Goethe's sketch
Goethe's pen-and-ink sketch of clouds, 1816 (EGS.2.4.49)

The English Goethe Society was founded on 26 February 1886, one year after the founding of the Goethe-Gesellschaft in Weimar. The idea for such a society was first put forward by the publisher Alfred Trübner Nutt (1856-1910). At an initial meeting convened in a room at the Society of Arts, the new Society was officially constituted, its aims being '... to promote and extend the study of Goethe's work and thought, and to encourage original research upon all subjects connected with Goethe' ( English Goethe Society: First Annual Report presented at a Business Meeting 1 December 1886 ). It proposed to do this in three ways: (a) through publications - a volume of Transactions each year, at least one translated work, and a Goethe handbook -- David Nutt was appointed the Society's official publisher; (b) through meetings and lectures -- ordinary meetings were held regularly and papers read before them which were published in the Transactions -- the first Ordinary Meeting was held one week after the Inaugural Meeting, namely, on 28 May 1886; (c) through pursuit of Goethe themes in the fine arts -- issue of a Goethe portrait, postcards, dramatic productions.

The formal business of the Society was to be carried out by a President (Professor F. Max Müller was the first to be elected), Vice-Presidents, a Secretary and an Assistant Secretary, a Treasurer, and a Council. A subscription of one guinea per annum was payable, roughly half of which was sent to the Goethe-Gesellschaft in Weimar in return for the privileges of affiliation. However, the Society soon found itself in financial difficulties and changed its rules to create two classes of membership: one paying the full guinea as before, and the other paying a half-guinea for membership of the English Goethe Society only.

In its first few years the Society flourished and its membership, which included many distinguished scholars and public figures, rose to about 300. In 1890-91, however, it went into a steep decline, a significant number of resignations reducing the membership by almost one third. In his autobiography Dr Oswald, a founder member and Secretary (1891-1912), writes: 'In 1891 weariness had overcome some of its leading members, and the dissolution of the English Goethe Society was formally proposed by some of its officers' (Eugen Oswald: Reminiscences of a Busy Life. London: Alexander Moring, 1911). The weariness was due to the limited scope of the Society's aims. At a special business meeting called for the purpose in 1891, Dr Oswald, backed by Dr Leonard Thorne and Ernest Weiss (later Professor of German at Manchester University), vigorously opposed the dissolution and proposed extending the Society's programme to the fields of German literature, art and science, while still keeping Goethe as the central figure.

This proposal together with the fresh injection of enthusiasm carried the day and a new Council was constituted. Membership rose again and regular meetings once again took place. The presidency passed from Professor Müller to Professor Edward Dowden, and thence to a succession of distinguished people including Viscount Haldane of Cloan and Professor Elizabeth Mary Wilkinson. In addition to Ordinary Meetings, soirées were held at which interesting relics and objets d'art were displayed, many lent by Mrs Ludwig (Frieda) Mond, a constant and enthusiastic supporter of the Society. Visits were arranged to Weimar in 1909 and 1910 by Dr Oswald's daughters Lina and Ella, and special celebrations of important anniversaries were organised, e.g. Goethe's centenary and bicentenary (1932 and 1949) and the Society's silver (1911) and golden (1936) jubilees. The Society was represented at several Goethe commemorations in Weimar, Strasbourg and Vienna. The papers read before the meetings of the Society were regularly published in an annual volume, first published in 1886 through to 1912. The advent and course of the World War I suspended the activities of the Society. Anti-German feeling ran high for an appreciable time and it was not reconstituted until 1923, with the first of a new series of annual volumes appearing in 1924. The aims of the Society spread further to '... the cultivation of relationships with other countries and "world citizenship"' (Leonard Thorne: In Memoriam Dr Eugen Oswald, MA ) and in particular to fostering understanding between Anglo-German nations and bringing them into closer union.

Activities were again suspended in 1939 for the duration of World War II, although the Council continued to meet. This time hostile feeling in the United Kingdom was directed against the Nazi regime and not against Germany as a whole. The then Secretary, Professor Willoughby, was able to reconstitute the Society before hostilities ceased and, on 22 February 1945, Dorothy L. Sayers gave a lecture at University College London on 'The Faust Legend and the Idea of the Devil'.

University College had received a direct hit in 1940 which destroyed all the Society's records deposited there. What records remained in the personal possession of Ella Oswald, Dr Eugen Oswald's younger daughter, were deposited by her on permanent loan in the Archive of the Institute of Germanic Studies (from August 2004 the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies) in 1955. By agreement of the Society's Council, the Society's library of some 373 books had been deposited in the library of the Institute on permanent loan three years previously.

