In timelines, Goethe timeline refers to the intellectual development, formulation, influential events, publication, advertisement, followup, criticism, and modern impacts of German polymath Johann Goethe’s 1796 human chemistry theory (human elective affinities theory), the principles of which are presented in his gestalt-layered 1809 physical chemistry based novella Elective Affinities, which, among his robust and varied 142 plus collected works publications—a set second only to that of Shakespeare, in terms of world literature representation—is his self-defined "best book".

Existence reaction
The following portion of the timeline is the depiction of things during Goethe's reaction existence (1749-1832):


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● Friedrich Georg Goethe (1657-1730)
● Cornelia Walter (1668-1754)

● Johann Wolfgang Textor (1693-1771)
● Anna Margarethe Lindheimer (1711-1773)

Johann Caspar Goethe (6s)
Johann Caspar Goethe (1710-1782)
Catharina Goethe (6s)
Catherina Elizabeth Goethe (1731-1808)
Reaction start:
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Goethe house (synthesized)

He came into existence, in his own words, as such: “on August 28, 1749, on the stroke of noon, I saw the light of day at Frankfurt-on-the-Main” (albeit as a blue baby: he almost dereacted [died] in child birth), at the Goethe house, Frankfurt; where he resided along with his sister Cornelia until 1765, aged 16, when he moved to Leipzig to study law, returning sporadically thereafter.


Goethe and his sister are given, by their grandmother, a puppet theater for Christmas:
Puppet theatre (Goethe)
Goethe learns the story of Faust through the puppet theater; by 6½ was arranging and conducting plays on the miniature stage.


The earthquake of Lissabon, Portugal, occurs, killing more than 30,000 people; the news is disturbing to the young Goethe.
Goethe reading c
He starts to read avidly.

Multilingual novels:

At age 7, to sugar the pill of grammar, he invented a novel in which the members of a family in various parts of the world wrote letters to each other in six different languages and styles.


At the age 9 (shown below age 13), built his own alter to nature out of his father’s natural history collection, surmounting it with a candle, which he lit when making his devotions.
Goethe (age 13)
Using these tools, according to genius researcher Catherine Cox (1926), he “developed a mystical religion of his own in the hope of approaching God directly.”

Sexual attraction:

Starts to feel "attraction" to various girls; later collectively referred to as "Gretchen" in his autobiography, Poetry and Truth.


Goethe, shown below age 15, completes his first landscape drawings of the Frankfurt area; studies the works of Plato, Aristotle, Plotin, and the Stoics.

Goethe (age 15) new

University studies:

Goethe, shown below age 16, enters the University of Leipzig: starts to read law; further lessons on drawing with Adam Friedrich Oeser.
Goethe (1765)


First reading of Shakespeare; falls in love with Kathchen Schonkopf (1746-1810):
Kathchen Schonkopf
latter dedicates a collection of poems to her, entitled Annette.

Chemistry studies and experiments:

Paracelsus and Susanne KlettenbergDuring his convalescent year at home in bed (1768-69) he began his studies in chemistry, particularly the work of Paracelsus (1493-1541) and Susanne Klettenberg (1723-1744); and was conducting chemical experiments in his attic using a draught
Faust homunculi
furnace (heat); such as depicted in the following engraving (of Wagner, the famed sorcerer’s former student, creating laboratory life, from Goethe’s 1832 Faust part 2), so to reveal the "principle that permeates the whole universe."

Retrospect autobiography:

Goethe studying in Frankfurt (1769-1772)“I perceived something in nature (whether living or lifeless, animate or inanimate) that manifested itself only in contradictions and therefore could not be expressed in any concept, much less any word. It was not divine, for it seemed irrational; not human, for it had no intelligence; not diabolical, for it was beneficent; and not angelic, for it often betrayed malice. It was like chance, for it laced continuity, and like providence, for it suggested context. Everything that limits us seemed penetrable by it, and it appeared to dispose at will over the elements necessary to our existence, to contract time and expand space. It seemed only to accept the impossible and scornfully to reject the possible.”

Here, Goethe, in his Goethe’s daimonic, tells in retrospect from book 20 of his Poetry and Truth (1811-1814), how in his pre 1775 youth years he was searching for a universal rule to explain the happenings of existence. The drawing is Goethe studying in Frankfurt in the years circa 1769 to 1772.

Comment by Goethe:

Chemistry is still my secret love.”

Susanne von Klettenberg
In letter to German religious writer Susanne Klettenberg (1723-1744), a friend of his mother's, who previously had helped Goethe during his Leipzig disease spell (1768). [7]

University chemistry:

Jacob SpielmannAt the University of Strasbourg, he attended the chemistry courses of French chemist Jacob Spielmann (1722-1783), his first chemistry teacher.

Completing a liberal arts curriculum with courses in political science, history, anatomy, surgery,

Published his first volume of poems and had studied enough medicine to qualify to as a physician.

cross natureWith aims to complete a doctorate in law, he wrote a dissertation on “The Legislature, On the Power of the Magistrate to Determine Religion and Culture”, containing a number of controversial assertions, such as “Jesus Christ was not the author of our religion, but that a number of other wise men composed it in his name. The Christian religion is merely a rational, political institution”; being an attack on orthodoxy, of course, it was rejected—as a result, he only achieved the “licentiate” to practice law. Following dissertation rejection, to show contempt for university authorities he offered a series of 56 theses for disputation, e.g. “natural law is what nature has taught all creatures” (thesis 1), “should the woman who kills here newly born child suffer the death penalty? (thesis 55), a moral issue reoccurs in Faust, etc., all themed on his distaste for learned authority, and casting for a new way of looking at the relationship between humans to nature, society, and tradition.

Becomes a lawyer:

After successfully defending his theses, he received his law degree: Positions of Rights (shown below), and began practicing.

Positiones Juris (1771)

comes world famous:

During this year, Goethe, shown below, skating in the Winter of 1773, in a noted anecdote, recounted and depicted, as shown below, by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, where he skates about like a dart in his mother’s crimson fur cloak
Goethe skating (1773)
wrote his great tale Werther (famously read by Napoleon six times during battle)—two-years later (age 26) he was world famous.

Complex love affair:

Charlotte von SteinAfter arriving in Weimar, in 1774 (or November 1775) (check), In 1774, Goethe meets Charlotte von Stein (1742-1827): it was the beginning of a deep friendship which lasted for twelve years the character Charlotte; whose affections, for more than ten years he attempted to win over, despite her being now married (via economic-social arrangement, to a baron Gottlob von Stein (1735-1793)), seven years his elder, and the mother of seven children:
Charlotte von Stein (house in Weimer)

Charlotte von Stein was his constant companion, for at least a decade, and by her bright and genial nature and friendship she stimulated his efforts and assuaged his cares.

Garden house:

Goethe gardenhouse ns
Goethe’s garden house, was the first home acquired by Goethe in Weimar in 1776, a few months after his arrival in Weimar, together with the surrounding garden. The purchase was financed by Duke Carl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. The garden house was Goethe’s main residence and workplace until he moved to Frauenplan in June 1782. After buying the house, Goethe began to repair it and redesign the garden immediately (similar to as occurs in Elective Affinities). He divided it into three parts which are still recognisable today: the park-like slope behind the house, the sunny orchard and the lower part of the garden where the vegetable beds can be found.

Goethe crowned privy councilor by Duke Karl August:

After arriving in Weimar, he was received with the most flattering attention by all the principle personages—the Duke Karl August, eight years his younger, in particular attached to him like a brother, and four years later, on Goethe’s thirtieth birthday, in 1779, recognizing his official duties, the raised him to the place of Geheimerath, or privy councilor—Goethe crowned by Duke Karl August (1779)the confirmation of which is shown adjacent, as drawn by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, wherein Goethe is crowned by the Duke—on the left sits the dowager, Duchess Amalia (whom Charlotte von Stein was a lady in waiting for, from 1758 to 1807), addressing the old poet Christoph Wieland (see: burning letter attack, 16 Jul 1810). Goethe commented on this:

“It is strange and dream-like, that I in my thirtieth year enter the highest place which a German citizen can reach.”

Plant evolution theory:

Worked out the basics of plant evolution, or "metamorphosis" (see: morphology), as he called it; as depicted on the following 2009 book Metamorphosis: Evolution in Action, by Andreas Suchantke:
Metamorphosis (2011)
a theory later to be cited by Darwin, in his famous Origin of Species (1859), as being a forerunner, along with Saint-Hilaire (1833), Erasmus (1791), to his own theory of evolution.

Human evolution theory:

Goethe discovers intermaxillary bone (1920)Discovers the human intermaxillary bone, as depicted in the adjacent 1920 painting by Russian artist Dmitrievich Ezuchevsky (1880-1928), as he tells in a night missive to German philosopher Johann Herder (1744-1803), from Jena, at night:

“I have found neither gold nor silver, but something that unspeakably delights me—the human Os intermaxillary! I was comparing human and animal skulls with Loder, hit up the right track, and behold—Eureka! Only, I beg of you, not a word—for this must be a great secret for the present. You ought to be very much delighted too, for it is like the keystone to anthropology—and it’s there, no mistake! But how?”

