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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


July 1.

CHarlotte will spend some time in the town: she is with a very deserving woman, who has been given over by her {48} physicians, and who wished to have Charlotte with her in her last moments. What consolation she is capable of giving to the sick, I have myself experienced, for my heart is much diseased. I went with her last week to see the vicar of S----; a small village in the mountains, about a league from hence. We got there about four o'clock; Charlotte's little sister went with us. When we came into the court, which is shaded by two fine walnut-trees, the good old man was sitting upon his bench. At sight of Charlotte, he forgot his old age and his oaken stick, and ventured to walk towards her. She ran to him, and made him sit down again, sat down by him, presented a thousand compliments to him from her father, and played with the youngest of his children, the amusement of his old age, though it was rather dirty and disagreeable. I wish you could have seen her attention to this good old man; I wish you could have heard her raising her voice because he is a little deaf, and telling {49} him of young and healthy people who had died when it least could have been expected; commending the virtues of the Carelstad waters, and approving his intention of going thither the next summer; and assuring him she thought he looked better than he did the last time she saw him. During this time I paid my compliments and talked to his wife. The old man seemed quite in spirits; and as I could not help admiring the beauty of his walnut-trees, which formed such an agreeable shade over our heads, he began to give us the history of them: "As to the oldest," said he, "we don't know who planted it; some say one clergyman, and some say another; as to the youngest, it is exactly the age of my wife; it will be fifty years old next October; her father planted it in the morning, and towards evening she came into the world. My wife's father was my predecessor here, and I cannot express to you how fond he was of this tree; it is certainly not less dear to me. Upon a log {50} of wood, under this same tree, my wife was sitting and knitting when I come into the court the first time, five and twenty years ago." Charlotte enquired after his daughter: he said she was gone with Mr. Smith into the meadows to see the haymaking. He then resumed his history, and told us how he got into the good graces of his predecessor, and of his daughter; how he became first his curate and then his successor; and he had scarcely finished his story, when his daughter returned with Mr. S. and affectionately saluted Charlotte. She has a clear brown complexion, is well made, lively, and a sensible worthy man might pass his time very happily with her in the country. Her lover, for such Mr. Smith immediately appeared to be, has an agreeable person, but was very reserved, and would not join in the conversation, notwithstanding all the endeavours of Charlotte for that purpose. I was uneasy at it, because I perceived by his countenance that it was not {51} for want of talents, but from caprice and ill-humour. It was but too evident afterwards, when we went to take a walk; for whilst I was talking and laughing with the vicar's daughter, the countenance of this gentleman, which before was none of the pleasantest, became so dark and angry, that Charlotte pulled me by the sleeve to make me desist. Nothing concerns me more than to see men torment one another; particularly when in the flower of their age, in the very season of pleasure, they waste their few short days of sunshine in quarrels and disputes, and only feel their error when it is too late to repair it. This dwelt upon my mind; and during our collation, the conversation turning upon the happiness and misery of this life, I could not help taking that opportunity to inveigh bitterly against ill-humour. "We are apt," said I, "to complain that we have but few happy days; and it appears to me that we have very little right to complain. If our hearts were always {52} in a proper disposition to receive the good things which Heaven sends us, we should acquire strength to support the evil when they came upon us." "But," says the vicar's wife, "we cannot always command our tempers; so much depends on the constitution; when the body is ill at ease, the mind is so likewise." "Well, let us look upon this disposition as a disease," I answered, "and see if there is no remedy for it." "That is more to the purpose," said Charlotte; "and I think, indeed, a great deal might be done in this respect. I know, for example, that when any thing disturbs my temper, I go into the garden, I sing a lively air, and it vanishes." "That is what I meant," I replied; "Ill-humour may be compared to sloth. It is natural to man to be indolent; but if once we get the better of our indolence, we then go on with alacrity, and find a real pleasure in being active." The daughter listened to me with attention. The young man objected, that we were {53} not masters of ourselves, and still less of our feelings. I told him, that it was a disagreeable sensation which was in question, and one that every body wished to get rid of; that we don't know how far our strength will go, till we have tried it; that the sick consult physicians, and submit to the most scrupulous regimen, and the most nauseous medicines, to recover their health. I then perceived that the good old man inclined his head to listen to our discourse. I therefore raised my voice, and addressing myself to him, said; "There has been a great deal of preaching against all crimes, Sir; but I don't know that any body has hitherto preached against the spleen." "It is for those who preach in towns," said he, "to discourse on that subject, for peasants don't know what the spleen is; though indeed it would not be amiss to do it here from time to time, if it was only for my wife and the steward." We all laughed, and so did he very heartily; but it gave him a fit of coughing, {54} which interrupted us for some time. Mr. Smith resumed the subject. "You have made this indisposition of temper a crime," said he; "that appears to me to be carrying the matter too far." "It is not, though," I answered, "if what is pernicious to ourselves, and to others, deserves the name of crime. Is it not enough that we are without the power to make one another happy, but must we deprive each other of that satisfaction, which, left to ourselves, we might often be capable of enjoying? Shew me the man who has ill-humour, and who hides it; who bears the whole burthen of it himself, without interrupting the pleasures of those around him! No; ill-humour arises from a consciousness of our own want of merit; from a discontent which always accompanies that envy which foolish vanity engenders. We dislike to see people happy; unless their happiness is the work of our own hands." Charlotte looked at me, and smiled at the heat with which I spoke; and some tears {55} which I perceived in the eyes of the young woman, inclined me to continue. "Woe unto those," I said, "who make use of their power over a human heart, to deprive it of the simple pleasure it would naturally enjoy. All the favors, all the attention in the world, cannot for a moment make amends for the loss of that happiness which a cruel tyranny destroys."

My heart was full; some recollections pressed upon my mind, and my eyes were filled with tears.

"We should say to ourselves every day," I exclaimed, "what good can I do to my friends? I can only endeavour not to interrupt them in their pleasures, and try to augment the happiness which I myself partake of. When their souls are tormented by a violent passion, when their hearts are rent with grief, I cannot give them relief for a moment.

"And when at length a fatal malady seizes the unhappy being whose untimely {56} grave was prepared by thy hand -- when stretched out and exhausted, he raises his dim eyes to heaven, and the damps of death are on his brow -- then thou standest before him like a condemned criminal, thou seest thy fault, but 'tis too late; thou feelest thy want of power; thou feelest, with bitterness, that all thou canst give, all thou canst do, will not restore the strength of thy unfortunate victim, nor procure him another moment of consolation!"

In pronouncing these words, the remembrance of a like scene, at which I had been present, came with all its weight upon my heart, I put my handkerchief to my eyes, I got up and left the company. The voice of Charlotte, who called me to go home, made me recollect myself; and in our way back, with what tenderness she chid me! how kindly she represented to me, that the too eager interest, and the heat with which I entered into every thing, would wear me out, would shorten my days! {57} -- Yes, my angel, I will take care of myself; I will live for you.