Home  »  Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship  »  Chapter VI

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

Book VII

Chapter VI

WILHELM had passed a restless afternoon, not altogether without tedium; when towards evening his door opened, and a handsome hunter-boy stept forward with a bow. “Shall we have a walk?” said the youth; and in the instant Wilhelm recognised Theresa by her lovely eyes.

“Pardon me this masquerade,” said she; “for now, alas, it is nothing more. But as I am going to tell you of the time when I so enjoyed the world, I will recall those days, by every method, to my fancy. Come along! Even the place, where we have rested so often from our hunts and promenades, shall help me.”

They went accordingly. On the way, Theresa said to her attendant: “It is not fair that I alone should speak: you already know enough of me, I nothing about you. Tell me in the mean while something of yourself, that I may gather courage to submit to you my history and situation.” “Alas!” said Wilhelm, “I have nothing to relate but error on the back of error, deviation following deviation: and I know none from whom I would more gladly hide my present and my past embarrassments than from yourself. Your look, the scene you move in, your whole temperament and manner, prove to me that you have reason to rejoice in your bygone life; that you have travelled by a fair, clear path, in constant progress; that you have lost no time, that you have nothing to reproach yourself withal.”

Theresa answered with a smile: “Let us see if you will think so, after you have heard my history.” They walked along: among some general remarks, Theresa asked him: “Are you free?” “I think I am,” said he; “and yet I do not wish it.” “Good!” said she: “that indicates a complicated story; you also will have something to relate.”

Conversing thus, they ascended the hill, and placed themselves beside a lofty oak, which spread its shade far out on every side. “Here,” said she, “beneath this German tree, will I disclose to you the history of a German maiden: listen to me patiently.

“My father was a wealthy nobleman of this province, a cheerful, clear-sighted, active, able man; a tender father, an upright friend, an excellent economist. I knew but one fault in him; he was too compliant to a wife who did not know his worth. Alas, that I should have to say so of my mother! Her nature was the opposite of his. She was quick and changeful; without affection either for her home, or for me her only child; extravagant, but beautiful, sprightly, full of talent, the delight of a circle she had gathered round her. Her society in truth was never large; nor did it long continue the same. It consisted principally of men; for no woman could like to be near her, still less could she endure the merit or the praise of any woman. I resembled my father, both in form and dispositions. As the duckling, with its first footsteps, seeks the water; so, from my earliest youth, the kitchen, the store-room, the granaries, the fields, were my selected element. Cleanliness and order in the house, seemed, even while I was playing in it, to be my peculiar instinct, my peculiar object. This tendency gave my father pleasure; and he directed, step by step, my childish endeavour into the suitablest employments. On the contrary, my mother did not like me, and she never for a moment hid it.

“I waxed in stature: with my years, increased my turn for occupation and my father’s love to me. When we were by ourselves, when walking through the fields, when I was helping to examine his accounts, it was then I could see how glad he was. While gazing on his eyes, I felt as if I had been looking in upon myself; for it was in the eyes that I completely resembled him. But in the presence of my mother, he lost this energy, this aspect: he excused me mildly, when she blamed me unjustly and violently; he took my part, not as if he would protect me, but as if he would extenuate the demerit of my good qualities. To none of her caprices did he set himself in opposition. She began to be immensely taken with a passion for the stage; a theatre was soon got up; of men of all shapes and ages, crowding to display themselves along with her upon her boards, she had abundance; of women, on the other hand, there was often a scarcity. Lydia, a pretty girl, who had been brought up with me, and who promised from the first to be extremely beautiful, had to undertake the secondary parts; the mothers and the aunts were represented by an ancient chambermaid; while the leading heroines, lovers, and shepherdesses of every kind, were seized on by my mother. I cannot tell you how ridiculous it seemed to me, to see the people, every one of whom I knew full well, standing on their scaffold, and pretending, after they had dressed themselves in other clothes, to pass for something else than what they were. In my eyes they were never anything but Lydia and my mother, this baron and that secretary, whether they appeared as counts and princes or as peasants: and I could not understand how they meant to make me think that they were sad or happy, that they were indifferent or in love, liberal or avaricious, when I well knew the contrary to be the case. Accordingly, I very seldom stayed among the audience: I always snuffed their candles, that I might not be entirely without employment; I prepared the supper, and next morning before they rose I used to have their wardrobe all sorted, which commonly, the night before, they had left in a chaotic state.

