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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


November 30.

IT is all over; I see it, my fate is decided. Every thing encreases my woes; every thing points out my destiny. To-day again--

I went to walk by the river-side, about dinner-time, for I could not eat. The country was gloomy and deserted; a cold and damp easterly wind blew from the mountains, and black heavy clouds spread over the plain. I perceived a man at a distance in an old great coat; he was wandering amongst the rocks, and seemed to be looking for plants. When I came up {167} to him, he turned about, and I saw an interesting countenance, with all the marks of a settled melancholy; his fine black hair was flowing on his shoulders. "What are you looking for, friend?" said I. He answered, with a deep sigh, "I am looking for flowers, and I can't find any." "But this is not the season for flowers," said I. "There are so many flowers," he said, "I have in my garden, roses, and honey-suckles of two sorts, one of them I had from my father; they grow every where: I have been two whole days looking for them, and I can't find them. There are flowers too above there, yellow, and blue, and red, and that centaury which grows in such pretty clusters; I can find none of them." I asked him what he intended to do with these flowers. He smiled, and holding up his finger with a mysterious air, said, "Don't betray me, I have promised my mistress a nosegay." "You did well," said I. "Oh! she has every thing," he answered, "she is very {168} rich." -- "And yet,' said I, "she likes your nosegays?" "Oh! she has jewels and a crown!" he exclaimed. I asked who she was. If the States General would but pay me," he cried out, "I should be quite another man! Alas! there was a time when I was so happy; but that time is past, and I am now -- " he raised his swimming eyes to heaven. -- "You were then happy!" I said. "Alas! why am I not still the same?" said he; "I was so well, so gay, so contented -- I was like a fish in the water." An old woman who was coming towards us, called out, "Henry, Henry! where are you? we have been looking everywhere for you; come to dinner!" "Is that your son?" I ask'd her. "Yes, my poor unfortunate son," said she; "the Lord has sent us this affliction." I asked whether he had been long in that state. "It is about six months," she answered, "since he has been calm as he is now, and I thank Heaven for it; he was one whole year {169} quite raving, and chained down in a madhouse; now he does no harm to any body, but he talks of nothing but kings and emperors. he was a very good young man, and helped to maintain me; he wrote a very fine hand: and all of a sudden he became melancholy, was seized with a burning fever, grew distracted, and is now as you see. If I was to tell you, Sir ----" -- I interrupted her by asking at what time it was that he boasted of being so happy. "Poor boy," said she, with a smile of compassion, "it is the time in which he was entirely out of his senses; he never ceases to regret it: it is the time when he was confined and absolutely raving." I was thunderstruck. I put some money into his hand and went away.

"You were happy," I exclaimed, as I walked hastily back towards the town; "you were like a fish in the water!" God of heaven! is this the destiny of man? is he only happy before he possesses his reason, and after he has lost it? You are un- {170} fortunate, and I envy your lot: Full of hopes you go to gather flowers for your princess -- in winter! -- and are grieved not to find any, and don't know why they cannot be found. -- But as for me, I wander without hope, without design, and I return as I came. To your disordered fancy it appears that if the States General paid you, you should be a man of consequence; and happy it is for you that you can attribute your sufferings to any foreign power. You do not know, you do not feel that your wretchedness is in your agitated heart, in your disordered brain, and that all the kings and potentates on earth cannot restore you.

Let their death be without consolation, who can laugh at the sick man that travels to distant springs, only to find an accumulation of disease, and a death more painful! or that can exult over the depressed mind, who to obtain peace of conscience, to alleviate his miseries, makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land! Every step which {171} wrings his feet in unbeaten paths, is a drop of balm to his soul, and each night brings new relief to his heart. -- Will you dare to call this extravagance, you that raise yourselves upon stilts to make pompous declamations? -- Extravagance! -- O God, thou seest my tears! thou hast given unto us a sufficient portion of misery, must we also have brethren that persecute us, that would deprive us of all consolation, and take away our trust in thee, in thy love and mercy? The vine which strengthens us, the root which heals us, comes from thy hand -- Relief and saving health are thine. Father! whom I know not! -- thou who wert wont to fill my soul, but now hidest thy face from me! -- call me back, speak to my heart! -- in vain thy silence would delay a soul which thirsts after thee! -- What father would be wrathful against his son, if he appeared suddenly before him, and fell on his neck, and cried out, "Oh, my father! forgive me if I have shortened my journey, if I am returned {172} before the appointed time! -- The world is every where the same -- labour and pain, pleasure and reward, all were alike indifferent to me -- I find happiness only in thy presence, and here let me remain whatever is my fate! -- And wouldst thou, heavenly and adored Father, banish this child from thy aweful presence?