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  • Advice from Goethe on How to Attract Women

    Posted by David Foster on October 3rd, 2011 (All posts by )

    (…at least, women in Weimar in 1828….possibly with broader applicability.)

    The key, apparently, being to have the characteristics of an 1828-style Englishman.

    Talking with his friend Eckermann, Goethe observed that when Englishmen came to town, they were invariably a hit with the local women…Indeed, when one of them came to visit, Goethe found it necessary to brace himself for the inevitable female tears upon his departure. Eckermann objected that Englishmen were not “more clever, better informed, or more excellent at heart than other people.”

    “The secret does not lie in these things, my good friend,” returned Goethe. ““Neither does it lie in birth and riches; it lies in the courage which they have to be that for which nature has made them. There is nothing vitiated or spoilt about them, there is nothing halfway or crooked; but such as they are, they are thoroughly complete men. That they are also sometimes complete fools, I allow with all my heart; but that is still something, and has still always some weight in the scale of nature.”

    Goethe goes on to contrast the upbringing of English boys with that typical in his own country:

    “In our own dear Weimar, I need only look out of the window to discover how matters stand with us. Lately, when the snow was lying upon the ground, and my neighbour’s children were trying their little sledges in the street, the police was immediately at hand, and I saw the poor little things fly as quickly as they could. Now, when the spring sun tempts them from the houses, and they would like to play with their companions before the door, I see them always constrained, as if they were not safe, and feared the approach of some despot of the police. Not a boy may crack a whip, or sing or shout; the police is immediately at hand to forbid it. This has the effect with us all of taming youth prematurely, and of driving out all originality and all wildness, so that in the end nothing remains but the Philistine.

    An interesting remark, given the increasing constraints on childhood in our own present culture.

    Goethe continues:

    “Thus, for instance, I cannot approve the requisition, in the studies of future statesmen, of so much theoretically-learned knowledge, by which young people are ruined before their time, both in mind and body. When they enter into practical service, they possess, indeed, an immense stock of philosophical and learned matters; but in the narrow circle of their calling, this cannot be practically applied, and must therefore be forgotten as useless. On the other hand, what they most needed they have lost; they are deficient in the necessary mental and bodily energy, which is quite indispensable when one would enter properly into practical life. “And then, are not love and benevolence also needed in the life of a statesman,—in the management of men? And how can any one feel and exercise benevolence towards another, when he is ill at ease with himself?”

    …which is interesting in the light of our current trend toward the expectation of 18 or 20 years of continuous schooling for those pursuing serious careers.

    (from Conversations with Eckermann)


    37 Responses to “Advice from Goethe on How to Attract Women”

    1. Dan from Madison Says:

      Interestingly, Churchill I read somewhere a long time ago complained that British children were the ones that grew up indoors and were thin and pale. He compared them to the Germans that let their children play outside in the sunshine and grow their muscles. I wish I could remember where I read that but I do not.

    2. Robert Schwartz Says:

      The second decade of the 19th century is the time when Beau Brummell (1778 – 1840), established the fashion of men wearing understated, but fitted, tailored clothes including dark suits and full-length trousers, adorned with a knotted cravat, which superseded the long coats, powdered wigs, ruff, and knee length breeches of the 18th century. Perhaps more importantly, Brummel cleaned his teeth, shaved, and bathed daily, and fashionable young men imitated his habits.

      English men in the 1820s were therefor fashion forward and clean. My guess is that the girls went wild over the clean, more than anything else.

      I think Goethe over thought this one.

    3. David Foster Says:

      Of course, in this pre-Bismarck era there were huge regional differences within Germany, so Weimar might not have been completely representative.

      I think Goethe’s main concerns went beyond sexual attraction and had to do with what he saw as excessive top-down social control and too much abstract intellectuality.

      Although Goethe’s patron and close friend was Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and Goethe served as his advisor for many years…I wonder if he ever spoke to the Duke about excessive police harassment of young sledders and whip-crackers?

    4. Lexington Green Says:

      The British abroad carried themselves with hauteur. They were the most powerful and wealthiest country in the world, and they had money in their pockets and walked in everywhere acting like they owned the place. That unassailably superior attitude, plus the daily baths and the form fitting pants, probably drove the frauleins crazy.

    5. Shannon Love Says:

      There is a well known phenomena in primate behavior in which females pay more attention males new to the group than to males they already know. It is probably a genetic program to seek out novel genes.

      The appeal of the foreign and exotic is a universal in human cultures as well, so we probably inherited the primate trait.

    6. dearieme Says:

      Perhaps the British had given up spitting before the Weimarians?

    7. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Dearie Me: Undoubtedly.

      Shouldn’t Weimarians be Weimaraners?

      Lex: good read.

