(For PDF versions of all six parts of my translation of William Lovell, go to The Worldview Annex.)
Mortimer to Charles Wilmont
I have not encountered you in
; I therefore conclude that you are
still at Bondly. London
I traveled hither in the greatest possible haste, but in vain—he was already dead, already buried when I got home. I could only visit his grave. Hitherto no event in my life has grieved me so much as the fact that I was unable to fulfill the worthy man’s last hope, his last joy: how often may he have sighed for me in his bed, how often may he have looked towards the door that I was bound to walk through [at any moment], and awaited me in vain. Charles, we never so keenly feel how much a person is to us as from the moment of his death. If we do not quite encircle a human being with the ardent entirety of our love, we are nonetheless agitated by the thought that he [once] was and [now] is no more, a thrill of terror in our soul, a curiously dismal feeling that contracts our heart.
But enough on this subject; I could say much more on it, but this death has for [the past] few weeks embittered all pleasures. I could have managed to be thankful to this uncle; the manifold proofs of his love are only just now occurring to me; I always took his surly moods too seriously; in my childish sensitivity I often went out of my way to interpret his remarks in the worst sense. Ah, Charles! Man is a feeble creature; how many tricks do his vanity and self-love play on him notwithstanding all of his philosophical resolutions!
My relations and his seem to have been thrown into a kind of panic by my arrival; we remain on an almost friendly footing with one another, and as he has bequeathed to them certain legacies I hope that upon the unsealing of the will everything will take its course without any legal proceedings.
If my entreaties have any influence over you, come to
and give me at least a few
uninterrupted weeks of your company. I am in a state of such dejection that you
will hardly recognize me; my good spirits can be revived only by a friend who
knows me as well as you do. Forsake Bondly, I say, and have pity on a poor,
forsaken soul who is so very much in need of yours; I am often of a mind to
return to Lovell in order to distract myself in Italy: But I am so tired of
wandering about that it does me no end of good simply to have the spires and
houses of my native city [clustered] so thickly before me. London
Old Lovell, whom I have visited several times, is among the most estimable people I have ever met. Without [any of] the pretentiousness that among many professional scholars is no less tiresome than ridiculous, he combines a large amount of knowledge with an equally [abundant store] of experiences and a highly developed understanding. His capacity for feeling is no less subtle than profound, and he stands at equidistant removes from the cold-blooded and the hot-headed! But in the main he has become invaluable to me by virtue of the heartfelt human kindness with which he indulges every unfortunate soul; on account of the readiness with which his sympathy, no less quickly than his succor, is pledged to such wretches. For himself he feels less keenly than for others, for he [manages] completely to conceal the grief that Lord Burton’s suit must undoubtedly be causing him, especially as the particulars of the outcome promise to be anything but favorable to him. Since I have come to know him better, I have taken the warmest interest in everything that concerns him: Like me, all of his [other] acquaintances are his friends.
I have also seen your sister several times; she frets over the absence of Lovell, who probably more often forgets her than she him, as it is a general and established truth that the heart of a tender feminine creature cleaves faster and more ardently to the object of [its] love, [and] tenders him far fairer and more abiding emotions than [he] can ever reciprocate. It has occurred to me a hundred times in connection with her that I would be happy if she could transfer this devotion and love to me; I have often lingeringly and attentively studied the delicate and highly intelligent structure of her face. Your sister’s physiognomy may be classed with the most interesting ones, with those that do not captivate one’s eyes with fugitively flashing glances, but that entice one’s gaze in silence, that unobserved set the heart in motion and leave behind an enduring image in the fancy. I have dreamt a hundred times—but farewell; who will recount all of his dreams? I am always wide-awake—and even if I am never to be your brother-in-law, rest assured that I shall perpetually remain
Your friend Mortimer.
Charles Wilmont to Mortimer
Charles Wilmont to Mortimer
Yes, my friend, soon, perhaps in a few days, I shall see you again; it is at last time for me to quit Bondly. Or, rather, I should have quit it earlier, for it is now too late to restore my former state of perfect tranquility. How full of absurdities and contradictions is human existence! Since Monday I have been nursing a single wound whose putrefaction I fully perceive, but that I am not even trying to heal, quite apart from the fact that is now past healing. Let any number of moralists gainsay me as they will, I at least find precisely therein a consolation, [namely] that I am guilty of my own injury; I am aware of how it has come into being by degrees and courtesy of my own negligence, and while I am in the midst of tracing this etiology, discerning the efficient cause of every symptom, I unthinkingly fall into a philosophy of sorts and complacently surrender myself to the irrevocable. A [merely] accidental injury—a blow that in one fell swoop had alighted on me from the heavens, one of the sort that leads our understanding feebly to wrangle with itself in search of a cause—a dig in the ribs administered to me by an invisible [elbow], would have driven me mad: No, this resignation to fate, to providence, to contingency, or necessity; whatever one calls it, is for me utterly unthinkable. I do not feel in myself the slightest inclination towards this species of Christian forbearance. Heaven has hitherto ordained that I should regard myself as the guilty perpetrator of all of my own sufferings, inasmuch as I would otherwise more than likely inaugurate a mighty hue and cry for the sake of deafening myself if no one else.
I do not know whether I should consider it a blessing or a curse that Emily is not indifferent to my love. I wonder that no Frenchman has yet chosen this idea as the subject of a tragedy; for it really is as tragic as only something out of the French tragic drama can be. It is among the most select and refined torments of hell to desire something quite palpably and yet not to be allowed [willingly] to see one’s desire fulfilled. For if Emily loves me, she must perforce be unhappy; I shall be going away soon; her father probably has in view a rich match [for her]—ah, what do I really know of the many hundreds of circumstances that may simultaneously conspire to embitter the joys of a worthy young man’s life?
If one is on fairly confidential terms with oneself, one must very often smile at oneself. Now and then one makes a truly serious effort to pull oneself together; with all [due] gravity one’s understanding settles into his high-backed armchair and gathers round himself all [of one’s] moods and passions and delivers to them a sober and serious speech, as follows: “Listen, my children, you are probably all aware of how that being known as man lives in society with us and is governed by turns: you are also aware (or if you are not, I beseech you to take this circumstance into careful consideration) that in my capacity as the cleverest of all of you, I have been entrusted with sovereignty over you. But a few of you are unruly and refractory” ([here] he addresses one of them, love, or anger, or jealousy, etc.) “[and] threaten to become too much for me. But dear friends, all of this engenders nothing but profound confusion and corruption; consider that you thereby plunge this so-called human being into misfortune, which you yourself on this account will deplore in the end, as several examples thereof attest. In order to maintain inner happiness and tranquility, you must therefore of necessity acknowledge my supremacy and willingly cringe under my scepter; for otherwise my presence here would appear to be entirely superfluous. Accordingly, we intend on this day to inaugurate a new government, and I am confident that in future you will be better-behaved and more restrained. Don’t you think?” Then they all bow and utter a submissive “Yes,” although a few of them furtively laugh behind their hands or merely mumble under their breath something that can as readily be taken for “No” as for “Yes.” They withdraw [with] all [due] humility, and the understanding in his high-backed armchair begins to meditate on what a splendid fellow he is [in having] [everyone and] everything so [firmly] under his thumb; he forms designs, as over time he intends to extend his dominion ever further, so that in the end not even the slightest penchant, the faintest wish, should [be suffered to] emerge from its hiding-place without his consent. His great plans rock him by and by into a gentle mid-day nap, [from which he is eventually] all too rudely awakened by a deafening succession of shrieks, rages, and alarms. “What has happened this time?” he snaps. “Ah! Once again that accursed Love has been up to its thousand tricks…and Jealousy has thrust in its bloody head and cracked holes in three others to boot…and Anger has run amuck in one [great]…--oh, there is simply no telling how many mishaps have taken place in the interval.” The understanding smites his forehead with both hands and is now obliged laboriously to bring everything back into line; oftentimes, though, like a sovereign who can conceive of no means of ameliorating [a situation], he precipitately abdicates his throne, slips away and out of his own territories–and then everything is lost, the State itself is thrown into a perpetual anarchy. It is to be hoped that I shall never be involved in this last stage, but in all probability I shall often yet be involved in the first one.
So firmly had I made up my mind yesterday to be colder and more reserved to Emily, in such abundance had I arrayed all of the rationales for doing so before my eyes, that it was impossible for me not to see them except by closing my eyes outright. I had formed for myself an orderly schema according to which I was determined to proceed, and drafted for myself with precision all of the lines thereof, so that I should not fail to anticipate any conceivable state of affairs. But I [all too] often have the luck of an incompetent player at billiards who sends his opponent’s ball in an entirely different direction from the one he intends, or even off the table altogether. For no sooner had I exhausted the last of my strength on the devising of my firm, unalterable plan than, as though [fate] were spiting me, I encountered Emily in the garden. Now you have the fairest opportunity, I thought to myself, to prove that your judgment is in command of you; resist temptation like a man. Accordingly, I did not avoid her; on the contrary, we walked up and down while conversing nonchalantly. She [even] seemed to find my coldness strange; she said so once or twice during our conversation; but I stood firm and inwardly rejoiced in my preternatural spiritual strength. We were walking past a [rose]bush and Emily plucked a late-blooming rose [from it] with [a] matchless[ly] charming innocence, and offered it to me with that tender simplicity that finds its expression in the absence of words. At this moment, with [all of my] projects I appeared to myself so foolish and tactless, so prosaic and pitiful, that—that I would have liked to sink down to her feet and tender apologies to her [then and there]. I do not know how it happened, but all of a sudden the spirit of Lovell came over me; enraptured, I pressed the rose to my lips. Our conversation now took a different and more sentimental turn; I had forgotten [my plans for] departure and everything [else], and with the utmost recklessness talked myself into a [proper] warmth and intimacy that subsequently perorated with an out-and-out declaration of my love.
Emily stood perplexed, delighted, and distressed all at the same time, as it seemed to me; she did not venture to answer me; she had seized my hand and [now] pressed it silently but affectionately; oh, my dear Mortimer, I would have given several years of my life if I could have arrested the bliss of this moment and held it fast for but a few hours. Her father came upon us in this posture; we were both somewhat disconcerted, and
cast a glance at me—oh, if only I
could describe to you the coldness, the mistrust, the misanthropy, the
bitterness, that resided in this single skimming glance. This [glance] has
completely settled [the issue for] me: I am leaving, I am coming to you. Emily
has meanwhile been in a state of constant [and] charming perplexity in my
presence, so stealthily familiar and then again so suddenly reserved, so
accommodating and friendly—but for all that, and, indeed, precisely because of
that, I am leaving. Poor Emily! And poor Charles! Burton
But of what use is it to complain? It will not change the world; the pain of our sighs [alone] cannot upset the situation [in which we find ourselves]. To the extent that the tiny atom of my remaining good humor permits it, we will try to console each other; friendship has a highly powerful influence over one’s state of mind; in conversation, in a hundred little distractions these dreary feelings fade away; by and by joy washes away the sorrow from our hearts—yes, we will nevertheless be merry together. In mutual [activity], one can fashion a thousand [new] pleasures and heighten familiar joys; [when one is] in the company of a friend flowers fairly sprout from the parched earth; one laughs and revels in a thousand trifles that one would scarcely take notice of in a state of solitude. Oh, I am beginning once again to live when I picture all of this to myself truly vividly and in a fair light. Perhaps the two of us will even go on a jaunt to
; a relative of mine has been inviting
me thither for quite some time. Scotland
I wonder why I am taking the trouble to write so much to you, as we shall so soon be able to speak to each other viva-voce—therefore, I am flinging away this sluggish and wearisome pen from my hand in return for [the pleasure of] enfolding you a few minutes earlier in my arms.
You will perhaps be surprised, my highly-honored Sir, to receive a letter from a man against whom you are engaged on Mr. Lovell’s behalf. As your erudition and the success of your clientele had long been known to me, I was on the point of resolving to request your services in my own best interest, when Lovell forestalled me therein, to my greatest discontent. I am persuaded that by this single measure he has obtained the greatest advantage over me, as I regret that I am all the same while squandering the sums that I had earmarked for you on inferior talents; and, moreover, I know that Lovell will never sufficiently value your industry and merit. Inasmuch as your genius is at present merely being employed on an unjust cause, your effort is in every sense wasted. Regardless of whether you can indeed no longer serve me, I would beg you at least not to allow yourself in your zeal to be seduced into feeling any outright acrimony towards me. So long as you are on the side of one party in this case, you must of course be the adversary, but by no means the enemy, of the other; I remind you of this simply on account of the esteem that I have for your preeminent abilities, which could impart the sheen of justice even to an unjust cause. I should be very much obliged to you if in a brief reply you would make plain to me the extent to which my apprehensions are well or ill-founded.
the Lawyer to Jackson Burton
My most noble Lord,
My efforts directed against your Lordship had already become a rather disagreeable duty, as I can never be persuaded of the lawfulness of the cause for which I am fighting; but since becoming acquainted, courtesy of your Lordship’s latest, with the excellence and exaltedness of your most noble Lordship’s character, your most humble servant has found the burden of his affairs doubly onerous. It will accordingly and for ever be impossible for me to regard with sufficient contempt the very notion of acrimoniously contesting a not-unjust cause, or of offending a gentleman for whom I have the deepest and sincerest respect; and your Lordship may be assured that I wish nothing more eagerly than that my present circumstances did not constrain me from demonstrating the extreme degree to which I am
Your Lordship’s most loyal and obedient servant
Your reply has given me great pleasure, for I gather therefrom that I may now follow the course of the lawsuit with somewhat greater equanimity. I only wish that you had as much confidence in my friendship as I have in your abilities; for then I should be able to acquiesce even more wholeheartedly in the justice of my cause and in the verdict of the court; then I should be able to take for granted the frustration of my enemies’ designs. I cannot and may not persuade you to forsake Lovell and come over to my side; but as you seem to be satisfied of the unlawfulness of the cause for which you are fighting, and as I perceive that I am addressing a reasonable man, perhaps we can come to terms by another route. If it is our duty to act in accordance with our convictions and to further the good insofar as we can, why do we insist on timorously adhering to the external form of the object and paying no further mind to our ultimate aim? Who can prohibit me from recompensing your talents and your friendship as handsomely as I see fit, even if you also happen to be my adversary in a lawsuit; and what rational motive can constrain you from acting to my advantage, inasmuch as the latter coincides exactly with your convictions? Why should one let slip the chance of exploiting your residence in a locale that enables you to do far more for me than my own lawyer? Perhaps because it is only a chance? As if therein did not lie precisely the greatest difference between the course of life of a wise man and that of the fool, that the latter wanders in every which direction, now passing by one auspicious opportunity on his right, now another on his left; whereas the more intelligent man incorporates every trifle and advantage into his plan, such that for him there is no such thing as chance! I am persuaded that a man as rational as yourself will in this instance not choose to tarry much longer amid useless scruples. In this hope I am
Your friend and patron, Lord Burton (Baron).
