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

Book I

Chapter XVI

THE NECESSARY preparations for his journey his father and mother had attended to; some little matters, that were yet wanting to his equipage, delayed his departure for a few days. Wilhelm took advantage of this opportunity to write to Mariana, meaning thus to bring to a decision the proposal, about which she had hitherto avoided speaking with him. The letter was as follows:

  • “Under the kind veil of night, which has often overshadowed us together, I sit and think, and write to thee; all that I meditate and do is solely on thy account. O Mariana! with me, the happiest of men, it is as with a bridegroom who stands in the festive chamber, dreaming of the new universe that is to be unfolded to him, and by means of him, and, while the holy ceremonies are proceeding, transports himself in longing thought before the mysterious curtains, from which the loveliness of love whispers out to him.
  • “I have constrained myself not to see thee for a few days; the sacrifice was easy, when united with the hope of such a recompense, of being always with thee, of remaining ever thine! Need I repeat what I desire? I must; for it seems as if yet thou hadst never understood me.
  • “How often, in the low tones of true love, which, though wishing to gain all, dares speak but little, have I sought in thy heart for the desire of a perpetual union. Thou hast understood me, doubtless; for in thy own heart the same wish must have arisen; thou didst comprehend me, in that kiss, in the intoxicating peace of that happy evening. Thy silence testified to me thy modest honour; and how did it increase my love! Another woman would have had recourse to artifice, that she might ripen by superfluous sunshine the purpose of her lover’s heart, might elicit a proposal, and secure a firm promise. Mariana, on the contrary, drew back; she repelled the half-opened confidence of him she loved, and sought to conceal her approving feelings by apparent indifference. But I have understood thee! What a miserable creature must I be, if I did not by these tokens recognise the pure and generous love that cares not for itself, but for its object! Confide in me, and fear nothing. We belong to one another; and neither of us leaves aught or forsakes aught, if we live for one another.
  • “Take it, then, this hand! Solemnly I offer this unnecessary pledge! All the joys of love we have already felt; but there is a new blessedness in the firm thought of duration. Ask not how; care not. Fate takes care of love, and the more certainly as love is easy to provide for.
  • “My heart has long ago forsaken my paternal home; it is with thee, as my spirit hovers on the stage. O my darling! to what other man has it been given to unite all his wishes, as it is to me? No sleep falls on my eyes; like the brightness of a perpetual dawn, thy love and thy happiness still glow around me.
  • “Scarcely can I hold myself from springing up, from rushing forth to thee, and forcing thy consent, and, with the first light of tomorrow, pressing forward into the world for the mark I aim at. But no! I will restrain myself; I will not act like a thoughtless fool; will do nothing rashly; my plan is laid, and I will execute it calmly.
  • “I am acquainted with the Manager Serlo; my journey leads me directly to the place where he is. For above a year he has frequently been wishing that his people had a touch of my vivacity, and my delight in theatrical affairs; I shall doubtless be very kindly received. Into your company I cannot enter, for more than one reason. Serlo’s theatre, moreover, is at such a distance from this, that I may there begin my undertaking without any apprehension of discovery. With him I shall thus at once find a tolerable maintenance; I shall look about me in the public, get acquainted with the company, and then come back for thee.
  • “Mariana, thou seest what I can force myself to do, that I may certainly obtain thee. For such a period not to see thee; for such a period to know thee in the wide world! I dare not view it closely. But yet if I recall to memory thy love, which assures me of all; if thou shalt not disdain my prayer, and give me, ere we part, thy hand, before the priest; I may then depart in peace. It is but a form between us, yet a form so touching; the blessing of Heaven to the blessing of the earth. Close by thy house, in the Ritterschaft Chapel, the ceremony will be soon and secretly performed.
  • “For the beginning I have gold enough; we will share it between us; it will suffice for both; and before that is finished, Heaven will send us more.
  • “No, my darling, I am not downcast about the issue. What is begun with so much cheerfulness must reach a happy end. I have never doubted that a man may force his way through the world, if he really is in earnest about it; and I feel strength enough within me to provide a liberal support for two, and many more. The world, we are often told, is unthankful; I have never yet discovered that it was unthankful, if one knew how, in the proper way, to do it service. My whole soul burns at the idea, that I shall at length step forth and speak to the hearts of men something they have long been yearning to hear. How many thousand times has a feeling of disgust passed through me, alive as I am to the nobleness of the stage, when I have seen the poorest creatures fancying they could speak a word of power to the hearts of the people! The tone of a man’s voice singing treble sounds far pleasanter and purer to my ear: it is incredible how these blockheads, in their coarse ineptitude, deform things beautiful and venerable.
  • “The theatre has often been at variance with the pulpit; they ought not, I think, to quarrel. How much is it to be wished, that in both the celebration of nature and of God were intrusted to none but men of noble minds! These are no dreams, my darling! As I have felt in thy heart that thou couldst love, I seize the dazzling thought, and say—no, I will not say, but I will hope and trust—that we two shall yet appear to men as a pair of chosen spirits, to unlock their hearts, to touch the recesses of their nature, and prepare for them celestial joys, as surely as the joys I have tasted with thee deserved to be named celestial, since they drew us from ourselves, and exalted us above ourselves.
  • “I cannot end. I have already said too much; and know not whether I have yet said all, all that concerns thy interests; for to express the agitations of the vortex that whirls round within myself is beyond the power of words.
  • “Yet take this sheet, my love! I have again read it over; I observe it ought to have begun more cautiously; but it contains in it all that thou hast need to know; enough to prepare thee for the hour when I shall return with the lightness of love to thy bosom. I seem to myself like a prisoner that is secretly filing his irons asunder. I bid good-night to my soundly sleeping parents. Farewell, my beloved, farewell! For this time I conclude; my eyelids have more than once dropped together; it is now deep in the night.”