A bone thought by anatomist to be absent from humans, and only found in lower animals, thus proving that humans and animals have evolved or metamorphosized common ancestor.

Italy campaign:

Johann TischbeinIn 1786, during the dark of night, without telling his love of ten years Charlotte von Stein (similar to as occurs in the novel), Goethe left unplanned on a two year trip to Italy, as depicted below in a 1787 painting by Johann Tischbein (1751-1828), who met Goethe in Italy, and these two also became good friends, traveling together, sketching and painting the Roman ruins:

Goethe in the Campagna (1787) by Tischbein

Goethe in Rome:

A depiction of Goethe in Rome upon his arrival in October 1786, where he sees, for the first time, the Juno Ludovisi bust, of the Greek goddess Juno:

Goethe in Rome

Existing as if married:

Meets Christiane Vulpius (1765-1816), a girl from a local flower shop sixteen years his junior:
Christiane Vulpius he moves in with her, and she bears hims five children; only one of whom August von Goethe (1789-1830), reaches adulthood.

Supports German author Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)'s appointment as professor of history at Jena.
Schiller (right)
It is to Schiller to whom (1898) Goethe begins to confide in his newly-forming theories and ideas on human chemistry; their mutual friendship begins in 1794.

Friday Society meetings:

Wilhelm BuchholzFrom 1791 to 1797, Goethe attended the weekly Friday Society meetings chemistry lectures of German physician-chemist Wilhelm Buchholz (1734-1798), at Wiemar, who presented the latest findings in chemistry; it has been surmised that Buchholz was the model for the Captain (see: Geothe's human affinity table); as embodied in the response of the Captain, in chapter four, when queried by Charlotte about what elective affinities are:

“As well as I can from what I learned from reading about [affinities] some ten years ago. Whether the scientific world still thinks of it in the same way, or whether it agrees with the latest theories, I cannot say.”

Meaning the statement embodies what Goethe had learned from Buchholz about the affinities in 1797.

Elective affinity experiments:

Goethe double elective affinity experiment (1793)
Goethe's 4-7 Oct 1793 notebook diagrammatic representation of the "double elective affinity" reaction experiments with Berlin-blue liquor.
Charlotte is freed:

photo neededThe reaction existence of Baron Gottlob von Stein (1735-1793) (Ѻ) ends, thus freeing Charlotte von Stein (1742-1827), then age 51, from her 29-year arranged marriage of necessity, and thus giving opportunity for Goethe's previous decade-long quest to wed or acquire Charlotte as his own.

This turning point seems to give way to the "what might have been" scenario that plays out in Elective Affinities, in regards to the marriage formed between the characters Eduard and Charlotte.

In his Third Lecture on Anatomy, stated:

“To facilitate our comprehension of the concept of organic existence, let us first take a look at mineral structures. Minerals, whose varied components are so solid and unchanging, do not seem to hold to any limits or order when then combine, although laws do determine these conditions. Different components can be easily separated and recombined into new combinations. These combinations can again be taken apart, and the mineral we thought destroyed can soon be restored to its original perfection.
Chemical version vs Human version 2
The main characteristic of minerals that concerns us here is the indifference their components show toward the form of their combination, that is, their coordination or subordination. There are, by nature, stronger or weaker bonds between these components, and when they evidence themselves, they resemble attractions between human beings. This is why chemists speak of elective affinities, even though the forces that move mineral components [or humans] one way or another and create mineral structures are often purely external in origin, which by no means implies that we deny them the delicate portion of nature’s vital inspiration that is their due.”

This outline takes it cue from Scottish chemist William Cullen (1757): “the dart → between them expresses the elective attraction (force); when I put a dart with the tail to one substance and the point to another, I mean that the substance to which the tail is directed unites with the one to which the point is directed more strongly than it does with the one united to it in the crotchet {” ; which, using the depicted Bergman-style example reaction (above), equates to the reaction: AB + C AC + B (in modern terms), where AB and AC, technically called "dihumanide molecules", are held by human chemical bonds, A≡B and A≡C, and the "force", symbolized by the dart (), is the electromagnetic force, acting "external" to the reactants (people or chemicals), in the form of an exchange force.

Physical sciences studies:

In the period 1798 to 1801, Goethe’s entered into his historiography of science, which began with a brief but rich exchange of letters with hisSchiller (right) intellectual friend German author Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) and ended with an equally brief and stimulating contact with the Gottingen school of history (university professors); in Schiller, according to Karl Fink (2009), he found an irreplaceable friend, whose “reflective power” quickly focused his project; and in the Gottingen school “nowhere was I advanced so quickly as in Gottingen where I was with great generosity and active support permitted use of the invaluable collection of books”. The exchange is said to have begun with his 13 Jan 1798 letter to Schiller, wherein he comments that he had been studying “various writings in physics”, learning how Newton turned optics into a geometry, how mechanists turned light into particles, how chemists attributed everything to ‘caloric’ (warmestoff), along with new theories on oxygen.

Prosper CrebillonCriticized realism:

In comment on the work of French author Prosper Crebillon (1674-1762):

“Crebillon … treats the passions like playing cards, that one can shuffle, play, reshuffle, and play again, without their changing at all. There is no trace of the delicate, chemical affinity, through which they attract and repel each other, reunite, neutralize [each other], separate again and recover.”

Schiller (right)
In a letter to his intellectual friend German author Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), to the effect that Crebillion's writing is not realistic in the sense that it is not based on the way that people "react" to each other, according to the principles and outcomes of chemistry.

here, Goethe, in his "without their changing at all" comments, seems to be digging around at what would eventually come to be known as the "irreversibility" of nature.

Weimar in 1803:
Weimar 1803 new
A vivid depiction of Weimar, Germany, in 1803, drawn by German painter Otto Knille (1884), giving a well-imaged viewing of Goethe's erudite intellectual circle: Johann Schlosser (1780-1851), Georg Hegel (1770-1831) (IQ=165), Johann Fichte (1762-1814) (IQ=170), Jean Paul (1763-1825), Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) (IQ=165), Wilhelm Humboldt (1767-1835) (IQ=175), Alexander Humboldt (1769-1859) (IQ=185), Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) (IQ=160), Carl Gauss (1777-1855) (IQ=195), who knew all of Goethe's poetry works, August Schlegel (1767-1845), Friedrich Klinger (KUnger) (1752-1831), Peter Cornelius (1784-1867), Heinrich Kleist (1777-1811), Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827), seated left red jacket hunched over, who affixed Goethe with the title "prince of the mind", Barthold Niebuhr (1776-1831) (IQ=185), Johann Herder (1744-1803) (IQ=175), in whom in 1784 Goethe first confided his discovery of evidence for human evolution from lower animals, Johann Gleim (1719-1803), Lorenz Oken (1779-1851), Johann Voss (1751-1826), Johann Blumenbach (1752-1840), Friedrich Klopstock (1724-1803)— and Goethe (1749-1832) (IQ=230)—the big dog, at center—followed by Christoph Wieland (1733-1813) (IQ=170), seated right front, who in 1810 called Goethe's self-defined greatest theory "childish nonsense and fooling around", August Iffland (1759-1814)—and last but not least Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) (IQ=175)—Goethe’s closest intellectual friend—in whom, in 1796, he first confided his newly-forming human elective affinities theory—and a bench mark for the launching of the science of human chemistry and in effect the seeds to the newly-forming overly-complex 21st century science of human chemical thermodynamics (see: human free energy theorists).
Employs Riemer:

Friedrich RiemerEmploys German writer-librarian Friedrich Riemer (1774-1845) as his secretary and private tutor for his then aged-fourteen son August (1789-1830); it was to Riemer that Goethe eventually dictated Elective Affinities; commenting to him about it, in regards to ideas, on 28 Aug 1808 (“my new idea”) and 24 Jul 1809 (“moral symbols”).

Schiller dies (terminates):

Goethe’s closest intellectual friend Friedrich Schiller terminates (dies); and, according to German philosopher Herman Grimm (1875), Schiller's last unfinished drama "Demetrius", which was left lying on his table unfinished at the time of this reaction end, was in Schiller (right)some way a vicarious impetus or collisional momentum to the eventual start of Elective Affinities, in some way or another, so to speak. [9]

War comes to Jena:

On 6 August news reached Goethe of the formal dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire; by October war had come to Jena. During the chaos, on 14 October, drunken French troops, bent on looting, force their way into Goethe’s Christiane Vulpiushouse, whereupon Christiane Vulpius (1765-1816) boldly confronted them and declared that “a friend of Napoleon” lived here—the house was spared, and five days later, on 19 October Goethe made Christiane his wife; their sixteen year old son August present as one of the witnesses.

First mention:

Goethe makes reference to Elective Affinities; he comments the follow in his autobiographical sketches dated the year 1807:

“The little stories already repeatedly referred to occupied me in the happy hours, and the Elective Affinities were also in this way to be briefly treated. They, however, soon extended themselves. The material was altogether too important, and had struck too deep a root for me to be able to dismiss it in so light a fashion.

