The Sorrows of Young Werther
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Part 2 out of 3
is the greatest and most genuine of pleasures to observe a great
mind in sympathy with our own.
As I anticipated, the ambassador occasions me infinite annoyance.
He is the most punctilious blockhead under heaven. He does
everything step by step, with the trifling minuteness of an old
woman; and he is a man whom it is impossible to please, because
he is never pleased with himself. I like to do business regularly
and cheerfully, and, when it is finished, to leave it. But he
constantly returns my papers to me, saying, "They will do," but
recommending me to look over them again, as "one may always improve
by using a better word or a more appropriate particle." I then
lose all patience, and wish myself at the devil's. Not a conjunction,
not an adverb, must be omitted: he has a deadly antipathy to all
those transpositions of which I am so fond; and, if the music of
our periods is not tuned to the established, official key, he
cannot comprehend our meaning. It is deplorable to be connected
with such a fellow.
My acquaintance with the Count C-- is the only compensation for
such an evil. He told me frankly, the other day, that he was much
displeased with the difficulties and delays of the ambassador;
that people like him are obstacles, both to themselves and to
others. "But," added he, "one must submit, like a traveller who
has to ascend a mountain: if the mountain was not there, the road
would be both shorter and pleasanter; but there it is, and he must
get over it."
The old man perceives the count's partiality for me: this annoys
him, and, he seizes every opportunity to depreciate the count in
my hearing. I naturally defend him, and that only makes matters
worse. Yesterday he made me indignant, for he also alluded to me.
"The count," he said, "is a man of the world, and a good man of
business: his style is good, and he writes with facility; but,
like other geniuses, he has no solid learning." He looked at me
with an expression that seemed to ask if I felt the blow. But it
did not produce the desired effect: I despise a man who can think
and act in such a manner. However, I made a stand, and answered
with not a little warmth. The count, I said, was a man entitled
to respect, alike for his character and his acquirements. I had
never met a person whose mind was stored with more useful and
extensive knowledge, -- who had, in fact, mastered such an infinite
variety of subjects, and who yet retained all his activity for the
details of ordinary business. This was altogether beyond his
comprehension; and I took my leave, lest my anger should be too
highly excited by some new absurdity of his.
And you are to blame for all this, you who persuaded me to bend
my neck to this yoke by preaching a life of activity to me. If
the man who plants vegetables, and carries his corn to town on
market-days, is not more usefully employed than I am, then let me
work ten years longer at the galleys to which I am now chained.
Oh, the brilliant wretchedness, the weariness, that one is doomed
to witness among the silly people whom we meet in society here!
The ambition of rank! How they watch, how they toil, to gain
precedence! What poor and contemptible passions are displayed in
their utter nakedness! We have a woman here, for example, who
never ceases to entertain the company with accounts of her family
and her estates. Any stranger would consider her a silly being,
whose head was turned by her pretensions to rank and property; but
she is in reality even more ridiculous, the daughter of a mere
magistrate's clerk from this neighbourhood. I cannot understand
how human beings can so debase themselves.
Every day I observe more and more the folly of judging of others
by ourselves; and I have so much trouble with myself, and my own
heart is in such constant agitation, that I am well content to let
others pursue their own course, if they only allow me the same
What provokes me most is the unhappy extent to which distinctions
of rank are carried. I know perfectly well how necessary are
inequalities of condition, and I am sensible of the advantages I
myself derive therefrom; but I would not have these institutions
prove a barrier to the small chance of happiness which I may enjoy
on this earth.
I have lately become acquainted with a Miss B--, a very agreeable
girl, who has retained her natural manners in the midst of artificial
life. Our first conversation pleased us both equally; and, at
taking leave, I requested permission to visit her. She consented
in so obliging a manner, that I waited with impatience for the
arrival of the happy moment. She is not a native of this place,
but resides here with her aunt. The countenance of the old lady
is not prepossessing. I paid her much attention, addressing the
greater part of my conversation to her; and, in less than half an
hour, I discovered what her niece subsequently acknowledged to me,
that her aged aunt, having but a small fortune, and a still smaller
share of understanding, enjoys no satisfaction except in the
pedigree of her ancestors, no protection save in her noble birth,
and no enjoyment but in looking from her castle over the heads of
the humble citizens. She was, no doubt, handsome in her youth,
and in her early years probably trifled away her time in rendering
many a poor youth the sport of her caprice: in her riper years she
has submitted to the yoke of a veteran officer, who, in return for
her person and her small independence, has spent with her what we
may designate her age of brass. He is dead; and she is now a
widow, and deserted. She spends her iron age alone, and would not
be approached, except for the loveliness of her niece.
JANUARY 8, 1772.
What beings are men, whose whole thoughts are occupied with form
and ceremony, who for years together devote their mental and
physical exertions to the task of advancing themselves but one
step, and endeavouring to occupy a higher place at the table. Not
that such persons would otherwise want employment: on the contrary,
they give themselves much trouble by neglecting important business
for such petty trifles. Last week a question of precedence arose
at a sledging-party, and all our amusement was spoiled.
The silly creatures cannot see that it is not place which constitutes
real greatness, since the man who occupies the first place but
seldom plays the principal part. How many kings are governed by
their ministers -- how many ministers by their secretaries? Who, in
such cases, is really the chief? He, as it seems to me, who can
see through the others, and possesses strength or skill enough to
make their power or passions subservient to the execution of his
I must write to you from this place, my dear Charlotte, from a
small room in a country inn, where I have taken shelter from a
severe storm. During my whole residence in that wretched place
D--, where I lived amongst strangers, -- strangers, indeed, to
this heart, -- I never at any time felt the smallest inclination
to correspond with you; but in this cottage, in this retirement,
in this solitude, with the snow and hail beating against my
lattice-pane, you are my first thought. The instant I entered,
your figure rose up before me, and the remembrance! O my Charlotte,
the sacred, tender remembrance! Gracious Heaven! restore to me
the happy moment of our first acquaintance.
Could you but see me, my dear Charlotte, in the whirl of
dissipation, -- how my senses are dried up, but my heart is at no
time full. I enjoy no single moment of happiness: all is vain --
nothing touches me. I stand, as it were, before the raree-show:
I see the little puppets move, and I ask whether it is not an
optical illusion. I am amused with these puppets, or, rather, I
am myself one of them: but, when I sometimes grasp my neighbour's
hand, I feel that it is not natural; and I withdraw mine with a
shudder. In the evening I say I will enjoy the next morning's
sunrise, and yet I remain in bed: in the day I promise to ramble
by moonlight; and I, nevertheless, remain at home. I know not why
I rise, nor why I go to sleep.
The leaven which animated my existence is gone: the charm which
cheered me in the gloom of night, and aroused me from my morning
slumbers, is for ever fled.
I have found but one being here to interest me, a Miss B--. She
resembles you, my dear Charlotte, if any one can possibly resemble
you. "Ah!" you will say, "he has learned how to pay fine compliments."
And this is partly true. I have been very agreeable lately, as
it was not in my power to be otherwise. I have, moreover, a deal
of wit: and the ladies say that no one understands flattery better,
or falsehoods you will add; since the one accomplishment invariably
accompanies the other. But I must tell you of Miss B--. She has
abundance of soul, which flashes from her deep blue eyes. Her
rank is a torment to her, and satisfies no one desire of her heart.
She would gladly retire from this whirl of fashion, and we often
picture to ourselves a life of undisturbed happiness in distant
scenes of rural retirement: and then we speak of you, my dear
Charlotte; for she knows you, and renders homage to your merits;
but her homage is not exacted, but voluntary, she loves you, and
delights to hear you made the subject of conversation.
Oh, that I were sitting at your feet in your favourite little room,
with the dear children playing around us! If they became troublesome
to you, I would tell them some appalling goblin story; and they
would crowd round me with silent attention. The sun is setting
in glory; his last rays are shining on the snow, which covers the
face of the country: the storm is over, and I must return to my
dungeon. Adieu!-- Is Albert with you? and what is he to you? God
forgive the question.
For a week past we have had the most wretched weather: but this
to me is a blessing; for, during my residence here, not a single
fine day has beamed from the heavens, but has been lost to me by
the intrusion of somebody. During the severity of rain, sleet,
frost, and storm, I congratulate myself that it cannot be worse
indoors than abroad, nor worse abroad than it is within doors; and
so I become reconciled. When the sun rises bright in the morning,
and promises a glorious day, I never omit to exclaim, "There, now,
they have another blessing from Heaven, which they will be sure
to destroy: they spoil everything, -- health, fame, happiness,
amusement; and they do this generally through folly, ignorance,
or imbecility, and always, according to their own account, with
the best intentions!" I could often beseech them, on my bended
knees, to be less resolved upon their own destruction.
I fear that my ambassador and I shall not continue much longer
together. He is really growing past endurance. He transacts
his business in so ridiculous a manner, that I am often compelled
to contradict him, and do things my own way; and then, of course,
he thinks them very ill done. He complained of me lately on this
account at court; and the minister gave me a reprimand, -- a
gentle one it is true, but still a reprimand. In consequence of
this, I was about to tender my resignation, when I received a
letter, to which I submitted with great respect, on account of the
high, noble, and generous spirit which dictated it. He endeavoured
to soothe my excessive sensibility, paid a tribute to my extreme
ideas of duty, of good example, and of perseverance in business,
as the fruit of my youthful ardour, an impulse which he did not
seek to destroy, but only to moderate, that it might have proper
play and be productive of good. So now I am at rest for another
week, and no longer at variance with myself. Content and peace
of mind are valuable things: I could wish, my dear friend, that
these precious jewels were less transitory.
God bless you, my dear friends, and may he grant you that happiness
which he denies to me!
I thank you, Albert, for having deceived me. I waited for the
news that your wedding-day was fixed; and I intended on that day,
with solemnity, to take down Charlotte's profile from the wall,
and to bury it with some other papers I possess. You are now
united, and her picture still remains here. Well, let it remain!
Why should it not? I know that I am still one of your society,
that I still occupy a place uninjured in Charlotte's heart, that
I hold the second place therein; and I intend to keep it. Oh, I
should become mad if she could forget! Albert, that thought is
hell! Farewell, Albert farewell, angel of heaven farewell, Charlotte!
I have just had a sad adventure, which will drive me away from
here. I lose all patience! -- Death! -- It is not to be remedied;
and you alone are to blame, for you urged and impelled me to fill
a post for which I was by no means suited. I have now reason to
be satisfied, and so have you! But, that you may not again attribute
this fatality to my impetuous temper, I send you, my dear sir, a
plain and simple narration of the affair, as a mere chronicler of
facts would describe it.
The Count of O-- likes and distinguishes me. It is well known,
and I have mentioned this to you a hundred times. Yesterday I
dined with him. It is the day on which the nobility are accustomed
to assemble at his house in the evening. I never once thought of
the assembly, nor that we subalterns did not belong to such society.
