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No. 34 (March 1961)
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Midnight: Author seated at desk with books and papers lying around on desk and floor.

Author: Where shall I seek? Let me see, let me see; is not the leaf turned down where I left off reading? Here it is, I think.

Enter Ghost of Goethe

Who comes again to spite me, when I am seeking for some clue to the mystery of Gotty's birth? Come in. Speak to me: what are you?

Ghost: I am the spirit that denies. Your predicament, O man of the Antipodes, has compelled me. and I appear. I am Goethe!

Author: Over these books of yours and my own papers from this my desk, often through the night I have searched, with much labour, through and through! And here I stick, as wise as when my steps first turned to school. I have no fond illusion, that I know anything worth the knowing; so I've turned me to speculation.

Ghost: All my works are but fragments of the grand confession of my life. You will find there, in the pages of the books I see around you I have woven my living garment. But I warn you, where you find a dark corner in me. it is terribly dark.

Ghost vanishes.

Author: You will not daunt me! I will sit here and gum together pieces here and there. I will hash up scraps from others' feast. I shall conjure up and tell a story from the ashes whence the life has ceased!

Enter te Rangihirawea.

You have come at a time most inopportune. How shall we set about this task?

Te Rangihirawea: Pardon—I heard you shouting; doubtless some lines of poetry you were reading? I come direct, filled with the most profound respect, to know the story of my great-grandfather. You did say his father's name was Antonio, and I came to tell you that my younger brother, now long since dead, was baptised with the same name by our late priest, Father Langerwerf, on his return from Germany.

Author: It is now too late to know how much Father Langerwer knew. I wrote to Potsdam for information about Gotty's father, Antonio, whom your grandfather described as a cavalry officer in the Prussian army. The reply was that the records of the former Army archives, including those of the old Prussian army, were burnt in the air-raid on Potsdam on 14 April 1945.1

Te Rangihirawea: Could it be that Antonio or Antonia was a son of Goethe, or was one of his own baptismal name? My heart and soul are yearning to hear what story you have to tell.

Author: The story I shall tell you can only be speculation. I begin by telling you there were many women in the life of the poet, Goethe, but Gotty was not his son by any of them. Gotty could have been the poet's grandson. For various reasons, which would take too long in the telling, I have formed the theory that Gotty's father, Antonio, was the son of Anna Elizabeth Schönemann.

Anna, immortalised as Lili by Goethe, was the daughter of a great banker in Frankfurt. Lili's mother was widowed, and she was sixteen years of age when she first became acquainted with Goethe. She was young, graceful and charming. Lili's fascination over him, Goethe has expressed in a poem. Here are three verses from it:—

  • Wherefore so resistlessly dost draw me

  • Into scenes so bright?

  • Had I not enough to soothe and charm me

  • In the lonely night?

  • Dreaming thro’ the golden hours of rapture

  • Soothed my heart to rest,

  • As I felt thy image sweetly living

  • Deep within my breast.

  • Alas! the gentle bloom of spring no longer

  • Cheereth my poor heart,

  • There is only spring, and love, and nature,

  • Angel, where thou art!

The parents of both sides were not in favour of a marriage. At a later stage the lovers were told by a certain Demoiselle Delf that she had managed to overcome objections, and gain the consent of both families. Subsequently, however, it turned out that the feeling of friends and relations had

1 Letter from Deutsches Zentralarchiv, Potsdam, 13. 11. 1959.

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not altered. In 1775 he tried an experiment to see if he could forget Lili. He went on tour to Switzerland with the two Counts Stolberg. In Switzerland “amid the lovely scenes of Nature”, the poet wrote this verse:—

  • Dearest Lili, if I did not love thee

  • How entrancing were a scene like this

  • Yet, my Lili, if I did not love thee,

  • What were any bliss?

On his return to Frankfurt he learned that Lili's friends had taken advantage of his absence, to try and bring about a separation. But Lili remained firm; and it was said that she had declared herself willing to go with him to America. In his old age Goethe wrote in his Autobiography, “so unlike the love in novels, the very thing which should have animated my hopes depressed them. My fair paternal house, only a few hundred paces from hers, was after all more endurable and attractive than a remote, hazardous spot beyond the seas.”

