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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe



May 26.

YOU know my way of choosing a little favorite spot; how I make my arrangements, and settle myself in it. I have found one here which entirely suits me.

About a league from the town is a place called Walheim. it is very agreeably situated on the side of a hill; from one of the paths which lead out of the village, you have a view of the whole country; and there is a good old woman who sells wine, coffee, and tea, there: but better than all this are two lime-trees before the church, which spread their branches over a little green, surrounded by barns and cottages. I have seen few places more retired and peaceful. I send for a chair and table from the old woman's, and there I drink my coffee, and read Homer. It was by accident that I discovered this {18} place, one fine afternoon: all was perfect stillness; every body was in the fields, except a little boy about four years old, who was sitting on the ground, and holding between his knees a child of about six months; he pressed it to his bosom with his little arms, which made a sort of great chair for it, and notwithstanding the vivacity which sparkled in his black eyes, he sat perfectly still. Quite delighted with the scene, I sat down on a plough opposite, and had great pleasure in drawing this little picture of brotherly tenderness. I added a bit of the hedge, the barn-door, and some broken cart-wheels, without any order, just as they happened to lie; and in about an hour I found I had made a drawing of great expression, and very correct design, without having put in any thing of my own. This confirmed me in the resolution I had made, only to copy Nature for the future. Nature is inexhaustible, and alone forms the greatest matters. What is alledged in favour of {19} rules, is nearly the same as what is said in favour of the laws of society: an artist formed upon them will never produce any thing absolutely bad or disgusting; as a man, who obeys the laws, and observes decorum, can never be a decided villain, or a very intolerable neighbour. But yet, say what you will of rules, they alter the true features, and the natural expression. You will tell me, that they only lop off superfluous branches, and prevent the extravagant. Let us compare talents to love, my dear friend. Let us suppose a man attached to a young woman, dedicating to her every hour of the day, wearing his health, lavishing his fortune, to convince her each moment that he is entirely devoted to her. Then comes a man of cold and correct understanding; a man who acts perhaps in a public character; and this very respectable person says to him, "My young friend, love is a natural passion, but it should be kept within due bounds: Make a proper division of your {20} time; give some to your mistress, reserve the rest for business; calculate your income, and out of the superfluity make presents to her, but that only from time to time, on her birth-day, or such-like occasions." If the young man takes this advice, he may be a very useful member of society, extremely serviceable to his prince; but as to his love it is annihilated; and if he is an artist, his genius is fled. Oh! my friend, the torrent of genius would not be so confined in its course; its impetuous waves would rise and astonish us, but that cold and narrow-minded men have taken possession of the shores; they have built houses and planted gardens on its banks; they tremble for their little habitations, and dig trenches, and raise dams, to prevent the danger which threatens them.