Skip to content

Goethe’s Flower Child: Mignon in the American Educational Garden

Justin Thomas Nevin


Pages 463 - 488

DOI https://doi.org/10.33675/AMST/2021/3/5


open-access

This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

Creative Commons License


Thomas Carlyle’s translation of "Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship" appeared in Britain in 1824. The American edition did not appear until 1828. By the 1820s, indentured apprenticeship, long a transitional institution for young White males, was frequently an arrangement of convenience between apprentices and masters. While indentured apprenticeship had involved a small percentage of American youth, changes to the practice were both a sign of the times and indicative of socio-economic shifts. Amid national expansion, educational leaders offered localized visions of republican praxes in schools in order to integrate children into the national fold. While some recent literature exists on Goethe’s American reception, this article focuses on these educational circumstances. I theorize that Goethe / Carlyle articulated a vocabulary that could help educators manage pedagogical uncertainties in a praxis-oriented space that I call “the educational garden.” A strong botanical subtext that is pertinent to the educational garden underwrites the central plot of "Wilhelm". The child-sojourners Mignon and Felix perform critical aesthetic, thematic, and narrative roles in Wilhelm’s presumed transition to adulthood. I mean to examine the specific association of these two children with plants in "Wilhelm" and, in turn, these child-plants’ pivotal roles as supplements to Wilhelm’s loosely structured transition. This association, this supplement, and this transition collectively delineate a mass instructional strategy—the child-plant—at the moment when American apprenticeship was being adapted to self-fashioning. Therefore, the plant is a historically generative device that reveals ways in which socio-cultural forces respond to and shape epochal categories of the child. I speculate that "Wilhelm" played an early role in articulating this strategy.

Keywords: schooling; Bildung; child-plant; cartography; morphology

1 Alcott, Louisa May. Little Men, or Life at Plumfield with Jo’s Boys. Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers, 1871. Print.

2 ---. Little Women or, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. 2 vols. Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers, 1868-1869. Print.

3 Barnard, Henry. School Architecture; Or, Contributions to the Improvement of School-Houses in the United States. 3rd ed. New York: Barnes, 1849. HathiTrust. Web. 1 Jan. 2021. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t83j4720r&view=1up&seq=9.

4 Baron, Ava. “Acquiring Manly Competence: The Demise of Apprenticeships and the Remasculinization of Printers’ Work.” Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America. Ed. Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1990. 152-63. Print.

5 Beadie, Nancy. Education and the Creation of Capital in the Early American Republic. New York: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

6 Beatty, Barbara. Preschool Education in America: The Culture of Young Children from the Colonial Era to the Present. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1995. Print.

7 Bernstein, Jay M. Introduction. Classic and Romantic German Aesthetics. Ed. Jay M. Bernstein. New York: Cambridge UP. 2003, vii-xxxiii. Print.

8 Boes, Tobias. Formative Fictions: Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2012. Print.

9 Brodhead, Richard H. Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1993. Print.

10 Brückner, Martin. The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750–1860. Williamsburg, VA: Omohundro Institute and U of North Carolina P, 2017. Print.

11 Carlyle, Thomas. “Criticisms and Interpretations: II.” Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship [Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre]. By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Trans. Thomas Carlyle. 1824. Bartleby, 2001. Web. 9 Feb. 2018. 7.

12 Castiglia, Christopher. Interior States: Institutional Consciousness and the Inner Life of Democracy in the Antebellum United States. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2008. Print.

13 Castle, Gregory. Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman. Jacksonville: UP of Florida, 2006. Print.

14 Charvat, William. Literary Publishing in America: 1790-1850. 1959. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1993. Print.

15 Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers, Or The Sources of the Susquehanna; A Descriptive Tale. 1823. New York: Penguin, 1988. Print.

16 Cothran, Bettina F. “The Reception of Goethe in Charleston before the Civil War.” South Atlantic Review 59.1 (1994): 87-106. JSTOR. Web. 1 Jan. 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3200947.

17 Crain, Patricia. Reading Children: Literacy, Property, and the Dilemmas of Childhood in Nineteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2016. Print.

18 Cummins, Maria Susanna. The Lamplighter. Boston, MA: Jewett, 1854. Print.

19 Curran, Jane Veronica. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship: A Reader’s Commentary. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2002. Print.