    8. David Foster Says:

      LG…”The British abroad carried themselves with hauteur”

      Goethe: “Here in Weimar, we see only a few of (the English), and, probably, by no means the best; but what fine, handsome people they are. And however young they come here, they feel themselves by no means strange or embarrassed in this foreign atmosphere; on the contrary, their deportment in society is as full of confidence, and as easy as if they were lords everywhere, and the whole world belonged to them.”

      Interesting that his reaction to this was not at all resentment, but rather admiration.

      Eckermann, speaking of the Scotch Highlanders he saw in Brussels a year before Waterloo:

      “They all carried their heads so freely and gallantly, and stepped so lightly along with their strong bare legs, that it seemed as if there were no original sin, and no ancestral failing, as far as they were concerned.”

    9. Lexington Green Says:

      “… as if they were lords everywhere, and the whole world belonged to them.” Yes, they did act that way. And the generation of young men making a tour through Weimar went out into the world and not only acted as if they world belonged to them, they took it for themselves. Freedom without equality, hegemonic freedom in David Hackett Fischer’s terminology, means my freedom may very well mean your submission to me. To read Lady Sale’s memoir is to see this in 200 proof form. And the perfect ground troops to serve in the employ of the hegemonic group, the highlanders and backcountrymen with their “natural” freedom, to agains use DHF’s terminology. The British rulers found aggressive, hungry troops in their own backlands and slums (Pathans, Sikhs, Gurkhas, Scottish Highlanders, Welch Fusiliers, Lancashire Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers) and made them into the battering ram for their imperialist ventures. And, those uniforms … . The ladies could not resist.

    10. Tatyana Says:


      I’d venture a guess that women observed not merely an assertive and confident personal style (although absence if spitting is always welcome where embroidered dollies are fact of environment, and form-fitting trousers are commendable articles) but took it as indication of deeper qualities: Englishmen, perhaps, appeared to be people used to much more freedom and less regulation than men who surrounded them. Almost like they all were – by their status – Princes and Dukes…

      An aside: why is it when any trait of women is discussed, there is always somebody in a thread who appeal to primates behavior? And yet, it is a common knowledge (admitted even in Goethe times…) that women are much more sophisticated creatures than men – and that concerns women’ motives, too.

    11. setbit Says:


      [W]hy is it when any trait of women is discussed, there is always somebody in a thread who appeal to primates behavior?

      Are you speaking of the Web in general? Because as far as Chicago Boyz goes, both my subjective impression and a quick search of the site history fail to uncover any obvious gender bias regarding comments about human vs. primate behavior.

    12. Tatyana Says:

      web in general, Setbit, an this thread as example

    13. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “women are much more sophisticated creatures than men”

      Says you.

    14. Tatyana Says:

      At least in matters of what triggers sexual attraction – undoubtedly. Men are much more primitive in this regard – visual appeal weights more for them.

    15. Robert Schwartz Says:

      I will say the same thing to you that I say to the women in my meat space life.

      Whatever you say dear.

    16. Bill Brandt Says:

      Tatyana –

      When asked what he thought of women Mark Twain replied:

      They’re the best other sex we have….”

      As far as Englishmen and Herr Goethe: The ones the Frauleins saw were wealthy enough to travel and thus had more desirable characteristics – like bathing and some manners.

      I suspect if they saw the typical English man in Victorian London they would revise their opinions ;-)

      The recent movie Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey depicted every day life in that era rather well, I thought.

    17. Tatyana Says:

      you should have started with that; you would saved yourself the effort of 2 comments

      the Freuleins Goethe was referring to were not the “typical German women in Biedermeier Weimar” either. Oh, and Victorian era started with namesake Queen – in 1837, a decade later than the event in question.
      Mr. Twain, being a gentleman, would not have had a habit of evoking primates behavior when discussing how to attract attention of the ladies. Of if he would, he’d attributed it to the correct sex.

    18. Bill Brandt Says:

      Tatyana – so I missed the “Victorian era” by a decade. Point was people were stinky and ill mannered.

    19. Tatyana Says:

      Bill: yes, they were – but not in the circle of Goethe, Eckermann and Freuleins of their acquaintance.

    20. David Foster Says:

      There is research suggesting that among male human primates who are serious sports fans, testosterone levels actually rise and fall depending on whether their team wins or loses a game. Is it possible that this phenomenon exists at a societal level as well?–that Englishmen in the glory days of the Empire had higher T levels than most other people (or their descendants) even for those who did not personally rule over subject peoples?

      The relationship between societal self-confidence and sexual attraction (at a cultural rather than a biochemical level) is one of Koestler’s themes in his novel of ideas The Age of Longing, which I reviewed here.

    21. Lexington Green Says:

      I want America to maintain a fleet of 13 aircraft carriers, to help keep my T level up.

