Monday, January 04, 2010

A Translation of William Lovell by Ludwig Tieck. Part III.

(For PDF versions of all six parts of my translation of William Lovell, go to The Worldview Annex.)

William Lovell
Book Four
Willy to his brother Thomas

May God bless you, dear brother, as entirely as He has forsaken me. If in your heart of hearts you still think of poor Willy, please pray for me, so that I can once again see our worthy English shores and also see you plumb in the middle of our lovely, God-fearing country, where everyone shares with me my pious, simple faith, and all of Christendom lives in silent harmony. Here, to be sure, the sun shines brighter and warmer because it is God’s merciful will that it should shine even over the godless, but as I see it, He’s not quite doing the right thing in that regard.

You are still in the service of old Master Burton, right, Thomas? And the garden at Bondly is still lovely and green, and Peter the fisherman still plays the shawm every evening? Ah, I can just see you now sitting, with your crooked legs crossed, in front of the gate where I always used to sit and listen to the merry music of the shawm, which gladdened all of the farm people and even the dear old cows on their way back from grazing; now I’m sitting here in my tiny, dark closet of a room, and weeping because I am not with you. But no: God will manage everything for the best.

You will have noticed by now that I am not at all as happy to be abroad as I was before; there is a time to laugh and a time to weep. Of course there is! But it just isn’t right that an old man should be so put out on account of worrying about other people’s souls that he doesn’t care to taste so much as a crust of bread or a drop of wine. We are so merry here and nowadays, brother, that we’re dancing and leaping about on the edges of cliffs; the other day I saw a young man who out of sheer wantonness fell into a deep spring and must have drowned horribly. I can’t swim Thomas; I’m too old to go around pulling people out of the water back into the light of day. What Master William is thinking I can’t say, but may God abide with him if he’s lost for good.

I’m sure you can’t make head or tail of these lamentations of mine, dear brother! Ah!, blessed is that wretch who speaks nothing but Welsh, and who sits far away from the blasphemers and gives a wide berth to the heathens that I am obliged to run around with every single day in my master’s company. He is no longer himself; he is completely changed; he spends his money as if he were the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but at bottom money is but an earthly acquisition in which God takes no pleasure; but he is squandering his soul, Tom, his soul—which he has acquired on credit from God, and which he will some day have to pay back—as if souls were simply to be had for a shilling apiece at the county fair. If he doesn’t change back soon, his prospects for the Day of Reckoning are going to be none too bright. [Doch richtet nicht, so werdet ihr auch nicht gerichtet. {This is obviously very pithy, but, as Old Willy himself would say, "Ich kann gar nicht klug daraus machen."--DR}]

Yes, brother, our Holy Scripture is now the only consolation I have during my hours of misery and darkness; you would never believe what power is hidden in that book. I packed it so painstakingly into my trunk, and nowadays I often sit for hours reading as attentively as if at any moment I might be brought before the throne of God and made into an angel. One never knows how quickly certain things can happen; we are not yet at the evening of all days, and if I had to take the big step, I fancy I should not do too badly at my examination.

Just tell me, brother, why so many people are so stupid and out of their minds that they completely refuse to see the plain high road of the divine word that lies right in front of them and prefer instead to hew themselves a path through the thickets of some wild forest, and get themselves all scratched up in the bushes along the way, and fool themselves into the bargain; a fine road they’ve got ahead of them! My master and Master Rosa have got this idea that I don’t understand any of this highfalutin freethinking talk they often engage in when I’m around. Oh, I understand it all as well as they fancy they do; when a person carries thoughts of God with him in his simple, stupid heart and feels his faith so powerfully and warmly as I do, he can well enough get the gist of these worldly heretics who wander in darkness and therefore have to use their hands as eyes. But we whose path is lighted by the Lord are better off than that, Thomas; we see with our own eyes; we feel with our own hearts that God gave us, and upon which, along with the world, He set His seal; they who cannot weather storms and cloudbursts, who melt away in the heat and shrivel up in the cold, have counterfeit hearts; God has given me a faith that will endure through every day of the week, and every now and then of a Sunday He grants me a moment of pious Christian enlightenment that passes through my soul like a sunrise and makes it fresh and young again; foolish people are not granted very many visions such as these that we enjoy; it's such a quiet, gentle kind of warmth, like the first thaw in springtime. That is why I could always console myself, even if this whole misfortune weren’t personally befalling my master, whom I love so extraordinarily dearly that I could die for him if I had to; but this love doesn’t mean anything at all to him anymore; I would show more devotion to a dog that would rather eat its scrap of bread from my hand than from anybody else’s than he does to me. He prefers the girls and the women here, with their prim and haughty ways; and so a certain Master Rosa who doesn’t believe in God or immortality, is his bosom friend; one of those types of people who think their understanding rises higher than the highest tower, and they won’t even look at the sky with all its stars, and who fancy they could make a better job of the whole thing if they only had the time and the tools. God may forgive them and show consideration for their folly; dogs will bay at the moon; and when the moon thinks as I do, he certainly knows better than to take it amiss.

Of course, dreams are only bubbles, as they say; but a sailor once told me about these real curious kinds of bubbles on the sea that actually foretell storms and shipwrecks! Mightn’t many dreams do the same thing? Because I’ve already had a pretty dubious dream in France, at the time worthy Master Mortimer left us to go back to England. In this dream, we were all standing at the foot of a tall, tall mountain—myself, my master, Master Mortimer, Master Balder, and Rosa the Italian; they all wanted to go up the mountain, but Master Mortimer was getting tired and sat down on a fine green patch of earth down at the bottom. All of a sudden I was lost, and I could make neither head nor tail of where I had got to; the other three were going up the mountain, and Master Balder had quite a strange gait; when they had almost reached the top, Master Balder fell down, and the Italian turned into a totally different person I didn’t recognize. At this point an old black poodle was walking quite close behind my master; it kept its nose always close to the ground and was quite attentive and affectionate in its movements; you know the silly way poodles behave when they walk behind you so gravely and trustingly. Master William was standing at the top and gazing so intently into the chasm, as if he would have been at home in those stony depths; I can’t stand the idea of a person’s standing at the top of a cliff and not feeling at least a bit dizzy because that’s in the nature of things, and it’s almost cheeky not to be at least a bit afraid when you’re standing up there. Now, as I said, Master William wasn’t afraid at all, but quite the opposite; he was leaning forward ever so wantonly. The dog, which must have been thinking what I was thinking, grabbed him by the skirt of his coat to hold him back; Master William looked back with his great big eyes and gave the honest poodle a hefty kick, so that the dog crumpled up, turned round, and with a truly pathetic whimper went back down the mountain as slowly as if he were in a funeral procession. Halfway down the dog looked back one last time and then, as I had expected, Master William fell into the rocky valley.

Now, Thomas, I’d go so far as to bet a guinea that that poodle was none other than me. Master Mortimer didn’t set much store by this dream; but today I’m recalling it quite vividly. As I said, I would, I could, go back to England; God grant that an opportunity to do so arises soon, because I’ve long since had my fill of these foreign parts. Perhaps everything will yet right itself after all; fare well indeed, dear brother, and remain my good friend; I certainly remain

Yours for life.

William Lovell to Edward Burton

Your letter, dear friend, that was meant to console me, that was meant to show me the interrelationship of things in its true aspect, has arrived too late. I was perhaps already at my ease when you applied pen to paper for the sake of putting me there. There is something inherently deplorable in all of the cares and afflictions of this mortal coil, such that grief disappears on its own if one only takes a better and harder look at it. Must I whine and moan because each and every one of my precipitate desires is not instantly fulfilled? If so, then I shall have to spend my whole life complaining, and be a fool to boot. The vaults of heaven are deaf to the supplications of mortals, for everything is spinning round in a dizzying and absolutely pointless circular dance; each and every mortal being reaches after pleasures that are but semblances of genuine goods, and hence feels as though some long dreamt-of happiness is slipping through his fingers. But he who knows in advance what sort of viands are to be found at this table chooses his meal carefully, and takes a little of everything on offer; whereas his neighbors rise from the feast still hungry, still anticipating the arrival of some favorite dish that will never be served to them. And is it not an easy enough matter to procure the bill of fare of this life?

You will have gathered by now from the tone of this letter that I am already fully at ease; I now believe, or at least fancy, that I can take in at a glance all regions of this life, that no enclosure within this curiously but rationally designed park can take me by surprise, that I know it as well as I would some tortuous labyrinth marked at each of its turns by my own footprints, and I clearly discern the fence that lies hidden behind the apparent chaos of its shrubbery. Since my last letter I have even fallen into a playful mood, into a kind of frenzied impishness, wherein the joys and sorrows of this life seem worthy of neither desire nor detestation; everything around me is a tiresome, long-winded joke that, if scrupulously contemplated and anatomized, seems merely prosaic; but if one willingly surrenders oneself to this masquerade with good humor and laughter, all spleen evaporates, and we come to feel that it is after all possible to be cheerful and wise at the same time.

Is not everything in general on this earth then not one and the very same thing? We tightly close our eyes in order not to observe this truth because by its agency the frontiers that separate people from one another collapse. I could here restate at length what I did not wish to learn from my worthy Mortimer, for it is simply in virtue of this obstinacy that people’s characters differ; we would all be of a single mind if we did not in our earliest years sketch for ourselves a ground-plan, the scaffolding and rafters of a system, in which we subsequently and gradually install ourselves, and from within which we broadcast our supposed truth, ignoring our next-door neighbor who is sequestered in his own cage and preaching his own sermon. The intrepid soul will have nothing to do with surrounding posts and cross-beams; he forms his philosophy in the open air of exalted nature, out of treetops and sunrises, and giant-like, strides over the pygmies who creep between his feet like ants and haul their grains of sand with pitiable assiduity to the building site of some mighty edifice that can be razed to its foundations by a single footstep.

What on earth was I hoping to obtain for myself when I wrote you and my father those letters wherein I so ardently pleaded on Amalie’s behalf? Am I so solidly imprisoned within this name, this sound, that my soul is languishing for want of possessing her and pining for its freedom? I do not know but that I might have lost her more utterly in possessing her than I have now, when my fairest emotions can still wed themselves to my recollections of this name, when she can dwell eternally pure and radiant in my heart; for I have often enough observed that most marriages are in contrast but a profanation of love.

To be sure, sensual lust is the great mystery of our existence; to be sure, even the purest and most fervent love longs to cool itself in this fountain; love must needs die, that we may feel that we are human beings, that we may be liberated from illusory phantoms that visit us in the forms of angels but are transformed into furies when they discard their shimmering vestments. For do[es] not the wildest despair, the most hideous fear, the most sanguinary hatred, suicide and the totality of abomination, sleep within the core of this emotion? But do not these ghastly forms awaken, do they not emerge from their native darkness, if this impulse of the palpitating heart circulates within the bloodstream unsatisfied, if within the midst of these forms howls fiery-eyed jealousy with its Medusa’s head? Only if we have the audacity to recognize that we have been deceived can we be saved; hence, I acknowledge that it was in the spirit of this impulse that, having discarded Amalie, I lately strove to win the affections of another mistress; for I know that poetry, art, and even religious devotion [are] merely veiled, costumed versions of sensual lust, which, in emitting its radiance in all directions, summons to itself all active manifestations of the human mind.

I have to laugh at myself and my situation whenever I catch myself still expatiating on it in clear and distinct terms. That we are sensual beings is by no means a despicable thing; and yet, impossible as it is, we continually strive within ourselves to disown our sensuality and to fuse it with our reason in order to be able to set due and proper store by each and every one of our fleeting emotions. For to be sure, sensuality is nothing less than the principal cog of our machine; it sets our existence in motion and imparts gaiety and life to it; a crank turning inside us and lifting heavy loads with light counterweights. Everything that we dreamingly term beautiful and noble takes hold of this crank. Sensuality and lust are the spirit of music, of painting and of all the arts; all human desires cluster around this magnetic pole like gnats around a flame. The sense of beauty and the love of art are but other dialects and accents of this language; they signify nothing more than the human lust for sensual fulfillment; our drunken eyes feast themselves on every enchanting form, on every poetic image; the tableaux before which delight genuflects are nothing but preludes to sensual pleasure; every sound, every artfully draped garment beckons it thither; accordingly, Boccaccio and Ariosto are the greatest poets, and Titian and the wanton Correggio tower over Domenichino and the pious Raphael.

I regard even religious devotion as a mere drainage-channel for the unrefined sensual urge, which refracts into a thousand manifold colors and casts a single coruscation on every hour of our life. Now that my eyes have been opened to this truth, I intend to submit patiently to my destiny; I am not permitted to be an angel; but I intend to wend my way thither unmolested as a human being; I shall take care not to circumscribe my existence with worrisome boundaries. Hence, the name Amalie has become a foreign word to me; was my exalted, vertiginous, unqualified love ever anything other than a striving for the crude possession of her corporeal person?—an emotion that we over-refine from our earliest youth, and thereby corrupt with absurd arabesques the simple pen-and-ink sketches that are our lives. It is for precisely this reason that the old man contemns these youthful ebullitions and wild sallies of emotion: because he has come to know all too well whither all of these flashing meteors ultimately decline; they fall back to the ground like rockets and expire. But by the same token, these old men are as good as dead as far as all forms of art and enthusiasm go, inasmuch as in their cases the flower of sensuality has long since withered; their souls have been extinguished, and they are but dull after-images of living beings.

I wish to follow the path that stretches before me; we will encounter pleasures aplenty so long as we keep our wits sharp. The whole of life is a vertiginous dance; the round dance continues savagely apace; and may the band play ever more loudly and raucously! May the motley melee never relent, that we may never come to know at first hand the sobriety that lurks behind all pleasures, and so on and on in ever-wilder and ever-more jubilant oscillations, till our breath and our senses fail us; the world is shattering before our eyes into a million glimmering rainbows, and we are gazing back at it like banished spirits from a distant planet. Let the temerarious spirit be kindled by a noble Bacchanalian fury, that he may never come to feel again at home amid the wretched trash of the quotidian world!


William Lovell to


Why are you loafing about in Naples again and leaving your friend high and dry? I cannot accompany you because I am afraid of Balder; his aspect and his peculiar form of madness cut through my heart. For hours at a stretch I feel extraordinarily lonesome here; I go out to see you and forget that you are not in Rome. I have just now sealed a letter to my friend Edward, and the warm tears are still standing in my eyes; all of my former sensations came violently rushing back into my soul like a sylvan flood; I quelled this emotion that was surging ever more forcefully upwards within me, and finally began writing out of sheer anxiety, wherein I bid defiance to myself, surrendered to a blind mania for exaggeration; but I was eventually impelled abruptly to abandon the letter, for the tears were at last free of their shackles; and I collapsed, loudly sobbing and weeping, into my armchair. As if thunderstruck I reeled downwards in a fit of giddiness; everything that had kept me standing perfidiously deserted me. Man is a miserable creature!

The scales of youth’s fanciful delusion have truly fallen from my eyes; I have apprised myself of my sensations, and despise myself now precisely where I once seemed a god in my own eyes; but—ah!—Rosa, I now wish in many an hour to reclaim this childish delusion. What is all enjoyment in the world at bottom, and why should we not wish to cling to the deception that allows us to discover a garden on every barren rock?

And after all, is my present view not perhaps every bit as deceptive as my earlier one? It has just occurred to me for the first time now that both perspectives on the world and its treasures are one-sided, and it must be thus; everything lies dark and inscrutable before our feet; who will warrant me that I have not exchanged a minor misconception for a far greater one?

When I call to mind my previous existence, a time when I would let every enchanting scene pass before my eyes, when I would contemplate my prospects in life as they then lay before me—oh, Rosa, how the setting sun cast its pallid beams upon me without imparting any warmth!; my fickle soul was seized by a curious, inscrutable intimation; I find it impossible to make my situation at that time intelligible to you. It descended on me like a divine revelation; it flung open the bolted doors of my innermost being, and I gazed upon the curious and intricate stuff of my soul. How chaotically and confusedly was strewn about everything that I had believed to be so beautifully and neatly tied up in one bundle!; in all of my notions I discovered monstrous gaps that I had overlooked out of sheer drunken recklessness; the entire edifice of my ideas collapsed, and I cowered before the vast planar void that extended to every corner of my brain. Now all of my memories returned to me fairer and more golden than ever before; the past presented itself in a fresher and more lifelike aspect; [and] I saw only how much I had lost, and could discern nothing gained.

Does not the course of every human life perchance pass through some fair, florescent patch of ground graced by the rising of a brook whose fresh, restorative waters echo the wanderer’s itinerary throughout the journey of his existence? If so, it is here that he must found his happiness; love, friendship, and benevolence all wend their way to this lovely place, and thereupon await only the placing of his hand in theirs in order to accompany him. If man now wanders through life without hearkening to the birdsongs that are addressed to him—which hearkening would require him to tarry along the way from time to time; if, like a dreamer of prosaic, commonsensical dreams, he travels along a straight and dreary path and ignores the purling of the spring; if love and friendship, all tender sentiments, beckon him in vain, and he heeds only the raspy cawing of the raven—why, then, at length he loses himself in the sandy wilds of the desert, in the withered regions of the forest; everything behind him is closed off, and he cannot discern the way back; at length he awakens and feels solitude enveloping him as a palpable presence.