P. S. I shall stipulate as a condition of our correspondence, because it is my universal custom to do so, that you return this letter, along with my first one and all future letters from me; if you wish, I will deal with yours in the same manner.
Willy to his brother Thomas
We are now, dear brother, already in the middle of so-called
, where I find everything around me
[so] passably pleasing. What always seems silly to me is that every country has
its own particular language that’s in fashion, so that no one here understands
my proper English, and I for my part often can’t understand at all what people
want of me. We have traveled through Italy and Savoy , but everywhere only Italian is
spoken, regardless of whether like the silly Savoyards they weren’t decent
enough to tell me what they wanted in English even once; but it’s as if
everybody here is embarrassed by my mother tongue. We have passed over high,
mountainous regions once or twice. How great and splendid God’s world looks
from up there! I can’t tell you, Thomas, how very much and many a time I have
rejoiced [at such a sight]; but the tears often came to my eyes, as I’m
oftentimes and generally a bit like an old woman, as you yourself used to say.
But I can’t help it if my heart bleeds when I see so many miles into the
country from a rocky mountain top, fields, meadows, and rivers and hills across
from me, and the sun with its red beams in their midst—and at the same time so
healthy and glad! Oh, Thomas, it is a splendid thing to travel; I would never
in my life try to dissuade you from traveling, if you ever [got] the chance to
go on a journey. What [puzzles] me is how a person under God’s fair heaven
could be so sad and discontented as Master Balder seems to me. He does the
whole thing a real injustice. But so often he looks like a poor sinner who’s
going to be hanged [first thing] next morning, so forlorn and pitiful; there
must be something or other that’s really troubling the worthy gentleman, for
otherwise I would take him for one of those kinds of fools we get from time to
time in England, who are capable of criminally and deliberately blowing their
brains out, without themselves quite knowing what they want. This talk of
blowing one’s brains out reminds me of something else I had forgotten to tell
you about, for my memory is starting to fall into ruin, and one sees and
experiences so many things and events, brother, that many a time it’s like
[I’m] lost in a dream and the things around me [aren’t] even there. One day we
were slowly driving down a steep hill, but Master William was on horseback, so
as to see the country a bit better, and behind him rode this real tiny servant
of Master Rosa’s, whom he’s taken along with him from France because he likes
him so much; and he really is a very polite and nimble young fellow. None of us
were troubling ourselves too much about Master William, and he lagged behind us
by a good distance; this Ferdinand, whom I mentioned just now, was also on
horseback and riding behind him in the same direction. All of a sudden behind
us we heard several gunshots—and now, Thomas, if you could have seen how
swiftly everyone leapt out of the carriage and how quickly I was off my ram—it
was as though we had all been sitting on some gunpowder that was just on the
point of catching fire. The shooters had been none other than my Master
William, five rapscallions, and Ferdinand; one of them lay already dead on the
ground a ways off, but luckily it was only one of the rapscallions. Master
William told us he had been in great danger but that Ferdinand by dint of his
courage had pretty much saved his life, which all of us were mightily surprised
to hear, but especially Master Rosa, for no one had really noticed the young
fellow before; but that’s the way it so often goes in the world, Thomas,
appearances deceive us, but with God’s help a calf can become an ox, and from
here on out we all have high hopes for young Ferdinand, who will certainly grow
into a man indeed over time, since he’s already beginning to cut such a valiant
figure. He had just shot the one rapscallion dead and had chased away another
one with his hunting-knife, and in the meantime my master was wrestling about
with the other two. So in the end they were victorious. I am sorry that I
couldn’t manage to do anything in the situation but look on, and even that not
really properly, since we arrived on the scene when everything was already over
and done with. I would have been heartily glad even in my old age to take on
somebody in a fight, even if that somebody had been a rapscallion, for at
bottom they are human beings too, and when they start shooting and knifing
their bullets often strike better than those of noble people; it would seem
that noble people seldom have as good luck as rapscallions; I think it must be
a bit of compensation [to the rapscallions] for their not being noble; but God
alone knows it’s for the best, and so I’m not going to go out of my way to get
my head smashed in over it. Genoa
We are now in
; but it’s too bad we got here a bit
too late. That is to say, I have heard tell with wonder and astonishment that
in the middle of the summer here a lot of horses have to [get together and]
hold a big race; that is to say, on their own and with their own brains; I
mean, that is to say, that no one rides them. That must be a splendid thing to
see, and a great quantity of people must come here to see it. It must certainly
be worth the [trip] too. What’s really amusing about it is that [sometimes]
they put iron balls with spurs on the horses’ backs; when they start to run,
they prick themselves, and completely willingly, because the balls are
constantly moving back and forth. If only horses had a bit more sense, they’d
make the most splendid couriers all on their own, but up until now they seem to
have lacked the brains for [the job], [although] to be sure I have seen a pair
of horses in England that did so many tricks that they must surely have more
sense than some of my best friends; indeed, I couldn’t have copied a lot of
those tricks myself. Florence
I don’t think much of the paintings and a lot of the other things we’ve seen here every day; I really don’t know why, but they don’t quite please me. Now and then to be sure some of them are really quite pretty; sometimes the fruit is so natural-looking that you’d like to eat it, but my master and Master Rosa don’t think much of these paintings. But in order for a painting to be good it has to imitate the thing it’s trying to imitate so well that you’d think you were looking at the thing itself; but that’s not even possible in the rest of the big paintings. So I always think that the painters from the Roman school (that’s what the paintings that I don't care for are called) never had a decent schoolmaster who dealt with them strictly enough; either that or the one they did have didn’t understand things quite properly himself, because otherwise they would have been able to paint a lot better and more naturally. But Master William thinks of these paintings as the prettiest ones; but I think that Master Rosa is to blame for this, because he’s from
I haven’t noticed anything special about the statues either; the ones that pass for antiques I don't care for at all, these are supposed to be many thousands of years old, but their age is maybe the best thing about them; a lot of them also look completely ruined and on the point of falling to pieces. There’s nothing much to any of these sorts of art; in a word, they don’t pay the rent.
Farewell, Thomas, my dear brother; and think often of me; I think very often of you and often wish you here, especially when time is passing slowly, which is often the case. Remain my friend as I [remain]
William Lovell to Edward Burton
William Lovell to Edward Burton
My dear Edward, I am now writing to you from the center of Italy, from the friendliest city that I have seen until now, that lies amid the most fruitful plains and beneath the most charming hills and mountains. Here, where the masterpieces of the greatest geniuses of art are gathered around me, I confer in silent contemplation with the exalted spirits of the artists; nature revives my soul with her infinite beauty. I often feel my heart swelling up high [within my breast] when I marvel at the thousand-fold charms of nature and art; oh, how very much I wish you were at my side, that I might enjoy them with you, that I might see in your drunken eyes the mirror of my own joy. I miss you so often, and most of all when I forget the rest of the surrounding world. For only then, at such moments, is my urge to travel, to see marvelous and distant places, ultimately gratified. Already as a child, when I would stand in front of my father’s country house, and, peering beyond the remote hilltops, descry a windmill at the very edge of the blue horizon, I fancied that in turning it was beckoning me towards itself; the blood would course more quickly through my heart, my spirit would flee to distant climes, a strange longing would often fill my eyes with tears. How my heart used then to throb whenever a post-horn sounded across the forest and a coach drove down from the hilltop! In the evening I would return, dejected and with a troubled soul, to my room; my thoughts were loath to be recalled from those distant foreign climes; the familiar surroundings of home pressed my spirit earthwards. Whenever I think back on those sensations of my childhood, I appreciate my present circumstances all the more keenly.
I must tell you of a little incident that, at least in my travels, which have hitherto been so uneventful, seems the closest thing yet to an adventure.
Rosa has brought along with him from a young fellow who almost since the
first day of our journey has attached himself particularly to me; he is very
friendly, docile, and good-natured, such that I am really rather fond of him.
Since Chambéry I have made the greatest part of the journey on horseback, and
the ever-lively Ferdinand was very often my companion as we passed through the
Piedmont Alps, where the ruggedness of the surrounding country and the rapidly
alternating prospects delighted him just as much as they did me. One misty and
overcast morning, we were leaving a village that was situated [at the very foot
of the mountains]; Paris Rosa and Balder drove slowly up the incline, and Ferdinand and I
followed on our horses. Aloft, on the mountain, nature offered us a spectacular
view. The country, or at least as much of it as we could make out, was a veritable
chaos: before us, a thick fog had twisted itself around the mountains, and a
dark haze crept through the valleys; clouds and boulders that the eye could not
distinguish from each other were randomly disposed here and there in confused
heaps; a dark sky brooded over these interpenetrating forms. Now[, as the
morning progressed,] a red sunbeam thrust itself diagonally [hither] through
the dawn's confusion; gleams of light of a hundred different colors flickered
and sparkled through the fog in manifold rainbows; the mountains [assumed
definite] shape, and their summits stood like balls of fire over the receding
fog. I halted and contemplated for a long time the marvelous transformations of
nature that followed each other in such quick succession here; I had not
noticed that in the meantime the carriage had driven on ahead; when I next
looked up, I beheld five people running towards us from the nearby woods.
Ferdinand first noted to me their dubious appearance, and as we were talking
about them and just on the point of looking for our friends, one of these chaps
suddenly grabbed my horse’s bridle, while another at the same instant fired on
Ferdinand, but luckily missed him. I felt cold and slightly disconcerted, [and]
both of my pistols misfired; but Ferdinand straight away shot one of these
bandits dead and with his hunting-knife rushed after the other two with a
courageousness that I would never have believed him capable of. I then
surprised a second one who straight away took flight: no sooner did the remaining
two perceive that the combatants were now evenly matched and that, indeed,
being on horseback, we were more than a match for them, than they quickly
withdrew into the woods. Then Rosa and Balder, impelled hastily towards us by
the sound of the gunshots, arrived and marveled—Rosa especially—at Ferdinand’s
courage; on this score Ferdinand seemed to count himself quite fortunate that
he had managed to save me; he had never given a thought to himself, but the
danger he had seen me in had terrified him from the very start. And then old
Willy wheezed his way back uphill and regretted nothing more heartily than that
the rapscallions had already fled the scene, for otherwise he would have
insisted on having a scuffle with them. The dead man was carried to the village
that we had left just shortly before, and thus ended this misadventure with
good feeling all around with regard to [our escape from death].
Fruitful and serene Autumn imparts a peculiar beauty to the countryside here; luxuriant Nature puts all of her treasures on display; the raw verdure [in autumn?--DR], the blue skies, refresh the eye and soul. I have already seen Vall’ombrosa, the most delightful solitude; I am often up at
, and look down on the hilltops and the
city smiling below; I visit the charming groves, or I wander through the temple
and revel in the monuments of ancient art. Every day I feel enraptured; I am
already acquainted with everything [here], and the charm of the strange is
combined with the [comfort] of the familiar. Fiesole
But why is it (oh, would that you could explain it to me!) that a [specific] enjoyment never fills our heart entirely? What ineffable, wistful longing is it that impels me towards new and unknown pleasures? At the apogee of my happiness, at the highest pitch of my enthusiasm, I am coldly and violently seized by a [feeling of] sobriety, a dark foreboding—how can I describe it?--like a damp, commonsensical morning wind [blowing against] the peak of a mountain after a sleepless night; like a [rude] awakening from a pleasant dream in a cramped and dismal bedchamber. I used to think that this oppressive emotion was a longing for love, a craving of the soul for rejuvenation in reciprocated desire; but it is not that, not even by Amalie’s side am I tormented by this tyrannical sensation that, if it were to gain sovereignty over my soul, could drive me in my eternal empty-heartedness from one pole of the earth to the other. Such a being must be the most wretched creature under God’s heaven: every pleasure maliciously flees backwards while he clutches after it; he stands there, like a fate-scorned Tantalus, in the midst of nature; like Ixion, he is driven in every direction by a perpetual whirlwind of agony; of such a person one may say, according to the Oriental expression, that he is pursued by the Devil himself. One feels oneself, as it were, transported into such a state whenever one lets one’s fancy roam too freely, whenever one traverses all of the sprawling regions of enthusiasm; at length, we fall into a province of such eccentric emotions—in the meantime we have arrived at, so to speak, the last frontier of all perceptibility, and our fancy has worn itself out in a hundred exaltations—that the soul at length falls back exhausted; everything around us seems [immersed] in an insipid gloom, our fairest hopes and wishes stand there, darkened and entangled in a fog; in our discontent, we search for the road back from this hinterland, but the way is closed off, and so at length we are overcome by that void in the soul, that heavy torpor, that deadens all of the mainsprings of our existence. Accordingly, one ought to be wary of that spiritual drunkenness that pulls us away from the earth for too long; at length, we are reduced to the condition of aliens who imagine themselves transported into an unfamiliar world, and who at the same time have lost the propulsive power to hoist themselves back over the clouds. A certain degree of domestication seems to me indispensable even with regard to the enjoyment of poetry; one must forbear feasting now for the sake of not fasting tomorrow—curious, that I heard all of this several months ago from Mortimer and yet refused to believe any of it at the time! But inasmuch as I believe I have come up with it on my own, I am entirely convinced by it. Isn’t that a particularly petty piece of capriciousness?
But I now shun those strong excitations of the imagination, and they are not even always the cause of that feeling of dejection that from time to time pursues me against my will. No one knows as well as you do that curious tendency of my soul, in the midst of the merriest surroundings, to go off in search of some melancholy, mournful train of thought and then stealthily insinuate it into the scene of gaiety; this seasons sensual pleasure through the contrast with a more subtle sensation; our joy is mitigated, but its warmth suffuses us more intimately; such are the ruins that the painter flings into his sunny landscape to enhance its effect. I have this super-rarified form of Epicureanism to thank for many of the fairest hours of my life, but now the melancholy images occasionally attain such an overwhelming ascendancy in my soul that a pall of gloom is cast over all other objects. The journey from Lyon through France was exceptionally delightful; everywhere [we saw] merry vintagers singing and gathering in the treasures [of their vines]; but for many miles my fancy was haunted by a weeping beggar whom I had seen sitting by the roadside and to whom, in the hurry of our passage, I had not managed to offer anything. With what emotions must he have beheld the good cheer of his happy brothers precisely when he so profoundly felt his own misery! With what a heart must he have sighed after the carriage [so] swiftly rolling away from him! Then [there] are so many little scenes of strife and persecution, [scenes] of lamentable futility; [scenes involving multitudes] who take the tiny cranny wherein they vegetate for the center of the earth—Ah! A hundred things of such slight significance that they elude the eyes of most travelers entirely have in very many hours robbed me of my good humor.