    22. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      Tatyana Says: “At least in matters of what triggers sexual attraction – undoubtedly. Men are much more primitive in this regard – visual appeal weights more for them.”

      And how does that translate to more sophisticated? Men use visual cues to determine a woman’s age, health, and judging by her figure whether she has borne – and is therefore caring for – other men’s children.

      Women are attracted to high status males who are better able to provide for her and her offspring, as well as strong males who are better able to protect the family.

      Both are also seeking mates with whom they share values and whom they enjoy being with, critical needs if they are raise children together.

      How is the one more sophisticated than the other? I think that’s just something women like to tell themselves (and each other) because it makes them feel superior.

    23. dearieme Says:

      “in the glory days of the Empire”: 1828? Really?

    24. Lexington Green Says:

      1828 was not yet the glory days of the Empire, but I don’t David was limiting his question to that date. The defeat of Napoleon in 1815, plus the obvious economic takeoff resulting from the first industrial revolution made England a unique country in Europe and the world. By 1828 England was far and away the most powerful, influential, wealthy and prestigious country in the world, and even by that relatively early date lots of wealthy English people were traveling on the Continent, and impressing or offending the locals (or both) with their wealth and arrogance. (I say England rather than Britain because people at the time used the word England in that broad sense.)

    25. Tatyana Says:

      Arguing within primitive framework of kitchen psychology/homegrown “evo-biology” bores me.
      Let’s just say – women have more sophisticated emotional system, including evaluation of sexual attractiveness of the opposite sex.
      Because this is how it is.

      And I’ll leave it at that.

    26. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Tatyana: I assume that by “Freuleins” you meant “Fräuleinen”.

      Fräulein is the singular. The “en” ending is the feminine plural.

      If you can’t produce an umlauted vowel, the “ä” should be written ae, but I was unable to find examples of this on Google.

    27. Tatyana Says:

      Robert: duly noted.
      I simply copied somebody else’s word from comments above mine.
      If next time I’ll say “maiden” – will you approve?

    28. Lexington Green Says:

      I said “frauleins” in any intentionally jocular spirit, thinking of US GIs who used that word to describe the impoverished young ladies who made themselves available in exchange for cigarettes, nylons and chocolate bars.

    29. David Foster Says:

      To shift the focus from sex to education for a moment……Goethe objected to “so much theoretically-learned knowledge” in the education of young “statesmen” (surely he meant government officials in general, rather than diplomats—how many diplomats would have been required by Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach??)…which makes me wonder what university education in Germany was like at that period. Was it heavy on Latin and Greek classics and history, like its British counterpart? Does anyone have any insight on this?

      Where is Ralf?

    30. Lexington Green Says:

      “To shift the focus …” You can try, but it has a way of drifting back.

      I think I have Ralf’s email somewhere …

    31. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Tatyana: Maiden is a fair enough translation of Fräulein, but so is girl. Maiden sounds a bit fusty. In a translation of an early 19th century document, like the one described above, it would be better, but I would tend to use girl, or young lady.

    32. Tatyana Says:

      …and that linguistic discussion leads us farther and farther away from the topic of the post, in the first place, and from my comment to which you replied, in the second.

    33. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Where is Ralf?

      As Dennis the Peasant would put it, I am not dead, I just smell that way.

      Work and my family are keeping me pretty busy, so I have had little time and even less energy for anything else for some time now.

    34. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Tatyana: Maiden is a fair enough translation of Fräulein, but so is girl. Maiden sounds a bit fusty. In a translation of an early 19th century document, like the one described above, it would be better, but I would tend to use girl, or young lady.

      Fräulein (a term that is no longer used in contemporary German) is the diminutive form of Frau. i.e. woman.

      Then there is Mädchen (girl), which is originally a diminutive form of Maid (in Middle High German ‘maget’). A Maid was a young and and unmarried and therefore presumably virginal woman.

      Interestingly, In German anything and anybody designated by a diminutive are neuters. As Mark Twain put it, In German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has.

    35. David Foster Says:


    36. Ralf Goergens Says:

      which makes me wonder what university education in Germany was like at that period. Was it heavy on Latin and Greek classics and history, like its British counterpart? Does anyone have any insight on this?

      German higher education drew heavily on the classics up to Napoleon’s time. The defeat of the monarchist German Kingdoms, Duchies, Margraviates etc etc at the hands of Napoleon’s armies opened the way for reforms led by the von Humboldt brothers, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Alexander von Humboldt and the Baron zum Stein.

      German education and Germany as a whole became a lot less stuffy than what Goethe experienced in his time (by the way, Goethe was a notorious womanizer in his own right).

    37. Ralf Goergens Says:

      David, you are welcome. I didn’t see that reply of yours yesterday evening.