“To my mother this activity appeared quite proper; but her love I could not gain. She despised me; and I know for certain that she more than once exclaimed with bitterness: ‘If the mother could be as uncertain as the father, you would scarcely take this housemaid for my daughter!’ Such treatment, I confess, at length entirely estranged me from her: I viewed her conduct as the conduct of a person unconnected with me; and being used to watch our servants like a falcon (for this, be it said in passing, is the ground of all true housekeeping), the proceedings of my mother and her friends, at the same time, naturally forced themselves upon my observation. It was easy to perceive that she did not look on all the men alike: I gave sharper heed; and soon found out that Lydia was her confidant, and had herself, by this opportunity, become acquainted with a passion, which from her earliest youth she had so often represented. I was aware of all their meetings: but I held my tongue: hinting nothing to my father, whom I was afraid of troubling. At last, however, I was obliged to speak. Many of their enterprises could not be accomplished without corrupting the servants. These now began to grow refractory; they despised my father’s regulations, disregarded my commands. The disorders which arose from this I could not tolerate; I discovered all, complained of all to my father.

“He listened to me calmly. ‘Good girl!’ replied he with a smile; ‘I know it all: be quiet, bear it patiently; for it is on thy account alone that I endure it.’

“I was not quiet, I had not patience. I in secret blamed my father; for I did not think that any reason should induce him to endure such things. I called for regularity from all the servants; I was bent on driving matters to extremity.

“My mother had been rich before her marriage; yet she squandered more than she had a right to; and this, as I observed, occasioned many conferences between my parents. For a long time, the evil was not helped; till at last the passions of my mother brought it to a head.

“Her first gallant became unfaithful in a glaring manner: the house, the neighbourhood, her whole condition grew offensive to her. She insisted on removing to a different estate; there she was too solitary: she insisted on removing to the town; there she felt herself eclipsed among the crowd. Of much that passed between my father and her I know nothing: however, he at last determined, under stipulations which I did not learn, to consent that she should take a journey, which she had been meditating, to the South of France.

“We were now free; we lived as if in heaven: I do believe, my father could not be a loser, had he purchased her absence by a considerable sum. All our useless domestics were dismissed; and fortune seemed to smile on our undertakings: we had some extremely prosperous years; all things succeeded to our wish. But, alas, this pleasing state was not of long continuance; altogether unexpectedly my father had a shock of palsy; it lamed his right side, and deprived him of the proper use of speech. We had to guess at everything that he required; for he never could pronounce the word that he intended. There were times when this was dreadfully afflicting to us: he would require expressly to be left alone with me; with earnest gestures he would signify that every one should go away; and when we saw ourselves alone, he could not speak the word he meant. His impatience mounted to the highest pitch: his situation touched me to the inmost heart. Thus much seemed certain: he had something which he wished to tell me, which especially concerned my interest. What longing did I feel to know it! At other times, I could discover all things in his eyes: but now it was in vain. Even his eyes no longer spoke. Only this was clear: he wanted nothing, he desired nothing; he was striving to discover something to me; which unhappily I did not learn. His malady revisited him: he grew entirely inactive, incapable of motion, and a short time afterwards he died.

“I know not how it had got rooted in my thoughts that somewhere he had hid a treasure, which he wished at death to leave me rather than my mother: I searched about for traces of it while he lived, but I could meet with none; at his death a seal was put on everything. I wrote to my mother, offering to continue in the house, and manage for her: she refused, and I was obliged to leave the place. A mutual testament was now produced; it gave my mother the possession and the use of all; and I was left, at least throughout her life, dependent on her. It was now that I conceived I rightly understood my father’s beckoning: I pitied him for having been so weak; he had let himself be forced to do unjustly to me even after he was dead. Certain of my friends maintained, that it was little better than if he had disinherited me: they called upon me to attack the will by law; but this I never could resolve on doing. I reverenced my father’s memory too much; I trusted in destiny; I trusted in myself.

