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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


20th October.

I Arrived here yesterday. The minister is indisposed, and will not go out for some days. If he was less peevish and morose all would do well. I see it but too plainly, Heaven has destined me to severe trials: but I won't be disheartened; one may bear anything with a little levity. {109} I can scarcely help smiling at the word which has just escaped me; a little of that levity, which I am totally without, would make me the happiest of men. And must I despair of my faculties, and of the gifts of nature, whilst others of far inferior strength and talents are parading before me with the utmost satisfaction in themselves? Great God! amidst the blessings thou has deigned to shower down upon me, why was not I endowed with self-complacency and confidence? But patience, and all will I hope be better; for I will own to you, my dear friend, that you were in the right: since I have been obliged to mix continually with other men; since I have had an opportunity of observing their designs, their conduct, their conversation, I am become more easy, and more satisfied with myself. As we naturally compare ourselves with every thing we meet, our happiness or misery depends on the objects which are brought into comparison with us, and in this re- {110} spect nothing is more dangerous than solitude. There our imagination, which is ever disposed to rise, takes a new flight on the wings of fancy, and forms a chain of beings, of which we are the last and most inferior. All things appear greater than they really are, and all seem superior to us; and this operation of the mind is natural. We are continually feeling our own imperfections; we think we have observed in others, qualities which we have not, and conclude they also possess all we have ourselves; and thus we have made a perfect, a happy man: -- but such a man exists only in our imaginations.

But when, in spite of weakness and disappointment, we direct our endeavours to one end, and steadily persevere in the pursuit of it, we often find that we have made more way, though continually tacking, than other with all the assistance of wind and tide; and yet that is a true judgment which we form of ourselves from our si- {111} tuation with others, whether we are on a line with them, or before them.