What do you think, my dear Rosa, of this letter and of your friend? I had written up to the end of the last paragraph when I reluctantly cast aside my pen and stepped out into the rosily twilit streets of the city at early evening. Soon the blood began flowing more quickly through my veins as I happened upon so many familiar faces, as I happened upon our Bianca standing at her window. Solitude is a cramped, walled-in space that makes us irritable and melancholy; together with the open air a person inhales a freer soul, and feels like an eagle that with an ever-accelerating beating of its wings hoists itself aloft the dark clouds. I have just returned from the fair Bianca’s, and I find my letter unintelligible. It has often struck me that one really must constantly be seeking out a large variety of people, and acquainting oneself with their cast of mind and outlook on things; otherwise we lose ourselves too easily in melancholy daydreams; but every new face and foreign word opens our eyes to our own errors. I can often listen as reverently and attentively to the simplest person as I would to an oracle, because through his discourse he places me into an entirely different perspective, because I can enter into his thoughts and also make comparisons with my own state of mind, such that even in his simplest prattle I discern a profound significance fertile in ideas. In particular I have derived some instruction from each and every remark, however trivial, ever made to me by a woman.

Bianca presents her compliments; she is a charming creature. We spoke at length today of how I had made her acquaintance through you; I now find her even more beautiful than before; her large, fiery eyes emanate beams of such power and authority that they penetrate into the deepest recesses of the heart; she threw all of my senses into a tumult, and I parted from her satisfied by the finest, easiest, and happiest of means.

I shall dream of her and of you tonight; write back to me soon.

Rosa to William Lovell


Your letter amused me very much, my dear friend; it constitutes such a faithful portrait of human nature that I have read it through many times. The dejected tone of its beginning is particularly comical, and the transition from this adagio to the staid and solid andante is so startling and yet so natural that it was all as self-evident to me as if I had written it myself. I think that you are bound to make such discoveries about yourself with increasing frequency, and that all of your subsequent lamentations are bound to end on as cold and philosophical a note as this letter of yours does. It is, alas, no less humbling than true that your melancholy was more properly addressed by a medical inquiry than by a philosophical one. Bianca has cured you of an illness that no sage, no poet, no walk in the city or the country, no painting, no piece of music, could ever have cured.

What is that oppressive, unfamiliar longing that so often constricts the bosoms of youths and budding nymphs alike if not the presentiment of love? And what more is love with all its delightful torments and distressing joys than the impetus towards gratification, that goal towards which everyone is racing regardless of what he fancies he is doing? Do you not think that Petrarch's tedious poems would form the jolliest course of reading in the world if they were translated into your mother tongue?

Present my compliments to Bianca, and dedicate your most passionate odes to her; for she has certainly earned a claim to such an honor. This young woman deserves to be adorned not only with the rose garland of love but also with the housewife’s crown of oak leaves. Dante was every bit as chaste as you were; otherwise, he would never have written his gloomy poem from whose existence we have gained absolutely nothing; heed my counsel, for only the phlegmatic spirit will escape living in such a pit of drear and melancholy.

I see the countryside around Naples and the young women of the town more often than I do gloomy old Balder, who lies in his bedchamber like a mummy in a catacomb and contemns the very light of day because it presents an image of gaiety to him. If I were a poet, I should prefer to write nothing but merry satires free of acrimony and froward sniping; upon viewing men exactly as they are, one cannot take pity on any of them; their emotional convulsions are in truth confined to their diaphragms, and their tears are but another form of laughter, being every bit as sensual and as incapable of dampening the spirits. Both are manifestations of weakness, but a charming weakness of the muscles, a cramp in the absence of which their faces would entirely lose their multiplicity of expressions. Your countryman Shakespeare never spoke so truly as when he had Puck say to Oberon, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Read this passage and the whole of the surrounding scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; it is the best commentary on my remarks.

Balder to William Lovell


I wish to write words, William, words; what people say and think—friendship and hate, immortality and death—is also only words. Each of us lives alone and for himself, and nobody pays attention to anybody else; everybody blurts out mere meaningless tokens of reply that are as little understood by the questioner; but as our entire life is a useless course of hurry and worry—the most wretched and despicable of all possible farces, devoid of sense and significance—in this present merrily dejected mood of mine, I should like to write you a letter, at which you are bound to laugh.

I myself do not know why I am writing; but just as little do I know why I am breathing. It is all merely for the sake of killing time and having something to do, this wretched mania that fills life with so-called business—the conquering of kingdoms, the conversion of heathens, or the blowing of soap-bubbles—a mania that is implanted in us from the moment of the birth of our soul; for otherwise the little boy would simply shut his eyes, depart the tedious spectacle, and die; this selfsame rage for having something to do impels me to put pen to paper and try to set some thoughts down—the most pointless task a person can set himself.

I shall wager that you are already laughing, just as I laughed—to the point that my chest ached—when I read the opening of my letter. You are of course reading this letter only as a letter from yourself to yourself, and I am not actually writing to you any of these words. But maybe I am after all. At any rate, I was certainly a fool to read whole books through with enjoyment, as I used to do, and to imagine that I had the spirit of the author right in front of my eyes. My manservant is complaisant enough and as diligent in providing me with paper, pen, ink, etc., as if the welfare of entire kingdoms hinged on my writing. That there still exist people who can earnestly pursue what is termed business is the strangest thing in the world; not to mention those who, if they do not take any kind of a liking to business, can meditate, vis-à-vis themselves and other things within their reach, on how laughable, farcical, and lamentable everything, absolutely everything, is, death and putrefaction not excepted?
Many people who visit me make a considerable effort, in speaking from atop their wretched molehills, to stoop to the intellectual level of my illness. They fancy that I do not understand them when I am brooding over the saturnine abyss of my soul, and they expound their Lilliputian thoughts to me in a most feculent manner. In my state of heightened tension, I hear them talking to me from time to time like an inarticulate waterfall that crashes against the bank of a river; I reply to them verbally without paying them any mind, and with the deepest regret they leave me and regard me as the most unfortunate of men because I cannot understand their profound ideas.

Recently I was in the company of a few people who called each other friends. They were artists, and two of them thought of themselves as poets. They had visited me out of sympathy, to distract me and to cheer my troubled soul. I sat there in their midst like a statue and all the while listened to every word they uttered. They exchanged compliments; one of them spoke of the colossal talents of the other, but in so doing allowed his envy to be glimpsed clearly enough. The first one spoke of his idylls that one of his adversaries had panned in a scholarly essay because he envied him his fame; he asked the other poet to write a satire on this dressing-down that he had received, and there was much zealous and fiery talk about the whole childish affair, as if the well-being of the world depended upon it. The poet spoke slowly throughout and gave a heavy and passionate accent to every word; the other one fancied himself a more vivacious type and spoke more quickly; each of them thought that it was absolutely necessary for everyone to possess some characteristic quirk so that great souls would not be so easily mistaken for each other. Ah, the clattering of mill-wheels is more rational and agreeable than the rattling of human jawbones; man is outranked by the apes precisely because he has the power of speech, for it is the most pitiful and nonsensical tomfoolery; a hundred wild thoughts were galloping roughshod through my mind, all of these people were suddenly so remote from me that I saw them only as specters in a distant haze, such that their shrieking sounded to my ears like the chirping of crickets; I stood in a distant world and ruled with absolute dominion over the abject rabble of babbling beasts far below me. I was inspired and cried out to the masses of flesh, “O, you wretches! You dupes! Do you really not perceive your nothingness, or ponder what you are? Lifeless clods of earth that will soon disintegrate into dust and be scattered; the remembrance of whose existence is flying by like the shadows of clouds—your life is leaching away like vapor, and your fame subsists for a piddling half-hour, wherein your blathering eulogist pours nothing but scorn upon you. And you carry on as though you ruled the whole of the heavens and the earth; you regard yourself as a god and idolize yourself because you have fabricated a few pitiful verses! You will die, die—putrefaction will welcome you into its arms without inquiring into your superterrestrial genius! Someday the dogs will dig up your bones without reflecting whether this head was the selfsame one that once composed stanzas! Oh vanity, thou worthless preserve of mankind! Beasts and trees are infinitely more estimable in their innocence than that assemblage of dust that we term man!”

I cannot even vaguely recall what more I may have said to them; but I despised them so deeply that I could have literally crushed them with my feet, that I would have thought it a virtuous act in itself to annihilate them. As I returned to quotidian existence, I found the tedious orator absent and myself bodily restrained by the remainder of the company, who out of fear of my ire had shown him the door.

If only I could find words to describe the loathsome aspect in which everything known as man appears to me. My doctor is quite apprehensive about my health, inasmuch as he brings along the paraphernalia of his trade with him. Whenever I happen not to be in the mood to talk with him about the weather, he starts thinking my condition has taken a turn for the worse; but he tries hard not to let it be seen that he has diagnosed me as insane. He gives me plenty of soothing narcotics and treats me like a lifeless machine, which [ironically] is exactly what he seems like to me.

He shakes his head at all of my confused ideas because he has not found them in any of his books; and at bottom I am insane, inasmuch as I not stupid and phlegmatic. Habit and stupidity can surround people like a thick fog from which they are permanently incapable of emerging! Did they not inhere in me from my earliest years like a thundercloud that I concealed from myself with wretched platitudes, and did I not tell myself the lie that I was happy? Was not my darkest and innermost genius proclaiming itself all the while, in a single resonant peal to which I stubbornly shut up my ears? Meanwhile, I have ceased pretending to myself and am accordingly insane. My but how rational other people are!

Oh I must leave this place; I must leave it; I shall seek out my more-kindred spirits in the forests; I shall raise children who sympathize with me; it is unfashionable to think as I do only because it is unremunerative.

I toy with the people who come to me as I would with parti-colored images. I have recently taken pains to lower myself to the level of my doctor’s moronic chit-chat; we spoke about the local news, about various anecdotes that he found uncommonly amusing; I lent him my tongue for three hours, and he concluded that I was getting much better. With an air of self-satisfaction, he took his leave of me; and after our solemn interview I could not resist sending him off with a laugh of such raucous amplitude that he looked back at me and, turning quite pale, once again abandoned all hope.

I once knew a man who was deaf, dumb, and blind. His person gave no evidence of possessing a soul, and he was perhaps the wisest of all mortals.

Rosa thinks himself quite clever, and regards me with ever-sympathetic eyes; and I would prefer not to be him—a fool who is enchanted by every young woman’s glance that alights on him, who cannot open his mouth without turning an epigram and will sell his words for a single grateful smile; whose course of life is a series of tiny circles that he is continually retracing. When he dies, he will undoubtedly be more ashamed of the utter putrefaction that will await him than of anything else.

I am now living in a garden in front of the [front] door [of my house]. How my thoughts drift hither and thither on the sea; out there I cower under the blue vault of heaven that arches over the earth like a shield, and beneath which we vermin buzz round like captive gnats and neither see nor know nor feel anything at all. I myself have completely done with thinking and even with trying to think of anything. A tempest is passing through the [aforementioned] dome, and the distant forests are trembling with a rustling sound; the sea is taking fright and murmuring gently and sullenly; far off in the sky it is thundering, as if a storm is in the making and the foreman at the storm-factory has unintentionally and prematurely dropped a few thunderbolts.

I am writing during an extremely violent thunderstorm. It is raging with hail and rain, and the wind and the thunder sing successively in perfectly-tuned antiphony. Clouds chase clouds like armies in retreat, and the sun twinkles wanly on far-off nimbic isles; everything resides there like the golden age of childhood in that distant realm, in that tempestuous gloom; the sea casts up towering billows and thunders in its own peculiar timbre. I laugh and wish the storm ever louder and louder, and cry out in its midst; and timorously chide the thunder, thus: “Rage and storm in eddies, and rend to pieces the earth together with its inhabitants, that some new species may arise from its ruins!”

Banality is returning, and the storm is passing. Like a touring troupe of actors the clouds are putting on the same old show in some other place; there, other people are trembling right now as multitudes were quaking here a short time ago, and the whole thing will likewise evanesce and vanish and return for nary a rhyme or reason.

I am no longer afraid at night. The other night, at midnight, as I was standing at the window of my bedchamber, and gazing at the turbid drift of the clouds, which seemed to me to correspond to the general drift of human thought and feeling; as I gazed upon the passage of many a remembrance made visible in vaporous form—and yearned for the peace of the grave—at that moment, I was suddenly spun gently round as if by a gust of wind. And all of my forefathers were sitting muffled up in their greatcoats at my table; they were oblivious of my presence and munched on victuals with their lipless teeth; furtively they stretched their scrawny skeletal arms out of their sleeves so as to make as little noise as possible, and nodded their skulls at each other. I recognized them all without knowing where from. As I noticed my father and thought about how much sorrow and vexation I had caused him, I could not help weeping at how wretched and wasted-away he now looked, and at how much more abashedly he concealed his skeletal nakedness than did the others. They heard me sobbing and moved towards the door as if at the instigation of their guilty consciences, but so slowly and calmly that they must have thought that I had not noticed them. If we can sit among the furniture of our apartments without shuddering, why do we take fright in the presence of skeletons? Men fashion the remains of beasts into the finery of the assembly room and are horrified by bones more nearly related to them.

During this selfsame midnight hour I wandered through the lifeless expanse of the open countryside, and summoned all ghosts and yielded them absolute dominion over me. I called out my summons into all four winds, but it was not heard. Bells chimed in the distance, intoning as slowly and solemnly as priests at prayer; forests and winds sang dirges and prophesied ineluctable death to all that lived within their earshot, but all of God’s creatures were fast asleep and heard not the prophecy; the moon peered weeping into the veiled world beneath it—nothing frightens me any longer, and this saddens me. The human mind can very quickly run through all of its ideas, because it is capable of grasping only a few ideas to begin with. Like a monochord, it possesses very few tones.

Farewell, if it is possible to fare well in this world; be truly happy; I do not care to say anything further; for there is no happiness but in dying, and I know that you are afraid of death. I have already several times attempted to ejaculate a few imprecations and horrid oaths in the hope of transforming the objects that surround me. But no mystery has yet divulged itself to me; nature has not yet responded to my conjurations; it is a horrible thing to stop learning and to make no new discoveries; I must be off—into the wilds of the Apennines and the Pyrenees—or, by an even shorter route, into the cold grave teeming with wormy inhabitants.

William Lovell to

I fully got the gist of the acerbic little sallies in your letter, and I freely concede that on the whole you may very well be right. A jest from one friend to another can never offend.

During a sojourn from his delirium, Balder has written me a letter containing many ideas that are as yet opaque to me; he is either on the verge of a recovery or more seriously ill than ever before. What little I understood of this letter troubled me. Please do try to give him some attention; he seems to have got into his head some notion of leaving Naples. To be sure, he gains little by remaining alive; but I should be very sorry on his account if he were actually to perish.

Rosa to William Lovell


Balder is gone, nobody knows where to. Whether he has left town or killed himself is completely unknown. In recent days he would sometimes reach the highest pitch of manic rage; once, in a company of strangers he vilified and disparaged all of them in the most scornful terms, and finally in utter delirium went after them with a knife. His existence is to be regretted; death would be a boon to him. Present my compliments to Bianca and to the rest of your fair feminine friends, but withhold therefrom the compliments of these prudish teases who waste so much of our time here. Farewell, and do try to forget The Unfortunate One.

Charles Wilmont to Mortimer


You must surely be bemused by this letter, especially if you happen to have noticed where it was postmarked. I am bemused by it myself; hence, I can hardly take offense at your bemusement. You have been expecting me to arrive in London right about now at the very latest, and I myself was convinced that I would be there tomorrow; and now I am suddenly sitting here at Burton’s estate and launching into a letter to you that must do simultaneous duty as an excuse, a tale of its own genesis, and a promise that you will indeed be seeing me very soon.

The excuse, my dear Mortimer, you will excuse me from. In Glasgow, I sat for weeks on end in the house of an old uncle of mine without knowing how I was to pass the time. What a change has come over us! I thought incessantly of Emily and of the future. Everyone wanted me to be merry, but I had been drained of all my electricity, and was numb and vacant; even wine could restore to me my cheerful mood for only a few minutes at a time.

Boredom is indeed a hellish torment, for I have heretofore known none greater; corporeal and spiritual suffering alike keep the soul occupied; misfortune tides a person through the passage of days by giving him something to complain about; and amid the bustle of the crowd, tempestuous ideas steal away quickly and unobserved; but to sit there and contemplate your fingernails, as I was doing then, to pace up and down your room in order have an excuse to sit back down, to rub your eyebrows in order to give yourself something, God alone knows what, to think about; then to look once more out the window so as have an occasion for flinging yourself on to the sofa afterwards—ah, Mortimer, name me an affliction that equals this cancer, the days are so long and the hours are so numerous; yet even so, at the end of a month, one finds oneself exclaiming out of the blue, “My God! How time flies! What has become of the past four weeks?”