Pandora and Elective Affinities both express the painful feeling of resignation, and could therefore very well advance side by side. The first part of Pandora arrived at the right time toward the end of the year in Vienna. The plan of the Elective Affinities had advanced far, and many preliminary labors were in part completed.”
Marriage affair:

Minna HerzliebIn the winter (Nov/Dec) of 1807 to 1808, Goethe fell in love with 18-year-old Minna Herzlieb (1765-1839), the "foster daughter" of the printer and publisher Karl Frommann (1765-1837); the product of this was the cycle of seventeen sonnets written as a dual with Minna's other admirer, the Zacharias Wernerromantic poet Zacharias Werner (1768-1823); who seems to have been the character behind the architect character of the novella, who attempts to win the affections of Ottilie in competition with Eduard.

Human affinity table:

Goethe affinity tableThe following comments by Goethe:

“My idea in the new novel The Elective Affinities is to show forth social relationships and the conflicts between them symbolically” (28 Aug 1808) and “the moral symbols in the natural sciences, that of the elective affinities invented and used by the great Bergman, are more meaningful and permit themselves to be connected better with poetry and society (24 Jul 1809).”

give way to the reasoned conclusion, as has been argued by scholars (Adler, 1977; Kim, 2003; Thims, 2007), that Goethe, at about this time (in his mind or on paper), would have made a "human affinity table", a reconstructed version of which is shown adjacent (see: Goethe's affinity table), modeled or scaled on Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman’s famous 1775 affinity table, and accompanying textbook with its sixty-four affinity reaction diagrams.
Diary mention:

Mention of Elective Affinities, by Goethe, occurres in a diary entry.

On a coach journey between Jena and Weimar, before dictation, to Riemer (who took down the dictation for the novel), his secretary, began, Goethe recounted a large part of the (then) novella to his friend Heinrich MeyerSwiss painter and art critic Heinrich Meyer (1760-1832), and did so almost as though it were already complete in his mind.

Note: Reginald Hollingdale seems to think that Elective Affinities was begun on May 29th.
The Renouncers:

Pick the right one (diagram)In the middle of the year, a few months before he met Napoleon (Oct 2), he had started writing a story called “The Renouncers”, which, according to one of Goethe’s assistants, was about a hero simultaneously in love with four women (see: love thought experiment); the synopsis of which, in Goethe’s view, was that “each in her own way is lovable; whichever one he is drawn to in the mood of the moment, she alone is lovable”; Goethe took it up again early the next year, after which the tale ballooned into a novel, progressed quickly, and before the end of the year (Oct 3, 1809) it was in print under the enigmatic title Elective Affinities.

The end of July he had completed a version, supposedly, with 18 chapters; this, however, remained untouched until April of next year.

Friedrich RiemerTo his assistant Friedrich Riemer (1774-1845), on his birthday, he talked about the modern novel, especially his own, and said that:

“My idea in the new novel The Elective Affinities is to show forth social relationships and the conflicts between them in symbolic concentration.”

This seems to have been a precursor to his 24 July 1809 comment about the "moral symbols" discovered by Bergman.
Meeting with Napoleon:

Goethe Napoleon (1808)
Goethe famously met Napoleon, who had read his Werther six time during battle; Napoleon, famously commented, upon seeing Goethe, “voilà un homme!” or “now here’s a real man!”

Friday meetings:

The Duchess (Louise Auguste?) held the first of a series of Friday evening gatherings, at which Goethe read aloud the beginning of Die Wahlverwandtschaften, along with a tale called Die neue Melusine, and parts of Dichtung und Wahrheit, which were received with ardent pleasure; the particular interest in Elective Affinities inspirited him to resume work on it.
Autobiographical notes:

“To come, now, to the poetical labors, the Elective Affinities, the first conception of which engaged my mind a long time ago [1796?], had not again been out of my thoughts since the end of May.

No one fails to see in this novel a wound of deep passion which nurses itself and shuns healing, a heart which dreads recovery to soundness. Some years ago the main thought was seized, but the execution evermore extended and developed in many directions, threatening to transgress the limit of art. At last, after so many preparations, the resolution was taken, the printing should now begin, many a doubt would be put an end to, the one point held fast, the other at last determined.

In the swift progress which now ensued I was, however, all at once disturbed. The news of the powerful advance of the French into Austria having been heard with dread, the King of Westphalia began a march toward Bohemia, so that on the 13th of June I returned to Weimar. The intelligence as to this strange expedition was very uncertain when two diplomatic friends following the head-quarters, Von Reinhard and Wangenheim, unexpectedly visited me, puzzling me with the announcement of an inexplicable retreat. On the 15th of July the King comes to Weimar. The retreat appears to degenerate into fight, and on the 20th the roving Oels corps inspire us and the neighborhood with anxiety. This thundercloud, too, however, soon draws off in a northwest direction, and on the 23rd of July I go back go Jena.

Immediately thereafter the Elective Affinities gradually gets printed. This impelling me to diligence, the manuscript soon definitely shapes and rounds itself, and the 3rd of October relieves me from the work, thought I did not feel completely freed from the personal interest in the contents.”

“I hear from Knebel, dearest friend, that we’ll see you here on Thursday. Nevertheless I don’t want the messenger to leave today without a long overdue word to you. There is, alas, not much to be said about me. I make no great demands on the physical side of existence, but if I can’t even be creatively active when I go out into the wilderness, a certain impatience in me would seem pardonable. Yet, as of old, I have prevailed by sheer patience and have within the last few days made some progress on The Elective Affinities. I was, of course, encouraged by the reception of the first half. …”

Charlotte von SteinTo Charlotte von Stein (1742-1827).

“Do your very best to let nothing annoy me during the coming week. I am at work on The Elective Affinities in a way I have not been able to be for a year. If I were to be disturbed now, everything would be lost of what I see straight before me and can achieve in a short time. Let me repeat, my child, let nothing even approach me for a week. All our affairs are in order. As a reward we will think of you and send you, from time to time, a fish or good piece of venison, that you may enjoy it in peace and let nothing trouble you.”

Christiane Vulpius
To Christiane Vulpius (1765-1816).

“As it was not yet advisable for me to go to Carlsbad, I have come to Jena, where I am trying to finish a novel [The Elective Affinities], which I sketched and began a year ago, among the Bohemian mountains. It will probably come out this year, and I am all the more anxious to hurry on with the work, as it will be a means of thoroughly re-establishing an intercourse with my friends at a distance. I hope you will think it is in my old way and manner. I have stored away much in it, hidden many things in it; may this open secret give you pleasure!”

Karl ZelterWrote to his friend, composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832), that he placed numerous different hidden elements within the novel.
Title comment:

Goethe indicated in a letter to one his friends, he had borrowed its title from Bergman’s physical chemistry treatise, published in Latin in 1775, De attractionibus electivis, and translated into German from 1782 under the title Die Wahlverwandtschaften, which is the original German title of Goethe’s novel.

“The moral symbols in the natural sciences, that of the elective affinities invented and used by the great Bergman, are more meaningful and permit themselves to be connected better with poetry and society.”

Friedrich Riemer
German writer-librarian Friedrich Riemer (1774-1845).

He sent the opening chapters to the printer, supposedly, so that he would be compelled to proceed with the rest at a brisk pace.

“It seems that the author’s continued work in the physical sciences caused him to arrive at this strange title. He might have noticed that in the natural sciences very often ethical parables, far removed from the circle of human knowledge, are employed in order to bring about a closer match of the two—and in this sense, in the case of morality, he likely sought to drive the nature the chemical parable back to its mental origins—being that there is, after all, only one nature—and also since, within serene realm of rational freedom, the cloudy tracks of passionate necessity move inexorably through their course, only to be wiped out by a higher hand, and perhaps not completely wiped out in this life.”

The famous, controversial, and anonymously (by Goethe) book announcement "advertisement" for Elective Affinities, in Morning Paper for the Educated Professional.

“There are many things put into it, with which I hope to invite the reader back for repeated viewing.”

To his publisher Johann Cotta (1761-1837); Johann Cottameaning that there is much hidden within the novel and hoped that this aspect would spur readers to read and reread it.
German cover page of Goethe's 1809 Elective Affinities
Finished in the format of 2 parts; 18 chapters.
Retrospect comment (date):

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“No one can fail to recognize in it a deep passionate would which shrinks from being closed by healing, a heart which dreads to be cured … In it, as in a burial urn, I have deposited with deep emotion many a sad experience. The 3rd of October 1809 (when the publication was completed) set me free from the work: but the feelings it embodies can never quite depart from me.”

Note: Reginald Hollingdale seems to think, for some reason, that the novel was completed on Oct 4th.

“The title of your novel because a special feeling, even among friends. There are some who cannot cross this barrier; it looks like we cut them the power to judge. (...) This is especially the title he must explain how? What for ? and where does he? and what is it for?”