This may well be the excessive sensitivity that is inevitably induced by relaxation, and that can even degenerate into hypochondria. During many hours of our journey I was tormented by another curious image. I often felt as though I had seen a certain town or piece of countryside before; and, to be sure, with entirely different sensations and in entirely different circumstances; I would then abandon myself to this singular reverie and seek to render the memories more tangible and intelligible, and to recall the emotions that I once felt in these selfsame places. Often, too, out of a silent forest, or up from a valley, the [following] terrifying thought wafted over me: “I may someday roam this same spot once again, but this time wretched and forsaken by the entire world; such that the sunset will fall over the hilltops without vouchsafing me the hope of a friend’s embrace, that the sun will rise again without drying my tears.” I would then contemplate my surroundings more punctiliously, in order to recognize them in this unfortunate light, and a tear would often involuntarily steal into my eye.
But how have I arrived at these mental images? You are right: melancholy is a contagious malady, and I believe that in my case it is a non-congenital illness that I have caught from Balder. I am now beginning to be quite worried about him, as he is more reserved and mournful than ever before; now and then I encounter one of his errant glances and am terrified for him. I have more than once already pressed him to speak plainly to me of the cause of his profound sorrow, but in vain. Can friendship afford him no consolation for his suffering?
Farewell; you shall receive my next letter from
William Lovell to Edward Burton
Dear Edward, today I am still too full of the manifold impressions made by everything around me to write you a long letter. The ashes of an heroic age lie beneath my feet; the stately ruins accost me with an earnest grandeur; the artworks of the modern world extort my adoration. I live here as in an infinitely spacious temple that pours sacred showers down upon me; with every step I enter a place where some Roman worthy of adoration walked, or where a great event took place. An impetus towards action wafts over me [out of] every statue, shudders of inspiration dwell in the ruins [hailing from] the mighty age of heroes; in the twilight of evening I often fancy that the spirit of an ancient Roman is on the verge of materializing before me behind the Arch of Janus or at the Spring of Egeria, and at those moments I am immersed so deeply in my thoughts and in the remembrance of ancient times that I often find it hard to get my bearings afterwards. When I was driving through the city gates, having some time previously seen the Vatican and the Church of St. Peter, my sensations had reached such a pitch of intensity that my first glimpse of the Piazza del Popolo and its three great [intersecting] streets, along with the obelisk, hardly made the impression that I had expected. I alighted at my lodgings in the Spanish piazza and lost myself in strolling through the unfamiliar city as the sun was setting. Thus I happened upon the Pantheon; I went inside and a shower of holiness surrounded me; I waited until the full moon stood [directly] over the dome, and I then saw the magnificent circle illuminated by the most wondrous radiance.
How can one in
surrender oneself to one’s most dismal
and unwholesome sentiments, as Balder does? How is it possible that an
all-consuming fire is not raging through his veins and imparting tenfold
strength to his animal spirits? Rosa is a splendid person; he is a native Roman
and proud of his home town; since we arrived here he has begun to give proof of
the full majesty of his soul; it is as if he has been rejuvenated here; every
day I discern in him new merits and talents that I had never previously
expected [to find there]. To me he seems a virtual paragon on which one might
model oneself; this all-embracing spirit with its tender emotions and judicious
understanding, united with an abundant store of knowledge on many subjects—to
be sure, the totality of these possessions can be acquired only by a great
The sun is setting; I am about to hurry up the great steps here on the square, to see the domes of St. Peter’s and the Vatican, along with the whole city beneath me, burning in shades of gold and purple.
Walter Lovell to his son William
Henceforth my time will be limited by this irksome lawsuit of
’s; from now on I shall be able to
write to you only intermittently. But I wish to fulfill a promise that I made
to you in one of my recent letters, namely and in short to recount to you a few
episodes from my life whereby my steadfastness in the face of harsh trials was
[firmly] fixed and wherein I was obliged to purchase my suspiciousness and
knowledge of human nature at a rather dear rate. My father dwelt in Burton Yorkshire; his estate was sited in the
neighborhood of Bondly. I was his only son; two daughters and [another] boy had
subsequently died, accordingly he brought me up with the tenderest solicitude;
he stinted nothing in the formation of my capabilities and sought to instill in
me at the earliest possible age an affinity to all things noble and beautiful.
But as he had an immoderate partiality to rural solitude, the two of us were
seldom in the company of other people; we did, however, pay very frequent
visits to Bondly. Thus I grew up in his arms, so to speak, and became
acquainted with the world and other people solely through [the works of] a few
of my favorite writers; I was more at home in the innocent and artless age of
Homer than in the present; I measured all [other] people according to [the
yardstick of] my own sensations; everything that lay outside myself was a
foreign country to me. Such being the case, it was only natural that within me
a thousand prejudices should germinate and take firm root; the entirety of the
surrounding world was nothing but a mirror in which I rediscovered my own
image. None of my acquaintances attracted me so [powerfully] as did young
Burton, who at that time was twenty years old, only slightly older than myself;
our acquaintance soon developed into the most intimate friendship: a friendship
of the sort that is usually the first to be formed by young men of feeling—in
my opinion an eternal one. Damon and Pylades were for me still too humble an
ideal; my heated fancy promised to do everything for my friend, and likewise
exacted every [imaginable] sacrifice from him. In these years one does not take
the trouble to observe the character of one’s friend; or, rather, one lacks the
ability to do so; one thinks that one knows oneself and consequently also one’s
friend; one ascribes everything in oneself to him and one’s blinded gaze
discovers a thousand similarities between the two characters. Such a friendship
seldom lasts beyond the earliest years of youth; but there soon comes a time in
most men’s lives when they are compelled by a thousand circumstances to awaken
from their poetic reverie[s]; then the two friends—or at least one of them—find
that they have been swindled; this moment, wherein the roseate twilight of the
defrauded imagination little by little vanishes, is among the unhappiest of
My father, like every other impartial [observer], saw from the first instant that
was entirely dissimilar to me; he was
cold and reserved, crafty and evasive: in the heat of my imagination and an
excess of sentimentality, I candidly catered to his every whim. But I thought I
knew Burton better than anyone else did; I was convinced that everyone
else’s eyes were blind to his excellences and therefore regarded my own
understanding of human nature as loftier and more discerning than my father’s.
Just as the barbarian needs a tangibly represented god and [if need be] will
hew one for himself out of any [old] block of wood [or stone], the passionate
youth needs a being to whom he can communicate his thoughts [and feelings]; he
presses the first one he encounters to his breast, heedless of whether or not
this person bids him welcome. Burton
So I lived for many years without my mind taking a different turn, my almost uninterrupted solitude perhaps being the main reason for this. No sooner had I attained my majority than my father died, and I was now left entirely on my own. My sorrow at the loss of my father was fierce and unremitting, but
’s love consoled me. But I soon made
the acquaintance of a fair feminine creature in the neighborhood, who after
[only] a few weeks had so thoroughly secured my affections that, as if in a
state of enchantment, I forgot the entirety of my previous life and at length
perceived that I was in love; as up until then I had disparaged love as a
[species of] foolishness, and had sought the highest happiness in friendship.
Maria Milford was from the richest family in the neighborhood, and although my
own means were considerable, I was fearful of tendering a proposal to her
severe father; my upbringing had instilled in me a shyness that I overcame only
quite late [in life]; moreover, I also wished beforehand to secure her personal
consent; a desire that in a short time was fulfilled. Burton was the confidant of my love; he was
my adviser and occasionally the sharer of my affliction. I was still tarrying
over [whether or not] to disclose my intentions to my beloved’s father when Burton , an uncle of my friend, returned from
his travels in Waterloo . He was a man of about forty years of
age; his travels had improved his understanding and polished his manners. He
was [obliging] and courteous without being boring, and [openly] friendly to
everyone without being tactless; his face and in particular his gaze had
something imposing about them that initially scared one off, but that upon
nearer acquaintance metamorphosed into kindness; in short, he seemed to me the
complete ideal of a man and soon had me completely under his spell. He took an
especial interest in me, and I surrendered myself entirely to him with an
absolute, childlike resignation; I believed that I had acquired in him a second
father, he guided my every step; he was soon the accessory of all of my
secrets, the confidant of my love, which I entrusted entirely to his direction. Italy
Waterloo’s wit, together with the rest of his talents, made him in a short time a [much] sought-after guest in the neighborhood; he was invited everywhere and from his first visit onwards was everyone’s friend; thus he soon acquired the intimate trust of old Milford, whom he visited especially often. A few weeks thence he became the [principal] friend of the family, and he himself obliged me by [writing] the preliminary proposal to the [young lady’s] father of a union between his daughter and me. I embraced him a thousand times; I thanked him for his friendship; I boldly looked forward to a happy future. On a certain occasion when I was visiting Milford and his daughter, I observed with delight that Waterloo must have already secured his promise; I was received more warmly than ever before; Marie [sic--DR] was less reserved; and when we had been left alone for a few minutes in the garden, she said to me that from the start my friend had drawn her father’s attention to me, and had very often spoken of me with much high praise. I believed myself already certain of my good fortune; I formed a thousand plans; I thanked
like an enraptured lover; I swore that
I loved him more than my father or any other person. My affection for Marie
Milford began now to show itself more openly; I was less shy and guarded; my
love was reciprocated; I was the happiest man under the sun. Waterloo
Suddenly, my friend was cut short by a blow rendered all the more terrible for me by its unexpectedness. I received one morning a letter from the father of my beloved, wherein he tersely requested, for reasons that he was not then at liberty to specify, that I should in future avoid his house. I stood for a long time as though stunned; I could hardly convince myself of the reality of what I was reading. I sought in a hundred possible causes an explanation for this letter, a solution to this puzzle, but in vain; I rode with all speed to
’s estate, that I might talk with him
in person and allow him to account for his behavior, but I was denied
admittance. Enraged, I returned home and abandoned myself anew to my melancholy
investigations, but my thoughts could discover no exit from this labyrinth; I
disclosed my curious situation to Milford , who tried to console me by every
[imaginable] means; he promised to root out the cause of this occurrence. By
means of his rhetorical artistry and his companionability, with which he tried
to distract me, he brought me to such a point that I parted from him in a
somewhat more equanimous state of mind. My distressing situation continued for
several weeks, throughout which Waterloo delivered to me intelligence that was
by turns consoling and disheartening; I rode by Milford’s house a few times and
saw Marie standing at a window, weeping. Waterloo did everything [in his power] to ease
my pain; he was my only friend, Waterloo having left for Burton some weeks earlier. We formed manifold
plans, each of which we abandoned one after the other. In the end, Waterloo
proposed my making a journey to London, which, he thought, would distract me
[from my present troubles]; meanwhile, in his capacity as my legal proxy he
would continue indefatigably to argue my cause to old Milford; this unfortunate
situation could have been brought about [only] by a handful of [trifling]
calumnies and misunderstandings that would sort themselves out and be disproved
and explained on their own. After much wrangling back and forth I was finally
brought round to his point of view. We took tender leave of each other; my
heart bled at the prospect of being separated [even briefly] from my friend;
but I consoled myself with the thought that I would see London in Burton . London
I traveled on horseback and unaccompanied, lest my reveries should be disturbed by the presence of another living soul. My journey proceeded but slowly. I arrived in
much later than I had expected to do. London welcomed me with great joy; he dragged
me against my will to a thousand entertainments; meanwhile, my hopes and
ever-restive sorrows alike were nurtured by letter after letter from Burton . Thus elapsed a much longer interval
than I had initially fixed for my absence, as I had already been two months in Waterloo . London
I seemed in my own eyes like a fool who practically merited his own misfortune, and in [such a state of consciousness] I slaved through one turbulently sleepless night in my bedchamber; with renewed radiance Marie’s image appeared before my soul; her father’s behavior was to me as inexplicable as it ever had been. What could he possibly want of me? With what [infraction] could he tax me? I rued the thought that I was dreaming away my days so far from her and hardly knew in which direction lay my fate.
with its uproarious bustle was odious
to me, exercised [solely] as I was by the desire of once again living near her,
on my lonely estate, and of perchance making my peace with her father. London
I rose from my bed in a state of virtual intoxication; it was as though my genius were impelling me to leave
. I gave myself no time to pack my
things, or even to inform London of my departure; I caught the post
chaise at the crack of dawn and raced homeward with all possible speed. I
stopped nowhere; the greatest haste was yet too slow for me; I drove straight
through the night so that I should see my country house all the sooner. I could
have been no more than a few miles from Burton 's chateau when I caught sight of a
procession of sprucely-dressed and frolicsome countrywomen. I was apprehensive;
I asked them what festival they were celebrating. The oldest of them came
forward and, pointing to Milford 's country seat, said with a guileless
smile that they were on their way to the chateau to help celebrate the
betrothal of Miss to Mr. Waterloo. I was struck dumb, as if by a bolt of
lightning; I let this piece of news echo in my mind a full ten times without
hearing it; I believed that this was all some nightmare I was enduring back in
London; at length, I gave over [all attempts at] reflection and allowed myself
to be driven with the greatest celerity to Milford's chateau. Milford
Upon my arrival there I was roused from my stupor by the not-too-distant sound of trumpets and loud music. I sprang from the carriage; the servants in their preoccupation with their work scarcely noticed me; I rushed like a madman up the front steps, flung open the door, and [found myself standing] in the hall among a crowd of familiar and unfamiliar people; Marie uttered a cry and involuntarily flew into my arms.
Everyone was stunned;
and old Waterloo threw themselves between us and
separated us with main force. Marie was led, virtually unconscious, to her
room; Milford followed her; at length I was alone
with her father. Waterloo
“Do you dare to show yourself here?” he snapped: “Here and in this manner? Have you forgotten the absoluteness of my prohibition?”
“Yes: I dare!” I exclaimed: “I dare to do this and much more.
is a scoundrel; he must recompense me
for his base treachery with his life!” Waterloo
I do not know what else I said; but an unstoppable fury had taken possession of me; I felt my whole body quivering with convulsions; my blood was boiling and I was grinding my teeth.
was sufficiently composed to wait for
my outburst to spend itself; then he said the following: Milford
“You see,” he said coldly, “how patiently I have endured these demented ravings of yours, and perhaps it is my complaisance that has made you so insolent. On the whole, you are a puzzle to me. What right have you to my daughter? She loves you, as they say; but that word [love] does not have sufficient power to extort from me my consent; and yet you accost me with the savagery of a madman, knowing full well though you do that through a hundred perfidies you have made yourself unworthy of a union with my family.”