Oh, how it exasperated me that I was still in Scotland and not making even the most preliminary preparations for my departure; among my kinsmen I was leading the dullest existence in the world; a cattle-dealer’s has a stronger and more wholesome relish; nay, some poor soul who drags a twopenny-halfpenny puppet stage from one village to the next, and repeats his sorry Punch-and-Judy show time out of mind, keeps his intellectual faculties more profitably employed than I did during this immeasurable stretch of time. My blood was so sluggish and phlegmatic that I would often strike my fingers against the corner of the table just to cause myself a bit of pain, to make myself angry and thereby warm myself up a bit; for nothing is more pernicious than when our life measures itself out so slowly, steadily, dilatorily, and precisely, one grain at a time, in our corporeal hourglass; the more mercurially a person’s bloodstream circulates—all the while imposing somewhat more wear and tear on his machine, to be sure—the better and more happily he lives. In Glasgow I often ardently wished that a quarrel or a brawl would break out in the street simply so that I should have something to take an interest in; in the end, it became a life-or-death matter for me if the fat man next door was wearing a different coat than his usual one. I am now ashamed of this life, a life so slow and excruciating, so lingering and yet so restive, like that of a snail that in the course of its wanderings has lost its shell and is obliged to go seeking for it in the heat of broad daylight.

At length I thought of you and of London, of the distractions that awaited me there, on all of the philosophical conversations that we would be able to have with each other; if oftentimes the prospect even of this visit began to seem uninspiring, I made the most violent effort to quell the rising sense of tedium. I immediately made up my mind, bade tender farewell to all of my friends and acquaintances, mounted my horse, and rode out of town with rejuvenated zeal.

My heart throbbed ever more fiercely the more miles of English soil I traversed. “Ah,” I thought, “what are a few days more or less?” and decided to pass very close by Bondly but to call on not a soul there; it would merely be by accident that I should glimpse Emily through the gate of the garden. I devised no plan of any sort for how I would comport myself if this accident should actually happen, for I much prefer to do things on the spur of the moment and have found myself the better for it from time immemorial; for my most moronic escapades have always been those that originated in some meticulously detailed and eminently rational plan.

I rode deeply immersed in my own thoughts and found myself approaching Burton’s seat sooner than I had thought I would do. A young man traveling on foot suddenly asked me the way to Bondly; he had ridden as far as the nearest town and was now lost. I led him to the right road and rode pensively beside him. “Why should I not permit myself a half-day visit to young Burton?” I said to myself: “In the final analysis, even their father would be pleased to see me. And is it not possible that some random person should see me riding through the village, and that Emily should come to hear of it and construe it as a token of my most egregious indifference to her? Besides, I could always tell the old man that I had taken a short detour in order to bring the messenger he had been so eager to speak to safe and sound to Bondly. Ah, I had a hundred other remonstrances, a thousand voices within me, all screaming, “I must and shall alight at that chateau!” I yielded to them, for who would not do everything in his power to rid himself of such a din?

I spoke with young Burton, old Burton, and Emily. My, but how terribly beautiful and good and charming she is! Can it really be a sin to desire such a person? All of the mainsprings of my being have received a fresh charge of elasticity; I think back with dread on my sojourn in Scotland. Here I am alive; I have yet to yawn a single time since I have been here; the hours fly by like minutes, and I am winning one smile, one friendly look after another from Emily! Edward has told me some curious things about Lovell; he has apparently changed a great deal recently; for my part, I do not set much store by these metamorphoses--the further he carries things to an excess in this new direction, the sooner he will manage to revert to his original version of folly. Does this mean that he was essentially a fool to begin with? Once upon a time I thought so; now, I am inclined to think that I was mistaken in him.

Emily seems excessively wary; I often cannot make head or tail of whether this coldness and reserve is coerced or natural.

Please do write to me; for otherwise I shall have an excuse for staying here even longer than I should; namely, the absence of a letter from you. Edward sends his compliments; he is a splendid, warmhearted individual, and his father is, as before, friendly and distant to me by sudden turns—mercurial as the weather in autumn; I have already observed this tendency in several other wealthy people; they rather nonplus me. Farewell, and write back to me soon.

Mortimer to Charles Wilmont

If you have not nearly had your fill of this queer gadding about by now, I do not know what to think of you.

Many things have conspired to put me in a melancholy mood; old Melun has died in Paris of consumption; the countess has run away with her lover, no one knows where to. To think that so many of the people I have known are already in their graves!—that so many of them have [already] thrown themselves into the arms of destruction!

How generally wretched is that thing which is termed education! In most cases it is simply alteration. How wise I often fancied myself at twenty; how sublimely aloof of the innumerable follies of mankind I thought myself at that age; and now I am coasting in such increasing proximity to so many of these selfsame varieties of foolishness, that at this rate, they will presently be absorbed into the most intimate core of my being.

You will have gathered that I am alluding specifically to my love for Amalie, a love that is perhaps even more ardent than that with which Lovell once blessed her. He has forgotten his passion and fancies himself a greater man; I have cast aside my former equanimity and fancy myself a nobler one. She is much more strongly attached to me than before, but it grieves me keenly that she has so much respect—an excessive respect—for my intelligence. All of my demonstrations of feeling she mistakes for intellectual clowning, and thereby steadily maintains her hold over me. Even she has forgotten reckless William somewhat; but from time to time I glimpse stirrings of the old memories in her soul, and at those moments she finds my company boring and off-putting.

Those souls who have not wholly sacrificed themselves at the altars of fashion and so-called good breeding are of great worth. They are very few and far between, and one accordingly cannot but deem them exquisite.

Present my compliments to Burton, and come to London soon.

Burton to Jackson the Lawyer


I am inestimably obliged to you, sir, for the news that has reached me by way of young Fenton. I heartily rejoice at the zeal and industry with which you have incessantly applied yourself to my best interests; I pledge anew to you my eternal and immutable gratitude. I am convinced that your efforts, which have heretofore been frustrated by adverse circumstances, will soon yield evident results. But do please make haste, that my hopes may cease to remain merely hopes, that I may cease each day deferring the gratification of my desires to some distant future day. I am old and no longer so well equipped to live on hopes as is a younger man; uncertainty terrifies me, and the surer I am of my cause, the more doubts and cavils occur to me; all of this preoccupies my soul inordinately and makes me restive. An old man cannot quell such tremors as easily as a young man can. Twenty years ago this suit would have amused me even while preoccupying me, but now I can discern moments of pleasure only in moments of certainty. You will perceive by this how firmly I am persuaded that everything will work out to my advantage, but you will also perceive how needful it is for you to set a term to my apprehensions. For I deem it only fair and natural that in your situation you should wish by means of delays and deferrals to prolong my indebtedness and augment my obligations to you. You imagine that I exist in a certain state of dependency upon you, and that hence you may, without my noticing it, exploit a certain portion of my infirmity for your own profit. I deem this shrewdness not at all reprehensible; to the contrary: it is laudable, and in the tangled vicissitudes of life only a fool neglects to avail himself skillfully of the ebb and flow of the tide to keep his vessel afloat. You will perceive how very highly I prize your understanding; and yet I must frankly aver to you that your shrewdness—my extraordinary obligation to you for which I should be fully cognizant of (and recompense you accordingly) should the suit be concluded first thing tomorrow—will be of little use to me if the verdict is simply deferred from one day to the next over the course of the next several years. You know as well how to consolidate your resources quickly and determinedly when you intend to win, as how to lay them out sparingly in anticipation of an uncertain outcome. I cannot but thank you for your pains in having dispatched young Fenton to me, and yet I confess that the necessity of this embassy rather escapes me. Might you not have committed this by no means extraordinarily significant news to the care of the regular post? In this instance you have let your nerves get the better of you, and no man behaves either competently or properly when he is nervous. You may in future proceed more openly, without creating an accessory to our secret who will be a charge on us both each time we make use of his services. So at any rate it seems according to my lights, and I think you will acknowledge me to be completely in the right here; for each and every person involved, myself included, would by this means be at your mercy, and it must keenly grieve such a plain-dealing man as yourself that anyone could harbor such thoughts about him even for an instant. I would not, however, on any occasion allow myself to be hindered from behaving exactly as I had resolved always to behave. I have haggled so often over ways and means with my friends by now that [I know that] for a man who is truly serious about his plans, it is as good as impossible to place in his path any obstacle, be it ever so large or small, that he will not either shove aside or use to his advantage.

I have beaten many of my pursuers with their own weapons; for nothing is more insupportable to an intelligent man than to behold everyone else desperately clutching at the strings that he himself is destined to govern; it is far from unthinkable, in my view, for such a person to cut through all of these strings at once, thereby freeing himself to continue along his own path unmolested. I shall also mention, sir, that I have yet to receive from you my most recent letter, which, according to our agreement, you should have immediately returned to me. You will, I trust, pardon my reminding you of this involuntary omission on your part; likewise my imposing upon your attention a letter of such prolixity as this. Time is almost incalculably precious to a man of affairs; I beg you to forgive me if I have interrupted your better thoughts with these sorry thoughts of mine; if, however, I can have been so fortunate as somewhat to rekindle your zeal for a speedy conclusion of the suit, then we will both have profited not a little from this interlude, and in this hope I remain

Your patron and friend,

Rosa to Andrea Cosimo

Your opinion is the perfect complement of my own. I find what you say in your latest letter to be most true: it is so difficult and at the same time so easy to overmaster the souls of other people if one is in some measure capable of placing oneself in the minds of others, of observing their dissimilarities; and furthermore of maintaining sufficient composure and imperturbability not to reveal oneself to them at any point. It is perforce with all of our social transactions as with language: language consists only of conventional signs, and yet for all that everyone keeps on speaking to everyone else whether or not he knows that no one is thereby catching even a portion of his intended meaning. I speak French with Frenchmen and with Italians I speak their native tongue; in like manner I retail to other people only their own opinions, which is to say the opinions that I attribute to them; I try at all times not to obtrude myself upon them; rather, I gently coax their souls out of their mouths and then feed their ears with their own words turned into something else. Which of our own convictions are so firmly and clearly fixed that they may be suggested to the minds of others? And supposing any such convictions exist, where am I to find bridges across which I may drive them to those foreign shores?

Such was the character of my association with Lovell; I would talk entirely at him from a distance, and he would marvel not a little at the mutual sympathy of our souls, and then attribute to me each and every one of his most fleeting thoughts, of his most curious sentiments. Those that he did not believe he had detected in me he soon automatically regarded as foolish and callow; on the other hand, at times he would eagerly snatch up some casually-dropped hint of mine and brood at length over the significance contained therein. In a short time, he had arrived at such a pitch of self-deception that he believed us to be kindred spirits; only that my spirit was the senior of the two by a few years.

Nothing is more natural to man than his mania for mimesis. In a few short months, Lovell became an exact copy of me. Every word, every expression, that we regard as being particularly witty, cleaves to the outline of our soul. Now he [man or Lovell?] contemns all opinions that are at variance with his current ones.

Vanity is assuredly the leash by which human beings may most easily be led; no sooner have you managed to hitch them to it than they blush at their sentiments of yesterday; tomorrow they will behave completely differently; a friend or acquaintance need only give them to understand that such or such a thing is important to him, and the next day they are sidling up to present themselves to him in the garb of this apotheosis of importance. The desire to improve ourselves is at bottom only the desire to please; and first and foremost, to please our immediate neighbors; thus, a man comes to fashion himself at cross purposes with his own will, and arrives at the end of his travels suffocatingly decked out in an entire secondhand clothes-shop’s inventory of opinions and emotions.

I have tried to provide you with an exegesis of your ideas, and blushed all the while at the attempt; a single emendation from you would be of greater value than my entire letter; but do let me know where I perchance have misunderstood you.

Andrea Cosimo to


I liked your letter; I can say nothing more than this: not so much because I completely agreed with you, or because I thought you had understood all of my recent correspondence to my satisfaction, as because in this letter I have so entirely rediscovered you. Oh, you master student of human nature, one who makes a mathematical problem out of the human soul and then multiplies and divides it with your wretched five rules of arithmetic! You would draft the plan of a building you have not even seen. I have for some time marveled at the audacious hand that daily consorted with that paragon of obscurity and incomprehensibility like a sculptor with his marble, which it was continually smoothing and polishing as if all of the gross bits of stone had already been hewn away from the essence of the work, and as if the product of these activities were actually a statue that had come into being at its pleasure—or, rather, indolence. What if some long-dammed up emotion should come coursing back into the particular soul in question like a flood in a forest? Oh, then, for once, at the moment of the inundation, summon your rhetorical powers, search for the lever of the floodgate that will drive him back upstream! God is grateful that man never eventuates in anything founded on your calculations, and solely in virtue of this inconsequentiality He often happens upon your mathematical problems.

You speak well and accurately about vanity, because you speak about yourself. It is hardly necessary for people to be honest, for beneath their jumble of lies one may easily discover their actual opinions. But as regards you, believe me that a couple of mishaps would suffice to fire you out of your philosophy or set of convictions or disposition (or whatever else you care to call it). Most people are willing enough to affiliate themselves with any old school of thought; whereupon they silently appropriate the excellences and achievements of their predecessors merely because they happen to be styled their disciples; they are fond of having all conceivable sentiments and opinions laid out before them on a kind of chart whose neatly ruled rows and columns alone they need consult in order not to remain in doubt with respect to any contingency that presents itself; it is for this very reason that they may be so easily scared out of their convictions.

As regards Lovell: you may after all be entirely right about him, but as far as human beings go, he figures among those whom I should like to dub the pocket change of humanity. He is not to be numbered among the free spirits, who contemn every restriction imposed upon the soul; he contemns only those restrictions that are irksome to him in particular; accordingly, his contempt is really resentment.

He takes himself and everything that he thinks far too seriously for it to be a particularly easy task to dethrone his most deep-seated thoughts. To be sure, if he regarded other people as mere transient images and their characters as adventitious colorings thereof, you would find it downright impossible to make any kind of impression on him at all.

Every person is basically as intelligent as the next one, but no one cares to admit this. The protuberances of one person mesh with the indentations of the next, and thus comes into being that curious machinery that we call human life. Contempt and adoration, pride and vanity, humility and obstinacy: all constitute a blind and perforce cyclically-driven mill, whose murmur from a distance sounds like the chiming of distinctly articulated notes. Perhaps the individual human being is never privileged to contemplate the entire machine from the standpoint of truth, inasmuch as he himself is fixed firmly in place as one of the machine’s actuated and actuating cogwheels.

Amalie Wilmont to Emily Burton


Dear friend, if only I were with you, or you could be with me! Such is the reiterated plaint of all of my letters; whenever I am alone, I yearn with ineffable keenness for your garden up north; in my thoughts I stroll through all of its passages and hearken to your agreeable and instructive conversation. Ah, in your company I would assuredly be of better cheer, for you would show me how absurd my grief is; I should then care a great deal less about many a thing that seems so extraordinarily important to me now. I learned so much at your side last year; I would certainly be at my ease, and you would do much towards dispelling this despair that harries me so at the moment.

Lovell has forgotten me: I must believe this ever more firmly with each passing day; and all news of him bears it out. And it is all to the good that I shall no longer give his ailing father cause for worry. He appears to me now like an image from a childhood dream—fair and lustrous, but distant and unrecognizable.

Mortimer often has very clever things to say on all of these topics, and often brings me round to seeing things his way for whole days at a time; but occasionally he says something that is entirely foreign and repugnant to my very soul. In highly intelligent people there occasionally inheres a [decidedly] repellent coldness. They are often embarrassed to say what they believe to be true because they cannot find precisely suitable words for it. I fancy that Mortimer agrees with me on many subjects only in order to avoid contradicting me, because he thinks that I am too simple to understand him. His heart is not warm enough; he has come to know the world and other people too well. And yet from time to time I am so well disposed to him that I believe I have done him the greatest injustice in thinking these things about him. If only so many of my previous emotions did not keep coming back to me! When that happens, it is like suddenly awaking in the barren silence of the night after dreaming of great treasures; one gropes for pearls and diamonds and encounters only the cold, hard wall [of one’s bedchamber].

Am I not mad? What say you to that question, my dear, indulgent friend? I am a child, right? Is that [not] your [firm and] complete opinion?

William Lovell to


I am carrying on here from one day to the next in a delirium, without rest or standstill. My soul is in a state of constant insurrection, and everything is dancing before my eyes. One can judge of life properly only when one is living in a literal, proper sense; when one does not merely take a sip of every pleasure, but drains the cup thereof to its dregs, and thus passes through the whole scale of emotions that man is capable of feeling. My blood is inconceivably light, and my imagination is fresher.

At the first opportunity I think I shall send my Willy back to England; with his patriarchal demeanor and well-intentioned sagaciousness he is becoming quite tiresome. He tries with all his might to be my friend, and he could actually succeed if only he would stop entirely forgetting his place in the attempt. Late the other night—or, rather, very early the other morning—as I was entering the house in the merriest state of intoxication, he lectured me in the most pathetic terms, and quite spoiled my mood. He is willing to be off, and his will shall be done.