Letter from Carl Zelter.

The persons whose "affinity" was already consistent with their names (each of which the forward and backward read identical names contain Otto) is indicated, in the words of Johann RochlitzGerman playwright Johann Rochlitz (1769-1842) in his letter to Goethe dated 5 November 1809 "... very artfully contrasted with each other in groups," which occur in polar relationships.

"To be understood properly, it must be read three times."

To German poet-writer Christoph Wieland (1733-1813), the Christoph Wielandso-called grandfather of the German romantic movement.
Best book incident:

Heinrich LaubeIn a scene reported by German writer Heinrich Laube (1806-1884):

“A women friend of mine said to Goethe at that time: ‘I cannot approve of Elective Affinities, Herr von Goethe; it really is an immoral book!’ According to her report Goethe was silent for a while and had then said with great earnestness:

Goethe (1808-09)
‘I’m sorry you feel that way. It is my best book, and don’t think that this is the mere whim of an aging man. I grant you that one loves most deeply the child of one’s last marriage, the product of one’s late power of generation.

But you wrong me and the book. The principle illustrated in the book is true and not immoral.

But you must regard it from a broader point of view and understand that the conventional moral norms can turn into sheer immorality when applied to situations of this character.”

“How I look forward to the effect that this novel will have in a few years on many people upon rereading it.”

Karl Reinhard (6s)
Karl Reinhard (1761-1837), German-born French diplomat, statesman and writer.


Karl BottigerGerman archaeologist and drama critique Karl Bottiger published a review article entitled “About Goethe’s Elective Affinities” in the German periodical Newspaper for the Elegant World (Zeitung für die Elegan), wherein he pointed out the fact that it was obvious to the educated reader of the time that Goethe’s novel was clearly linked to well-known chemical theories of the late eighteenth century and that concepts from the field of chemistry permeated the novel.

Karl KnebelWhen he Goethe asked German poet Karl Knebel (1744-1834) what he thought of the book, he replied that “he could not stomach it”; to which Goethe retorted, somewhat curiously, that:

“I did not write the book for you but for young girls”.
Color theory:

Goethe begins work on his color theory, his 1810 color wheel shown below, rival to Newton's theory of colors, to explain light and perception; he published the results in the book Theory of Colors:

Goethe's color wheel (1810)

During this period, he hires German chemist Johann Dobereiner to be his personal chemist; to do chemical research for his color theory.
Burned letter:

German poet-writer Christoph Wieland (1733-1813), neighbor of Goethe, who sent a letter (which he suggested should be burned after it is read) in 1810 to German philologist and archeologist Karl Böttiger, stating:

“To all rational readers, the use of the chemical theory is nonsense and childish fooling around.”
Christoph Wieland
Wieland further called it a "truly horrible work", supposedly, objecting to the radicalness of its Christianity.
Autobiographical notes:

“With respect to the copyright of authors, it could not but deemed remarkable that Minister Portalis should ask me whether I could give my consent to a Cologne bookseller’s reprinting the Elective Affinities. I answered, ‘with all my heart, as far as myself is concerned’, but referred the matter to the lawful publisher.

So much higher even then stood the French in their views of intellectual possession, and the equal rights of the higher and lower classes, a height to which the good Germans will not so soon elevate themselves.”

Autobiographical notes:

“I was not so happy in respect of music. I became sensible that my house-chorus, as I had ventured to call it, was inwardly in danger of breaking up. No one else perceived any change, but certain elective affinities had begun to operate in it which at once gave me apprehension, though it was out of my power to provide a remedy.”


Autobiographical notes:

“As to persons who this year called on me in Weimar, I find the following mentioned: Engelhard, architect from Cassel, on his way to Italy. It was asserted that he had been the prototype of my artist in the Elective Affinities.”

Elective Affinities (1811)
The principle characters in Goethe’s Elective Affinities, from left to right: Ottilie, Eduard, Charlotte, and Captain (see: Otto, for discussion of seating arrangements) original drawing by Heinrich Dahling (1773-1850), engraved by Heinrich Schmidt in 1811 for the German edition.

In his three-volume From My Life: Poetry and Truth (1811, 1812, 1814), an autobiographical retelling of his childhood days to 1775, age 26, when he was about to leave for Weimar, he recalls a circa October 1772 event as follows:

“At the house of the Privy Councillor von la Roche I was warmly welcomed by this admirable family and was soon regarded as a member of it. I was drawn to the mother though my literary and spiritual aims, to the father by a gay sense of reality, to the daughters by my youth. Here I lived in a space in a wonderfully pleasant environment, until Merck and his family arrived. Now new elective affinities developed; the two women felt drawn to each other; Merck, a man of the world and of business, traveled and well informed, came to a good understanding with Herr von la Roche. The Mercks’ boys took to the boys. The daughters, of whom the oldest soon attracted me especially, fell to my portion. It is a most agreeable sensation to feel a new passion stir within us before the echo of the old has fallen silent. Thus one beholds at sunset the moon arising in the opposite heaven and delights in the double radiance of the two luminaries.”

Meeting with Beethoven:

In mid-July, Goethe spent four days visiting with Beethoven (age 42), a great fan of the work Goethe (age 63):
Beethoven and Goethe
It remains to be determined if they talked at all about Goethe's recently-published Elective Affinities?

In the years to follow, supposedly, both Beethoven and Elective Affinities, were frequent conversation topics exchanged between Goethe and his friend, German composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832).
Letter from Zelter about Goethe's view of Beethoven:

Karl Zelter“What you say about Beethoven is certainly true. I, too, admire him with terror. His worn works seem to cause him secret horror—a perception that is dismissed all too lightly in our contemporary culture. His works seem to me like children whose father is a woman or mother is a man. The most recent work of his I have come to know (Christ on the Mount of Olives, 1811) seems to me like an impurity whose very foundation and goal are eternal death. Music critics, who seem better able to grasp and agree upon almost anything but singularity and the natural, have gushed over this composer in the most curious manner, in both praise and reproach. I know musical persons who used to find themselves alarmed, even indignant, upon hearing his works, but who are now gripped with enthusiasm for them like the partisans of Greek love. The attraction of this is not difficult to understand, and yet what can come of it you have demonstrated clearly enough in your Elective Affinities.”

From Carl Zelter (1758-1832)


“When the play is frequently repeated, it is quite a different manner. Without bellows and flames, without art and intention, there arise the most delicate elective affinities, which, in the pleasantest way, unite those seemingly isolated members into a whole; on the actors’ side, more certainly and pliability, acquired by practice, strengthened by applause, supported by an animated insight into, and a general survey of the whole; on the spectators’ side, acquaintance, custom, favor, prejudice, enthusiasm, and whatever may be the names of all the good spirits, without which, even Karl Zelterthe Iliad and Odyssey would remain to us but a lifeless framework.”

To friend, composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832).


Wrote has been reading Linnaeus, and that, "excepting Shakespeare and Spinoza", no human being not then alive ever had such an effect upon him.

To friend, composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832).Karl Zelter

Arthur SchopenhauerIn 1806, the Schopenhauer family had newly moved to Weimar, and the first public place that Goethe and his new scandalous bride, Christiane Vulpius (1765-1816), were seen together in public was at the house of Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838), mother of a then aged-eighteen year old thinker by the name of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860); in May 1816, Goethe (age 66) begins conversations with Arthur (aged 28); who eventually absorbes Goethe’s chemical theory of will, which he summarized as follows:

“As the title indicates [Elective Affinities], though Goethe was unaware of this, [it] has as its foundation the idea that the will, which constitutes the basis of our inner being, is the same will that manifests itself in the lowest, inorganic phenomena.”

and would go on to infuse Goethe’s theory of chemical will into his theory of a “will to power” in his monumental two-volume The World as Will and Representation (1818, 1844), explaining, therein, how chemical phenomena and reactions scale up to the human-human interaction level.


The newly emerging philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) visits Goethe, who in the same year reads his newly-published 1818 Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation), in which, in Arthur Schopenhauer§21, Schopenhauer explains “will” in terms of “elective affinities” of matter as “repulsion and attraction, separation and union”, in relation to the “deliberate conduct of man”. By the time of the publication of the second volume (1844), Goethe and his chemical theory is mentioned and utilized ten-fold.


“We then talked of the Elective Affinities; and Goethe told me of a traveling Englishman, who meant to be separated from his wife when he returned to England. He laughed at such follow, and gave me several examples of persons who had been separated, and afterward could not let each other alone.”

Johann EckermannConversation with Johann Eckermann (1792-1854), German poet and Goethe's literary assistant, 1823-forward.

Why is the sky blue?

He was working out a law to explain the blue color of the sky (see: blue sky problem):

blue sky

A phenomenon not fully explained until 1899 by English physicist John Strutt (1842-1919), aka Lord Rayleigh.

“For decades I have been struggling with Berthollet in the matter of affinities.”

