But know that thou must render up the dead, And with high interest too! Where human thought, like human sight, Fails to pursue their trackless flight. Death should come Gently to one of gentle mould, like thee, As light winds, wandering through groves of bloom, Detach the delicate blossoms from the tree, Close thy sweet eyes calmly, and without pain, And we will trust in God to see thee yet again.
What is death? Such is death! Yet tell me, frighted senses! What is death To him who meets it with an upright heart? Eliot, T. Frost, R. Hopkins, G. Keats, J. Lawrence, D. Masters, E. Sandburg, C. Sassoon, S. Whitman, W. Wordsworth, W. Yeats, W. Roosevelt, T. Stein, G. Stevenson, R. Wells, H.
Douglas, comp. Forty Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical. Not dead, but gone before. Samuel Rogers. Death comes but once. Beaumont and Fletcher. Every moment of life is a step towards death. Death is a mighty, universal truth. Passing through Nature to eternity. Death is the quiet haven of us all. God giveth quietness at last. In the midst of life we are in death.
Burial Service. Death levels all things. The blind cave of eternal night. Where all life dies death lives. There are remedies for all things but death. Death hath a thousand doors to let out life. A man can die but once. I want to meet my God awake. Death will have his day. Tell me, my soul! Death robs the rich and relieves the poor.
I must sleep now. Dying words of Byron. Thou hast all seasons for thine own, O death! Cruel as death and hungry as the grave. Death, thou art infinite; it is life is little. What can they suffer that do not fear to die? This is the last of earth! I am content. John Quincy Adams. The breathing miracle into silence passed! Gerald Massey. Dear beauteous death, the jewel of the just. Henry Vaughan. Death is the greatest evil, because it cuts off hope. Death ready stands to interpose his dart.
Death loves a shining mark, a signal blow. The young may die, but the old must! Heaven gives its favorites early death. Is it then so sad a thing to die? Death lays his icy hand on kings. The sense of death is most in apprehension. Death is a release from and an end of all pains. If some men died and others did not, death would indeed be a most mortifying evil. Death, as the psalmist saith, is certain to all; all shall die. Death is the last limit of all things.
Good men but see death, the wicked taste it. Ben Jonson. Death is not an end. It is a new impulse. Henry Ward Beecher. Man makes a death, which nature never made. It is infamy to die, and not be missed. Carlos Wilcox. The most happy ought to wish for death. Though death be poor, it ends a mortal woe.
The relations of all living end in separation. He that dies pays all debts. Paul Chatfield. Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark. To have to die is a distinction of which no man is proud. Alexander Smith. He that dies this year is quit for the next. There are few die well that die in a battle.
That which is so universal as death must be a benefit. Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last final awakening. Walter Scott. Death gives us sleep, eternal youth, and immortality. I heard that God had called your mother home to heaven. It will seem more than ever like home to you now. It is not I who die, when I die, but my sin and misery. I have often thought of death, and I find it the least of all evils. Jeremy Taylor.
All my possessions for a moment of time. Last words of Queen Elizabeth. I regret not death. I am going to meet my friends in another world. No king nor nation one moment can retard the appointed hour. The farthest from the fear are often nearest to the stroke of fate. What is death, after all?
We leave only mortals behind us. Ninon de Lenclos. The eyes of our souls only then begin to see when our bodily eyes are closing. William Law. That golden key that opes the palace of eternity. Death is the waiting-room where we robe ourselves for immortality. One may live as a conquerer, a king, or a magistrate; but he must die as a man. Daniel Webster. How much of love lies buried in dusty graves!
The heart is the first part that quickens, and the last that dies. John Ray. Gone before. We are dying from our very birth, and our end hangs on our beginning. God, how much there is in that little word! Faith builds a bridge across the gulf of death. Death is a black camel, which kneels at the gates of all. Soon as man, expert from time, has found the key of life, it opes the gates of death. Life is the jailer, death the angel sent to draw the unwilling bolts and set us free. Pale death enters with impartial step the cottages of the poor and the palaces of the rich.
It were well to die if there be gods, and sad to live if there be none. Marcus Antoninus. To how many is the death of the beloved the parent of faith! Men may live fools, but fools they cannot die. Death is the ultimate boundary of human matters. We turn to dust, and all our mightiest works die too. The ancients dreaded death: the Christian can only fear dying.
The finest day of life is that on which one quits it. Frederick the Great. To fear death is the way to live long; to be afraid of death is to be long a dying. Owen Meredith. Death hath no advantage but where it comes a stranger. Death comes to us, under many conditions, with all the welcome serenity of sleep. Hosea Ballou. Thomas Fuller. We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love. The good die first; and they whose hearts are dry as summer dust burn to the socket.
When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return. We thought her dying while she slept, and sleeping when she died. You should not fear, nor yet should you wish for your last day. It is only to those who have never lived that death ever can seem beautiful.
My sole defense against the natural horror which death inspires is to love beyond it. Death borders upon our birth; and our cradle stands in our grave. Bishop Hall. That last day does not bring extinction to us, but change of place. Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home. The uncertainty of death is, in effect, the great support of the whole system of life.
It is silliness to live when to live is a torment; and then we have a prescription to die when death is our physician. It is the cause, and not the death, that makes the martyr. Napoleon I. I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death. Death but supplies the oil for the inextinguishable lamp of life. Death is the ugly fact which Nature has to hide, and she hides it well. There are countless roads on all sides to the grave. Death never happens but once, yet we feel it every moment of our lives. If one was to think constantly of death the business of life would stand still.
Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes. Death is appalling to those of the most iron nerves, when it comes quietly and in the stillness and solitude of night. James Fenimore Cooper. Those only can thoroughly feel the meaning of death who know what is perfect love. George Eliot. Death is easier to bear without thinking of it, than the thought of death without peril.
He only half dies who leaves an image of himself in his sons. The angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of his wings. John Bright. Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily. La Rochefoucauld. There is a remedy for everything but death, who, in spite of our teeth, will take us in his clutches. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
This day which thou fearest so much, and which thou callest thy last, is the birthday of an eternity. Is it courage in a dying man to go, in weakness and in agony, to affront an almighty and eternal God? Christ is the door out of life. In the capacious urn of death, every name is shaken. He who fears death has already lost the life he covets. The time will come to every human being when it must be known how well he can bear to die. Death is the dropping of the flower that the fruit may swell. Death is dreadful to the man whose all is extinguished with his life; but not to him whose glory never can die.
Life is the triumph of our mouldering clay; death, of the spirit infinite! To a father, when his child dies, the future dies; to a child, when his parents die, the past dies. Not where death hath power may love be blest. The gods conceal from men the happiness of death, that they may endure life. That evil can never be great which is the last. Cornelius Nepos. A death-like sleep,. There is no finite life except unto death; no death except unto higher life. A short death is the sovereign good hap of human life. Death is an equal doom to good and bad, the common inn of rest.