You used to encourage me to enjoy life, and now you carry on a more retired existence than I do. Come hither, so that I may revel in the chaos of intoxication in your company and inebriate my senses even more fully. I have just now seen our Signora Bianca, who is a pattern of tenderness; she cannot yet forget her dear Rosa, and speaks of him with enthusiasm; you do the tender creature wrong to neglect her so entirely; I still have many other sets of compliments that you will excuse my presenting to you [at the moment]; [suffice it to say that] you are very fondly remembered by all of our acquaintances among the fair sex. This evening I have an assignation scheduled with black-eyed Laura, who is already fully preoccupying my fancy.

Who can tally and describe the inconceivable states of mind that dwell within people—the states of my mind that have awoken within me in the past few weeks, and that out of the stuff of my life have composed the strangest and most riotously colorful paintings? Gaiety and melancholy, the most monstrous combination of ideas, hover and flutter about before my eyes without making the remotest approach to my mind or heart. But the fair awakening of the innermost emotions may not be termed intoxication! One may not look one’s nose down at other people, who in lucky accesses of ardor are occasionally and suddenly vouchsafed the opening of new gateways of experience, and through whose souls new thoughts and emotions fly like shooting stars, blazing a brilliant ceruleaureate trail in their passage.

Oh, wine! Thou majestic gift of heaven! Are you not accompanied on your rapid course through our veins by some divine passion? And in that course, does not everything that abases us during our hours of cold sobriety come rushing back in? Never do we stand on our own at such a lofty elevation as when our eyes sparkle like stars and our spirit like a maenad runs riot through all of the most uncompromising and savage regions of thought. At such times we boast of our greatness, and are sure of our souls and of our immortality; our spirit is not dragged down by any lame or cringing doubts; we see the world with a prophet’s eyes; we remark the fissures in our thoughts and opinions, and laughingly relish the fact that thinking and feeling, dreaming and philosophizing, that all of our faculties and propensities, all of our instincts, desires, and pleasures comprise but a single, solitary sun, which from time to time declines far enough below the horizon of our inner selves that we mistake its contingently refracted beams for permanently distinct essences.

Do not scoff, Rosa, when I tell you that at this very moment this oenic incandescence is speaking through me; or, rather, scoff as much as you like, for even scoffing may be numbered among the excellences of mankind.

Ha! What beings are these, who bolt the door
Of premonition’s murky regions?
What makes the soul on gold-borne pinions soar
To heaven’s map where starry points are legion? 

Convulsively the jet-black curtain rises,
And scenes of marv’lous majesty unfold
Before my transfixed gaze in queer disguises:
Remembered dreams, foretokening the prizes  
Of life’s new course bestrewn with joys untold!

I feel unbound by fears of sland’rous thunder,
Which hold us back from beauteous ecstasy;
The lamentable fetters are in sunder;
Hours of gold crowd in in jub’lant wonder,
And through the world their dances carry me.

All round me from out of the hidden abysses;
Like Maenads joys assemble in great droves;
A song unseen through all the airy welkin presses,
A boisterous, billowing sea around me moves,
And jubilation rapt’rous fragrantly processes,
And wildly round a horde of hunters roves.

In shimmer-woven fairy-land I tarry,
And glance not back upon the arid earth.
Mere worldly chains I do not deign to carry;
Released from intellectual bondage keen to harry,
I revel, reeling, in my happy birth

Away with all ideals bereft of matter
With thoughts of art and beauty rare;
The daubers take great pains to spatter
Their canvases with beauty’s tatters;
They gnaw the peel and cast aside the pear.

Away with talk of art and all the muses
With sculptured forms and dolls that lifeless stand
Away!  I seek the warmth of living hands
O’er well-formed, living breasts my soul enthuses. 

Ah, everything that feebly would forgive her
Goes flying off like banks of turbid haze;
Abounding grace divinity delivers
To him alone whom sense can’t daze,
Who visits fair Elysium’s agrid ways.

Who does not roam in fields of joy
And feast his eyes on fancy’s daughters
And rove through woe and zeal without annoy
No, he who nimbly grabs the maidens coy
Divesting for the bath’s cool waters

To him is vouchsafed vig’rous ascent skyward
On him descends the flaming sheen divine
To him the choir of myriad spheres’s a byword
He dares to scale Olympian heights in my word
And dares to be a man in fine.

You have often enough scoffed at my verses, and here I have given you a new and even better occasion for doing so, for I have not bothered to check whether I included the right number of your beloved long and short syllables; hence, a critic of such impeccable correctness as yourself will find plenty of fodder for his observations.

In my more daredevil moods I often wander through the city and savor, amid the night’s enchantment, the curious and enigmatic outer forms of external objects. The world with its full complement of people and events often hovers like a phantasmagoria before my eyes. I often seem to myself like a participating phantasm that has his entrances and exits, and behaves in the most curious manner, without knowing at all why. At such times, the streets look to me like rows of pasteboard houses inhabited by idiots pretending to be people; and the moon that casts its wistful luster upon the alleyways is like a lamp that shines for the benefit of other places, and that by some accident has happened to let fall a fraction of its luminescence into this wretched and risible world. Then with a sensation of the most exquisite delight I roam about the open piazzas and among the ruins, and amuse myself with the shapes that pass by me and are oblivious of what I am feeling, and know nothing about me. But best of all I like joining for a walk any one of the girls who stroll by, or paying a visit to one of my female acquaintances and imagining while clasped in her lecherous embrace that I am lying and wallowing in Amalie’s breast. Nothing makes my suppositious, visionary love of old seem so gauche and risible as does this deliberate act of self-deception.

How curious it is often coming to seem to me when I am led by a girl into her cramped and ill-lit lodgings, where a crucifix hangs above the bed, and pictures of the Madonna and various martyrs keep company with tins of face-powder and filthy jars of beauty-lotion; or when I stop by some alley-abutting hostelry crowded with beggars and day-laborers, and attend to the plebian antics of a Punch and Judy show with the same rapt devotion that I once reserved for Shakespeare. Life is nothing if one does not enjoy it in the most crudely sensual manner; the reflection of sensual lust falls on all objects, and imparts a golden sheen to even the most uninteresting among them. Amalie, like me, is but one of the wandering shadows whose shabby obsolescence time will at length lay hold of and fling into the black pit whose depths no eye can penetrate, and within which the marionettes of a thousand centuries past lie heaped up one on top of the other in a motley jumble.

Farewell, and come back to Rome; it is more than high time; come as soon as you receive this letter; the return of a friend stirs up our emotions in exactly the same way that the return of spring does those of a child.

Willy to his brother Thomas

I must leave now, Thomas; I must head for England, or misfortune will see to it that I am laid in my grave here in this fatal foreign country. Ah, who would have thought it a scant few years ago? If anyone had told me so I would have called him a liar, or even beaten him if my strength allowed it.

But nobody can stumble into such things by chance; that is certain, for throughout the whole of history the devil must have his sport; henceforth I shall believe that as a firm and dead certainty. Ah, Thomas, if anyone nowadays—I mean anyone that you had seen grow from a child into a man—tried to thrash you and beat you, it would, you can be sure, make my soul’s blood run like cold water, and as a brother worth his salt you’ll be bound to feel the same way when you hear of such a thing from me, seeing as how I am even older than you. My master, you see, came home today completely drunk, as he does almost every day and every night, and I had had to stay up the whole long, cold night through waiting for him; I thought of his old, ailing father, which brought tears to my eyes. I chided him for his whole way of living, and told him that he would have to start changing and mending his ways; I told him all this straight from the bottom of my honest heart; and then he laughed and jeered at me, like a proper heathen. At this point I really lost my temper, because I am after all only human, dear brother, and quite old and frail and brittle and dilapidated by now; I let slip a few pious expressions and sayings, and then, dear brother, [seit der Zeit is mir, wie einem armen Sünder zumute], he went after me with the short walking-stick that he had brought with him from England, with that very same walking-stick that I had bought for him in London; if only I had known then what would be done with it!

There is no peace left for me here; I have wept a great deal, for I am, you know, a bit womanish; I shall never be able to forget it, and young Lovell seems like a completely different person to me; I can’t look on him any longer in the same loving way; I am as dejected as if I had murdered somebody, which God forbid should happen so long as I live.

And even if I have to travel by foot to England, I must be off; and even if I have to sneak off like a rogue, I can’t stay here. Ah, brother, do not die before I do, for then I should no longer have a friend on this earth; rather, to the contrary, live until

Your poor brother Willy
sees you again face-to-face.

Burton to William Lovell


Your letter, along with the general thought of you, has been distressing me inordinately for some time. Ah, William, I would prefer to send you everything that you had previously written to me; for then you should behold yourself as in a portrait, and ask yourself, “Is this picture still a fair likeness of me?” But I should be afraid that you would throw it all unread into the fire, although this murderous act would truly deserve to be termed a crime against love.

I am abased by your defection from our fellowship; I feel disowned and disinherited, and am looking, even as I write, past the greensward towards those far-off tracts of country land, as if you should at any moment descend hither from yonder hills as you used to do, as though the good old days lay there, ready to return, in their entirety.

But have we thus been truly and entirely rent asunder from each other? Indeed we have been, for I cannot recognize in your letter the Lovell whom I once loved. In those days it was your wont and your life’s essence to feel [to me] like a gently-flowing brook, whose strains my little rivulets accompanied with their own silent and unmusical melody; now you seem like a kind of cataract whose waters I shun in terror.

My soul is suffused with a dark presentiment that you will perhaps deride the lame, patriarchal tone of my letter, and rejoin with yet another and yet more-insolent dithyramb. But if you have already conclusively observed how much of what one deems true and great spontaneously falls to pieces when one so much as tries to probe the foundation of the edifice, I urge you now likewise to regard yourself with manly detachment, and to consider the substance of your own thoughts. Be honest with yourself, and you will perchance discover that you have succumbed to the same weaknesses that you have so ardently avoided, that for all of your inveighing against all systems, you are yourself a most zealous systemizer.

Are you really in possession of the correct point of view when you speak of your former life with such wantonness, with such warm disdain? In such situations we ought always to remember that each of our present opinions must relate to an earlier one, that the preceding begets the succeeding, that out of our present ideas new ones will and indeed must arise, and that through imperceptible gradations we can always eventually effect a rapprochement with some long-since outmoded way of thinking; all of these reflections should restrain us from invariably pounding our soul’s former dwelling into ruins merely so as to have something to point to derisively from our current palatial habitation. I cherish everything that I once thought and felt as I do the playroom of my infancy, as I do my old picture-books; and oftentimes a notion or an image from my earliest boyhood comes rushing over me and affords me precious insight into my present ideas. Man but vainly imagines himself to be perfect if he looks upon the entirety of his previous existence as a sloughed-off carapace, and how unhappy must be any he who does not discover within himself something new to be corrected each and every day, who abandons once and for all the most beautiful and most interesting work of art with which a human soul can preoccupy itself: the gradual and highest-possible perfection of itself.

What can I say to you, William? I feel as though all words are in vain when one’s opponent has given himself over entirely to an obdurately dogmatic—and yet for all that one-sided—form of sophistry. Such sophistry conjoined with passion is a sirens’ song that perhaps no mortal can resist unless, like the hero of the Greek epic, he is bodily restrained from rushing towards impossibility. And even then the poisonous notes may resonate throughout the whole of his life, his soul may retain traces of it, as the tips of the blades in a field of grass that that has been burned to the ground remain scorched long after it grows back. Your father is very ill, and I feel that I may become so too whenever I think of you with a clear head; we become as easily inured to contemplating a poetic fiction as we do to contemplating the misfortune that we do not see, such that all distressing notes are at length equally incapable of taking wing within our hearts. But whenever I imagine myself in your place, whenever one of the books that we once read together falls into my hands, and I discover your bookplate on its inner cover, or detect a passage underlined by you on one of its pages--oh, come back, come back, William! Think of the sweet harmonies that once soared around you; the guilelessly pious disposition of a child dwelt in your bosom, you would fashion for your own view the smallest entity into something grand, and in so doing forget to pay tribute to grandeur; ah, forgive me for having then upbraided you for harboring these tender aesthetic scruples; I perceive now to my sorrow that human souls have more sensitive feelers that gratefully slacken in contact with dewdrops and lilies, just as they are obliged to adhere to mighty rocks if they are to become part of a single being colossal enough to arouse their interest. I thought in upbraiding you to guide you to where I thought I stood; and now, with wings of new-grown strength, you have flown past the goal that I wished to set for you.

If your sometime love now strikes you as so tasteless, in what light must you view our friendship? Was it, too, not a work of youthful enthusiasm, a singular outburst of emotional provincialism? Was I not somewhat jealous when I first noted your infatuation with Amalie? Ah, my dear friend: for heaven’s sake, do not captiously scrutinize the trifling contradictions that so often inhere in our noblest emotions and propensities. It is the green, odorless stem of the flower, but the two can exist only together. What is man according to your ideas, which are themselves self-contradictory? The most contemptible union of soulless limbs; what does this fiery enthusiasm amount to in your judgment, if you are nothing more than such a worthless machine? And if you were capable of such a passion without possessing any of these noble emotions, you would then be, precisely by the agency of these drunken revels, the most contemptible of all conceivable creatures.

Consider that the life of such an excitable mind as yours is but a kind of magic lantern that reflects parti-colored objects on to a wall; that you are speaking merely in the excitation of your senses and not from your inner conviction, ripened into maturity by thought and emotion. Grant me at least that this is possible, scrutinize yourself more closely, and come back to me if you find that it actually is so. Ah, perhaps I have been driven out of your heart only by the repeatedly inculcated maxims of a certain other cold, reserved friend of yours; one whose philosophy can amount to nothing but a dazzling fireworks display that in his vanity he exhibits to all of his friends and that you, foolish youth, out of misplaced devotion, have admitted into your heart. Oh, forgive me, William: truly, I am saying this not for severity’s sake, but only in the sincerity of my most heartfelt feelings, which I know I am incapable of concealing from you and myself alike.

If you were not so important to me, I could easily fill many more pages with circumstances relating to your father and mine in order to show you how often the fortunes of men can be intertwined with misfortune; but I would rather conclude here. If you can still find anything to interest you in your former desires, your next letter must inform me in detail of the nature of that interest.

Farewell, farewell, dear William! Write back to me soon, and show me that some residue of your old affection for your Edward still remains. It pains me to conclude this letter because I do not know whether I have convinced you of anything to the slightest degree, but I am incapable of writing another word. In many of life’s litigations one’s case can be pleaded only by emotion; a single handclasp or a tear does duty for an entire written speech—but, ah: of course, you cannot see my tears, and I have not recorded my sighs.

William Lovell to Edward Burton

Yes, friend—my beloved, only friend: I wish to, I must, write back to you. What an impression your letter made on me! Oh, how mightily every word of it shook my bosom like a tempest, and yet how radiantly the sun of returning spring broke through its rain-showers at certain fleeting moments. I have so much I would like to say to you, and I cannot manage to find a single word with which to say it. I am suffocating; fear is driving all of my blood to my throat—ah, a hemorrhage would bring comfort to me and relief to my heart. And yet even then I would still not be happy; I would prefer to weep out my entire being in a torrential flood of tears in order to extricate myself from the oppressive burden of living. When I think back on the happiness I once enjoyed, with the drunken rapture of yesterday still shimmering like rising steam before my muddied gaze—you have given a powerful tug to the chains that unite our two souls; the wound that has been opened is more painful than the one that you were attempting to heal.

Ah, Edward, if I did not dread my father, I would fly back to England immediately and throw myself at Amalie’s feet as a penitent and shame-ridden sinner, so that either she might forgive me or I might meet my death at her hands.

I am confronted now by a kind of lightning on the horizon of my life, by a chiming of church-bells that summons the blasphemer back to the true faith and to divine judgment. I must beg you to forgive me before all others, my dear Edward; for do I not know that if my destiny lay in your hands I should be the most fortunate of men?

I would prefer at least not to reawaken from this present rapture to the fear that previously held me in its ineluctable grip; ah, already I can sense the grisly, sepulchral void that will succeed it. Farewell, dearest treasure of my soul; and in your next letter send me new life in exchange for the will to live you have wrested from me in your latest one.

I cannot continue.

Jackson the lawyer to Lord Burton

My most honorable lord!

I have followed with the most scrupulous fidelity the instructions that it has lately pleased your lordship to impart to me. I have expedited the course of the suit insofar as such expedition has depended upon me; such that it now may fairly be said that I have done everything in my power in that regard. These selfsame instructions have recalled to my mind all of those imparted to me in your previous letters, such that I have likewise obeyed the latter with exemplary punctiliousness.

Just now there has occurred an event that bids fair to bring the entire suit to the speediest of conclusions, albeit unfortunately to your lordship's disadvantage. A few days ago I was sitting up late at night in a room at the Lovell estate, a room allotted to me by the estate's proprietor for my use in a professional capacity. I had been granted permission to search thoroughly all places that I hoped might furnish any sort of documentary evidence towards the solution of the case. I, together with my patron, had already given up all hope of ever unearthing such documents of the aforementioned type as alluded to any receipt of payment; I had already thoroughly explored everything that had seemed germane in any way, in my view, to the ultimate aim of my inquiry. Now, late at night, I happened to alight upon a drawer that I had already opened several times before; and in it I discovered a hidden coffer; I opened it with trembling hands and found that my presentiment had not been misplaced. The aforementioned significant documents are at present in my possession.