Claude Bertholleta comment on the paradoxical issue of French chemist Claude Berthollet’s 1789 to 1803 theory of split affinities (see: Berthollet's affinity theory); which, according to Goethean human chemistry scholar Jeremy Adler, shows through in the character of the Captain and his comment:

“Whether it still fits the newer doctrines, I am unable to say."

concerning his present [1808] knowledge of affinity chemistry.


“These remarks were written as early as 1809. I should then have been much cheered to hear so kind a word about the Wahlverwandtschaften; for at that time, and afterwards, not many pleasant remarks were vouchsafed be about that novel.”

Johann EckermannComment to Johann Eckermann (1792-1854) on letter from Solger to Tieck in which kind words about his Elective Affinities were spoken on the fine nature of the Architect’s character.

Eckermann reports Goethe as speaking of Edward in these words:

"I can't stand him myself, but I had to make him like that ... There is in any case much truth in his figure, for one finds enough people in the upper classes in whom, as in him, wilfulness takes the place of character."

“The only production of greater extent, in which I am conscious of having labored to set forth a pervading idea, is probably my Elective Affinities.

Johann EckermannComment to Johann Eckermann (1792-1854).

Johann EckermannIn a conversation with Eckermann, the same year published his gleanings to Aristotle's Poetics, he speaks of the tragic emotions of "fear", which was in Elective Affinties for "dread" in the face of "moral evil" that we approach move "on the people involved and spread over them to see."

“Customers, no doubt, sometimes allow the tailor to choose a particular stuff, but they insist upon having the coat fitted to their own bodies, and are highly indignant, if it proves too tight, or too loose; they are most comfortable, when wearing the loose dressing-gowns of the day and hour, in which they can feel as garment of Nessuseasy as they like; you may perhaps remember, that they treated my Elective Affinities as though it had been the garment of Nessus.”

The “garment of Nessus”, as depicted, showing Lichas bringing the garment of Nessus to Hercules, woodcut by Hans Beham, circa 1542-1548, refers to the poisoned shirt that killed Karl ZelterHeracles; the phrase also frames the title of Alfred Steer’s 1990 book Goethe’s Elective Affinities: the Robe of Nessus.

To friend, composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832).


Subject of Elective Affinities“Following on what went before, let me tell you in fun, that in my Elective Affinities, I took care to round off the inward, true catharsis, with as much purity and finish as possible, but I do not therefore imagine that any handsome fellow could thereby be purged from the lust of looking after the wife of another [See: Matthew 5:27-28 (Ѻ)(Ѻ)] . The sixth commandment, which seemed to the Elohim-Jehovab to be so necessary, even in the wilderness, that he engraved it on granite tables with his own finger,—this it will still be necessary to uphold in our blotting-paper catechisms.”
Karl Zelter
To his friend, composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832); hence the "double mental adultery" that takes place in the novel explained through the language of a "double elective affinity reaction" (double displacement reaction) in physical chemistry (affinity chemistry) terms.

See: Bible vs. physical science conflicts; Ten Commandments

“I lived every word of my Elective Affinities.

as reported by David Constantine (1994), who also tells that Eckermann reported:

“He said there was nothing in his Elective Affinities which had not been really lived, but nothing was there in the form in which it had been lived.”

or as reported by Julie Reahard (1997):

“There is not a line in Elective Affinities that I have not lived, but none exactly as I have lived.”

Or as reported by Astrida Tantillo (2001):

“[Goethe] repeatedly asserted that there was not one line within the novel that he had not personally experienced.”

Johann EckermannComment to Johann Eckermann (1792-1854).

In this context, one can summarized that the novel was retelling of the six decades of his remembered existence using a mixture of verbal language, emotion, events, etc., coded over the language of physical-chemical reactions.


“What man, what society dare express such sentiments? seeing that we cannot easily known anyone from his youth up, nor criticize the rise of his activity. How else does character finally prove itself, if it is not formed by the activity of the day, by reflective agencies which counteract each other? Who would venture to determine the value of contingencies, impulses, after-effects?

Who dare to estimate the influence of elective affinities?

At all events, he who would presume to estimate what man is, must take into consideration what he was, and how he became so. But such barefaced pretension are common, and we have often enough met with them; indeed they are always recurring, and they must be tolerated.”

Karl ZelterTo his letter to friend, composer Carl Zelter (1758-1832); here we see Goethe giving query to what eventually would become embodied in the concept of human free energies of formation.
Goethe at mountain hut:

Goethe at mountain hut (1831) color

"After dinner, a short half hour with Goethe, whom I found in a very cheerful, mild humor. He spoke of various things, at last of Carlsbad; and he joked about the various love affairs which he had experienced there. "A little passion," said he, "is the only thing which can render a watering place supportable; without it, one dies of ennui. I was almost always lucky enough to find there some little ‘elective affinity’ (Wahlverwandtschaft), which entertained me during the few weeks. I recollect one circumstance in particular, which even now gives me pleasure.

I one day visited Frau von Reck. After a commonplace chat, I had taken my leave, and met, as I went out, a lady with two very pretty young girls. ‘Who was that gentleman who just now left you?’ asked the lady. ‘It was Goethe,’ answered Frau von Reck. 'O, how I regret,' returned the lady, 'that he did not stay, and that I have not had the happiness of making his acquaintance!' 'You have lost nothing by it, my dear,' said Frau von Reck. 'He is very dull among ladies, unless they are pretty enough to inspire him with some interest. Ladies of our age must not be expected to make him talkative or amiable.'

When the two young ladies left the house with their mother, they thought of Frau von Reek's words. 'We are young, we are pretty,' said they, 'let us see if we cannot succeed in captivating and taming this renowned savage. The next morning, on the promenade by the Sprudel, they made me, in passing, the most graceful and amiable salutations, and I could not forbear taking the opportunity of approaching and accosting them. They were charming! I spoke to them again and again, they led me to their mother, and so I was caught. From that time we saw each other daily, nay, we spent whole days together. In order to make our connection more intimate, it happened that the betrothed of the one arrived, when I devoted myself more exclusively to the other. I was also very amiable to the mother, as may be imagined; in fact, we were all Johann Eckermannthoroughly pleased with one another, and I spent so many happy days with this family, that the recollection of them is even now highly agreeable. The two girls soon related to me the conversation between their mother and Frau von Reck, describing the conspiracy which they had contrived for my conquest, and brought to a fortunate issue."

Conversations with Johann Eckermann.

Reaction end:

Shortly after finishing the final additions to Faust, the story of a man who is striving to learn everything that can be known and who sells his soul to the devil so to obtain the ultimate in knowledge possession, his reaction end came; during which point his famous last words were, supposedly:

"More light!"

Goethe on his deathbed (Preller Friedrich) (1832)
Inspection of the body:

Eckermann closes his famous work, Conversations with Goethe, with this passage:

“The morning after Goethe's death, a deep desire seized me to look once again upon his earthly garment. His faithful servant, Frederick, opened for me the chamber in which he was laid out. Stretched upon his back, he reposed as if asleep; profound peace and security reigned in the features of his sublimely noble countenance. The mighty brow seemed yet to harbor thoughts. I wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off. The body lay naked, only wrapped in a white sheet; large pieces of ice had been placed near it, to keep it fresh as long as possible.Frederickdrew aside the sheet, and I was astonished at the divine magnificence of the limbs. The breast was powerful, broad, and arched; the arms and thighs were elegant, and of the most perfect shape; nowhere, on the whole body, was there a trace of either fat or of leanness and decay. A perfect man lay in great beauty before me; and the rapture the sight caused me made me forget for a moment that the immortal spirit had left such an abode. I laid my hand on his heart – there was a deep silence – and I turned away to give free vent to my suppressed tears.”

Goethe is buried with Schiller at the Ducal Vault in Weimar. [15]

Goethe and Schiller coffins (t)

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After reaction

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In 1855, English philosopher and literature critique George Lewes, together with George Elliot (IQ=190), supposedly, in his two-volume Life of Goethe, were the first to “analyzed” the great novella Elective Affinities.

Description: "She Sank Down Upon Her Knees" or "Ottilie on the Lake" (P2:C13); a circa 1864 depiction of Ottilie and the dead child Otto by German painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1802-1874); from his “Goethe Gallerie” consist of fifty paintings illustrating Goethe’s poems and life, and took him five years to complete.


Victoria WoodhullAmerican woman's rights activist Victoria Woodhull, in her 1871 "Introduction" section to the D.W. Niles English translation of Goethe's Elective Affinities, seems to have been the first to state explicitly that there is a revolution in human thought embedded in Goethe's novella, and to query about whether or not the future would see it as being scientific truth: [2]

“The tale is, in a word, of the simple construction and genial and moderate character of the "Vicar of Wakefield" rather than in the exciting style of Dickens' Christmas Carols: but, everywhere, the interest is skilfully kept up, and the subtle insinuation of a great revolutionary doctrine pervades the whole, and to the thoughtful reader makes the chief point of interest. Doctrines, however, which are here merely insinuated and illustrated by allusions to science, are now so openly expounded and advocated that a portion of the community will regard the great German as too conservative, while yet, doubtless, to the great mass of readers, the radical element may startle, and in some instances offend.

