The Sorrows of Young Werther
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Part 3 out of 3
be annihilated? We exist. What is annihilation? A mere word,
an unmeaning sound that fixes no impression on the mind. Dead,
Charlotte! laid in the cold earth, in the dark and narrow grave!
I had a friend once who was everything to me in early youth.
She died. I followed her hearse; I stood by her grave when the
coffin was lowered; and when I heard the creaking of the cords
as they were loosened and drawn up, when the first shovelful
of earth was thrown in, and the coffin returned a hollow sound,
which grew fainter and fainter till all was completely covered
over, I threw myself on the ground; my heart was smitten, grieved,
shattered, rent -- but I neither knew what had happened, nor what
was to happen to me. Death! the grave! I understand not the words.
-- Forgive, oh, forgive me! Yesterday -- ah, that day should have
been the last of my life! Thou angel! for the first time in my
existence, I felt rapture glow within my inmost soul. She loves,
she loves me! Still burns upon my lips the sacred fire they
received from thine. New torrents of delight overwhelm my soul.
Forgive me, oh, forgive!
"I knew that I was dear to you; I saw it in your first entrancing
look, knew it by the first pressure of your hand; but when I was
absent from you, when I saw Albert at your side, my doubts and
"Do you remember the flowers you sent me, when, at that crowded
assembly, you could neither speak nor extend your hand to me?
Half the night I was on my knees before those flowers, and I
regarded them as the pledges of your love; but those impressions
grew fainter, and were at length effaced.
"Everything passes away; but a whole eternity could not extinguish
the living flame which was yesterday kindled by your lips, and
which now burns within me. She loves me! These arms have encircled
her waist, these lips have trembled upon hers. She is mine! Yes,
Charlotte, you are mine for ever!
"And what do they mean by saying Albert is your husband? He may
be so for this world; and in this world it is a sin to love you,
to wish to tear you from his embrace. Yes, it is a crime; and I
suffer the punishment, but I have enjoyed the full delight of
my sin. I have inhaled a balm that has revived my soul. From
this hour you are mine; yes, Charlotte, you are mine! I go
before you. I go to my Father and to your Father. I will pour
out my sorrows before him, and he will give me comfort till you
arrive. Then will I fly to meet you. I will claim you, and
remain your eternal embrace, in the presence of the Almighty.
"I do not dream, I do not rave. Drawing nearer to the grave my
perceptions become clearer. We shall exist; we shall see each
other again; we shall behold your mother; I shall behold her, and
expose to her my inmost heart. Your mother -- your image!"
About eleven o'clock Werther asked his servant if Albert had
returned. He answered, "Yes;" for he had seen him pass on horseback:
upon which Werther sent him the following note, unsealed:
"Be so good as to lend me your pistols for a journey. Adieu."
Charlotte had slept little during the past night. All her
apprehensions were realised in a way that she could neither
foresee nor avoid. Her blood was boiling in her veins, and a
thousand painful sensations rent her pure heart. Was it the
ardour of Werther's passionate embraces that she felt within her
bosom? Was it anger at his daring? Was it the sad comparison
of her present condition with former days of innocence, tranquillity,
and self-confidence? How could she approach her husband, and
confess a scene which she had no reason to conceal, and which she
yet felt, nevertheless, unwilling to avow? They had preserved so
long a silence toward each other and should she be the first to
break it by so unexpected a discovery? She feared that the mere
statement of Werther's visit would trouble him, and his distress
would be heightened by her perfect candour. She wished that he
could see her in her true light, and judge her without prejudice;
but was she anxious that he should read her inmost soul? On the
other hand, could she deceive a being to whom all her thoughts
had ever been exposed as clearly as crystal, and from whom no
sentiment had ever been concealed? These reflections made her
anxious and thoughtful. Her mind still dwelt on Werther, who was
now lost to her, but whom she could not bring herself to resign,
and for whom she knew nothing was left but despair if she should
be lost to him for ever.
A recollection of that mysterious estrangement which had lately
subsisted between herself and Albert, and which she could never
thoroughly understand, was now beyond measure painful to her.
Even the prudent and the good have before now hesitated to explain
their mutual differences, and have dwelt in silence upon their
imaginary grievances, until circumstances have become so entangled,
that in that critical juncture, when a calm explanation would
have saved all parties, an understanding was impossible. And
thus if domestic confidence had been earlier established between
them, if love and kind forbearance had mutually animated and
expanded their hearts, it might not, perhaps, even yet have been
too late to save our friend.
But we must not forget one remarkable circumstance. We may
observe from the character of Werther's correspondence, that
he had never affected to conceal his anxious desire to quit
this world. He had often discussed the subject with Albert;
and, between the latter and Charlotte, it had not unfrequently
formed a topic of conversation. Albert was so opposed to the very
idea of such an action, that, with a degree of irritation unusual
in him, he had more than once given Werther to understand that he
doubted the seriousness of his threats, and not only turned them
into ridicule, but caused Charlotte to share his feelings of
incredulity. Her heart was thus tranquillised when she felt
disposed to view the melancholy subject in a serious point of
view, though she never communicated to her husband the
apprehensions she sometimes experienced.