I should deem it the height of impropriety if I were forthwith to terminate the suit to Lovell’s advantage, as I certainly could do now with the most negligible effort. I thought myself obliged at least to inform your lordship of this occurrence in order to discover whether you cared to adduce any new and substantial arguments that might subsequently lie a little beyond your reach; or whether the aforesaid arguments might not urge the withholding of the publication of these documents pending the ascertainment of their authenticity. But I cannot under any circumstances entrust them to the post, and your lordship has expressly forbidden me to send a courier; I am therefore left with no other option than that of requesting your lordship to undertake the journey hither in person, or to allow me to visit you at Bondly; or I could even meet you halfway between there and here, in the neighborhood of Nottingham. Any of these entirely as you wish.

Until I have had the good fortune to speak to your lordship in person, however, this entire incident will remain a secret in all particulars barring those already disclosed above.

An observer as perspicacious as your lordship will not have neglected to remark that I have not been wanting in my devotion to my duty; the discovery of how very much your lordship will learn to treasure this devotion must await our first viva voce interview, which I am looking forward to with keen anticipation. With the deepest respect I have the honor to call myself

Your lordship’s most loyal and obedient servant,

William Lovell to

You asked me yesterday what the matter with me was. Of what use is it to me if I am not entirely frank with you? I will own to you that a letter from young Burton had robbed me of all my courage and good spirits. My past approached me in such a friendly attitude, and was so lustrous that it surrounded me like a halo. You will say it is always like that simply in virtue of being the past. But no: there was something else contained in it, something that I cannot describe and that I would not wish to feel again for all the world.

You will perhaps have made the discovery vis-à-vis yourself that nothing humbles us so much as when our eyes are suddenly opened to the truth about any person or thing that we have heretofore revered, nay, practically worshiped. The prosaic vertigo that then racks our frame, the worthless light in which we appear to ourselves, all of this plus remorse and discontent, all foul moods in a single turbid flood, all of this came crashing down on me and took me up and swept me away in its downward rush. Everything that I had felt and thought perished in the maw of an omnivorous chaos; every criterion by which I had distinguished myself from the common run of men was snuffed out like a feeble candle’s flame, and, having been suddenly reduced to the nadir and extremity of poverty and self-loathing, I was a positive burden to myself; and heaven and earth together surrounded me like the straitening walls of a prison cell.

I next recalled the woeful moments that so often had seized me during the highest pitch of sensual ecstasy; the refractory sentiments that had fairly constricted my heart, so many remonstrances that had unflaggingly pursued me like veritable furies. Why am I going on about this at such length? Simply in order to show you how frank I can be; I know you will contemn my frailty, but no piece of foolishness should be concealed from a friend. Cure me of my habitual indulgence in absurdity, and prove thereby that you are not indifferent to me.

But I shall press on to an incident that is of much greater import, and that has essentially caused me to forget about everything else. I was roaming through the city at dusk; it struck me how very much during my childhood I had yearned to do this very thing; suffused with this sensation, I saluted the churches and piazzas, and gradually wandered out of the rejuvenated part of the city and into the adjacent solitary, uninhabited neighborhoods. In this manner I traversed the silent, empty fields and at length arrived at the Porta Capena, or Sebastiana. I passed through the gate.

I continued on my way as if in a dream. I next found myself standing before the cylindrical tomb of Cecelia Matella, which radiated a terrifying glow amid the darkness; behind it lay the manifold Roman ruins, like those of a city razed by a conquering army, where luminescent clouds emitted by glowworms swarmed amid the shrubbery that had sprung up between doors and windows. Hidden behind the hillocks was a tiny cottage whose windows burned with the bright and inviting light of ordinary fire. I felt an irresistible urge to approach this house, and I discovered a narrow footpath leading to it. Towards me through the still night air wafted the silvered tones of a lute, and I dared not take a single audible footstep. The lute-strains were interspersed with the mysterious whispering of trees, and from the front window of the house shone a shaft of golden light on to the greensward in front of it. I was now standing directly in front of the window and gazing into a small, sprucely tidied front room. An old woman was sitting there, apparently dozing, in a threadbare armchair; her head, swathed in a clean white kerchief, nodded now to the left, now to the right. On a truly shabby footstool a young woman with a lute was sitting; I had eyes only for her friendly visage, her auburn tresses, which were held back from her forehead by a headband, her lovely and friendly eyes, the youthful red of her lips—

I stood there as though bewitched, and entirely forgot where I was. My ears followed the notes, and my eyes the girl’s every movement. I gazed as if into a new world, and everything seemed so lovely and charming, as though it would have been the highest happiness to live in this cottage, and to listen to the girl’s music-making, to the old woman’s gossip, and to the chirping of the tiny crickets inside the walls. The girl rose to trim the candle, which had burned down almost to its base; and I timidly withdrew, for she was approaching the window. Even in the midst of my hasty retreat I managed to take in the slenderest of figures, a bosom whose curvature might have derived from the Graces, nay, the whitest of all imaginable arms. I dared not turn round, and saw only shadows darting hither and thither across the greensward.

The lute-music had now ceased, and when I finally ventured back, I arrived at the window just in time to see the old woman tottering through a small door into the adjacent chamber. The girl was standing with cascading tresses in the middle of the room and drowsily untying the kerchief that covered her bosom. Oh, Rosa, until now I have truly never seen a woman, I have not known what beauty is; you can keep your antique statues and your paintings; no painter has yet ventured to depict this tender, living form woven out of unalloyed beauty. Suddenly she looked up, as though coming round from a state of distraction, and stepped up to the window. In that same instant, a pair of shutters swung shut, and the light vanished along with the wondrous scene that it had illuminated.

I started, as though out of a dream; after the manner of a person who in bed finds himself reaching about for whatever object he was just dreaming of, I looked all around me in the expectation of catching sight of her. I giddily staggered back into town, and the whole night through I dreamed of nothing but the fair stranger.

This morning marked my first trip [since] through the Porta Capena. It was difficult for me to locate the houses, so lost in daydreaming had I been the day before. At length, I found them/her. But everything was completely different. Next to the house is a tiny garden, scarcely bigger than my bedchamber, surrounded by a fence of simple peasant construction; in this garden the young woman was standing; I recognized her immediately, and even before she caught my eye, my heart was pounding. But all my understanding and power of reflection forsook me; I hardly dared to say good morning to the divine creature; she thanked me in a strange tone; why was she smiling at me? Her smile, like the sun in springtime, could not fail to please. When I turned round again, she was gone. I have no peace; I shall go there again this evening; when standing in that place, I feel the same way I did as a child when listening to the lovely and picaresque fairy tales that transport the juvenile imagination out of this world entirely.

Burton to Amalie Wilmont


You desire my opinion, my counsel, dear friend? Are you at all aware of the dangerous role you have thereby assigned me? For it is certainly dangerous to attempt to advise a person in the matter of the most decisive step of her life, and if I am obliged to write to you from the heart what I truly think, I must likewise fear causing you pain. But true friends should have but one bosom and one heart, and therefore I shall venture to write to you exactly as I would do to myself.

Dearest, I have for the longest time thanked heaven on your behalf that this insipid Lovell has withdrawn his attentions from you, that he has forgotten you. Your youth, your inexperience and benevolence, have deceived you with regard to him and your own feelings. He is a wretch who does not deserve to be loved by anyone, or at least not by my tender and true-hearted friend. Yes, my friend, you must look upon your infatuation as an illness, and take the final step towards your convalescence if your heart still suffers, however faintly, from this malady. Mortimer is assuredly a noble gentleman who genuinely loves you. Go boldly forth to meet such a peaceful, happy fate; and in a short time you will wonder how you could ever have had the slightest doubt about it. Do we not look back at the playthings of our childhood with a smile of condescension? Yes, my dear: you will learn to look back with contempt not upon your affections themselves, but upon the object of them; I know at least that I should feel and act thus in your place. But do forgive me from the bottom of your heart if I have in any way offended you, for it is from the bottom of my heart that I have spoken to you.

Mortimer to Charles Wilmont


To my astonishment I have learned from your sister that you have already—i.e., yet again—left for Bondly! O thou implacable vagrant! Would that you had been the first of us to discover some settled abode that met his liking. Now you have once again eluded me ere I have properly begun to partake of the fruits of your company.

Wish me luck, Charles, for everything that I wished for has now been attained. Your sister has suddenly concluded that she intends to be mine. I thank God that at last we have come this far along. The betrothal was celebrated yesterday by your parents, and in round a month’s time I shall move to my little estate in Southampton and celebrate my marriage to Amalie. I am already picturing myself in scenes of tranquil domesticity; and I am not haunted by dreams of happiness out of some fairyland, but am rather counting on a simple, terrestrial happiness, which is certainly good enough for me by now.

My country seat is agreeably situated and surrounded by the most charming walks; now that my wanderings are at an end, I intend to live there for bucolic pleasures alone.

I do know not what has caused your sister to make up her mind so suddenly. My persevering love, my ever-unwavering affection, seems finally to have convinced her that this is the only true love. I have nothing more to say to you today. Farewell.

Charles Wilmont to Mortimer


Indeed, once again I have run away from you and the capital. But I really would not have merited the most slighting of Emily’s glances if I had let slip such a fair opportunity [to see her]. You know that old Burton was in London on account of his lawsuit; during this trip he visited several houses in the neighborhood; he even came to ours. He was in extraordinarily high spirits, and when people are in high spirits they are usually polite and friendly; he got into a lengthy conversation with me, during which I told him among other things of my longstanding desire to see the fair lakes of Northumberland; and so he proposed that as we were enjoying the finest spring weather for seeing such sights, I should accompany him back to Bondly. I assented without thinking, and was obliged to hold my tongue; and so the very next morning I found myself rolling with a light heart through the suburbs of London.

And how glad I am that I was not a massive enough fool to remain behind! Emily rejoiced exceedingly upon seeing me so unexpectedly. We have conversed a great deal alone together; we have been very tender to each other; and the thought that I shall [ever] actually have to leave here again seems to me utterly ridiculous. For all that, I may not tarry here much longer, lest I give the lie to [her father]; I must indeed travel to Northumberland in order to seem something better than a total fool in his eyes and in everybody else’s.

How small a portion of one’s earthly existence may legitimately be devoted simply to doing favors for other people! Nonetheless, I intend to pass over in silence this disagreeable piece of business, as I have done so many others; I plan to savor with the tenacity of a miser the next two days that I shall spend here, and to leave all care for my future to heaven. What course my amour is destined to run and ultimately finish I frankly cannot tell.

But who knows how strangely things sometimes may work themselves out! I have known people who have incurred [lifelong] debts from a single stake at lotto; they were wise men, and I intend to imitate them. And are you really now engaged to my sister? I wish you luck from the bottom of my heart, and shall presently visit you and her at your agreeable country seat. Farewell, you made man; you will soon be receiving another letter from me posted from the hills of Northumberland.

Amalie Wilmont to Emily Burton


I have heeded your counsel, dearest friend, if only to free myself at last from the torments of anxiety. I am betrothed to Mortimer, and I feel genuinely happy and light of heart. You were right: most of the things we harry ourselves over are but unwholesome imaginings, cares a mere tenth part of which consists of something real; the rest is pure hallucination. I find the prospect of my life to come a genuinely lovely and happy one. Mortimer is turning out to be much more unreservedly affectionate than I formerly would have imagined, for he rejoiced so heartily when I consented to his proposal that I was quite taken aback by it, he being such a prudent and sensible soul. He certainly overrates my virtue and understanding; I know all too well how childish and foolish I actually am: ah, if only he should not find himself deceived in me as I was mistaken in Lovell!

We shall be living entirely by ourselves, far from the nearest large town and indeed from the nearest highway. Ah, so at last my lifelong dream of living in the realm of unbounded nature is to be fulfilled! I require no trifling diversions or mighty assemblies in order to be happy; I desire that no one may visit us apart from such good friends as you and your brother, for then we should begin to lead anew that wonderful life that I enjoyed last spring, when I first made Lovell’s acquaintance.

But I do not wish to think of him any longer. I must exert more control over myself, as you yourself have counseled me to do. I am finding that I have already learned to do so to some extent, only oftentimes I have to fight against the upsurge of foolish memories. Oh, I shall indeed be happy at Mortimer’s side, even if I think of Lovell every once in a while. He seems to me at all times now like a dead brother, and I must yet often weep for him, albeit that my tears are not of the burning kind that I used to shed.

You see that I remain at all times what I was before. I have very often envied you that clear and imperturbable good sense that I shall never acquire.

My brother has gone with your father to Bondly, and I fancy I have divined the reason. Are you not at all eager to know what it is? But no more of this: I may certainly chatter away about my own secrets, but not about those of other people. If the former is merely childish, the latter is positively criminal.

Rosa to William Lovell

This new amour of yours makes me feel sorry for you. Rosaline may according to your description be a perfectly lovely young woman, but you have been and remain a veritable dreamer. And as for this need to become thoroughly acquainted with her, and to obtain the condescension of her favor! Dear Lovell, have you really derived such meager profit from all of your travels? It is most improper for you, after all this time, to be discomfited in the slightest by any young woman whatsoever.

If, though, you are so strongly enchanted by her, you must try all means of coming closer to her. There is nothing more vexatious than the sight of people who desire one thing above all others and make not the slightest practical exertion towards the acquisition of it. I wish I could be Pandarus in order to pacify my poor Troilus. If absolutely all else fails (and I doubt that it will), you must offer her your hand in marriage; on the third day she will believe your fairy tale, on the fourth she will be yours. On the tenth at the latest she will at best have ceased to be a divinity in your eyes.

You must not take my letter amiss; thanks to a piece of ill luck, I have been thrown into a mood wherein your adoration of an insignificant little girl cannot but strike me as somewhat childish.

Many of our pitiful acquaintances upon seeing this letter would with a sagacious mien take me for your corrupter and marvel at their own wisdom to boot. I have heard this harmless word applied by so many people to such harmless individuals that I cannot help laughing at it now. Nothing is more nonsensical than to believe that the understanding has the slightest influence on our actions and emotions, and in particular, that an extraneous idea can ever become my own if I have not already acquired it.

Farewell, and keep me abreast of your progress. I shall think of this escapade as the more or less well contrived plot of a comedy; herein I urge you to prove yourself where possible a more capable poet in the dramatic mode than you have heretofore been in the lyric.

William Lovell to


It is all in vain. I have never in my life seemed to myself as much of a simpleton as I have done in the past few days. Or could those curious qualities that confer ignominy upon a woman in one country and honor upon her in another, those qualities in which no one believes, and against which the whole of nature rebels—could the so-called feminine wiles in this sole instance amount to something more than an old wives’ tale? But no, it is impossible: I am simply going about things in a gauche and maladroit manner. This girl with her lustrous eyes must have some life in her; I simply do not understand the right way to set in motion her coquetry, her sensuality, her egoism, her self-interest.

Mock me if you will; she is without question a heavenly creature!

William Lovell to Edward Burton


I still owe it to you to inform you that I now deem myself much improved, and that I believe I now have a more thorough and dispassionate understanding of your letter. What you have to say against my ideas is most true and well-founded; every man has his own philosophy, and the difference in their casts of mind is constituted by the quickness or sluggishness of the circulation of their blood. In this respect you are completely right vis-à-vis your own person, and I am not completely wrong vis-à-vis my own. This is precisely the most noble attribute of the human soul, that a single beam may be refracted into such an infinite many-splendored variety of colors; I submit to you that none of them is the truth, but by that same token you cannot maintain that any of them is entirely objectionable, for every eye sees every color differently, and you call blue what appears to me as red.

You are, however, completely mistaken when you assert that my ideas are merely reiterations of those of other people. From my earliest youth I have loathed and contemned people who are merely echoes of other people, inasmuch as they lack the hallmark of humanity; I hope you have never consigned me to the ranks of such pitiful creatures; and that you will next set aside once and for all the question of whether it is possible for a man to be led astray of his own understanding into a mode of thought or action that would be detrimental to his so-called morality.

Upbraid me no longer for my sophistry, for henceforth I intend to speak both coolly and measuredly. Consider the case of the initially worthy and unprejudiced individual who gradually becomes so addle-headed that he obliviously wanders into committing an act that our straitened morality cannot sanction. Only two versions of such a situation are possible. Either he is just as innocent after having done the deed as he was before; he carried it out it without any intention of doing evil; now he is assuredly guilty in the eyes of the law but not at all guilty in the eyes of reason, which doles out punishment not merely to the crude and generally contingent external manifestation of evil but rather to the internal manifestation of malevolent thought, even when such thought begets no acts. Hence, the second version is as follows: that abominable acts originate from an abominable intention. But how can my soul acquire convictions that are genuinely foreign to it? Where would you fix the point, the moment, at which a pure soul is transformed into a corrupt one? It happens by chance: how is it possible that it should taint the mind, as the latter is capable of conceiving only good thoughts and intentions? By means of another person’s ideas [Meinung]? In its purity of perception it will not comprehend such foreign matter, and if it does comprehend it, such comprehension presupposes that it is itself already intrinsically depraved. You will not manage to find your way out of this labyrinth of contradictions; embrace my view [Meinung], and concede to me that your fears are entirely unfounded.

