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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe

LETTER LXXVII--continued.

-- IT is all over. -- Charlotte, I am resolved to die; I tell it you deliberately and coolly, without any romantic passion, the morning of that day on which I am to see you for the last time. At the very moment when you read these lines, Oh! best of women! a cold grave holds the {190} inanimate remains of that agitated unhappy man, who in the last moments of his life knew no pleasure so great as that of conversing with you. I have passed a dreadful night -- or rather let me call it a propitious one; for it has determined me, it has fixed my purpose; I am resolved to die. When I tore myself from you yesterday, my senses were in the greatest tumult and disorder; my heart was oppressed; hope and every ray of pleasure were fled forever from me; and a petrifying cold seemed to surround my wretched being. -- I could scarcely reach my room; I threw myself on my knees. -- Heaven for the last time granted me the consolation of shedding tears. My troubled soul was agitated by a thousand ideas, a thousand different schemes! at length one thought took possession of me, and is now fixed in my heart -- I will die. -- It is not despair, it is conviction that I have filled up the measure of my sufferings, that I have reached the term, and that I sacri- {191} fice myself for you. Yes, Charlotte, why should I not say it? It is necessary for one of us three to depart -- it shall be Werter. -- Oh! my dear Charlotte! this heart, governed by rage and fury has often considered the horrid idea of murdering your husband -- you -- myself! -- I must then depart. -- When in the fine evenings of summer, you walk towards the mountains, think of me; recollect the times you have so often seen me come up from the valley; raise your eyes to the church-yard which contains my grave; and by the light of the departing sun, see how the evening breeze waves the high grass which grows over me! -- I was calm when I began my letter; but the recollection of these scenes makes me cry like a child.

[ABOUT ten in the morning, Werter called his servant; and as he was dressing, told him he should go in a few days, bid him lay his cloaths in order, call in his bills, fetch home the books he {192} had lent, and give two months pay to those poor people who were used to receive a weekly allowance from him. He breakfasted in his room; and then mounted his horse, and went to make a visit to the steward, who was not at home. He walked pensively in the garden, and seemed as if he wished to renew all the ideas that were most painful to him. The children did not suffer him to remain long alone; they all went in pursuit of him, and skipping and dancing round him, told him, that after to-morrow, and to-morrow, and one day more, they were to have their Christmas gift from Charlotte; and described to him all the wonderful things their little imaginations had formed an expectation of. "To-morrow," said he, "and to-morrow, and one day more!" -- and he kissed them tenderly. He was going, but the little one stopped him, to whisper in his ear, that his brothers had wrote fine compliments upon the new-year -- very fine indeed, and very long, -- {193} one for papa, and one for Albert and Charlotte, and one for Mr. Werter too; and that they were to be presented very early in the morning on new-year's day.--

This last stroke quite overcame him -- He gave something to each of the children, got upon his horse, and charging them to give his compliments to their papa, left them with tears in his eyes. He returned home about five o'clock, and ordered his servant to keep up the fire; told him to pack up his books and linen at the bottom of the trunk, and to lay his coats at the top. --He then appears to have wrote the following fragment of his letter to Charlotte.]

-- YOU do not expect me; -- you think I shall obey you, and that I shall not see you again until Christmas-eve. Oh! Charlotte, to-day or never! On Christmas-eve you will hold in your hand this paper, you will tremble, and you will wet it with {194} your tears. -- I ought -- I will -- I am well pleased that I have fixed my resolution.

[AT half an hour after six he went to Albert's; he found only Charlotte at home who was much distressed at seeing him. She had, in conversation with her husband, mentioned, with seeming negligence, that Werter would not come there again till Christmas-eve; and very soon afterwards Albert ordered his horse, and, notwithstanding the rain, set out in order to settle some business with a steward in the neighbourhood. Charlotte knew that he had for a long time delayed making this visit, which was to keep him a night from home. She felt his want of confidence, and was hurt. Alone, and full of sorrow, she recalled her past life, and found no cause of reproach either in her sentiments or her conduct, or with regard to her husband, from whom she had a right to expect happiness, and who was now the cause of her misery. She then thought of {195} Werter, and blamed, but could not hate him. A secret sympathy had attached her to him from their first acquaintance; and now, after so long an intimacy, after passing through so many different scenes, the impression was engraved upon her mind for ever. At length her full heart was relieved by tears, and she fell into a soft melancholy, in which she was quite wrapt and lost; when with infinite astonishment and emotion she heard Werter upon the stairs, asking if she was at home? It was too late to deny herself, and she had not recovered her constitution when he came in. "You have not kept your word," she cried out. -- "I did not promise any thing," he answered. -- "But for both our sakes," said Charlotte, "you should have granted what I asked of you." -- She sent for some of her friends, and desired them to come, that they might be witnesses of the conversation; with the idea too, that Werter, thinking himself obliged to wait upon them home, would go away the sooner. {196} He had brought them some books; she talked to him of them, and of some others, and introduced various indifferent subjects whilst she was expecting her friends; but the servant brought back their excuses -- one was engaged with company, and another prevented by the rain.

This unlucky circumstance at first made Charlotte uneasy, but the consciousness of her own innocence at length inspired her with a noble confidence: and, above the chimeras of Albert's brain, and conscious of her own purity of heart, she rejected her first intention of calling in her maid; and, after playing two or three minutes on the harpsichord to recover herself, she went with great composure, and sat down by Werter on the sofa. "Have you nothing to read to me?" she said. -- He answered, "No." -- "Open that drawer," said Charlotte, "and you will find your own translation of some of the songs of Ossian; I have not yet read it; I have been waiting till you could read it to me yourself, but for some time past you have been good for nothing." -- He smiled, went to fetch the manuscript, and shuddered as he took it up. -- He sat down with eyes swimming in tears, and began to read. -- After reading for some time, he came to that affecting passage, where Armin deplores the loss of his beloved daughter.