Well, I dined with the count; and, after dinner, we adjourned to
the large hall. We walked up and down together: and I conversed
with him, and with Colonel B--, who joined us; and in this manner
the hour for the assembly approached. God knows, I was thinking
of nothing, when who should enter but the honourable Lady accompanied
by her noble husband and their silly, scheming daughter, with her
small waist and flat neck; and, with disdainful looks and a haughty
air they passed me by. As I heartily detest the whole race, I
determined upon going away; and only waited till the count had
disengaged himself from their impertinent prattle, to take leave,
when the agreeable Miss B-- came in. As I never meet her without
experiencing a heartfelt pleasure, I stayed and talked to her,
leaning over the back of her chair, and did not perceive, till
after some time, that she seemed a little confused, and ceased to
answer me with her usual ease of manner. I was struck with it.
"Heavens!" I said to myself, "can she, too, be like the rest?" I
felt annoyed, and was about to withdraw; but I remained,
notwithstanding, forming excuses for her conduct, fancying she did
not mean it, and still hoping to receive some friendly recognition.
The rest of the company now arrived. There was the Baron F --, in
an entire suit that dated from the coronation of Francis I.; the
Chancellor N--, with his deaf wife; the shabbily-dressed I--, whose
old-fashioned coat bore evidence of modern repairs: this crowned
the whole. I conversed with some of my acquaintances, but they
answered me laconically. I was engaged in observing Miss B--, and
did not notice that the women were whispering at the end of the
room, that the murmur extended by degrees to the men, that Madame
S-- addressed the count with much warmth (this was all related to
me subsequently by Miss B--); till at length the count came up to
me, and took me to the window. "You know our ridiculous customs,"
he said. "I perceive the company is rather displeased at your
being here. I would not on any account--" "I beg your excellency's
pardon!" I exclaimed. "I ought to have thought of this before,
but I know you will forgive this little inattention. I was going,"
I added, "some time ago, but my evil genius detained me." And I
smiled and bowed, to take my leave. He shook me by the hand, in
a manner which expressed everything. I hastened at once from the
illustrious assembly, sprang into a carriage, and drove to M--.
I contemplated the setting sun from the top of the hill, and read
that beautiful passage in Homer, where Ulysses is entertained by
the hospitable herdsmen. This was indeed delightful.
I returned home to supper in the evening. But few persons were
assembled in the room. They had turned up a corner of the table-cloth,
and were playing at dice. The good-natured A-- came in. He laid
down his hat when he saw me, approached me, and said in a low tone,
"You have met with a disagreeable adventure." "I!" I exclaimed.
"The count obliged you to withdraw from the assembly!" "Deuce
take the assembly!" said I. "I was very glad to be gone." "I am
delighted," he added, "that you take it so lightly. I am only
sorry that it is already so much spoken of." The circumstance
then began to pain me. I fancied that every one who sat down, and
even looked at me, was thinking of this incident; and my heart
And now I could plunge a dagger into my bosom, when I hear myself
everywhere pitied, and observe the triumph of my enemies, who say
that this is always the case with vain persons, whose heads are
turned with conceit, who affect to despise forms and such petty,
Say what you will of fortitude, but show me the man who can patiently
endure the laughter of fools, when they have obtained an advantage
over him. 'Tis only when their nonsense is without foundation
that one can suffer it without complaint.
Everything conspires against me. I met Miss B-- walking to-day.
I could not help joining her; and, when we were at a little distance
from her companions, I expressed my sense of her altered manner
toward me. "O Werther!" she said, in a tone of emotion, "you, who
know my heart, how could you so ill interpret my distress? What
did I not suffer for you, from the moment you entered the room!
I foresaw it all, a hundred times was I on the point of mentioning
it to you. I knew that the S--s and T--s, with their husbands,
would quit the room, rather than remain in your company. I knew
that the count would not break with them: and now so much is said
about it." "How!" I exclaimed, and endeavoured to conceal my
emotion; for all that Adelin had mentioned to me yesterday recurred
to me painfully at that moment. "Oh, how much it has already cost
me!" said this amiable girl, while her eyes filled with tears. I
could scarcely contain myself, and was ready to throw myself at
her feet. "Explain yourself!" I cried. Tears flowed down her
cheeks. I became quite frantic. She wiped them away, without
attempting to conceal them. "You know my aunt," she continued;
"she was present: and in what light does she consider the affair!
Last night, and this morning, Werther, I was compelled to listen
to a lecture upon my, acquaintance with you. I have been obliged
to hear you condemned and depreciated; and I could not -- I dared
not -- say much in your defence."
Every word she uttered was a dagger to my heart. She did not feel
what a mercy it would have been to conceal everything from me.
She told me, in addition, all the impertinence that would be further
circulated, and how the malicious would triumph; how they would
rejoice over the punishment of my pride, over my humiliation for
that want of esteem for others with which I had often been reproached.
To hear all this, Wilhelm, uttered by her in a voice of the most
sincere sympathy, awakened all my passions; and I am still in a
state of extreme excitement. I wish I could find a man to jeer
me about this event. I would sacrifice him to my resentment. The
sight of his blood might possibly be a relief to my fury. A hundred
times have I seized a dagger, to give ease to this oppressed heart.
Naturalists tell of a noble race of horses that instinctively open
a vein with their teeth, when heated and exhausted by a long course,
in order to breathe more freely. I am often tempted to open a
vein, to procure for myself everlasting liberty.
I have tendered my resignation to the court. I hope it will be
accepted, and you will forgive me for not having previously consulted
you. It is necessary I should leave this place. I know all you
will urge me to stay, and therefore I beg you will soften this
news to my mother. I am unable to do anything for myself: how,
then, should I be competent to assist others? It will afflict her
that I should have interrupted that career which would have made
me first a privy councillor, and then minister, and that I should
look behind me, in place of advancing. Argue as you will, combine
all the reasons which should have induced me to remain, I am going:
that is sufficient. But, that you may not be ignorant of my
destination, I may mention that the Prince of -- is here. He is
much pleased with my company; and, having heard of my intention
to resign, he has invited me to his country house, to pass the
spring months with him. I shall be left completely my own master;
and, as we agree on all subjects but one, I shall try my fortune,
and accompany him.
Thanks for both your letters. I delayed my reply, and withheld
this letter, till I should obtain an answer from the court. I
feared my mother might apply to the minister to defeat my purpose.
But my request is granted, my resignation is accepted. I shall
not recount with what reluctance it was accorded, nor relate what
the minister has written: you would only renew your lamentations.
The crown prince has sent me a present of five and twenty ducats;
and, indeed, such goodness has affected me to tears. For this
reason I shall not require from my mother the money for which I
I leave this place to-morrow; and, as my native place is only six
miles from the high road, I intend to visit it once more, and
recall the happy dreams of my childhood. I shall enter at the
same gate through which I came with my mother, when, after my
father's death, she left that delightful retreat to immure herself
in your melancholy town. Adieu, my dear friend: you shall hear of
my future career.
I have paid my visit to my native place with all the devotion of
a pilgrim, and have experienced many unexpected emotions. Near
the great elm tree, which is a quarter of a league from the village,
I got out of the carriage, and sent it on before, that alone, and
on foot, I might enjoy vividly and heartily all the pleasure of
my recollections. I stood there under that same elm which was
formerly the term and object of my walks. How things have since
changed! Then, in happy ignorance, I sighed for a world I did not
know, where I hoped to find every pleasure and enjoyment which my
heart could desire; and now, on my return from that wide world, O
my friend, how many disappointed hopes and unsuccessful plans have
I brought back!
As I contemplated the mountains which lay stretched out before me,
I thought how often they had been the object of my dearest desires.
Here used I to sit for hours together with my eyes bent upon them,
ardently longing to wander in the shade of those woods, to lose
myself in those valleys, which form so delightful an object in the
distance. With what reluctance did I leave this charming spot;
when my hour of recreation was over, and my leave of absence
expired! I drew near to the village: all the well-known old
summerhouses and gardens were recognised again; I disliked the new
ones, and all other alterations which had taken place. I entered
the village, and all my former feelings returned. I cannot, my
dear friend, enter into details, charming as were my sensations:
they would be dull in the narration. I had intended to lodge in
the market-place, near our old house. As soon as I entered, I
perceived that the schoolroom, where our childhood had been taught
by that good old woman, was converted into a shop. I called to
mind the sorrow, the heaviness, the tears, and oppression of heart,
which I experienced in that confinement. Every step produced some
particular impression. A pilgrim in the Holy Land does not meet
so many spots pregnant with tender recollections, and his soul is
hardly moved with greater devotion. One incident will serve for
illustration. I followed the course of a stream to a farm, formerly
a delightful walk of mine, and paused at the spot, where, when
boys, we used to amuse ourselves making ducks and drakes upon the
water. I recollected so well how I used formerly to watch the
course of that same stream, following it with inquiring eagerness,
forming romantic ideas of the countries it was to pass through;
but my imagination was soon exhausted: while the water continued
flowing farther and farther on, till my fancy became bewildered
by the contemplation of an invisible distance. Exactly such, my
dear friend, so happy and so confined, were the thoughts of our
good ancestors. Their feelings and their poetry were fresh as
childhood. And, when Ulysses talks of the immeasurable sea and
boundless earth, his epithets are true, natural, deeply felt, and
mysterious. Of what importance is it that I have learned, with
every schoolboy, that the world is round? Man needs but little
earth for enjoyment, and still less for his final repose.
I am at present with the prince at his hunting lodge. He is a man
with whom one can live happily. He is honest and unaffected. There
are, however, some strange characters about him, whom I cannot at
all understand. They do not seem vicious, and yet they do not
carry the appearance of thoroughly honest men. Sometimes I am
disposed to believe them honest, and yet I cannot persuade myself
to confide in them. It grieves me to hear the prince occasionally
talk of things which he has only read or heard of, and always with
the same view in which they have been represented by others.
He values my understanding and talents more highly than my heart,
but I am proud of the latter only. It is the sole source of
everything of our strength, happiness, and misery. All the knowledge
I possess every one else can acquire, but my heart is exclusively
I have had a plan in my head of which I did not intend to speak
to you until it was accomplished: now that it has failed, I may
as well mention it. I wished to enter the army, and had long been
desirous of taking the step. This, indeed, was the chief reason
for my coming here with the prince, as he is a general in the
service. I communicated my design to him during one of our walks
together. He disapproved of it, and it would have been actual
madness not to have listened to his reasons.
Say what you will, I can remain here no longer. Why should I
remain? Time hangs heavy upon my hands. The prince is as gracious
to me as any one could be, and yet I am not at my ease. There is,
indeed, nothing in common between us. He is a man of understanding,
but quite of the ordinary kind. His conversation affords me no
more amusement than I should derive from the perusal of a well-written
book. I shall remain here a week longer, and then start again on
my travels. My drawings are the best things I have done since I
came here. The prince has a taste for the arts, and would improve
if his mind were not fettered by cold rules and mere technical
ideas. I often lose patience, when, with a glowing imagination,
I am giving expression to art and nature, he interferes with learned
suggestions, and uses at random the technical phraseology of artists.
Once more I am a wanderer, a pilgrim, through the world. But what
else are you!
Whither am I going? I will tell you in confidence. I am obliged
to continue a fortnight longer here, and then I think it would be
better for me to visit the mines in --. But I am only deluding
myself thus. The fact is, I wish to be near Charlotte again, that
is all. I smile at the suggestions of my heart, and obey its
No, no! it is yet well all is well! I her husband! O God, who
gave me being, if thou hadst destined this happiness for me, my
whole life would have been one continual thanksgiving! But I will
not murmur -- forgive these tears, forgive these fruitless wishes.