But my judicious Edward cannot possibly number among such fools as can love only their own kind; I know how far from this sectarian spirit he is; therefore, I have no need of dissembling, if I diverge from his views, in order to retain his friendship. I shall therefore as boldly as formerly undersign myself my beloved

friend’s tender friend,
William Lovell.

Walter Lovell to his son

My dear son!

I do not know whether you are still perpetually angry at your unfortunate father; your penurious and laconic correspondence leaves me room to fear as much. I have until now sent you without interruption the money you have requested, without letting slip even the suspicion of a query whether you were truly in greater need of funds in the present quarter than in the previous one. You will find enclosed the bill of exchange that you so obstreperously demanded, but extrinsic circumstances compel me on this occasion to append a few words that cannot but give displeasure to you and me alike.

For many years I have lived only through you and through the prospect of [your] bright future; but for the past six months you have kept your heart hidden from your father; I would hardly know that you are still alive were I not indirectly informed of your existence by your letters, in which you have [merely] dunned me like a blustering creditor. I have willingly sent you all of it, for I have always regarded my financial resources as a means of making you happy; I was convinced that by this means my William’s heart would become tender once again, and so I gave free rein to your folly.

If you have gathered from this letter that I am once again ill, you are not mistaken; I am ill, and perhaps more seriously so than formerly. I feel the vital spirits only still trickling, as it were, through my body, drop by drop; therefore, come back to England soon, dear son, so that I may see you again, and that at least one more happiness will remain to me on this earth.

I cannot now threaten [an interruption of your allowance] as I had originally intended to do, for you really must know the truth of the matter from the start. The fair future of my dreams, the luster of our family, your standing in the world—all of my hopes were affixed to these things, and all of them have been dashed for ever. I have lost my suit, and Burton is now proprietor of my estates. How it was possible for this to happen, by what means he managed to make it happen—neither of these can I comprehend; but enough: it has happened! Nothing remains of my former holdings but my two minuscule properties in Hampshire, where in our ancient, dilapidated family seat I shall find sufficient room in which to die if nothing else. I can already foresee how all of my acquaintances who have heretofore caressed me will shortly beat a hasty retreat from my presence. The misfortunes of those who have fallen foul of society are pitied but ever so faintly; everyone is cold and unsympathetic, like the lights in the firmament after the declension of one of their fellow stars. Such is the aptest figuration of my misfortune.

Burton paid me a gloating visit a few days ago, before the judgment in the case had been pronounced. He was unusually friendly; he attentively contemplated the house and the garden, as if they already belonged to him—and, indeed, I intend to sell him all of my property here so as to obviate my living in the neighborhood of London.

Console yourself, my son, and when perchance you begin to feel this blow less keenly yourself, you will bethink yourself of consoling your father. I shall be moving hence in two weeks’ time; you therefore know to which address to direct your next letter.

I scarcely need add that you will have to begin curbing your expenditures, that this is the last time I shall be sending you a bill for such a goodly amount. Ah, my son! If only your fortune had lain in my hands! But I will write no further. Farewell.

William Lovell to


I have received news from England that ought to interest me, but I can think only of the fair Rosaline. Heavens! What a girl! I perpetually see her lovely brown eyes before me, I can think of nothing but her carriage and her slender figure. I have spoken to her more than once since my last letter; but all is in vain. She is invincibly shy; she avoids me, and when I am standing before her, she lowers her eyes and refuses even to look at me. It is as though I have been magically summoned hence by the girl; I have never before loved a feminine creature so violently—or, rather, so deliriously—as this. I have only to close my eyes and she is standing before me; for the past few days I have been in a state of virtual madness.

I do not care to see either Bianca or Laura; every other young woman seems boring and graceless. Ah Rosaline! I should like to fly away to her house, or be invisible at her side. You mock me simply because you have cold blood, because you do not know her.

Oh, how differently one lives when one is acquainted with a being for whose sake one lives. I see my relation to everything through Rosaline. The human soul is but a trifling, petty thing; for the poet and the mystic agree on this, and each of them says it in his own way. The philosopher rediscovers his own system everywhere and in everything, the scholar sees everything through the focal point of his academic bailiwick—and so I might as well live only for her. She shall be the sun round which my thoughts and feelings will orbit like planets.

Willy to his brother Thomas

I am now, thank God, Thomas, in a somewhat better way here than I was before, and so I shall be staying here for a good while longer. I am once again on good terms with my master; he has made a proper apology to me for everything, and he has been much friendlier to me in the past few days than ever in his life. It’s really quite impossible, Thomas, for anyone to hold a grudge against him; I forgave and forgot everything right away. Everything is fine and dandy with me, but not so much as it was last year; I shall be setting off as soon as possible; I can’t stay here.

You see, Thomas, the whole story is full of snags, as they say. My master is fond of this girl here where I'm living, in front of this gate—ah, no, Thomas, don’t think I’m up to anything wicked. I surely can’t help it that I promised my master to do it, that I’ve gotten myself so mixed up in this. I explained the whole thing to him properly and like a true Christian, but no amount of talking and admonishing was of any use; for every word I said he had a smart answer ready to hand, so that in the end I really didn’t know what to say, and I stood before him like an old fool, what with his having made me so tenderhearted. He said that he was so wonderfully fond of the girl that he would die if I didn’t do him the favor he was asking, and so I couldn’t find it in my heart not to do it. At the time I was just getting used to the pleasure of being good friends with him again, and that did a lot of work for him.

Now I'm living here in front of this gate, and quite snugly too, but amidst rude tumbledown houses and old stone monuments; here a person has the vanity of bygone human wishes and the nothingness of everything right in front of his eyes, and can easily start finding himself thinking those serious, contemplative kinds of thoughts one usually thinks in a churchyard. But I also know well and truly that it's not quite right, and in many an hour the thought that I have taken this step really grieves me; but man is but an all too feeble creature; and I for my part am so fond of my Master Lovell that I can hardly refuse him anything when he asks me to do it so heartbreakingly as he does. Anyway, there must be a lot of trifling matters that God chooses to wink at every now and then, and so perhaps He will see fit to grant me some portion of His grace after all.

Farewell, dear brother. You have not written to me in a long time; do so as soon as you can, and tell me about the shaky spots in your own life, and about what you'd have to do to shore them up. Until then, farewell.

William Lovell to Rosa

I have sent you no news in the past few days because I have had so many things to arrange and take care of that I have really had no time for anything else.

I have after much expostulation persuaded my old Willy to move into the vacant house next-door to Rosaline’s; there he passes for my father, an old Venetian who has come to Rome in search of some meager means of supporting his shabby existence. I have dubbed myself Antonio. I spend the better part of each day at Willy’s, dressed in a suit of peasant’s clothes that disguises me very thoroughly. We have already made the acquaintance of our women neighbors, who are both extraordinarily polite for all their apparent poverty. So everything is moving along splendidly, and I promise myself the [speediest and] happiest progress.

What a fool this girl is! She and I have now spoken to each other a great deal, and she is extraordinarily trusting and talkative. She is of an enchantingly sprightly disposition, and if I am not much mistaken, she rather fancies me. But I am still not sure, for there is nothing in the world about which one can be so easily mistaken.

If I were a painter, I would send you her portrait, and then you would decide whether I really speak too much about her. As though thunderstruck I often contemplate her delightful form, imparted directly by the sculpting hand of nature; the soft, delicate rotundity of her breasts, which are often half exposed in the course of her domestic duties; her ever-so-pretty little foot, which scarcely touches the ground when she walks.

Thus I live a curious, dreamlike existence here among the ruins, removed from the city and all its inhabitants. A good part of the day I am inside the cottage and watching Rosaline at work in her little garden. I see people proudly walking and riding by in the distance, and I feel pity for them, for they are not acquainted with Rosaline; they laboriously chase after pleasure, unaware that the highest bliss dwells here in this suburban cottage. I dine and sup with Rosaline; we have eaten together regularly since the second day I was here; by this arrangement we both save money, as the old woman has observed. Ah, Rosa, how little man requires in order to be happy! Since moving here I have spent not a hundredth part of my money, and I am of good cheer. On the other hand—I seldom think this in my present rapture, but anyway: how much is required by happiness! Would I accept the oppressive restrictiveness of this way of life if Rosaline were not here to transform this cottage into a palace? Ah, now, at last I understand this much used and abused expression.

It saddens me whenever I go out, as I am obliged to do from time to time in order to keep up the pretence that I am working somewhere. On one of these solitary outings I encountered the old woman, who was gathering dead twigs in a basket. So I have to be on my guard, and to that end I often change my clothes at Willy’s, and sneak off to the city in disguise.

Why does not she love me in the same worshipful way as I love her? My life is an indefatigable whirligig of tempestuous desires, like a millwheel driven round and round by a mighty torrent; what was at the surface only seconds ago is now submerged, and the spray of the billowing surge rushes and swirls in every which direction, confounding the vertiginous gaze of the observer.

Rosa to William Lovell


With this story of yours you are beginning to turn downright droll. The whole of it is really better than anything one could ask of a first-rate novel. I wish you luck, for surely nothing imparts more poetry to our arid, prosaic lives than a situation of any sort into which we have deliberately put ourselves. At bottom our entire life consists of nothing but such situations, and I do not blame you in the slightest for vivifying your sensations as much as possible. As long as you continue to be as forthright with me as you so far have been, your reports will continue to be a source of much amusement to me. But you should also, if at all possible, be forthright with yourself; for otherwise all that will remain at the end is a sterile and inert void that you will desperately do everything in your power to fill; these are the most harrowing periods of one’s life. One labors to detect some residual interest in these objects [from one’s past] because it seems to us as though the merit of our existence can be inferred only from them. [Hence], one must assiduously shun every illusion that is not a source of positive amusement. Generally speaking, from one’s earliest youth onwards, one ought to accustom oneself to regarding one’s external surroundings simply as a mirror in which to perceive oneself for the sake of forestalling any dependence on these surroundings at any point in one’s life. The more everything around us depends on us--the more slavishly it yields to our will--the more exalted is our intelligence. And by means of this exaltation, human reason can eventually contrive or conceive the most curious objects, or direct entities of like creation at will. In this manner, an intelligent person can have at his command everything that stands in any relation, however proximate or distant, to himself. The sovereign authority of the understanding is of a most absolute nature; and Rosaline will indeed soon be under the command of my intelligent friend if he does not suffer himself to be ruled by her, and keeps even his reason well under heel. I wish you luck in this instance, lest you ever arrive at [the wretched state of disillusionment I mentioned earlier].

William Lovell to


It is certain that in the company of innocents one will oneself regain one’s former innocence. Many of my ideas that in other circumstances would seem entirely natural now strike me as downright hubristic; here in this little cottage, I am humbler than I was before—indeed, I feel myself capable of becoming a kind of person that I have hitherto been incapable even of properly conceiving; the kind of person who, having been born in some cramped and darkened room, extends his desires no farther than the scope afforded them by what he can actually see; who rises in the morning and goes to sleep at night with a single prayer, who can hearken to and mull over fairy tales in silence, who can gradually learn a handicraft by dint of sheer torpid diligence, and yearns for nothing more passionately than for sunset and bedtime. Oh, Rosa, the more closely one becomes acquainted with this way of life, the more surely one loses all sense of the oppressive burden of constraint. We willingly constitute our lives as an uninterrupted series of diversions, and tirelessly quest for vexations in order to season our pleasures with contrast; but among these people, any unexpected diversion is like Christmas; it penetrates their souls as keenly and refreshingly as a ray of sunlight on a cold and rainy day. Henceforth I shall take care to contemn the slow-witted less stridently.

Whenever I am pottering about within the confines of my little castle, whenever I gaze across the fields and down into the city, whenever I hear Rosaline’s voice chiming in from next door, and feel so happy and utterly at peace, the day draws to a close without harassment or contumacy; whence I often arrive at the thought of staying here, of becoming a simple farmer, and of enjoying the purest, freshest form of happiness that life has to offer. Perhaps I shall indeed stay here, ever gladsome and content, perhaps—ah, desire, that inescapable proclivity of all mankind!—what evil genius in finishing this painting thought to muddle it with instincts of such contradictory hues?

But enough about that. Oh, Rosa, name me a play whose charm could ever equal that of the maturation of a fair and guileless soul over the course of even a single hour. We are now better acquainted with each other, Rosaline and I; I have seen her and spoken to her every day; my apparent hard luck has moved her. She is the perfect image of the pure young feminine soul, devoid of those embellishments and deformities simultaneously imparted to a girl's appearance by a refined upbringing. Inasmuch as difference in social standing has introduced no impediments to our intimacy, we are on thoroughly familiar terms with each other. We often sit in a darkened corner of the room, and talk about our destiny; she tells me stories about her family, or marvelous fairy tales, which she recounts with extraordinary sprightliness; then she sings a little folk song once more, and accompanies herself on the lute. There is no music more copious than these little, trifling, almost childish songs, that virtually wear their hearts on their sleeves in their simple conveyance of the human voice; and wherein the notes do not rise and fall like colossal waves, mass together like a herd of wild animals, shriek and plod their way through all of the keys, and ultimately founder in a tempestuous chorus of the orchestral tutti. The fuller the ear is, the emptier the heart remains; the soul can properly and immediately savor only this quiet music of the voice; here the soul swims with the argentine flood down into remote, darkened locales, that awaken the faintest presentiments in corners, and course silently through the heart; and the soul is touched by the reminiscence of an earlier existence, by a wondrous intimation of immortality.

When I am sitting opposite her—oh her breath wafts over me like fire! I have longed to plunge into her bosom and cover this object of temptation with innumerable kisses; I dream so often and so vividly about doing this that I am subsequently unsure of whether I might not have already done it. Some unknown force is pulling me towards her; the tones of her lute often resonate distressingly in my brain; and soon, soon, something must change, or I shall lose my mind.

When her mother had just gone to bed, and I was sitting with her at the front doorstep, I confided my love to her. She was touched, and responded with tenderness, and quite naively told me that she already had a fiancé, and that therefore she could not love me even if she wanted to with all her heart. This fiancé is a poor fisherman, who has left on foot for Calabria to claim a small inheritance; she described him to me immediately, and freely confessed to me that he was less handsome than me.

She moved me in describing the prospective arrangement of her little household. How humble are these people’s desires! When I think of my extravagance, of the fact that the portion of my means that I have squandered on trifles or lost at the card table would make this magnificent creature happy for life—I am learning here to be more of a human being, and to take an interest in human suffering. And can she really have blossomed into the being that she is purely for the benefit of a wretched fisherman? For the benefit of a piece of human refuse who would perhaps deem himself a fine and lucky fellow in landing a position as my manservant? By no means! I must take measures to insure that she is not cursed with such a husband, and I am inclined to think that the best part of the work in that direction has already been achieved. We address each other as “tu" (Du). Yesterday she was sitting on a shabby little footstool, telling a tale, and rocking in time to her narration; suddenly she [lost her balance], and started to fall off the stool; I caught her and felt the weight of her fair person in my arms. I pressed her close to me, and she, blushing with embarrassment, wriggled herself free of all contact with my savage breast.

In virtue of the obscurity of her motives, she is quite an enigma: at many moments, in virtue of her innocence, she seems to me a kind of vestal priestess, or an unassailable divinity; but what, on the other hand, [is to be said] of those fiery eyes? Or of the mischievous play of features at the corners of her mouth?

The other day, purely for my own pleasure, and at some distance from her house, I sang a few waggish Italian ditties; and yesterday I came upon her strumming the first beat and singing the first word of one of these songs, as if by sheer coincidence. Suddenly she left off playing and singing, turned a sincere and serious shade of red, and set the lute aside as if it were some girlfriend too chatty to be trusted to keep a secret. I know of nothing more beautiful than the study of this manifestation of unadorned nature; oh, she will—she must—be mine! I have stammered out a proposal of marriage to her, and God knows I have done so half in earnest.

I just saw her step outside; I am leaving to greet her; farewell.

Rosaline to Antonio

You have already gone out, my dearest, and I was so sure of finding you at home. I let you take the lute with you yesterday, which I should have known better than to do, because I knew I’d want it back again today. You naughty man, letting me come to see you in vain! Your father always seems so peevish; I think he still doesn’t like us at all; I am afraid of him because he always looks at me so earnestly. But come tonight; I want to play you a new song that might as well be all about you. Do come, and stay a good while. The evenings are so lovely now, and we still haven’t had a chance to sing together. But you mustn’t turn naughty on me again; I don’t want to have to say another word about poor Pietro.

Antonio to Rosaline

No, my dearest, speak no more of him; for the sound of his name unfailingly pierces my heart like a dagger. I hope he never comes back; who knows what has become of him, as he never even sends you any news of himself? Does it not grieve me as well that I am obliged to be so often away from you? You would certainly have found me at home if I had been expecting you to stop by.

