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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


May 9.

I Performed my pilgrimage to the place of my nativity with all the devotion of a real pilgrim: I was affected much beyond what I was expected. Near the great elm, which is a quarter of a league from the village on the side of S----, I got out of the carriage, and sent it on before, that alone and on foot I might more fully, and without interruption, enjoy all my recollections. I was then under the same elm which formerly was the term and object of my walks. How things have since changed! Then, in happy ignorance, I languished after a world I did not know, {138} and where I hoped to find all the enjoyments my heart so often felt the want of: and now I was returned from that world so much desired; and what, my dear friend, did I bring back? Disappointed hopes, unsuccessful plans.

I observed the opposite mountains, and I remembered how often they had excited my wishes. I used to sit sometimes for whole hours looking at them, and ardently longing to wander under the shade of those woods which make so delightful an object in the distance. With what reluctance I quitted this favourite spot when the play-hour was over, and my leave of absence expired! As I drew near to the village, I recognised all the little gardens and summer houses that I was acquainted with. I disliked the new ones, as I do all the alterations that have been made since my time, I went into the village, and felt quite at home again. I cannot, my dear friend, in detail relate all the circumstances with which I was affected; how- {139} ever interesting they were to me, there would be a sameness in the relation. I had intended to lodge in the market-place, near our old house: as soon as I entered, I perceived that the school-room, where we were taught by that good old woman, was turned into a shop. I remembered the sorrow, the dullness, the anxiety, the oppression of heart I had experienced in that confinement. Every step was marked by some particular impression. A pilgrim in the Holy Land does not meet with so many spots which bring tender recollections to his mind; and scarcely feels more devotion. One sensation I will relate, of the thousand I experienced: having followed the course of the stream to a farm, which was formerly a favourite walk likewise, and where we used to divert ourselves with making ducks and drakes upon the water, I was most forcibly struck with the memory of what I then was: When I looked at the water as it flowed, and {140} formed romantic ideas of the countries it was going to pass through, my imagination was soon exhausted; but the water continued flowing farther and farther, till I was bewildered in the idea of invisible distance. Exactly such, my dear friend, were the thoughts of our good ancestors. And when Ulysses talks of the immeasurable sea, and the unlimited earth, is it not more natural, more true, more according to our feelings, than when, in this philosophic age, every school-boy thinks himself a prodigy, because he can repeat after his master that the earth is round?

I am at present with the Prince at one of his hunting-lodges. He is an honest and unaffected man, and I am very well pleased with him: what I dislike, is his talking of things which he has only read or heard of, and always exactly under the same point of view that they have been presented to him. I am sorry to say, that he values my understanding and talents much more highly than that mind, for {141} which alone I value myself -- which alone is the source of talents, of happiness, of misery, of every thing -- which makes me all I am, and is solely mine. -- Any body may know all that I know.