Albert, upon his return, was received by Charlotte with
ill-concealed embarrassment. He was himself out of humour; his
business was unfinished; and he had just discovered that the
neighbouring official with whom he had to deal, was an obstinate
and narrow-minded personage. Many things had occurred to irritate
He inquired whether anything had happened during his absence, and
Charlotte hastily answered that Werther had been there on the
evening previously. He then inquired for his letters, and was
answered that several packages had been left in his study. He
thereon retired, leaving Charlotte alone.
The presence of the being she loved and honoured produced a new
impression on her heart. The recollection of his generosity,
kindness, and affection had calmed her agitation: a secret impulse
prompted her to follow him; she took her work and went to his
study, as was often her custom. He was busily employed opening
and reading his letters. It seemed as if the contents of some
were disagreeable. She asked some questions: he gave short answers,
and sat down to write.
Several hours passed in this manner, and Charlotte's feelings
became more and more melancholy. She felt the extreme difficulty
of explaining to her husband, under any circumstances, the weight
that lay upon her heart; and her depression became every moment
greater, in proportion as she endeavoured to hide her grief, and
to conceal her tears.
The arrival of Werther's servant occasioned her the greatest
embarrassment. He gave Albert a note, which the latter coldly
handed to his wife, saying, at the same time, "Give him the pistols.
I wish him a pleasant journey," he added, turning to the servant.
These words fell upon Charlotte like a thunderstroke: she rose
from her seat half-fainting, and unconscious of what she did. She
walked mechanically toward the wall, took down the pistols with a
trembling hand, slowly wiped the dust from them, and would have
delayed longer, had not Albert hastened her movements by an impatient
look. She then delivered the fatal weapons to the servant, without
being able to utter a word. As soon as he had departed, she folded
up her work, and retired at once to her room, her heart overcome
with the most fearful forebodings. She anticipated some dreadful
calamity. She was at one moment on the point of going to her
husband, throwing herself at his feet, and acquainting him with
all that had happened on the previous evening, that she might
acknowledge her fault, and explain her apprehensions; then she saw
that such a step would be useless, as she would certainly be unable
to induce Albert to visit Werther. Dinner was served; and a kind
friend whom she had persuaded to remain assisted to sustain the
conversation, which was carried on by a sort of compulsion, till
the events of the morning were forgotten.
When the servant brought the pistols to Werther, the latter received
them with transports of delight upon hearing that Charlotte had
given them to him with her own hand. He ate some bread, drank
some wine, sent his servant to dinner, and then sat down to write
"They have been in your hands you wiped the dust from them. I
kiss them a thousand times -- you have touched them. Yes, Heaven
favours my design, and you, Charlotte, provide me with the fatal
instruments. It was my desire to receive my death from your hands,
and my wish is gratified. I have made inquiries of my servant.
You trembled when you gave him the pistols, but you bade me no
adieu. Wretched, wretched that I am -- not one farewell! How
could you shut your heart against me in that hour which makes you
mine for ever? Charlotte, ages cannot efface the impression -- I
feel you cannot hate the man who so passionately loves you!"
After dinner he called his servant, desired him to finish the
packing up, destroyed many papers, and then went out to pay some
trifling debts. He soon returned home, then went out again,
notwithstanding the rain, walked for some time in the count's
garden, and afterward proceeded farther into the country. Toward
evening he came back once more, and resumed his writing.
"Wilhelm, I have for the last time beheld the mountains, the forests,
and the sky. Farewell! And you, my dearest mother, forgive me!
Console her, Wilhelm. God bless you! I have settled all my
affairs! Farewell! We shall meet again, and be happier than ever."
"I have requited you badly, Albert; but you will forgive me. I
have disturbed the peace of your home. I have sowed distrust
between you. Farewell! I will end all this wretchedness. And
oh, that my death may render you happy! Albert, Albert! make that
angel happy, and the blessing of Heaven be upon you!"
He spent the rest of the evening in arranging his papers: he tore
and burned a great many; others he sealed up, and directed to
Wilhelm. They contained some detached thoughts and maxims, some
of which I have perused. At ten o'clock he ordered his fire to
be made up, and a bottle of wine to be brought to him. He then
dismissed his servant, whose room, as well as the apartments of
the rest of the family, was situated in another part of the house.