“Perfidies?” I exclaimed, and drew my sword from its scabbard.
with cold ire, “let us leave off this
shadow-boxing; I can give you proof.” Milford
And now he began to present to me a register of [the] evils that I was supposed to have perpetrated. The majority of these were entirely chimerical, or based on wholly trivial actions and occurrences represented in an odious light; all of them bespoke an inventive ingenuity of the most despicable sort; I [could not refrain from] repeatedly blushing at the outrage[s] that had been laid to my charge. “And am I,”
at length concluded, “to deliver up my
daughter, the sole joy of my life, to such a man? I would rather see her put to
I forced myself to remain calm. “Who,” I coldly asked, “is the inventor of this, to say the least, ingenious falsehood?”
“One whom your character has most keenly aggrieved—your friend
, your sometime panegyrist.” Waterloo
I was astonished that I had not even come close to seeing through the whole web of evil; the scales now fell from my eyes. Great tears coursed down my cheeks; at that moment I was losing a friend whom I had loved beyond the limits of expression; my heart was fain to burst. I threw myself into [the nearest] armchair, that to begin with I might allow the manifold passions that gnawed at my soul to spend themselves; Milford coldly gazed down at me; he was uncertain whether to regard my distress as a manifestation of remorse or of deep vexation. Finally I regained the power of speech, and after I had fully collected my thoughts, I found it an easy matter to convince her father of the groundlessness of all of his accusations. He now raged against
, who through all the arts of
dissimulation had made him his warm[est] friend. He had at first pretended to
be my friend and admirer, and [completely] resigned to [the prospect of] a
union between Marie and me; he became gradually more tentative about [this
prospect], and finally cold to it. He had been pressed to account for this
behavior; after tedious divagations, after many complaints, he had finally come
forward with the revelation that he had been entirely mistaken in me, that
through this painful discovery he had lost a dear friend, along with various
other irrelevancies and moral commonplaces. Then one fiction after another was
spun out; and all the while he was rendering me sufficiently odious to Waterloo , he was also trying to increase in
equal measure Milford ’s love for himself. This he also
ultimately succeeded in doing; but Marie unwaveringly detested him; she had
never believed any of his lies. Our reconciliation was soon achieved from every
quarter, and my betrothal to Marie celebrated a few days later; I challenged Milford [to a duel]; he did not appear, but
nonetheless found a sure means of avenging himself on me. Waterloo
I soon afterwards fell ill, assailed by incessant giddiness along with convulsions and fainting fits; the doctor discovered just in the nick of time that I had been poisoned, and only the closest attention could save my life; for all that, I did not manage to avoid a long and agonizing illness that, moreover, has been the occasion of all of my subsequent calamities. All of this was effected by a man who had once been my friend, whom I had loved with the greatest tenderness, [all] for the sake of obtaining a handsome dowry from Marie.
Ever since those days,
has unremittingly pursued [my ruin]. Thus was my candid
heart deceived, and my tender friendship rewarded! Burton
But this is only a single scene from my life; I have weathered other storms wherein my affections were similarly traduced—on account of all of these storms, I have tried to make you acquainted with the ways of man from an early age, and to mitigate in you that fanaticism that is so peculiar to youth; heretofore my efforts have been in vain; but you must surely gather from my history how indispensable such a mitigation really is. Farewell; I hope that you manage to make the best application of all of the preceding to your own [affairs].
William Lovell to Edward Burton
The Italian winter is already proclaiming itself in a welter of rain showers. I shall postpone all of my observations on the artistic treasures [of this city] to the date of our next meeting, when I shall refer you to my journal of them. How lavishly do I intend to rejoice when I shall be able to spread out all of my papers in front of you in my beloved Bondly, and you to lecture me, and I to find fault with your lectures. In the interest of not spoiling that pleasure, I shall tell you instead about my friends and general acquaintance. Rosa interests me more and more with each passing day; without even deliberately intending to do so, he has made me aware of many deficiencies in my attitude towards many things that I had hitherto never given the least thought to, and which for all that were perhaps eminently worthy of [the closest] scrutiny; but indeed, my understanding [has] until [recently] not ventured beyond a certain limit.
Rosa incites me to slough off my shyness, and in many terrae
incognitae he is virtually my pilot. Balder often absents himself from our
company; he is perfectly happy daydreaming in solitude; my anxiety on his
account daily increases, for he himself is often not like himself. A few days
ago, when the weather was fairer than it usually is at this time of the year,
we went out for a walk in the country, and I tried to awaken his attention to
the beauties of nature, but he remained obdurately wrapped up, gloomily
brooding, in his own thoughts. . “What are you thinking about?” I pressingly
asked him; “you have been [strangely] uncommunicative for some time now; you
keep secrets from your friends, to whom you were always formerly so outspoken.
What ails you?”
“Nothing,” he coldly replied, and resumed his brooding.
“Behold creation in its delightful splendor around you,” I urged him; “behold how the whole of nature rejoices and is happy!”
Balder: “And everything is dying and decomposing; have you forgotten that we are treading on the corpses of a million manifold creatures, that the pomp of nature is derived from rotting animal and vegetable matter—that it is nothing but decomposition in disguise?”
“You have a dreadful talent for unfailingly discerning a dismal picture beneath the gayest colors.”
“Joy and laughter?” he snapped in reply: “What are these? I am haunted by this horror of beauty—nay, of my very own self; annihilate this quality in me and I shall cease to deem you and the rest of mankind so criminally vulgar.”
“But why,” I resumed, “do you not wish to renounce this peculiar manner of looking at things, which is well and truly but a piece of self-indulgence and unwholesome capriciousness, and to search out once again the true shape of the world with a gladsome heart?”
“But,” he replied, “is your manner of looking at things, is your view, the true one? Who among us is right? Or are we all deceived?”
“Perhaps, but let us at least acknowledge as true the imposture that makes us happ[iest].”
Balder: “Your deception does not make me happy; its colors are too wan for me; nature’s concealing cloak having fallen away, I see her skeleton in all its gruesome nakedness. What do you call joy? What do you call pleasure? Oh, how we would weep if we could tear off nature’s disguise! In place of joy and delight we would discover a horror.”
“And why? If we are not loath to proceed through life with riddles to the one side of us and incomprehensibilities on the other, I intend to take pleasure in the sensation of my existence, then to vanish from [the world] as I emerged [into it]: in life alone lies sufficient joy for me. Your notions can [only] lead you to madness.”
“Perhaps? And you say this with such hideous detachment?”
Balder: “Why not? Man and his essence are in themselves so incomprehensible to me that I am equally and supremely indifferent to their various contingent manifestations.”
“Indifferent to them? Balder, you frighten me.”
Balder: “On account of this idea? It has always been an open question for me whether I have more to gain or to lose by going mad.”
“But can you frankly affirm that this torpid insensibility, this sub-verminous existence, this wild hybrid of life and non-being, is by any stretch of the imagination a form of happiness?”
Balder: “If you are happy, why should a madman not also be allowed to be so? He feels just as feebly the tribulations of nature, his sensorium is as impervious as yours to the cause of my distress; why should he languish in misery? And his understanding—”
“—And has every lineament of this divine insignia of humanity been utterly effaced from his being? Or is it in folly that you discern precisely his highest bliss?”
Balder: “I discern therein his reason! Oh, William, what is it that we call reason? Certainly many have gone mad because they idolized their reason and abandoned themselves to their [reasonable] researches. Our reason, which springs from heaven, is free to roam only terrestrial zones; no one has yet managed to discover any firm truths regarding God or eternity or the purpose of the world; we wander about within the confines of a mighty prison; we whine about our lack of freedom and pine for the light of day; we knock on a hundred gates of bronze, but all of them are locked, and we are answered by a hollow echo. As if he whom we now call mad were actually—”
“—I understand you, Balder: Because our reason cannot achieve the impossible, we are obliged to look down our noses at it and permitted to give up using it entirely.”
Balder: “No, William you do not understand me. In lieu of a long-winded exposition of my beliefs, I would like to recount to you a brief tale. In Germany I had a friend, an officer, a man of discreet years and a cool temperament; he had never read much or done much thinking, but he had done as much living in forty years as most men do in that span of time; the few books that he knew had formed his understanding just extensively enough that he had a strong aversion to superstition of any kind; he often spoke to me with great ardor about the fear of ghosts and other human weaknesses. This zeal for enlightenment gradually became his governing defect, and his comrades, who knew this side of him, often needled him by feigning a belief in miracles, and thus originated many frequent heated and doggedly-pursued arguments; in these a certain Herr von Friedheim in particular distinguished himself by his contradictoriness; he was a friend of Wildberg (that was the other officer’s name), but he tried by this means to make his defect as conspicuous as possible. An incident of the sort that often begins in disputation and usually ends in laughter was thereby precipitated. On one occasion, Friedheim said after many debates that, on the assumption that no other ghost had ever appeared before his friend, he wished to die as soon as possible, that he might himself play the role of a ghost. This comment induced both general laughter and, at that very moment, a perceptible heating of the quarrel and an increase in its stakes. Wildberg soon felt himself insulted to the utmost degree, Friedheim had been driven into a rage; the company divided into two factions, and the inflamed Wildberg demanded satisfaction of Friedheim. The duel was fought in the greatest secrecy; I was Wildberg’s second, another of our friends accompanied his opponent; we had done everything in our power to effect a reconciliation, but offended honor nullified our efforts. The space was measured out, the pistols loaded; Friedheim missed; Wildberg fired; Friedheim fell down; a bullet through the head had robbed him of his life. A number of auspicious circumstances conspired to keep the affair half-hidden; there was no need for Wildberg to take flight. All of his friends were delighted with the lucky hand fate had dealt him; he alone was sunk in a profound state of melancholy. Everyone attributed this to his friend’s death, which he had after all brought about [himself and] by the most violent means; but his sorrow was never dispelled, inasmuch as every attempt to revive his spirits was fruitless; inasmuch as, after numerous attempts thereunto, he let it be known through many an inscrutable sign that the cause of his pensiveness was not to be discovered. He now confessed, first to one of us, then to others, that his friend Friedheim had definitely kept his word to visit him after his death; to be sure, he did not come in person, but every night at the stroke of twelve a death’s- head with a bullet-hole in it would glide through the middle of his bed-chamber, hover silently over his bed as if staring down at him in admonition through its empty eye-sockets, and then vanish; this horrifying specter had robbed him of sleep and his high spirits; ever since its first appearance he had been unable to think a single cheerful thought. Most of his friends regarded this tale as the product of an unhappy imagination; only a few, and these the most simpleminded among them at that, took it for the truth. But Wildberg’s illness worsened; he began to recount his vision more often and at greater length; he no longer protested against superstition: to the contrary, he would now speak on behalf of the souls of the departed, and by and by he acquired something of a reputation as a seer, and was regarded as an all-around reasonable fellow who had simply had the misfortune to go a bit mad. Wildberg now asked a few of his friends to stay up with him at night because his terror and worry were increasing with every apparition; even I kept him company on a few occasions. Towards he would always become restless; at the stroke of twelve he would stand up and cry, “Listen! It’s rattling at the door!” We heard nothing. Then Wildberg would fix his eyes on the floor and softly say, “See how he’s sneaking up on me! Oh, forgive me, forgive me, my dear friend; harass me no more; I have suffered enough!” Afterwards he would calm down and say to us that the head had vanished; we had seen nothing. It was becoming ever more apparent to all of his friends that this was all nothing but an unfortunate hypochondriacal hallucination, the deterioration of strong remorse at the death of his friend into a kind of madness; we searched for a means of delivering him from the futility of his visions and thereby restoring to him his peace of mind. Many hypochondriacs have indeed been cured upon being presented with a real and concrete version of their hallucination and subsequently informed of the deception; it was precisely in such a fashion that we attempted to cure Wildberg. We accordingly procured ourselves a skull, through whose forehead we drilled a hole at the spot where the unfortunate Friedheim had been struck by his friend’s bullet; we attached to it a thread by means of which we were to drag it into the room, allow Wildberg to observe it, and finally show him how we had deceived him. Of this cheat of ours we expected the happiest of outcomes; all of the arrangements had been made and we awaited with impatience the moment at which the church-bell struck twelve. Once again the last peal died away, and once again Wildburg cried, “Listen! It’s rattling there, at the door!” At that precise moment the skull was produced by one of our confederates and dragged straight into the middle of the room. Wildberg had up until now kept his eyes closed; he now opened them; and pale, shivering, and practically transformed into a ghost [himself], he sprang from the bed; in a blood-curdling tone of voice he exclaimed, “Almighty God: two death’s heads! What do you want of me?”
Here Balder paused. I must own that I had been struck by the unexpected ending of the tale, and that it was now preoccupying my imagination; but I was still eager to hear what application to his previous thoughts he would derive from it; after a short silence he continued:
“Every thinker who wishes to pursue the great questions, the ones that are most important to him; the questions of immortality, God, and eternity, of mind and matter and the purpose of the world, feels himself torn back from his goal by bands of iron; the human soul seems tremulously to shrink back from the black slate on which the eternal truths about itself are inscribed. When reason summons up all of its forces, it ultimately comes to feel with what frightening precariousness it is teetering on a thin ridge of solidity, and how it is in fact on the very verge of plunging into the realm of madness. In order to save himself, the terrified human being flings himself back on to the earth, but few have had the sheer expeditious audacity to undertake the step forward; with a sonorous clang, their shackles fly to pieces behind them; they plunge irresistibly forward; in the eyes of mere mortals they are deranged. The spiritual realm discloses itself to them; they see through the secret laws of nature; their sensorium lays hold of what has never before been thought; their indefatigable spirit roots in flaming oceans—they reside on the other side of mortal nature; they have utterly perished as far as the human race is concerned, and have moved nearer to divinity; they have completely forgotten the notion of returning to the earth—and narrow souls with sovereign arrogance stigmatize their wisdom as insanity, their rapture as madness.”
Balder was now staring at me directly and fearlessly. He continued:
“Despite every effort to deceive him, my friend Wildberg saw something that we could not see—can we even know what he saw? The story is true, but even if it were only a well-wrought fairy tale, for me it would still be well worth the telling, on account of the profound meaning contained in it.”
“Where then do you draw the line between truth and fiction?”
“Let us leave off talking of this,” he abruptly insisted: “Today I have become quite a chatterbox quite against my will; but as we had chanced upon the subject for once, I did not wish to withhold any of these curious ideas of mine from you.”
We had by now made our way back to town, and Balder was once again deeply immersed in his own thoughts.
