Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a towering figure in German literature, was the author of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Faust, Italian Journey, The Theory of Colours (MIT Press edition, 1970), and many other works.

  • The Metamorphosis of Plants

    The Metamorphosis of Plants

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Goethe's influential text, newly illustrated with stunning color photographs.

    The Metamorphosis of Plants, published in 1790, was Goethe's first major attempt to describe what he called in a letter to a friend “the truth about the how of the organism.” Inspired by the diversity of flora he found on a journey to Italy, Goethe sought a unity of form in diverse structures. He came to see in the leaf the germ of a plant's metamorphosis—“the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms”—from the root and stem leaves to the calyx and corolla, to pistil and stamens. With this short book—123 numbered paragraphs, in the manner of the great botanist Linnaeus—Goethe aimed to tell the story of botanical forms in process, to present, in effect, a motion picture of the metamorphosis of plants. This MIT Press edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants illustrates Goethe's text (in an English translation by Douglas Miller) with a series of stunning and starkly beautiful color photographs as well as numerous line drawings. It is the most completely and colorfully illustrated edition of Goethe's book ever published. It demonstrates vividly Goethe's ideas of transformation and interdependence, as well as the systematic use of imagination in scientific research—which influenced thinkers ranging from Darwin to Thoreau and has much to teach us today about our relationship with nature.

    • Hardcover $29.95 £25.00
  • Theory of Colours

    Theory of Colours

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    By closely following Goethe's explanations of the color phenomena, the reader may become so divorced from the wavelength theory—Goethe never even mentions it—that he may begin to think about color theory relatively unhampered by prejudice, ancient or modern.

    By the time Goethe's Theory of Colours appeared in 1810, the wavelength theory of light and color had been firmly established. To Goethe, the theory was the result of mistaking an incidental result for an elemental principle. Far from pretending to a knowledge of physics, he insisted that such knowledge was an actual hindrance to understanding. He based his conclusions exclusively upon exhaustive personal observation of the phenomena of color.

    Of his own theory, Goethe was supremely confident: “From the philosopher, we believe we merit thanks for having traced the phenomena of colours to their first sources, to the circumstances under which they appear and are, and beyond which no further explanation respecting them is possible.”

    Goethe's scientific conclusions have, of course, long since been thoroughly demolished, but the intelligent reader of today may enjoy this work on quite different grounds: for the beauty and sweep of his conjectures regarding the connection between color and philosophical ideas; for an insight into early nineteenth-century beliefs and modes of thought; and for the flavor of life in Europe just after the American and French Revolutions.

    The book does not have to be studied to be appreciated. Goethe's subjective theory of colors permits him to speak most persuasively of color harmony and aesthetics. In some readers these notions will evoke a positive response on their merits. Others may regard them as pure fantasy, but savor the grace and style of their exposition.The work may also be read as an accurate guide to the study of color phenomena. Goethe's conclusions have been repudiated, but no one quarrels with his reporting of the facts to be observed. With simple objects—vessels, prisms, lenses, and the like—the reader will be led through a demonstration course not only in subjectively produced colors, but also in the observable physical phenomena of color. By closely following Goethe's explanations of the color phenomena, the reader may become so divorced from the wavelength theory—Goethe never even mentions it—that he may begin to think about color theory relatively unhampered by prejudice, ancient or modern.

    • Hardcover $15.00 £11.99
    • Paperback $39.95 £32.00