If this fundamental thought of the man who has proved to be the seer or prophet of science in so many other things, is also a scientific truth, the fact cannot be appreciated by the world too soon, nor its immense sweep of consequences be too clearly foreseen and provided for. It will affect the whole scope of morals and social order, whether we accept it in our theories or not, and the less hurtfully and the more beneficently, in proportion as we thoroughly study and understand the subject.”

Woodhull, here, in very deep insight, one that very often passes by the modern 21st century scientist unnoticed—akin to not seeing the ships in the harbor—outlines very clearly what has come to be known as the "Goethean revolution".


Herman GrimmGerman philosopher Herman Grimm, during his University of Berlin lecture “Study of Natural Science: The Natural Daughter and Elective Affinities”, speculates on the Spinoza and Schiller influences, and famously describes Elective Affinities as follows:

“A just exposition of his views has not been arrived at, because Elective Affinities, after having been spoken of for fifty years as Goethe's most dangerous work, is to-day passed over and very little known.”


Max Weber (1894)German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), at the age of 14, read Elective Affinities in the classroom, "hiding it behind his textbook"; and went on to formulate a large amount of sociology theory, proposing that there is an “elective affinity” between important ideological, economic, and social interests, conditions, forces, and processes constituting the development of rational capitalism.

Weber’s eventual reinterpretation of Goethe’s affinities model, in the sociological context, has since come to be known as the “Weberian concept of elective affinities” or Weberian elective affinities, defined as the “attractions, interactions, and similarities between individuals or disciplines and fields of research.”

See also: 2013 Architectural Elective Affinities conference, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil (timeline).

Affinity chemistry → Chemical thermodynamics

Hermann Helmholtz (145px)In his famous “On the Thermodynamics of Chemical Processes”, German physicist Hermann Helmholtz (1821-1894) combined the earlier chemical thermodynamics work of Willard Gibbs with his own electrochemical thermodynamics work and in effect overthrew the so-called thermal theory of affinity (1854-1870s) with the following statement:

“Given the unlimited validity of Clausius' law, it would then be the value of the free energy, not that of the total energy resulting from heat production, which determines in which sense the chemical affinity can be active.”

and gave the following equation formulation for affinity in relation to the direction of changes spontaneously occurring:
Free energy theorists (background)
Helmholtz free energy equation (1882)
which states that the affinities will only be active when the system of the chemical process shows a decrease in free energy F with time t.

Note: this is a HUGE turning point in the Goethe timeline, in that hereafter a chemical thermodynamics language proficiency of partial differential equations becomes a "prerequisite" to the modern understanding of Goethe’s Elective Affinities; the result of which only those proficient in free energy formulation, a mathematical language acquisition which tends to result only following advanced studies in physical chemistry and chemical thermodynamics, become candidates of potential decipherment of Goethe's greatest novella; a very large roadblock, to say the least. The adjacent table shows backgrounds common to the known 39 human free energy theorists (as of 2012).

Illustrated version:

Norwegian-born, German educated, American European languages professor Hjalmar Boyesen (1848-1865), published his five-volume Goethe’s Works, Illustrated by the Best German Artists, of which volume five contains a fully-illustrated English translation of Elective Affinities, the cover page of which is shown below:
Elective Affinities (1885)
possibly depicting putti of Prometheus (with his fire of life) scaring Cupid (with his bow of love).


Wilhelm BolscheGerman natural science popularize Wilhelm Bolsche (1861-1939), in his essay “Goethe’s Elective Affinities in Light of Modern Science”, argues that the novel is realistic due to its portrayal of natural forces and psychology, but that it should be seen as a predecessor to such realistic works such as George Eliot and Balzac, and is a pioneering work of literary realism.


His Only Son

Leopoldo AlasSpanish novelist Leopoldo Alas’ 1890 His Only Son, supposedly, is a so-called successor to Elective Affinities, said to have been inspired by the former, or something along these lines.

Building on:

Otto WeiningerIn June 1903, Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger published his Sex and Character, in which he applied Goethe’s human chemical theory to investigate the nature of sex and character, about which he proudly commented:

“I must confess to being proud that this book [Sex and Character] is the first work to take up [Goethe’s] ideas.”

The following is an exemplar quote from the book:

“If iron sulphate and caustic potash are brought together, the SO4 ions leave the iron to unite with the potassium. When in nature an adjustment of such differences of potential is about to take place, he who would approve or disapprove of the process form the moral point of view would appear to most to play a ridiculous part.”

Four months later, on 3 Oct 1903, in the tradition of human chemistry founders and suicide, namely: Clover Adams (Henry Adams) and Werther (Goethe), and thermodynamics founders and suicide, Weininger met his reaction end by shooting himself in the heart, by taking a room in Schwarzspanierstraße 15, where Ludwig van Beethoven died.

Chemical thermodynamics:

Fielding GarrisonIn his 1909 article “Josiah Willard Gibbs and his Relation to Modern Science”, American science historian Fielding Garrison discusses Goethe’s theory in the context of modern chemical thermodynamics:

“Suppose chemical substances to be represented by a number of men and women of varying degrees of strength of character and "attractiveness," and suppose the marital combinations or what Goethe called the "elective affinities" between these men and women to be determined by certain mysterious "laws." If a man strong in character should mate with a woman, weaker but otherwise "attractive," or vice versa, one set of observers might affirm that the union was due to the man's superior potentiality or masculinity, others might maintain that the real strength in the combination or "affinity" lay in the woman's "attractiveness "; or vice versa. Curiously enough, these anthropomorphisms, which seem so plausible and fascinating in Goethe's novel, are daily and hourly employed to explain the facts of chemical combination.”

Garrison, interestingly, goes on to discuss this in relation to Willard Gibbs’ version of physical chemistry.

Critical review:

Walter BenjaminGerman literary critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) writes his famous essay “Goethe’s Elective Affinities”, first published by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in the Neue Deutsche Beitrage (1924/25), who is described by American Goethean scholar Astrida Tantillo, in her 2001 book Goethe’s Elective Affinities and the Critics, as “by far the most influential critic of Goethe’s Die Wahlverwandtschaften in the twentieth century.”

Affinity → Free energy

Thermodynamics (1923)
In 1923, American physical chemist Gilbert Lewis published his famous Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances, which, by 1956, in the true-to-word comments of American chemistry historian Henry Leicester,

“Led to the replacement of the term ‘affinity’ by the term ‘free energy’ in the English speaking world.”

Impact: the result of this is that most modern scientists (chemists, physicists, and engineers) are completely unaware of 200-year pre-history (1718-1923) affinity chemistry framework to free energy; and as a result are completely ignorant of the concept of "chemical affinity" and hence the deeply underground and hidden nature and complexities of the Goethean revolution; a issue that is only further compounded by the two-cultures divide that has emerged by this time in the course of the fanning of bulk human knowledge (as evidenced by Helmholtz being considered the last universal genius).

Genius IQ rankings:

Catherine CoxIn 1916, the IQ scale was invented by Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman; in 1924, he assigned a team of psychologists, led by his new PhD student Catherine Cox, to apply the scale and IQ determination formula to the Cattell 1000, the 1894 listing of the list of the thousand most eminent individuals of history, the result of which was the 1926 book Early Mental Traits of 300 Geniuses, in which Goethe was assigned ceiling genius IQ of 210. The following comment captures this well:

“One rater (M) has scored on the basis of the record of Goethe’s youth an IQ of 225. Goethe’s true IQ may in the history of mankind have been equaled in a few instances; one may well wonder whether it has ever been exceeded?”

Tony BuzanEnglish genius studies and accelerated learning expert Tony Buzan and chess grandmaster and literature scholar Raymond Keene, in their 1994 Book of Genius, would later, independently (using a completely different 835-point scoring method), rank Goethe as the second highest intellectual of all time, with a determined IQ of 215, second only to Leonardo Da Vinci, who they assigned with an IQ of 220. Into the late 2000s, American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims would latter assimilate both studies into a meta-analysis Genius IQs table, assigning Goethe with the ceiling IQ of 230.


René Magritte's 1933 painting Elective Affinities
entitled “Elective Affinities”, by Belgian surrealist artist by René Magritte (1898-1967), themed on Goethe’s chemical will philosophy:
René Magritte (s)
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Upgraded remake:

Witold GombrowiczThe 1950s novel Pornographia and 2003 film adaptation, scene below, by Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969), described by him as:

“A descent to the dark limits of the conscience and the body”

Pornografia (2003)

is a modern-day remake of Elective Affinities, utilizing chemical combinations models as well as Michael Faraday's 1830s lines of force models to explain lines of desire or passion.

