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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


December 24.

I Foresaw it; the minister occasions me a number of vexations. 'Tis the most punctilious blockhead under heaven; he goes on step by step, with the trifling minuteness of an old woman. But how can a man be pleased with other people who is never satisfied with himself? I like to go on with business regularly and with ala- {113} crity; and when it is finished, that it should be finished. But not so with him; he is capable of returning my draught to me, and saying, "It will do; but go over it again however, there is always something to correct; one may find a better phrase, or a properer word." -- I then lose all patience, and wish myself at the devil. Not a conjunction, not one connecting word must be omitted; and as to the transpositions, which I like, and which flow naturally from my pen, he is their mortal foe. If every sentence is not expressed exactly in the style of the office, he is quite lost. 'Tis deplorable to have any connection with such a personage.

The only thing which gives me satisfaction, is my intimacy with Count C---. He very frankly told me, the other day, how much he was displeased with the difficulties and delays of the minister; that people of his cast must make every thing troublesome to themselves, and to others: "But," added he, "one must submit, {114} as a traveller that is obliged to climb over a mountain; if the mountain was not in the way, his road would undoubtedly be shorter, and more convenient, but in fine, there it is, and he must go over it."

The old man perceives the count's preference for me: it makes him angry. When I am present, he takes every opportunity to depreciate the Count: I naturally take up his defence, and that increases his displeasure. Yesterday I was well aware that when he aimed a stroke at my friend, he meant that it should also hit me. -- "For the common affairs of the world," said he, "the Count may do very well; his style is good, and he writes with facility; but, like other great geniuses, he has no solid learning." I longed to strike him; for to what purpose is argument with such a kind of animal? However, as that was not possible, I answered, with some warmth, that every respect was due to him, both for his understanding and his character; that he was {115} the only man I had ever met with, whose excessive genius raised him so high above the common level, and who yet retained all his activity in business. This was algebra to his conceptions; and I withdrew, lest some new absurdity in him should raise my choler too much. It is you that are the authors of my ill-fortune; you, all of you who forced me to bend my neck to this yoke, and preached activity to me. If the man who plants potatoes, and carries them to town on market-days, is not a more active being than I am, then let me work ten years longer at the cursed galley to which I am now chained.

And distaste and lassitude, those fashionable miseries which reign amongst the silly people who affect an unmixt society; the ambition of rank! how they toil, how they watch to gain precedence! What poor and contemptible passions, and how plain to be seen! We have a woman here, for example, who never ceases to entertain the company with accounts of her fa- {116} mily, and her estates. Any stranger who heard her would suppose she was a silly creature, whose head was turned by some slight at least to rank, or the lordship of a manor; but, still more ridiculous, she is the daughter of a steward's clerk in this neighborhood! I cannot conceive how the human race can so debase itself.

I do indeed every day perceive more and more how absurd it is to judge of others by one's self. And it is with so much difficulty that I stop the ferment of my blood, and keep my heart at peace, that I very readily leave every one to pursue the path he has chosen; but at the same time I ask a like permission for myself.

These paltry distinctions between the inhabitants of the same town, are what disturb me most. I know perfectly well, that inequality of conditions is necessary, and how much I myself gain by it. But I would not have this institution come in {117} my way and hinder me, when I might enjoy some pleasure, some shadow of happiness upon this earth.

I have lately made an acquaintance with a Miss B. a very agreeable girl; who notwithstanding the formality and stiffness of the people about her, has retained a very easy and unaffected manner. The first conversation we had together, equally pleased us both; and when we parted I desired leave to pay my respects to her; which she granted in so obliging a manner, that I waited with impatience for the time to avail myself of it. She is not of this place, but lives here with an aunt. The countenance of the old virago displeased me at first sight; however I paid her great attention, and often addressed myself to her. In about half an hour I pretty nearly guessed what her niece has since acknowledged. This good aunt, who is in years, with a small fortune, and still smaller share of understanding, has no satisfaction but in the long list of her an- {118} cestors; no protection but her noble birth; this is the defence, the rampart with which she surrounds herself; and her only amusement is standing at her window to look down with sovereign contempt on the ignoble heads which pass under it in the street. This ridiculous old woman was formerly handsome, and many a young man was the sport of her caprice: that was the golden age. Her charms faded, she was forced to accept of an old half-pay officer, and be subservient to his will: that was the age of brass. Now she is a widow, and deserted; was it not for her agreeable niece, nobody would take notice of her: -- this may truly be called the iron age.