I have recorded this conversation as well as I could; from it you will have become [broadly] acquainted with the strange turn my friend’s thoughts have taken [of late]. I now wish to close. Farewell.
And yet, my dear friend, I am taking up my pen once more, in order to relate to you an incident that is certainly curious enough, albeit that it may turn out to be utterly without sequel. Perhaps it is because the above-recorded conversation has put me in a strange mood or because I am feeling especially tired from having slept hardly a wink these past few nights—but anyway, I want to tell you about this matter, such as it is; you may well laugh at your friend, but what more can I say? It won’t happen very often again. In order for you to understand me completely, I shall have to begin at the very beginning.
My father has a small collection of paintings that contains a very few historical pieces and landscapes but is composed mostly of portraits of his relatives and other people of interest to him. As a boy, I never willingly entered the room that housed this collection, because I always felt that its crowd of strange faces might all of a sudden come to life; but one of these paintings was always particularly repulsive to me. The fireplace was situated in a corner of the room where a heavy shadow fell, and a painting that hung over the mantelpiece was always almost completely obscured. It was of a face that had—I don’t know how to describe them—I would almost say iron features. A man of about forty years of age, pallid and haggard, one of his eyes staring directly ahead, the other turned askance in a slight squint; a mouth that seemed at first to be smiling, but on closer inspection was simply itching to show its teeth; a perpetual twilight huddled about this painting; and a mysterious feeling of dread came over me whenever I regarded it; and yet my eyes were automatically drawn to it whenever I entered the room; therefore, my fancy has quite faithfully and indelibly preserved its image ever since. I have never quite managed to outgrow the fear I felt as a child in the presence of this face; my father told me that it was the portrait of no actual person, but rather the realization of some figment of a skillful artist’s imagination.
I had finished my letter to you; I was walking through the streets; the sun had already set and a scarlet twilight shimmered about the roofs and over the empty squares. On my way home I hurried through the lonely vineyards and past the temple of St. Theodore; and I was approaching the arch of Janus, which would bring me back into my beloved city, when just outside the wall I saw a figure staggering towards me; the nearer it approached the less certain I was that it was an actual person; I took it for a spirit, so old, decrepit, and amorphous was it as it crept along; then suddenly it was standing face-to-face with me and—Edward, you may have already guessed it—it was that ghastly face from my father’s collection! All of the emotions of my earliest childhood swept over me; I thought I was going to faint. It was the selfsame man, only thirty years older, but with all of the same gruesome characteristic features imbued with all of the inexplicably dreadful and terrifying essence of the abominable. He had taken notice of my alarm; he looked at me intently and smiled—and then walked away! Edward, I search in vain for words with which to describe to you this face and this smile. It was as though my adversarial angel were standing before me in visible actuality, while I simultaneously heard the happiest pages being rent from the book of my life; this gaze, this smile, struck me as being the prologue to a long and arduous career of misfortune and misery. Oh, Edward—I am afraid this encounter has quite flustered me; I beg your pardon if I have spoken of it too earnestly.
“Who could this man be?” I keep asking myself, “and how did my father come to possess such an uncannily accurate likeness of him?”
Charles Wilmont to Mortimer
Charles Wilmont to Mortimer
I have roamed through the length and breadth of
, and I fancy I could just as well do
the same through Scotland and Ireland Abyssinia and return home not a jot cleverer.
All of my uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and cousins of both sexes have
scarcely recognized me; they have all sworn that I must have switched places
with some other person, so much for the worse have I been transformed by love;
I am beginning quite to lose my popular reputation of a wag; sentiment has made
quite a wretched hash of all my former mirth. Oh, my friend, I am now in the
most wretched city that I have yet known in the whole wide world; the Scots are
a truly splendid and hospitable people, but their present guest is too unworthy
of their hospitality, and so I shall in good time be obliged to return home. If
you have anything at all to write to me, please do so, as I think I shall be
here for a few more weeks.
It has occurred to me, Mortimer, that for our mutual amusement's sake we could dedicate elegies to each other and thereby bequeath our names to posterity; moreover, in poetry there must surely inhere a consolation for every possible form of suffering; instead of pulling our hair out, let us chew on our pens; instead of beating our breasts and sighing, let us tabulate lines of verse on our fingers; I already have a few ideas for such poems in my head; and if I am not done in by a hailstorm, they should yield a fine harvest.
Otherwise I am healthy, but the weather is turning nasty; I wish it were spring, and that I could see Emily again and that—would you believe it?—I were united with her in marriage and the father of ten children—and—and—I assure you that I should like to end every sentence with Emily’s name. God alone knows how this will all turn out for me. I hope that with the advent of the new year we shall not have long to wait for things to get better, and that it will bring you and me and all the [other] people of the earth [at least] a taste of the highest happiness.
[I wonder] whether she thinks of me every now and then? I certainly hope so. How are you faring in
, and are you continuing to fall ever more deeply in love
with my sister? I am often inclined to laugh at the two of us; from time to
time I actually do, but I never manage to keep it going for long. I shall soon
return to you, and we will give succor to each others’ afflicted hearts. London
Mortimer to Charles Wilmont
Mortimer to Charles Wilmont
I am glad that the tone of your letter was still passably jolly; that can only mean that your situation is hardly as dire as you would like to think it is. Today I must succumb to the temptation to speak to you most earnestly; if you are at present in too gay a mood to bear this, please set my letter aside and leave it there until the mood passes. But I know that for you there is a time for laughter and a time for earnestness, that you do not figure among those humorists who like nothing better than to listen to the sound of their own voices and to deafen themselves with their own prattle. The weather is turning very stormy; I therefore think that the most sensible thing for you to do would be to come back to London, for what enjoyment can you at present derive from your wanderings?
Lovell is becoming a negligent correspondent; he has not written to Amalie in a very long time. She has expressed to me her sorrow at this with her characteristically amiable candor, and it is sheer cheek on Lovell’s part to hold himself aloof of this fair soul, so utterly unworthy is he of the distress that he has caused her.
Charles, I constantly reproach myself for seeing her so often; I accuse myself of insulting Lovell in virtue of my affection for her—but then again, can he ever hope to secure his father’s permission to marry her? And does he even really love her? Has he not perchance already forgotten her? If this turned out to be the case, perhaps she would little by little transfer her love to me. Besides, Charles, I have thought up a fine plan: believe me, Charles, it is as a paterfamilias that one first becomes a citizen of the earth. [And if I were a paterfamilias] she would be my wife; I have already selected a charming quiet little spot to build on. I have drafted for myself no merely fanciful and sentimentally poetic ground-plan; I have calculated everything in relation to everything else; I have a fair notion of the pleasures that one may expect of this world, and my demands are therefore hardly exorbitant; I have made it my pastime to plan my household down to its minutest details; what a pity that I can so little count on the attainment of its chief article. To be sure, the pleasures of the heart are the purest and noblest in this world, and they can be enjoyed by [anyone] who does not willfully disdain them. I therefore hope to see you once again and shortly in
. Farewell. London
Count Melun to Mortimer
Count Melun to Mortimer
You left Paris, my dear friend, just I was making arrangements for my marriage to Countess Blainville; as you once took an interest in my fate, I consider myself duty-bound to impart to you some recent news regarding the sequel of this piece of foolishness.
You would no longer recognize my house in Paris, everything there has been turned so upside-down and so altered and modernized; I am kept on such a tight leash that I have less freedom than my servants; all of my former friends avoid my house and a flock of transients have gradually ensconced themselves here, and now live off of the liberality—or, rather, the extravagance—of my keeper; ah, Mortimer, I still have an old age of dire poverty to look forward to. How severely do the fates punish an old man who, despite years of experience, is foolish enough to go in quest of a heart that will love him of its own free will. I should very much like to put a period to this most recent epoch of my life; I should also like to buy back many a year that can never be recovered, and I have surrounded myself with a [version of] hell here. The countess has cozened me with her dissimulative wiles; I dared to believe she had a heart, but she laughs at such quaint humbug; she rejoices at my sorrow and dreams of my demise. Only a few weeks after our wedding, I had already given up hope of a truly happy marriage, but I had no notion of the sheer number of afflictions I would have to endure. There exists no mortification that I am not suffering; my wealth is being frittered away in the most absurd and senseless manner; she has a lover whom she does not conceal from me, a blackguard who is conspicuous for neither wit nor judgment, and whose coffers she is swelling as a means of inviting the attentions of [his possible successors]. Some sort of consumption seems to have a view to ending my suffering, for I feel more and more listless with the passing of each day. Thus squalidly concludes a life of unspeakable tedium, a life that I have sacrificed almost in its entirety to the fatuity of convenience. Mourn [the destruction] of your friend, and never allow yourself to be visited by a misfortune comparable to any of mine.
Walter Lovell to Edward Burton
I am writing to you in a state of great distraction—nay, of dolor—induced in me by my son’s long silence. The only [excusable] explanation I can divine for this silence—that he is mortally ill—merely aggravates my sorrow. If he happens to have sent you any news of himself during this interval, I beseech you to communicate them to me; you would thereby assuage the sorrows of a father whose soul is haunted by a procession of a thousand nightmarish visions, each one bleaker and more terrifying than the preceding one. I therefore beg you to reply to me soon; for I know that you have always kept up a correspondence with my son; perhaps he has been less neglectful of his friend than of his father.
Amalie Wilmont to Emily Burton
Amalie Wilmont to Emily Burton
What am I up to, my dearest friend? I myself scarcely know; I am not ill, and yet I am not well either. If I could come to you there at Bondly, I would be most content; as content as Lovell once was when he was your guest. I do not know why that wicked man his father and the rest of us [down here] are so worried; he has not written in a long time, and we now fear him dead. If it were a matter of simple negligence, it would be unpardonable. Tell me what you think; I would like for us to be able to speak freely to each other as friends, as we did in the old days. You were always so kind to me; we were always so merry together; perhaps you could cheer me up a bit; I really am in great need of gaiety; I feel as though a constant ache were gnawing at my heart. Mortimer does everything possible to make me happy, but even when I do occasionally laugh, I am still thinking all the while of Lovell, and inwardly weeping, and Lovell—God! If he were dead or—oh Emily, what do you think? Is it possible? Why should fate have dealt me such a blow, seeing that I have done nothing wrong? Or was my good fortune, were my [very] hopes, sinful [in themselves]?
William Lovell to
You are right, Rosa; I am for the first time beginning to understand you. What has seemed obscure and incomprehensible since I made your acquaintance is now emerging into [clarity] as if from behind a cloud; the valleys that lie between the hills are becoming visible, my gaze encompasses the landscape in its entirety. Your mind is pulling mine across [the divide] and towards itself; precisely because, owing to the precipitancy of youth (I can now frankly confess this to you), I formerly regarded myself as your superior, I now feel myself especially humbled [by your insight].
What are you and Balder up to in
? Since your departure I have felt
lonesome and forsaken here; it would seem that the uninterrupted presence of a
friend is indispensable to my well-being. Come back soon! Naples
Nevertheless, I have you and you alone to thank for that self-sufficiency that only a short time ago was so foreign to me. You have hoisted me aloft of those creatures who in their deplorable cowardice dare not partake of the pleasures of life; who allow themselves to be lorded over by an incessant despair and languish in the midst of plenty; or who disdainfully traipse over nature’s living treasures for the sake of ascending some barren promontory that they deem nearer to heaven. But there they remain, forsaken [at the foot of the cliff]; their prospect is delimited by sheer rock faces that no mortal hand can get a purchase on; in the hope of making themselves more like the gods they die without ever having lived. No, Rosa: away with this inconsolable hubris! I am satisfied with the aspiration to be a human being; life slips so speedily away [from us]; woe betide him who awakens from his terrestrial existence without having dreamt pleasant dreams, for futurity is a dark and empty [place indeed].
Ever since I attached myself to this conviction, heaven has smiled more amicably on me, every flower has smelled sweeter, every tone has sounded more melodious, I contemplate the whole world as I would my own estate; in comprehending each beauty I come to possess it. Thus must the free spirit roam through nature, a king of all creation, the noblest created being in virtue of knowing how to enjoy [life] at the noblest [pitch]. I have abandoned my striving after wisdom, which no mortal being can ever approach [,let alone attain]. Why does Sisyphus not eventually leave off rolling his awful rock [up that hill]? Why do the Danaides never weary of their miserable labor? Why do thousands of their own volition fashion a hell out of this beautiful world?
You must forgive me this [access of] poetic enthusiasm; for I happen to be writing at a particularly lovely hour in the very garden that has served as the scene of so many of our moments of shared delight. The air is cool now thanks to a thunderstorm [that has just ended], and the black clouds are dispersing; a narrow beam of light is piercing forth through the darkness and painting a red stripe on the greensward; the mountaintops stand there [on the horizon] like Elysian islands in the midst of a turbid ocean, in the distance a rainbow wanders through the verdure of the forest; nature is once again fresh and new; the meadow exhales a fragrance of ineffable sweetness; your companionship alone is wanting to the perfection of Lovell’s happiness.
Rosa to William Lovell
Since my receipt of your letter I have been all the sorrier for having journeyed hither in the company of Balder the Melancholy; I shall return as speedily as possible. He is becoming ever more glum and withdrawn with each passing day; his mind seems to be in the perpetual grip of a curious kind of ecstasy. You will know that for him the customary pleasures and amusements of life are always malapropos; they serve only to impart a darker hue to his sullenness. Is it not childish to curse oneself and the whole of nature [simply] because everything is not as our [five] limited senses wish it to be? But I am also familiar with the charms that this ecstasy vouchsafes us; we surmise that we are on intimate terms with the spirits that enchant us; the soul bathes in the purest ethereal luster and forgets to return to earth; but the power that the world refashions after the image contained within the inflamed imagination soon dies; sensuality (for what other name is there for such a phenomenon?) is exalted to so high a station that it finds the actual world empty and prosaic; the less nutriment it receives from outside itself, the more it glows with its own auto-generated light; it fashions new worlds for itself and lets them perish; until at length the too-tautly stretched bowstring snaps and a condition of total flaccidity paralyzes the mind and renders us insusceptible to all pleasure; everything withers, and eternal winter surrounds us. What divinity can then bring about the return of spring?
