I'm not sure about the precise wording of the sentence, neither in english or german.

But the quote is often used when referring to a mans life or career that has gone from the lowest low (e.g. prison or homeless) to the highest high of society (e.g. successful businessman, minister).

PS: It might also be a paraphrase of a story in one of Goethe's fictional stories.

  • No, I Think my take on the quote is approx right AS it is, I just dont know where Goethe writes it
    – MOLAP
    Apr 29, 2019 at 22:46

2 Answers 2


You are asking for the precise wording of an unidentified passage? Step one would be to find the sentence you allude to. Could it be this?

The Project Gutenberg English version of Wilhelm Meister, Book II, Chapter I ends with this:

To awaken these again within him, he would recall to memory the scenes of his by-gone happiness. He would paint them to his fancy in the liveliest colors, transport himself again into the days when they were real; and when standing on the highest elevation he could reach, when the sunshine of past times again seemed to animate his limbs and heave his bosom, he would look back into the fearful chasm, would feast his eye on its dismembering depth, then plunge down into its horrors, and thus force from nature the bitterest pains. With such repeated cruelty did he tear himself in pieces; for youth, which is so rich in undeveloped force, knows not what it squanders when, to the anguish which a loss occasions, it adds so many sorrows of its own production, as if it meant then first to give the right value to what is gone forever. He likewise felt so convinced that his present loss was the sole, the first, the last, he ever could experience in life, that he turned away from every consolation which aimed at showing that his sorrows might be less than endless.

  • It is probably that one, but I have to check the german edition and my Local language edition.
    – MOLAP
    Apr 29, 2019 at 23:00

Looking at Wikiquote’s page on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, I find the following:

Der echte gesetzgebende Künstler strebt nach Kunstwahrheit, der gesetzlose, der einem blinden Trieb solgt, nach Naturwirklichkeit; durch jenen wird die Kunst zum höchsten Gipfel, durch diesen aus ihre niedrigste Stufe gebracht.

The true, prescriptive artist strives after artistic truth; the lawless artist, following blind instinct, after an appearance of naturalness. The one leads to the highest peak of art, the other to its lowest depth.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1798). ‘Einleitung in die Propyläen’. Goethes Werke, vol. 47, p. 23. Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger.

This has the ‘highest peak’ and ‘lowest depth’ that you are looking for, though the context (the search for artistic truth) is quite different from what you are looking for (the span of someone’s career).

  • Relevant to know that Goethe has these usages of the wording. Nice contribution.
    – MOLAP
    Apr 30, 2019 at 10:33

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