“There was a lady in the neighbourhood possessed of large property, with whom I had always been on good terms: she gladly received me; I engaged to superintend her household, and ere long the task grew very easy to me. She lived regularly, she loved order in everything: and I faithfully assisted her in struggling with her steward and domestics. I am neither of a niggardly nor grudging temper; but we women are disposed to insist, more earnestly than men, that nothing shall be wasted. Embezzlement of all sorts is intolerable to us: we require that each enjoy exactly in so far as right entitles him.

“Here I was in my element once more; I mourned my father’s death in silence. My protectress was content with me: one small circumstance alone disturbed my peace. Lydia returned: my mother had been harsh enough to cast the poor girl off, after having altogether spoiled her. Lydia had learned with her mistress to consider passions as her occupation; she was wont to curb herself in nothing. On her unexpected reappearance, the lady whom I lived with took her in; she wished to help me, but could train herself to nothing.

“About this time, the relatives and future heirs of my protectress often visited the house, to recreate themselves with hunting. Lothario was frequently among them: it was not long till I had noticed, though without the smallest reference to myself, how far he was superior to the rest. He was courteous towards all; and Lydia seemed ere long to have attracted his attention to her. Constantly engaged in something, I was seldom with the company: while he was there I did not talk so much as usual; for I will confess it, lively conversation, from of old, had been to me the finest seasoning of existence. With my father I was wont to talk of everything that happened. What you do not speak of, you will seldom accurately think of. No man had I ever heard with greater pleasure than I did Lothario, when he told us of his travels and campaigns. The world appeared to lie before him clear and open, as to me the district was in which I lived and managed. We were not entertained with marvellous personal adventures, the extravagant half-truths of a shallow traveller, who is always painting out himself, and not the country he has undertaken to describe. Lothario did not tell us his adventures; he led us to the place itself. I have seldom felt so pure a satisfaction.

“But still higher was my pleasure, when I heard him talk, one evening, about women. The subject happened to be introduced; some ladies of the neighbourhood had come to see us; and were speaking, in the common style, about the cultivation of the female mind. Our sex, they said, was treated unjustly; every sort of higher education men insisted on retaining for themselves: they admitted us to no science, they required us either to be dolls or family drudges. To all this Lothario said not much: but when the party was a little thinned, he gave us his opinion more explicitly. ‘It is very strange,’ cried he, ‘that men are blamed for their proceeding here: they have placed woman on the highest station she is capable of occupying. And where is there any station higher than the ordering of the house? While the husband has to vex himself with outward matters, while he has wealth to gather and secure, while perhaps he takes part in the administration of the state, and everywhere depends on circumstances; ruling nothing, I may say, while he conceives that he is ruling much; compelled to be but politic where he would willingly be reasonable, to dissemble where he would be open, to be false where he would be upright; while thus, for the sake of an object which he never reaches, he must every moment sacrifice the first of objects, harmony with himself,—a reasonable housewife is actually governing in the interior of her family; has the comfort and activity of every person in it to provide for, and make possible. What is the highest happiness of mortals, if not to execute what we consider right and good; to be really masters of the means conducive to our aims? And where should or can our nearest aims be, but in the interior of our home? All those indispensable, and still to be renewed supplies, where do we expect, do we require to find them, if not in the place where we rise and where we go to sleep, where kitchen and cellar, and every species of accommodation for ourselves and ours is to be always ready? What unvarying activity is needed to conduct this constantly recurring series in unbroken living order! How few are the men, to whom it is given to return regularly like a star, to command their day as they command their night; to form for themselves their household instruments, to sow and to reap, to gain and to expend, and to travel round their circle with perpetual success and peace and love! It is when a woman has attained this inward mastery, that she truly makes the husband whom she loves a master: her attention will acquire all sorts of knowledge; her activity will turn them all to profit. Thus is she dependent upon no one; and she procures her husband genuine independence, that which is interior and domestic: whatever he possesses, he beholds secured; what he earns, well employed; and thus he can direct his mind to lofty objects, and if fortune favours, he may act in the state the same character which so well becomes his wife at home.’