She -- my wife! Oh, the very thought of folding that dearest of
Heaven's creatures in my arms! Dear Wilhelm, my whole frame feels
convulsed when I see Albert put his arms around her slender waist!
And shall I avow it? Why should I not, Wilhelm? She would have
been happier with me than with him. Albert is not the man to
satisfy the wishes of such a heart. He wants a certain sensibility;
he wants -- in short, their hearts do not beat in unison. How
often, my dear friend, I'm reading a passage from some interesting
book, when my heart and Charlotte's seemed to meet, and in a hundred
other instances when our sentiments were unfolded by the story of
some fictitious character, have I felt that we were made for each
other! But, dear Wilhelm, he loves her with his whole soul; and
what does not such a love deserve?
I have been interrupted by an insufferable visit. I have dried
my tears, and composed my thoughts. Adieu, my best friend!
I am not alone unfortunate. All men are disappointed in their
hopes, and deceived in their expectations. I have paid a visit
to my good old woman under the lime-trees. The eldest boy ran
out to meet me: his exclamation of joy brought out his mother,
but she had a very melancholy look. Her first word was, "Alas!
dear sir, my little John is dead." He was the youngest of her
children. I was silent. "And my husband has returned from
Switzerland without any money; and, if some kind people had not
assisted him, he must have begged his way home. He was taken ill
with fever on his journey." I could answer nothing, but made the
little one a present. She invited me to take some fruit: I complied,
and left the place with a sorrowful heart.
My sensations are constantly changing. Sometimes a happy prospect
opens before me; but alas! it is only for a moment; and then, when
I am lost in reverie, I cannot help saying to myself, "If Albert
were to die? -- Yes, she would become -- and I should be" -- and
so I pursue a chimera, till it leads me to the edge of a precipice
at which I shudder.
When I pass through the same gate, and walk along the same road
which first conducted me to Charlotte, my heart sinks within me
at the change that has since taken place. All, all, is altered!
No sentiment, no pulsation of my heart, is the same. My sensations
are such as would occur to some departed prince whose spirit should
return to visit the superb palace which he had built in happy times,
adorned with costly magnificence, and left to a beloved son, but
whose glory he should find departed, and its halls deserted and
I sometimes cannot understand how she can love another, how she
dares love another, when I love nothing in this world so completely,
so devotedly, as I love her, when I know only her, and have no
It is even so! As nature puts on her autumn tints it becomes
autumn with me and around me. My leaves are sere and yellow, and
the neighbouring trees are divested of their foliage. Do you
remember my writing to you about a peasant boy shortly after my
arrival here? I have just made inquiries about him in Walheim.
They say he has been dismissed from his service, and is now avoided
by every one. I met him yesterday on the road, going to a
neighbouring village. I spoke to him, and he told me his story.
It interested me exceedingly, as you will easily understand when
I repeat it to you. But why should I trouble you? Why should I
not reserve all my sorrow for myself? Why should I continue to
give you occasion to pity and blame me? But no matter: this also
is part of my destiny.
At first the peasant lad answered my inquiries with a sort of
subdued melancholy, which seemed to me the mark of a timid disposition;
but, as we grew to understand each other, he spoke with less reserve,
and openly confessed his faults, and lamented his misfortune. I
wish, my dear friend, I could give proper expression to his
language. He told me with a sort of pleasurable recollection,
that, after my departure, his passion for his mistress increased
daily, until at last he neither knew what he did nor what he said,
nor what was to become of him. He could neither eat nor drink nor
sleep: he felt a sense of suffocation; he disobeyed all orders,
and forgot all commands involuntarily; he seemed as if pursued by
an evil spirit, till one day, knowing that his mistress had gone
to an upper chamber, he had followed, or, rather, been drawn after
her. As she proved deaf to his entreaties, he had recourse to
violence. He knows not what happened; but he called God to witness
that his intentions to her were honourable, and that he desired
nothing more sincerely than that they should marry, and pass their
lives together. When he had come to this point, he began to
hesitate, as if there was something which he had not courage to
utter, till at length he acknowledged with some confusion certain
little confidences she had encouraged, and liberties she had allowed.
He broke off two or three times in his narration, and assured me
most earnestly that he had no wish to make her bad, as he termed
it, for he loved her still as sincerely as ever; that the tale
had never before escaped his lips, and was only now told to convince
me that he was not utterly lost and abandoned. And here, my dear
friend, I must commence the old song which you know I utter eternally.
If I could only represent the man as he stood, and stands now
before me, could I only give his true expressions, you would feel
compelled to sympathise in his fate. But enough: you, who know my
misfortune and my disposition, can easily comprehend the attraction
which draws me toward every unfortunate being, but particularly
toward him whose story I have recounted.
On perusing this letter a second time, I find I have omitted the
conclusion of my tale; but it is easily supplied. She became
reserved toward him, at the instigation of her brother who had
long hated him, and desired his expulsion from the house, fearing
that his sister's second marriage might deprive his children of
the handsome fortune they expected from her; as she is childless.
He was dismissed at length; and the whole affair occasioned so
much scandal, that the mistress dared not take him back, even if
she had wished it. She has since hired another servant, with whom,
they say, her brother is equally displeased, and whom she is likely
to marry; but my informant assures me that he himself is determined
not to survive such a catastrophe.
This story is neither exaggerated nor embellished: indeed, I have
weakened and impaired it in the narration, by the necessity of
using the more refined expressions of society.
This love, then, this constancy, this passion, is no poetical
fiction. It is actual, and dwells in its greatest purity amongst
that class of mankind whom we term rude, uneducated. We are the
educated, not the perverted. But read this story with attention,
I implore you. I am tranquil to-day, for I have been employed
upon this narration: you see by my writing that I am not so agitated
as usual. I read and re-read this tale, Wilhelm: it is the history
of your friend! My fortune has been and will be similar; and I
am neither half so brave nor half so determined as the poor wretch
with whom I hesitate to compare myself.
Charlotte had written a letter to her husband in the country, where
he was detained by business. It commenced, "My dearest love,
return as soon as possible: I await you with a thousand raptures."
A friend who arrived, brought word, that, for certain reasons, he
could not return immediately. Charlotte's letter was not forwarded,
and the same evening it fell into my hands. I read it, and smiled.
She asked the reason. "What a heavenly treasure is imagination:"
I exclaimed; "I fancied for a moment that this was written to me."
She paused, and seemed displeased. I was silent.
It cost me much to part with the blue coat which I wore the first
time I danced with Charlotte. But I could not possibly wear it
any longer. But I have ordered a new one, precisely similar, even
to the collar and sleeves, as well as a new waistcoat and pantaloons.
But it does not produce the same effect upon me. I know not how
it is, but I hope in time I shall like it better.
She has been absent for some days. She went to meet Albert.
To-day I visited her: she rose to receive me, and I kissed her
hand most tenderly.
A canary at the moment flew from a mirror, and settled upon her
shoulder. "Here is a new friend," she observed, while she made
him perch upon her hand: "he is a present for the children. What
a dear he is! Look at him! When I feed him, he flutters with his
wings, and pecks so nicely. He kisses me, too, only look!"
She held the bird to her mouth; and he pressed her sweet lips with
so much fervour that he seemed to feel the excess of bliss which
"He shall kiss you too," she added; and then she held the bird
toward me. His little beak moved from her mouth to mine, and the
delightful sensation seemed like the forerunner of the sweetest
"A kiss," I observed, "does not seem to satisfy him: he wishes for
food, and seems disappointed by these unsatisfactory endearments."
"But he eats out of my mouth," she continued, and extended her
lips to him containing seed; and she smiled with all the charm of
a being who has allowed an innocent participation of her love.
I turned my face away. She should not act thus. She ought not to
excite my imagination with such displays of heavenly innocence and
happiness, nor awaken my heart from its slumbers, in which it
dreams of the worthlessness of life! And why not? Because she
knows how much I love her.
It makes me wretched, Wilhelm, to think that there should be men
incapable of appreciating the few things which possess a real value
in life. You remember the walnut trees at S--, under which I used
to sit with Charlotte, during my visits to the worthy old vicar.
Those glorious trees, the very sight of which has so often filled
my heart with joy, how they adorned and refreshed the parsonage
yard, with their wide-extended branches! and how pleasing was our
remembrance of the good old pastor, by whose hands they were
planted so many years ago: The schoolmaster has frequently mentioned
his name. He had it from his grandfather. He must have been a
most excellent man; and, under the shade of those old trees, his
memory was ever venerated by me. The schoolmaster informed us
yesterday, with tears in his eyes, that those trees had been felled.
Yes, cut to the ground! I could, in my wrath, have slain the
monster who struck the first stroke. And I must endure this! --
I, who, if I had had two such trees in my own court, and one had
died from old age, should have wept with real affliction. But
there is some comfort left, such a thing is sentiment, the whole
village murmurs at the misfortune; and I hope the vicar's wife
will soon find, by the cessation of the villagers' presents, how
much she has wounded the feelings of the neighborhhood. It was
she who did it, the wife of the present incumbent (our good old
man is dead), a tall, sickly creature who is so far right to
disregard the world, as the world totally disregards her. The
silly being affects to be learned, pretends to examine the canonical
books, lends her aid toward the new-fashioned reformation of
Christendom, moral and critical, and shrugs up her shoulders at
the mention of Lavater's enthusiasm. Her health is destroyed, on
account of which she is prevented from having any enjoyment here
below. Only such a creature could have cut down my walnut trees!
I can never pardon it. Hear her reasons. The falling leaves made
the court wet and dirty; the branches obstructed the light; boys
threw stones at the nuts when they were ripe, and the noise affected
her nerves; and disturbed her profound meditations, when she was
weighing the difficulties of Kennicot, Semler, and Michaelis.
Finding that all the parish, particularly the old people, were
displeased, I asked "why they allowed it?" "Ah, sir!" they replied,
"when the steward orders, what can we poor peasants do?" But one
thing has happened well. The steward and the vicar (who, for once,
thought to reap some advantage from the caprices of his wife)
intended to divide the trees between them. The revenue-office,
being informed of it, revived an old claim to the ground where the
trees had stood, and sold them to the best bidder. There they
still lie on the ground. If I were the sovereign, I should know
how to deal with them all, vicar, steward, and revenue-office.
Sovereign, did I say? I should, in that case, care little about
the trees that grew in the country.
Only to gaze upon her dark eyes is to me a source of happiness!
And what grieves me, is, that Albert does not seem so happy as he
-- hoped to be -- as I should have been -- if -- I am no friend
to these pauses, but here I cannot express it otherwise; and
probably I am explicit enough.
