Goethe Johann Peter Eckermann:

Conversations with Goethe

April 11, 1827

Goethe (1749-1832)
Eckermann (1792-1854)

Goethe on the Earth Inhaling & Exhaling

The carriage now began to return. We saw toward the east many rain clouds driving one into another. "These clouds," said I, "threaten to descend in rain every moment. Do you think they could possibly dissipate, if the barometer rose?"

"Yes", said Goethe, "they would be dispersed from the top downward, and be spun off like a distaff at once. So strong is my faith in the barometer. Nay, I always say and maintain, that if, in the night of the great inundation of Petersburg, the barometer had risen, the wave would not have overflowed.

"My son believes that the moon influences the weather, and you perhaps thinks the same, and I do not blame you; the moon is so important an orb that we must ascribe to it a decided influence on our earth; but the change of the weather, the rise and fall of the barometer, are not effected by the changes of the moon; they are purely telluric."

"I compare the earth and her atmosphere to a great living being, perpetually inhaling and exhaling. If she inhale, she draws the atmosphere to her, so that, coming near her surface, it is condensed to clouds and rain. This state I call water-affirmative (Wasser-bejahung). Should it continue an irregular length of time, the earth would be drowned. This the earth does not allow, but exhales again, and sends the watery vapors upward, when they are dissipated through the whole space of the higher atmosphere, and become so rarified, that not only does the sun penetrate them with his brilliance, but the eternal darkness of infinite space is seen through as a fresh blue. this state of the atmosphere I call the water-negative (Wasser-verneinung)."

"For as, under the contrary influence, not only water comes profusely from above, but also the moisture of the earth cannot be dried and dissipated— so, on the contrary, is this state, not only no moisture comes from above, but the damp of the earth itself flies upward; so that, if this should continue an irregular length of time, the earth, even if the sun did not shine, would be in danger of drying up."

Thus spoke Goethe on this important subject, and I listened to him with great attention.

"The thing is very simple, and I abide by what is simple and comprehensive, without being disturbed by occasional deviations. High barometer, dry weather, east wind; low barometer, wet weather, and west wind; this is the general rule by which I abide. Should wet clouds blow hither now and then, when the barometer is high, and the wind east, or, if we have a blue sky, with a west wind, this does not disturb me, or make me lose my faith in the general rule. I merely observe that many collateral influences exist, the nature of which we do not yet understand."

"I will tell you something, by which you may abide the rest of your life. There is in nature an accessible and inaccessible. Be careful to discern between the two, be circumspect, and proceed with reverence."

"We have already done something, if we only know this in a general way, though it is always difficult to see where the one begins and the other leaves off. He who does not know it torments himself, perhaps all life long, about the inaccessible, without ever coming near the truth. But he who knows it and is wise, will confine himself to the accessible; and, while he traverses this region in every direction, and confines himself therein, will be able to win somewhat even from the inaccessible, though he must at last confess that many things can only be approached to a certain degree, and that nature has ever something problematical in reserve, which man's faculties are insufficient to fathom."

                                    — Johann Peter Eckermann (1792-1854)
                                         Conversations with Goethe, Wednesday, April 11, 1827

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