It is a good thing for you that you have escaped from such a state! You now know which gratifications you are within your rights to exact of life. The ecstatic dreamer understands [neither] himself [nor] his obscure desires; he demands the enjoyments of a foreign world; [the word] emotion has no meaning for him; sun and moon are too [sullied by] terrestrial[ity] in his eyes; you and I, William, are happy to remain here below and to avoid reaching after clouds and foggy exhalations; the moon and the stars above shall never vex us—and so onward and into life [races] our carriage, over mountains and through valleys, pulled by our fresh team of horses, until at length some impassable obstacle obliges us to alight. I shall soon be back in
; farewell. Rome
Balder to William Lovell
Balder to William Lovell
When I set out on this trip, I had high hopes for it, and now I am sorry I ever left
; indeed, I am almost beginning to
regret ever having desired to stir beyond my own obscure little corner of my
native country. The mind craves novelty; one thing perforce leads to another,
as one dreams one’s sweet way through Rome ; and in the end what more does it all
amount to than the tedious repetition of the exact same object? What difference
does it now make that I saw hills, lakes, and blue skies on the road from Italy to Rome ? Cold and joyless is the procession of
all that passes before my eyes. Naples
But why are human beings so unfailingly hell-bent on not finding within themselves the satisfaction of this craving? It now cheers me immeasurably to picture myself living in a tiny cottage at the edge of a lonely forest, forgetting the entire world and forgotten for ever by it in turn, acquainted only with as much of the earth as my eyes can see, undiscovered by a single other human soul, saluted only by the morning breezes and the rustling of the foliage; a small herd [of sheep], a small field: what more does a man need in order to be happy? And yet, if I were now suddenly placed in such a setting by some divinity, would I not pine for a return to the distant region whence I had come? Would not my gaze as in earlier times affix itself of an evening to the golden clouds of sunset for the sake of sinking beneath the horizon along with them and visiting plains yet unknown to itself? Would I not collapse under the onus of a musty solitude and hanker for news of the world, for love, for the warm clasp of the hand of friendship? Life lies before me like a long and tangled thread that a malicious fate compels me to unknot and straighten; a hundred times I fling the wearisome task aside, a hundred times I begin it anew without making any progress; oh if only merciful sleep would overwhelm me!
My journey hither has been completely spoiled by a fever;
Rosa is a nuisance to me; I find even my
own company unbearable. I still feel my best in solitude, amidst daredevil
phantoms, gloomy speculations, and the terrifying images of my fancy—but when I
come into a place where there are people and they are merry—where there is
music and perhaps it is even danced to! Oh, William it is almost enough to tear
my soul to pieces. I dare cast only the briefest of woebegone glances at the
exultant mob, and with that glance and within every individual I immediately
descry the naked skeleton, the quarry of annihilation. I seem to myself a kind
of anonymous ghost that silently, funereally, uncommunicatively makes his way
unnoticed through the press of the human throng: to me they are a foreign
Send me a reply if you have not yet entirely forgotten me; if you cannot be numbered among those people who are completely wrapped up in themselves like snails, blithely heedless of the well or ill-being of their brethren. But do I not already know that you are all egoists, and must perforce remain such?
William Lovell to Balder
The close of your letter compels me to compose this one in reply, regardless of whether or not I shall find it possible to prove to you herein that I cannot be numbered among those egoists of whom you speak. To prove this to you could be as difficult as to prove to you that you contemplate everything under the sun from an erroneous vantage point and therefrom discern nothing but misery and squalor. For your sake I wish I were a [furrow-browed] philosopher, that I might convince you [with my deportment alone]. Admittedly, I can say nothing to you that you might not have already learned just as well on your own—but my dear Balder, do please leave off these melancholy musings that are destroying your mind and your body; enjoy yourself and be happy. To which you will answer, “One might as well say to a blind man, ‘Open your eyes and see!’” But you have yet to convert me to your view that the will is not in absolute control of this state of affairs; I do not regard it as an exclusively physical ailment, and even if it were, it could still be cured. If you wish to be honest with yourself, you must admit that amid all of these terrors and horrors the mysterious, incomprehensible specter of sensual lust is greeting you with friendly and open arms; that it is she, with her savage pleasures and insane raptures, that is keeping you shut up under lock and key within your subterranean habitations. If you concede this, you must also concede that at minimum the two of us are equally and patently egoistic. But leave off these indulgences of your daredevil fancy that are destroying you; return to earth and to the society of your fellow human beings; [re]join the fraternal circle and accept the flowers that Mother Nature is smilingly, obligingly offering you. Oh, if only I could exorcise that evil spirit that dwells within you, that Lovell the Happy might once again enfold Balder the Happy in his arms a few weeks hence.
Balder to William Lovell
My situation is much changed since my recent letter. My fever is worsening with each passing day, in tandem with my savage animus against the entire world. None of the people whose passing acquaintance I have hitherto made has satisfied my expectations; even about you, William, I have reason enough to complain, but you will at least comply with a demand that I shall make of a certain person who happens to be my friend: hearken therefore to the plea of your ailing friend, and fulfill your half-joking promise to visit me here in Naples. In a most peculiar sense I feel myself to be alone, in the shadows, [the faintest] sound can induce in me a state of [the greatest] terror; every jolt makes the fibers of my body quiver in a most distressing fashion; I do not know the nature of the strange horror that surrounds me, my chest is constricted; I feel myself hemmed in as if by [a host of] invisible foreign beings; come—perhaps you can console me. If I am [after all] withdrawing from the world little by little like some withered tree, I would prefer to expire in the arms of a friend; if you are that friend, do not let me pine too long for your presence.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet forms my daily course of reading; here am I brought back to my senses; here it is written how [“]weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable[”] life is, how madness and reason interpenetrate and annihilate each other, how the skull at length comes to [“]mock at its own grinning,[”] and nothing more is left of all beauty and pleasure, all earnestness and affectation, than this loathsome white head. Oh, my imagination is seeing shapes!
Or was it something more than a figment of my imagination that caused me such terror at last night? If it were something more! And yet it cannot be so. But what mortal dares to draw the line at which reality must begin and end? We rely too heavily on our brain, that [“]quintessence of dust,[”] when by means of our everyday earthly scales and yardsticks we attempt to take the measure of a world that defies every comparison to the one here below. Someday the mind, deprived of its corporeal integument, will perchance sink to the earth for the sheer shame occasioned by its own presumptuousness.
It was towards ; my manservant was asleep, and the night-light imparted only a faint illumination to the room; all was calm; a cricket on the hearth unceasingly chirped out its monotonous melody. A curious play of ideas commenced in my mind as I began my reading.
I saw the fantastic night, the stars above that twinkled through the upper branches of a tree; enormous shadows cast hither by the palace and lights in the distance, Horatio tense with expectation as he listens to the unfolding of his friend’s curious tale; and now suddenly the ghost enters, slowly and faintly it floats hither, a black shadow around which flows a pale luster, dull like the blue flame of a dying lamp. I felt as though some dreadful being were running its cold hand from the nape of my neck to my back, the silence around me was becoming ever more deathly, I retreated ever further into myself, and in my innermost imagination placidly contemplated this apparition forsaken by the surrounding world.
Suddenly I heard a slow, faint, prolonged series of footfalls reverberating through the room; I [again] raised my eyes, and a man was walking behind me towards the door of my bedchamber; as I was looking round, his eyes met mine; an involuntary cry escaped me; without any appearance of care or hurry he was entering my bedchamber, I saw his white hair quite distinctly; his shadow, distorted in the most terrifying manner, stalked him along the wall.
I myself cannot explain why I remained on the whole so cool and calm; for I did nonetheless [at the same time] feel a shudder in the very marrow of my bones; in my horror inhered a kind of frenzied joy, a delight that perchance is sited [somewhere] beyond the [very] limits of the human. Nothing frightens me more than the thought of seeing this apparition a second time; and yet I am constantly, deliberately recalling to mind the terror, the paralyzing gruesomeness of that moment.
I called my manservant; he had heard nothing; in the room there was not a sign that anyone else had been there; even the door, the key to which I had left on a table [by my bedside], remained locked. I let
Rosa come in; he hardly recognized me; he
stayed with me; I did not sleep all night; I kept seeing the strange man
stealing through the room with his faint and measured pace.
If it was no hallucination—and my consciousness rebels against the [very] thought [that it could have been one]—what was it? If this was nothing real, then I am on the point of interpreting the appearance of everything [in this world] as but a sensory delusion; and according to such an interpretation, does not everything—miracles and everyday occurrences alike—fall together [nicely and coherently]? And who, in that case, am I?
In that case, I am at present sitting here in a vast, soothingly sterile void; I picture myself writing to a being that has never existed anywhere but in my imagination. Oh I must cease [these speculations]; they can drive one mad; and if I were driven mad? Perhaps then the barrier that now yet separates my mind from everything inconceivable to itself would be rent asunder.
William Lovell to
Balder has written to me and furnished me with a remarkable example of how far a person can go astray when he hands over the reins of self-governance to an invention of his own fancy. Terrified by phantoms of his imagination, immobilized by illness, he is now on the point of doubting his own existence—the strangest and absolutely most preposterous contradiction in which a moral being may indulge himself.
But I am familiar with the course that Balder’s imaginings have taken; at one time I was even close to such an unfortunate frame of mind myself. If it is by any means still possible to do so, please do try to cure him, Rosa; reconcile him to life and introduce him, in lieu of the gravity of Shakespeare, to the wanton playfulness of the young Boccaccio; the colors of his [world-]portrait have peeled away, and this is why he views everything in such a gloomy and inimical light; if you will but make an attempt at reapplying them, then all will be as bright and fresh [on the canvas] as it was in the old days. When he has awoken from this disagreeable dream, he will regret the waste of time that it occasioned.
Admittedly I cannot guarantee that the external world is as real as it seems to be according to my perceptions; but it suffices that I myself exist; let everything around me betake itself to whatever form of existence suits it best; a thousand treasures are scattered among the totality of nature for us to enjoy; it is beyond our ken to distinguish the true shape of things, [and even] if we could do so, our knowledge of them would deprive us of the power to appreciate their meaning. I hereby renounce the truth, inasmuch as I am more gratified by illusions. I cannot and do not wish to inquire into what manner of being I am; my existence is the only certainty that is absolutely indispensable to me, and nothing can take this [certainty] away from me. This life is [the peg] on which I hang all of my pleasures and aspirations; let the great beyond be what it will: I prefer not to renounce guaranteed goods in exchange for some [mere] dream.
Rosa to William Lovell
How directly you have expressed the sentiments of my very own heart in your latest letter! Ah, my friend, how few people understand how to live; they tug at their existence as at a chain, and to the [bitter] end do nothing but yawn and laboriously count its rings. You and I, William, intend for our part to tug at flowers, and to the [sweet] end smilingly revive ourselves with their fragrance.
Let the external world be what it will; a motley throng will be marching past me; I shall thrust my hand impetuously into its midst and catch hold of what pleases me ere the moment of opportunity is past.
Yes, Lovell, let us savor life as one savors the last days of autumn; none of them ever returns; the dawning of the next one may not be taken for granted. Is he not a fool who stays cooped up in his darkened room estimating [mere] possibilit[ies] and probabilit[ies]? The sunshine is wantonly disporting in plain sight of his window, the song of the skylark is permeating the blue vault of heaven—but he hears only his philosophy; he sees only the bare walls of his own lodging.
Who is the figure that during our transports of delirious gaiety applies the bridle to our galloping steed? Truth [or] virtue: a shadow, a phantom of mists [and vapors] whose luster fades with the setting of the sun. Out of our way, o piteous image! To disdain this fairy tale requires [not the slightest] exertion; a [simple] healthy glance [at it] suffices.
Yes, Lovell: I am pursuing this train of thought [even] further. Whither will it lead me? To the greatest, fairest [form of] liberty; to an unbounded and god-worthy scope of will.
All of our thoughts and mental images have a common source: experience. In the qualia of the sensible world inhere both the rules of my understanding and the laws that the moralist imposes on himself through reason. But [as for] everything that human language terms order and harmony, [or] the reflection of the eternal spirit, everything that that language borrows from inanimate nature and imposes on the animate human being—what more are these words than [mere] words? Our understanding discovers the fingerprints of divinity everywhere in nature, everywhere [it sees] order and the amiable juxtaposition of the elements—but let it for once attempt to imagine disorder and chaos, or to discover only ruins in devastation! It is incapable of doing this. Our intellect is inextricable from this limitation; the notion of order holds sway in our brain, and in everything around us we discover order: a candle that casts its flickering light through [the slender aperture of] the lantern [and out] into the [vast] nocturnal gloom.
It is , and above me the [church-]tower clock is striking twelve. If I imagine this clock as living and endowed with rationality, it might perforce in time, which, according to certain arbitrary distinctions it does without, rediscover those [very] distinctions, and never surmise that a mighty, boundless, divine flood is rushing past [it], bold and majestic, and bearing in its current not even a single trace of any wretched [system of] classification.
Welcome, then, empty, savage, gratifying Chaos! You liberate and ennoble me, [even] if in the rationally ordered world I am obliged to make my way as a mere slave.
You see, Lovell: I am beginning to fantasize along with you; but I hope that my fantasizing is not so wild and incoherent but that my friend will manage to understand it. Oh, if only Balder understood me, or [at least] wanted to understand me!
William Lovell to
No, Rosa: your friend does not find your ideas [at all] incomprehensible. Is it not high time that I fully understood you and your beliefs?
To be sure, everything that I perceive as existing outside me may in fact exist only inside me. My external senses modify phenomena, and my internal sense arranges them and imparts coherence to them. This internal sense is like an ingeniously contrived mirror that combines a number of widely dispersed and unfamiliar forms into a single, well-defined image.
Am I not proceeding through this life like a sleepwalker, with open eyes and yet blindly? Everything that I encounter is but a phantom of my mind’s eye, of my innermost spirit, which is withheld from the external world by impermeable barriers. Everything lies about desolate and chaotic, unfamiliar and without form for any being whose body and soul is organized differently from mine; but my understanding, whose guiding principle is the notion of classification, cause, and effect, discovers everything to be entirely coherent, because it cannot attain cognizance of the essence of this totality via [the principle] of chaos. How [cavalierly] man steps into the void with his magic wand; he waves it around, and—presto!—the mutually antagonistic elements precipitously congeal; everything flows together into a beautiful picture; he wends his way through the whole [of his ostensible creation] and his gaze, which is capable only of looking forward, takes in absolutely nothing, and fails to perceive that everything behind it is breaking up and flying apart once again.
I welcome you sublimest notions
That lift me up to godhead’s height;
The narrow straits become like oceans;
Of health the invalid first feels the motions;
And sees now that he’s living right
The loom that weaves his fate and plight.
What is is what our mind professes;
In gloomy distance lies the world;
There falls into its dark recesses
A luster we ourselves have hurled.
Why does it not fall into wild decay?
We are the fate that forms its prop and stay!
Being myself the only boarder
In this hostelry void of crew,
I let whole worlds be their own warder,
Put their own elements in order;
At my behest change ambles into view,
Ever converting old things into new.