“He then described to us the kind of wife he wished. I reddened; for he was describing me as I looked and lived. I silently enjoyed my triumph; and the more, as I perceived, from all the circumstances, that he had not meant me individually, that indeed he did not know me. I cannot recollect a more delightful feeling in my life than this, when a man whom I so highly valued gave the preference, not to my person, but to my inmost nature. What a recompense did I consider it! What encouragement did it afford me!

“So soon as they were gone, my worthy benefactress, with a smile, observed to me: ‘Pity that men often think and speak of what they will never execute, else here were a special match, the exact thing for my dear Theresa!’ I made sport of her remark; and added, that indeed men’s understanding gave its vote for household wives; but that their heart and imagination longed for other qualities; and that we household people could not stand a rivalry with beautiful and lovely women. This was spoken for the ear of Lydia; she did not hide from us that Lothario had made a deep impression on her heart; and in reality, he seemed at each new visit to grow more and more attentive to her. She was poor and not of rank; she could not think of marriage; but she was unable to resist the dear delight of charming and of being charmed. I had never loved, nor did I love at present: but though it was unspeakably agreeable to see in what light my turn of mind was viewed, how high it was ranked by such a man, I will confess I still was not altogether satisfied. I now wished that he should be acquainted with me, and should take a personal interest in me. This wish arose, without the smallest settled thought of anything that could result from it.

“The greatest service I did my benefactress, was in bringing into order the extensive forests which belonged to her. In this precious property, whose value time and circumstances were continually increasing, matters still went on according to the old routine; without regularity, without plan: no end to theft and fraud. Many hills were standing bare; an equal growth was nowhere to be found but in the oldest cuttings. I personally visited the whole of them, with an experienced forester. I got the woods correctly measured; I set men to hew, to sow, to plant; in a short time, all things were in progress. That I might mount more readily on horseback, and also walk on foot with less obstruction, I had a suit of men’s clothes made for me; I was present in many places, I was feared in all.

“Hearing that our young friends with Lothario were purposing to have another hunt, it came into my head, for the first time in my life, to make a figure; or that I may not do myself injustice, to pass in the eyes of this noble gentleman for what I was. I put on my men’s-clothes, took my gun upon my shoulder, and went forward with our hunters, to await the party on our marches. They came; Lothario did not know me: a nephew of the lady’s introduced me to him as a clever forester; joked about my youth, and carried on his jesting in my praise, till at last Lothario recognised me. The nephew seconded my project, as if we had concocted it together. He circumstantially and gratefuly described what I had done for the estates of his aunt, and consequently for himself.

“Lothario listened with attention; he talked with me; inquired concerning all particulars of the estates and district. I of course was glad to have such an opportunity of showing him my knowledge: I stood my ordeal very well; I submitted certain projects of improvement to him; which he sanctioned, telling me of similar examples, and strengthening my arguments by the connexion which he gave them. My satisfaction grew more perfect every moment. Happily, however, I merely wished that he should be acquainted with me, not that he should love me. We came home: and I observed more clearly than before, that the attention he showed to Lydia seemed expressive of a secret inclination. I had reached my object; yet I was not at rest: from that day, he showed a true respect for me, a fine trust in me; in company he usually spoke to me, asked my opinion, and appeared to be persuaded that, in household matters, nothing was unknown to me. His sympathy excited me extremely: even when the conversation was of general finance and political economy, he used to lead me to take part in it; and in his absence, I endeavoured to acquire more knowledge of our province, nay of all the empire. The task was easy for me: it was but repeating on the great scale what I knew so accurately on the small.

“From this period he visited our house oftener. We talked, I may say, of everything: yet in some degree our conversation always in the end grew economical, if even but in a secondary sense. What immense effects a man, by the continuous application of his powers, his time, his money, even by means which seem but small, may bring about, was frequently and largely spoken of.

