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J.W. von Goethe (1749–1832). Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Book I

Chapter IX

THUS Wilhelm passed his nights in the enjoyment of confiding love; his days in the expectation of new happy hours. When desire and hope had first attracted him to Mariana, he already felt as if inspired with new life; felt as if he were beginning to be another man: he was now united to her; the contentment of his wishes had become a delicious habitude. His heart strove to ennoble the object of his passion; his spirit to exalt with it the young creature whom he loved. In the shortest absence, thoughts of her arose within him. If she had once been necessary to him, she was now grown indispensable, now that he was bound to her by all the ties of nature. His pure soul felt that she was the half, more than the half of himself. He was grateful and devoted without limit.

Mariana, too, succeeded in deceiving herself for a season; she shared with him the feeling of his liveliest blessedness. Alas, if the cold hand of self-reproach had not often come across her heart! She was not secure from it even in Wilhelm’s bosom, even under the wings of his love. And when she was again left alone, again left to sink from the clouds, to which passion had exalted her, into the consciousness of her real condition, then she was indeed to be pitied. So long as she had lived among degrading perplexities, disguising from herself her real situation, or rather never thinking of it, frivolity had helped her through; the incidents she was exposed to had come upon her each by itself; satisfaction and vexation had cancelled one another; humiliation had been compensated by vanity; want by frequent, though momentary superfluity; she could plead necessity and custom as a law or an excuse; and hitherto all painful emotions from hour to hour, and from day to day, had by these means been shaken off. But now, for some instants, the poor girl had felt herself transported to a better world; aloft as it were, in the midst of light and joy, she had looked down upon the abject desert of her life, had felt what a miserable creature is the woman who, inspiring desire, does not also inspire reverence and love; she regretted and repented, but found herself outwardly or inwardly no better for regret. She had nothing that she could accomplish or resolve upon. Looking into herself and searching, all was waste and void within her soul; her heart had no place of strength or refuge. But the more sorrowful her state was, the more vehemently did her feelings cling to the man whom she loved; her passion for him even waxed stronger daily, as the danger of losing him came daily nearer.

Wilhelm, on the other hand, soared serenely happy in higher regions; to him also a new world had been disclosed, but a world rich in the most glorious prospects. Scarcely had the first excess of joy subsided, when all that had long been gliding dimly through his soul stood up in bright distinctness before it. She is thine! She has given herself away to thee! She, the loved, the wished-for, the adored, has given herself away to thee in trust and faith; she shall not find thee ungrateful for the gift. Standing or walking, he talked to himself; his heart constantly overflowed; with a copiousness of splendid words, he uttered to himself the loftiest emotions. He imagined that he understood the visible beckoning of fate reaching out its hand by Mariana to save him from the stagnant, weary, drudging life out of which he had so often wished for deliverance. To leave his father’s house and people now appeared a light matter. He was young, and had not tried the world; his eagerness to range over its expanses, seeking fortune and contentment, was stimulated by his love. His vocation to the theatre was now clear to him; the high goal, which he saw raised before him, seemed nearer whilst he was advancing to it with Mariana’s hand in his; and in his comfortable prudence, he beheld in himself the embryo of a great actor; the future founder of that national theatre, for which he heard so much and various sighing on every side. All that till now had slumbered, in the most secret corners of his soul, at length awoke. He painted for himself a picture of his manifold ideas, in the colors of love, upon a canvas of clouds: the figures of it, indeed, ran sadly into one another; yet the whole had an air but the more brilliant on that account.