Ossian has superseded Homer in my heart. To what a world does
the illustrious bard carry me! To wander over pathless wilds,
surrounded by impetuous whirlwinds, where, by the feeble light
of the moon, we see the spirits of our ancestors; to hear from
the mountain-tops, mid the roar of torrents, their plaintive
sounds issuing from deep caverns, and the sorrowful lamentations
of a maiden who sighs and expires on the mossy tomb of the warrior
by whom she was adored. I meet this bard with silver hair; he
wanders in the valley; he seeks the footsteps of his fathers, and,
alas! he finds only their tombs. Then, contemplating the pale
moon, as she sinks beneath the waves of the rolling sea, the memory
of bygone days strikes the mind of the hero, days when approaching
danger invigorated the brave, and the moon shone upon his bark
laden with spoils, and returning in triumph. When I read in his
countenance deep sorrow, when I see his dying glory sink exhausted
into the grave, as he inhales new and heart-thrilling delight
from his approaching union with his beloved, and he casts a look
on the cold earth and the tall grass which is so soon to cover him,
and then exclaims, "The traveller will come, -- he will come who
has seen my beauty, and he will ask, 'Where is the bard, where is
the illustrious son of Fingal?' He will walk over my tomb, and
will seek me in vain!" Then, O my friend, I could instantly, like
a true and noble knight, draw my sword, and deliver my prince from
the long and painful languor of a living death, and dismiss my own
soul to follow the demigod whom my hand had set free!
Alas! the void the fearful void, which I feel in my bosom! Sometimes
I think, if I could only once but once, press her to my heart, this
dreadful void would be filled.
Yes, I feel certain, Wilhelm, and every day I become more certain,
that the existence of any being whatever is of very little consequence.
A friend of Charlotte's called to see her just now. I withdrew
into a neighbouring apartment, and took up a book; but, finding I
could not read, I sat down to write. I heard them converse in an
undertone: they spoke upon indifferent topics, and retailed the
news of the town. One was going to be married; another was ill,
very ill, she had a dry cough, her face was growing thinner daily,
and she had occasional fits. "N-- is very unwell too," said
Charlotte. "His limbs begin to swell already," answered the other;
and my lively imagination carried me at once to the beds of the
infirm. There I see them struggling against death, with all the
agonies of pain and horror; and these women, Wilhelm, talk of all
this with as much indifference as one would mention the death of
a stranger. And when I look around the apartment where I now am
-- when I see Charlotte's apparel lying before me, and Albert's
writings, and all those articles of furniture which are so familiar
to me, even to the very inkstand which I am using, -- when I think
what I am to this family -- everything. My friends esteem me; I often
contribute to their happiness, and my heart seems as if it could
not beat without them; and yet --- if I were to die, if I were
to be summoned from the midst of this circle, would they feel --
or how long would they feel the void which my loss would make in
their existence? How long! Yes, such is the frailty of man, that
even there, where he has the greatest consciousness of his own
being, where he makes the strongest and most forcible impression,
even in the memory, in the heart, of his beloved, there also he
must perish, -- vanish, -- and that quickly.
I could tear open my bosom with vexation to think how little we
are capable of influencing the feelings of each other. No one
can communicate to me those sensations of love, joy, rapture, and
delight which I do not naturally possess; and, though my heart may
glow with the most lively affection, I cannot make the happiness
of one in whom the same warmth is not inherent.
OCTOBER 27: Evening.
I possess so much, but my love for her absorbs it all. I possess
so much, but without her I have nothing.
One hundred times have I been on the point of embracing her.
Heavens! what a torment it is to see so much loveliness passing
and repassing before us, and yet not dare to lay hold of it!
And laying hold is the most natural of human instincts. Do not
children touch everything they see? And I!
Witness, Heaven, how often I lie down in my bed with a wish, and
even a hope, that I may never awaken again. And in the morning,
when I open my eyes, I behold the sun once more, and am wretched.
If I were whimsical, I might blame the weather, or an acquaintance,
or some personal disappointment, for my discontented mind; and then
this insupportable load of trouble would not rest entirely upon
myself. But, alas! I feel it too sadly. I am alone the cause
of my own woe, am I not? Truly, my own bosom contains the source
of all my sorrow, as it previously contained the source of all my
pleasure. Am I not the same being who once enjoyed an excess of
happiness, who, at every step, saw paradise open before him, and
whose heart was ever expanded toward the whole world? And this
heart is now dead, no sentiment can revive it; my eyes are dry;
and my senses, no more refreshed by the influence of soft tears,
wither and consume my brain. I suffer much, for I have lost the
only charm of life: that active, sacred power which created worlds
around me, -- it is no more. When I look from my window at the
distant hills, and behold the morning sun breaking through the
mists, and illuminating the country around, which is still wrapped
in silence, whilst the soft stream winds gently through the willows,
which have shed their leaves; when glorious nature displays all
her beauties before me, and her wondrous prospects are ineffectual
to extract one tear of joy from my withered heart, I feel that in
such a moment I stand like a reprobate before heaven, hardened,
insensible, and unmoved. Oftentimes do I then bend my knee to the
earth, and implore God for the blessing of tears, as the desponding
labourer in some scorching climate prays for the dews of heaven
to moisten his parched corn.
But I feel that God does not grant sunshine or rain to our
importunate entreaties. And oh, those bygone days, whose memory
now torments me! why were they so fortunate? Because I then
waited with patience for the blessings of the Eternal, and received
his gifts with the grateful feelings of a thankful heart.
Charlotte has reproved me for my excesses, with so much tenderness
and goodness! I have lately been in the habit of drinking more
wine than heretofore. "Don't do it," she said. "Think of Charlotte!"
"Think of you!" I answered; "need you bid me do so? Think of you
-- I do not think of you: you are ever before my soul! This very
morning I sat on the spot where, a few days ago, you descended
from the carriage, and--" She immediately changed the subject to
prevent me from pursuing it farther. My dear friend, my energies
are all prostrated: she can do with me what she pleases.
I thank you, Wilhelm, for your cordial sympathy, for your excellent
advice; and I implore you to be quiet. Leave me to my sufferings.
In spite of my wretchedness, I have still strength enough for
endurance. I revere religion -- you know I do. I feel that it
can impart strength to the feeble and comfort to the afflicted,
but does it affect all men equally? Consider this vast universe:
you will see thousands for whom it has never existed, thousands
for whom it will never exist, whether it be preached to them, or
not; and must it, then, necessarily exist for me? Does not the
Son of God himself say that they are his whom the Father has given
to him? Have I been given to him? What if the Father will retain
me for himself, as my heart sometimes suggests? I pray you, do
not misinterpret this. Do not extract derision from my harmless
words. I pour out my whole soul before you. Silence were otherwise
preferable to me, but I need not shrink from a subject of which
few know more than I do myself. What is the destiny of man, but
to fill up the measure of his sufferings, and to drink his allotted
cup of bitterness? And if that same cup proved bitter to the God
of heaven, under a human form, why should I affect a foolish pride,
and call it sweet? Why should I be ashamed of shrinking at that
fearful moment, when my whole being will tremble between existence
and annihilation, when a remembrance of the past, like a flash of
lightning, will illuminate the dark gulf of futurity, when everything
shall dissolve around me, and the whole world vanish away? Is not
this the voice of a creature oppressed beyond all resource,
self-deficient, about to plunge into inevitable destruction, and
groaning deeply at its inadequate strength, "My God! my God! why
hast thou forsaken me?" And should I feel ashamed to utter the
same expression? Should I not shudder at a prospect which had its
fears, even for him who folds up the heavens like a garment?
She does not feel, she does not know, that she is preparing a poison
which will destroy us both; and I drink deeply of the draught which
is to prove my destruction. What mean those looks of kindness with
which she often -- often? no, not often, but sometimes, regards me,
that complacency with which she hears the involuntary sentiments
which frequently escape me, and the tender pity for my sufferings
which appears in her countenance?
Yesterday, when I took leave she seized me by the hand, and said,
"Adieu, dear Werther." Dear Werther! It was the first time she
ever called me dear: the sound sunk deep into my heart. I have
repeated it a hundred times; and last night, on going to bed, and
talking to myself of various things, I suddenly said, "Good night,
dear Werther!" and then could not but laugh at myself.
I cannot pray, "Leave her to me !" and yet she often seems to
belong to me. I cannot pray, "Give her to me!" for she is
another's. In this way I affect mirth over my troubles; and,
if I had time, I could compose a whole litany of antitheses.
She is sensible of my sufferings. This morning her look pierced
my very soul. I found her alone, and she was silent: she steadfastly
surveyed me. I no longer saw in her face the charms of beauty or
the fire of genius: these had disappeared. But I was affected by
an expression much more touching, a look of the deepest sympathy
and of the softest pity. Why was I afraid to throw myself at her
feet? Why did I not dare to take her in my arms, and answer her
by a thousand kisses? She had recourse to her piano for relief,
and in a low and sweet voice accompanied the music with delicious
sounds. Her lips never appeared so lovely: they seemed but just
to open, that they might imbibe the sweet tones which issued from
the instrument, and return the heavenly vibration from her lovely
mouth. Oh! who can express my sensations? I was quite overcome,
and, bending down, pronounced this vow: "Beautiful lips, which the
angels guard, never will I seek to profane your purity with a kiss."
And yet, my friend, oh, I wish -- but my heart is darkened by doubt
and indecision -- could I but taste felicity, and then die to expiate
the sin! What sin?
Oftentimes I say to myself, "Thou alone art wretched: all other
mortals are happy, none are distressed like thee!" Then I read
a passage in an ancient poet, and I seem to understand my own
heart. I have so much to endure! Have men before me ever been
I shall never be myself again! Wherever I go, some fatality occurs
to distract me. Even to-day alas -- for our destiny! alas for
About dinner-time I went to walk by the river-side, for I had no
appetite. Everything around seemed gloomy: a cold and damp easterly
wind blew from the mountains, and black, heavy clouds spread over
the plain. I observed at a distance a man in a tattered coat: he
was wandering among the rocks, and seemed to be looking for plants.
When I approached, he turned round at the noise; and I saw that
he had an interesting countenance in which a settled melancholy,
strongly marked by benevolence, formed the principal feature.
His long black hair was divided, and flowed over his shoulders.
As his garb betokened a person of the lower order, I thought he
would not take it ill if I inquired about his business; and I
therefore asked what he was seeking. He replied, with a deep sigh,
that he was looking for flowers, and could find none. "But it is
not the season," I observed, with a smile. "Oh, there are so many
flowers!" he answered, as he came nearer to me. "In my garden
there are roses and honeysuckles of two sorts: one sort was given
to me by my father! they grow as plentifully as weeds; I have been
looking for them these two days, and cannot find them. There are
flowers out there, yellow, blue, and red; and that centaury has a
very pretty blossom: but I can find none of them." I observed his
peculiarity, and therefore asked him, with an air of indifference,
what he intended to do with his flowers. A strange smile overspread
his countenance. Holding his finger to his mouth, he expressed a
hope that I would not betray him; and he then informed me that he
had promised to gather a nosegay for his mistress. "That is right,"
said I. "Oh!" he replied, "she possesses many other things as
well: she is very rich." "And yet," I continued, "she likes your
nosegays." "Oh, she has jewels and crowns!" he exclaimed. I asked
who she was. "If the states-general would but pay me," he added,
"I should be quite another man. Alas! there was a time when I was
so happy; but that is past, and I am now--" He raised his swimming
eyes to heaven. "And you were happy once?" I observed. "Ah,
would I were so still!" was his reply. "I was then as gay and
contented as a man can be." An old woman, who was coming toward
us, now called out, "Henry, Henry! where are you? We have been
looking for you everywhere: come to dinner." "Is he your son?"