He was restless and unhappy during these months. “He lingered about the house o’ nights, wrapped in his mantle, satisfied if he could catch a glimpse of her shadow on the blind, as she moved about the room. One night he heard her singing at the piano. His pulses throbbed, as he distinguished his own song:—
  • Wherefore so resistlessly dost draw me
    • Into scenes so bright? …

the song he had written in the morning of their happiness! Her voice ceased. She rose, and walked up and down the room, little dreaming that her lover was beneath the window.”

In September 1775, Karl August, the hereditary prince of Weimar, repeated an invitation for Goethe to spend a few weeks at his court. With some difficulty he obtained his father's consent. He left Frankfurt, his birthplace, for Weimar, and on the 7th of November 1775, Goethe, then aged twenty-six, arrived at the little city of Weimar, on the banks of the Ilm, where, as it turned out, he was to live until he died over fifty years later.

Goethe and Lili were together again in 1779. This meeting took place on the 26 September whilst he was on a visit with Karl to Frankfurt; “in the afternoon I called on Lili, and found the lovely Grasaffen (‘budding miss’) with a baby of seven weeks old. her mother standing by… To my great delight found the good creature happily married. Her husband, from what I could learn, seems a worthy sensible fellow, rich, well placed in the world; in short she had everything she needs. He was absent. I stayed to dinner…. In the evening saw Paesiello's beautiful L'Infante di Zamora. Supped with Lili and went away in the moonlight. The sweet emotions which accompanied me I cannot describe.” Goethe latter summed up his feelings respecting Lili, the woman whom, according to his statement to Eckermann, he loved more than any other. “She was the first, and I can also add she is the last, I truly loved; for all the inclinations which have since agitated my heart were superficial and trivial in comparison. My love for Lili had something so peculiar and delicate that even now it has influenced my style in the narrative of that painfully-happy epoch.”

I shall now refer to the poet's dramatic works. With regard to his drama Stella, which was composed during the “painfully-happy epoch”, I would say that in it I detect a biographical element in the characters of Fernando and Cecilia, his wife, the mother of his child. Turning our attention to Faust, the magnum opus of Goethe, it is to be noted that although he conceived the idea of the old legend (Faust-fable) during his love affair with Lili, he wrote nothing of the work until he had sketched Gretchen's catastrophe, the scene in the street, and the scene in Gretchen's bedroom. He did not publish Part One of Faust until 1808, a year before the birth of Yohan Gotty. There are large slices of this great work which appear to be of a biographical character. The mother of Gretchen was a widow and the twist in the story about her baby dying, could have been contrived by the great poet to cover the biographical element in the drama with an impenetrable mist.

The years rolled on, and we came to the period of the Napoleonic Regime (1806–1813). On the day of the battle of Jena on the 14th October 1806, a few French hussars rode into Weimar. A young officer came to Goethe's house to assure him that it would be secure from pillage; and it had been selected as the quarters for Marshall Augerau. “The young officer who brought this message was Lili's son!”

I have not been able to trace any further reference to “Lili's son”, but about this time the poet was involved in an affair with Minna Herslieb, a young woman who exercised a fascination over him which his reason in vain resisted. He addressed sonnets to her, and in the novel, Elective Affinities, may be read the fervour of his passion.

There are four characters in the novel, which was published in 1809 (the year Yohan Gotty was born). The identification of the character Eduard with Goethe, of Charlotte with Goethe's wife, Christiane, are but thinly disguised. Ottilie in the novel may readily be identified with Minna; and the Captain, according to our conjecture, was Lili's son.

As was the case in Faust “the child” dies. The child in the novel is born—rather unexpectedly be it said—to Eduard and Charlotte—the marriage of twenty years had been childless—but it resembled “in a striking manner both Ottilie and the Captain.” Lewes, in his work on the life of the poet, has described the characters of the Captain and Eduard as a dramatisation by Goethe of the two halves of his own character.

(Continued on page 15)