While we cannot divide the literary life of Goethe into periods, like that of Schiller, because his growth was not only steady and symmetrical, but some of his faculties were nearly perfect from the start, yet there are occasionaly pauses in his activity and variations in his character. Soon after the publication of Werther occured the one important change in his external life. In September, 1775, the duke Karl August invited Goethe to visit him at Weimar, and the visit was followed by the offer of a permanent situation at the court, with the title of privy councillor and a salary of twelve hundred thalers a year. In spite of his father's opposition, Goethe accepted, and henceforth Weimar was his home. The appointment of an untitled poet to a place which tradition required to be filled by a noble was a great scandal throughout Germany.
Soon afterward Weimar became the literary centre of Germany. The court was presided over by the duchess Amalia, the grand-duke's mother, who at the age of nineteen had been left a widow with two sons. She was a great lover of the stage, and the best playwrights of Germany made their headquarters at Weimar until it was burned down in 1774, together with the royal palace. After the marriage of her eldest son, Karl August, she lived in one of the simple country-houses which surround the capital, and contented herself with amateur theatricals. The duke, who was then only eighteen years of age, was simple in his tastes, impatient of etiquette and restraint, true, honest and steadfast; fond of novelty and excitement, and of great courage and activity. His impulses, rarely checked, led him rather to chivalrous enterprise than to injurious excesses.
Upon this society Goethe, in the strength and beauty of youth, rose like a star. From the moment of his arrival he became the inseparable and indispensable companion of the duke. He subdued the affections of all he met with, and Wieland declared that his soul was as full of him as a dewdrop of the morning sun; that, take him all in all, he was the greatest, best and most noble being that God had ever created. The first months at Weimar were passed in a round of pleasure, and Goethe was treated as a guest. In the autumn, journeys, rides, shooting-parties; in the winter, balls, masquerades, skating-parties by torchlight, dancing at peasants' feasts, filled up their time. The wild, grotesque life led by the poet and the duke gave much offense. Their chief object seemed to be to violate all the sacred conventionalities of the German courts. They appeared in society in top-boots, cracked whips together in the market-place, plunged into the river Ilm at midnight, and conducted themselves altogether more like a couple of students on frolic than a pair of dignified personages. Evil reports flew about Germany; the court at Weimar had a bad name; Klopstock wrote letters of solemn advice, and forbade his young friend Stolberg to accept an appointment which the duke had offered him. Goethe wrote in reply that, if Stolberg came, he would find them no worse, and perhaps even better, than he had known them before. We may be sure that no decencies were disregarded, except the word by applied to the artificial restrictions of courtly etiquette. Goethe and the duke dined together and bathed together; the duke addressed his friend by the familiar "thou;" Goethe slept in his chamber and tended him when he was ill. In the following spring the duke gave him the little house and garden by the side of the Ilm, in which he lived for the next eight years. By accepting his position as a privy councillor, Goethe had bound himself, as it were, to Weimar, and the tie was further strengthened by the promotions that came swiftly upon him, with emoluments to correspond. In return he devoted himself with interest and enthusiasm to the affairs of the duke, opening mines and otherwise developing the resources of his territory, including the reconstruction of his little army.
During these years Goethe's productiveness slackened, because there was no incitement, and the external impulse gave way, for a time, to his hearty delight in active physical life. It was his habit to carry a poetical conception for a long time in his brain, allowing it to develop by its own force until the proper mood and leisure for its delivery arrived; then it was put into words with a rapidity and artistic completion which astonished his friends, who did not guess how much of the labor had been silently performed in advance. Thus, while he seemed most indolent, the dramatic poems of Iphigenie auf Tauris, Tasso and Egmont, were in progress, and portions of them were even written in prose. After three years of free, unrestrained companionship with the duke, Goethe began to weary of balls, haunts and picnics, and withdrew more and more from the society of the court. Though the intimacy was broken off, the duke was steadfast in his friendship, making Goethe a noble and appointing him president of the Chamber. The death of his father, about this time, having made him comparatively wealthy, he now determined to carry out his long-cherished plan of a journey to Italy; but four years still intervened before he succeeded in leaving Weimar. During this time he began to write his philosophical romance of Wilhelm Meister, which was not published until long afterward.