Translated into the heavenly tongue, that word means life! It is uncertain at what place death awaits thee. Wait thou for it at every place. The tongues of dying men enforce attention, like deep harmony. Death and love are the two wings which bear man from earth to heaven. Michael Angelo. Death is as the foreshadowing of life. We die that we may die no more. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. If Socrates died like a sage, Jesus died like a God. Believe that each day is the last to shine upon thee.
The whole life of a philosopher is the meditation of his death. If I must die, I will encounter darkness as a bride, and hug it in mine arms. Death possesses a good deal of real estate, namely, the graveyard in every town. That death is best which comes appropriately at a ripe age. Look forward a little further to the period when all the noise and tumult and business of this world shall have closed forever. When I lived, I provided for everything but death; now I must die, and am unprepared.
An honorable death is better than a dishonorable life. He who does not fear death cares naught for threats. Dying words of Cardinal Beaufort. The long sleep of death closes our scars, and the short sleep of life our wounds. Jean Paul Richter. The divinity who rules within us forbids us to leave this world without his command.
No evil is honorable: but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil. There is no death! What seems so is transition. This I ask, is it not madness to kill thyself in order to escape death! Thou fool, what is sleep but the image of death? Fate will give an eternal rest. Death alone discloses how insignificant are the puny bodies of men. All our days travel toward death, and the last one reaches it.
Who now travels that dark path to the bourne from which they say no one returns. To die at the command of another is to die twice. Wherever I look there is nothing but the image of death. Death is not grievous to me, for I shall lay aside my pains by death. Sometimes death is a punishment; often a gift; it has been a favor to many. Beauty is fading, nor is fortune stable; sooner or later death comes to all.
When death gives us a long lease of life, it takes as hostages all those whom we have loved. The character wherewith we sink into the grave at death is the very character wherewith we shall reappear at the resurrection. Thomas Chalmers. Death is a silent, peaceful genius, who rocks our second childhood to sleep in the cradle of the coffin. Death, remembered, should be like a mirror, who tells us life is but a breath; to trust it, error.
Death shuns the naked throat and proffered breast; he flies when called to be a welcome guest. Sir Charles Sedley. Death is a stage in human progress, to be passed as we would pass from childhood to youth, or from youth to manhood, and with the same consciousness of an everlasting nature. And when no longer we can see Thee, may we reach out our hands, and find Thee leading us through death to immortality and glory. The knell, the shroud, the mattock, and the grave, the deep, damp vault, the darkness and the worm. Whatever crazy sorrow saith, no life that breathes with human breath has ever truly longed for death.
Like other tyrants, death delights to smite what, smitten, most proclaims the pride of power and arbitrary nod. Nothing can we call our own but death, and that small model of the barren earth which serves as paste and cover to our bones. Death, of all estimated evils, is the only one whose presence never incommoded anybody, and which only causes concern during its absence.
Setting is preliminary to brighter rising; decay is a process of advancement; death is the condition of higher and more fruitful life. Death is the only monastery; the tomb is the only cell, and the grave that adjoins the convent is the bitterest mock of its futility. Whatever stress some may lay upon it, a death-bed repentance is but a weak and slender plank to trust our all on. Death is like thunder in two particulars; we are alarmed at the sound of it; and it is formidable only from that which preceded it.
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He that always waits upon God is ready whenever He calls. Neglect not to set your accounts even; he is a happy man who so lives as that death at all times may find him at leisure to die. Owen Feltham. Dead is she? No; rather let us call ourselves dead, who tire so soon in the service of the Master whom she has gone to serve forever. Death, which hateth and destroyeth a man, is believed; God, which hath made him and loves him, is always deferred. Sir Walter Raleigh. It seems to be remarkable that death increases our veneration for the good, and extenuates our hatred for the bad.
Death is not an end, but a transition crisis. The reconciling grave swallows distinction first, that made us foes, that all alike lie down in peace together. It seems as though, at the approach of a certain dark hour, the light of heaven infills those who are leaving the light of earth. Victor Hugo. The darkness of death is like the evening twilight; it makes all objects appear more lovely to the dying. Birth into this life was the death of the embryo life that preceded, and the death of this will be birth into some new mode of being.
Earth has one angel less, and heaven one more since yesterday. Already, kneeling at the throne, she has received her welcome, and is resting on the bosom of her Saviour. To neglect at any time preparation for death is to sleep on our post at a siege; to omit it in old age is to sleep at an attack. We bury love; forgetfulness grows over it like grass; that is a thing to weep for, not the dead. If life be a pleasure, yet, since death also is sent by the hand of the same Master, neither should that displease us. Of all the evils of the world which are reproached with an evil character, death is the most innocent of its accusation.
Approach thy grave like one that wraps the drapery of his couch about him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
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Death came with friendly care, the opening bud to heaven conveyed, and bade it blossom there. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learnt to die has forgot to serve. I look upon death to be as necessary to our constitution as sleep.
We shall rise refreshed in the morning. Death is not the monarch of the dead, but of the dying. The moment he obtains a conquest, he loses a subject. Thomas Paine. Let us live like those who expect to die, and then we shall find that we feared death only because we were unacquainted with it.
William Wake. All that tread. Men in general do not live as if they looked to die; and therefore do not die as if they looked to live. Death is a commingling of eternity with time; in the death of a good man, eternity is seen looking through time. Death is the liberator of him whom freedom cannot release, the physician of him whom medicine cannot cure, and the comforter of him whom time cannot console.
It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other. It is by no means a fact that death is the worst of all evils; when it comes it is an alleviation to mortals who are worn out with sufferings. Death is the only physician, the shadow of his valley the only journeying that will cure us of age and the gathering fatigue of years.
The happiest of pillows is not that which love first presses! A few feet under the ground reigns so profound a silence, and yet so much tumult on the surface! Death itself is less painful when it comes upon us unawares than the bare contemplation of it, even when danger is far distant. Suns may set and rise; we, when our short day is closed, must sleep on during one never-ending night. Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure? If thou expect death as a friend, prepare to entertain it; if thou expect death as an enemy, prepare to overcome it; death has no advantage, but when it comes a stranger.
Man should ever look to his last day, and no one should be called happy before his funeral. A man after death is not a natural but a spiritual man; nevertheless he still appears in all respects like himself. Death to the Christian is the funeral of all his sorrows and evils, and the resurrection of all his joys.
He whom the gods love dies young, while he is in health, has his senses and his judgment sound. James Hamilton.
So we fall asleep in Jesus. We have played long enough at the games of life, and at last we feel the approach of death. We are tired out, and we lay our heads back on the bosom of Christ, and quietly fall asleep. Reflect on death as in Jesus Christ, not as without Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ it is dreadful, it is alarming, it is the terror of nature. In Jesus Christ it is fair and lovely, it is good and holy, it is the joy of saints.