20 Duane, Anna Mae. Suffering Childhood in Early America: Violence, Race, and the Making of the Child Victim. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2011. Print.

21 Emerson, Ralph W. “Goethe: Or, the Writer.” Representative Men: Seven Lectures. Boston, MA: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1849. 255-85. HathiTrust. Web. 6 May 2021.

22 Faust, Albert Bernhardt. The German Element in the United States: With Special Reference to Its Political, Moral, Social, and Educational Influence. Vol. 2. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1909. Hathi Trust. Web. 13 Apr. 2021.

23 Fisher, Philip. Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.

24 Franklin, Benjamin. Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania. 1749. U of Pennsylvania University Archives & Records Center. Web. 16 June 2016.

25 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Metamorphosis of Plants [Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen]. 1790. Trans. Douglas Miller as Introd. and photogr. Gordon L. Miller. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Print.

26 ---. Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship [Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre]. Trans. Thomas Carlyle. 1824. Select. Charles William Eliot. New York: Collier, 1917. Bartleby, 2001. Web. 9 Feb. 2018. The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, 14.

27 ---. Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship: A Novel. / From the German of Goethe.: In three volumes. 3 vols. American Antiquarian Society (253673). Boston, MA: Wells and Lilly, 1828. Print.

28 ---. Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Ein Roman. 1795-1796. Trans. Thomas Carlyle as Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 2001. Bartleby. Web. 9 Feb. 2018.

29 Goodnight, Scott Holland. “German Literature in American Magazines Prior to 1846.” Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin (1908): 1-264. Web. 1 Jan. 2018. Philology and Literature Series, 4.

30 Hall, G. Stanley. Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relation to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. 1904. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 2008. Google Books. Web. 22 Mar. 2018.

31 Hohendahl, Peter Uwe, ed. German Studies in the United States: A Historical Handbook. New York: MLA, 2003. Print.

32 [James, Henry]. “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Travels. From the German of Goethe (Book Review).” The North American Review 101.208 (1865): 281-85. JSTOR. Web. 29 June 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25107846.

33 Jeffers, Thomas L. Apprenticeships: The Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. ProQuest Ebook Central. 7 July 2018. E-Book.

34 Kaestle, Carl F. Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, 1780-1860. New York: Hill and Wang, 1983. Print.

35 King, Wilma. Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. Print.

36 Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory. Teaching Children Science: Hands-On Nature Study in North America, 1890-1930. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2010. Print.

37 Kontje, Todd. Private Lives in the Public Sphere: The German Bildungsroman as Metafiction. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1992. Print.

38 Levine, Susan. School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2008. Print.

39 Lieder, Frederick W. C. “Goethe in England and America.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 10.4 (1911): 535-56. JSTOR. Web. 23 July 2019. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27700122.

40 Locke, John. “Some Thoughts Concerning Education.” 1693. Some Thoughts Concerning Education; By John Locke: and A Treatise on Education; By John Milton. With an Appendix Containing Locke’s Memoranda on Study. The Library of Education Vol. I. Boston, MA: Gray & Bowen, 1830. 33-258. Internet Archive. Web. 9 May 2021. https://archive.org/details/somethoughtscon01lockuoft/page/n7/mode/2up.

41 Massachusetts Board of Education. Third Annual Report of the Board of Education, together with the Third Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board. Boston, MA: Dutton and Wentworth, 1840. State Library of Massachusetts. Web. 13 May 2021. http://hdl.handle.net/2452/204722.

42 ---. Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Education, together with the Fourth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board. Boston, MA: Dutton and Wentworth, 1841. State Library of Massachusetts. Web. 13 May 2021. http://hdl.handle.net/2452/204723.

43 ---. Fifth Annual Report of the Board of Education, together with the Fifth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board. Boston, MA: Dutton and Wentworth, 1842. State Library of Massachusetts. Web. 13 May 2021. http://hdl.handle.net/2452/204724.

44 McGill, Meredith L. American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003. Print.

45 Miller, Gordon L. Introduction. The Metamorphosis of Plants. By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. xv-xxxi Print.

46 Miller, Perry. Nature’s Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1967. Print.

47 Moretti, Franco. The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. 1987. Trans. Albert Sbragia. New York: Verso, 2000. Print.