The servant lay down without undressing, that he might be the
sooner ready for his journey in the morning, his master having
informed him that the post-horses would be at the door before six
"Past eleven o'clock! All is silent around me, and my soul is
calm. I thank thee, O God, that thou bestowest strength and courage
upon me in these last moments! I approach the window, my dearest
of friends; and through the clouds, which are at this moment driven
rapidly along by the impetuous winds, I behold the stars which
illumine the eternal heavens. No, you will not fall, celestial
bodies: the hand of the Almighty supports both you and me! I have
looked for the last time upon the constellation of the Greater
Bear: it is my favourite star; for when I bade you farewell at
night, Charlotte, and turned my steps from your door, it always
shone upon me. With what rapture have I at times beheld it! How
often have I implored it with uplifted hands to witness my felicity!
and even still -- But what object is there, Charlotte, which fails
to summon up your image before me? Do you not surround me on all
sides? and have I not, like a child, treasured up every trifle
which you have consecrated by your touch?
"Your profile, which was so dear to me, I return to you; and I
pray you to preserve it. Thousands of kisses have I imprinted
upon it, and a thousand times has it gladdened my heart on departing
from and returning to my home.
"I have implored your father to protect my remains. At the corner
of the churchyard, looking toward the fields, there are two
lime-trees -- there I wish to lie. Your father can, and doubtless
will, do this much for his friend. Implore it of him. But perhaps
pious Christians will not choose that their bodies should be
buried near the corpse of a poor, unhappy wretch like me. Then
let me be laid in some remote valley, or near the highway, where
the priest and Levite may bless themselves as they pass by my
tomb, whilst the Samaritan will shed a tear for my fate.
"See, Charlotte, I do not shudder to take the cold and fatal cup,
from which I shall drink the draught of death. Your hand presents
it to me, and I do not tremble. All, all is now concluded: the
wishes and the hopes of my existence are fulfilled. With cold,
unflinching hand I knock at the brazen portals of Death. Oh, that
I had enjoyed the bliss of dying for you! how gladly would I have
sacrificed myself for you; Charlotte! And could I but restore
peace and joy to your bosom, with what resolution, with what joy,
would I not meet my fate! But it is the lot of only a chosen few
to shed their blood for their friends, and by their death to
augment, a thousand times, the happiness of those by whom they are
"I wish, Charlotte, to be buried in the dress I wear at present:
it has been rendered sacred by your touch. I have begged this
favour of your father. My spirit soars above my sepulchre. I
do not wish my pockets to be searched. The knot of pink ribbon
which you wore on your bosom the first time I saw you, surrounded
by the children -- Oh, kiss them a thousand times for me, and
tell them the fate of their unhappy friend! I think I see them
playing around me. The dear children! How warmly have I been
attached to you, Charlotte! Since the first hour I saw you, how
impossible have I found it to leave you. This ribbon must be
buried with me: it was a present from you on my birthday. How
confused it all appears! Little did I then think that I should
journey this road. But peace! I pray you, peace!
"They are loaded -- the clock strikes twelve. I say amen.
Charlotte, Charlotte! farewell, farewell!"
A neighbour saw the flash, and heard the report of the pistol;
but, as everything remained quiet, he thought no more of it.
In the morning, at six o'clock, the servant went into Werther's
room with a candle. He found his master stretched upon the floor,
weltering in his blood, and the pistols at his side. He called,
he took him in his arms, but received no answer. Life was not yet
quite extinct. The servant ran for a surgeon, and then went to
fetch Albert. Charlotte heard the ringing of the bell: a cold
shudder seized her. She wakened her husband, and they both rose.
The servant, bathed in tears faltered forth the dreadful news.
Charlotte fell senseless at Albert's feet.
When the surgeon came to the unfortunate Werther, he was still
lying on the floor; and his pulse beat, but his limbs were cold.
The bullet, entering the forehead, over the right eye, had
penetrated the skull. A vein was opened in his right arm: the
blood came, and he still continued to breathe.
From the blood which flowed from the chair, it could be inferred
that he had committed the rash act sitting at his bureau, and that
he afterward fell upon the floor. He was found lying on his back
near the window. He was in full-dress costume.
The house, the neighbourhood, and the whole town were immediately
in commotion. Albert arrived. They had laid Werther on the bed:
his head was bound up, and the paleness of death was upon his face.
His limbs were motionless; but he still breathed, at one time
strongly, then weaker -- his death was momently expected.
He had drunk only one glass of the wine. "Emilia Galotti" lay
open upon his bureau.
I shall say nothing of Albert's distress, or of Charlotte's grief.
The old steward hastened to the house immediately upon hearing the
news: he embraced his dying friend amid a flood of tears. His
eldest boys soon followed him on foot. In speechless sorrow they
threw themselves on their knees by the bedside, and kissed his
hands and face. The eldest, who was his favourite, hung over him
till he expired; and even then he was removed by force. At twelve
o'clock Werther breathed his last. The presence of the steward,
and the precautions he had adopted, prevented a disturbance; and
that night, at the hour of eleven, he caused the body to be interred
in the place which Werther had selected for himself.
The steward and his sons followed the corpse to the grave. Albert
was unable to accompany them. Charlotte's life was despaired of.
The body was carried by labourers. No priest attended.
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