TV remake:

A 1982 118-minute France, West Germany television remake: Die Wahlverwandtschaften (TV drama), directed by Claude Chabrol, first broadcast: ARD, 4 April 1982, starring Helmut Griem as Edward Otto, Stéphane Audran as Charlotte, Michael Degen as Captain Otto, Pascale Reynaud as Ottilie:

Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1982)


Jeremy Adler (1977)From 1969 to 1977, English poet turned chemistry historian Jeremy Adler completed his PhD, under the supervision of Claus Bock, on subject the hidden chemistry, chemists, and chemical reactions, such as the famous double elective affinity that themes the plot of the novella:

 AB + CD \to AD + CB \,

used by Goethe in his novella to construct the human chemical reactions of each chapter; beginning with Torbern Bergman (1775); Adler, speculates, on how, e.g., the coming together of the four friends on Eduard's estate at the end of the novella is representative of the following formula:

Adler reaction

that Goethe, according to Adler, would have known from German chemist Johann Trommsdorff's 1805 Systematic Handbook of the Whole of Chemistry, which expresses Claude Berthollet’s 1800 theory of double affinity or split affinity, a theory to which Goethe commented (1827) that he had been "struggling with for years". In this sense, in the context of human chemical reaction theory, Adler is the first to depict human interactions in modern chemical equation notation; followup publications include: "An almost Magical Attraction: Goethe’s Elective Affinity and the Chemistry of its Time" (1987), "Goethe's use of chemical theory in his Elective Affinities" (1990), among others.

Critical review and decoding:

American Goethean scholar Alfred Steer published his Elective Affinities: the Robe of Nessus, with aims to firstly decode the book, e.g. he speculates that Goethe might have had the following chemical reaction model in mind, to write some of the chapters:

Steer human chemical reaction model

and secondly making the book more accessible and impactive to the English-speaking reader; the subtitle of which taking its name from Goethe’s famous comment on how people viewed his dangerous novella as the “Robe of Nessus”:

Goethe's Elective Affinities (the Robe of Nessus)

Remake (play):
Arcadia (Stoppard)
In 1993, British playwright Tom Stoppard (1937-) remade Goethe’s 1809 Elective Affinities, into the form of a play Arcadia, albeit with a twist: the story is juxtaposed between the years 1809 and the modern day, and involves heat, the second law, the steam engine, the “attraction that Newton left out”, etc.

Remake (film):

Elective Affinities (1996)  (s)
The 1996 French Les affinités électives film adaptation by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.


In his 1997 article “The Captain as Catalyst in Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften”, American German literature Kevin Yeeprofessor Kevin Yee (1970-) attempts to argue that the Captain, in Elective Affinities, acts as a catalyst (or human catalyst) who “propels, accelerates, and alters the reaction without being affected himself.”

Reaction formulations:

Karl FinkIn his 1999 conference presentation turned book chapter “Goethe’s Intensified Border”, American Goethean scholar Karl Fink, building on the earlier human chemical reaction theory work of Jeremy Adler (1969), presents tentative formulations and gives discussion of nine of the supposed thirty-six Bergman-style chemical reactions that Goethe, supposedly, used as frameworks for each of his 36 chapters. The first reaction of Goethe's novella, according to Fink, is a combination reaction, beginning with Charlotte (A) and Eduard (B) being described as being bonded by marriage, where the attachment AB signifies a human chemical bond:


This changes, according to Fink, with the arrival of the Captain (C), which triggers the second reaction, the Eduard detaching from Charlotte and bonding with his old friend the Captain:


The third reaction, according to Fink, is designed (by Eduard and Charlotte) to find a bonding partner for Charlotte, which is actuated by the introduction of Ottilie (D), Charlotte’s adopted niece, as discussed in Goethe's famous chapter four:


The fourth reaction is the double elective affinity reaction (AD + BC → AC + BD); the fifth reaction, he says, is that stimulated by illicit bonding, the married couple conceives a child in the images of elective affinities, creating what Fink calls a precipitate (P) or PPT, using Fink’s symbols (AC + BD → AC + BD + P), along with four more reactions.

Human molecular formula:

American limnologists Robert Sterner and James Elser calculate the empirical molecular formula for a human (see: human molecular formula):


Ecological Stoichiometry (2002)Thus validating and confirming Goethe's 1796 conviction that in truth humans are evolved or rather “metamorphosized” types of chemical structures, whose “will”, in the summary words of vicarious student, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1818-1844):

“is the same will that manifests itself in the lowest, inorganic phenomena.”

Sterner and Elser published their result in the 2002 book Ecological Stoichiometry, in which they state specifically that “the stoichiometric approach considers whole organisms as if they were single abstract molecules” and that “this formula combines all compounds in a human being into a single abstract ‘molecule’”.

This date might well result, in century-look-back retrospect, define the tip of the ice burg of the Goethean revolution. As summarized by American ecological thermodynamicist Jeff Tuhtan in his 28 Jan 2011 Amazon review: “whether you ultimately agree with this [theory of the human as a molecule] or not, it represents a paradigm shift in viewing our place in the world.”


Goethe's Elective Affinities and the Critics (2001)
American Germanic studies professor Astrida Tantillo Astrida Tantillo(c.1963-) publishes Goethe's Elective Affinities and the Critics, a collection of the last two-centuries of buildup, reception, critique, support and or in large criticism of Goethe's greatest work.

Chemical thermodynamics:

Japanese chemical engineer Tominaga Keii (1920-2009), devotes an entire section, entitled Chemical Affinity in 1806, to Goethe's famous chapter four, in his chemical thermodynamics chapter of Heterogeneous Kinetics, but in summary comments:
Tominaga Keii
“[Elective Affinities] did not add any scientific knowledge.”

Puzzling, to say the least?

Elective Affinities gallery:

Elective Affinities (2004 gallery)
In 2004, Brazilian artist Tunga displayed his “Elective Affinity” gallery, at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Los Angeles, consisting of half-naked dancers, classical music, amid chains and larger steel boulders with teeth embedded and detached, themed on Goethe’s Elective Affinities; depicting that breaking free of (or being forcefully ripped from) strong sexual bonds is similar to the act of getting teeth pulled, often being a painful experience for many, or for others an innocuous, sometimes pleasant, experience, depending on if one is anesthetized during the process, or not.

Thims discovers Goethe:

In circa 2006, American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims discovered Goethe via footnote 2.5 of the 1986 work of Belgian chemist Ilya Prigogine:

Prigogine footnote 2.5 (c)

after previously working in the very same problem Goethe worked on during the previous eleven-years (see: Thims history: reverse engineering puzzle), albeit in terms of free energies, the two, affinity and free energy, connected by the Goethe-Helmholtz equation:

A=-\left(\frac{\partial G}{\partial \xi}\right)_{p,T}

as Thims would later come to uncover (as famously proved by Helmholtz in 1882).
Libb Thims (2008)
Thims, curiously, became so engrossed, consumed, mesmerized, and fueled by this reference, that it was not until the start of this timeline, six years later (27 Apr 2012), that Thims bothered to check the "Dobbs, op. cit" reference (Betty Dobbs, 1975)—having been busy in the follow-through of the Goethe reference, a repercussion of which are the 2,500+ articles of Hmolpedia, to cite one example.

WorldCat Identities:

In 2007, WorldCat Identities, which itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories, and provides online pages for 20 million plus "identities", predominantly authors and persons who are the subjects of published titles, posted the top 100 identities of the world:
WorldCat Identities top 100

according to which Goethe ranked in at #2, behind Shakespeare (#1), as the world's second biggest author—followed by Bach, Lincoln, Mozart, and two mythological figures: Jesus Christ (Osiris Anointed) and Mary (Isis or “Stella Maris”) of the five-millennium world-dominating Anunian theology (Ab-ra-ham-ic theology + B-ra-hma-ic theology).
Thims publishes human chemistry textbook:

Human Chemistry (2007 textbook)

Within the flow state span of 18-months and 14-days, after discovering Goethe, Libb Thims produced the world's first ever textbook on the science of human chemistry, with chapter 10: Goethe's Affinities being the centerpiece of the 824-page textbook

Thims publishes The Human Molecule:

The Human Molecle (300px)
A short 120-page historical overview on the concept of the human molecule, Goethe's view of people, equation-free, and readable at the high school level.

Well-designed cover:
Elective Affinities (H.M. Waidson translation)
Oneworld Classics reprint edition (2009) of the 1960 H.M. Waidson translation (Kindred by Choice).

Engineering thermodynamics lectures:

American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims (2010-present) began giving invited lectures to engineering thermodynamics students on the extrapolation upwards of Goethe’s theory, through modern chemical thermodynamics, into the humanities (Goethe's picture seen below, left hand corner of diagrams):

LT (lecturing3)

In his 2010 history of the elements book The Disappearing Spoon, American science writer Sam Kean (c.1980-) attempts to deride Goethe’s Elective Affinities, commenting, for example:
Sam Kean
“Goethe would have been better off cutting out the science.”


“Goethe would have been crushed after his death in 1832 to learn that its science and philosophy would soon disintegrate and that people now read his work strictly for its literary value.”

