Victoria Woodhull

Victoria WoodhullIn hmolscience, Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) was an American woman’s rights activist (particularly in regard to freedom to divorce), taboo topics newspaper founder (Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, 1870-1876), and first female presidential candidate, noted for her 1871 "Introduction" section, reproduced below, to the D.W. Niles English translation of German polymath Johann Goethe’s 1809 Elective Affinities. [1]

Of note, in her introduction, Woodhull seems to be the first, with her mention that a "great revolutionary doctrine pervades the whole", to speak of what has come to be known as the Goethean revolution, the human chemical thermodynamics revolution that is only now beginning to see the light of debate and discussion.

Woodhull's 1871 introduction is reproduced in full below; although done so with the important and quotable sections indented; the greater the indent the greater the weight of the passage: [1]

“At the request of Mr. D. W. Niles, publisher, Boston, I have re-read, having read with pleasure and profit in my early life, the Elective Affinities of Goethe, an English translation of which Mr. Niles proposes to publish for the use of the American public; and he does me the honor to think that my views of the value of the book may contribute somewhat to its success among us at this time.

It is very true that ideas of social freedom and of inevitable law governing the action of human affections are rapidly spreading in the world, at this day, and that I may have done something to aid their growth. Perhaps my name may not, therefore, be inappropriately associated with this reproduction of the work of the greatest genius of Germany, the first who promulgated the thought that there is a chemistry of the mind, and that "elective affinities" are as powerful and legitimate in the realm of human sentiment as in the realm of matter.

If this fundamental thought of the man who has proved to be the seer or prophet of science in so many other things, is also a scientific truth, the fact cannot be appreciated by the world too soon, nor its immense sweep of consequences be too clearly foreseen and provided for. It will affect the whole scope of morals and social order, whether we accept it in our theories or not, and the less hurtfully and the more beneficently, in proportion as we thoroughly study and understand the subject.

Themes of freedom on all subjects form the staple public sentiment of the world in this age. A doctrine like that of Goethe's is, therefore, eminently calculated to make progress even unconciously in this century. Indeed, I think that if there is any objection whatever, which will be felt to the really chaste and simple tale of this great writer, as it shall be read by the American public of to-day, it will be, that it is too mild and unpronounced, rather than on account of its radicalism. It may not be sufficiently spiced or high-seasoned either with adventure, or with audacity of speculation to suit the already stimulated palates of our modern and progressive community. Indeed, it strikes me almost ludicrous, that the translator has shrunk from appending his name to the work, if he has done so from any idea that its dangerous views might tend to impair his reputation.

The tale is, in a word, of the simple construction and genial and moderate character of the "Vicar of Wakefield" rather than in the exciting style of Dickens' Christmas Carols: but, everywhere, the interest is skilfully kept up, and the subtle insinuation of a great revolutionary doctrine pervades the whole, and to the thoughtful reader makes the chief point of interest. Doctrines, however, which are here merely insinuated and illustrated by allusions to science, are now so openly expounded and advocated that a portion of the community will regard the great German as too conservative, while yet, doubtless, to the great mass of readers, the radical element may startle, and in some instances offend.

But in any event genius has its prerogatives, and the genius of Goethe is incontestable and uncontested. The American public is entitled to know what this great leader of modern thought, one of the founders of comparative anatomy, has thought on the more recondite subject of the chemistry of mind. The question is not, in the first instance, whether his views were right or wrong, true or false; but simply, what were they? and in none of his works is that question so effectively answered as in Elective Affinities. Undoubtedly, he shocked the age he lived in, both by his writings and by his life, even in Germany, where the puritanical element has always had less sway than it has had among us; but now, if the book runs any risk of a failure to command the public interest, it will be as I have said, for the opposite reason, that it may be thought not radical and outspoken enough. But even this circumstance adds a new ground of interest in the fact that it presents vividly the opportunity to compare two or three successive generations in respect to the growth of opinion upon a most important subject, and the comparison prepares the mind for the still more radical change which the next few years will inevitably produce.

It is well to learn not to be shocked or astounded by any of the events which the impending progress of humanity presents, and especially at this epoch; for all of the signs of the times concur to indicate that we are entering upon the most revolutionary period in human society, not it is to be hoped of the old style and blind sort, but revolution in respect to opinions and general institutions.”

(add discussion)

1. Goethe, Johann. (1872). Elective Affinities (with an Introduction by Victoria C. Woodhull). D.W. Niles.

External links
‚óŹ Victoria Woodhull – Wikipedia.

TDics icon ns

More pages