Drawing near her death, she sent most pious thoughts as harbingers to heaven; and her soul saw a glimpse of happiness through the chinks of her sickness-broken body. It is impossible that anything so natural, so necessary, and so universal as death should ever have been designed by Providence as an evil to mankind. Certainly the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin, and passage to another world, is holy and religious; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto Nature, is weak.
He that would die well must always look for death, every day knocking at the gates of the grave; and then the grave shall never prevail against him to do him mischief. Death is so genuine a fact that it excludes falsehoods, or betrays its emptiness; it is a touchstone that proves the gold, and dishonors the baser metal.
Seek such union to the Son of God as, leaving no present death within, shall make the second death impossible, and shall leave in all your future only that shadow of death which men call dissolution, and which the gospel calls sleeping in Jesus. All was ended now, the hope and the fear and the sorrow, all the aching of heart, the restless, unsatisfied longing, all the dull, deep pain, and constant anguish of patience. The weariest and most loathed worldly life that age, ache, penury, and imprisonment can lay on nature is a paradise to what we fear of death.
Many persons sigh for death when it seems far off, but the inclination vanishes when the boat upsets, or the locomotive runs off the track, or the measles set it. We die every day; every moment deprives us of a portion of life and advances us a step toward the grave; our whole life is only a long and painful sickness. The fear of approaching death, which in youth we imagine must cause inquietude to the aged, is very seldom the source of much uneasiness.
O Death, what are thou? Everything dies, and on this spring morning, if I lay my ear to the ground, I seem to hear from every point of the compass the heavy step of men who carry a corpse to its burial. It has given me a deal of trouble to satisfy the anxiety of the mother, lest as she says "they should inconvenience the gentleman. What I have lately said of painting is equally true with respect to poetry. It is only necessary for us to know what is really excellent, and venture to give it expression; and that is saying much in few words.
To-day I have had a scene, which, if literally related, would, make the most beautiful idyl in the world. But why should I talk of poetry and scenes and idyls? Can we never take pleasure in nature without having recourse to art? If you expect anything grand or magnificent from this introduction, you will be sadly mistaken. It relates merely to a peasant-lad, who has excited in me the warmest interest.
As usual, I shall tell my story badly; and you, as usual, will think me extravagant. It is Walheim once more—always Walheim—which produces these wonderful phenomena. A party had assembled outside the house under the linden-trees, to drink coffee. The company did not exactly please me; and, under one pretext or another, I lingered behind. A peasant came from an adjoining house, and set to work arranging some part of the same plough which I had lately sketched. His appearance pleased me; and I spoke to him, inquired about his circumstances, made his acquaintance, and, as is my wont with persons of that class, was soon admitted into his confidence.
He said he was in the service of a young widow, who set great store by him. He spoke so much of his mistress, and praised her so extravagantly, that I could soon see he was desperately in love with her. It would, in fact, require the gifts of a great poet to convey the expression of his features, the harmony of his voice, and the heavenly fire of his eye.
No words can portray the tenderness of his every movement and of every feature: no effort of mine could do justice to the scene. His alarm lest I should misconceive his position with regard to his mistress, or question the propriety of her conduct, touched me particularly. The charming manner with which he described her form and person, which, without possessing the graces of youth, won and attached him to her, is inexpressible, and must be left to the imagination.
I have never in my life witnessed or fancied or conceived the possibility of such intense devotion, such ardent affections, united with so much purity. Do not blame me if I say that the recollection of this innocence and truth is deeply impressed upon my very soul; that this picture of fidelity and tenderness haunts me everywhere; and that my own heart, as though enkindled by the flame, glows and burns within me.
I mean now to try and see her as soon as I can: or perhaps, on second thoughts, I had better not; it is better I should behold her through the eyes of her lover. To my sight, perhaps, she would not appear as she now stands before me; and why should I destroy so sweet a picture? You should have guessed that I am well—that is to say—in a word, I have made an acquaintance who has won my heart: I have—I know not. To give you a regular account of the manner in which I have become acquainted with the most amiable of women would be a difficult task. I am a happy and contented mortal, but a poor historian.
An angel! Everybody so describes his mistress; and yet I find it impossible to tell you how perfect she is, or why she is so perfect: suffice it to say she has captivated all my senses. So much simplicity with so much understanding—so mild, and yet so resolute—a mind so placid, and a life so active. But all this is ugly balderdash, which expresses not a single character nor feature.
Some other time—but no, not some other time, now, this very instant, will I tell you all about it. Now or never. Well, between ourselves, since I commenced my letter, I have been three times on the point of throwing down my pen, of ordering my horse, and riding out. And yet I vowed this morning that I would not ride to-day, and yet every moment I am rushing to the window to see how high the sun is.
I could not restrain myself—go to her I must. I have just returned, Wilhelm; and whilst I am taking supper I will write to you. What a delight it was for my soul to see her in the midst of her dear, beautiful children,—eight brothers and sisters! But, if I proceed thus, you will be no wiser at the end of my letter than you were at the beginning. Attend, then, and I will compel myself to give you the details.
I mentioned to you the other day that I had become acquainted with S—, the district judge, and that he had invited me to go and visit him in his retirement, or rather in his little kingdom. But I neglected going, and perhaps should never have gone, if chance had not discovered to me the treasure which lay concealed in that retired spot. Some of our young people had proposed giving a ball in the country, at which I consented to be present.
I offered my hand for the evening to a pretty and agreeable, but rather commonplace, sort of girl from the immediate neighbourhood; and it was agreed that I should engage a carriage, and call upon Charlotte, with my partner and her aunt, to convey them to the ball. My companion informed me, as we drove along through the park to the hunting-lodge, that I should make the acquaintance of a very charming young lady.
When we arrived at the gate, the sun was setting behind the tops of the mountains. The atmosphere was heavy; and the ladies expressed their fears of an approaching storm, as masses of low black clouds were gathering in the horizon. I relieved their anxieties by pretending to be weather-wise, although I myself had some apprehensions lest our pleasure should be interrupted. I alighted; and a maid came to the door, and requested us to wait a moment for her mistress. I walked across the court to a well-built house, and, ascending the flight of steps in front, opened the door, and saw before me the most charming spectacle I had ever witnessed.
Six children, from eleven to two years old, were running about the hall, and surrounding a lady of middle height, with a lovely figure, dressed in a robe of simple white, trimmed with pink ribbons. She was holding a rye loaf in her hand, and was cutting slices for the little ones all around, in proportion to their age and appetite. She performed her task in a graceful and affectionate manner; each claimant awaiting his turn with outstretched hands, and boisterously shouting his thanks.
Some of them ran away at once, to enjoy their evening meal; whilst others, of a gentler disposition, retired to the courtyard to see the strangers, and to survey the carriage in which their Charlotte was to drive away.