What a moron?
(if only he could read German | →)
(← | if only he understood thermodynamics)

Kean's erroneous take on the situation, here, is an example of what Nicholas of Cusa calls "learned ignorance" pure and simple.
Work and research:

German romantic literature scholar Helmut Huhn publishes his 16-contributors filled Goethe’s Elective Affinities: Work and Research:

Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften (Werk Und Forschung) (2010)

“In this hand-book-like collection of the timeline development of Goethe’s famous Elective Affinities, renowned scientists and experts address new questions and perspectives for the interpretation of this complex work and take stock of the research. The novel and its narrative and times are specifically examined in an interdisciplinary and accessible manner. A detailed introduction, persons, subject index, and a bibliography of research used for orientation and usability is provided.”


Wolfe von LenkiewiczBritish artist Wolfe von Lenkiewicz paints his famous "Elective Affinities" depicting a mixture of the thematics of Lewis Carol’s 1865 fantasy novel Alice and Wonderland and Goethe’s 1809 Elective Affinities.

Lenkiewicz comments in interview:

Elective Affinities (Wolfe von Lenkiewicz) (2011)
“In 19th century chemistry, the term ‘elective affinities’ was used to describe chemical compounds that only interacted with each other under determined circumstances. The writer Goethe employed this as a universal organising agent running across human relationships and science. I was drawn to these ideas.”

Ryan GrannellIn his two-month long “Human Chemistry” blog series, Irish (openly atheist) biochemistry student Ryan Grannell describes the principles of Goethe’s Elective Affinities as a “nutty theory”, commenting for example:

“I firmly believe [chemistry, physics or thermodynamics] do apply to me, in a lawly way. In fact, I am studying biochemistry, the study of the intersection of those three fields and how they relate to humans. I admire the work of Gibbs, and Schrodinger, and I enjoy reading into how the Gibbs equation explains anabolic/catabolic coupling in humans. What I do not believe is that human chemistry (Goethe’s Affinities in a Lab Coat) even qualifies as a scientific theory. It does not predict in advance whom a relationship will be formed with, rather it says after we know the details that a relationship did form, albeit in calculus. The idea bears a similarity to Aristotle’s “theory” of gravity; that an object falling is just its way of returning to its “natural place”. Although at first appealing, it tells us nothing, and is not falsifiable. Human chemistry doesn’t makes predictions because it can’t; it is far too underpowered a methodology that ignores too much of the complexity of humans.”

Grannell goes on to comment, among other things, that “Goethe, despite being my favorite non-scientific author, did not present a legitimate scientific case in Elective Affinities” and that “Goethe’s affinities is not science.”

Note: Grannell's objection, here, seems to be a result of critical skepticism (newly having the subject thrown at him), mixed with a very green understanding of chemical thermodynamics, mixed with a lack of understanding of why human chemical reaction theory is important to the understanding of changes of big history time-scale "states" of human existence in relation to Fritz Lipmann's 1941 concept of bond energy and energy storage and release (and coupling).


Literature and Science conference (2011)
The University of Bergen, Sweden, hosted a two-day Literature and Chemistry: Elective Affinities conference centered on Goethe’s Elective Affinities, with presenters including: Takaoki Matsui (“Towards the Complete Decipherment of Goethe’s Elective Affinities”), Frode Pedersen ("Demonic Affinities: On Goethe's Die Wahlverwandtschaften"), and Henrik Johnsson (“August Strindberg and the Chemical Language of Love”).
Journal article:

Mohsen Mohsen-NiaIranian-born American chemical engineer Mohsen Mohsen-Nia, in his JHT article “A Thermodynamic Methodology for Evaluating Friendship Relations Stability”, co-authored with Iranians human scientist F. Arfaei, thermodynamicist H. Amiri, and computer engineer A. Mohsen Nia, acknowledge Goethe as the founder of the first branch of human thermodynamics:

“The numbers of distinct divisional 'branches' of human thermodynamics are introduced by interdisciplinary researchers. Johann Goethe (1796) introduced 'relationship thermodynamics' to explain the relationship of physics and love in human societies (Adler, 1990; Swales, 2002).”

Thermodynamics of love:

Vamsi RegallaIn Indian chemical engineer Vamshi Regalla and American mechanical engineer Ravi Vedula’s 2012 short film “A Strange Thing Called Love” (Feb 04) turned JHT article “A Strange Thing Called Love: Chemical Thermodynamics” (May), they outline Ravi Vedulatheir take on the chemical thermodynamics of love, employing Thims-Pati style reaction mechanisms to explain human bonding as a reaction, commenting at the end that:

“A video was made by the authors on the same concept with the title as “A strange thing called love”. The plot of this video is that a man falls in love with nine girls and that day comes when he is supposed to make a decision on choosing ‘the one’. Surprisingly in the early 1800s, Johann Goethe published a book named Elective Affinities based on a similar concept of love and marriage relations among two couples. It is a pure coincidence and the current authors actually didn’t know about it until they started preparing this article.”

This is what is called a “love thought experiment”, similar to Goethe and his mid 1808 “The Renouncers”, about a hero simultaneously in love with four women, and Libb Thims’ circa 1992 Excel spreadsheet formulaic attempt to rank the top nineteen girlfriends he could possibly marry, in all three scenarios involving a person puzzling on how to ‘choose’ the correct love.

Illustrated and Annotated:

American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims begins work on the online version of Elective Affinities: Illustrated and Annotated, scheduled to be published as a printed book in 2013:
Elective Affinities: Illustrated and Annotated (cover)


The University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, is hosting a 5-day “Architectural Elective Affinities Conference”, themed on the subject of “architectural elective affinities”, which they defined as a “complex borrowing of the Weberian concept of elective affinities, namely the: attractions, interactions and similarities between individuals or disciplines and fields of research—used as a tool for grasping the development of architectural forms in the perspective of specific spatio-temporal structures.” The synopsis of the conference seems to be the following:

“The elective affinities operative between architectural history and other disciplines- such as literature, history, sociology, anthropology, arts, including the photography and the cinema - have been lengthily debated in the past years. The conference intends particularly to identify these affinities, looking from inside the discipline of architecture.”

Note: the conference seems to be digging around in the area of architectural thermodynamics; to some extent.










See also
Evolution timeline
Goethe’s human chemistry
Goethe-Helmholtz equation
Goethean revolution
Goethe’s affinity table

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(b) Goethe genealogy (see bottom) – The Esoteric Redux,
55. Winkelman, John. (1987). Goethe’s Elective Affinities: an Interpretation (pg. 30). P. Lang.
56. Hollingdale, Reginald. (1971). "Introduction", in: Elective Affinities. Penguin.
57. Waidson, Herbert M. (1960). "Introduction", in: Kindred by Choice. John Calder.
58. Lewes, George H. (1902). Works: Life of Goethe (“Goethe at Ilmenau” (Goethe at mountain hut, color), photogravure from the drawing by Woldemar Friedrich, pgs. cover and ii; Portrait of Goethe, pg. 150; Goethe’s Interview with Napoleon at Erfurt, pgs. 312; “These were the Subjects which Occupied his Activity”, pg. 358; “More Light”). F.A. Niccolls & Company.
59. (a) Ducal Vault –
(b) Weimarer Furstengruft – Wikipedia.
60. Brown, Peter H. and Haldane, Viscount. (1920). Life of Goethe, Volume 2 (Elective Affinities: origin, pg. 558; Fritz Jacobi: Criticism of Elective Affinities, pgs. 566, 569; Karl Knebel: Criticism of Elective Affinities, pgs. 569). H. Holt.
61. Goethe, Johann. (1901). Annals or Day and Year Papers (translator’s introduction by Charles Nisbet; Contents: Annals by Years, pg. xiii; 1807-1811, pgs. 144-183; elective affinities, pgs. 156-57, 168, 177-78, 181). In: Classic Memoirs, Volume 32. Colonial Press.
62. Duntzer, Heinrich. (1908). Life of Goethe (pgs. 574; 590, 597-98). T.F. Unwin.
63. (a) Goethe, Johann. (1796). “On the Laws of Organization as Such, to the Extent That We Can Observe Them in the Structure of Types”, Lectures on Comparative Anatomy and Zoology.
(b) Eigen, Manfred and Winkler, Ruthild. (1993). Laws of the Game: How the Principles of Nature Govern Chance (pgs. 74-77). Princeton University Press.
64. White, W.H. (1953). "Translator's Preface", in: Ethics (by Benedict Spinoza) (pg. lxxvi). Wordsworth Classics.
65. 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.
66. (a) André François-Poncet, Elective Affinities Goethe (Paris, F. Alcan, 1910). This memory of 275 pages presented to the graduate degree in 1910, while the author was only 23 years old, remains the largest French-language study on Goethe's novel, constantly and abundantly cited by commentators contemporary
(b) Joly, Bernard. (2006). “Les Affinities elective de Goethe: entre science et literature” (French); “Goethe’s Elective Affinities: Between Science and Literature” (English), Methodos, 6.
67. Joly, Bernard. (2006). “Les Affinities elective de Goethe: entre science et literature” (French); “Goethe’s Elective Affinities: Between Science and Literature” (English), Methodos, 6.

External links
Goethe timeline –

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