48 Nevin, Justin Thomas. “Templeton’s Academy.” ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture 66.2 (2020): 291-323. Web. https://doi.org/10.1353/esq.2020.0005.

49 Norris, Frank. McTeague: A Story of San Francisco. 1899. New York: Signet, 2003. Print.

50 Orth, Geoffrey. “The Critical Reception of Goethe in the Ante-Bellum South.” The Southern Literary Journal 18.2 (1986): 108-22. JSTOR. Web. 3 Aug. 2018.http://www.jstor.org/stable/20077803.

51 Peabody, Elizabeth P., ed. Aesthetic Papers. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1849. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2018. https://archive.org/details/cu31924031042173.

52 ---. “The Dorian Measure, with a Modern Application.” Aesthetic Papers. Ed. Elizabeth P. Peabody. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1849. 64-111. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2018. https://archive.org/details/cu31924031042173.

53 ---. Introduction. “The Word ‘Aesthetic.’” Aesthetic Papers. Ed. Elizabeth P. Peabody. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1849. 1-4. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2018. https://archive.org/details/cu31924031042173.

54 ---. Record of a School: Exemplifying the Principle of Spiritual Culture. Philadelphia, PA: Henry Perkins, 1835. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2018. https://archive.org/details/cu31924031042173.

55 Perkins, S. H. “Abuse of Representative Government.” Aesthetic Papers. Ed. Elizabeth P. Peabody. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1849. 174-88. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2018. https://archive.org/details/cu31924031042173.

56 Pirholt, Matthias. Metamimesis: Imitation in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehr­jahre and Early German Romanticism. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2012. Print.

57 Proehl, Kristen. “Educating Jo March: Plumfield, Romanticism, and the Tomboy Trajectory in the Alcott Trilogy.” Romantic Education in Nineteenth-Century American Literature: National and Transatlantic Contexts. Ed. Monika M. Elberd and Lesley Ginsberg. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2015. 42-56. Print. Routledge Studies in Romanticism.

58 Raber, Jesse. Progressivism’s Aesthetic Education: The Bildungsroman and the American School, 1890-1920. New York: Palgrave, 2018. Print.

59 Reese, William J. The Origins of the American High School. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999. Print.

60 Robbins, Sarah. Managing Literacy, Mothering America: Women’s Narratives on Reading and Writing in the Nineteenth Century. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P, 2004. Print.

61 Rorabaugh, W. J. The Craft Apprentice: From Franklin to the Machine Age in America. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. Print.

62 Russell, William, and W. C. Woodbridge, eds. American Journal of Education and Monthly Lyceum. 3 vols. Boston, MA: Wait, Green, and Co., 1826-1830. ­HathiTrust. Web. 5 Mar. 2018.

63 Sammons, Jeffrey L. “The Constituencies of Academics and the Priorities of Germanists.” German Studies in the United States: A Historical Handbook. Ed. Peter Uwe Hohendahl. New York: MLA, 2003. 55-64. Print.

64 Sánchez-Eppler, Karen. Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 2005. Print.

65 Scott, Sir Walter. Waverley; Or,‘Tis Sixty Years Since. 1814. Ed. Peter Garside and Claire Lamont. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.

66 Shaffner, Randolph P. The Apprenticeship Novel: A Study of the “Bildungs­roman” as a Regulative Type in Western Literature with a Focus on Three Classic Representatives by Goethe, Maugham, and Mann. Illus. Walter W. Hunt. New York: Lang, 1984. Print.

67 Shapiro, Michael Steven. Child’s Garden: The Kindergarten Movement from Froebel to Dewey. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1984. Print.

68 Steedman, Carolyn. Strange Dislocations: Childhood and the Idea of Human Interiority, 1780-1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995. Print.

69 Ward, S. G. “Criticism.” Aesthetic Papers. Ed. Elizabeth P. Peabody. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1849. 4-24. Internet Archive. Web. 29 Feb. 2018. https://archive.org/details/cu31924031042173.

70 Willard, Emma. “An Address to the Public: Particularly to the Members of the Legislature of New-York, Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education.” 1819. Internet Archive. Web. 6 May 2021. https://archive.org/details/addresstopublicp00willrich.

71 Wood, Gordon S. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.

72 Wulf, Andrea. Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. New York: Knopf, 2011. Print.

Share


Export Citation