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The young ones threw inquiring glances at me from a distance; whilst I approached the youngest, a most delicious little creature. He drew back; and Charlotte, entering at the very moment, said, "Louis, shake hands with your cousin. I have such a number of cousins, that I should be sorry if you were the most undeserving of them. She enjoined to the little ones to obey their sister Sophy as they would herself, upon which some promised that they would; but a little fair-haired girl, about six years old, looked discontented, and said, "But Sophy is not you, Charlotte; and we like you best.
We were hardly seated, and the ladies had scarcely exchanged compliments, making the usual remarks upon each other's dress, and upon the company they expected to meet, when Charlotte stopped the carriage, and made her brothers get down. They insisted upon kissing her hands once more; which the eldest did with all the tenderness of a youth of fifteen, but the other in a lighter and more careless manner. She desired them again to give her love to the children, and we drove off. The aunt inquired of Charlotte whether she had finished the book she had last sent her.
And the one before was not much better. We feel obliged to suppress the passage in the letter, to prevent any one from feeling aggrieved; although no author need pay much attention to the opinion of a mere girl, or that of an unsteady young man. I found penetration and character in everything she said: every expression seemed to brighten her features with new charms,—with new rays of genius,—which unfolded by degrees, as she felt herself understood.
Nothing could equal my delight when, on some holiday, I could settle down quietly in a corner, and enter with my whole heart and soul into the joys or sorrows of some fictitious Leonora. I do not deny that they even possess some charms for me yet. But I read so seldom, that I prefer books suited exactly to my taste. And I like those authors best whose scenes describe my own situation in life,—and the friends who are about me, whose stories touch me with interest, from resembling my own homely existence,—which, without being absolutely paradise, is, on the whole, a source of indescribable happiness.
I endeavoured to conceal the emotion which these words occasioned, but it was of slight avail; for, when she had expressed so truly her opinion of "The Vicar of Wakefield," and of other works, the names of which I omit Though the names are omitted, yet the authors mentioned deserve Charlotte's approbation, and will feel it in their hearts when they read this passage. It concerns no other person. The aunt looked at me several times with an air of raillery, which, however, I did not at all mind.
We talked of the pleasures of dancing. If anything disturbs me, I go to the piano, play an air to which I have danced, and all goes right again directly. You, who know me, can fancy how steadfastly I gazed upon her rich dark eyes during these remarks, how my very soul gloated over her warm lips and fresh, glowing cheeks, how I became quite lost in the delightful meaning of her words, so much so, that I scarcely heard the actual expressions. In short, I alighted from the carriage like a person in a dream, and was so lost to the dim world around me, that I scarcely heard the music which resounded from the illuminated ballroom.
The two Messrs. Andran and a certain N. I cannot trouble myself with the names , who were the aunt's and Charlotte's partners, received us at the carriage-door, and took possession of their ladies, whilst I followed with mine. We commenced with a minuet. I led out one lady after another, and precisely those who were the most disagreeable could not bring themselves to leave off. Charlotte and her partner began an English country dance, and you must imagine my delight when it was their turn to dance the figure with us.
You should see Charlotte dance. She dances with her whole heart and soul: her figure is all harmony, elegance, and grace, as if she were conscious of nothing else, and had no other thought or feeling; and, doubtless, for the moment, every other sensation is extinct. She was engaged for the second country dance, but promised me the third, and assured me, with the most agreeable freedom, that she was very fond of waltzing. Your partner is not allowed to waltz, and, indeed, is equally incapable: but I observed during the country dance that you waltz well; so, if you will waltz with me, I beg you would propose it to my partner, and I will propose it to yours.
We set off, and, at first, delighted ourselves with the usual graceful motions of the arms. With what grace, with what ease, she moved! When the waltz commenced, and the dancers whirled around each other in the giddy maze, there was some confusion, owing to the incapacity of some of the dancers. We judiciously remained still, allowing the others to weary themselves; and, when the awkward dancers had withdrawn, we joined in, and kept it up famously together with one other couple,—Andran and his partner. Never did I dance more lightly. I felt myself more than mortal, holding this loveliest of creatures in my arms, flying, with her as rapidly as the wind, till I lost sight of every other object; and O Wilhelm, I vowed at that moment, that a maiden whom I loved, or for whom I felt the slightest attachment, never, never should waltz with any one else but with me, if I went to perdition for it!
We took a few turns in the room to recover our breath. Charlotte sat down, and felt refreshed by partaking of some oranges which I had had secured,—the only ones that had been left; but at every slice which, from politeness, she offered to her neighbours, I felt as though a dagger went through my heart. We were the second couple in the third country dance. As we were going down and Heaven knows with what ecstasy I gazed at her arms and eyes, beaming with the sweetest feeling of pure and genuine enjoyment , we passed a lady whom I had noticed for her charming expression of countenance; although she was no longer young.
She looked at Charlotte with a smile, then, holding up her finger in a threatening attitude, repeated twice in a very significant tone of voice the name of "Albert. Enough, I became confused, got out in the figure, and occasioned general confusion; so that it required all Charlotte's presence of mind to set me right by pulling and pushing me into my proper place. The dance was not yet finished when the lightning which had for some time been seen in the horizon, and which I had asserted to proceed entirely from heat, grew more violent; and the thunder was heard above the music. When any distress or terror surprises us in the midst of our amusements, it naturally makes a deeper impression than at other times, either because the contrast makes us more keenly susceptible, or rather perhaps because our senses are then more open to impressions, and the shock is consequently stronger.
To this cause I must ascribe the fright and shrieks of the ladies. One sagaciously sat down in a corner with her back to the window, and held her fingers to her ears; a second knelt down before her, and hid her face in her lap; a third threw herself between them, and embraced her sister with a thousand tears; some insisted on going home; others, unconscious of their actions, wanted sufficient presence of mind to repress the impertinence of their young partners, who sought to direct to themselves those sighs which the lips of our agitated beauties intended for heaven.
Some of the gentlemen had gone down-stairs to smoke a quiet cigar, and the rest of the company gladly embraced a happy suggestion of the hostess to retire into another room which was provided with shutters and curtains. We had hardly got there, when Charlotte placed the chairs in a circle; and, when the company had sat down in compliance with her request, she forthwith proposed a round game.
I noticed some of the company prepare their mouths and draw themselves up at the prospect of some agreeable forfeit. She went round the circle with upraised arm. One made a mistake, instantly a box on the ear; and, amid the laughter that ensued, came another box; and so on, faster and faster. I myself came in for two. I fancied they were harder than the rest, and felt quite delighted. A general laughter and confusion put an end to the game long before we had counted as far as a thousand.
The party broke up into little separate knots: the storm had ceased, and I followed Charlotte into the ballroom. On the way she said, "The game banished their fears of the storm. It was still thundering at a distance: a soft rain was pouring down over the country, and filled the air around us with delicious odours. Charlotte leaned forward on her arm; her eyes wandered over the scene; she raised them to the sky, and then turned them upon me; they were moistened with tears; she placed her hand on mine and said, "Klopstock!
