Tuesday, May 20, 2014
A Quotation Attributed to Goethe
Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.This quotation can be found elsewhere on the Internet. When I read it, my bullshit detector sounded an alarm. Did Goethe really say something so much like New Age claptrap? My suspicion increased when, looking deeper, I found the quotation in German on the Internet, as "Jeder will jemand sein, niemand will wachsen." To my admittedly untrained ear this had the ring of a translation from English back into German, not of an original statement by Goethe in German. I couldn't find this supposed quotation from Goethe anywhere in his printed works.
Then, thanks to a hint from a friend, I unearthed the quotation in The Viking Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection, edd. W.H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger (New York: Viking Press, 1962; rpt. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1993), p. 52:
Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.Here the quotation is attributed to Goethe, but with no indication of chapter and verse.
The closest approximation I could find in Goethe's works was this epigram in the Gesamtausgabe, Bd. I: Gedichte (Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta, 1949), p. 664 (from Xenien, Book IV):
Mit seltsamen GebärdenThis, I think, means something like the following in English:
Gibt man sich viele Pein,
Kein Mensch will etwas werden,
Ein jeder will schon was sein.
With a singular manner
One takes great suffering upon himself.
No one wants to become something,
Everyone wants to be something right now.