Jesuitica in Goethe

I’ve just started reading Goethe’s Italian Journey.  My copy is the Penguin edition of W.H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer’s translation.  The translation is noteworthy, because of the topic of this post, Jesuitica in Goethe, and because of this note in the translators’ introduction:

One previous translator, an Anglican clergyman, omitted all favourable references made by Goethe to the Roman Catholic Church; we have confined ourselves to stylistic matters.(pg. 18)

And grateful we to Auden and Mayer we should be, for we find this pearl in the first chapter (though in fairness, it is in at least one earlier translation too):

The first thing I did [in Regensburg, Germany] was to visit the Jesuit College, where the students were performing their annual play. I saw the end of an opera and the beginning of a tragedy. The acting was no worse than any other group of inexperienced amateurs, and their costumes were beautiful indeed, almost too magnificent. Their performance reminded me once again of then worldly wisdom of the Jesuits. They rejected nothing which might produce and effect and they knew how to use it with love and care. Their wisdom was no coldly impersonal calculation; they did everything with a gusto, a sympathy and personal pleasure in teh doing, such as living itself gives. This great order had organ-builders, wood carvers and gilders among its members, so it must also have included some who, by temperament and talent, devoted themselves to the theatre. Just as they knew how to build churches of imposing splendour, these wise men made use of the world of the sense to create a respectable drama. (pg. 24)

I know Jesuits and I know organ-builders. Sadly I don’t know any Jesuit organ-builders. I do know a Jesuit actor and theater technician though, which adds to the awesomeness of discovering this passage.

A paragraph further on he returns to the topic of the Jesuits:

I keep thinking about the character and the activities of the Jesuits. The grandeur and perfect design of their churches and other buildings command universal awe and admiration. For ornament, they used gold, silver, and jewels in profusion to dazzle beggars of all ranks, with, now and then, a touch of vulgarity to attract the masses. Roman Catholicism has always shown this genius, but I have never seen it done with such intelligence, skill and consistency as by the Jesuits. Unlike the other religious orders, they broke away from the old conventions of worship and, in compliance with the spirit of the times, refreshed it with pomp and splendour.

Ooh, we were with you right up until the last sentence, sir! It presents some difficulties.

The painting is J. H. W. Tischbein’s Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787.

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