More light

More light
A circa 1886 drawing, entitled entitled “More Light” by Friedrich Woldemar (1846-1910), of German polymath Johann Goethe speaking his famous last words, on 22 Mar 1832, to his daughter-in-law, Ottilie, more light! [1]
In last words, more light are the said-to-be famous last words of German polymath Johann Goethe, the event of which is depicted adjacent in the circa 1886 drawing entitled “More Light” by Friedrich Woldemar (1846-1910). [1] American writer Gary Baldridge, in his 22 March 2012 article “Goethe’s ‘More Light’” summarizes the time of Goethe’s last words as follows: [4]

“On this day in 1832 Germany's greatest literary light gave the world his last metaphor, this time unintended. As he sat in his Weimar house holding the hand of his daughter-in-law, Ottilie, Goethe spoke of the walks he would take in the warmer months ahead, made some reference to a girl of his youth, and breathed the name of his equally famous, long-dead friend, Friedrich von Schiller. But wanting another shutter opened to the morning sun, the author of Faust called to a servant for "More light!" Then his finger traced a word on the air, he shifted in his chair, and he fell asleep, dying at some moment well before anyone realized.”

Goethe's first and last words were on the subject of light. He came into existence, in his own words, as such: [2]

“On August 28, 1749, on the stroke of noon, I saw the light of day at Frankfurt-on-the-Main.”

Throughout his life, Goethe had a deep fascination for the physical and metaphorical effects of light on humans. Whilst being best remembered now for his literary works, he himself believed the scientific treatise The Theory of Colours, which he published in 1810, to be his most important work (Elective Affinities aside, which he said was his "best book"). Although a confirmed non-believer for almost all of his life, a year before dying Goethe sided with the eclectic Hypsistarian sect, writing in a letter to a friend that:

"A joyous light thus beamed at me suddenly out of a dark age, for I had the feeling that all my life I had been aspiring to qualify as a Hypsistarian."

He spent the evening before his death discussing optical phenomena with his daughter-in-law, Ottilie Pogwisch (1796-1872). All of the above might lead us to believe that his celebrated deathbed cry of Mehr Licht! (More light!) was a plea for increased enlightenment before dying. The truth appears to be more prosaic. What he actually said (in German) was: [3]

“Do open the shutter of the bedroom so that more light may enter.”

In some way or another this famous last sentence, of the man known to have spoken, penned, or thought more sentences than any other before or after, came to be truncated simply as "more light".

1. (a) Lewes, George H. (1902). Works: Life of Goethe (“Goethe at Ilmenau” (Goethe at mountain hut, color), photogravure from the drawing by Woldemar Friedrich, pgs. cover and ii; Portrait of Goethe, pg. 150; Goethe’s Interview with Napoleon at Erfurt, pgs. 312; “These were the Subjects which Occupied his Activity”, pg. 358; “More Light”). F.A. Niccolls & Company.
(b) Woldemar Friedrich – Wikipedia.
2. Lewisohn, Ludwig. (1949). Goethe: the Story of a Man, Volume One (pg. 3). Farrar, Straus and Co.
3. Last words –
4. Baldridge, Gary. (2012). “Goethe’s ‘More Light’”,, Mar 22.

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