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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Excerpts from The Sorrows of Young Werther [Die Leiden des jungen Werthers] (1774)

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May 12

I know not whether some deceiving spirits haunt this spot, or whether it is the ardent, celestial fancy in my own heart which makes everything around me seem like paradise. In front of the house is a spring—a spring to which I am bound by a charm like Melusine and her sisters. Descending a gentle slope, you come to an arch, where, some twenty steps lower down, the clearest water gushes from the marble rock. The little wall which encloses it above, the tall trees which surround the spot, and the coolness of the place itself—everything imparts a pleasant but sublime impression. Not a day passes that I do not spend an hour there. The young girls come from the town to fetch water—the most innocent and necessary employment, but formerly the occupation of the daughters of kings. As I sit there, the old patriarchal idea comes to life again. I see them, our old ancestors, forming their friendships and plighting their troth at the well; and I feel how fountains and streams were guarded by kindly spirits. He who does not know these sensations has never enjoyed a cool rest at the side of a spring after the hard walk of a summer’s day.

May 13

You ask if you should send my books. My dear friend, for the love of God, keep them away from me! I no longer want to be guided, animated. My heart is sufficiently excited. I want strains to lull me, and I find them abundantly in my Homer. How often do I still the burning fever of my blood; you have never seen anything so unsteady, so restless, as my heart. But need I confess this to you, my dear friend, who have so often witnessed my sudden transitions from sorrow to joy, and from sweet melancholy to violent passions? I treat my heart like a sick child, and gratify its every fancy. Do not repeat this; there are people who would misunderstand it.

May 15

The poor people hereabouts know me already, and love me, particularly the children.

When at first I associated with them, and asked them in a friendly way about this and that, some thought that I wanted to ridicule them, and treated me quite rudely. I did not mind this; I only felt keenly what I had often noticed before. People of rank keep themselves coldly aloof from the common people, as though they feared to lose something by the contact; while shallow minds and bad jokers affect to descend to their level, only to make the poor people feel their impertinence all the more keenly.

I know very well that we are not all equal, nor can be so; but I am convinced that he who avoids the ordinary people in order to keep his respect, is as much to blame as a coward who hides himself from his enemy because he fears defeat.

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