“I did not withstand the tendency which drew me towards him: and, alas, I felt too soon how deep, how cordial, how pure and genuine was my love, as I believed it more and more apparent that Lydia and not myself was the occasion of these visits. She, at least, was most vividly persuaded so; she made me her confidant; and this, again, in some degree, consoled me. For in truth, what she explained so much to her advantage, I reckoned nowise of importance; there was not a trace of any serious lasting union being meditated; but the more distinctly did I see the wish of the impassioned girl to be his at any price.

“Thus did matters stand, when the lady of the house surprised me with an unexpected message. ‘Lothario,’ said she, ‘offers you his hand, and desires through life to have you ever at his side.’ She enlarged upon my qualities, and told me, what I liked sufficiently to hear, that in me Lothario was persuaded he had found the person whom he had so long been seeking for.

“The height of happiness was now attained for me: my hand was asked by a man for whom I had the greatest value; beside whom and along with whom I might expect a full, expanded, free and profitable employment of my inborn tendency, of my talent perfected by practice. The sum of my existence seemed to have enlarged itself into infinitude. I gave my consent; he himself came, and spoke with me in private; he held out his hand to me; he looked into my eyes, he clasped me in his arms, and pressed a kiss upon my lips. It was the first and the last. He confided to me all his circumstances; told me how much his American campaign had cost him, what debts he had accumulated on his property; that, on this score, he had in some measure quarrelled with his granduncle; that the worthy gentleman intended to relieve him, though truly in his own peculiar way, being minded to provide him with a rich wife, whereas a man of sense would choose a household wife at all events; that however, by his sister’s influence, he hoped his noble relative would be persuaded. He set before me the condition of his fortune, his plans, his prospects, and requested my coöperation. Till his uncle should consent, our promise was to be a secret.

“Scarcely was he gone, when Lydia asked me, whether he had spoken of her. I answered no; and tired her with a long detail of economical affairs. She was restless, out of humour; and his conduct, when he came again, did not improve her situation.

“But the sun, I see, is bending to the place of rest. Well for you, my friend! You would otherwise have had to hear this story, which I often enough go over by myself, in all its most minute particulars. Let me hasten: we are coming to an epoch, on which it is not good to linger.

“By Lothario I was made acquainted with his noble sister; and she, at a convenient time, contrived to introduce me to the uncle. I gained the old man; he consented to our wishes; and I returned, with happy tidings, to my benefactress. The affair was now no secret in the house: Lydia heard of it; she thought the thing impossible. When she could no longer doubt of it, she vanished all at once: we knew not whither she had gone.

“Our marriage-day was coming near: I had often asked him for his portrait; just as he was going off, I reminded him that he had promised it. He said: ‘You have never given me the case you want to have it fitted into.’ This was true: I had got a present from a female friend, on which I set no ordinary value. Her name, worked from her own hair, was fastened on the outer glass; within there was a vacant piece of ivory, on which her portrait was to have been painted, when a sudden death snatched her from me. Lothario’s love had cheered me at the time her death lay heavy on my spirits: and I wished to have the void, which she had left me in her present, filled by the picture of my friend.

“I ran to my chamber; fetched my jewel-box, and opened it in his presence. Scarcely had he looked into it, when he noticed a medallion with the portrait of a lady. He took it in his hand, considered it attentively, and asked me hastily whose face it was. ‘My mother’s,’ answered I. ‘I could have sworn,’ said he, ‘that it was the portrait of a Madame Saint Alban, whom I met some years ago in Switzerland.’ ‘It is the same,’ replied I, smiling; ‘and so you have unwittingly become acquainted with your stepmother. Saint Alban is the name my mother has assumed for travelling with: she passes under it in France at present.’

“‘I am the miserablest man alive!’ exclaimed he, as he threw the portrait back into the box, covered his eyes with his hand, and hurried from the room. He sprang on horseback; I ran to the balcony, and called out after him: he turned, waved his hand to me, went speedily away,—and I have never seen him more.”

The sun went down: Theresa gazed with unaverted looks upon the splendour; and both her fine eyes filled with tears.

Theresa spoke not: she laid her hand upon her new friend’s hands: he kissed it with emotion; she dried her tears, and rose. “Let us return, and see that all is right,” said she.

