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Geothe’s fourteen hundred Maxims and Reflections reveal some of his deepest thought on art, ethics, literature and natural science, but also his immediate reactions to books, chance encounters or his administrative work. Although variable in quality, the vast majority have a freshness and immediacy which vividly conjure up Goethe the man. They make an ideal introduction to one of the greatest of European writers.
123 pages, with a reading time of ~4.0 hours (30,982 words), and first published in 1906. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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There is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before; we must only try to think it again.
How can a man come to know himself? Never by thinking, but by doing. Try to do your duty, and you will know at once what you are worth.
But what is your duty? The claims of the day.
The world of reason is to be regarded as a great and immortal being, who ceaselessly works out what is necessary, and so makes himself lord also over what is accidental.
The longer I live, the more it grieves me to see man, who occupies his supreme place for the very purpose of imposing his will upon nature, and freeing himself and his from an outrageous necessity,–to see him taken up with some false notion, and doing just the opposite of what he wants to do; and then, because the whole bent of his mind is spoilt, bungling miserably over everything.
Be genuine and strenuous; earn for yourself, and look for, grace from those in high places; from the powerful, favour; from the active and the good, advancement; from the many, affection; from the individual, love.
Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are. If I know what your business is, I know what can be made of you.
Every man must think after his own fashion; for on his own path he finds a truth, or a kind of truth, which helps him through life. But he must not give himself the rein; he must control himself; mere naked instinct does not become him.
Unqualified activity, of whatever kind, leads at last to bankruptcy.
In the works of mankind, as in those of nature, it is really the motive which is chiefly worth attention.
Men get out of countenance with themselves and others because they treat the means as the end, and so, from sheer doing, do nothing, or, perhaps, just what they would have avoided.
Our plans and designs should be so perfect in truth and beauty, that in touching them the world could only mar. We should thus have the advantage of setting right what is wrong, and restoring what is destroyed.
It is a very hard and troublesome thing to dispose of whole, half-, and quarter-mistakes; to sift them and assign the portion of truth to its proper place.
It is not always needful for truth to take a definite shape; it is enough if it hovers about us like a spirit and produces harmony; if it is wafted through the air like the sound of a bell, grave and kindly.
General ideas and great conceit are always in a fair way to bring about terrible misfortune.
You cannot play the flute by blowing alone: you must use your fingers.
In Botany there is a species of plants called Incompletæ; and just in the same way it can be said that there are men who are incomplete and imperfect. They are those whose desires and struggles are out of proportion to their actions and achievements.
The most insignificant man can be complete if he works within the limits of his capacities, innate or acquired; but even fine talents can be obscured, neutralised, and destroyed by lack of this indispensable requirement of symmetry. This is a mischief which will often occur in modern times; for who will be able to come up to the claims of an age so full and intense as this, and one too that moves so rapidly?
It is only men of practical ability, knowing their powers and using them with moderation and prudence, who will be successful in worldly affairs.
It is a great error to take oneself for more than one is, or for less than one is worth.
From time to time I meet with a youth in whom I can wish for no alteration or improvement, only I am sorry to see how often his nature makes him quite ready to swim with the stream of the time; and it is on this that I would always insist, that man in his fragile boat has the rudder placed in his hand, just that he may not be at the mercy of the waves, but follow the direction of his own insight.
But how is a young man to come of himself to see blame in things which every one is busy with, which every one approves and promotes? Why should he not follow his natural bent and go in the same direction as they?
I must hold it for the greatest calamity of our time, which lets nothing come to maturity, that one moment is consumed by the next, and the day spent in the day; so that a man is always living from hand to mouth, without having anything to show for it. Have we not already newspapers for every hour of the day! A good head could assuredly intercalate one or other of them. They publish abroad everything that every one does, or is busy with or meditating; nay, his very designs are thereby dragged into publicity. No one can rejoice or be sorry, but as a pastime for others; and so it goes on from house to house, from city to city, from kingdom to kingdom, and at last from one hemisphere to the other,–all in post haste.