The first passage Caroline mentions in her letter to Luise Gotter on 30 September 1783 — the scene at the fountain — occurs in Werther’s letter of 6 July:
She [Lotte] 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. “Dear fountain!” I said, “since that time I have no more come to enjoy cool repose by thy fresh stream: I have passed thee with careless steps, and scarcely bestowed a glance upon thee.” I looked down, and observed Charlotte’s little sister, Jane, coming up the steps with a glass of water. 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. “No!” cried the child, with the sweetest expression of face, “Charlotte must drink first.”
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.
“You should not do that,” said Charlotte: I felt perplexed. “Come, Jane,” she continued, taking her hand, and leading her down the steps again, “it is no matter: wash yourself quickly in the fresh water.” I stood and watched them; and when I saw the little dear rubbing her cheeks with her wet hands, in full belief that all the impurities contracted from my ugly beard would be washed off by the miraculous water, and how, though Charlotte said it would do, she continued still to wash with all her might, as though she thought too much were better than too little, I assure you, Wilhelm, I never attended a baptism with greater reverence; and when Charlotte came up from the well, I could have prostrated myself as before the prophet of an Eastern nation.
The second passage — the scene on the terrace — occurs in Werther’s letter of 10 September. Werther has already decided to leave Charlotte to end his agony.
Albert had promised to come to Charlotte in the garden immediately after supper. I was upon the terrace under the tall chestnut-trees, and watched the setting sun. I saw it sink for the last time beneath this delightful valley and silent stream. I had often visited the same spot with Charlotte, and witnessed that glorious sight; and now — I was walking up and down the very avenue which was so dear to me. A secret sympathy had frequently drawn me thither before I knew Charlotte; and we were delighted when, in our early acquaintance, we discovered that we each loved the same spot, which is indeed as romantic as any that ever captivated the fancy of an artist.
From beneath the chestnut-trees, there is an extensive view. But I remember that I have mentioned all this in a former letter, and have described the tall mass of beach-trees at the end, and how the avenue grows darker and darker as it winds its way among them, till it ends in a gloomy recess, which has all the charm of a mysterious solitude. I still remember the strange feeling of melancholy which came over me the first time I entered that dark retreat, at bright midday. I felt some secret foreboding that it would, one day, be to me the scene of some happiness or misery.
I had spent half an hour struggling between the contending thoughts of going and returning, when I heard them coming up the terrace. I ran to meet them. I trembled as I took her hand, and kissed it.
As we reached the top of the terrace, the moon rose from behind the wooded hill.
We conversed on many subjects, and, without perceiving it, approached the gloomy recess. Charlotte entered, and sat down. Albert seated himself beside her. I did the same, but my agitation did not suffer me to remain long seated. I got up, and stood before her, then walked backwards and forwards, and sat down again. I was restless and miserable. Charlotte drew our attention to the beautiful effect of the moonlight, which threw a silver hue over the terrace in front of us, beyond the beech-trees. It was a glorious sight, and was rendered more striking by the darkness which surrounded the spot where we were. We remained for some time silent, when Charlotte observed, “Whenever I walk by moonlight, it brings to my remembrance all my beloved and departed friends, and I am filled with thoughts of death and futurity. We shall live again, Werther!” she continued, with a firm but feeling voice; “but shall we know one another again — what do you think? what do you say?”
“Charlotte,” I said, as I took her hand in mine, and my eyes filled with tears, “we shall see each other again — here and hereafter we shall meet again.”
I could say no more. Why, Wilhelm, should she put this question to me, just at the moment when the fear of our cruel separation filled my heart?
“And oh! do those departed ones know how we are employed here? do they know when we are well and happy? do they know when we recall their memories with the fondest love? In the silent hour of evening the shade of my mother hovers round me; when seated in the midst of my children, I see them assembled near me, as they used to assemble near her; and then I raise my anxious eyes to heaven, and wish she could look down upon us, and witness how I fulfil the promise I made to her in her last moments, to be a mother to her children. . . .
I threw myself at her feet, and, seizing her hand, bedewed it with a thousand tears. “Charlotte!” I exclaimed, “God’s blessing and your mother’s spirit are upon you.” — “Oh! that you had known her,” she said, with a warm pressure of the hand. “She was worthy of being known to you.” I thought I should have fainted: never had I received praise so flattering. . . . Even Albert, generally so tranquil, had quite lost his composure; and I was excited beyond expression.
“And such a being,” she continued, “was to leave us, Werther! Great God, must we thus part with everything we hold dear in this world? Nobody felt this more acutely than the children: they cried and lamented for a long time afterwards, complaining that black men had carried away their dear mamma.”
Charlotte rose. It aroused me; but I continued sitting, and held her hand. “Let us go,” she said: “it grows late.” She attempted to withdraw her hand: I held it still. “We shall see each other again,” I exclaimed: “we shall recognize each other under every possible change! I am going,” I continued, “going willingly; but, should I say forever, perhaps I may not keep my word. Adieu, Charlotte; adieu, Albert. We shall meet again.” — “Yes: tomorrow, I think,” she answered with a smile. To-morrow! how I felt the word! Ah! she little thought, when she drew her hand away from mine. They walked down the avenue. I stood gazing after them in the moonlight. I threw myself upon the ground, and wept: I then sprang up, and ran out upon the terrace, and saw, under the shade of the lindentrees, her white dress disappearing near the garden-gate. I stretched out my arms, and she vanished.
[*] Weimarer Ausgabe 1:19:48, 86; translation from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther, trans. R. D. Boylan, J. W. von Goethe’s Works, vol. 6 (London 1903), 34–35, 57–61.
Illustrations (in order): (1) Wolfgang Pfeiffer, Die Werther-Illustrationen des Johann David Schubert (Weimar 1933); Freies Deutsches Hochstift, Frankfurter Goethe-Museum Kunstsammlung; (2) anonymous nineteenth-century engraving; (3) Minerva Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1831; Inhaltsverzeichnis deutscher Almanache, Theodor Springmann Stiftung; (4) Die Leiden des jungen Werthers von Goethe, ed. Ludwig Geiger, illustrations by Franz Skarbina (Berlin 1883), 58. Back.
© 2014 Doug Stott