaneously with the sensible manifold. Cuvier clings to the manifold, to the particular, because in his observation of the particular the idea does not immediately arise. Saint-Hilaire had a right perception of the relation of the sensible to the idea; Cuvier had not. Therefore he describes Saint-Hilaire's all-inclusive principle as presumptive — nay even inferior. One can often experience, especially in the case of investigators of Nature, that they speak in a derogatory sense of something merely ideal, of something merely “thought.” They have no organ for the ideal, and therefore do not know its mode of working. It was because Goethe possessed this organ in a highly perfect state of development that he was led from his general world-conception to his deep insight into the nature of the living. His power of allowing the spiritual eye to work in constant living union with the eye of the body made it possible for him to behold the uniform sensible-supersensible essence which permeates organic evolution. He was also able to recognise this essence where one organ develops out of the other, and where, by its transformation, it conceals its relationship and similarity to its predecessor, even belying it, and changing, both in its function and in its form, to such a degree that no parallel, according to external characteristics, can be found with its earlier stages (cp. the essay on Joachim Jungius, Kürschner, Nat. Lit. Bd. 33.). Perception with the eye of the body imparts knowledge of the sensible and material; perception with the eye of the spirit leads to the perception of processes in human consciousness, to the observation of the world of thinking, feeling and willing; the living union of the spiritual and bodily eye makes possible the knowledge of the organic which, as a sensible-supersensible element, lies between the purely sensible and the purely spiritual.




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