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[97]

XI

Concerning high-water marks

in Eckermann's conversations with Goethe, the poet is described as once showing his admirer a letter from Zelter which was obviously witten in a fortunate hour. Pen, paper, handwriting, were all favorable; so that for once, Goethe said, there was a true and complete expression of the man, and perhaps one never again to be obtained in like perfection. The student of literature is constantly impressed with the existence of these single autographs, these high-water marks as it were, of individual genius.

‘It is in the perfection and precision of the instantaneous line,’ wrote Ruskin in his earlier days, ‘that the claim of immortality is made.’ Dr. Holmes somewhere counsels a young author to be wary of the fate that submerges so many famous works, and advises him to risk his all upon a small volume of poems, among which there may be one, conceived in some happy

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J. W. Goethe (2)
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