Preparation of corrosive water for etching (Goethe)
Faust homunculi
Left: directions for the preparation of corrosive water for etching, one of Goethe’s first chemical experiments. [4] Right: Wagner, the famed sorcerer’s former student, of Goethe’s Faust, who creates laboratory life, i.e. a homunculus, in a beaker, via fire and chemicals.
In hmolscience, Goethe and chemistry refers to the intersection of chemistry with the reaction existence (life), times, and philosophy of German polyintellect Johann Goethe, from his 1758 (age 9) devotions to sulfur lit by a candle; to his 1768 (age 18) chemical studies, e.g. of Paracelsus, and others, and chemical experiments in his attic with a draught furnace (heat) to reveal the principle that permeates the whole universe; to his 1770 (age 20) declaration to Susanne Klettenberg that “chemistry is still my secret love”; to his 1780 (age 31) metamorphology theory of form change, mineral to plant to human (evolution); to his 1796 (age 47) comparison of attractions and repulsions and or elective affinities of minerals to those of humans; to his 1799 (age 50) assertion that in literature one should not treat the passions like playing cards by via the delicate elective affinities; to his 1809 (age 60) founding of the science of human chemistry, via the publication of his chemically-coded novella Elective Affinities; to his 1830 (age 80) comment to Carl Zelter that the ten commandments, the 6th in particular (do not commit adultery), need to be reformulated, foundationally, in terms of physicochemical principles; to his 1832 (age 82) completion of Faust, which tells the tales of Wagner, a famed sorcerer’s former student, who creates laboratory life (homunculus) in a beaker, via fire and chemicals, and the journey that ensues.

In 1758, at age 9, Goethe erected an altar of natural products, derived largely from his father’s natural history collection, surmounting it with a candle, which he lit when making his devotions, the whole surmounted by sulphur, signifying the unity of nature. [2]

In 1768, at age of 19, during his convalescent year at home in bed (1768-69), through the direction of Susanne Klettenberg (1723-1744), he studied the works of Paracelsus, Anton Kirchweger’s The Golden Chain of Homer: a Description of Nature and Natural Things (1723), Georg von Welling’s Opus Mago-Cabalisticum, the writings of Hermann Boerhaave, and others; and was conducting chemical experiments in his attic using a draught furnace to reveal the ‘principle that permeates the whole universe’.

Some have argued that Goethe was drawn into the science of chemistry during his 1768 spell of illness during his return home from the University of Leipzig wherein he was treated by a physician who claimed to have found an infallible panacea or mysterious drug which he did not dare use because he was afraid of the legal action against him, but that was convinced into using, after his patient was suddenly seized with an attack of violent illness which threatened his life, after which Goethe began to mend and soon recover. [3]

In 1769, at the age of 20, Goethe was conducting chemical experiments in his attic using a draught-furnace. As Goethe wrote, at age 21, in a 1770 letter to writer Susanne von Klettenberg, age 47, who to note had helped Goethe during his Leipzig disease two years prior: [4]

Chemistry is still my secret love.”
Goethe reactions (notebook)
Right: Goethe’s notebooks of 4-7 Oct 1793, the reaction diagram in the upper right hand corner showing a double elective affinity (double displacement reaction), using Bergman reaction diagram notation, of experiments with Berlin-blue liquor. [8]

Books on chemistry and alchemy, according to Goethe’s biographer Heinrich Düntzer, became “almost a craze with him”, though, seeking exact knowledge, he was sometimes made desperate by their strange mystifications. [5] Goethe’s reading of Bavarian alchemist Georg von Welling’s 1735 Opus Mago-Cabalisticum, a sort of religious-chemistry mixture, for instance, led him to the clearer chemistry of Dutch physician and chemist Herman Boerhaave’s 1724 Elements of Chemistry, a book greatly influential to French chemist Antoine Lavoisier and his 1787 Elements of Chemistry. [6] Goethe also studied the works of Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus. [7]

The following are related quotes:

Goethe’s interest in chemistry continued until the time of his death in 1832.”
— Eugene Blank (1942), “Alchemy and Chemistry in Literature” [1]

See also
● EA|IAD: Reaction decipherment
Goethe's human affinity table
Goethe's human chemistry

1. Blank, Eugene W. (1942). “Alchemy and Chemistry in Literature”, School Science and Mathematics, 42(6):550-58.
2. (a) Bailey, G.H. (1890). “Goethe as a Student of Chemistry” (abs), Transactions of the Manchester Goethe Society, Mar 5.
(b) Cox, Catharine, M. (1926). Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses (Genetic Studies of Genius Series) (pg. 694). Stanford University Press.
(c) Friedenthal, Richard, Riedenthal-Haas, Marth. (2010). Goethe: His Life & Times (pg. 280). Transaction Publishers.
3. House, Roy T. (1916). “Goethe and the Chemists, Popular Science, pgs. 332-37. Apr.
4. (a) Gebelein, Helmut. (2002). “Alchemy and Chemistry in the Work of Goethe”, In: The Golden Egg: Alchemy in Art and Literature, pgs. 9-30. Galda & Wilch.
(b) Susanne von Klettenberg (German → English) – Wikipedia.
5. Duntzer, Heinrich. (1884). Life of Goethe, Volumes 1-2 (pgs. 88-89). Estes.
6. (a) Georg von Welling – Wikipedia.
(b) Welling, Georg von. (1735). Opus Mago-Cabalisticum et Theosophicum (English). Publisher.
7. Magnus, Rudolf and Schmid, Gunther. (2004). Goethe as a Scientist (pg. 15-16; (chemistry, pgs. 2, 5, etc.). Kessinger Publishing.
8. Adler, Jeremy. (1987). “Eine fast magische Anziehungskraft: Goethe’s 'Wahlverwandtschafte' und die Chemie seiner Zeit (“An almost Magical Attraction: Goethe’s Elective Affinity and the Chemistry of its Time) (pg.76) (Amazon). Munich: Beck.

Further reading
● Cluskey, James E. (1951). “Goethe and Chemistry”, Journal of Chemical Education, 28(10):536-.
● Gebelein, Helmut. (2002). “Alchemy and Chemistry in the Work of Goethe”, in: The Golden Egg: Alchemy in Art and Literature (editors: Alexandra Lembert and Elmar Schenkel), Berlin: Galda+ Wilch Verlag.

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