Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) perhaps comes as close as any man to deserving the title of universal genius. Poet, dramatist, critic, scientist, administrator and novelist, he was born at Frankfurt-am-Main in 1749, the son of well-to-do parents with intellectual interests; and he studied at the University of Leipzig and at Strassburg, where he wrote a play which initiated the important Sturm und Drang movement. During the next five years he practiced law in Frankfurt and wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther, a remarkable novel autobiographical of one side of Goethe's nature. In 1775 he went to visit the court of the young Duke of Weimar, and, except for an extended journey to Italy a decade later, stayed there the rest of his life, filling at one time or another all the major posts in the Weimar government. Here a close friendship with Schiller developed, and here he conducted important scientific experiments and published a steady stream of books of the highest order and in many different forms. He became the director of the Weimar Theatre in 1791 and made it the most famous in Europe. His life held a number of ardent loves, which he celebrated in lyrics that are compared to Shakespeare's, and in 1806 he married Christiane Vulpius whom he had loved for many years. In later life Goethe became a generous patron of younger writers, including Byron and Carlyle. In 1790 he published the first version of his life work as Faust, a Fragment, but Part I of the completed Faust did not appear until 1808, while Part II was finished and published only a few months before Goethe's death in 1832.
Bayard Taylor (1825-1878) was an American poet, literary critic, and travel writer. Born in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, he was raised in a wealthy family of Quaker farmers. At 17, he began working as a printer's apprentice and soon turned to poetry under the recommendation of Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Finding success with his first volume, Ximena, or the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and other Poems (1844), Taylor became a prominent travel writer, visiting Europe and sending accounts of his experience to such publications as the Tribune and The Saturday Evening Post. Throughout his career, he traveled to Egypt, Palestine, China, and Japan, interviewing such figures as commodore Matthew Perry and German scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Beginning in 1862, Taylor served for one year as a U.S. diplomat in St. Petersburg, publishing his first novel in 1863. Over the next several years, he traveled across the American west with his wife Maria, publishing Colorado: A Summer Trip (1867), a collection of travel essays. His late work Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania (1870), originally serialized in The Atlantic, was reviewed poorly upon publication, but has since been recognized as America's first gay novel.