I recently read Goethe’s Italian Journey, an account of the famous German writer’s trip to Italy in the 1780s. At the end of my review, I promised I’d share a few pieces of wisdom that I picked up from reading Goethe’s account. It’s amazing how recognisable some of his experiences are. Close your eyes, and you can almost imagine nothing has changed. This got me thinking, and I ended up going through the text looking for a few lessons Goethe might have been trying to impart on his readers. So, without further ado, I’d like to present…
The Top Five Things Goethe Can Teach Us About Travel
Here’s a question: what does an eighteenth-century gentleman, with a fair amount of money, a comfortable desk job, and a passion for rocks and plants do when he finds himself suffering through the throngs of a mid-life crisis?
My natural answer, of course, would be this: he buys a racing carriage and starts wearing leather coat-tails.
If, however, that eighteenth-century gentleman happens to be Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the desk job happens to be a post working for the Weimar government, and the passion for rocks and plants happens to be – well, a passion for rocks and plants – then he might very well drop everything he’s doing and run away to Italy. We’ve all been there, right gents? Your hair starts receding, you go to Italy. It’s been done so often it’s almost a cliché.
However, while most gentlemen in this position content themselves with new haircuts and a little harmless flirting with the girl who brings their coffee every morning, Goethe went one further. In 1786, he set out from Weimar in the dead of night, possibly elaborately disguised (at least I’d like to think so), and using a fake name. Continue reading →
Last week I looked at some of the English Romantics who chose to call Rome their home. I’ve already discussed one of my favourite museums in the world, the Keats-Shelley House, but Rome also appealed to writers from the other side of the Channel. So while in Rome I decided to visit the Casa di Goethe and see where the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived, wrote, and painted. It was also a place of particular interest because at the time I was knee-deep in Goethe’s book Italian Journey, about his time in Italy (though not literally knee-deep, of course. That would have been embarrassing while trying to read on the train to Pompeii).
So what was this famous German writer doing in Rome? Well, it’s a funny story, and it goes something like this: Continue reading →
Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness …
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’
John Keats, one of the best-known poets of the Romantic era, died in Rome in 1821. Not long after, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote these beautiful and heartbreaking lines, which encourage the reader to visit Keats’ grave in Rome. Since then, Keats’ final resting place has fascinated generations of visitors. A few weeks ago, I decided to visit it and try to grasp its significance for myself.
Keats left England for Italy in 1820. In a little house on the Spanish Steps, he spent his final months with his friend Joseph Severn, fighting the illness that would eventually claim him. Today the house is a museum, devoted to the writing of Keats and his contemporaries. Continue reading →