Thomas Carlyle’s Goethe Mask – Revisited

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Thomas Carlyle’s copy of a life mask of Goethe is one of the most significant Goethe masks outside Germany, particularly because it is a testimony to Carlyle’s role in developing strong cultural relations between Scotland and Germany in the nineteenth century, and because of his close connections with Goethe and Weimar. However, Carlyle scholars have always thought his Goethe mask was a death mask, since he states this in his letters, despite the fact that no death mask of Goethe was ever made. This essay documents the wider context of the making of the original life mask of Goethe in Weimar, and its links to Franz Joseph Gall’s popularisation of the science of cranioscopy in Germany, 1805–7. It also gives an account of how Carlyle acquired the mask, and what happened to it after his death. Earlier research on Carlyle’s Goethe mask maintained that it had been lost and rediscovered in the 1980s; this article offers new evidence that its whereabouts have always been known. It also reveals that, after Carlyle, it was owned by the Scottish professors David Masson and Peter Hume Brown, both of whom contributed to the transfer of knowledge of Goethe’s life and works to Britain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-317
Number of pages23
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


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