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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


September 3.

WHAT a night! I can henceforth bear any thing. My friend, I shall see her no more. Ah! why cannot I fall on your neck, and with floods of tears express all the passions which tear my heart? I am sitting down, and trying to breathe {100} freely, and doing all that is in my power to compose my mind; -- I am waiting for day-light and the post-horses. -- Great God! such a conversation!

Albert promised me to come with Charlotte into the garden immediately after supper. I was upon the terrace, under the thick chesnut-trees, and saw the setting sun; my eyes for the last time saw him sink beneath this delightful valley and silent stream. I had often been upon the same spot with Charlotte, and seen the same glorious sight, and now -- I walked up and down this walk, so dear to me: a secret sympathy had often detained me there before I knew Charlotte; and we were pleased when, early in our acquaintance, we found we both had the same predilection for this place. Under the {101} chesnut-trees there is an extensive view -- But I remember that I mentioned this to you before in a letter, and described how high copses inclose the end of it; how the walk through the wood becomes darker and darker, till it ends in a recess, formed by the thickest trees, which has all the charms of gloomy solitude. I still remember the tender melancholy which came over my heart the first time I entered this silent deep retreat. I had certainly a secret foreboding, that it would one day be the scene of my happiness and of my torment.

After I had spent half an hour in the opposite ideas of going away and returning again, I heard them come up the terrace. I flew to meet them, and shuddering, I took Charlotte's hand, and kissed it. Just as we reached the top of the terrace, the moon appeared behind a hill covered with wood. Conversing on various subjects, we came to the dark recess: Charlotte went in and sat down; Albert sat {102} down by her side; I did the same. -- But my agitation did not suffer me to remain long seated: I got up and stood before her, walked backwards and forwards, sat down again; -- it was a state of violent emotions.

Charlotte made us observe a fine effect of moon-light at the end of the wood, which appeared the more striking and brilliant from the darkness which surrounded the spot where we were. We remained for some time silent; and then Charlotte said, "Whenever I walk by moon-light, it brings to my remembrance all those who were dear to me, and who are no more; and I think of death and a future state. -- Yes," continues she, with a firm but touching voice, "we shall still exist; but, Werter, shall we find another out? Shall we know one another again? What presages have you? What is your opinion?"

"Charlotte," I said, holding out my hand to her, and my eyes full of tears, {103} "we shall again see one another here and hereafter." I could say no more. -- My dear friend, should she have put the question to me, just when the thoughts of a cruel separation filled my heart?

"And those persons who have been dear to us," said she, "and who are now no more, do they know that when we are happy, we recall them to our memory with tenderness? -- The shade of my mother hovers round me, when in a still evening I sit in the midst of her children -- when I see them assembled about me, as they used to be assembled about her! I then raise my swimming eyes to Heaven, and wish she could look down upon us, and see that I fulfil the promise which I made to her in her last moments, to be a mother to her children! A hundred times I have exclaimed, Pardon, dearest of mothers, pardon me, if I am not to them all that you were! -- Alas! I do all that I can; they are properly cloathed and fed, and still more, they are well educated and beloved! {104} If you could behold our mutual attachment, the harmony that subsists amongst us, you would give thanks to that Being to whom, dying, you addressed such fervent prayers for our happiness." This she said, my dear friend; but who could repeat all her words? how should cold unfeeling characters catch the expressions of sentiment and genius? Albert gently interrupted her -- "My charming Charlotte, you are too much affected: I know these recollections are dear to you, but I beg--" "Oh! Albert," said she, "you do not forget, I know you do not, the evenings when we three, during the absence of my father, used to sit at our little round table, after the children were gone to bed. You often had a book in your hand, but you seldom read any of it -- and who would not have preferred the conversation of that delightful woman to every thing in the world? She was beautiful, mild, chearful, and always active. God knows how often I have knelt {105} before him, and prayed that I might be like her."

I threw myself at her feet; I took her hands, and wetting them with my tears, said, "Charlotte! Charlotte! the benediction of Heaven is upon you, and the spirit of your mother." -- "If you had but known her, she said, and pressed my hand -- "she was worthy of being known to you." -- I was motionless; never had I received praise so flattering. "And this woman was to die in the flower of her age; the youngest of her children was but six months old. her illness was short; she was resigned and calm: nothing gave her any anxiety but her children, and more particularly the youngest. When she found her end approaching, she bade me go and fetch them; and when they were all around her bed, the little ones who did not know their misfortune, and the great ones who were quite overcome with sorrow, she raised her feeble hands to Heaven, hung over them, and {106} prayed for them, then kissed them one after the other, sent them back, and said to me, "Be you their mother." I held out my hand to her. "You promise much, my child; a mother's fondness and a mother's care. Your tears of affection and gratitude have often shewn me that you felt what was a mother's tenderness -- shew such tenderness to your brothers and sisters: and to your father be dutiful and faithful as a wife; you will be his comfort." She asked for him. He was gone out to hide the bitterness of his grief; he felt all that he was to lose, and his heart was in agonies.

"You Albert, were in the room. She heard somebody move; asked who it was, and desired you to come to her. She looked at us both with great composure and satisfaction in her countenance, and said, "They will be happy, they will be happy with one another!" -- Albert, taking her in his arms, cried out, "Yes, Charlotte, we are and shall be happy." -- {107} Even the calm Albert was moved; -- I was quite out of my senses.

"And such a woman," she continued, "was to leave us, Werter! -- Great God! must we thus part with every thing we hold dear in this world! Nobody feels this more keenly than children; they cried and lamented for a long time afterwards, that black men had carried away their dear mamma!"

Charlotte got up; -- it rouzed me -- but I remained sitting, and held her hand. "Let us go," said she; "it is quite time." She drew away her hand; I grasped it still closer. "We shall see one another again," I said; "we shall find one another out; under whatever form it is, we shall know one another. I am going; yes, I am going of my own accord; but if it was for ever, it would be more than I could bear. Adieu, Charlotte! Adieu, Albert! we shall see one another again." -- "Yes, to-morrow, I fancy, she added, smiling. I felt the word to- {108} morrow. Alas! she scarcely knew when she withdrew her hand from me. -- She went down the walk: I stood and followed her with my eyes, then threw myself on the ground in a passion of tears; I got up again, and ran up to the terrace, and there I still saw, under the shade of the lime-trees, her white gown waving near the garden gate. I stretched out my arms, and she disappeared!