Most deeply honored Lord Privy Councillor von Goethe:
Having studied your recent letter with the same diligence as I have applied to your earlier correspondence (those fifty handsome leather volumes there on my bookshelves) I do not for a moment make bold to quibble with your incisive word on the purpose of art. There is nothing, so you insist, higher than the artistic achievement itself. Art is mankind's supreme effort and accomplishment. However true that may be, I will not withhold from you that I am joined by many others who have also studied your writings, Sir Privy Councillor, and by still more who marvel at your life. Among all your admirers it is a truism that you yourself, in times of great trial, do find solace in poetic composition. Is that not at least a subsidiary benefit, then, of poetry, and especially for those who are not themselves poets?
Yet how a poem might affect each of us--how we might respond to music, or to a painting--this differs from one individual to the next. Consider the 23rd Psalm. I daresay we shall find not a single person who has not found comfort there. But how many of them, I wonder, have also recognized it as a careful, consummate artistic composition! Surely it was uttered as prayer, as praise in the highest form mortals know, which is art. This is by no means to argue that art should be a handmaiden for practical, moral, or even religious tasks, but perhaps the artist can forgive us, if we do take such benefits from his work.
For me, a farm boy from the Great Plains, the real importance of the classical work of art has not yet been mentioned. I hesitate to try to put it in a simple word. My "reception" of the art work is affected by my life as a teacher. I naturally want my students to see what I see; but the reverse is true also. If I think a poet has something for them, why, that alone might make the poet attractive to me. So the moral message can be important. An example? Well, when the older Beethoven pays homage to your friend, who died some twenty years earlier--"Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!" No point in translating the words, for it's Beethoven's chords that kiss our heart. But the Ode, too, and the close kinship of these two humbled revolutionaries who never met, touch the hearer with such a joyful message. As teacher, I enjoy it vicariously, together with the "millions."
I think all of us feel a yet more intimate response than this, to the Ninth: it inspires me to do my best. It is so admirable in every way, that I just want to emulate it. What a presumption! But do you not yourself make the remark, I believe it is in Egmont, that we do at least share a little in those qualities which we most admire? Needless to say that this high example of the best in poetry and music dwarfs a simpleton like me, but not so as to discourage aspiration. On the contrary, art of this calibre seems to me most essential for humanity's sake, precisely because it inspires emulation to whatever degree our poor abilities permit.
Having introduced this matter of the "classic," I thought I should perhaps say these things.
J. W. Worthy
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