It was more than I could bear. I bent over her hand, kissed it in a stream of delicious tears, and again looked up to her eyes. Divine Klopstock! And thy name so often profaned, would that I never heard it repeated! I no longer remember where I stopped in my narrative: I only know it was two in the morning when I went to bed; and if you had been with me, that I might have talked instead of writing to you, I should, in all probability, have kept you up till daylight. I think I have not yet related what happened as we rode home from the ball, nor have I time to tell you now. It was a most magnificent sunrise: the whole country was refreshed, and the rain fell drop by drop from the trees in the forest.
Our companions were asleep. Charlotte asked me if I did not wish to sleep also, and begged of me not to make any ceremony on her account. Looking steadfastly at her, I answered, "As long as I see those eyes open, there is no fear of my falling asleep. The maid opened it softly, and assured her, in answer to her inquiries, that her father and the children were well, and still sleeping. I left her asking permission to visit her in the course of the day.
She consented, and I went, and, since that time, sun, moon, and stars may pursue their course: I know not whether it is day or night; the whole world is nothing to me. My days are as happy as those reserved by God for his elect; and, whatever be my fate hereafter, I can never say that I have not tasted joy,—the purest joy of life. You know Walheim. I am now completely settled there. In that spot I am only half a league from Charlotte; and there I enjoy myself, and taste all the pleasure which can fall to the lot of man.
Little did I imagine, when I selected Walheim for my pedestrian excursions, that all heaven lay so near it. How often in my wanderings from the hillside or from the meadows across the river, have I beheld this hunting-lodge, which now contains within it all the joy of my heart! I have often, my dear Wilhelm, reflected on the eagerness men feel to wander and make new discoveries, and upon that secret impulse which afterward inclines them to return to their narrow circle, conform to the laws of custom, and embarrass themselves no longer with what passes around them.
It is so strange how, when I came here first, and gazed upon that lovely valley from the hillside, I felt charmed with the entire scene surrounding me. The little wood opposite—how delightful to sit under its shade! How fine the view from that point of rock! Then, that delightful chain of hills, and the exquisite valleys at their feet! Could I but wander and lose myself amongst them! I went, and returned without finding what I wished. Distance, my friend, is like futurity. A dim vastness is spread before our souls: the perceptions of our mind are as obscure as those of our vision; and we desire earnestly to surrender up our whole being, that it may be filled with the complete and perfect bliss of one glorious emotion.
But alas! So does the restless traveller pant for his native soil, and find in his own cottage, in the arms of his wife, in the affections of his children, and in the labour necessary for their support, that happiness which he had sought in vain through the wide world.
When, in the morning at sunrise, I go out to Walheim, and with my own hands gather in the garden the pease which are to serve for my dinner, when I sit down to shell them, and read my Homer during the intervals, and then, selecting a saucepan from the kitchen, fetch my own butter, put my mess on the fire, cover it up, and sit down to stir it as occasion requires, I figure to myself the illustrious suitors of Penelope, killing, dressing, and preparing their own oxen and swine. Nothing fills me with a more pure and genuine sense of happiness than those traits of patriarchal life which, thank Heaven!
I can imitate without affectation. Happy is it, indeed, for me that my heart is capable of feeling the same simple and innocent pleasure as the peasant whose table is covered with food of his own rearing, and who not only enjoys his meal, but remembers with delight the happy days and sunny mornings when he planted it, the soft evenings when he watered it, and the pleasure he experienced in watching its daily growth.
The day before yesterday, the physician came from the town to pay a visit to the judge. He found me on the floor playing with Charlotte's children. Some of them were scrambling over me, and others romped with me; and, as I caught and tickled them, they made a great noise. The doctor is a formal sort of personage: he adjusts the plaits of his ruffles, and continually settles his frill whilst he is talking to you; and he thought my conduct beneath the dignity of a sensible man.
I could perceive this by his countenance. But I did not suffer myself to be disturbed. I allowed him to continue his wise conversation, whilst I rebuilt the children's card houses for them as fast as they threw them down. He went about the town afterward, complaining that the judge's children were spoiled enough before, but that now Werther was completely ruining them. Yes, my dear Wilhelm, nothing on this earth affects my heart so much as children.
When I look on at their doings; when I mark in the little creatures the seeds of all those virtues and qualities which they will one day find so indispensable; when I behold in the obstinate all the future firmness and constancy of a noble character; in the capricious, that levity and gaiety of temper which will carry them lightly over the dangers and troubles of life, their whole nature simple and unpolluted,—then I call to mind the golden words of the Great Teacher of mankind, "Unless ye become like one of these!
They are allowed no will of their own. And have we, then, none ourselves? Whence comes our exclusive right? Is it because we are older and more experienced? Great God! But they believe in him, and hear him not,—that, too, is an old story; and they train their children after their own image, etc. The consolation Charlotte can bring to an invalid I experience from my own heart, which suffers more from her absence than many a poor creature lingering on a bed of sickness.
She is gone to spend a few days in the town with a very worthy woman, who is given over by the physicians, and wishes to have Charlotte near her in her last moments. I accompanied her last week on a visit to the Vicar of S—, a small village in the mountains, about a league hence. We arrived about four o'clock: Charlotte had taken her little sister with her. When we entered the vicarage court, we found the good old man sitting on a bench before the door, under the shade of two large walnut-trees.
At the sight of Charlotte he seemed to gain new life, rose, forgot his stick, and ventured to walk toward her. She ran to him, and made him sit down again; then, placing herself by his side, she gave him a number of messages from her father, and then caught up his youngest child, a dirty, ugly little thing, the joy of his old age, and kissed it. I wish you could have witnessed her attention to this old man,—how she raised her voice on account of his deafness; how she told him of healthy young people, who had been carried off when it was least expected; praised the virtues of Carlsbad, and commended his determination to spend the ensuing summer there; and assured him that he looked better and stronger than he did when she saw him last.
I, in the meantime, paid attention to his good lady. The old man seemed quite in spirits; and as I could not help admiring the beauty of the walnut-trees, which formed such an agreeable shade over our heads, he began, though with some little difficulty, to tell us their history. My wife's father was my predecessor here, and I cannot tell you how fond he was of that tree; and it is fully as dear to me. Under the shade of that very tree, upon a log of wood, my wife was seated knitting, when I, a poor student, came into this court for the first time, just seven and twenty years ago.
He said she was gone with Herr Schmidt to the meadows, and was with the haymakers. The old man then resumed his story, and told us how his predecessor had taken a fancy to him, as had his daughter likewise; and how he had become first his curate, and subsequently his successor. He had scarcely finished his story when his daughter returned through the garden, accompanied by the above-mentioned Herr Schmidt.
