By Johann Peter Eckermann, imagine transcripts of podcasts from the 1820s, albeit edited. This book is described on the back cover as “In 1823 he [Goethe] became the friend and mentor of the young writer Johann Eckermann, who during the last nine years of Goethe’s life recorded their wide-ranging conversations on art, literature, science and philosophy.
I find this book captivating from cover to cover, although many parts are difficult if you are unaware of the details not only of Friedrich Schiller, but also of Ludwig Tieck and Christoph Martin Wieland. If nothing else, it helps you realize how nearly all of today’s podcasts will sound (and play) one day.
you can order it here. In my re-reading, a striking feature of the dialogues is how obsessed Goethe was with the discussion and assessment of talent:
“Byron’s high status as an English peer has been very detrimental to him. Every talent struggles with the outside world – and it’s even harder for someone of high birth and great wealth. An average condition is much more favorable to talent — that is why our great artists and poets come from the middle classes. Byron’s penchant for excess would have been far less dangerous to him if he had been of inferior birth and humbler means. As it was, he had the power to satisfy her every whim, and it got her into endless trouble. And besides, how could he, himself from the upper class, be impressed or inhibited by any social rank? He said whatever was on his mind, and it brought him into constant conflict with the world.
You’ll find talent discussions every few pages or more frequently.
The new translation is by Allan Blunden and is A+, noting that Goethe is generally impossible to meaningfully translate into English. It’s amazingly the first new English translation in 150 years and it’s the best sense we have of Goethe as human beings.
The text also had an influence on my own Conversations with Tyler. The book is again curiously contemporary.