Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749 - 1832

portrait of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Oil on canvas by Joseph Karl Stieler (1828)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe signature

Born: 28 August 1749, Frankfurt am Main, Hessen, Holy Roman Empire
Died: 22 March 1832, Weimar, Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

Goethe's father Caspar, frustrated at his own advancement due to poor education, hired tutors to teach Johann and his sister Cornelia. By the time he was sent to Leipzig to study law at age 15, he spoke six languages. He detested the rote learning of judicial rules and devoted much of his time to poetry; he was sent home for lack of progress. He spent a year and a half in and out of bed with an unknown illness and several relapses, then went to Strasbourg to complete his legal studies. He briefly practiced law at Frankfurt, published his first drama, and was an editor of literary magazine. He moved to Wetzlar in 1772 and attempted the law again, but two years later he wrote The Sorrows of Young Wether which established his name. On the strength of that book he was invited to join the court of Grand Duke Carl August at Weimar as a close advisor; other than two years traveling in Italy he remained in this post for the rest of his life. He assisted the Duke's military actions, including a failed invasion of France in 1792. In 1794 he began a collaboration with Friedrich Schiller which lasted until the latter's death in 1805. In 1806 Napoleon's army invaded Weimar and the home in which Goethe, his mistress Christine Vulpius, and at least one of their children were living. Christine resisted and barricaded the family in the kitchen and cellar. Goethe quietly married Christine, with whom he had lived for eighteen years, the next day. As a poet, novelist, and dramatist he practically defined German intellectual activity for much of his adult life, he also was a scientist and pursued geology, botany, anatomy, physics, and the history of science.

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