She welcomed Charlotte affectionately, and I confess I was much taken with her appearance. She was a lively-looking, good-humoured brunette, quite competent to amuse one for a short time in the country. Her lover for such Herr Schmidt evidently appeared to be was a polite, reserved personage, and would not join our conversation, notwithstanding all Charlotte's endeavours to draw him out.
I was much annoyed at observing, by his countenance, that his silence did not arise from want of talent, but from caprice and ill-humour. This subsequently became very evident, when we set out to take a walk, and Frederica joining Charlotte, with whom I was talking, the worthy gentleman's face, which was naturally rather sombre, became so dark and angry that Charlotte was obliged to touch my arm, and remind me that I was talking too much to Frederica.
Nothing distresses me more than to see men torment each other; particularly when in the flower of their age, in the very season of pleasure, they waste their few short days of sunshine in quarrels and disputes, and only perceive their error when it is too late to repair it. This thought dwelt upon my mind; and in the evening, when we returned to the vicar's, and were sitting round the table with our bread end milk, the conversation turned on the joys and sorrows of the world, I could not resist the temptation to inveigh bitterly against ill-humour.
If our hearts were always disposed to receive the benefits Heaven sends us, we should acquire strength to support evil when it comes. When anything annoys me, and disturbs my temper, I hasten into the garden, hum a couple of country dances, and it is all right with me directly.
Invalids are glad to consult physicians, and submit to the most scrupulous regimen, the most nauseous medicines, in order to recover their health. Herr Schmidt resumed the subject. Is it not enough that we want the power to make one another happy, must we deprive each other of the pleasure which we can all make for ourselves? Show me the man who has the courage to hide his ill-humour, who bears the whole burden himself, without disturbing the peace of those around him. No: ill-humour arises from an inward consciousness of our own want of merit, from a discontent which ever accompanies that envy which foolish vanity engenders.
We see people happy, whom we have not made so, and cannot endure the sight. All the favours, all the attentions, in the world cannot compensate for the loss of that happiness which a cruel tyranny has destroyed. A recollection of many things which had happened pressed upon my mind, and filled my eyes with tears.
But when their souls are tormented by a violent passion, or their hearts rent with grief, is it in your power to afford them the slightest consolation? At these words the remembrance of a similar scene at which I had been once present fell with full force upon my heart. I buried my face in my handkerchief, and hastened from the room, and was only recalled to my recollection by Charlotte's voice, who reminded me that it was time to return home. With what tenderness she chid me on the way for the too eager interest I took in everything!
She declared it would do me injury, and that I ought to spare myself. Yes, my angel! I will do so for your sake. She is still with her dying friend, and is still the same bright, beautiful creature whose presence softens pain, and sheds happiness around whichever way she turns. She went out yesterday with her little sisters: I knew it, and went to meet them; and we walked together. In about an hour and a half we returned to the town. We stopped at the spring I am so fond of, and which is now a thousand times dearer to me than ever. Charlotte seated herself upon the low wall, and we gathered about her.
I looked around, and recalled the time when my heart was unoccupied and free. I turned toward Charlotte, and I felt her influence over me. Jane at the moment approached with the glass. Her sister, Marianne, wished to take it from her. The affection and simplicity with which this was uttered so charmed me, that I sought to express my feelings by catching up the child and kissing her heartily. She was frightened, and began to cry. In the evening I would not resist telling the story to a person who, I thought, possessed some natural feeling, because he was a man of understanding.
But what a mistake I made. He maintained it was very wrong of Charlotte, that we should not deceive children, that such things occasioned countless mistakes and superstitions, from which we were bound to protect the young. It occurred to me then, that this very man had been baptised only a week before; so I said nothing further, but maintained the justice of my own convictions.
We should deal with children as God deals with us, we are happiest under the influence of innocent delusions. What a child is man that he should be so solicitous about a look! What a child is man! We had been to Walheim: the ladies went in a carriage; but during our walk I thought I saw in Charlotte's dark eyes—I am a fool—but forgive me! Seldstadt, Andran, and I were standing about the door. They are a merry set of fellows, and they were all laughing and joking together. I watched Charlotte's eyes.
They wandered from one to the other; but they did not light on me, on me, who stood there motionless, and who saw nothing but her! My heart bade her a thousand times adieu, but she noticed me not. The carriage drove off; and my eyes filled with tears. I looked after her: suddenly I saw Charlotte's bonnet leaning out of the window, and she turned to look back, was it at me? My dear friend, I know not; and in this uncertainty I find consolation. Perhaps she turned to look at me. Good-night—what a child I am! You should see how foolish I look in company when her name is mentioned, particularly when I am asked plainly how I like her.
How I like her! I detest the phrase. What sort of creature must he be who merely liked Charlotte, whose whole heart and senses were not entirely absorbed by her. Like her! Some one asked me lately how I liked Ossian. Madame M—is very ill. I pray for her recovery, because Charlotte shares my sufferings. I see her occasionally at my friend's house, and to-day she has told me the strangest circumstance.
Old M—is a covetous, miserly fellow, who has long worried and annoyed the poor lady sadly; but she has borne her afflictions patiently. A few days ago, when the physician informed us that her recovery was hopeless, she sent for her husband Charlotte was present , and addressed him thus: "I have something to confess, which, after my decease, may occasion trouble and confusion. I have hitherto conducted your household as frugally and economically as possible, but you must pardon me for having defrauded you for thirty years.
At the commencement of our married life, you allowed a small sum for the wants of the kitchen, and the other household expenses. When our establishment increased and our property grew larger, I could not persuade you to increase the weekly allowance in proportion: in short, you know, that, when our wants were greatest, you required me to supply everything with seven florins a week. I took the money from you without an observation, but made up the weekly deficiency from the money-chest; as nobody would suspect your wife of robbing the household bank.
But I have wasted nothing, and should have been content to meet my eternal Judge without this confession, if she, upon whom the management of your establishment will devolve after my decease, would be free from embarrassment upon your insisting that the allowance made to me, your former wife, was sufficient. I talked with Charlotte of the inconceivable manner in which men allow themselves to be blinded; how any one could avoid suspecting some deception, when seven florins only were allowed to defray expenses twice as great.
But I have myself known people who believed, without any visible astonishment, that their house possessed the prophet's never-failing cruse of oil. No, I am not deceived. In her dark eyes I read a genuine interest in me and in my fortunes. Yes, I feel it; and I may believe my own heart which tells me—dare I say it? That she loves me! How the idea exalts me in my own eyes! And, as you can understand my feelings, I may say to you, how I honour myself since she loves me! Is this presumption, or is it a consciousness of the truth?