"Alone on the sea-beat rock my daughter was heard to complain. Frequent and loud were her cries; nor could her father relieve her. All night I stood on the shore. I saw her by the faint beam of the moon. All night I heard her cries. Loud was the wind, and the rain beat hard on the side of the mountain. Before morning appeared, her voice was weak; it died away like the evening breeze among the grass of the rocks. Spent with grief, she expired; and left thee, Armin, alone! Gone is my strength in the war; and fallen my pride among women!

"When the storms of the mountain come, when the north lifts the waves on {198} high, I sit by the sounding shore, and look on the fatal rock. Often by the setting moon I see the ghosts of my children. Half viewless they walk in mournful conference together. Will none of you speak in pity? They do not regard their father! I am sad, O Carmor! nor small my cause of woe!"

A flood of tears streamed from the eyes of Charlotte, and gave some relief to the oppression of heart which she felt. Werter threw down the paper, seized her hand, and wept over it. She leaned on the other arm, and held her handkerchief to her eyes. They were both of them in the utmost agitation. In this unhappy story they felt their own misfortunes; together they felt them, and their tears flowed from the same source. The ardent eyes and lips of Werter were rivetted to her arm. She trembled, and wished to go from him; but sorrow and soft compassion pressed upon her, and weighed her down. At length she heaved a deep sigh to recover {199} herself, and sobbing, desired him to go on. Werter, quite exhausted, took up the manuscript, and in broken accents continued --

"Why dost thou awake me, O gale? It seems to say, I am covered with the drops of heaven. The time of my fading is near, and the blast that shall scatter my leaves. To-morrow shall the traveller come: he that saw me in my beauty shall come; his eyes will search the field, but they will not find me."

The whole force of these words fell like a stroke of thunder on the heart of the unfortunate Werter. In his despair he threw himself at Charlotte's feet, seized her hands, and put them to his eyes and to his forehead. An apprehension of his fatal project for the first time struck her: her senses were bewildered; she pressed his hands, pressed them to her bosom, and leaning towards him, with emotions of tender pity, her warm cheek touched his. {200} Then they lost sight of every thing; the whole world disappeared from before their eyes. he clasped her in his arms, strained her to his bosom, and covered her trembling lips with passionate kisses. "Werter!" she cried, in a faint voice, and turning her face from him; "Werter!" and with a feeble hand put him from her. At length, with the firm, determined voice of virtue, she cried, "Werter!" and he was awed by it; and tearing himself from her arms, fell on his knees before her. Charlotte rose, and with disordered grief, and in a voice of love mixed with resentment, said, "This is the last time; Werter, you will never see me more!" She cast one last tender look upon her unfortunate lover, then ran into her room, and bolted the door. Werter held out his arms to her, but did not dare to detain her. he continued on the ground with his head resting on the sofa for above half an hour, till he heard a noise; -- it was the servant coming to lay the cloth. He then walked up and {201} down the room; and when he was again left alone, he went to Charlotte's door, and in a low voice said, "Charlotte! Charlotte! but one word more, only one adieu." He stopped and listened. She made no answer. -- He entreated listened again; then tore himself from the place, crying, "Adieu, Charlotte! Adieu, for ever!"

Werter ran to the gate of the town; the guard knew him, and let him pass. The night was dark and stormy; it rained and snowed. He came in about eleven. His servant perceived he was without a hat, but did not venture to say any thing; and when he undressed his master, he found his cloaths were all wet. His hat was afterwards found upon the point of a rock, where it is inconceivable that he could climb in such a night, without breaking his neck. He went to bed, and slept till late the next day. His servant found him writing when he carried his coffee to him. {202} He was adding what follows to Charlotte's letter.

-- FOR the last. last time, I now open my eyes. Alas! they will behold the sun no more; a thick and gloomy fog hides it. -- Yes! let Nature put on mourning -- your child, your friend, your lover, draws near his end. Charlotte! the sentiment I now feel, stands alone in my mind -- it is strongly marked; and yet nothing appears more to me like a dream, when I say, This is the last day. The last! Charlotte, I have no idea that corresponds with this word -- Last! -- To-day I stand upright, I have all my strength; to-morrow cold and stiff, I shall lie extended on the ground. What is death? we do but dream when we talk of it. -- I have seen many die; -- but such are the limits of our feeble nature, we have no clear conceptions of the beginning or end of our existence. At this moment I still possess myself -- or rather, dearest of women! I {203} am thine; -- and the next -- detached, separated -- perhaps for ever! -- No, Charlotte, no! we now exist, how can we be annihilated! -- What is annihilation? -- this too is a mere word, a sound which conveys no idea to my mind! Dead! Charlotte! shut up in a pit, so deep, so cold, so dark. -- I had a friend who was every thing to me in my helpless youth; she died: I followed her hearse, I stood by the side of her grave when the coffin was let down; when I heard the creaking of the cords as they were let down and drawn up, when the first shovelful of earth was thrown in, and the coffin returned a hollow sound, which grew fainter and fainter, till it was all covered in, I threw myself on the ground; my heart was smitten, grieved, rent; but I neither knew what had happened, nor what was to happen to me. -- Death! Grave! -- I understand not the words.