I inquired, as I went toward her. "Yes," she said: "he is my poor,
unfortunate son. The Lord has sent me a heavy affliction." I asked
whether he had been long in this state. She answered, "He has been
as calm as he is at present for about six months. I thank Heaven
that he has so far recovered: he was for one whole year quite raving,
and chained down in a madhouse. Now he injures no one, but talks
of nothing else than kings and queens. He used to be a very good,
quiet youth, and helped to maintain me; he wrote a very fine hand;
but all at once he became melancholy, was seized with a violent
fever, grew distracted, and is now as you see. If I were only to
tell you, sir--" I interrupted her by asking what period it was
in which he boasted of having been so happy. "Poor boy!" she
exclaimed, with a smile of compassion, "he means the time when
he was completely deranged, a time he never ceases to regret,
when he was in the madhouse, and unconscious of everything." I
was thunderstruck: I placed a piece of money in her hand, and
"You were happy!" I exclaimed, as I returned quickly to the
town, "'as gay and contented as a man can be!'" God of heaven!
and is this the destiny of man? Is he only happy before he has
acquired his reason, or after he has lost it? Unfortunate being!
And yet I envy your fate: I envy the delusion to which you are a
victim. You go forth with joy to gather flowers for your princess,
-- in winter, -- and grieve when you can find none, and cannot
understand why they do not grow. But I wander forth without joy,
without hope, without design; and I return as I came. You fancy
what a man you would be if the states general paid you. Happy
mortal, who can ascribe your wretchedness to an earthly cause!
You do not know, you do not feel, that in your own distracted
heart and disordered brain dwells the source of that unhappiness
which all the potentates on earth cannot relieve.
Let that man die unconsoled who can deride the invalid for undertaking
a journey to distant, healthful springs, where he often finds only
a heavier disease and a more painful death, or who can exult over
the despairing mind of a sinner, who, to obtain peace of conscience
and an alleviation of misery, makes a pilgrimage to the Holy
Sepulchre. Each laborious step which galls his wounded feet in
rough and untrodden paths pours a drop of balm into his troubled
soul, and the journey of many a weary day brings a nightly relief
to his anguished heart. Will you dare call this enthusiasm, ye
crowd of pompous declaimers? Enthusiasm! O God! thou seest my
tears. Thou hast allotted us our portion of misery: must we also
have brethren to persecute us, to deprive us of our consolation,
of our trust in thee, and in thy love and mercy? For our trust in
the virtue of the healing root, or in the strength of the vine,
what is it else than a belief in thee from whom all that surrounds
us derives its healing and restoring powers? Father, whom I know
not, -- who wert once wont to fill my soul, but who now hidest thy
face from me, -- call me back to thee; be silent no longer; thy
silence shall not delay a soul which thirsts after thee. What man,
what father, could be angry with a son for returning to him suddenly,
for falling on his neck, and exclaiming, "I am here again, my
father! forgive me if I have anticipated my journey, and returned
before the appointed time! The world is everywhere the same, --
a scene of labour and pain, of pleasure and reward; but what does
it all avail? I am happy only where thou art, and in thy presence
am I content to suffer or enjoy." And wouldst thou, heavenly Father,
banish such a child from thy presence?
Wilhelm, the man about whom I wrote to you -- that man so enviable
in his misfortunes -- was secretary to Charlotte's father; and an
unhappy passion for her which he cherished, concealed, and at
length discovered, caused him to be dismissed from his situation.
This made him mad. Think, whilst you peruse this plain narration,
what an impression the circumstance has made upon me! But it was
related to me by Albert with as much calmness as you will probably
I implore your attention. It is all over with me. I can support
this state no longer. To-day I was sitting by Charlotte. She was
playing upon her piano a succession of delightful melodies, with
such intense expression! Her little sister was dressing her doll
upon my lap. The tears came into my eyes. I leaned down, and
looked intently at her wedding-ring: my tears fell -- immediately
she began to play that favourite, that divine, air which has so
often enchanted me. I felt comfort from a recollection of the
past, of those bygone days when that air was familiar to me; and
then I recalled all the sorrows and the disappointments which I
had since endured. I paced with hasty strides through the room,
my heart became convulsed with painful emotions. At length I
went up to her, and exclaimed With eagerness, "For Heaven's sake,
play that air no longer!" She stopped, and looked steadfastly at
me. She then said, with a smile which sunk deep into my heart,
"Werther, you are ill: your dearest food is distasteful to you.
But go, I entreat you, and endeavour to compose yourself." I
tore myself away. God, thou seest my torments, and wilt end them!
How her image haunts me! Waking or asleep, she fills my entire
soul! Soon as I close my eyes, here, in my brain, where all the
nerves of vision are concentrated, her dark eyes are imprinted.
Here -- I do not know how to describe it; but, if I shut my eyes,
hers are immediately before me: dark as an abyss they open upon
me, and absorb my senses.
And what is man -- that boasted demigod? Do not his powers fail
when he most requires their use? And whether he soar in joy, or
sink in sorrow, is not his career in both inevitably arrested?
And, whilst he fondly dreams that he is grasping at infinity,
does he not feel compelled to return to a consciousness of his
cold, monotonous existence?
THE EDITOR TO THE READER.
It is a matter of extreme regret that we want original evidence
of the last remarkable days of our friend; and we are, therefore,
obliged to interrupt the progress of his correspondence, and to
supply the deficiency by a connected narration.
I have felt it my duty to collect accurate information from the
mouths of persons well acquainted with his history. The story
is simple; and all the accounts agree, except in some unimportant
particulars. It is true, that, with respect to the characters of
the persons spoken of, opinions and judgments vary.
We have only, then, to relate conscientiously the facts which our
diligent labour has enabled us to collect, to give the letters
of the deceased, and to pay particular attention to the slightest
fragment from his pen, more especially as it is so difficult to
discover the real and correct motives of men who are not of the
Sorrow and discontent had taken deep root in Werther's soul, and
gradually imparted their character to his whole being. The harmony
of his mind became completely disturbed; a perpetual excitement
and mental irritation, which weakened his natural powers, produced
the saddest effects upon him, and rendered him at length the victim
of an exhaustion against which he struggled with still more painful
efforts than he had displayed, even in contending with his other
misfortunes. His mental anxiety weakened his various good qualities;
and he was soon converted into a gloomy companion, always unhappy
and unjust in his ideas, the more wretched he became. This was,
at least, the opinion of Albert's friends. They assert, moreover,
that the character of Albert himself had undergone no change in
the meantime: he was still the same being whom Werther had loved,
honoured, and respected from the commencement. His love for
Charlotte was unbounded: he was proud of her, and desired that
she should be recognised by every one as the noblest of created
beings. Was he, however, to blame for wishing to avert from her
every appearance of suspicion? or for his unwillingness to share
his rich prize with another, even for a moment, and in the most
innocent manner? It is asserted that Albert frequently retired
from his wife's apartment during Werther's visits; but this did
not arise from hatred or aversion to his friend, but only from a
feeling that his presence was oppressive to Werther.
Charlotte's father, who was confined to the house by indisposition,
was accustomed to send his carriage for her, that she might make
excursions in the neighbourhood. One day the weather had been
unusually severe, and the whole country was covered with snow.
Werther went for Charlotte the following morning, in order that,
if Albert were absent, he might conduct her home.
The beautiful weather produced but little impression on his troubled
spirit. A heavy weight lay upon his soul, deep melancholy had
taken possession of him, and his mind knew no change save from one
painful thought to another.
As he now never enjoyed internal peace, the condition of his fellow
creatures was to him a perpetual source of trouble and distress.
He believed he had disturbed the happiness of Albert and his wife;
and, whilst he censured himself strongly for this, he began to
entertain a secret dislike to Albert.
His thoughts were occasionally directed to this point. "Yes," he
would repeat to himself, with ill-concealed dissatisfaction, "yes,
this is, after all, the extent of that confiding, dear, tender,
and sympathetic love, that calm and eternal fidelity! What do I
behold but satiety and indifference? Does not every frivolous
engagement attract him more than his charming and lovely wife?
Does he know how to prize his happiness? Can he value her as she
deserves? He possesses her, it is true, I know that, as I know
much more, and I have become accustomed to the thought that he
will drive me mad, or, perhaps, murder me. Is his friendship
toward me unimpaired? Does he not view my attachment to Charlotte
as an infringement upon his rights, and consider my attention to
her as a silent rebuke to himself? I know, and indeed feel, that
he dislikes me, that he wishes for my absence, that my presence
is hateful to him."
He would often pause when on his way to visit Charlotte, stand
still, as though in doubt, and seem desirous of returning, but
would nevertheless proceed; and, engaged in such thoughts and
soliloquies as we have described, he finally reached the hunting-lodge,
with a sort of involuntary consent.
Upon one occasion he entered the house; and, inquiring for
Charlotte, he observed that the inmates were in a state of
unusual confusion. The eldest boy informed him that a dreadful
misfortune had occurred at Walheim, -- that a peasant had been
murdered! But this made little impression upon him. Entering
the apartment, he found Charlotte engaged reasoning with her father,
who, in spite of his infirmity, insisted on going to the scene of
the crime, in order to institute an inquiry. The criminal was
unknown; the victim had been found dead at his own door that
morning. Suspicions were excited: the murdered man had been in
the service of a widow, and the person who had previously filled
the situation had been dismissed from her employment.
As soon as Werther heard this, he exclaimed with great excitement,
"Is it possible! I must go to the spot -- I cannot delay a moment!"
He hastened to Walheim. Every incident returned vividly to his
remembrance; and he entertained not the slightest doubt that that
man was the murderer to whom he had so often spoken, and for whom
he entertained so much regard. His way took him past the well-known
lime trees, to the house where the body had been carried; and his
feelings were greatly excited at the sight of the fondly recollected
spot. That threshold where the neighbours' children had so often
played together was stained with blood; love and attachment, the
noblest feelings of human nature, had been converted into violence
and murder. The huge trees stood there leafless and covered with
hoarfrost; the beautiful hedgerows which surrounded the old
churchyard wall were withered; and the gravestones, half covered
with snow, were visible through the openings.
As he approached the inn, in front of which the whole village was
assembled, screams were suddenly heard. A troop of armed peasants
was seen approaching, and every one exclaimed that the criminal
had been apprehended. Werther looked, and was not long in doubt.
The prisoner was no other than the servant, who had been formerly
so attached to the widow, and whom he had met prowling about, with
that suppressed anger and ill-concealed despair, which we have
"What have you done, unfortunate man?" inquired Werther, as he
advanced toward the prisoner. The latter turned his eyes upon him
in silence, and then replied with perfect composure; "No one will
now marry her, and she will marry no one." The prisoner was taken
into the inn, and Werther left the place. The mind of Werther was
fearfully excited by this shocking occurrence. He ceased, however,
to be oppressed by his usual feeling of melancholy, moroseness,
and indifference to everything that passed around him. He entertained
a strong degree of pity for the prisoner, and was seized with an
indescribable anxiety to save him from his impending fate. He
considered him so unfortunate, he deemed his crime so excusable,
and thought his own condition so nearly similar, that he felt
convinced he could make every one else view the matter in the light
in which he saw it himself. He now became anxious to undertake
his defence, and commenced composing an eloquent speech for the
occasion; and, on his way to the hunting-lodge, he could not refrain
from speaking aloud the statement which he resolved to make to the
Upon his arrival, he found Albert had been before him: and he was
a little perplexed by this meeting; but he soon recovered himself,
and expressed his opinion with much warmth to the judge. The
latter shook, his head doubtingly; and although Werther urged his
case with the utmost zeal, feeling, and determination in defence
of his client, yet, as we may easily suppose, the judge was not
much influenced by his appeal. On the contrary, he interrupted
him in his address, reasoned with him seriously, and even administered
a rebuke to him for becoming the advocate of a murderer. He
demonstrated, that, according to this precedent, every law might
be violated, and the public security utterly destroyed. He added,
moreover, that in such a case he could himself do nothing,
without incurring the greatest responsibility; that everything
must follow in the usual course, and pursue the ordinary channel.
