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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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The other day I went to the spring and found a young servant girl, who had set her pitcher on the lowest step, and looked round to see if one of her companions were near to place it on her head. I went down and looked at her. “Shall I help you?” said I. She blushed deeply. “Oh no, sir!” she exclaimed. “Come now! No ceremony!” I replied. She adjusted her headgear, and I helped her. She thanked me and walked up the steps.

May 17

I have made all sorts of acquaintances, but have as yet found no one I really like. I do not know what attraction I possess for people, so many of them like me, and attach themselves to me; and then I feel sorry when the road we go together takes us only a short distance. If you ask what the people here are like, I must answer, “Much the same as everywhere.” The human race does not vary. Most people work the greater part of their time for a mere living; and the little freedom which remains to them so troubles them that they use every means of getting rid of it. Oh, the destiny of man!

But they are a good sort of people. If I occasionally forget myself, and take part in the innocent pleasures which are left to us humans and enjoy myself, for instance, with genuine freedom and sincerity, round a well-set table, or arrange a walk or a dance or suchlike, all this has a good effect upon me; only I must forget that there lie dormant within me so many other qualities which wither unused, and which I must carefully conceal. Ah! All this affects my spirits. And yet to be misunderstood is the fate of a man like me.

Alas, that the friend of my youth is gone! Alas, that I ever knew her! I might say to myself, “You are a fool to seek what is not to be found here below.” But she was mine. I have felt that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be. God! Was there a single power in my soul that remained unused? In her presence did I not fully develop that intense feeling with which my heart embraces Nature? Was not our life together a perpetual interplay of the finest emotions, of the keenest wit, whose many shades, however extravagant, bore the stamp of genius? Alas! the few years by which she was my senior brought her to the grave before me. I shall never forget her, never forget her steady mind or her heavenly patience.

A few days ago I met a young man named V., a frank, open fellow, with most pleasing features. He has just left the university, does not think himself overwise, but yet believes that he knows more than other people. He has worked hard, as I can tell from many indications and, in short, is well informed. When he heard that I sketch a good deal, and that I know Greek (two unusual accomplishments for this part of the country), he came to see me and displayed his whole store of learning, from Batteux to Wood, from De Piles to Winckelmann: he assured me he had read all of the first part of Sulzer’s “Theory” and possessed a manuscript of Heyne’s on the study of antiquity. I let him talk.

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