The conversation was not lively by the way. They entered the garden-door, and noticed Lydia sitting on a bench: she rose, withdrew before them, and walked in. She had a paper in her hand; two little girls were by her. “I see,” observed Theresa, “she is still carrying her only comfort, Lothario’s letter, with her. He promises that she shall live with him again, so soon as he is well: he begs of her till then to stay in peace with me. On these words she hangs; with these lines she solaces herself: but with his friends she is extremely angry.”

Meanwhile the two children had approached. They courtesied to Theresa, and gave her an account of all that had occurred while she was absent. “You see here another part of my employment,” said Theresa. “Lothario’s sister and I have made a league: we educate some little ones in common: such as promise to be lively serviceable housewives I take charge of; she of such as show a finer and more quiet talent: it is right to provide for the happiness of future husbands both in household and in intellectual matters. When you become acquainted with my noble friend, a new era in your life will open. Her beauty, her goodness, make her worthy of the reverence of the world.” Wilhelm did not venture to confess, that unhappily the lovely Countess was already known to him: that his transient connexion with her would occasion him perpetual sorrow. He was well pleased that Theresa let the conversation drop; that some business called for her within. He was now alone: the intelligence which he had just received, of the young and lovely Countess being driven to replace, by deeds of benevolence, her own lost comfort, made him very sad; he felt that with her it was but a need of self-oblivion, an attempt to supply, by the hopes of happiness to others, the want of a cheerful enjoyment of existence in herself. He thought Theresa happy, since even in that unexpected melancholy alteration which had taken place in her prospects, there was no alteration needed in herself. “How fortunate beyond all others,” cried he, “is the man who, in order to adjust himself to fate, is not required to cast away his whole preceding life!”

Theresa came into his room, and begged pardon for disturbing him. “My whole library,” said she, “is in the wall-press here; they are rather books which I do not throw aside, than which I have taken up. Lydia wants a pious book: there are one or two of that sort among them. Persons who throughout the whole twelve months are worldly, think it necessary to be godly at a time of straits: all moral and religious matters they regard as physic, which is to be taken, with aversion, when they are unwell: in a clergyman, a moralist, they see nothing but a doctor, whom they cannot soon enough get rid of. Now, I confess, I look upon religion as a kind of diet, which can only be so when I make a constant practice of it, when throughout the whole twelve months I never lose it out of sight.”

She searched among the books; she found some edifying works, as they are called. “It was of my mother,” said Theresa, “that poor Lydia learned to have recourse to books like these. While her gallant continued faithful, plays and novels were her life; his departure brought religious writings once more into credit. I, for my share, cannot understand,” continued she, “how men have made themselves believe that God speaks to us through books and histories. The man, to whom the universe does not reveal directly what relation it has to him; whose heart does not tell him what he owes to himself and others,—that man will scarcely learn it out of books; which generally do little more than give our errors names.”

She left our friend alone: he passed his evening in examining the little library; it had, in truth, been gathered quite at random.

Theresa, for the few days Wilhelm spent with her, continued still the same: she related to him, at different times, the consequences of that singular incident with great minuteness. Day and hour, place and name, were present to her memory: we shall here compress into a word or two, so much of it as will be necessary for the information of our readers.

The reason of Lothario’s quick departure was unhappily too easy to explain. He had met Theresa’s mother on her journey: her charms attracted him; she was no niggard of them; and this luckless transitory aberration came at length to shut him out from being united to a lady, whom nature seemed to have expressly made for him. As for Theresa, she continued in the pure circle of her duties. They learned that Lydia had been living in the neighbourhood in secret. She was happy that the marriage, though for unknown causes, had not been completed. She endeavoured to renew her intimacy with Lothario: and more, as it seemed, out of desperation than affection, by surprise than with consideration, from tedium than of purpose, he had met her wishes.

Theresa was quiet on the subject; she made no pretensions farther to him; and if he had even been her husband, she would probably have had sufficient spirit to endure a matter of this kind, if it had not troubled her domestic order: at least she often used to say, that a wife, who properly conducted her economy, should take no umbrage at such little fancies of her husband, but be always certain that he would return.

