Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Goethe and Empress Marie Echo Our Century

In the 19th century in Weimar, Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote to his friend Carl Fredrich Zelter in Berlin on June 6th, 1825:

 “… Everything nowadays … is ultra. Everybody keeps surpassing himself, in thinking as well as in action. People do not know themselves anymore, they do not understand the element they live and move in, nor the material they handle. There certainly is no pure simplicity, though there is simpleness enough.

Young people are stirred up far too soon and then whirled along with the times. Wealth and speed are what the world admires, and what all are bent on. Railways, express … and every possible means of communication – that’s what the civilised people of today strive for; so they grow over-civilised, but never get beyond mediocrity. And the general result is that a middling culture becomes universal…

This is the century in fact, for men of ability, quick, practical understanding, whose skill gives them a feeling of superiority to the masses, even though they themselves have no gift for higher things …”

Photograph c1900 (below) of Goethe’s garden in the Faurenplan, Weimar

Aerial views (below) of Weimar's Schloss and closeup of Goethe’s house and garden (lower left)

In the 20th century in London, Empress Marie was staying in Marlborough House and wrote in her dairy on Friday, March 23rd, 1923 “…Already at 7 AM, I was awakened by the noise of the lawnmower cutting the grass. This is a marvelous invention, of course, but not to start so early in the morning!…” On Saturday morning the Empress wrote “ … was up at 7:30 AM because that horrible machine with a motor, which cuts the grass, created an inconceivable noise right under my windows…”

Photograph c1900 (below) of Marlborough House

 Aerial view (below) of the Mall with Marlborough House on the left

Their 19th and 20th writings resonate with us in our 21st century. Yet Goethe’s is difficult to comprehend when reading about the small Duchy of Weimar and his peaceful garden. How did Goethe know about railways in 1825?

It seems unbelievable that the gardeners at Marlborough House would mow the lawns early in the morning when the Royal family was in residence. Our bane today but one we thought an Empress would be immune to!


  1. Excellent post! Amazing - and rather sad - that Goethe's words could be written today, exactly as he wrote them then.

    And, yes, the lawn mowing! One certainly doesn't imagine Queen Eliabeth, say, being awoken to the drone of lawnmowers or, worse, leaf-blowers!

  2. What a lovely little place Goethe had.
    We have noise restrictions here no lawn mowing or power tool noise before 7am Monday to Friday and 8am Weekends and public holidays.
    I loathe mowing the lawn!
    Ghostie x.

  3. Thank you very much. You dream in winter for spring, forgetting the noise of road repairs, mowers and the horror of wasps and mosquitoes!

    The Grand Duke had given Goethe the Gartenhaus also - beautiful setting!