Werther, however, did not abandon his enterprise, and even besought
the judge to connive at the flight of the prisoner. But this
proposal was peremptorily rejected. Albert, who had taken some
part in the discussion, coincided in opinion with the judge. At
this Werther became enraged, and took his leave in great anger,
after the judge had more than once assured him that the prisoner
could not be saved.
The excess of his grief at this assurance may be inferred from a
note we have found amongst his papers, and which was doubtless
written upon this very occasion.
"You cannot be saved, unfortunate man! I see clearly that we
cannot be saved!"
Werther was highly incensed at the observations which Albert had
made to the judge in this matter of the prisoner. He thought he
could detect therein a little bitterness toward himself personally;
and although, upon reflection, it could not escape his sound
judgment that their view of the matter was correct, he felt the
greatest possible reluctance to make such an admission.
A memorandum of Werther's upon this point, expressive of his general
feelings toward Albert, has been found amongst his papers.
"What is the use of my continually repeating that he is a good and
estimable man? He is an inward torment to me, and I am incapable
of being just toward him."
One fine evening in winter, when the weather seemed inclined to
thaw, Charlotte and Albert were returning home together. The
former looked from time to time about her, as if she missed Werther's
company. Albert began to speak of him, and censured him for his
prejudices. He alluded to his unfortunate attachment, and wished
it were possible to discontinue his acquaintance. "I desire it on
our own account," he added; "and I request you will compel him to
alter his deportment toward you, and to visit you less frequently.
The world is censorious, and I know that here and there we are
spoken of." Charlotte made no reply, and Albert seemed to feel
her silence. At least, from that time he never again spoke of
Werther; and, when she introduced the subject, he allowed the
conversation to die away, or else he directed the discourse into
The vain attempt Werther had made to save the unhappy murderer was
the last feeble glimmering of a flame about to be extinguished.
He sank almost immediately afterward into a state of gloom and
inactivity, until he was at length brought to perfect distraction
by learning that he was to be summoned as a witness against the
prisoner, who asserted his complete innocence.
His mind now became oppressed by the recollection of every misfortune
of his past life. The mortification he had suffered at the
ambassador's, and his subsequent troubles, were revived in his
memory. He became utterly inactive. Destitute of energy, he was
cut off from every pursuit and occupation which compose the business
of common life; and he became a victim to his own susceptibility,
and to his restless passion for the most amiable and beloved of
women, whose peace he destroyed. In this unvarying monotony of
existence his days were consumed; and his powers became exhausted
without aim or design, until they brought him to a sorrowful end.
A few letters which he left behind, and which we here subjoin,
afford the best proofs of his anxiety of mind and of the depth
of his passion, as well as of his doubts and struggles, and of
his weariness of life.
Dear Wilhelm, I am reduced to the condition of those unfortunate
wretches who believe they are pursued by an evil spirit. Sometimes
I am oppressed, not by apprehension or fear, but by an inexpressible
internal sensation, which weighs upon my heart, and impedes my
breath! Then I wander forth at night, even in this tempestuous
season, and feel pleasure in surveying the dreadful scenes around
Yesterday evening I went forth. A rapid thaw had suddenly set
in: I had been informed that the river had risen, that the brooks
had all overflowed their banks, and that the whole vale of Walheim
was under water! Upon the stroke of twelve I hastened forth. I
beheld a fearful sight. The foaming torrents rolled from the
mountains in the moonlight, -- fields and meadows, trees and
hedges, were confounded together; and the entire valley was
converted into a deep lake, which was agitated by the roaring
wind! And when the moon shone forth, and tinged the black clouds
with silver, and the impetuous torrent at my feet foamed and resounded
with awful and grand impetuosity, I was overcome by a mingled sensation
of apprehension and delight. With extended arms I looked down into
the yawning abyss, and cried, "Plunge!'" For a moment my senses
forsook me, in the intense delight of ending my sorrows and my
sufferings by a plunge into that gulf! And then I felt as if I
were rooted to the earth, and incapable of seeking an end to my
woes! But my hour is not yet come: I feel it is not. O Wilhelm,
how willingly could I abandon my existence to ride the whirlwind,
or to embrace the torrent! and then might not rapture perchance be
the portion of this liberated soul?
I turned my sorrowful eyes toward a favourite spot, where I was
accustomed to sit with Charlotte beneath a willow after a fatiguing
walk. Alas! it was covered with water, and with difficulty I found
even the meadow. And the fields around the hunting-lodge, thought
I. Has our dear bower been destroyed by this unpitying storm?
And a beam of past happiness streamed upon me, as the mind of a
captive is illumined by dreams of flocks and herds and bygone joys
of home! But I am free from blame. I have courage to die! Perhaps
I have, -- but I still sit here, like a wretched pauper, who collects
fagots, and begs her bread from door to door, that she may prolong
for a few days a miserable existence which she is unwilling to resign.
What is the matter with me, dear Wilhelm? I am afraid of myself!
Is not my love for her of the purest, most holy, and most brotherly
nature? Has my soul ever been sullied by a single sensual desire?
but I will make no protestations. And now, ye nightly visions,
how truly have those mortals understood you, who ascribe your
various contradictory effects to some invincible power! This night
I tremble at the avowal -- I held her in my arms, locked in a close
embrace: I pressed her to my bosom, and covered with countless
kisses those dear lips which murmured in reply soft protestations
of love. My sight became confused by the delicious intoxication
of her eyes. Heavens! is it sinful to revel again in such happiness,
to recall once more those rapturous moments with intense delight?
Charlotte! Charlotte! I am lost! My senses are bewildered, my
recollection is confused, mine eyes are bathed in tears -- I am
ill; and yet I am well -- I wish for nothing -- I have no desires
-- it were better I were gone.
Under the circumstances narrated above, a determination to quit
this world had now taken fixed possession of Werther's soul. Since
Charlotte's return, this thought had been the final object of all
his hopes and wishes; but he had resolved that such a step should
not be taken with precipitation, but with calmness and tranquillity,
and with the most perfect deliberation.
His troubles and internal struggles may be understood from the
following fragment, which was found, without any date, amongst
his papers, and appears to have formed the beginning of a letter
"Her presence, her fate, her sympathy for me, have power still to
extract tears from my withered brain.
"One lifts up the curtain, and passes to the other side, -- that
is all! And why all these doubts and delays? Because we know not
what is behind -- because there is no returning -- and because our
mind infers that all is darkness and confusion, where we have
nothing but uncertainty."
His appearance at length became quite altered by the effect of
his melancholy thoughts; and his resolution was now finally and
irrevocably taken, of which the following ambiguous letter, which
he addressed to his friend, may appear to afford some proof.
I am grateful to your love, Wilhelm, for having repeated your
advice so seasonably. Yes, you are right: it is undoubtedly
better that I should depart. But I do not entirely approve your
scheme of returning at once to your neighbourhood; at least, I
should like to make a little excursion on the way, particularly
as we may now expect a continued frost, and consequently good
roads. I am much pleased with your intention of coming to fetch
me; only delay your journey for a fortnight, and wait for another
letter from me. One should gather nothing before it is ripe, and
a fortnight sooner or later makes a great difference. Entreat my
mother to pray for her son, and tell her I beg her pardon for all
the unhappiness I have occasioned her. It has ever been my fate
to give pain to those whose happiness I should have promoted.
Adieu, my dearest friend. May every blessing of Heaven attend
We find it difficult to express the emotions with which Charlotte's
soul was agitated during the whole of this time, whether in relation
to her husband or to her unfortunate friend; although we are enabled,
by our knowledge of her character, to understand their nature.
It is certain that she had formed a determination, by every means
in her power to keep Werther at a distance; and, if she hesitated
in her decision, it was from a sincere feeling of friendly pity,
knowing how much it would cost him, indeed, that he would find it
almost impossible to comply with her wishes. But various causes
now urged her to be firm. Her husband preserved a strict silence
about the whole matter; and she never made it a subject of
conversation, feeling bound to prove to him by her conduct that
her sentiments agreed with his.
The same day, which was the Sunday before Christmas, after Werther
had written the last-mentioned letter to his friend, he came in
the evening to Charlotte's house, and found her alone. She was
busy preparing some little gifts for her brothers and sisters,
which were to be distributed to them on Christmas Day. He began
talking of the delight of the children, and of that age when the
sudden appearance of the Christmas-tree, decorated with fruit and
sweetmeats, and lighted up with wax candles, causes such transports
of joy. "You shall have a gift too, if you behave well," said
Charlotte, hiding her embarrassment under sweet smile. "And what
do you call behaving well? What should I do, what can I do, my
dear Charlotte?" said he. "Thursday night," she answered, "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." Werther started. "I desire you will not: it must
be so," she continued. "I ask it of you as a favour, for my own
peace and tranquillity. We cannot go on in this manner any longer."
He turned away his face walked hastily up and down the room, muttering
indistinctly, "We cannot 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 in vain.
"No, Charlotte!" he exclaimed; "I will never see you any more!"
"And why so?" she answered. "We may -- we must see each other
again; only let it be with more discretion. Oh! why were you born
with that excessive, that ungovernable passion for everything that
is dear to you?" Then, taking his hand, she said, "I entreat of
you to be more calm: your talents, your understanding, your genius,
will furnish you with a thousand resources. Be a man, and conquer
an unhappy attachment toward a creature who can do nothing but pity
you." He bit his lips, and looked at her with a gloomy countenance.
She continued to hold his hand. "Grant me but a moment's patience,
Werther," she said. "Do you not see that you are deceiving yourself,
that you are seeking your own destruction? Why must you love me,
me only, who belong to another? I fear, I much fear, that it is
only the impossibility of possessing me which makes your desire for
me so strong." He drew back his hand, whilst he surveyed her with
a wild and angry look. "'Tis well!" he exclaimed, "'tis very well!
Did not Albert furnish you with this reflection? It is profound,
a very profound remark." "A reflection that any one might easily
make," she answered; "and is there not a woman in the whole world
who is at liberty, and has the power to make you happy? Conquer
yourself: look for such a being, and believe me when I say that you
will certainly find her. I have long felt for you, and for us all:
you have confined yourself too long within the limits of too narrow
a circle. Conquer yourself; make an effort: a short journey will
be of service to you. Seek and find an object worthy of your love;
then return hither, and let us enjoy together all the happiness of
the most perfect friendship."
