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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe

[The Editor to the Reader.

IN order to give a connected account of the last days of Werter, I am obliged to interrupt the course of his letters by a narration; the materials for which were furnished to me by Charlotte, Albert, his own servant, and some other witnesses.

THE passion of Werter had insensibly diminished the harmony between Charlotte and her husband. The affection of Albert for his wife was sincere, but calm, and had by degrees given place to his business. He did not indeed own, even to himself, that there was this difference between the days of courtship {180} and the days of marriage; but he felt a certain displeasure at the marked attentions of Werter. It was an infringement on his right, and a kind of tacit reproof. This idea increased the dissatisfaction he felt from business that was continually accumulating, that was full of difficulties, and for which he was but indifferently paid. The grief which preyed on Werter's heart had exhausted the strength of his genius; he had lost his vivacity and his quick perceptions; in society he appeared joyless and flat. This disposition had of course an influence upon Charlotte, who saw him every day; and she fell into a sort of melancholy, which Albert attributed to the progress of her attachment to her lover, and Werter to the deep concern for the alteration in Albert's conduct towards her. The want of confidence in these two friends made their society irksome to each other. Albert avoided going to his wife's apartment when Werter was there; and Wer- {181} ter, who perceived it, after some efforts to desist, took those opportunities to see her, when he knew Albert was engaged. Discontent and bitterness of heart increased, till at length Albert very drily told his wife, that, were it for the sake of appearance only, she should behave differently to Werter, and not see him so often. About the same time, this unfortunate young man was confirmed in his resolution to quit this world. It had long been his most favourite thought, and particularly since his return to the neighbourhood of Charlotte. He had always encouraged it, but he would not commit such an action with precipitation and rashness; he was determined to take this step like a man who knows what he is doing, is resolved and firm, but calm and tranquil. His doubts and struggles may be seen by the following fragment, which was found, without any date, amongst his papers, and which appears to have been the beginning of a letter to his friend.]

{182} -- HER presence, her fate, the interest she shews for mine, have power still to draw some tears from my withered brain!

One lifts up the curtain; one passes to the other side -- that is all! -- And why all these delays? why all these fears? -- Because we know not what is behind -- because there is no returning -- and we suppose that all is darkness and confusion, where there is uncertainty.

[HIS mortification, when he was secretary to the ambassador was never effaced from his memory. Whenever he mentioned it, which did not often happen, it was easy to perceive that he thought his honour irrecoverably wounded by that adventure; and it gave him a distaste for public affairs, and all political business. He then gave way entirely to those singular opinions and sentiments which are to be met with in these letters; and to a passion which knew no bounds, and which {183} was destined to consume all his remaining vigour. The continual sameness and sadness of his intercourse with the most amiable and most beloved of women, whose peace he disturbed -- his conflicts and struggles -- and the seeing his life pass away without end or design, drove him at length to put an end to his existence.]