With cheer released from anxious fetters,
I walk through life with fearless gait;
No longer one of duty’s debtors,
The dupes of silly preachers’ bait;
My own is one with virtue’s state:
When I’m no more she’ll share my fate.
What care I for shapes whose dull scintillation
My brain is both the seed and womb?
May virtue couple with vexation!
They both are vap’rous inspissation!
The light descends from me into night’s gloom;
But through my profession does virtue bloom!
Thus my external senses hold sway over the physical world, my internal sense over the moral one. Everything is subject to my whim; I can name every phenomenon, every action whatever I choose; the animate and inanimate world is suspended from chains governed by my mind, my entire life is but a dream whose manifold forms take shape according to my will. I myself am the only law in the whole of nature; to this law everything is subservient. I am disappearing into a vast, infinite void; I am breaking off.
Willy to his brother Thomas
You have not received a letter from me in a long time, dear brother; and this is because I have really had nothing to write to you about. All of us here—by which I mean myself, my master, and his friends—all of us are doing just fine, apart from Master Balder, who is laid up sick in Naples on account of an attack of fever. They’ve been saying all sorts of things about him; among which, that he takes leave of his senses for whole hours at a time, that he isn’t even conscious then and just talks about one strange thing after another. Whenever I hear about this kind of thing, Thomas, I just thank God over and over again with all my heart that nothing like this has happened to me yet; but maybe also, Thomas, in order to go properly mad a person has to have more sense than we do between the two of us; by which I only mean that if a person has got only just as much sense as he would need in a real emergency, he can keep it all together without any special effort. But for someone who has got too much of it, why, it chafes at the bit more, and so oftentimes turns everything topsy-turvy and crosswise. I think it must work in something like the same way as money: a person who always carries his wages with him in his wallet generally keeps a good budget; but a person who has got so much money that he can’t quite keep track of the sum of it in his head often overspends so much that he runs into debt.
I still can’t at all get the hang of liking Master Rosa. He strikes me as one of those religion-bashers that I’ve already heard tell of back home; such people can’t have kind hearts because they have no hope in salvation, and a person who has no hope in that, Thomas, has no firm ground to set his foot on; [because, you see,] this present life of ours has always seemed to me to be only a trial in preparation for the life to come; and, well, these people make short and slovenly work indeed of their trial, and play as many tricks on God and their fellow men as ever they can manage. I don’t know what is going to become of these people in the hereafter, Thomas; but in heaven they’d only spoil the peace and harmony [of the place]. Let it all turn out as it may; I don’t want to have anything to do with them.
But Master William has now let himself be mightily influenced by this dangerous individual. The two of them are now real intimate, and Master William oftentimes seems quite odd to me; he is oftentimes not at all any longer the same worthy gentleman that he was in the old days. If only that Italian had never led him astray! It’s enough to make me die of grief. All of heaven and the delights of the hereafter could never satisfy me if I knew my dear master was in another place (you know right well which place I mean, Thomas).
You see, dear brother, that I have been thinking a lot about death and the immortality of the soul lately: this is because I now almost constantly have sad thoughts that I can’t manage to stop thinking. Master William is completely to blame for this; he is not as friendly towards me as he used to be; he doesn’t bother himself about me much at all, and he often makes fun of me even though I am a good many years older than him. Now surely you will agree that that’s wrong of him. The other day, I began weeping [great] tears that I couldn’t hide from him, and that made him laugh even more. May God forgive him as I have done. What’s more, there’s no proper church here for people like us, which is a bad thing; my master often goes to mass; but I can’t stop hoping he does it only on account of the women, for if he actually started getting devout about it and became a Catholic—no, Thomas, I could never get over that. And it is a seductive ceremony, what with all of that singing and all of those splendid clothes; indeed, dear brother, I have even myself been lured into going, and once or twice (never fear!), I even felt a kind of pious reverence there. That mustn’t be allowed to happen again. Ah, if I came home without my English piety still sound and quite intact, what would you or any other Christian be obliged to think of me?
I’ll leave off writing now to spare you more of my complaining. But I wish I were sitting with you back in our decent, God-fearing England; if it were possible, I’d very much like to go back there; how joyously would I embrace you with these old arms of mine, and cry out like a little child, “Thank God that I am back home, that we are together again!” Farewell for now; heaven grant that we may see each other again someday!
Balder to William Lovell
Balder to William Lovell
I sometimes feel as though I am standing at a crossroads at which I am to take my leave of life; I often even feel as though everything [in this world] is sited in the far, far distance; with sad eyes I gaze down at the world as if from the top of a watchtower, whence I am unable to make out a single distinct object. At other times, though, I feel as though I am on the point of returning; my sensorium again becomes receptive to [external] impressions, and my soul returns to its body. But come to me, William; in your company I may perchance secure a fixed and defined existence; I must presently either cross back to the world of men, or be hurled into some dark, chaotic terra incognita wherein my mind will perchance continue to evolve; wherein I, along with my soul, shall find myself at home, and whither no other mortals will follow me.
Yes, Lovell, I am forever despairing over what might become of me if people termed me mad; oh, at many moments I feel that I am so near to this state of madness that I need take but a few tiny steps forward to reach the point of no return thence. I often brood for hours on end over the subject of [my fate]; sometimes it is as though a rift has opened up, as if with a mere glance I can penetrate into [the gap between] my innermost being [on the one side] and the future [on the other]; but then [the rift] closes, and everything that I would hold fast to slips perfidiously through my fingers. As a child I would often stand with reverential awe and foreboding before my parents’ harpsichord and unflinchingly contemplate the cutout figure of a star in its sounding-board; I would timorously peer through the star and into the darkness beneath it, for I fancied that therein dwelt the genius of song that was set in fleet winged motion whenever the keys of the instrument were struck. In my imagination, I would often picture this genius ascending, gently divesting itself of its retinue of dulcet notes and soaring ever higher and higher as a glittering throng of harmonies gathered round it; then it would slowly and softly descend back into its depths and once again abide there in silence. As I grew older, I would often smile at the remembrance of these peculiar notions of my childhood self and think, “Too clever by half!” But for all of my smiling, had I come any closer to understanding the genesis and peculiar agency of musical sounds?
And so I am returning to the ideas of my very earliest years; I perceive that I am now likewise standing with a soul full of uncertainty and foreboding before the riddle of my destiny and of the nature of my being. That perhaps that child that beheld the light of day in his first moments is cleverer than us all. That the soul does not yet know how to make use of the senses and organs it holds in reserve; [that] its remembrance of its previous state is still quite fresh; it steps into a world that it does not know and that is unworthy of its acquaintance; it is obliged to forget its higher, characteristic form of understanding in order laboriously to learn by rote the motley jumble of errors that men term reason. That perhaps I can return thither, to the place where I was when I was born.
Forgive me my rambling, especially on a subject that may be inexplicable to you; but come to me, come! Oh, let me not beseech you in vain!
I have terrifying dreams that rob me of my strength, and it is frightening that I also dream when I am awake. Hordes of ghoulish spectres march past me and grin at me; grotesque monstrosities cascade upon me like a roaring waterfall and crush me to pieces. I do not sleep and cannot stay awake; when I do sleep I am harried by my malevolent fancy; then I awaken and cannot wake up, but continue dreaming instead. Howling hurricanes drive me onwards from behind and deafen me with their din; I recoil, appalled, whenever I raise my hand; “Who,” I ask myself in tones of alarm, “is this stranger who is saluting me with his outstretched arm?” I reach out to it, and with a shudder catch hold of my own hand, a hand that is as cold as that of a corpse, that is like some piece of foreign matter that does not belong to me. Phantoms rush by me in rapid succession and in their flight turn my blood to ice. Hideous faces protrude from the walls, and when I look behind me, a snow-white visage lunges out at me and greets me with a gruesomely melancholy smile. Come, William, and rescue me—come, why don’t you? Come! Come! Can you not hear your poor friend’s fearful cry? Are you laughing? Oh, woe betide you and me if you mock me; [for] in that case, I shall dispatch to you all [manner of] ghosts [and phantoms] that will not suffer you to enjoy a minute’s peace or slumber. Forgive me, but come.
I am virtually seized by a blind fury when I hear the wretched doctors prattling about brain fever and paroxysms. Because their eyes and ears are blind and deaf, they take him who sees more than they do for a fool. Oh, I hear perfectly clearly the faint and dreadful fluttering of the wings of my guardian angel; I see perfectly clearly the hand that is beckoning me across the divide, into the great beyond. Farewell, William! I am heeding this summons, and I shall never cross back over to your side.
William Lovell to Edward Burton
You complain that I have not written to you and to my father in such a long time. As you can see, in this letter I am trying to make amends for my lapse; please see to it that the enclosed reaches my father.
Oh yes, my dear friend: I myself fear that it has been quite a long time indeed since I have written to you. I have been ensnared by and entangled in everything here [in one fashion or another]; the distracting companionship of a single individual has snatched me from the arms of all my other friends; I have wandered into a labyrinth from which I can emerge into the light of day only with the help of your guiding hand. Oh, I feel as though I have been sitting bound in iron fetters and dreaming of my deliverance; everything within my sight is dissolving into a mystery; the whole of
presents itself to me as a prison in
which I am detained by a maleficent demon; and so I intend to return to you, to
you and Amalie. Italy
Amalie! Oh, that I am able to mention this sweet name again! How is she faring? Does she still think of me? Do you still recollect your friend William as often as of old? Oh, I must here lay my pen aside for a moment; my soul is too full; my hand is trembling.
I am resuming my writing; but so far this letter must seem a riddle to you. Ah, Edward; I must make a clean breast of my sins in the confessional of your friendship; pardon me afresh; for after every trial I return to you with renewed affection.
After Mortimer’s departure,
Rosa became a close friend of mine; with each passing day this
friendship grew. Our souls became ever more intimately interchained; a hundred
ideas and notions flowed forth from his mind and into mine; in a short time I
was his student, the student of a philosophy of sensuality and egoism. He was
now my favorite and most frequented companion; everywhere I went, I would
encounter him, and every time I encountered him I was glad to see him.
Meanwhile, Balder had fallen ill in
; his melancholy, fortified by a fever,
occasionally deteriorated into full-blown madness. In his letters he repeatedly
importuned me to visit him; at length, I left for Naples . Naples
I found him grotesquely transformed, pale; with deeply sunken eyes, a wandering gaze, and all the signs of a grave affliction of the soul. When I entered the room, he was delirious and did not recognize me; he was struggling with phantoms of his imagination that harried him; he saw ghosts standing round his bed; his skittish eyes glistened in a horrifying manner; he delivered a fluent oration of nonsense whose peculiar and dreadful imagery often terrified me. Edward, he described an old man whom he fancied was standing at the foot of his bed, and—oh, imagine my horror!— feature for feature, his description matched that of the elderly person whom I have recently told you about, who so uncannily resembles the portrait in our house. I peered apprehensively into every corner of the room; there was no one there, but he must have met this man; Edward; oh, who knows how curiously the threads of my destiny are interwoven!
Do not smile at me, Edward; before you have finished reading this letter, you will realize that you have no reason for smiling. You will admit that I am right and will share my friend’s horror.
Balder aroused my deepest sympathy; I regarded him as a man who, without knowing it, was attuned to my innermost thoughts; I could not sleep at night; his description had vividly reawakened in my fancy the image of that strange and dreadful old man. I felt that Balder’s illness might prove contagious to me, and so yesterday I returned to
. It was towards evening when I
approached the city; the sun was gorgeously setting, and I left my carriage in
order to enter via a shortcut beyond the gate[s]. I was walking sideways, and
wandering ever farther from the high road; suddenly I saw a short distance off
two figures deeply engaged in conversation with each other—oh, Edward!—and I
wished for the earth beneath my feet to open up and swallow me whole—it was
Rosa, Rosa, arm in arm with that dreadful creature, that terrifying
phantom that stalks me with faint and muffled footfalls and that has taken hold
of the threads of my destiny. It is nothing human, Edward, for no human being
has ever looked anything like it—and Rosa, Rosa, my heart’s trustee, to
whose care I have confided my very soul, arm in arm with it, engaged in
intimate and companionable conversation with it! My love and my loathing are
walking past me arm in arm, and the future has disclosed itself to me as if
with the opening of a mighty rift; and deep, deep within its depths I see nothing
but misfortune and horrors. Rome
Oh, Edward! Who could remain calm and at ease upon seeing such a thing? At that very moment
Rosa became a stranger in my eyes, and has
remained one since; since then has been odious to me; the skies over Rome have been turbid and pregnant with
destruction; like a child who has run away from home and lost his way, I long
to be back in my native country. Italy
Yes, Edward, I now wish to, I now must, return to my beloved
! I must free myself from the fetters
that were clapped on me while I slept. Oh, how I pine for the moment of our
reunion, when I shall clasp you to my breast! A wistful ecstasy sets my hand
trembling whenever I think of Amalie and her love. Bathed in the radiance of
springtime, my future rushes to meet me; I breathe gaily and freely, and my
heart is eased by the sight of it. Please forward the enclosed letter to my
father and write him a few words yourself, for he has great confidence in you;
he must vouchsafe his consent to my happiness; he must place Amalie’s hand in
mine; he must and assuredly shall do. I anticipate his reply with much
apprehension; the hours between then and now will be full of misery and dread;
for me the present is a gloomy and desolate place, full of tedium and
confusion. But when that sunbeam that I hope for breaks through the desolation;
when I break the seal of that long-desired letter; when I have no friend here
with whom to share my delight—oh I will then fall weeping to my knees, and make
an offering of my rapture, of my tears of joy, to that oblivious and distant
friend for allowing it to happen, for permitting me to return to my original
sentimental haunts of amorous piety and devotion. You shall, my friend, envy me
this moment, the most blissful of my life. England
And if this moment never comes? If cold words strike my delight and despair alike to the ground? The very thought brings cold tears to my eyes. Ah, my friend, as childish as this may sound, I am daily haunted by the remembrance of many a ghost story that I first heard in my childhood, and without fail I find these stories applicable to my situation. Are you familiar with the fairy tale in which a boy is unflaggingly pursued by a gruesome monster, in which he is perpetually running from this monster only to find himself running into its clutches time and again?
You have no idea how strange everything seems to me; since yesterday I have regarded every object with awestricken eyes, as though in expectation of a miracle at every turn; for me at present nothing is beyond the range of probability. I have locked myself in my room so as not to be caught unawares by
Rosa; the very sight of him might very well
petrify me with terror as effectually as the gaze of a basilisk.