"This speech," replied Werther with a cold smile, "this speech
should be printed, for the benefit of all teachers. My dear
Charlotte, allow me but a short time longer, and all will be well."
"But however, Werther," she added, "do not come again before
Christmas." He was about to make some answer, when Albert came in.
They saluted each other coldly, and with mutual embarrassment paced
up and down the room. Werther made some common remarks; Albert
did the same, and their conversation soon dropped. Albert asked
his wife about some household matters; and, finding that his
commissions were not executed, he used some expressions which, to
Werther's ear, savoured of extreme harshness. He wished to go,
but had not power to move; and in this situation he remained till
eight o'clock, his uneasiness and discontent continually increasing.
At length the cloth was laid for supper, and he took up his hat
and stick. Albert invited him to remain; but Werther, fancying
that he was merely paying a formal compliment, thanked him coldly,
and left the house.
Werther returned home, took the candle from his servant, and retired
to his room alone. He talked for some time with great earnestness
to himself, wept aloud, walked in a state of great excitement
through his chamber; till at length, without undressing, he threw
himself on the bed, where he was found by his servant at eleven
o'clock, when the latter ventured to enter the room, and take off
his boots. Werther did not prevent him, but forbade him to come in
the morning till he should ring.
On Monday morning, the 21st of December, he wrote to Charlotte the
following letter, which was found, sealed, on his bureau after his
death, and was given to her. I shall insert it in fragments; as
it appears, from several circumstances, to have been written in
"It is all over, Charlotte: I am resolved to die! I make this
declaration deliberately and coolly, without any romantic passion,
on this morning of the day when I am to see you for the last time.
At the moment you read these lines, O best of women, the cold grave
will hold the inanimate remains of that restless and unhappy being
who, in the last moments of his existence, knew no pleasure so
great as that of conversing with you! I have passed a dreadful
night or rather, let me say, a propitious one; for it has given
me resolution, it has fixed my purpose. I am resolved to die.
When I tore myself from you yesterday, my senses were in tumult
and disorder; my heart was oppressed, hope and pleasure had fled
from me for ever, and a petrifying cold had seized my wretched
being. I could scarcely reach my room. I threw myself on my knees;
and Heaven, for the last time, granted me the consolation of
shedding tears. A thousand ideas, a thousand schemes, arose within
my soul; till at length one last, fixed, final thought took
possession of my heart. It was to die. I lay down to rest; and
in the morning, in the quiet hour of awakening, the same determination
was upon me. To die! It is not despair: it is conviction that I
have filled up the measure of my sufferings, that I have reached
my appointed term, and must sacrifice myself for thee. Yes,
Charlotte, why should I not avow it? One of us three must die:
it shall be Werther. O beloved Charlotte! this heart, excited by
rage and fury, has often conceived the horrid idea of murdering
your husband -- you -- myself! The lot is cast at length. And
in the bright, quiet evenings of summer, when you sometimes wander
toward the mountains, let your thoughts then turn to me: recollect
how often you have watched me coming to meet you from the valley;
then bend your eyes upon the churchyard which contains my grave,
and, by the light of the setting sun, mark how the evening breeze
waves the tall grass which grows above my tomb. I was calm when
I began this letter, but the recollection of these scenes makes
me weep like a child."
About ten in the morning, Werther called his servant, and, whilst
he was dressing, told him that in a few days he intended to set
out upon a journey, and bade him therefore lay his clothes in
order, and prepare them for packing up, call in all his accounts,
fetch home the books he had lent, and give two months' pay to the
poor dependants who were accustomed to receive from him a weekly
He breakfasted in his room, and then mounted his horse, and went
to visit the steward, who, however, was not at home. He walked
pensively in the garden, and seemed anxious to renew all the ideas
that were most painful to him.
The children did not suffer him to remain alone long. They followed
him, skipping and dancing before him, and told him, that after
to-morrow and tomorrow and one day more, they were to receive their
Christmas gift from Charlotte; and they then recounted all the
wonders of which they had formed ideas in their child imaginations.
"Tomorrow and tomorrow," said he, "and one day more!" And he
kissed them tenderly. He was going; but the younger boy stopped
him, to whisper something in his ear. He told him that his elder
brothers had written splendid New-Year's wishes so large! one for
papa, and another for Albert and Charlotte, and one for Werther;
and they were to be presented early in the morning, on New Year's
Day. This quite overcame him. He made each of the children a
present, mounted his horse, left his compliments for papa and
mamma, and, with tears in his eyes, rode away from the place.
He returned home about five o'clock, ordered his servant to keep
up his fire, desired him to pack his books and linen at the bottom
of the trunk, and to place his coats at the top. He then appears
to have made the following addition to the letter addressed to
"You do not expect me. You think I will obey you, and not visit
you again till Christmas Eve. O Charlotte, today or never! On
Christmas Eve you will hold this paper in your hand; you will
tremble, and moisten it with your tears. I will -- I must! Oh, how
happy I feel to be determined!"
In the meantime, Charlotte was in a pitiable state of mind. After
her last conversation with Werther, she found how painful to herself
it would be to decline his visits, and knew how severely he would
suffer from their separation.
She had, in conversation with Albert, mentioned casually that Werther
would not return before Christmas Eve; and soon afterward Albert
went on horseback to see a person in the neighbourhood, with whom
he had to transact some business which would detain him all night.
Charlotte was sitting alone. None of her family were near, and
she gave herself up to the reflections that silently took possession
of her mind. She was for ever united to a husband whose love and
fidelity she had proved, to whom she was heartily devoted, and who
seemed to be a special gift from Heaven to ensure her happiness.
On the other hand, Werther had become dear to her. There was a
cordial unanimity of sentiment between them from the very first
hour of their acquaintance, and their long association and repeated
interviews had made an indelible impression upon her heart. She
had been accustomed to communicate to him every thought and feeling
which interested her, and his absence threatened to open a void
in her existence which it might be impossible to fill. How heartily
she wished that she might change him into her brother, -- that she
could induce him to marry one of her own friends, or could reestablish
his intimacy with Albert.
She passed all her intimate friends in review before her mind, but
found something objectionable in each, and could decide upon none
to whom she would consent to give him.
Amid all these considerations she felt deeply but indistinctly
that her own real but unexpressed wish was to retain him for herself,
and her pure and amiable heart felt from this thought a sense of
oppression which seemed to forbid a prospect of happiness. She
was wretched: a dark cloud obscured her mental vision.
It was now half-past six o'clock, and she heard Werther's step on
the stairs. She at once recognised his voice, as he inquired if
she were at home. Her heart beat audibly -- we could almost say
for the first time -- at his arrival. It was too late to deny
herself; and, as he entered, she exclaimed, with a sort of ill
concealed confusion, "You have not kept your word!" "I promised
nothing," he answered. "But you should have complied, at least
for my sake," she continued. "I implore you, for both our sakes."
She scarcely knew what she said or did; and sent for some friends,
who, by their presence, might prevent her being left alone with
Werther. He put down some books he had brought with him, then
made inquiries about some others, until she began to hope that her
friends might arrive shortly, entertaining at the same time a
desire that they might stay away.
At one moment she felt anxious that the servant should remain in
the adjoining room, then she changed her mind. Werther, meanwhile,
walked impatiently up and down. She went to the piano, and
determined not to retire. She then collected her thoughts, and
sat down quietly at Werther's side, who had taken his usual place
on the sofa.
"Have you brought nothing to read?" she inquired. He had nothing.
"There in my drawer," she continued, "you will find your own
translation of some of the songs of Ossian. I have not yet read
them, as I have still hoped to hear you recite them; but, for some
time past, I have not been able to accomplish such a wish." He
smiled, and went for the manuscript, which he took with a shudder.
He sat down; and, with eyes full of tears, he began to read.
"Star of descending night! fair is thy light in the west! thou
liftest thy unshorn head from thy cloud; thy steps are stately on
thy hill. What dost thou behold in the plain? The stormy winds
are laid. The murmur of the torrent comes from afar. Roaring
waves climb the distant rock. The flies of evening are on their
feeble wings: the hum of their course is on the field. What dost
thou behold, fair light? But thou dost smile and depart. The
waves come with joy around thee: they bathe thy lovely hair.
Farewell, thou silent beam! Let the light of Ossian's soul arise!
"And it does arise in its strength! I behold my departed friends.
Their gathering is on Lora, as in the days of other years. Fingal
comes like a watery column of mist! his heroes are around: and
see the bards of song, gray-haired Ullin! stately Ryno! Alpin with
the tuneful voice: the soft complaint of Minona! How are ye changed,
my friends, since the days of Selma's feast! when we contended,
like gales of spring as they fly along the hill, and bend by turns
the feebly whistling grass.
"Minona came forth in her beauty, with downcast look and tearful
eye. Her hair was flying slowly with the blast that rushed
unfrequent from the hill. The souls of the heroes were sad when
she raised the tuneful voice. Oft had they seen the grave of
Salgar, the dark dwelling of white-bosomed Colma. Colma left alone
on the hill with all her voice of song! Salgar promised to come!
but the night descended around. Hear the voice of Colma, when she
sat alone on the hill!
"Colma. It is night: I am alone, forlorn on the hill of storms.
The wind is heard on the mountain. The torrent is howling down
the rock. No hut receives me from the rain: forlorn on the hill
"Rise moon! from behind thy clouds. Stars of the night, arise!
Lead me, some light, to the place where my love rests from the
chase alone! His bow near him unstrung, his dogs panting around
him! But here I must sit alone by the rock of the mossy stream.
The stream and the wind roar aloud. I hear not the voice of my
love! Why delays my Salgar; why the chief of the hill his promise?
Here is the rock and here the tree! here is the roaring stream!
Thou didst promise with night to be here. Ah! whither is my Salgar
gone? With thee I would fly from my father, with thee from my
brother of pride. Our race have long been foes: we are not foes,
"Cease a little while, O wind! stream, be thou silent awhile! let
my voice be heard around! let my wanderer hear me! Salgar! it is
Colma who calls. Here is the tree and the rock. Salgar, my love,
I am here! Why delayest thou thy coming? Lo! the calm moon comes
forth. The flood is bright in the vale. The rocks are gray on
the steep. I see him not on the brow. His dogs come not before
him with tidings of his near approach. Here I must sit alone!
"Who lie on the heath beside me? Are they my love and my brother?
Speak to me, O my friends! To Colma they give no reply. Speak
to me: I am alone! My soul is tormented with fears. Ah, they are
dead! Their swords are red from the fight. O my brother! my
brother! why hast thou slain my Salgar! Why, O Salgar, hast thou
slain my brother! Dear were ye both to me! what shall I say in
your praise? Thou wert fair on the hill among thousands! he was
terrible in fight! Speak to me! hear my voice! hear me, sons of
my love! They are silent! silent for ever! Cold, cold, are their
breasts of clay! Oh, from the rock on the hill, from the top of
the windy steep, speak, ye ghosts of the dead! Speak, I will not
be afraid! Whither are ye gone to rest? In what cave of the hill
shall I find the departed? No feeble voice is on the gale: no
answer half drowned in the storm!