Ere long, Theresa’s mother had deranged her fortune: the losses fell upon the daughter, whose share of the effects, in consequence, was small. The old lady, who had been Theresa’s benefactress, died; leaving her a little property in land, and a handsome sum by way of legacy. Theresa soon contrived to make herself at home in this new narrow circle. Lothario offered her a better property, Jarno endeavouring to negotiate the business: but she refused it. “I will show,” said she, “in this little that I deserved to share the great with him: but I keep this before me, that, should accident embarrass me, on my own account or that of others, I will betake myself without the smallest hesitation to my generous friend.”

There is nothing less liable to be concealed and unemployed than well-directed practical activity. Scarcely had she settled in her little property, when her acquaintance and advice began to be desired by many of her neighbours; and the proprietor of the adjacent lands gave her plainly enough to understand, that it depended on herself alone, whether she would take his hand, and be heiress of the greater part of his estates. She had already mentioned the matter to our friend: she often jested with him about marriages, suitable and unsuitable.

“Nothing,” said she once, “gives a greater loose to people’s tongues, than when a marriage happens, which they can denominate unsuitable: and yet the unsuitable are far more common than the suitable; for, alas, with most marriages, it is not long till things assume a very piteous look. The confusion of ranks by marriage can be called unsuitable, only when the one party is unable to participate in the manner of existence which is native, habitual, and which at length grows absolutely necessary to the other. The different classes have different ways of living, which they cannot change or communicate to one another; and this is the reason why connexions such as these, in general, were better not formed. Yet exceptions, and exceptions of the happiest kind, are possible. Thus too, the marriage of a young woman with a man advanced in life is generally unsuitable: yet I have seen some such turn out extremely well. For me, I know but of one kind of marriage that would be entirely unsuitable; that in which I should be called upon to make a show, and manage ceremonies: I had rather give my hand to the son of any honest farmer in the neighbourhood.”

Wilhelm at length made ready for returning. He requested of Theresa to obtain for him a parting word with Lydia. The impassioned girl at last consented: he said some kindly things to her; to which she answered: “The first burst of anguish I have conquered. Lothario will be ever dear to me: but for those friends of his, I know them; and it grieves me that they are about him. The Abbé for a whim’s sake, could leave a person in extreme need, or even plunge one into it; the Doctor would have all things go on like clock-work; Jarno has no heart: and you—at least no force of character! Just go on; let these three people use you as their tool; they will have many an execution to commit to you. For a long time, as I know well, my presence has been hateful to them: I had not found out their secret, but I had observed that they had one. Why these bolted rooms, these strange passages? Why can no one ever reach the central tower? Why did they banish me, whenever they could, to my own chamber? I will confess, jealousy at first incited me to these discoveries: I feared some lucky rival might be hid there. I have now laid aside that suspicion: I am well convinced that Lothario loves me, that he means honourably by me; but I am quite as well convinced that his false and artful friends betray him. If you would really do him service; if you would ever be forgiven for the injury which I have suffered from you, free him from the hands of these men. But what am I expecting! Give this letter to him: repeat what it contains; that I will love him for ever, that I depend upon his word. Ah!” cried she, rising and throwing herself with tears upon Theresa’s neck: “he is surrounded by my foes; they will endeavour to persuade him that I have sacrificed nothing for his sake: O! Lothario may well believe that he is worthy of any sacrifice, without needing to be grateful for it.”

Wilhelm’s parting with Theresa was more cheerful: she wished they might soon meet again. “Me you wholly know,” said she: “I alone have talked while we have been together. It will be your duty, next time, to repay my candour.”

During his return, he kept contemplating this new and bright phenomenon, with the liveliest recollection. What confidence had she inspired him with! He thought of Mignon and Felix; and how happy they might be if under her direction; then he thought of himself; and felt what pleasure it would be to live beside a being so entirely serene and clear. As he approached Lothario’s Castle, he observed, with more than usual interest, the central tower and the many passages and side-buildings: he resolved to question Jarno or the Abbé on the subject, by the earliest opportunity.