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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe


December 20.

I MUST depart! -- I thank you for having repeated the word so seasonably. -- Yes, it is undoubtedly better that I should depart. However, I do not entirely approve the scheme of returning to your neighbourhood: at least I should like to make a tour in my way; particularly as one may expect a frost, and consequently good roads. I am much pleased with your intention of coming to fetch {184} me; I only desire you to defer your journey for a fortnight, and to wait for another letter from me. One should gather nothing before it is ripe, and a fortnight sooner or later makes a great difference. Desire my mother to think of me in her prayers; and tell her I sincerely ask her pardon for all the unhappiness I have occasioned her. I was doomed to give sorrow to those whose happiness I ought to have promoted. Adieu! my dear, my dearest friend! May all the blessings of Heaven attend you! Adieu!

[THE same day (which was the Sunday before Christmas) Werter went in the evening to Charlotte's house, and found her alone. She was busy preparing little gifts for her brothers and sisters, which were to be distributed on Christmas-eve. He began talking of the delight of the children, and of that age when the opening of the door, and the sudden appearance of the dessert decorated with fruit and sweetmeats, and {185} lighted up with wax candles, causes such transports of joy -- "You shall have a gift too, if you behave well," said Charlotte, hiding her embarassment under a sweet smile. "What do you call behaving well," said he, "my dear Charlotte?" She answered, "Thursday night is Christmas-eve; the children are all to be here, and my father too; there is a present for each; do you come likewise -- but do not come before that time." -- Werter was struck -- "I desire you will not; it must be so; I ask it of you as a favor; it is for my own peace and tranquillity that I ask it; we must not go on in this manner any longer." -- He turned away his face, walked hastily up and down the room, and muttered between his teeth, "We must not go on in this manner any longer." Charlotte seeing the violent agitation into which these words had thrown him, endeavoured to divert his thoughts by different questions. But it was in vain. "No Charlotte," said he, "I {186} will never see you more!" "And why so, Werter? we may, we must see one another again, only let it be with more discretion. Oh! Why were you born with that impetuosity -- with that excessive, that ungovernable passion for every thing that is dear to you?" Then, taking his hand, she said, "Let me beg of you to be more calm; what a variety of pleasure and entertainment your fine understanding, your genius and talents may furnish you! -- Be yourself, and get the better of an unfortunate attachment to me, who can only pity you." -- He bit his lips, and looked at her with a dark and angry countenance. She continued to hold his hand -- "Grant me a moment's patience, Werter! Do you not see that you are deceiving yourself, that you are seeking your own destruction? Why must it be only me -- me who belong to another? -- I fear, I much fear, that the impossibility only of possessing me makes the desire of it so strong." He {187} drew back his hand, and with wild and angry looks fixed his eyes on her -- "'Tis well!" he exclaimed, "'tis very well! -- Did not Albert furnish you with this reflection -- 'tis a very profound one." "It is a reflection that any one might easily make," she answered: "What! is there not in the whole world one woman, who is at liberty, and has the power to make you happy? Get the better of yourself; look for such a woman, and believe me when I tell you that you will certainly find her. I have long apprehended for you, and for us all, the small circle to which you have confined yourself. -- Make an effort; a journey may and will dissipate you. -- Seek and find an object worthy of your tenderness; then return here, and enjoy with us all the happiness that can arise from the most perfect friendship."

"This speech, my dear Charlotte," said Werter, with a smile, but full of acrimony, "ought to be printed for the {188} improvement of all teachers. Allow me but a little time longer, and we all will be well." -- "But however, Werter, don't come again before Christmas-eve," she said. -- He was going to answer, when Albert came in. -- Werter and he coolly saluted each other, and with apparent embarrassment walked up and down the room. They began to converse on different subjects, but without connection, and they were soon dropped. Albert asked his wife about some commissions he had given her; and finding they were not executed, he made use of some harsh expressions, which pierced the heart of Werter. He wished to go, but had not power to move; and in this situation he remained till eight o'clock; uneasiness of temper and acrimony continually increasing; till at length the cloth was laid, and he took leave, whilst Albert very coldly asked him, if he would not stay supper.

Werter returned home, took the candle from his servant, and went up to his room {189} alone. He was heard talking with great earnestness, and walking hastily in his room in a passion of tears. At length, without undressing, he threw himself on the bed; where his servant found him at eleven o'clock, when he ventured to go in and take off his boots. Werter did not prevent him but ordered him not to come in the morning till he rung.

Monday morning, the 21st of December, he wrote the following letter, which was found sealed on his bureau after his death, and given to Charlotte. I shall insert it in fragments, as it appears by several circumstances to have been written.]