In connection with this, I cannot help thinking of how secretively
Rosa’s manservant Ferdinand has comported
himself for some time now; such that I have been thinking of him a good deal
lately. He clings to me at every opportunity, as if he had something to reveal
to me, but only at the cost of incurring some fearsome penalty at the hands of
his master. And to Ferdinand’s dread I look in the hope of extricating myself
at least partially from the darkness in which I am now immersed; I am
confronted by a riddle whose answer can but prove a source of fresh terrors to me.
Someone is knocking at the door; that someone is undoubtedly
Rosa. I cannot open the door; I am
picturing your image to myself with especial vividness in order expel the
horror that is seeping into me. Oh, my friend, he was walking arm in arm with that
He has walked away, and I am once again free. Oh, but what is this to the moment when I shall once again salute the shores of my native land? I hope this moment is not long in coming.
William Lovell to his father
Has my beloved father been distressed by his son’s prolonged silence? Such a silence ought not to be repeated; your son must not compound with additional grief those sorrows that already afflict you. You feared that I had suffered some calamity? Oh, dear father, may this letter set your mind at rest; that you may in turn set to rest the mind of your son, who is about to tender you a proposal upon which the fulfillment of his life’s happiness depends.
The thought that the question of my well or ill-being should worry you so unceasingly impels me to a confession that I have hitherto not ventured to make; but your affectionate letter has forced my heart agape, such that I intend no longer to conceal from you so much as a single wish or thought.
I desire to return to
and once again to clasp you in my
arms; I desire my travels to be at an end; I desire to obtain from those dear
lips of yours your consent to my good fortune. England
Dear father, I am in love! Oh, if only I were capable of saying all that I must needs say to you in order to convince you of my love! Let your heart be my advocate, and spare me those words that will amount to so much fog and vapor in face of the fire that burns so clearly and unwaveringly in my soul. My beloved’s name is Amalie Wilmont; my happiness now depends upon your utterance. Oh, let me be happy!
Alarmed, my genius prompts me to leave
; it urges me back to my native land;
in the name of all fatherly love, grant me an indulgent welcome! I am aware of
all that you might say against this union; I have considered everything
carefully and at length. You perhaps desire and are seeking my happiness along
another and more illustrious path; but if you love your only son, you will
retrace your steps. Italy
Oh God, father, what a cheap and shabby canvas our life is! All of its colors are crudely and clumsily daubed on; all its joy is but a less oppressive version of tedium; everything flies and fades away; like beggars who have long since gathered and spent their niggardly pittance of alms along the way, we arrive at the end of our journey as poor as at the start of it. Only one form of happiness accompanies us along the barren path and strews it with flowers; all other phenomena that seek us out salute us and fickly go their ways; only love seizes fast our hand and escorts us faithfully through life. For the sake of this love, for the sake of the love you bore my mother, grant my happiness your paternal consent. Do not think for a moment that some passing and foolish fancy moves me to implore you thus; the chain of my life and virtue is attached to Amalie’s soul; I feel this incontrovertibly in the innermost core of my heart; if you tear us apart, you will likewise be cutting in twain my happiness, my life, and my virtue. Within this circle alone are all of my desires and forms of happiness lodged; oh, father, warm your paternal heart and make it oblivious of worldly gains and goods; I entreat you not to reject my petition. If you could change places with me, you would surely hasten with trembling hand to write the letter securing my bliss; you would not hesitate to write it, or ponder the consequences of writing it, for an instant; for the hours are passing speedily away, and the flowers of joy are rapidly wilting. Oh, no, father; I am unafraid of your reply; I have no reason to be afraid of it. You are worried about me and suffer sleepless nights because you think that I am ill; oh, you will not decree my lifelong misery with a single pitiless stroke of a pen. Farewell and fare happily! Would that this letter could be carried by a pair of wings, and yours by the swiftness of the wind!
Walter Lovell to his son William
Walter Lovell to his son William
I have received your letter, along with another from your friend
. I am, moreover, glad that I had no
reason to worry; but is there anything that I do not have reason to say? Must
not a son’s recklessness cause his father as much grief as his son’s illness
would do? For it was indeed recklessness, William, that kept you from writing
for so long; and recklessness, youthful recklessness, that governed your last
letter. I cannot help thinking that you are merely playing at being moonstruck,
that in your passion you have so far forgotten yourself as to depreciate your
father, whose love for you is boundless, and selfishly to insult his love; but
I forgive you in advance, William, simply because I love you. And yet my love
does not blind me to the constitution of your true happiness, and so in the
following paragraphs I shall set down, with all fatherly benevolence, my
reasons for denying you your wish. Burton
I hope that you are not so arrogant as to maintain that you have thoroughly considered all of my presumably offhand objections to your proposal. You young people too readily suppose that you have run through all of the notions of your more-experienced elders: you think that you have considered the intricacies of the world thoroughly and from every angle with your understanding when you have but peered into them once and briefly through your fancy’s eye. You are ignorant of what I intend to do and in part have already done for your benefit; you are unaware of all of the circumstances that are auspiciously conspiring to smooth your path to good fortune; it is not for you to destroy, like some wanton boy with a single throw of a pebble, what your father has arduously and for years labored to assemble. No, son: I can never vouchsafe my consent to your proposed union. You must not imagine that you will either beg or extort from me my consent with a heap of letters on this topic; I am herein capable of a steadier resolve than you perchance suppose.
Do not mention your mother in this setting; unlike you, I did not love foolishly; our two families were of comparable wealth and standing; I freely grant that mere chance has decreed otherwise in your case; but the wise man avoids the obstacles that chance has placed athwart his path, whereas the life of a fool is nothing but a ceaseless and futile struggle against chance and want. Believe me: I would have been fully capable of resisting my love had these difficulties stood in the way of our union. Heed, then, your father’s counsel and example.
On the whole, it seems to me that you would do rather well to avoid comparing your love to mine. Your mother was a paragon of femininity: gentle and intelligent, emotional yet unsentimental; within her breast beat such a heart as is seldom to be found on this earth; and you dare to liken Amalie Wilmont to her? Amalie Wilmont: a creature whose affability and kindheartedness at best raise her a notch or two above the common run of womankind. And what is more, you do not even actually love her! This so-called love is but pap for your fancy, a feeble access of sentimentality that has laid hold of your heart and whose origin you are seeking to identify with a nonexistent passion for this young woman. Do you really believe that with a heart truly full of love you would have been able to travel to
? Or to live there cheerfully and
complacently as you have done and are still doing, inhaling the air that she
has never breathed? You can at least see that I am not exacting from you that
cold-heartedness with which reckless youths are wont to reproach their fathers;
which is all the more reason for you to be persuaded that I enjoy a juster and
more extensive view of these matters than you do. Within the first few months
of your marriage you would both discover that you had been mistaken; you would
be astonished at how quickly the warmth of your passion had disappeared; yours
would become one of those ordinary marriages whose deplorable scenes I have
witnessed all too often to wish yet another recurrence of them on my son. Italy
If you intend to return to
, you will give me much joy: my arms
are stretched out in welcome to you; my strength is palpably declining with
each passing day; I am being pulled stooping towards the grave; let me die in
your arms! Many new friends in England are longing to meet you; you must make
the acquaintance of my Lady Bentink, a woman whose excellence in every quality
desired by a husband is imbued with both feeling and intelligence; in her
company you will come to understand the true meaning of the word love. London
I trust, in view of the nobility and goodness of your heart, that you will not long remain cross with your father on account of this letter.
William Lovell to Amalie Wilmont
William Lovell to Amalie Wilmont
It is determined, and I can say nothing more than farewell! Farewell for ever! Confiding in my father’s love, I sought his consent—but—oh, I should prefer to laugh at his subtle, super-sagacious reply—but oh, have you not already guessed exactly what he wrote? Oh Amalie, I intend to speak to you no further of my love, of my hopes; all of those dreams have been dreamed through, and we are now both standing here wide-awake and smiling at the remembrance of their vanished parti-colored images. Forget me, for I am already laboring to forget myself. I have been drummed out of the ranks of the fortunate, expelled from paradise by paternal edict, and I now intend to fill my cup of misery to the brim! If we are to serve as a grisly plaything of fate, let us at least flash a contemptuous smile at our taskmaster as he fastens the iron yoke over our necks. Farewell!
But why should we even pretend that the ridiculous confederation bids fair to be a happy one? A wonderful state of affairs! Yawning and sauntering one’s way through life on the arm of a consort whose father can adduce proof of possessing, down to the last half-crown, exactly as much money as mine; properly paired with one’s perfect peer; creeping day by day towards death; this is our great and noble destiny! You must imagine that I am overwrought and embittered. Oh, such is my sang-froid at the moment that I could indite to my father a treatise urging upon him the unimpeachable justness of his refusal. O Amalie! Must I tear your name entirely out of this wretched, bleeding heart of mine? Must I extirpate the root of my everlasting bliss, and thereby ensure that I will never again be refreshed by the luster of new leaves? I cannot do it, and I do not intend to do it.
Across the vast distance that separates us, I am stretching my trembling hand out to you in a gesture of terrifyingly eternal leave-taking. May my father forgive me for it; oh, his fear of my beleaguering him with letters of petition is superfluous; he shall hear not another word on the matter from me; henceforth, his son intends to address him as a servant does his master; I guarantee that in consequence he will begin to find my letters reasonable.
I should begin raving again if I could call your image properly and vividly to mind! Very well, very well, let him have it! Already I can see the wild horses tearing free of their reins; with a terrible clatter they gallop down the steep mountain path, trailing the carriage behind them; then, the vehicle lies smashed to pieces on the crags, and he stands there bemoaning the damage. He has willed it; let it be!
Farewell, dear soul; our paths will henceforth trace different routes: mine into the overgrown thicket of the forest, where the wind whistles out of subterranean gorges, and yours? Whithersoever it may lead you, I wish you happiness.
Amalie Wilmont to Emily Burton
My destiny is determined! William has divulged his love to his father, and—ah!—Emily, these lines are blotted with tears that speak eloquently enough. A cold shudder convulses my frame when I reflect that it is determined, that it is determined: the verdict that I always dreaded, but that from month to month was continually deferred to some distant future moment. Now, at length and without warning, has arrived the hour that ruthlessly fells to the ground everything in its path and leaves nary a hope room to grow. Ah, Emily! My friend! Do not attempt to console me, I beg you; for I am incapable of understanding consolation; consign to me but a single tear; I desire nothing more than that. You see now how much wrong you have done me in abjuring my black premonitions as you do from time to time! Oh, my love kept its eyes shut to the future and trembled all the while in anticipation of this dreadful blow. Mortimer wishes to console me; I perceive the kindness of his heart and the worthiness of his intentions, and yet I must needs weep, for I cannot cease to be aware of the fact that is determined. I have wept the whole night through, but what more is there to do? Exchange my tears for your sympathy? Ah, my wounded heart—how it slowly and convulsively draws upward whenever I think about what has happened! Ah, of what use is sympathy to me?
William Lovell to
I have, you say, grown colder to you of late? Rest assured, my dear friend, if that had been the case, it would have been so only in preparation for my rejoining you with redoubled ardor. No: your friendship is precious to me; it is, indeed, more precious to me now than ever before; let us never dissolve the bond that we had sealed.
In triumph, I stand high above life and its joys and sorrows; I gaze down with an imperious mien upon the bustle of the world. Who are those wretched creatures that groan and sweat so profusely under the burden of duty? Are they my brothers? Nevermore! Choice is the hallmark of human freedom; released from all fetters, I rush into the world like a tempest tearing down forests and riding over precipitous mountain-ranges, whooping loudly and savagely all the while. Let the world collapse behind me and totter before me; what can mere ruins do to check my course?
Fly with me through the clouds, Icarus; if our appetite for pleasure has been sated, let us fraternally revel in destruction. We are our own subjects and legislators: let us careen in our youthful frenzy towards the sunset and perish with its declining beams.
William Lovell to Edward Burton
If only out of force of beloved habit I must write to you, Edward. One might almost swear that life itself was nothing more than a habit for most people, so soberly and dispassionately, so wretchedly and phlegmatically, do they trudge along the rutted course of time to which niggardly fate has consigned them.
You will have learned by now that my father has rejected my petition, a state of affairs to which I am now entirely indifferent. It often seems to me that I could easily become quite indifferent to what in everyday life is termed misfortune. As I am unable to find happiness on this side, I am naturally obliged to seek it out on the other one. I intend to climb from one elevation to the next in order to discover the highest and fairest summit of joy and look down at the crowd of sorrows and abasements by which all of mortal humanity is pursued throughout this life. If an access of vertigo sends me toppling thence to the ground, what will I have missed?
I am standing at a crossroads that would induce vertigo in many a brain, but I have remained almost completely indifferent. I am beginning on the whole to become cold and reasonable in accordance with my father’s wishes; I sincerely hope that in the end I manage to extinguish that flame of fanaticism in my heart for which you and he have so often rebuked me. But I wanted to relate to you a curious incident that constitutes a remarkable enough sequel to the previous ones.
The day before yesterday a person I did not recognize brought me a letter that read as follows:
Follow the bearer if you wish to hear of something that needs must be of extraordinary moment to you.
I accompanied the stranger, who led me past Santa Maria Maggiore into the solitary region beyond Santa Croce in Gerusalemme; from a secluded garden I entered a small cottage that formed an annex to an ancient temple; all was solitary and silent; I opened the door of one of the rooms within and was instantly greeted by a young woman. I thought I was in for a jolly adventure and was not a little startled to recognize in the young woman’s features the familiar face of
Rosa’s blond manservant Ferdinand.
We sat down; I was nonplussed and disconcerted.
“For God’s sake,” she began, very nervously, “I can no longer conceal it from you; it wrings my heart: from the very day I met you I have been instinctively drawn to you; I am aware of many things that bear upon you: be on your guard against
She uttered these last words with a peculiar and significant emphasis; the dreadful old man came over my soul once again; a cold shudder crept downwards along my spine. At that very moment in walked
Rosa, who was just returning from . He was initially baffled to happen
upon me here of all places, and at length revealed to me the secret that
he had been meaning to cease keeping from me for some time; namely, that his
manservant Ferdinand was a well-bred young woman whom he had brought along with
him from Paris. Naples
I have not seen this young woman since then; the scene has been detrimental to my intimacy with
Rosa, as he fully perceives. Each of us has
repeatedly wished to explain himself, and verged on doing so, only to stop
short every time.
Be on your guard against
Rosa! What could he have in store for me? This question would preoccupy
many people in my situation. But after all, is not the whole theatrical
clockwork of life actuated by mutual deception? Everyone wears a mask in order
to impose upon the rest of the world; whoever appears without a mask is hissed
off the stage: what more is there to it?
[END OF PART II]
Translation Copyright © 2009 by Douglas Robertson