I do not know a man able to supplant me in the heart of Charlotte; and yet when she speaks of her betrothed with so much warmth and affection, I feel like the soldier who has been stripped of his honours and titles, and deprived of his sword. How my heart beats when by accident I touch her finger, or my feet meet hers under the table! I draw back as if from a furnace; but a secret force impels me forward again, and my senses become disordered. Her innocent, unconscious heart never knows what agony these little familiarities inflict upon me. Sometimes when we are talking she lays her hand upon mine, and in the eagerness of conversation comes closer to me, and her balmy breath reaches my lips,—when I feel as if lightning had struck me, and that I could sink into the earth.
And yet, Wilhelm, with all this heavenly confidence,—if I know myself, and should ever dare—you understand me. No, no! She is to me a sacred being. All passion is still in her presence: I cannot express my sensations when I am near her. I feel as if my soul beat in every nerve of my body. There is a melody which she plays on the piano with angelic skill,—so simple is it, and yet so spiritual! It is her favourite air; and, when she plays the first note, all pain, care, and sorrow disappear from me in a moment.
I believe every word that is said of the magic of ancient music. How her simple song enchants me! Sometimes, when I am ready to commit suicide, she sings that air; and instantly the gloom and madness which hung over me are dispersed, and I breathe freely again.
Wilhelm, what is the world to our hearts without love? What is a magic-lantern without light? You have but to kindle the flame within, and the brightest figures shine on the white wall; and, if love only show us fleeting shadows, we are yet happy, when, like mere children, we behold them, and are transported with the splendid phantoms. I have not been able to see Charlotte to-day. I was prevented by company from which I could not disengage myself. What was to be done? I sent my servant to her house, that I might at least see somebody to-day who had been near her.
Oh, the impatience with which I waited for his return! I should certainly have caught him in my arms, and kissed him, if I had not been ashamed. It is said that the Bonona stone, when placed in the sun, attracts the rays, and for a time appears luminous in the dark.
So was it with me and this servant. The idea that Charlotte's eyes had dwelt on his countenance, his cheek, his very apparel, endeared them all inestimably to me, so that at the moment I would not have parted from him for a thousand crowns. His presence made me so happy! Beware of laughing at me, Wilhelm. Can that be a delusion which makes us happy? I cannot assent to your proposal that I should accompany the ambassador to ———.
I do not love subordination; and we all know that he is a rough, disagreeable person to be connected with. You say my mother wishes me to be employed. I could not help laughing at that. Am I not sufficiently employed? And is it not in reality the same, whether I shell peas or count lentils? The world runs on from one folly to another; and the man who, solely from regard to the opinion of others, and without any wish or necessity of his own, toils after gold, honour, or any other phantom, is no better than a fool.
You insist so much on my not neglecting my drawing, that it would be as well for me to say nothing as to confess how little I have lately done. I never felt happier, I never understood nature better, even down to the veriest stem or smallest blade of grass; and yet I am unable to express myself: my powers of execution are so weak, everything seems to swim and float before me, so that I cannot make a clear, bold outline.
But I fancy I should succeed better if I had some clay or wax to model. I shall try, if this state of mind continues much longer, and will take to modelling, if I only knead dough. I have commenced Charlotte's portrait three times, and have as often disgraced myself. This is the more annoying, as I was formerly very happy in taking likenesses. I have since sketched her profile, and must content myself with that. Yes, dear Charlotte! I will order and arrange everything.
Only give me more commissions, the more the better. One thing, however, I must request: use no more writing-sand with the dear notes you send me. Today I raised your letter hastily to my lips, and it set my teeth on edge. I have often determined not to see her so frequently. But who could keep such a resolution? Every day I am exposed to the temptation, and promise faithfully that to-morrow I will really stay away: but, when tomorrow comes, I find some irresistible reason for seeing her; and, before I can account for it, I am with her again. Either she has said on the previous evening "You will be sure to call to-morrow,"—and who could stay away then?
I am within the charmed atmosphere, and soon find myself at her side. My grandmother used to tell us a story of a mountain of loadstone. When any vessels came near it, they were instantly deprived of their ironwork: the nails flew to the mountain, and the unhappy crew perished amidst the disjointed planks. Albert is arrived, and I must take my departure.
Were he the best and noblest of men, and I in every respect his inferior, I could not endure to see him in possession of such a perfect being. Fortunately I was not present at their meeting. It would have broken my heart! And he is so considerate: he has not given Charlotte one kiss in my presence. Heaven reward him for it! I must love him for the respect with which he treats her. He shows a regard for me, but for this I suspect I am more indebted to Charlotte than to his own fancy for me. Women have a delicate tact in such matters, and it should be so. They cannot always succeed in keeping two rivals on terms with each other; but, when they do, they are the only gainers.
I cannot help esteeming Albert. The coolness of his temper contrasts strongly with the impetuosity of mine, which I cannot conceal. He has a great deal of feeling, and is fully sensible of the treasure he possesses in Charlotte. He is free from ill-humour, which you know is the fault I detest most. He regards me as a man of sense; and my attachment to Charlotte, and the interest I take in all that concerns her, augment his triumph and his love.
I shall not inquire whether he may not at times tease her with some little jealousies; as I know, that, were I in his place, I should not be entirely free from such sensations. But, be that as it may, my pleasure with Charlotte is over. Call it folly or infatuation, what signifies a name? The thing speaks for itself. Before Albert came, I knew all that I know now. I knew I could make no pretensions to her, nor did I offer any, that is, as far as it was possible, in the presence of so much loveliness, not to pant for its enjoyment.
And now, behold me like a silly fellow, staring with astonishment when another comes in, and deprives me of my love. I bite my lips, and feel infinite scorn for those who tell me to be resigned, because there is no help for it. Let me escape from the yoke of such silly subterfuges! I ramble through the woods; and when I return to Charlotte, and find Albert sitting by her side in the summer-house in the garden, I am unable to bear it, behave like a fool, and commit a thousand extravagances. You terrify me when you are so violent. Believe me, dear Wilhelm, I did not allude to you when I spoke so severely of those who advise resignation to inevitable fate.
I did not think it possible for you to indulge such a sentiment. But in fact you are right. I only suggest one objection. In this world one is seldom reduced to make a selection between two alternatives. There are as many varieties of conduct and opinion as there are turns of feature between an aquiline nose and a flat one. You will, therefore, permit me to concede your entire argument, and yet contrive means to escape your dilemma.
Your position is this, I hear you say: "Either you have hopes of obtaining Charlotte, or you have none. Well, in the first case, pursue your course, and press on to the fulfilment of your wishes. In the second, be a man, and shake off a miserable passion, which will enervate and destroy you. But would you require a wretched being, whose life is slowly wasting under a lingering disease, to despatch himself at once by the stroke of a dagger? Does not the very disorder which consumes his strength deprive him of the courage to effect his deliverance?