"I sit in my grief: I wait for morning in my tears! Rear the tomb,
ye friends of the dead. Close it not till Colma come. My life
flies away like a dream. Why should I stay behind? Here shall I
rest with my friends, by the stream of the sounding rock. When
night comes on the hill when the loud winds arise my ghost shall
stand in the blast, and mourn the death of my friends. The hunter
shall hear from his booth; he shall fear, but love my voice! For
sweet shall my voice be for my friends: pleasant were her friends
"Such was thy song, Minona, softly blushing daughter of Torman.
Our tears descended for Colma, and our souls were sad! Ullin came
with his harp; he gave the song of Alpin. The voice of Alpin was
pleasant, the soul of Ryno was a beam of fire! But they had rested
in the narrow house: their voice had ceased in Selma! Ullin had
returned one day from the chase before the heroes fell. He heard
their strife on the hill: their song was soft, but sad! They
mourned the fall of Morar, first of mortal men! His soul was like
the soul of Fingal: his sword like the sword of Oscar. But he
fell, and his father mourned: his sister's eyes were full of tears.
Minona's eyes were full of tears, the sister of car-borne Morar.
She retired from the song of Ullin, like the moon in the west,
when she foresees the shower, and hides her fair head in a cloud.
I touched the harp with Ullin: the song of morning rose!
"Ryno. The wind and the rain are past, calm is the noon of day.
The clouds are divided in heaven. Over the green hills flies the
inconstant sun. Red through the stony vale comes down the stream
of the hill. Sweet are thy murmurs, O stream! but more sweet is
the voice I hear. It is the voice of Alpin, the son of song,
mourning for the dead! Bent is his head of age: red his tearful
eye. Alpin, thou son of song, why alone on the silent hill? why
complainest thou, as a blast in the wood as a wave on the lonely
"Alpin. My tears, O Ryno! are for the dead my voice for those
that have passed away. Tall thou art on the hill; fair among the
sons of the vale. But thou shalt fall like Morar: the mourner
shall sit on thy tomb. The hills shall know thee no more: thy bow
shall lie in thy hall unstrung!
"Thou wert swift, O Morar! as a roe on the desert: terrible as a
meteor of fire. Thy wrath was as the storm. Thy sword in battle
as lightning in the field. Thy voice was as a stream after rain,
like thunder on distant hills. Many fell by thy arm: they were
consumed in the flames of thy wrath. But when thou didst return
from war, how peaceful was thy brow. Thy face was like the sun
after rain: like the moon in the silence of night: calm as the
breast of the lake when the loud wind is laid.
"Narrow is thy dwelling now! dark the place of thine abode! With
three steps I compass thy grave, O thou who wast so great before!
Four stones, with their heads of moss, are the only memorial of
thee. A tree with scarce a leaf, long grass which whistles in the
wind, mark to the hunter's eye the grave of the mighty Morar.
Morar! thou art low indeed. Thou hast no mother to mourn thee,
no maid with her tears of love. Dead is she that brought thee
forth. Fallen is the daughter of Morglan.
"Who on his staff is this? Who is this whose head is white with
age, whose eyes are red with tears, who quakes at every step? It
is thy father, O Morar! the father of no son but thee. He heard
of thy fame in war, he heard of foes dispersed. He heard of Morar's
renown, why did he not hear of his wound? Weep, thou father of
Morar! Weep, but thy son heareth thee not. Deep is the sleep of
the dead, low their pillow of dust. No more shall he hear thy
voice, no more awake at thy call. When shall it be morn in the
grave, to bid the slumberer awake? Farewell, thou bravest of men!
thou conqueror in the field! but the field shall see thee no more,
nor the dark wood be lightened with the splendour of thy steel.
Thou has left no son. The song shall preserve thy name. Future
times shall hear of thee they shall hear of the fallen Morar!
"The grief of all arose, but most the bursting sigh of Armin. He
remembers the death of his son, who fell in the days of his youth.
Carmor was near the hero, the chief of the echoing Galmal. Why
burst the sigh of Armin? he said. Is there a cause to mourn? The
song comes with its music to melt and please the soul. It is like
soft mist that, rising from a lake, pours on the silent vale;
the green flowers are filled with dew, but the sun returns in his
strength, and the mist is gone. Why art thou sad, O Armin, chief
of sea-surrounded Gorma?
"Sad I am! nor small is my cause of woe! Carmor, thou hast lost
no son; thou hast lost no daughter of beauty. Colgar the valiant
lives, and Annira, fairest maid. The boughs of thy house ascend,
O Carmor! but Armin is the last of his race. Dark is thy bed, O
Daura! deep thy sleep in the tomb! When shalt thou wake with thy
songs? with all thy voice of music?
"Arise, winds of autumn, arise: blow along the heath. Streams of
the mountains, roar; roar, tempests in the groves of my oaks! Walk
through broken clouds, O moon! show thy pale face at intervals;
bring to my mind the night when all my children fell, when Arindal
the mighty fell -- when Daura the lovely failed. Daura, my daughter,
thou wert fair, fair as the moon on Fura, white as the driven snow,
sweet as the breathing gale. Arindal, thy bow was strong, thy spear
was swift on the field, thy look was like mist on the wave, thy
shield a red cloud in a storm! Armar, renowned in war, came and
sought Daura's love. He was not long refused: fair was the hope
of their friends.
"Erath, son of Odgal, repined: his brother had been slain by Armar.
He came disguised like a son of the sea: fair was his cliff on the
wave, white his locks of age, calm his serious brow. Fairest of
women, he said, lovely daughter of Armin! a rock not distant in
the sea bears a tree on its side; red shines the fruit afar. There
Armar waits for Daura. I come to carry his love! she went she
called on Armar. Nought answered, but the son of the rock. Armar,
my love, my love! why tormentest thou me with fear? Hear, son of
Arnart, hear! it is Daura who calleth thee. Erath, the traitor,
fled laughing to the land. She lifted up her voice-- she called
for her brother and her father. Arindal! Armin! none to relieve
"Her voice came over the sea. Arindal, my son, descended from the
hill, rough in the spoils of the chase. His arrows rattled by his
side; his bow was in his hand, five dark-gray dogs attended his
steps. He saw fierce Erath on the shore; he seized and bound him
to an oak. Thick wind the thongs of the hide around his limbs;
he loads the winds with his groans. Arindal ascends the deep in
his boat to bring Daura to land. Armar came in his wrath, and
let fly the gray-feathered shaft. It sung, it sunk in thy heart,
O Arindal, my son! for Erath the traitor thou diest. The oar is
stopped at once: he panted on the rock, and expired. What is thy
grief, O Daura, when round thy feet is poured thy brother's blood.
The boat is broken in twain. Armar plunges into the sea to rescue
his Daura, or die. Sudden a blast from a hill came over the waves;
he sank, and he rose no more.
"Alone, on the sea-beat rock, my daughter was heard to complain;
frequent and loud were her cries. What could her father do? All
night I stood on the shore: I saw her by the faint beam of the moon.
All night I heard her cries. Loud was the wind; the rain beat hard
on the hill. Before morning appeared, her voice was weak; it died
away like the evening breeze among the grass of the rocks. Spent
with grief, she expired, and left thee, Armin, alone. Gone is my
strength in war, fallen my pride among women. When the storms
aloft arise, when the north lifts the wave on high, I sit by the
sounding shore, and look on the fatal rock.
"Often by the setting moon I see the ghosts of my children; half
viewless they walk in mournful conference together."
A torrent of tears which streamed from Charlotte's eyes and gave
relief to her bursting heart, stopped Werther's recitation. He
threw down the book, seized her hand, and wept bitterly. Charlotte
leaned upon her hand, and buried her face in her handkerchief:
the agitation of both was excessive. They felt that their own
fate was pictured in the misfortunes of Ossian's heroes, they
felt this together, and their tears redoubled. Werther supported
his forehead on Charlotte's arm: she trembled, she wished to be
gone; but sorrow and sympathy lay like a leaden weight upon her
soul. She recovered herself shortly, and begged Werther, with
broken sobs, to leave her, implored him with the utmost earnestness
to comply with her request. He trembled; his heart was ready to
burst: then, taking up the book again, he recommenced reading, in
a voice broken by sobs.
"Why dost thou waken me, O spring? Thy voice woos me, exclaiming,
I refresh thee with heavenly dews; but the time of my decay is
approaching, the storm is nigh that shall whither my leaves.
Tomorrow the traveller shall come, he shall come, who beheld me
in beauty: his eye shall seek me in the field around, but he shall
not find me."
The whole force of these words fell upon the unfortunate Werther.
Full of despair, he threw himself at Charlotte's feet, seized her
hands, and pressed them to his eyes and to his forehead. An
apprehension of his fatal project now struck her for the first
time. Her senses were bewildered: she held his hands, pressed
them to her bosom; and, leaning toward him with emotions of the
tenderest pity, her warm cheek touched his. They lost sight of
everything. The world disappeared from their eyes. He clasped
her in his arms, strained her to his bosom, and covered her trembling
lips with passionate kisses. "Werther!" she cried with a faint
voice, turning herself away; "Werther!" and, with a feeble hand,
she pushed him from her. At length, with the firm voice of virtue,
she exclaimed, "Werther!" He resisted not, but, tearing himself
from her arms, fell on his knees before her. Charlotte rose, and,
with disordered grief, in mingled tones of love and resentment,
she exclaimed, "It is the last time, Werther! You shall never see
me any more!" Then, casting one last, tender look upon her
unfortunate lover, she rushed into the adjoining room, and locked
the door. Werther held out his arms, but did not dare to detain
her. He continued on the ground, with his head resting on the
sofa, for half an hour, till he heard a noise which brought him
to his senses. The servant entered. He then walked up and down
the room; and, when he was again left alone, he went to Charlotte's
door, and, in a low voice, said, "Charlotte, Charlotte! but one
word more, one last adieu!" She returned no answer. He stopped,
and listened and entreated; but all was silent. At length he tore
himself from the place, crying, "Adieu, Charlotte, adieu for ever!"
Werther ran to the gate of the town. The guards, who knew him,
let him pass in silence. The night was dark and stormy, -- it
rained and snowed. He reached his own door about eleven. His
servant, although seeing him enter the house without his hat, did
not venture to say anything; and; as he undressed his master, he
found that his clothes were wet. His hat was afterward found on
the point of a rock overhanging the valley; and it is inconceivable
how he could have climbed to the summit on such a dark, tempestuous
night without losing his life.
He retired to bed, and slept to a late hour. The next morning his
servant, upon being called to bring his coffee, found him writing.
He was adding, to Charlotte, what we here annex.
"For the last, last time I open these eyes. Alas! they will behold
the sun no more. It is covered by a thick, impenetrable cloud.
Yes, Nature! put on mourning: your child, your friend, your lover,
draws near his end! This thought, Charlotte, is without parallel;
and yet it seems like a mysterious dream when I repeat -- this is
my last day! The last! Charlotte, no word can adequately express
this thought. The last! To-day I stand erect in all my strength
to-morrow, cold and stark, I shall lie extended upon the ground.
To die! what is death? We do but dream in our discourse upon it.
I have seen many human beings die; but, so straitened is our feeble
nature, we have no clear conception of the beginning or the end
of our existence. At this moment I am my own -- or rather I am
thine, thine, my adored! and the next we are parted, severed --
perhaps for ever! No, Charlotte, no! How can I, how can you,
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