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Excerpt from

The Sorrows of Young Werther  

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


22 May

It has seemed to many that the life of man is only a dream, and I am myself always accompanied by that feeling. When I consider how narrowly the active and enquiring powers of a human being are confined; when I see that all effective effort has at its end the satisfaction of needs which themselves have no purpose except to lengthen the duration of our poor existence, and that any contentment on one point or another of our enquiries consists only in a sort of dreaming resignation as we paint the walls within which we sit out our imprisonment with bright figures and vistas of light--All that, Wilhelm, renders me speechless. I go back into myself and find a whole world! Again, more in intimations and a dark desire than in realization and living force. And everything swims before my senses and I smile at the world and continue my dreaming.

All our learned schoolmasters and tutors agreed that children do not know why they want what they want. But no one likes to think--blindingly obvious though it is, in my view--that grown-ups too, like the children, totter around on the earth and, like the children, do not know where they have come from or where they are going, act no more than children do for any true purpose and are just as governed by biscuits, cakes, and the rod.

I don't mind telling you, since I know what your response will be, that I think those the happiest who, like children, live for the moment, trail their dolls around, dress them and undress them, tiptoe with great respect around the drawer in which Mama hides the sweet things they desire--then snatch, gobble, and cry for more.--They are happy creatures. And just as well off are those who give splendid names to their miserable occupations or, worse, to their passions, and proclaim them to be the works of giants, for the prosperity and salvation of mankind.--Yes you are well off if you can live like that! But whoever in his humility know what it all amounts to, who sees how every comfortable householder prinks up his little garden into a paradise and how doggedly even the unhappy man hauls himself and his burden further along the way, and that their own interest is the same: to view the light of the sun a minute more--seeing that, you are quiet and out of your own self you too may fashion a world of your own and even be happy in being human. And then, confined as you are, you harbor the sweet feeling of freedom in your heart and are conscious that you can always leave this prison when you like.

About the book:

Visiting an idyllic German village, Werther, a sensitive and romantic young man, meets and falls in love with sweet-natured Lotte. Although he realizes that Lotte is to marry Albert, he is unable to subdue his passion for her, and his infatuation torments him to the point of absolute despair. The first great 'confessional' novel, 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' draws both on Goethe's own unrequited love for Charlotte Buff and on the death of his friend Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. Goethe's sensitive exploration of the mind of a young artist at odds with society and ill-equipped to cope with life is now considered the first great tragic novel of European literature.

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