In the post-war period the Society continued to flourish. By 1947 its membership had reached 75% of pre-war numbers and continued to remain steady at 150-200. There was considerable participation in the Goethe bicentenary celebrations in 1949 when Thomas Mann delivered the Society's special lecture before an audience of 700 in the Senate House building of the University of London. The Society also contributed to the planning and execution of activities by the ad hoc British Goethe Festival Society.

A decade later, Schiller was honoured by the Society during a highly successful commemorative week at Bedford College (University of London), organised by Professors Purdie and Willoughby.

Further special activities were organised for the 150th anniversary of Goethe's death in 1982 including a translation competition which attracted 160 entries from all over the world. The Society also participated in a joint conference with the Conference of University Teachers in German at Queen Mary College (University of London). An exhibition was arranged, displayed initially at the Goethe Institute in London, and then shown in cities all over the United Kingdom.

In 1986 the Society celebrated its centenary when, at a special dinner and reception, Professor Siegbert Prawer gave an address on 'Dichtung und Wahrheit'. The Society is still very active and holds regular meetings at the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies). Its records are deposited in the Institute's archives.

The Papers

The records and papers of the English Goethe Society have been collected by successive Secretaries of the Society since its foundation in 1886. Unfortunately, a large part of the records was destroyed by enemy action on University College London, where they were deposited, in 1940. Nevertheless, early papers still in the keeping of Miss Ella Oswald, Assistant Secretary and daughter of Dr Eugen Oswald (who was Secretary 1891-1912), were presented to the Institute by her on permanent loan in 1955. Some early papers had been sold to the University of Texas through a London dealer and deposited in the Miriam Lutcher Stark Library. In 1966, photocopies were purchased of some of the Texas papers to make the English Goethe Society records more complete. From time to time, members/officers of the Society have given interesting items, small collections of papers and Goetheana: Professor E.M. Wilkinson, Dr Lucy Hoesch-Ernst, Miss E.F. Fiedler. A regular pattern of deposit of the Society's records has been established.

The collection comprises business records, unfortunately incomplete for the reasons given above, including financial statements, receipts, invoices, membership lists and correspondence, Council meetings. There is material, including half-tone illustration blocks, pertaining to Society publications, which includes the Annual Reports from the first issue of 1886 (not a complete run). A considerable section of general correspondence has survived, mostly pre-World War II, and an interesting collection of accounts (a large number of contemporary news cuttings), memorabilia and correspondence relating to major anniversary events such as the Goethe centenary (1932) and bicentenary (1949) and the English Goethe Society silver (1911) and golden (1936) jubilees. A significant amount of illustrative material includes postcards of Weimar, silhouettes of the Goethekreis, postcards, and photographs taken during English Goethe Society members' visits to Germany. There is also a collection of book reviews of works on Goethe and personal memorabilia of Goethe such as a lock of his hair, and two original contemporary signed and dated silhouettes of Goethe and Charlotte von Stein. More recent material includes entries for the English Goethe Society Prize (later known as the Willoughby Prize) and the Thomas Mann Prize (awarded every two years under the terms of the Ida Herz Bequest).

Archival Arrangement

EGS/1  Business Records
1.1    Financial
1.1.1 Annual statement of accounts
1.1.2 Receipts, invoices and bank statements
1.1.3 Stocks

1.2 Membership
1.2.1 Lists and addresses (printed, ms, typescript) including loose copies of rules and Council Members list (see also Annual Reports)
1.2.2 Proposals (+ correspondence)
1.2.3 Resignations (correspondence)
1.2.4 Summaries of changes in membership

1.3 Council: Meetings etc.
1.4 Other: Library business

EGS/2  Publications
2.1 Annual Reports (includes rules, membership lists, etc.) of the EGS, Goethe-Gesellschaft in Weimar and the Freies Deutsches Hochstift, Frankfurt/M.
2.2 Chronicle (section reprinted from the Publications of the English Goethe Society)
2.3 Published Papers (including Robertson's Life of Goethe)
2.4 Woodblocks for Printed Programmes and published illustrations in the Proceedings of the English Goethe Society

EGS/3  General Correspondence (arranged alphabetically)
Note: Where correspondence is of direct relevance to a set of documents it has been placed with those documents rather than in class 3

EGS/4  Society Activities
4.1 Meetings (recitals, dinners, etc.), also early notices of ordinary meetings with details of lectures
4.2 Special events (anniversaries, visits, etc.): subdivided according to the event and arranged chronologically
4.3 Prizes
4.3.1 The English Goethe Society (later the Willoughby) Prize
4.3.2 The Thomas Mann Prize

EGS/5  Miscellaneous
5.1 Book reviews, news cuttings
5.2 Memorabilia (pictures, personalia, obituaries of Goethe and others, including more contemporary figures)
5.3 Printed and published items

box-list is available.

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