Oh, Rosaline, leave off singing these songs that melt my ailing remnant of a heart to nothing and engulf my very soul in its entirety. Do I not live entirely in your company, and in your presence alone? I can no longer get even a scrap of work done, for I am constantly looking towards the spot where your house stands. Oh, if only you could love me as I love you! Oh, Rosaline, what a prospect would then disclose itself to me! Oh, yes, yes, sing me this ditty if it really could be about me; and if it does indeed tell the story of a tender-hearted maiden who hearkens to the pleas of her devoted swain, let that story be repeated in my own life. I shall certainly see you this evening; I shall stay by your side, sitting on your front doorstep—ah! If only I could be near you for the rest of my life, if only I could hear the dulcet tones of your voice for ever! Everything that I perceive sounds like your singing, so deeply am I immersed in my dreams; I start whenever my name is mentioned, whenever someone calls me. O believe me, believe me, my dear girl, when I say that I could never live without you; that there is no feat, however dangerous or terrifying, that I would not undertake for you.

Rosaline to Antonio

Why ever did you turn so sullen when I sang the song yesterday? What do you want of me? Am I not glad to see you come and sad to see you go? Do I not think about you assiduously? Did I not discharge my debt of promised kisses yesterday, and throw in I don’t know how many extra ones? What more, then, can you desire? But you pull all these hangdog faces around me, and I don’t rightly know what I can do to please you. You are unhappy, and you yourself surely don’t know what you want. You see: I can turn just as naughty as you, but only now; when I see you in front of me with my own eyes, I always forget what I meant to complain about.

My mother has had a serious talk with me today; she has told me that I’m not to see you so much. But I don’t understand why. She is old and a little set in her ways; she’s got a way of thinking almost just like your father’s; she doesn’t much like you, because she thinks you’re too reckless. You mustn’t use this as an excuse to turn naughty; she is old after all, and that’s the only reason for it, because who wouldn’t instantly take a shine to you? To see you is to be friends with you. But that gloomy, serious way you have of carrying yourself doesn’t suit you: that much I can tell you; you were just like a complete stranger the last time you dropped in; you must stop it at once.

You are not on the best terms either with your father, who for all his scolding certainly and sincerely means you well. Do as I do: I often let my mother talk as long as she wants, and pretend I’m listening to her, and all the while I’m thinking about you.

My, but how long I’ve been scolding you! The thing is, I don’t believe any of it; it’s exactly like when I sing songs by naughty people: I can’t believe anything I’m singing. My worldly wisdom is completely secondhand. Just one more thing: mind your manners a bit more tonight than you did yesterday, or else I’ll have to train the dog to bite you. Adieu, and come nice and early tonight. How lucky for us that those clever people discovered how to make dumb paper talk, so that you could answer this letter. A loving heart sure is a hard thing to tell apart from a witch’s spell.

William Lovell to


Oh, Rosa, why am I not happy and content? Why does a wish remain a wish only so long as it remains unfulfilled? Do I not have everything that I desired? And yet, for all that, I am still impelled ever forward, and even at the height of my enjoyment of my present bliss some new form of concupiscence as yet unknown to me is planning my ambush. What evil spirit is it that beckons us onwards in our career through the full gamut of pleasures? It lures us across the gap separating each day from the next; duped, we follow without knowing whither we are bound, and thus at length, in a despicable drunken stupor, come to stumble into our own open graves. I swear to you that at many moments all sensual delight seems abhorrent to me, that I am ashamed of myself when I contemplate those sweet features of hers, that innocence that is reflected in the albine purity of her forehead; I often feel as though a divinity is gazing at me through her limpid eyes, and then I blush like a little boy.

Yesterday I was put into a state of the most acute discomfiture; she said she wanted to sing me a song whose words were especially applicable to me. Imagine how abashed and humbled I was when I heard it. It turned out to be the very song that had given me the idea of adopting my present costume and of calling myself Antonio. Can the bitterest satire humiliate me more profoundly than this pious, childlike, artless modus operandi? Never have I stood so nakedly in front of another person, never have I been so thoroughly embarrassed. Such behavior in any other girl would convince me that she had seen through me; I swear to you that this girl is the sole exception.

And what, to mention another pseudo-problem, am I so worried about? Why all of these queer convolutions? I love her, and she loves me.

You have never known a being like this Rosaline, and hence you have never tasted the sweetest lifeblood of delight. You need to see how she bounds up to me, and then stands perfectly still, and suddenly acts as though she is trying to remember something or other; [you need to see] the cunning that she exhibits amidst all her pious innocence, and that is the birthright of every young woman on this earth, and that, if I may be permitted say so, renders her innocence even more innocent. The other day, her mother was sleeping in her armchair, and I kissed the girl while she sat beside me; by chance, my kiss was somewhat louder than average and her mother woke up; but at that same instant the girl had given her little dog a little pinch, so that he was obliged to yelp, and her mother formed no suspicions.

To be sure, I even make her happy when I lecture her on her own behavior; she reels [/will reel] in blissful frenzy and thanks me [/will thank me] for the peerlessly good fortune I have bestowed on her.

Will you not be returning to Rome soon? Every day I feel the want of your company, especially when I am not with Rosaline. I am beginning to become a stranger to everyone in Rome; I have no inclination to visit anyone; I have no inclination to do anything; for some time I have been fretting over a letter that I must write to my father; there is nothing else that I can write or think.

Walter Lovell to his son William

Kensea in Hampshire

I have received no reply to my letter, and with each passing day I am growing weaker. The doctor now suspects, and I now feel, that the sands of my life have run. I am growing indifferent to everything that was formerly of importance to me; I have completely abandoned my previous designs; return, then, to England, my dear son; return without trepidation; marry Amalie if you absolutely insist on it; I neither will nor can raise any objections to it; but break your silence and come home. Ah, if you must have it so, let me beg your forgiveness for certain things I said in a certain earlier letter; I meant you well, and the circumstances were different then.

When the wind whistles through the trees here, and the peeling wallpaper rustles and clatters in the next room, oh then, dear William, I feel so solitary, so homeless. I am disconsolately looking forward to the cheerless end of a cheerless life. I see no friends, and no other faces than those of my servants; everyone has severed all communication with me, and I deem myself the better for it. By day and by night, I wish only that you were here with me; I was a fool to strive with all my might at the beginning to erect the material edifice of my fortune rather than accept the [intangible] joys that fate was offering me[: those joys to be found] in a son’s bosom, a daughter’s embrace, perhaps a circle of frolicsome grandchildren. Now the thread of my life has gone slack, and it is perhaps too late. But no, my William will surely restore to me [a modicum of] joy and consolation; who knows along what lonely stretch of highway he is already riding post-haste in order to see his old and ailing father one more time? Wherever you are, God be with you!

Rosaline to Antonio

The whole of this long, long night I have been unable to sleep. And this is entirely your fault! All along, I felt as though you were sleeping next to me; I had you in my arms, and I was awoken by your kisses. As the moon shone into my room through a chink in the shutters, and spilled across the floor, and glistened on the quilt of my bed, I wept with all my heart, for I had never felt so lonesome before in my life. Oh, you naughty man, you can never make up for the misery you’ve caused me. My father is dead and my mother will perhaps die soon too; now if Pietro doesn’t come back you’ll be the only person in the world who can stand by me. But what if you do not deserve all of my love? Ah, Antonio, you have so often delighted in my gaiety; I am so cheerful when I see you; now you see how sad I get when I’m alone. So if we both want to be truly happy, we ought never to be apart.

You stay away a lot longer than you did at first. When I kiss you, it doesn’t cheer you up the way it did before; tell me what I’ve done to you, you malcontent. Or is it just normal where you come from to be so serious and sullen all the time?

Antonio to Rosaline

What have you done to me, my best and dearest girl? Nothing but not loved me as passionately as I love you. Why do you so often leave me so suddenly? Why am I not allowed to be with you at night if you feel so lonesome without me? True love is a stranger to such obstinacy. If you saw how often I gaze across at your house [from my window], how I am unable to sleep, and silently sing to myself your songs in order to assuage my pain if only but a little, how I kiss a thousand times in succession the picture of you I sketched the other day! The paper is damp with my tears; our house has become too small for me, and so I go out and ramble amid the ruins in the cloud-muddied moonlight, and your image is with me wherever I go. Oh, Rosaline, you are unacquainted with such fear, such trepidation; for if you were acquainted with it, you would sympathize more keenly with my plight. No, you heard-hearted woman; you know nothing of love, for you snap your fingers at my misery. You ingrate! You gorge your vanity on my suffering and will [presently] triumph in the annihilation of my hopes! Did I not stand at your front doorstep for an hour yesterday; and did you not fail to return according to your promise? Did you not play me that abominable song about Antonio in order to vex me? No, you are cheating me with the mere semblance of love; you revel in [the thought] that you have humiliated me, and all of your kisses, all of your embraces, are but hypocritical dumb-shows. If you have driven me mad, take cheer and comfort in the spectacle of my madness!

Oh, forgive me, darling, if I am being unfair to you! I would prefer not to distress you.

Rosaline to Antonio

[You say] that you can’t bear the song about Antonio? That you can’t bear my favorite song, because it mentions your name? Ah, dearest, how unfair you are being to me! I must console myself by singing it to spite you, for I shan’t be able to leave the house again. My mother has been [very] naughty and has strictly forbidden it. She simply refuses to take kindly to my being around you so much. No: I won’t sing the song any more if you don’t like it, however much I do. That I should vex you! Oh, Antonio, how could I have known? Whenever you’re around, I’m always [too] embarrassed to say how fond of you I am: there just aren’t any words for it; I’ve always had to try to think up new ones. But when you’re away and I’m following you with my eyes, like now, or when I am reading one of your letters, it makes my heart bleed, and I wish I could run after you, clasp you in my arms in front of the whole world, kiss your dear face, and expire in tears while crying out, “Yes, behold ye men and women; hark ye hills and trees: I love him like this, like this; what do I care about the rest of you put together, so long as I still have him, the only thing I cherish in the world?” I dare you to ask me to do anything for you: I could kneel down at your feet to beg for your love; I could give up my religion and stop praying to the divine Madonna if you wanted me to; I could move with you to strange desert countries where people speak other languages, where, as someone once told me, ice and winter thicken the air almost the whole year round; oh, I could die for you; I could survive or forget anything, anything, apart from your death or disdain. Oh, can you really still be so unfeeling and ungrateful as to chastise me? Can you really still be so naughty on account of my beloved song?

Antonio to Rosaline

No, I won’t chastise your song any more, dear Rosaline. I have been unfair to you and to it, and I would like to tender it an apology: send me the copy you made of it, and I will keep it where I keep your letters, your picture, the locks of your hair; I cannot bestow a higher honor upon it. How your dear letter moved me! Oh, I have already begged its pardon, and I will beg yours when I see you in person. Am I really so precious to you as you write that I am? I can hardly believe it, and yet I am only too happy to do so. Your voice sounds to me like a melody from a dream that promises me the treasure of the earth, a dream that the Mother Nature of this waking life can scarcely compel to keep its word. Ah, no! Love makes child’s play of the impossible. It compensates us for every form of earthly happiness that we are denied.

Rosaline to Antonio

Do you not now see perfectly that I am right? To thank you, I’ll write the song down as neatly and prettily as I possibly can.

Love and the Pauper

There came into the valley green,
From ’cross the pearl-gray main,
A wayfarer from parts unseen,
His prop a palmer’s cane.

Have pity on my fate, he cried;
From distant parts I came,
Bereft of house and goods beside;
Antonio is my name.

My parents died when I was small,
A poor defenseless child,
I had no rank or princely hall,
And no one on me smiled.

Then I took up this wanderer’s cane
And set out on my way
Came down into this valley green
Your pity for to sway.

Then off he crept from door to door
To houses here and there,
Who kept him out for being poor,
And left him in despair.

“What boon seeks’t thou from foreign hearts?
We’re not thy kin or kind!
Revisit those thy native parts
If succor thou wouldst find.

“Our countrymen have needs enow;
’Tis they who seek our aid;
For their relief the corn doth grow;
For them the cider’s made.”

Alone and gasping ah! and oh!
He slinks along in shame,
Then comes a cry: Antonio!
A girl calls out his name.

Accept my meager offering,
Cries out the pious maid;
I offer thee my everything;
Embrace it in thine aid.

Lucinda’s eyes flow warm and full,
He thanks her with a kiss,
Behold! A weeping mutual
Unites the two in bliss.

Although thou’re not akin to me
I feel my own distress,
And though thou com’st from ’cross the sea,
I love thee nonetheless.

Love knows no borders national,
She ties us to one peg.
Through her we’re kinsmen one and all,
And rich though we may beg!

I have often tried to sing “Rosaline” in place of “Lucinda,” but it won’t fit the meter. Tonight we’ll simply try and see if we can’t change the song a little. You must help me, for you know all about how songs are written. I read your verses every day, and each time I read them, I understand them a little better. Oh, so much of the time, I really am proud of you, and proud that of all the thousands and thousands of girls in the world you love me and me alone. But then at other times I am not proud, but just so happy that I thank heaven that it has so governed things that you have found me. Why can’t my mother bring herself to think as I do? I can hardly imagine why anyone would have anything against you. Everybody should be just like you; this would be the finest of all worlds then. Adieu, and do stay longer today.

Antonio to Rosaline

And so [it will be] today, really and truly today! So the dilatory hour that is destined to make me completely happy has at last shuffled into the present! Oh, how I thank you! But you will keep your word, won’t you?

William Lovell to


It is wonderful how long I have been detained in the vestibule of bliss; a thousand contingencies have conspired to debar me time and again from the highest of ecstasies. Rosaline is mine, unconditionally mine. She recently took pity on my entreaties, and promised to allow me to sneak into her room at night, but her mother fell ill, and she was obliged to watch over her at her bedside. What a night I had! Sensual longing with all of its shades of passion stirred within me; I could not sleep for a minute, but neither could I stay awake. I lay in a kind of stupor in which images upon images crowded together and my tiny bedchamber served as a playhouse for scenes of the most chaotic staging. It was a kind of febrile delirium, wherein I was visited by a hundred things that will serve as rich food for my thoughts and dreams for a long time to come.

William Lovell to


It is enough to drive one mad! All is gone! All of my peace, all of my love, is utterly, completely lost! Even if bad luck alone deserves my curses, I still hate and despise myself. Just think of it: everything had been firmly agreed upon and settled; Rosaline was as tender towards me as she had ever been; she was firmly convinced that I was willing to marry her, and by God, I would have married her; she had promised [to meet me] last night, and I awaited sunset with impatience; I could scarcely imagine my hopes and fantasies but as positive actualities, and even now they are yet unrealized! I am sitting here like a schoolboy in dread of his teacher; I am ashamed and discarded; yesterday during dinner an old man, a messenger, came in and announced the forthcoming return of Pietro, the wretched fisherman, the fiancé. He will be here in a few days. I was struck as if by an apoplectic fit; all of my senses went numb, pale, and as if from a great distance I took in the particulars of the news that this rogue had brought with him. From the moment he entered the room, the accursed countenance of the fellow portended nothing good for me. He had one of those physiognomies that are made for bringing ill tidings.

And then to see how her mother rejoiced! To see the silent shame of Rosaline, who refused to look at me throughout this announcement of mere news! Oh, it astonishes me that I have not lost my mind completely! Since then she has timidly retreated at my approach; she is cold and remote, and I am now at the exact same point where I thought I was on the very first day of our acquaintance. I could murder this gatecrashing rogue who has thrust himself between us and annihilated all of my fair dreams and good fortune. Why are we so often at the mercy of contingencies of such base issue! And of all moments now, now, on the utmost verge of the crowning of my desires! When I see her, with all of her charms, and imagination conjures up before my eyes the holiest of holies as yet unprofaned by any gaze! When I think to myself that all this was to have been yielded up to me and has now slipped away from me, and knows me not; and that tonight was to have witnessed the attainment of my happiness’s ultimate aim! Counsel me Rosa: what am I to do? I have lost all power of understanding, of deliberation.

William Lovell to

I am still in a dreamlike state; it is night as I write to you, and I still do not know what the morning will bring. I got back from a journey an hour ago; I am tired and yet I cannot sleep. Pietro’s prospective appearance robbed me of all vitality; I knew his itinerary and when he was due to arrive. I set out on horseback on the road to Naples; I excused my departure to Rosaline by saying that I had taken a job that was destined to bring to an end my sojourn in Rome. Just past Sezza there is a lonely, isolated inn; here I lay in wait for the villain whom I hated with all my heart although I had never seen him. He was supposed to be there yesterday evening, and he did not show up. Finally, after midnight, the door opened and in he walked; he had stopped at a hamlet on the other side of the river and subsequently made the crossing in bad weather; whence his extreme tardiness. Now that I saw him directly before me, my hatred was roused with redoubled fury. [He was] a thoroughly common individual who could hardly speak [intelligibly], and grumpy into the bargain—all on account, of course, of the fact that the inheritance on which he had pinned his hopes turned out to be less considerable than he had expected. [He carried] himself like an utterly virulent hybrid of the peasant and the rogue, [in that he was] both grimy and gluttonous; this beast was homing to the divine Rosaline, whose most trivial excellences he would be incapable of appreciating as long as he lived.