You may answer me, if you please, with a similar analogy, "Who would not prefer the amputation of an arm to the periling of life by doubt and procrastination! There are moments, Wilhelm, when I could rise up and shake it all off, and when, if I only knew where to go, I could fly from this place. My diary, which I have for some time neglected, came before me today; and I am amazed to see how deliberately I have entangled myself step by step. To have seen my position so clearly, and yet to have acted so like a child! Even still I behold the result plainly, and yet have no thought of acting with greater prudence.
If I were not a fool, I could spend the happiest and most delightful life here. So many agreeable circumstances, and of a kind to ensure a worthy man's happiness, are seldom united. I feel it too sensibly,—the heart alone makes our happiness! To be admitted into this most charming family, to be loved by the father as a son, by the children as a father, and by Charlotte!
Wilhelm, you would be delighted to hear us in our rambles, and conversations about Charlotte. Nothing in the world can be more absurd than our connection, and yet the thought of it often moves me to tears. He tells me sometimes of her excellent mother; how, upon her death-bed, she had committed her house and children to Charlotte, and had given Charlotte herself in charge to him; how, since that time, a new spirit had taken possession of her; how, in care and anxiety for their welfare, she became a real mother to them; how every moment of her time was devoted to some labour of love in their behalf,—and yet her mirth and cheerfulness had never forsaken her.
I walk by his side, pluck flowers by the way, arrange them carefully into a nosegay, then fling them into the first stream I pass, and watch them as they float gently away. I forget whether I told you that Albert is to remain here. He has received a government appointment, with a very good salary; and I understand he is in high favour at court. I have met few persons so punctual and methodical in business.
Certainly Albert is the best fellow in the world. I had a strange scene with him yesterday. I went to take leave of him; for I took it into my head to spend a few days in these mountains, from where I now write to you. As I was walking up and down his room, my eye fell upon his pistols. I had a brace of pistols with me, unloaded; and I slept without any anxiety. One rainy afternoon I was sitting by myself, doing nothing, when it occurred to me I do not know how that the house might be attacked, that we might require the pistols, that we might in short, you know how we go on fancying, when we have nothing better to do.
I gave the pistols to the servant, to clean and load. He was playing with the maid, and trying to frighten her, when the pistol went off—God knows how! I had to endure all the lamentation, and to pay the surgeon's bill; so, since that time, I have kept all my weapons unloaded. But, my dear friend, what is the use of prudence? We can never be on our guard against all possible dangers. However,"—now, you must know I can tolerate all men till they come to "however;"—for it is self-evident that every universal rule must have its exceptions. But he is so exceedingly accurate, that, if he only fancies he has said a word too precipitate, or too general, or only half true, he never ceases to qualify, to modify, and extenuate, till at last he appears to have said nothing at all.
Upon this occasion, Albert was deeply immersed in his subject: I ceased to listen to him, and became lost in reverie. With a sudden motion, I pointed the mouth of the pistol to my forehead, over the right eye. I cannot comprehend how a man can be so mad as to shoot himself, and the bare idea of it shocks me. What is the meaning of all this? Have you carefully studied the secret motives of our actions? Do you understand—can you explain the causes which occasion them, and make them inevitable? If you can, you will be less hasty with your decision.
Theft is a crime; but the man who commits it from extreme poverty, with no design but to save his family from perishing, is he an object of pity, or of punishment? Who shall throw the first stone at a husband, who, in the heat of just resentment, sacrifices his faithless wife and her perfidious seducer? Even our laws, cold and cruel as they are, relent in such cases, and withhold their punishment.
You abhor the drunken man, and detest the extravagant; you pass by, like the Levite, and thank God, like the Pharisee, that you are not like one of them. I have been more than once intoxicated, my passions have always bordered on extravagance: I am not ashamed to confess it; for I have learned, by my own experience, that all extraordinary men, who have accomplished great and astonishing actions, have ever been decried by the world as drunken or insane.
And in private life, too, is it not intolerable that no one can undertake the execution of a noble or generous deed, without giving rise to the exclamation that the doer is intoxicated or mad? Shame upon you, ye sages! It is much easier to die than to bear a life of misery with fortitude. I was on the point of breaking off the conversation, for nothing puts me so completely out of patience as the utterance of a wretched commonplace when I am talking from my inmost heart. However, I composed myself, for I had often heard the same observation with sufficient vexation; and I answered him, therefore, with a little warmth, "You call this a weakness—beware of being led astray by appearances.
When a nation, which has long groaned under the intolerable yoke of a tyrant, rises at last and throws off its chains, do you call that weakness? The man who, to rescue his house from the flames, finds his physical strength redoubled, so that he lifts burdens with ease, which, in the absence of excitement, he could scarcely move; he who, under the rage of an insult, attacks and puts to flight half a score of his enemies, are such persons to be called weak?
My good friend, if resistance be strength, how can the highest degree of resistance be a weakness? Albert looked steadfastly at me, and said, "Pray forgive me, but I do not see that the examples you have adduced bear any relation to the question. But let us see if we cannot place the matter in another point of view, by inquiring what can be a man's state of mind who resolves to free himself from the burden of life,—a burden often so pleasant to bear,—for we cannot otherwise reason fairly upon the subject. It is able to endure a certain degree of joy, sorrow, and pain, but becomes annihilated as soon as this measure is exceeded.
The question, therefore, is, not whether a man is strong or weak, but whether he is able to endure the measure of his sufferings. The suffering may be moral or physical; and in my opinion it is just as absurd to call a man a coward who destroys himself, as to call a man a coward who dies of a malignant fever. He can no more communicate his own wisdom to him than a healthy man can instil his strength into the invalid, by whose bedside he is seated.
Albert thought this too general. I reminded him of a girl who had drowned herself a short time previously, and I related her history. She was a good creature, who had grown up in the narrow sphere of household industry and weekly appointed labour; one who knew no pleasure beyond indulging in a walk on Sundays, arrayed in her best attire, accompanied by her friends, or perhaps joining in the dance now and then at some festival, and chatting away her spare hours with a neighbour, discussing the scandal or the quarrels of the village, trifles sufficient to occupy her heart.
At length the warmth of her nature is influenced by certain new and unknown wishes. Inflamed by the flatteries of men, her former pleasures become by degrees insipid, till at length she meets with a youth to whom she is attracted by an indescribable feeling; upon him she now rests all her hopes; she forgets the world around her; she sees, hears, desires nothing but him, and him only. He alone occupies all her thoughts. Uncorrupted by the idle indulgence of an enervating vanity, her affection moving steadily toward its object, she hopes to become his, and to realise, in an everlasting union with him, all that happiness which she sought, all that bliss for which she longed.
His repeated promises confirm her hopes: embraces and endearments, which increase the ardour of her desires, overmaster her soul. She floats in a dim, delusive anticipation of her happiness; and her feelings become excited to their utmost tension. She stretches out her arms finally to embrace the object of all her wishes and her lover forsakes her.
Stunned and bewildered, she stands upon a precipice. All is darkness around her.