He set out [almost immediately], for he wanted to be in Rome as soon as possible; there was plenty of moonlight, and he still felt very much awake. I rode by his side, and at a certain point I dismounted to chat with him. The unregenerate scoundrel spoke of Rosaline as if she were a midday meal, completely dispassionately; he wants to marry her simply in order to get his hands on her mother’s pittance of an estate. I asked him if she was beautiful, and the villain, who could hardly have found my company to his liking, launched into a stream of the most vulgar and loathsome double entendres. I could no longer restrain myself. He was ranting about something or other in his peasant patois, and I threatened [to silence him by force]; then I suddenly felt one of his hands at the front of my shirt, while with the other one he drew a knife. By this point I was no longer master of myself, I tried to snatch the dagger from him but failed and in the attempt caused the blade to graze his throat.

The rest of last night and today have slipped away from me in a continuous access of vertigo. I expect the knave to turn up at any minute. If I had had more sang-froid perhaps I would have managed to bribe him into renouncing all title to Rosaline’s hand; as it stands, I have no idea how this will all turn out. Why did I not kill the perfidious rascal, who, after all, made an attempt on my life? I cannot comprehend this failure of nerve on my part; and in any case, I am glad that it did not happen.

If Pietro had not come between us, I should have married Rosaline, moved back to England with her, and lived for her sake and nature’s.

Perhaps I could still do it! What is preventing me from revealing the truth about myself to her mother? But as for the fiancé: he may now take a bit longer to get here, as his wound has presumably made travel more difficult for him, and so I shall be able to enjoy Rosaline’s company for another day or two. I am too tired; farewell.

William Lovell to Rosa

For the past several days I have been living in a confused haze comprising all [manner of] ideas and sensations; I have had no inclination to write to you because I have been too lethargic. But now I am going to inform you of the progress of my amour, and I shall eagerly await your reply.

I have just drunk a bottle of Cypriot wine, and my hand is trembling as I write; otherwise I am cheerful and content, and I am so lighthearted that I can’t help laughing a great belly-laugh at the start of every paragraph. Willy is watching me suspiciously out of the corner of his eye and therefore looks half asleep. Life is the jolliest and most ridiculous thing imaginable; people everywhere cavort higgledy-piggledy like a bunch of clacking marionettes and chatter on about free will even while their every action is being crudely and directly governed by a few strings. This morning came news of Pietro’s death; his corpse was found on the highway, and a passer-by happened to recognize him. Say what you will: it is impossible that I should be guilty of his death; at least I cannot believe it. Such a hardy, iron-constitutioned individual can hardly bleed to death from such an insignificant flesh-wound; and if he could, the reprobate would richly deserve such a death by my agency.

There was a mighty ululation in the house, issuing mainly from the old woman; Rosaline grieved as well, but I clearly perceived that she was silently allowing herself to be consoled by gentler thoughts. I went out [for a bit] because the scene was becoming tedious, and I [returned] in the afternoon to find Rosaline alone [and] bathed in tears. The old woman had gone out and did not return before nightfall. Oh how beautiful Rosaline was, sitting on the footstool, with her head resting on one of her white arms, which was in turn resting on an arm of the armchair. How snugly the curve of each of her limbs fit into its complementary curve; and how charmingly this most delightful of sights reposed itself there, as though molded into place! I forgot everything else, and greedily feasted my gaze on this union of all beauties. She sank weeping into my arms and her tears brought tears to my own eyes. I felt her heart pounding; I kissed her; she was sorrow incarnate and let me do everything that I would with her. My eyes devoured her charms, and she sighingly gazed upon me in turn. Oh Rosa, simply calling to mind this scene is enough to make me drunk once more. We spoke of her misfortune; her tears had made her more impressionable. Soon my horseplay became too brazen for her; she stood up and ran into her room; I followed her. She begged; she began weeping once more, and then violently clasped me in her arms, whereupon I set about undressing her. What heavenly charms were gradually revealed under my busy hands! The last garment fell to the floor, and she now stood before me completely naked, chastely blushing, with blazing eyes, a Venus de' Medici in a verdant twilight, as the green vine-leaves trembled on the other side of the window and permeated the apartment with a shimmering incandescence. We sank into the bed and I was the happiest of human beings.

Oh, let everything around me remain shrouded in darkness and uncertainty; no other emotion vouchsafes us true satisfaction, no intellectual pleasure truly imparts new life to us. Only here, here, do all of the joyous and blissful sensations scattered throughout the spans of our lives converge. This is the sole pleasure in the partaking of which we are oblivious of the desolate void at the core of our being; we are engulfed by sensual lust, and its roaring, skyscraping waves close over us; we then lie in the abyss of bliss, torn loose from this world and ourselves alike. No: for her, for Rosaline alone, will I now live; Pietro has failed to make an appearance, and I shall take her with me; I have promised to live only for her; and I intend to keep my promise to her and to myself.

Everything in my sight is growing hazy; without interruption I behold her still standing before me, half clinging to herself, half pressed against me. No, no other memory since this moment merits a place in my soul; I am much of a mind to dash over to see her, but her mother is there now. Oh, the wretched silliness of it all! That our so-called virtue, our mode of living, should prohibit us from being as happy as we could be! Mankind has thoroughly mastered the art of nipping all of its pleasures in the bud; first there must be a marriage, a wedding, involving a thousand disagreeable obstacles, the congratulations of foolish old aunts and uncles, all for the purpose of degrading the most heavenly of human delights to the most tedious of farces; of insuring that we shall never even for an instant escape this miserable planet and waft ourselves aloft of its atmosphere of ignominious suffering on the wings of ecstasy.

You should have seen, Rosa, how shame and ecstasy waged war in her shining eyes; how she tried to repel me and yet clung to me ever more tightly; how she tried to protest and yet offered up her lips to my lascivious kisses. No: until now I have never felt this pleasure; the enjoyment [I have] derived from other women has been but a foretaste, an intimation of this [Rosalinian] bliss. In Countess Blainville’s arms I felt only the inception of [sensual] frenzy [, which I mistook for] divine rapture; remorse and satiety overcame me very soon afterwards. Laura, Bianca, and all the rest of their tribe are discarded creatures who simulate their frenzy and raise or lower its intensity according to how well or poorly they are paid. Rosaline, Rosaline is the only woman in the world; the rest are, in a manner of speaking, mere counterfeits of her.

I am now beginning to become genuinely sleepy; the phantoms of the dream-world, who would bid me welcome, are already dancing round me and teasing me. All of them are centered on a naked Rosaline. I throw myself on to the bed. Willy, I see, has already gone to bed; it is three o’clock in the morning in Rome. Fare very well, Rosa; I envy nobody; to the contrary: I pity everybody. What is more, I have never so heartily rejoiced in the thought that I am William Lovell.

Rosaline to Antonio

Ah, Antonio, Antonio! Do come over as soon as possible. I don’t dare so much as look my mother in the eye; everything I used to do so willingly I now find so tedious; it’s as though I no longer belong in this house at all. I would rather sit by myself unnoticed in some corner somewhere and weep the whole day long. Ah, Antonio, what have you made me into? I used to live so peacefully here, and was content with everything, and now the whole house is too small for me; I constantly think about you and about yesterday, and in an agonizing, restless kind of way; my heart beats heavily and violently. O come bright and early today so that I can at least once again be in the presence of a pair of eyes that I can look into, and that I think about with—ah!—such pleasure.

Rosaline to Antonio

Ah, Antonio, you know all too well that I can refuse you nothing; and the reason why you are so strong and bold is that I am all too [timid and] weak. But have pity on me. Ah, what good can anything do me now? I no longer get any pleasure out of playing my lute; the very sight of my mother oftentimes disgusts me, and yet at many other times I want to throw my arms around her neck and tell her everything, everything. But my tongue seizes up, and I get a lump in my throat, so that I can’t speak. I cry a great deal, and she thinks it’s on account of poor Pietro. Ah, Antonio, keep your promise, I beg you in the name of the Mother of our Savior; for otherwise I am utterly lost.

William Lovell to


Whenever one lives in a state of perfect bliss and contentment, of beauteous monotony, wherein each day is just like the next, one is disinclined to write because one has nothing to write about. I have now entirely and properly settled down with Rosaline, and after a long [interval of unrest] I once again perceive an awareness of the fulfillment of all of my desires, and of the absence of that anxious pulsation of the heart that makes unpalatable mincemeat of our li[ves]. I would be unqualifiedly happy were I not inconvenienced from time to time by Rosaline’s moodiness and obstinacy. Would that it were possible for any of her sex to extricate herself from its characteristic frailties! She is displeased with my treatment of Willy; every day she peremptorily importunes me to marry her, and what is most deplorable of all, all of her sprightliness, her good humor, has vanished, and with it her ineffable power of enchantment. Must I [not] admit to myself that she does not love me? For otherwise, she could [hardly] evince regret at [an arrangement] that has made me happy.

This would be an opportune moment for Willy to head back to England, apart from the strain on my relations with Rosaline that his departure would occasion.

Rosa to William Lovell

Yes, I shall indeed [and] at last come [to see you]; for it seems even to me that you could do with my presence. My dear friend, you are no longer as frank in your letters as you were at the beginning; you are beginning to wear a mask in front of me, but I can hardly imagine why. Are you ashamed to admit that now that your passion has been gratified it is no longer its stormy and stressful former self, pregnant with anticipation and trepidation? Do speak your mind unreservedly, for the fault in this matter lies not in you, but rather in the natural constitution of our organisms, which we must submit to unconditionally. Recall what I told you [not so long ago] with prophetic intuition in one of my earlier letters; namely, that one must never force oneself to fill the void—that void that so often and so precipitously cuts through our entire emotional life—with enthusiastic preoccupations, for this is the most exquisite of all life’s torments, a veritable spiritual torture chamber. Surrender to yourself and to your immediate sensations, for all of your vows, all of your poetic asseverations, have essentially had no effect whatsoever on you; to the contrary, they are but necessary externalizations of an emotion that you once felt; you have spoken of nothing apart from your passion; this has now vanished and with it has vanished the being whom you managed to speak of so passionately. But more of this viva voce. In a few days I shall be in Rome; at that time I certainly intend to see and speak to your divinity.

Willy to his brother Thomas

Thank God, brother, the day of [my] deliverance has finally come. Ah, I feel so gay and lighthearted, almost as much as when I wake up, as I often do, from a really bad dream, and find myself back in a safe, warm bed; at last I can finally travel back to England. A Frenchman, an acquaintance of my master’s, in fact one of his bosom friends, is about to leave for England; what’s more, he’s kind enough to let me travel with him, and so now I’ll get to see my dear brother once again. Believe you me, dear Thomas: I could not have endured this blasphemous way of living any longer; it was as though I’d fallen in among a pack of Turks and heathens, and I didn’t enjoy a single minute of it. My master is lost; the wicked Archfiend has well and truly and totally got him caged up; he has been sowing pure misfortune. There’s this poor, innocent child here—a lovely girl—whom he’s led astray; I can tell this by the silent, sad way she has of carrying herself. I don’t care to tell you everything I think about it, and it’s wrong of me to think it, but I can’t help it, dear brother; these aren’t the kinds of thoughts you can either stop thinking or settle on; they come totally without our sending for them, and they pester us just like gnats and horseflies. These thoughts of mine are very frequent and also very wicked. Right now I’m thinking that God will put me to rights as soon as I set foot on the pious soil of Mother England. Oh, how glad I am that I’ll see you again, along with my old master, the worthy Master Lovell! I feel just like a child looking forward to a reunion with our blessed Savior. Until then, farewell, best of all brothers.

Rosaline to Antonio

Where ever can you be, Antonio, that would have kept me from seeing you yesterday? Do you really want to leave me completely on my own? Ah, I have prayed a great deal to God and his angels, but I have received no answer from them; I am utterly without consolation from heaven, spurned like a [hopeless] sinner. The strings on my lute are broken, and I have no wish to restring it, the lute I’ve known since childhood, that I once loved so dearly. You see what a pretty pass I’ve come to so far. Tears are a gift from heaven; oftentimes try as I might I can’t cry a drop. O come, come, Antonio; most of the time I’m just like a child who has lost her way in a forest. Everything terrifies me, but when you’re here, I’m surrounded by the sunshine of early spring again. If I don’t see you today, I shan’t be able to sleep at all tonight; I think of so many things that make me shudder. Ah, poor Pietro is lucky to be dead.

Rosaline to Antonio

I should truly like to die, to die, Antonio. Are you really not going to come and look after poor sick Rosaline, to whom you once promised so great a share of your most heartfelt love? Ah, just you wait a few days longer to come and see her and you'll seek her in vain. Which of us is now not being true to his word? Didn't I always fear that you would turn out to be this way? If I die before you, I will appear before you; I'll surely find you wherever you are, and torment your soul. Your father is also gone; God, what can all of this taken together mean? I'll carry my letter over to you; I don't know if you'll get it. Ah, what good will it do me anyway? That picture you drew of me was lying on the ground near your house; somebody had already trodden on it; it was completely unrecognizable, and it certainly looks a great deal like me now. So there you are: that's what your love is like! Ah, Antonio, since you're so handsome, what monsters must other men be! I picked up your neckerchief, and I guard it like a holy relic. Ah, my darling scoundrel, I now truly understand what I couldn't grasp at all earlier, when people let themselves be taken in by wickedness; it was [only] the way you looked, your way of carrying yourself, that he fell in love with. I can't go any further; I have to sob aloud; am I really not going to see you again, even just for today?

Rosaline to William Lovell

Yes, yes--now my misfortune is a certainty. God, I shan't survive it. Which Easter have I just celebrated? It is the last one, I feel it. So you're not who you pretended to be? Oh, heavens! My Antonio is a swindler! My Antonio? No, you are not mine; you are a stranger to me; you are a gentleman; you can never be mine. And now I know that you don't love me any longer. Oh, what has so suddenly become of everything I felt for you? Did you really not see me at St. Peter's Square? Surely you did, for your eyes were pointed at me the whole time. But you are now ashamed to be mine--you--I shouldn't call you you (Du) because you're nothing like anything belonging to me; you don't love me. I couldn't look our holy reverend father in the eye as he delivered the benediction because I saw only you, you alone and exclusively in the colossal assembly of people; my mother was standing behind me and kept her place as I pressed forward. Oh, why should I oppress myself? Farewell; I shall die soon, the benediction of our reverend holy father consecrated my membership in the congregation of the grave. And you were so handsome—ah, Antonio—forgive me for still calling you that beautiful name—oh, what can I say? My head is reeling. Just now my mother was singing one of our old songs softly to herself. Ah, these songs no longer recognize me; they won’t give me any more consolation. Nor will I allow myself to be consoled; I will despair; I will go mad, and in this state I will run to you, and come before you with my hair loose and covering my eyes, and laugh at you if you no longer recognize me. I think an artery in my head has burst; I am bleeding heavily, and almost senseless. O faithless one, together with this page you will be receiving drops of my blood; soon my corpse will be borne before you; rejoice then in your handiwork!

Rosaline to William Lovell

May curses and maledictions pursue you hither! They will overtake you and capture you. No, I can longer live in this house with my mother; I can no longer live in this world, where every tree, every blade of grass, reminds me of you. [It] is strange to me; I will wander through the whole world and look for you, and if I die—look here!—I shall meet you in the hereafter anyway; for you must also die [someday]; so you cannot escape from my reproaches. Oh, a woeful thing it is for you that you must die, Antonio; for then the full inventory of your sins, all of them, from the smallest to the greatest, will be read out. Death is a consolation to me; to you it will cause pain. I have for a long time secretly believed—but have not wanted to say to you or to anyone else—that you are guilty of Pietro’s death. Oh, woe betide you if you are! I am being chased by unfamiliar spirits into death and the grave; my insides are burning, and the torrential waters of the Tiber shall extinguish these flames. But before that I must see you; I want to return to you your letters; I want—ah, I don’t even know what I want—surely at the very least to die.

Leonore Silva to William Lovell

Ah, sir! You will I am sure pardon an old woman if she presumes to trouble you. My daughter, the last prop of my old age, is dead; may God have mercy upon her soul! Yesterday evening she leaped into the Tiber; earlier in the day, she had been roaming through the whole city, and asking for you the whole time. Then she saw a few isolated people in the garden in front of the Porta St. Angelo; her hair was undone, and she cried out and sang; everyone thought she was mad, but no one managed to catch up with her. At dusk and moonrise, she returned to the city. Finally, she was standing silently on the St. Angelo bridge, and gazing into the water; she pointed at the reflection of the moon and said she was about to enter that golden paradise—a man who was standing there heard it quite clearly—and so she flung herself off the parapet. She was already dead when they pulled her out of the water. Ah, my dear sir, now I am entirely forsaken; please do me the honor of paying me a visit some time, and helping out a poor, forsaken old woman a little. God have mercy upon Rosaline’s soul; I diligently tell a rosary for her salvation, and also for you, to whom God will be merciful if you are merciful to me. Help me live through these few days of mourning! I don’t wish to bore you [any longer] with my grieving and complaining. We are all in God’s hands.


Translation © 2010 by Douglas Robertson